Wild fruit is perhaps my favorite wild edible to harvest. Don’t think that harvesting ends in spring or summer. Fall is an excellent time to get outside and forage – it isn’t nicknamed harvest season for nothing.
One of my personal favorites, this was named “The Fruit of the Gods” and so the Latin name is Diospyrus virginiana. Sometimes people unknowingly pick this amazing fruit too early. You do not ever want to pull this from the tree. It must be very ripe, soft to the touch. When you touch it as if to pull it off and it falls into your hand, it’s perfect.
I often also will pick them straight from the ground. Often the trees are very tall with no branches low to the ground. I have found a few near me, however, with many branches full of persimmons low to the ground, so sometimes you can get lucky.
The deep brown, checkered bark is the most obvious identifying feature as well as the fruit.
2. Paw Paws
Many foragers start out their harvesting journey with paw paws. It’s no surprise – they are impossible to confuse with anything in most of the United States where tropical fruits just don’t grow, especially not wild.
You can find abundant sources of paw paw, however, this tree is dioecious (a tree is either male or female and doesn’t have both parts on one tree) AND spreads by lateral roots as well as seeds, so you may find hundreds of trees, but no fruit because all the trees you find are from the same male tree!
The trick is to find female trees.
It can take some searching, but that will only get you outside more! They always grow near.
When you find them, wait until they are soft. I generally pick them off the ground. I peel the skin off and eat the inside and spit out the seeds.
Ah, the elusive (or should I say common?) elderberries. These are hugely popular right now in the natural remedy market and they really do boost you immune system and provide tons of antioxidants. But, it’s SO expensive to buy it from the store!
Luckily, with time and practice, it isn’t hard to find them in the wild. The hardest part may be to get to them at the right time. They are ripe either late summer or early fall. If you’re a week late, you’ve missed it, so if you’ve found an elderberry foraging location, check daily or at least bi-weekly after the white flowers bloom.
4. Wild Grapes
Wild grapes grow in forests throughout the United States. If you can find the edge of the woods, you may be able to find grapes low enough to pick. They are ripe between mid-summer and early fall.
These are indeed related to apples, but they are super sour. You can occasionally find them on abandoned farms. One of the best uses of this is as a pectin replacement because it has high amounts of pectin. You can also make crabapple jam/jelly. Use about 25% under ripe crabapples and 75% crabapples.
6. Black Cherries
Black cherries might disappoint you if you are expecting a sweet cherry, however, if you are trying to make a wild batch of wine, you can add these into your fruit mix so you have enough fruit.
The other use for this is making jam or a syrup or adding into something else that is sweet. If you’re avoiding sugar, you can try experimenting with it with stews. The bitterness in the fruit definitely needs something to counter it.
7. Autumn Olive
An invasive shrub introduced from Asia as an ornamental and to provide food for wildlife. Birds love it, especially cedar waxwings, however it has taking over some farms and is nearly impossible to control.
The berries can be used in many dishes and can add a lot, luckily. Autumn Olive jam is very unique and delicious. It has a sweet, sour flavor. I’ve also used it with great success in pies, like a lemon meringue pie, but using autumn olive instead of lemon.
8. Rose/Multiflora Rose Hips
Rosa rugosa or Rosa Multiflora are the most common wild species you will find. Both were brought over to the United States from Asia and both have edible rose hips that can be used to sweeten and add vitamin C to tea. It’s a great way to get through a snowy winter if you’re worried about catching colds or if your in a survival situation and are in need of Vitamin C to prevent scurvy.
Cranberries can be harvested from the wild. They are only found wild in northern areas of the United States. They are very sour and have a high antioxidant count.
10. Sumac Berries
Sumac is commonly seen on roadsides, but its better if you can harvest them 10 to 15 feet away from the road.
Sumac berries make a lemony flavored pink lemonade drink or as a spice in dishes.
11. Hawthorn Berries
Don’t eat the seeds of this berry since they contain high amounts of cyanide.
Hawthorn berries were used in colonial times and later to make jellies, wines and ketchup. Honey from bees that forage from hawthorns is a gorgeous dark amber and is said to taste a little nutty.
The young leaves and shoots of common hawthorn are edible and were once known as “bread and cheese”.
Hackberry is a large tree that is easy to identify from its bumpy bark. The fruit has a slightly sweet skin with a very hard nut in the center. Some compare it with grapenuts cereal. You can eat the whole thing and it has valuable nutrients, but the nut bark can be a little hard on your teeth.
I hope you enjoyed this overview! In the comments, let me know what you’ve been able to find on your own!
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