Tag Archives: foraging

Red baneberry (Actaea rubra)

Red baneberry (Actaea rubra), a highly toxic plant, can be found throughout North America, Europe, and Asia. Despite its toxic properties, it is a popular ornamental plant due to its striking red berries and delicate white flowers. With that said, this is a plant that should be avoided if you have children or pets.

General Comments:

Red baneberry is a highly poisonous plant that can be fatal to humans and animals. It contains a toxin called protoanemonin, which can cause a wide range of symptoms when ingested, including vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, seizures, and in severe cases, cardiac arrest. It is important to exercise caution when handling or consuming any part of this plant.

Common Names:

Red baneberry is also known by a variety of other common names, including red cohosh, doll’s eyes, snakeberry, and White Baneberry


Red baneberry is a perennial herbaceous plant that can grow up to 1 foot – 3 feet tall. It has delicate white flowers that bloom in late spring or early summer, which are followed by clusters of bright red berries. As the picture shows, leaves are alternate, 2 to 3 times compound, sharply toothed and lobed. The berries are about 1/8 inch in diameter and have a distinctive black “pupil” on each one, which gives them the appearance of doll’s eyes.

Red baneberry leaves are alternate, 2 to 3 times compound, sharply toothed and lobed.


Red baneberry is native to North America, Europe, and Asia. In North America, it can be found from Alaska to Newfoundland in the north, and from California to Georgia in the south. It is also found in parts of Europe and Asia, including Russia, China, and Japan.


The plant typically grows in moist, shady areas such as forests, meadows, and along stream banks. It prefers rich, loamy soil and is often found growing alongside other shade-loving plants such as ferns, wildflowers, and mosses.


All parts of the plant are toxic, but the berries are the most poisonous. The leaves, stems, and roots also contain the toxin protoanemonin, but in smaller amounts.

Symptoms of Poison:

Ingesting any part of the red baneberry plant can cause a wide range of symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, seizures, and in severe cases, cardiac arrest. Symptoms typically appear within 30 minutes to 2 hours of ingestion and can last for several hours. If you suspect that you or someone else has ingested red baneberry, seek medical attention immediately.

Conservation Status:

Red baneberry is not currently listed as endangered, but it is considered a species of concern in some parts of its range. Habitat loss and fragmentation are the primary threats to this plant, as it requires specific environmental conditions to thrive. Additionally, overharvesting of the plant for its ornamental value has contributed to its decline in some areas.

Notes of Interest:

Despite its toxicity, red baneberry has been used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including rheumatism, fever, and snake bites. However, these uses are not supported by scientific evidence and should be avoided due to the plant’s poisonous properties.

Red baneberry is a highly toxic plant that should be handled with caution. Despite its toxic properties, it remains a popular ornamental plant due to its striking red berries and delicate white flowers. If you encounter this plant in the wild, admire it from a safe distance and do not attempt to handle or consume any part of it.


•             USDA Plants Database: Actaea rubra. (n.d.). Retrieved March 31, 2023, from https://plants.usda.gov/home/pl

Becoming a Forager

Becoming a Forager

Becoming a Forager, it’s the words that bring out the five-year-old in me… A hazy faraway scene, maybe out in the plains, majestic snow-capped mountains – their peaks hidden by clouds frame the horizon, on nearby foothills, mammoths in the mist stalked by dire wolves. In the fore ground women and children, our ancestors, dig sunchoke roots and pick berries.  Nearby men with spears in hand stand ever vigilant. Returning hunters, animal skin quivers slung across their backs approach. They carry turkey and boar. In a nearby river clearing, smoldering fires, flames dancing in the breeze tended by elders await the feast to come. bbb

Ok, back to adulthood.

Foraging, as defined by Cambridge dictionary, is “To go from place to place searching for things you can eat or use”.

Based on that definition, everyone engages in foraging. Think of the things found while out and about: an empty flowerpot on the side of the road, “free” pallets put out by a business, ripe blackberries alongside your favorite hiking trail or maybe freshly fallen walnuts you gather every autumn while on a walk. It is not complicated; foraging can be a simple afternoon stroll, or a deliberate endeavor designed to secure food or supplies for an extended period.

Foraging for Edibles

Let’s talk wild edibles. All geographic regions have possibilities. Abundance is all around if you know what to look for. Before beginning, reach out to your state’s Department of Natural Resources to first, understand if foraging is legal and second, what can be legally foraged. If the answer to the first is yes, then take stock of plants you already know and can identify that are legal. Do not skip the easy finds or the no-brainers. Where I live there are abandoned orchards of apple trees, butternut, elderberry, mulberry, besides wild dandelion and broadleaf plantain – the list goes on. Make sure all plants you can think of are listed. Don’t overlook outliers like oaks and maples. Their seeds can be eaten or turned into flour with a bit of effort. Walk about, find them, take pictures in various growth stages – sprouting, early growth, blooming, etc. Become familiar with the multitude of characteristics of each plant, from leaves to bark, stems, flowers and fruit.

Learning to Forage Edibles

Next, build your knowledge base. Commit to learning at least five new plants each month (60 plants per year). Don’t shy away from learning about poisonous plants, it is good to know and be able to identify what not to eat. Start a forager library – buy a field guide or two. Make sure the guide covers your region and has clear concise pictures. A good guide will include “look-alike” plants that are either not edible or downright poisonous and a good guide will describe the difference between “the good, the bad and the ugly”.

Thimbleberry, a new find when I started becoming a forager

Interact with like-minded people, go to a local garden club. Ask if anyone is versed in wild edibles and if so, are they willing to teach what they know. Look into social media, there are many foraging groups out there. Find one or two that have daily activity and join – avoid any groups that “harbor” bullies. Log on daily and read the activity and scroll through the pictures the group members share. Don’t shy away from asking questions, many members are more than happy to be “guides and mentors”. Look online for foraging classes you can sign-up for. They can be costly but a good class may prove invaluable. As you are learning and meeting people, build your own group with the new people you meet.

Get out and scout, take walks (they are healthy). Use what you know and have learned, go “afield”. When you find some edibles, takes pictures, jot down where you found them and then, harvest and take them home. Try them out raw and cooked. Do you like how they taste? If so great – you have found a “new” food source.

Don’t shy away from plants you don’t not know or are unsure of. Instead, take pictures, jot down their location, what the habitat is they are growing in, their size and any other attributes (leaves, stems, bark and fruits) that stand out. Show the pictures and notes to people in your foraging circle. What do they think? Can they hazard a guess or definite identification? APP’s like iNaturalist are fantastic (don’t forget about your social media groups), just upload pictures and any identifying facts you noticed. There are thousands of people that can help identify most any plant – edible or poisonous. Once identified, add your pictures and notes to your database so the next time you are afield you know you have an edible to harvest or a plant to avoid.

If you end up enjoying the forager lifestyle, you are following in the steps of your ancestors!! While becoming a forager just think, by adding natures bounty to your pantry your food bill will shrink, the food will be natural without being “highly processed” and filled with chemicals and preservatives.

chokecherry Foraging

Chokecherry – Prunus Virginiana

Chokecherry foraging was a staple for numerous Native American tribes across the North American continent, especially those who lived on the plains and prairies. The Cheyenne used the limbs to make arrow shafts and bows. The Crows used it for tipi stakes and pins. Early trappers washed their steel traps in water boiled with the bark to remove the scent.

The name chokecherry came from the bitter and astringent taste of the fruit.

In their journals, Lewis and Clark recorded that while camped on the upper Missouri River Captain Lewis became ill with abdominal cramps and fever. He made a tea from chokecherry twigs and was well the next day.

The leaves, bark, stem, and seed pit of chokecherry are all toxic due to production of hydrocyanic acid.
The leaves of the chokecherry serve as food for caterpillars and the tree can be a host for the tent caterpillar.


The chokecherry may reach a height of over 30 feet. Its crown is irregular and may spread between 10 to 20 feet. The stems are numerous and slender. The chokecherry’s leaves are dark green and glossy above and paler below. They are alternate on the stem shaped oval to broadly elliptic in shape and are 1” – 4” long and ¾” – 2” wide. The leaf edges are toothed with closely-spaced sharp teeth pointing outward forming a serrated edge. They turn yellow in autumn.

The bark of young trees may vary from gray to a reddish brown. As it ages the bark turns darker, into brownish-black and becomes noticeably furrowed. The bark is distinctly marked by horizontal rows of raised air pores. With maturation the lenticels develop into shallow grooves.
It has perfect flowers which are aromatic and arranged in cylindrical racemes 3 to 6 inches long. The racemes always grow on the current year’s leafy twig growth. Individual flowers are perfect, 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter with 5 white petals. The flowers start appearing before the leaves are fully developed. Flowers may appear from April to July and fruits form a couple of months later.

Location: As can be seen on the map, the chokecherry is widespread across North America. Chokecherry is found in a large geographic area and it grows abundantly in many habitat types

Edible: The flesh of the fruit is edible. Also, jelly and jam can be made from the fruit. Native Americans would mash the fruits and seeds and use it to mix with meat and make pemmican.

Nutritional Value

The small berries are loaded with fiber, vitamin C, manganese, and several other vitamins and minerals. Naturally low in calories and high in anti-oxidant properties.

The berries are rich in quinic acid and work hard to prevent urinary tract infections. The berries are also rich in flavonoids, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanins that help fight against allergies and viruses.

Harvesting Chokecherries

Don’t be too anxious to harvest chokecherries, give them plenty of time to reach maturity so the flavor will be more on the sweet side and less on the tart side. Wait until late summer when the berries are at their darkest color to harvest them. When the berries start turning dark, a taste test done every couple of days will let you know when they are at their peak.

The small berries grow in clusters that hang down from a stem, so just snap off the entire stem at harvest time. The individual berries can be removed from the stems after you get the fruit home.

Chokecherry trees can be grown from seeds or cuttings.

Rinse the berries and allow them to air dry before storing them in the refrigerator. They will keep for up to a week. To remove the seeds and extract the juice, lightly steam the berries to soften them and strain them through a colander or cheesecloth. Fruit leather is made from the berry pulp after the berries have been steamed.

Grow Your Own

Chokecherry trees can be grown from seeds or cuttings. Seeds or seedlings can be purchased from most garden supply centers, or it’s easy to harvest and plant them yourself. To harvest seeds, wait until late fall when the chokecherries are at their ripest. Remove the pulp from the seeds and allow seeds to air dry for 24 hours. Plant seeds in a shallow hole, water and add a 2-inch layer of fallen leaves on top of the soil.

If you want to save the harvested seeds from fall for planting in the spring, place the air-dried seeds in moist sand in a cool location for 60-90 days, then plant outdoors.

To grow your own chokecherry tree from a cutting, cut a length of soft wood from the tree in the summer when the plant is actively growing. Dip the cut end into rooting hormone and plant directly into outdoor soil that has been amended with compost. Keep the soil moist and the cutting will soon develop a new root system and begin to actively produce new growth.

Notes Of Interest

* Chokecherries are valuable plants for native bees. The long-lasting blooms are rich in pollen and keep bees well-fed for several months during the early summer.
* The berries can be poisonous to humans if they are consumed in large quantities.
* Chokecherries have a single seed in each berry – its poisonous look-alike, the Buckthorn, contains several small seeds inside each berry.
* The seeds and the leaves of the chokecherry shrub contain cyanide. The amount is not enough to harm a human unless ingested in large quantities.

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Hawthorn A Wild Edible

Hawthorn A Wild Edible You Can Forage

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Hawthorn (Crataegus), also known as hawberry, quickthorn, whitethorn, and thornapple, is a member of the rose family and is a wild-growing plant that is used for food and medicine. Hawthorn a wild edible has all parts edible and foraging for hawthorn has become increasingly popular due to its versatile uses as food and herbal medicine. A quick search of the USDA Plant Database provides information for approximately 150 different species of hawthorns that range from shrubs to small trees that can reach upwards of 30 feet. Even more interesting, I have read there are well over 200 different types of hawthorns one of which can be found somewhere in North America. If you are interested in foraging, get to know the types of hawthorns that grow in your area.


hawthorn a wild edible picture USDA plant database copy write free

Hawthorn is a term that encompasses multiple species. In general, they are shrubs to small trees growing to around 20 ft plus. As member of the rose family, the branches are covered with thorns. The branches develop deep fissures that reveal an orange interior under the gray-brown exterior. The berries look much like rose hips – red and round – but can be yellow, orange, blue, or black.

The plant leaves are wedge-shaped and have 5-7 lobes with fine teeth at the tip on some species while could be more “leaf like” with small serrations on the edges on others.

Hawthorns bloom in May and are covered with clusters of small white to red based flowers (depending on the specific species). The flowers give off a strong scent that is described in two very different ways – some say the blooms smell sweet and pleasant while other describe the scent as that of a rotting corpse. Both sides agree that the fragrance of a hawthorn tree in bloom is a strong scent that can be smelled from a distance.

Wild Growing Location

Hawthorn is native to Europe and can be found in Asia, Africa, Australia, and North America. The shrub grows wild along the edges of wooded areas and thickets and grows best in moist soil that is loose and rich with decomposed plant matter.

Hawthorn growing in the wild often create a natural living fence along the edge of a wooded area and is often planted as a living fence in large landscapes.

Flavor and Uses

Hawthorn a wild edible, its berries have a tart flavor while the plant leaves have a light floral flavor. The berries and leaves are used in the making of tea, wine, jelly, jam, ketchup, infused oil, and vinegar.

The young leaves and flowers are gathered in the spring and used in a fresh green salad. The leaves can be harvested anytime for making tea.

Hawthorn a Wild Edible Notes of Interest leaves and berries

The berries ripen in early fall and will be at their peak flavor after the first frost of fall. They can be harvested before frost but will have a tarter flavor.

The leaves, flowers, and berries are used to make tea for drinking or tinctures. The tea can also be used to add flavor to foods like rice or pasta by using it as a cooking liquid.

Nutritional Value

The edible plant parts are rich in vitamins B and C, fiber, and loaded with antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize the free radicals (unstable molecules) in the body that are precursors to many chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Hawthorn is also a powerful anti-inflammatory that helps reduce the amount of inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to debilitating diseases like diabetes, cancer, and asthma.

Hawthorn extract (tincture) has been shown in studies to significantly reduce the amount of blood fat in the body. Lowering the blood fat reduces high cholesterol to help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The natural fiber content of the berries aid in digestion and help improve gut health. The berries keep food moving swiftly through the digestive process for better elimination. Hawthorn extract has been shown in studies to provide a protective coating on the lining of the stomach to help treat and/or prevent stomach ulcers.

Hawthorn extract is rich in polyphenols (micronutrients) that are beneficial for skin and hair. One study shows that hawthorn extract is good for stimulating hair growth because it increases the size and number of hair follicles.

Harvesting Hawthorn

To harvest the leaves and flowers, prune off some of the branches from the tree in spring when the shrub is in bloom. If you are on the side of describing the flowers as smelling bad, the smell will fade as the flowers dry and the dried flowers don’t taste as bad as they smell.

Place the small branches with flowers and leaves intact in a paper bag and hang the bag upside down in a warm location until they dry. The dried leaves and flowers will be easy to remove from the branches, just be careful of the thorns.

Harvest the berries by carefully picking them off the plant in late summer or fall. Place them in a single layer in a warm location to dry or use a dehydrator to dry.

Grow Your Own

Plant hawthorn seeds in late February. Mix compost and leaf mold into the soil, plant 2 seeds in a hole that is 2-inches deep, and water well. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate.

You can start a new plant by taking a cutting from an older plant. Take a 10-inch cutting in spring, remove leaves, dip the cut end into rooting hormone and insert 2-inches deep into a container of potting soil. Place container in a shaded area and allow the roots to develop then transplant outdoors.

Hawthorn a Wild Edible Notes of Interest

* Hawthorn has long been used as a natural way to control high blood pressure, lower high cholesterol, improve circulation, and increase blood flow to the heart. Hawthorn widens the blood vessels and increases the amount of blood that is pumped out of the heart during contractions.

* Hawthorn supplements typically include all parts of the plant. The leaves and flowers contain more antioxidants than the berries.

* Honey bees love the hawthorn shrub when it’s in full bloom. The abundant pollen produced by the flowers helps the bees create dark, nut-flavored honey known as ‘Hawthorn honey’.

*Tinctures and salves are also made from various parts of the hawthorn plant to treat skin disorders, like boils and open sores.

Wild Purslane A Wild Edible

Wild Purslane A Wild Edible

Wild Purslane A Wild Edible
Finding wild purslane is easy, just look down

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), also known as Little Hogweed, Pusley, and wild portulaca, is an edible plant that grows wild in almost every climate and region of the world. Wild Purslane is a member of the Portulacaceae family with more than 120 different species and is native to Europe and Northern Asia. It was brought into North America by colonists and is now widespread throughout the United States.

Like the dandelion, it’s an invasive species that competes with native plants, but its invasive nature and nutritional value makes it an ideal plant to forage for use as a sustainable food source.

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This is a creeping plant that stays low to the ground rarely reaching over 6-inches tall. All the creeping stems will develop from one central root. Purslane is succulent and has fleshy leaves and stems. The oval leaves grow out from the stem in a set of four and will be about the size of your thumbnail when mature. The leaves are bright green, have smooth edges, and are smooth to the touch. The stems have a reddish tinge of color.

The plant will produce purple or yellow flowers from mid-spring until late autumn.

Wild Growing Locations

This wild edible thrives in a wide variety of locations where it can grow undisturbed. The most common places to find wild purslane is along riverbanks, roadsides, vacant lots, open fields, and along the edge of a wooded area.

Flavor and Uses

The flavor of purslane is often described as a cross between a green apple and celery but with a bit more tart some compare it to watercress. The leaves can be eaten raw and are crunchy, or they can be boiled or steamed like any other leafy green vegetable.

The stems from young plants can be enjoyed raw in a salad. The stems of older plants might be a little tough and will need to be prepared like broccoli stems before eating.

Flower stalks and flowers are edible and have a flavor that is slightly sour and like salty vegetables.

Wild Purslane Nutritional Value

Purslane is a powerhouse of nutrients and is a must-have food source for the food forager, homesteader, or anyone else looking to increase their sustainable food source through foraging. This wild edible is a rich source of protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The plant also is rich in vitamins A, B, C, and E. It’s a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, and several other micro-nutrients and minerals. The entire plant is naturally low in calories and sodium and will increase the nutritional value of any meal or snack.

Harvesting Purslane

Because of the plant’s rapid growth habit and invasive nature, pulling up a purslane patch will not be harmful to the environment. Even though the plant is invasive, it has naturalized to its environment and will re-grow from cuttings and seeds dropped from the plant. Additionally, birds and small animals that eat the plant help disperse the seeds. I find wild purslane growing in my vegetable garden every year.

The leaves and stems will be at their most tender flavor peak when the plant is young in the early spring. Harvest young plants when planning to eat them raw.

Grow Your Own

You don’t have to rely on foraging for purslane, it’s easy to plant and grow in a container garden or at the edge of the landscape. Remember, it’s an invasive plant and will need to be confined within a container or raised bed garden so it won’t overtake other garden plants. If you have a patch of vacant landscape where the plant can grow without interfering with other food plants, that will work very well.

Select a sunny location and sow seeds directly outdoors in spring as soon as the soil can be worked and when the danger of frost has passed. Cover the seeds with one-fourth inch of soil, gently tamp down, and water thoroughly. Don’t water again unless there is a prolonged period of drought. Don’t fertilize plants.

wild purslane is a great ground cover for the garden

Purslane can also be grown from cuttings quiet well. If you can cut stems close to the main stem with several sets of leaves that will be best. Cut the lower sets of leaves from the stem keeping at least two sets of leaves on the top of the stem. Stick the part of the stem stripped of leaves into a pot filled with rich moist potting mix. Keep the cuttings out of direct sun and the potting mix moist for several weeks

Poisonous Look-Alike

Spurges is a poisonous plant that looks like purslane but has one distinguishing difference – when the stem or leaves are broken it will ooze a sticky white substance. Spurges is also not a succulant so the leaves are thinner and the plant is hairy.

Elderberry – Wild Edible

Elderberry – Wild Edible

Elderberry is a native shrub like plant that attracts birds, butterflies and wildlife. It is a prolific plant that can reproduce from seeds, sprouts, planted branches, and root suckers.  It does require stratification at 36-40 degrees F for two months for spring planting.

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Common Names

Arizona elderberry, American elder, sweet elder, wild elder, flor sauco, tree of music, Danewort, Walewort, New Mexican elderberry, velvet-leaf elder, hairy blue elderberry, and dwarf elder. 


Elderberry is a shrub like plant that grows 10 ft- to 15 ft tall.

The plant’s compound leaves are set oppositely in pairs. The leaf surface is bright green.  They are oval to lance-shaped leaflets are up to 6″ long and 2 1/2″ wide and have finely serrated margins.  They are abruptly narrowed at the tip and lopsidedly narrowed or rounded at the base.  Leaflets are usually held on short stalks.

elderberry - wild edible flower head
elderberry flower head in June Location was Martha’s Vineyard

Flowers open in early summer as small white, roughly ¼ inch each, flowers borne in large, flattened clusters measuring 4″-10″ across. Flowers usually develop in the second year on older canes and are arranged in branched clusters of 5.

Purple-black round fruit appear in late summer and fall. Individual berries are less than 1/4″ across grouped in large clusters. Each berry contains 3-5 small seeds. 

Range & Habitat

elderberry map showing the North American areas this native plant family can be found

As the map indicates, some form of elderberry can be found throughout the US and Canada – from California and all western states, south into northwest Mexico, north to Canada and to the North American east coast.

Elderberry grows on moist, well-drained sunny sites, usually occurring in groupings in moist areas and moist areas within drier, more open habitat. You can find them around streams, open areas with access to moisture.

American elderberry prefers slightly acid soil bordering streams, and in the adjacent bottomlands.  It likes full sunlight.


Elderberry fruit normally matures between mid-August and mid-September and turn a dark purple when fully ripe.

The easiest way to harvest elderberries is to use scissors to snip the entire cluster from the shrub and then remove the berries from the cluster.

The annual average yield per plant is 12 lbs. -15 lbs.

Storage Refrigerate immediately after harvesting or freeze for later use.


Elderberries right off the bush are usually tart. You should not each too much raw though

elderberry leaves

The berries are gathered and made into elderberry wine, jam, syrup, and pies.

The entire flower cluster can be dipped in batter and fried while petals can be eaten raw or made into a fragrant and tasty tea.

The flowers add an aromatic flavor and lightness to pancakes or fritters.

Interesting Facts

At least 50 species of songbirds, upland game birds, and small mammals eat the fruit of American elder during summer and early fall as do the White-tailed deer that browse the twigs, foliage and fruit during the summer.

American elder is a nesting cover for small birds.

American elder can be used for erosion control on moist sites.  It pioneers on some strip-mine spoils and may occasionally be useful for reclamation planting. 

Elders can be propagated from 10” to 18” hardwood cuttings taken from vigorous one-year-old canes in which cane each must include three sets of buds. 

Edible berries and flower are used for medicine, dyes for basketry, arrow shafts, flute, whistles, clapper sticks, and folk medicine. 

Elderberries are high in Vitamin C. 

The wood is hard and has been used for combs, spindles, and pegs, and the hollow stems have been fashioned into flutes and blowguns. 

Elderberry branches were used to make the shaft of arrows. 

Birds and other animals disperse seeds as they poop them out after feasting on the fruit. There are about 230,000 seeds per pound.

There are several look alikes you should be careful of. The first is pokeweed, the second is devil’s walking stick and the third is poison hemlock. Learn to identify the differences – especially poison hemlock since eating that by accident will kill you.

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USDA plant guide