Nature Nut: Wild harvest

The beginning of September heralds a change in the seasons.

The beginning of September heralds a change in the seasons, with cool mornings and shorter days to remind us that winter is not far away. This is the season for harvesting and storing foods for us and wild critters alike. Many of us have gardens or buy fresh foods from local producers, but have you considered collecting some of nature’s bounty?

Mother Nature has a number of different crops that come into season throughout the year. Below are a few things available for gathering right away.

Huckleberries are a prize pick from August until snow falls at high elevations. You are like to find some in subalpine and alpine meadows, avalanche shoots and old burn sites. They are sweeter after freezing. You might also still find some wild raspberries and thimbleberries on your way up.

Blue and black elderberries can be collected now and make an excellent addition to jams, jellies, syrups, preserves, pastries and even wine. Hawthorn berries are also plentiful in early September, and although seedy, can be useful in jams and jellies as they are high in pectin. They also make a nice tea when steeped alone or with other ingredients.

Some berries best left for picking after first frost are choke cherries, which are plentiful all over the valley, and high-bush cranberries, which can be found along the Columbia River and Wetlands. These berries are best cooked into jams and jellies; a wonderful addition to the Thanksgiving table.

If you’re heading down to the wetlands keep your eyes peeled for wild mint, an excellent herb for tea, and cattails and bulrushes, which can be used in a number of different ways.

Rosehips are easy to find and pick at this time of year and even into winter. They can be used in jams, jellies, syrup, wine and tea or eaten fresh or dried. Rosehips are high in many vitamins, especially vitamin C, and are good to have on hand for cold and flu season.

These are only some of the foods nature has to offer! There are numerous other plants in the area that yield tasty tubers, bulbs, greens, fruits, seeds, flowers, nuts and vegetables, as well as mushrooms, throughout the year.

Always practice safe picking. Don’t eat it unless you are certain of its identity, there are many plants that have lookalikes that are poisonous. Be sure to make lots of noise and carry bear deterrent. Don’t collect plants that are rare or at risk, and always use your hands to gather fruit gently without damaging the plant. Collect from areas where there are lots of plants and make sure to leave some for next year!