Urban Foraging

Look carefully as you drive through more heavily forested areas of the neighborhood, and you may just see a few errant polka dots of red here and there in the bushes. Take the time to investigate, and your curiosity will be rewarded; It’s raspberry season, and wild berries abound, free for the taking. Although initially difficult to locate, just one good patch of these edible jewels will produce plenty of good eats, and good fun too! If you’ve ever spotted some of these rarities but haven’t known how to proceed, fear not- It’s really quite simple. It’s not rocket science after all, but many years of tireless picking has taught me a few valuable tips…

If you’re not 110% certain that your berries are edible, unsprayed, nontoxic, and otherwise fit for human consumption, just don’t pick them. It’s a real bummer to see berries go to waste, but trust me, they’re simply not worth risking your health for.

Dress appropriately. Sure, it may be 90 degrees out and humid as hell, but you should still plan on wearing long pants and sleeves. Berries tend to go hand in hand with thorns, and they’ll tear up your arms and legs if you’re not covered. Sneakers are mandatory too… As for foraging in high-heels, I can tell you from experience that it’s a very bad idea, period.

Be prepared to fight. You’re not the only one out there that wants those sweet jewels! There will be bugs, and lots of them; mosquitos, spiders, beetles, slugs, miscellaneous creepy crawly things, you name it. If you can’t handle the thought of accidentally picking a big, meaty insect instead of that berry you were after, you might not want to try this.

Be critical and selective. When you find a good spot, the sheer number of potential treasures can be overwhelming. Instead of just grabbing every colorful gem in sight, really look at what you’re taking and only go for the biggest, most deeply colored berries you can find. Give the smaller ones a chance to grow, and you’ll be happier on subsequent visits.

Think like a berry. Where do berries like to grow? Don’t just approach the bushes at eye level- Crouch down, poke under leaves, push through branches. The best clusters are often hidden deeper inside the bush, more protected from the hungry wildlife.

Don’t be overzealous in your picking. Leave any berries that seem to be overripe, moldy, or infested with bugs. If they squish between your fingers and leave you stained with juice, they’re generally no good (just make sure you aren’t grabbing them too roughly in the first place though!) Let the pale or under-ripe berries be as well, since you can always come back in a few days and do another round of picking, getting much better berries than you would have in the first place.

Plan on either eating, freezing, canning, or baking with your berries immediately. They don’t last like store-bought produce, and tend to go bad in just a few days. Don’t waste time! To freeze them, I lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet, freeze until solid, and then transfer them all into a big air-tight plastic container. Repeat as needed.

Should all your best efforts fail, check out the U-Pick or Pick-Your-Own farms in your area. It may not be as thrilling as hunting down your own wild berries, and you will have to pay, but they’re still guaranteed to be fresher and tastier than anything you find in the supermarket.

Now, don’t waste any more time, get out there and start picking- The season won’t last long!

22 thoughts on “Urban Foraging

  1. This is an amazing post filled with gorgeous pictures. Those raspberries look like glittering, delicious jewels. We have gotten SO disconnected from our food, most of us, me included, have never foraged/picked/grown our own food. This was a thoughtful and inspiring post. I can’t wait to start growing my own food, and maybe someday I will live somewhere that I can forage for my own food as well. Thanks!

  2. Lovely looking berries! I sometimes see blackberries around when i go up to the hills, but like you said im not 100% sure what they are and if theyre safe so dont pick them. Im happy to wait until summer when my raspberries come out :)
    We use to have a HUGE mulburry bush as big as a house in the park down the street, but they chopped it down :(


  3. Another message…
    Soyatoo is expensive isnt it Hannah! I think it cost me $7 for the tinsy carton. I will have to make it an occasional indulgance :) I can see why you would eat it on its own, its so sweet! I learnt it tastes great with not so sweet things, like apple crumble :)


  4. I think all your advice is wrong–everyone knows you should stop for every glimpse of redness (or blue if you like blueberries..), grab it even if it’s got a little bit of white left on it, and stuff it in your mouth as quick as you can!
    … well, at least that’s how I pick berries ;) But then again, when I do it it’s in fairly touristic areas where you can’t just plan to come back to find the riper berries.

  5. the pictures are just gorgeous. I always used to see blackberries growing near my parents’ house but as they were near a road, wasn’t sure if they were suitable for picking or not!

  6. MY!
    This reminds me of the thicket beside a road FULL of blackberries. I picked the ones on the edge, but there was no way of getting to the lush center. Nothing is like the small wild berries of summer!

  7. Great post! I too am really into urban foraging, and spent several days this summer wandering around my neighborhood looking for mulberries, serviceberries, nettles, etc.

    For anyone who is interested in safely identifying berries, there are plenty of guide books specific to your area out there. I highly recommend picking up an edible berries (or any edible wild plants) book if you are serious about foraging. They should have plenty of identifying characteristics as well as dangerous look-a-likes to avoid.

    One last thing: if you find a berry bush and the berries taste a bit off, it may be the soil they’re growing in, or the plant itself may not be healthy. I found a stand of serviceberry trees growing near a parking lot with berries that tasted just OK, but later that week found a different stand growing near a lake just a few blocks away, and the berries from the latter stand were quite a bit sweeter.

  8. I actually live on a you-pick raspberry farm (http://www.makielskiberryfarm.com/) just outside of Ann Arbor. It’s fun, you know the berries are safe and you pay about a quarter of what you would at the store. Look for a farm near you, there are more than you would think.

  9. Just came to say hi!!! I have been lurking on your blog for quite some time.I just love raspberries but they are not available here in the Caribbean. My best bet is having them frozen but they still do the trick. What are the purpleish berries that look something like this called. I had those last year but I do not know the name.

  10. Awesome post! I just picked some raspberries last week from behind a consignment store. I just love the little gifts in life :)

  11. This is a great post. I really like urban foraging. Your pictures came out unreal. I want to eat my monitor! Very nice.

  12. Oo, that brings back memories of days at the farm of my friends parents when we always used to go out and about to search for berries. For some reason they are hard to find around these parts now in the wild, but I love your photos. Beautiful little berries!

  13. sorry for not giving you credit on the photo! a friend of mine made the banner for me so i had no idea. how would you like the credit to be given? i don’t really have a way of editing it myself, but i can ask said friend to take it out if you’d like. thanks.

  14. You’re not kidding about the thorns, I have some blackberry vines in the backyard and aside from producing some very tasty berries, they are my mortal enemy. I’ve never found any in the wild though!

  15. Haha okay now I don’t think I want to pick berries because I’m not ready to grab a meaty bug instead of a berry!! There are lots of wild blackberries everywhere here and I used to pick and eat them when I was younger but now I’m scared to because I have no idea what’s been done to them.

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