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The Ultimate Guide to Foraging for Plants, Mushrooms, and Wild Berries
Foraging — the act of finding wild, edible plants, berries and mushrooms in forests — is a great way to connect with your local environment, collect tasty food and experience food collecting the way your ancestors did. Plus, what better way to add to your dishes than with locally foraged wild produce? Your friends and family will be so impressed!
Before we divulge any foraging tips, let’s start with the basic safety stuff. There are poisonous plants, berries and mushrooms in the woods, many of which look very similar to the edible and tasty varieties. Always be 100 percent certain of the plant you are eating. It is also a great idea to forage with a guide or an experienced forager your first few times. After all, certain mushrooms can lead to death if you ingest them. So safety first, foragers! Now let’s get to the good stuff!
Types of Berries, Mushrooms and Plants
Wild blueberries can be found in the northern parts of the United States from Maine to North Carolina all the way to the Sierra Nevada mountain range. These berries grow on low bushes. Ripe berries will be dark blue with a white dusty wax on the outside. You can find the ripest berries from May to August.
Unlike many other plants and berries, blackberries and raspberries don’t have poisonous lookalikes, so they are all safe to eat. You can find these delicate fruits growing in tiny clusters on bushes along the eastern United States and the Pacific Coast. Blackberries and raspberries ripen between May and July. They will be plump, dark and easily come off of the vine. Look for these berries in sunny areas, and only pick the ripe ones since they don’t continue to ripen once that are plucked. The bushes are thorny, so be sure to wear protective clothing such as boots and overalls.
This southern fruit can be found on tree-hanging vines. They are like a wild grape, and are a deep purple when ripe. To eat a muscadine, you squeeze out the flesh. Muscadines are often used to make a sweet wine.
Wild strawberries grow significantly smaller than the varieties you find in grocery store and farmer’s markets. They also have a more concentrated flavor. You can find them across the United States, although they aren’t as common as they once were. Wild strawberries are at peak season in early spring, usually after the snow melts away.
Oyster mushrooms can be found during every season of the year, making them one of the most popular mushrooms. These mushrooms feature white to gray scalloped caps and are usually found on dying hardwood trees (oaks, maples, dogwoods).
Chanterelles are a golden to orange colored mushroom, making it easy to spot them in the woods. These mushrooms grow on the east and west coasts and are at their best during summer and fall. But beware! These mushrooms strongly resemble Jack-O-Lanterns, a toxic mushroom of the same coloring.
Usually growing at the base of hardwood trees, these mushrooms have small, overlapping caps shaped like fans that form a cluster. Maitake mushrooms can grow quite large, with some people reporting their findings weighing up to 50 pounds! Since these mushrooms are harder to eat when they are larger in size, we recommend harvesting during the autumn months while they are young. If you find a larger maitake, you can dry it to be used in soups and sauces.
Dandelions might not be your favorite weed, but you can eat the entire plant. While the yellow flower is edible, the leaves are the truly delicious part. If you find a mature plant, or one with a white top, boil the leaves and roots to make tea.
While you might have spent hours looking for the lucky four-leaf versions, clovers are edible and can be found in any grassy area. Chop small amounts of raw clover into salads. You can sauté or boil into soups, rice dishes or even pasta. Also, both the flowers and leaves can be dried and brewed in tea.