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Gifts from Our Forests

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

Have you ever been hungry while on a hike? Do you like unusual foods but can't afford gourmet store prices? If you only knew the specialty store that is at your fingertips!From deep in the ground to the top of its trees, forests provide hundreds of tasty morsels, including morel mushrooms in the spring, berries of all sorts in the summer and various nuts each fall. Year-round you can find something to delight your palate.

We're not suggesting that you avoid the local grocery store. However, foods provided by forests can add variety and nutrition to anyone's diet.

The only catch is that you'll need to be able to identify what you are gathering. We've always been cautious about eating wild foods because some are poisonous look-alikes of edible species. Some plants also have both edible and poisonous parts.

Our rule of thumb has always been, "if you don't know, don't eat it!" To learn about plant and tree identification, visit your local library, bookstore or Missouri Department of Conservation office.

You'll also want to find out when to gather what. Most wild plant guides describe the best season for harvesting the edible portions of different species.

Let's go foraging in the summer forest and discover what gifts abound.

As you walk along the forest edge or in the open woods, look for some wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana), dewberries (Rubus spp.), blackberries (Rubus spp.), raspberries (Rubus occidentalis), gooseberries (Ribes missouriense), mulberries (Morus rubra and M. alba) and serviceberries (Amelanchier arborea). You won't be disappointed. These can be eaten fresh off the vine or tree. Take plenty home and try your favorite fruit leather, pie, jelly or jam recipes for a lasting treat throughout the year.

Wash and freeze your summer fare and prepare the treat whenever the urge strikes. Berries can last six months or more depending on how fresh the fruit and how quickly it's packaged.

Jan Phillips provides an easy blackberry pie recipe in her book: Wild Edibles of Missouri.

Blackberry Pie

Wash the berries and fill your pie crust almost to the top. Cover the berries with sugar, then sprinkle a tablespoon of flour over the top, along with a small amount of salt. Drop several butter pats on the top and cover with another crust. Bake the pie on a cookie sheet to protect the oven, because the pie often bubbles over. Bake at 350 degrees for almost an hour.

Black cherry (Prunus serotina) makes more great fare

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