In terms of fresh food, this is the best time of the year. Gardens are abounding with the hard-earned fruits of labor. While eating the produce is wonderful, you may also appreciate the savings garnered from fewer trips to the grocery store. Almost everyone grows the local staple foods: green beans, potatoes, tomatoes and corn. However fresh, locally-produced berries may be harder to find. Fortunately we have an abundance of wild, sweet treats growing all around us.
Some common wild berries currently flourishing in our area are black raspberries, blackberries and wineberries. These berries are very nutritious. Finding them can be a fun family activity and incorporating them into meals keeps mountain culture alive.
Black raspberries are often called the king of berries. This plant is native to West Virginia and is packed full of amazing health benefits. In laboratory testing black raspberries have been proven to prevent cancer and aid in reducing tumors. It is very high in antioxidants and vitamin C. These compounds seek and destroy free radicals in the body, helping to detoxify and remove harmful substances. Black raspberries are also high in fiber, vitamin A, and calcium. As sweet as they are, black raspberries are a low calorie food and are low in sugar.
Raspberry leaves have been a prized medicinal commodity for a long time. When dried and used in teas, raspberry leaves boost oral health as a remedy for canker sores, cold sores and gingivitis. The tea also is excellent for digestive health and has been used by women for centuries to aid in complications with pregnancy and the child birthing process.
Blackberries are also a native plant and are likely the easiest to find in our area. They are also very healthy and delicious when ripe. Blackberries are very high in vitamin C and contain important minerals like potassium, magnesium and iron. They also boast powerful antioxidants and are high in fiber, which helps promote bowel regularity.
An edible berry you may be less familiar with is the wineberry. This invasive species is an Asian relative to the raspberry. It has a tasty red berry and is very easy to identify in the wild. The berries can be orange or red and it has spiky red hairs on the stems and flowers. It is also high in vitamin C and has a tart taste similar to blackberries and raspberries.
When foraging for wild berries start by looking in areas that receive a lot of sunlight. Areas that have been recently timbered or had heavy storm damage are excellent spots for wild berries. Also they are commonly spotted along the sides of trails and roadways. Foraging is a fun way to learn about the forest and get exercise. You can gather and enjoy berries all along the way. It is good to wear long sleeves as protection from thorns and be sure to properly identify what you’re eating before you try it.
Once you’ve gathered some berries there are tons of ways to use them. They can be eaten fresh and are excellent in jams, pies and cobblers. Wild berries make a colorful addition to salads and cereals, and can be used to make sauces, dressings and wine. If you’d like to preserve your bounty they can be frozen and used in other seasons. They are best to freeze on a tray before bagging and storing in order to prevent them from sticking together.
Foraging for berries is a wonderful way to spend time with friends and family. It is exercise with a tasty and nutritious reward!
Recipe: Wild Berry Glaze
In a blender combine:
-1 cup wild berries
-1-2 tablespoons local maple syrup, honey or brown sugar
-1 clove garlic
-A pinch of salt and pepper
-A few sprigs of rosemary
Blend until smooth.
Excellent as a condiment, sauce for steak or chicken, and great as a salad dressing