Wild Food Foraging: Jerusalem Artichokes, Nuts, Wild Apples and Elderberries

James E. Churchill shares these recipes of favorite foods found while wild foraging including Jerusalem artichokes, wild apples, elderberries, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds.

| September/October 1971

  • Wild apples
    September is also a very good month for gathering wild apples which, surprisingly enough, are not native to this continent. "the first apples were brought here from Europe . . . but they spread even faster than civilization through the new land and soon became an important food to the pioneers. 

  • Wild apples

September is a harvest month here in Wisconsin and a food forager could work himself into exhaustion and still not gather a substantial fraction of the available free-for-the-gathering eats. Wild grapes are ripe . . . arrowheads are mature enough to dig . . . blackberries, hickory nuts, walnuts and butternuts are ready to harvest.

We've already talked about such wild foods in this series, however, so let's get on to others that we haven't yet mentioned: elderberries, Jerusalem artichokes, hazelnuts, sunflowers and apples. Wild and semi-wild.

Elderberries have a very long food-bearing season in our area. I've seen ripe elderberries while picking blackberries in August and I've seen them while duck hunting in October. I think there's a good possibility that some elderberry bunches are almost everbearing. Either a single plant bears twice during the year or different plants in a bunch ripen at different times and so produce fruit over an almost-three-month period.

Of course, if a three-month fruit bearing season isn't long enough for you, you'll find the flowers that cluster in white umbrellas weeks before the fruit is ripe to be good eating also.

Nor does this exhaust all the elderberry's possibilities. The stem or wood of the elderberry plant is a tube surrounding a white pith center. This tube—cut into six-inch lengths with its pith center pushed out by a wire heated red hot—makes a good spike for tapping maple trees in the spring. Then too, my son says the elderberry stem makes the best trap stake for trapping wild animals as he can push the odorous attractor scent into the hollowed out stick. The Indians made a blow gun from six-foot lengths of elderberry and I'm told they also used the hollowed—out sticks as snorkel tubes when hunting waterfowl.

In this last use of the stems, strong swimmers quietly entered the water—out of sight of a flock of ducks—and swam on their backs under the surface (with nostrils pinched shut), breathing through the elderberry tubes. When they reached the birds, the swimmers grasped the feet of the waterfowl, pulled them under and drowned them without alarming the others. Sounds like it might take some practice.

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