Foraging for Edible Wild Plants: A Field Guide to Wild Berries

Learn about foraging for wild edible plants including wild berries. Wild berries consist of identifiable favorites like blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, cranberries and less familiar varieties such as elderberries, chokecherries, bunchberries, wintergreen and snowberries.

| October/November 1999

  • Wild Berries
    Foraging for wild edible plants can be tons of fun, and you'll be treated with sweet edible berries as your reward!
    Photo by Getty Images/Brandtbolding
  • Blueberries
    Wild blueberries taste better than almost any blueberries you can buy at the store.
    Photo by Getty Images/Sergeeva
  • 176-048-01-Warbler
    Birds love wild edible berries as much as we do.
    Photo by Getty Images/Gray Gray
  • 176-048-01-Cranberries
    Wild cranberries make excellent preserves.
    Photo by Getty Images/Tashka2000
  • 176-048-01-chokecherries
    Chokecherries are bitter but can sweeten when cooked.
    Photo by Getty Images/Murphy_Shewchuk

  • Wild Berries
  • Blueberries
  • 176-048-01-Warbler
  • 176-048-01-Cranberries
  • 176-048-01-chokecherries

Long before our home plantings even begin to flower in June, mouthwatering berries of all kinds arrive (at world class prices) in the fancy-food departments of supermarkets, first from Chile, then from Central America and Mexico, and, finally, from warmer areas of North America — raspberries from California and blueberries from Georgia. As with most mass-produced produce, these berries capably fill the stomachs of those who have but a fleeting memory of a backyard raspberry bush, but they are only a moon-cast shadow of what may be the most delicious food in the world.

Identify Wild Berries: Where to Forage

One or another fruiting plant grows practically everywhere in North America. Indeed, the greatest variety of berries are found on low bushes and ground creepers native to our most hostile climate: snow country of the U.S./Canadian borderlands and up into the Great White North. Till you prospect the country, you'll never know how climate, topography and soil chemistry combine to determine the berry species that will grow there. When you do, make it an expedition of discovery.

And think like a raspberry. A berry's only role in nature is to peddle seeds that the parent plant wants distributed as far afield as possible. The preferred customers of most berry species are farflying birds. That's why a plant surrounds its fruit with thorns intended to fend off slowpokes such as you, me, wild pigs and bears. It grows best in full sun. If its roots are in the shade, it will extend long, flowering branches, canes or the stolons used by ground-berries as far out into the sun as possible.

Trees and berry bushes sprout everywhere birds drop seed, but most thrive only in the sun. You'll often find berry bramble canes at road and field edges or at meadow margins. In spring, where brush has grown up all around parent brambleberry plants you'll spot white-flower-garlanded canes arching up and over adjoining plants to seek the sun. There, bees will find the flowers and birds will spy the bright berries when they are ripe.

Identify Wild Berries: How to Forage

Think like a bluejay. Look from ground level up to eye level and at all low trees. Many common berries grow in both bush and creeper forms. Creeper berries are underfoot, often extended above the greenery on long stems. Fruiting trees are low-growers that attract high-flyers like jays along with low-flying ground birds such as warblers that migrate through the underbrush.

Search in natural meadows, at river and pond margins, overgrown farm fields or recent burns, along country roads and lanes, and under power line rights-of-way. Some berries grow in marshes, others in sandy barrens. The guides recommend "disturbed ground" or places where man has removed trees and undergrowth, then abandoned the land, providing several decades of sunny ground for fast-growing berry bushes and small fruiting trees to colonize, before forest trees grow up to shade them out.

7/26/2014 6:38:04 PM

Great information! Wild blackberries are everywhere in the Bay Area right now, and we are really enjoying them!

8/26/2013 1:34:19 AM

"first from Chile, then from Central America and Mexico, and, finally, from warmer areas of North America" Just thought I should mention; Canada, The United States of America and The United Mexican States are ALL part of North America. Mexico is NOT part of South or Central America

8/9/2013 12:28:28 PM

I'm trying to identify a western massachusetts plant with slightly arched raspberry-like seeds, wild rose-like pink blossoms, and grapevine like leaves.  I see them near some riverbanks.  Are the seeds edible?

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