Wild food Foraging: Highbush Cranberry, Barberry, Chickweed and Groundnut

Learn how to forage and cook highbush cranberry, barberry, chickweed and groundnut.

| November/December 1972

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    Nature provides an abundance of food free for the taking. You just need to know where to find it.
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    Groundnut tastes like turnips.
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    Highbush cranberry has a similar taste to true cranberries, and can be prepared in the same ways.
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    Barberry is a  sour fruit useful for making jam.
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    Chickweed tastes good and is very nutritious.

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November—a time that can be as mild as October or as savage as January in the Midwest—is here again. During the early part of the month we'll bustle around, basket in hand, looking for any food plants that are left. Later I'll clean my trusty rifle and see about harvesting a deer for the protein we'll need during the upcoming winter.

Some of the plants we'll forage in November are highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), barberry (Berberis vulgaris), groundnut (Apios americana) and chickweed (Stellaria media). Considerable evidence indicates that all four of these wildings were not only mixed by Indians into their meat and fruit but were also used to form a good survival or trail food called pemmican . . . I'll get to that a little later.

Highbush Cranberry

Highbush cranberry—a red fruit similar to its domestic counterpart—grows on a two to ten-foot-high shrub. During the summer the bush has leaves that are roughly shaped like those of the maple with three wide and rather pointed lobes rounded to a broadly pointed shape at the base. The leaf margins have coarse and wavy teeth while the stalks of the leaves are grooved and often have a bud where the leaf stem joins the main stalk. High bush-cranberry leaves fall long before the fruit and, in early November, the shrub looks like a twiggy plant with gray or brown bark festooned with bright red berries. Those berries are sweet and each contains a small to medium flat seed.

Highbush cranberries grow all the way across the North American Continent down to and including northern Ohio, northern Illinois, northeast Iowa, southwest South Dakota, southeast Wyoming and Washington. Many of the bushmen in Alaska and northern Canada still lay in a supply of the tasty fruit every year to use as a complement to moose roasts and wild waterfowl dishes.

Here in Wisconsin we're blessed with a variety of cranberries but we still pick and process a good supply of our favorite, the highbush. We like that one because it can be used to make a pet food of mine which I designed as camping fare . . . my own version of pemmican.

Making Pemmican with Berries

Highbush cranberries are at their best for making pemmican when the leaves fall from the plant and the fruit has been touched by two or three frosts. We pick our berries without crushing or breaking their skins and carefully dry them in either the oven (at a very low temperature as we don't want to cook them) or out in the sunlight. Sometimes we even dry the fruit in the oven for about two hours and then place the berries on a piece of paper to finish drying in some corner of the room or in the attic.

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