Nature’s Bounty: Foraging for Berries

Hands down, there is nothing more magnificent than a wild berry. So much gastronomical potential in something so small.

Marionberries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, lingonberries—even the magnificent cloudberries of Sweden. These gifts from nature seem sweetest when you earn them. In places with lava-rich soil (like the Washington and Oregon Cascades) there’s an abundance of fruits and vegetables; local favorites are the blackberries and smaller red and black huckleberries. Careful lookers can find wild strawberries, and the holy grail of foraging, wild raspberries, with their lush sweetness and out-of-this-world juiciness.

Careful lookers can find wild strawberries, and the holy grail of foraging, wild raspberries, with their lush sweetness and out-of-this-world juiciness.

Berry pickers are expert secret keepers – they are taciturn and close-mouthed when asked about the location of their secret stash. Berry picking spots are treasures handed down to families and friends; the best way to find your own is to start exploring. Consider adding it as an activity to your next hike or camping trip. What better way to elevate your campfire s’mores or morning oatmeal than with a few fresh berries?

What better way to elevate your campfire s’mores or morning oatmeal than with a few fresh berries?

It’s important that you first understand which berries are edible and which are not. Step one, consult an expert, then step two, pick up one of these great field guides; Edible Wild Plants, A North American Field Guide by Elias and Dykeman (both Ph.D. botanists) and Edible Wild Plants by Lee Peterson will help you identify berries by their shape, size and foliage. Step 3, get out there and start picking!

Avoid picking berries from the sides of busy roads (exhaust and oil can spoil them) and don’t pick berries in areas where farmers or loggers spray herbicides. Berries like sun, and can be found in big masses of bushes, or the solitary patch wedged between rocks. Climate and terrain vary greatly when it comes to berry patches. The trick is to pay attention to both, and plan on doing a bit of hiking for your prize.

In addition to your hiking gear, long pants, thick socks, a belt, and a long sleeve shirt are essential when navigating the brambles. You will also want to bring a couple of small buckets with handles. You can tie the buckets to your belt so your hands are free for picking (and balance). Your boots and thick pants will help you push deep into the thickets where the choicest berries hide, and a long stick or hiking pole also helps hold thorny branches out of your way as you quickly plunder the crop.

Remember, berries are delicious and bears and moose agree. If you’re loud enough, you’ll scare away the wildlife. But be prepared—if you push through a thicket and see a sow, back away slowly; it’s a good idea to leave your bucket of berries as tribute.

If your region experienced a warmer winter, expect the berries to bloom earlier, even in the backcountry.

Berry foraging season will depend on where in the country you are located. In Texas, start looking for berries in April. In the rest of the south, berries generally start maturing in May and June, and in the Midwest and north, we often must wait for July and August for nature’s bounty. But if your region experienced a warmer winter, expect the berries to bloom earlier, even in the backcountry.

You can snack on the sweet morsels when you hike, or if you have the will-power, save them until you get back to camp. They can elevate any meal in the backcountry – if you’re considering upping your camp cooking game, follow the sage guidance of Megan McDuffie, co-founder of Fresh Off the Grid. A blog and YouTube series, which explores all levels of outdoor cooking, from easy trail mix recipes to dishes like Apple Pie Quinoa Porridge and Sweet Potato and Chorizo Hash.

You can check out Megan McDuffie’s latest adventure to the Olympic Peninsula, where she crafted a delectable campfire mushroom soup and oatmeal with fresh foraged berries:

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