Shorter days, cooler, crisp evenings…Leaves on deciduous trees like mountain maples and buckeyes and the decorative sycamores lining the streets have all started to change color. Even out here in beautiful Silicon Valley where the seasonal change isn’t nearly as dramatic as other areas, the telltale signs of fall are beginning to creep up on us. The trees and plants are preparing to disseminate their seeds and as their energy moves to the seeds, this is the best time to harvest them.
Here are 7 of my fall harvesting favorites:
Plantain Seeds (Plantago major): The leaves and the seeds are edible and medicinal. To process the seeds you can pull off the seed head with your hands and the tiny black seeds will crumble into your fingers. You can grind them into flour (I have not tried this yet so I don’t have any recommendations on this process) or sprinkle them into salads for added nutrition.
Curly dock (Rumex crispus): Ahh. I must put an asterisk next to this plant when I consider it as one of my favorites. The harvesting is easy enough. The seeds and hulls slip quickly off of the plant. As in processing any seed, the next step is called winnowing – which is the process of separating the seed itself from the fibrous husk or hull around it. This step of the process has always proven nearly impossible for me when it comes to these guys. (Working with curly dock gives a great lesson in appreciating the time and energy spent on creating flour and meal from seeds. Don’t get discouraged.this process is much easier with other grasses). Despite my best attempts I generally end up grinding up dock seeds with the hulls and all and haven’t had any health issues yet! (Crossing fingers). I sprinkle the dock flour/seeds into oatmeal when it’s boiling to add an extra bit of vitamins and protein.
Prickly pears/Tuna fruit (Opuntia): It takes all of my self-control to restrain myself from running into peoples’ lawns to harvest the prickly pear hanging off of their decorative cacti. Prickly pear are sweet and mild tasting and make an excellent syrup with vanilla ice cream! Warning: Learn from my mistake – though it may seem like you have brushed off all of the tiny catci quills while the fruit is dry, chances are that you haven’t! Do Not bite into these before washing!!! I shamefully admit that I once spent a whole day feeling like my lips and mouth were being stung by bees after doing this.
Figs (Ficus ): Ah, another reason to trespass on my neighbors’ lawns. Figs are hanging off of trees everywhere. Go get them! Can be eaten raw or grilled. mmmmm
Rose hips: I usually just bite into these guys and eat them raw (not in large quantities, though) for a boost of energy. You can can them, jelly them, dry them and save them to make into tea for a big blast of vitamin c mid winter. Again, while I don’t condone trespassing, I’m sure your neighbors won’t mind if you help them by removing these “unsightly” pinkish/orange bulbs from their decorative rose bushes.
Wild cress (Lepidium sativum): As the leaves bitter, they turn into a great seasoning. I like to use them to season chicken and sprinkle them on salads for an extra spicy/bitter tang!
Acorns, Bay nuts, chestnuts, walnuts: In a few months the tree nuts will start to ripen. Out here in the Bay Area, some green acorns are already beginning to fall. Last year I couldn’t find too many of the large acorns from valley oaks to process (and I heard from friends that they didn’t have much luck harvesting either). Hopefully this year will yield a larger harvest! While acorns need to have the tannic acid leached out which can be done with cold or warm water, bay nuts need to be roasted so that the volatile oil they contain can burn off. Once they are roasted they have the same texture and flavor as the expensive chocolate covered coffee beans from Starbucks. mmmm. The walnuts (which fell in early September in this area) seem to already have been cleared away by squirrels, but the chestnuts are just beginning to drop! Gotta grab em quick!
I hope you enjoyed this list! Send us pictures of your own wild edible favorites.