This Week’s Woodland Grocery Specials

Elder Berries, Gooseberries, Prickly Ash, Sumac, Autumn Olive, Cattail Leaves

Elder berry juice is used in many traditional cold and flu remedies. The juice is often made into a syrup and combined with other medicinal herbs, like willow and yarrow. You can buy expensive versions of these remedies in most corner drug stores. Or you can make your own. Juice or syrup can be made and canned fir storage. Or the berries can be frozen and juiced as needed.

Gooseberries are almost done for the year. While you probably aren’t going to start adding gooseberries to your salads, they do make a fun trail snack. The trick is to pop them open between your teeth and suck out the pulp, without getting poked. You are rewarded with a wonderful, juicy, sweet then tart flavor.  If you have never tried these, you really should check them out.

Prickly ash isn’t really an ash. It is more closely related to Szechuan pepper. The indigenous people refer to prickly ash as toothache tree because the berries will numb your mouth if you chew them raw. They have a wonderful spicy aroma, and can be used like peppercorns or allspice in cooking. Just be careful when you harvest. Each cluster of berries hides a nasty thorn.

Sumac heads are ripening. The fine red hairs of the sumac berries are lemony tart. Sumac-ade is a favorite of foragers, a northern climate version of lemonade made by steeping the berries. Sumac can also be used as a spice and is especially good in middle eastern dishes, where it is used in Za’atar seasoning mix.

Fall is in the air, and the autumn olive berries are starting to ripen. Autumn olive is invasive, so you can find them in large quantities in many disturbed areas. And there is no concern with over harvest. They make delicious jam and fruit leather. Right now the berries are quite tart and astringent, even the ripest looking ones. But they will be around until after the first frost. And as the season changes they will get sweeter

Now is the time to harvest cattail leaves for mats and baskets. The leaves are at their full size, but they aren’t really dying back…yet. But these cold nights are telling the plants that it is time to go dormant. So if you want cattails (or rushes, or grasses) for winter weaving projects, you better get out there and get them soon.

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