5 Fall Foods You Can Forage in Your Own Neighborhood

By: Kate Morgan  | 
foraging
Dandelion greens, the bane of lawn owners everywhere, are actually very high in vitamins A, C and K and minerals such as folate, calcium and potassium, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock

The chilly days of autumn mean more than just changing and falling leaves. As trees and plants prepare for winter dormancy, many put out their nuts, fruits and seeds. That means the fall months are some of the best times of the year to go foraging.

Foraging is the practice of searching your environment for wild food, and you don't have to be an expert to do it. Here are five fall foraging favorites that you can probably find right in your own neighborhood. All you need is an interest in what's growing around you and the keen eye to spot it.

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1. Rose Hips

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Rose hips are the edible berries that grow after rose bushes have shed their flowers. Deyan Georgiev/Shutterstock

Roses are most recognizable for their beautiful summer blooms, but in the fall, rose bushes grow edible berries called rose hips. Some of the easiest rose hips to forage come from the multiflora rose, a Japanese species that's become the most widespread rose variety in the United States.

"Rose hips are an awesome food to get to know, and there are lots of them around," says Calyx Liddick, director of the Northern Appalachia School, where she also teaches foraging, botany and herbalism. "You can eat them straight. You can make jams or jellies out of them. You can make tea out of them or even dry and powder them."

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Look for multiflora rose bushes on the edges of fields and trails. Look for arched branches with oval leaves and clusters of red hips. The best time to harvest rose hips is right after the first frost, Liddick says. "That's when they get sweet."

2. Autumn Olives

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Ripe autumn olive berries (Elaeagnus umbellata) grow on the woody branches of the shrub and are easy to spot because of their bright color. Benjamin Simeneta/Shutterstock

The shrub Elaeagnus umbellata, otherwise known as autumn olive, is another Asian native that's spread as an invasive species in the United States. But that doesn't mean foragers shouldn't take advantage of them, says Liddick. "I'm a big proponent of eating things that are abundant, whether they're native or non-native," she says.

The autumn olive produces abundant sweet, glossy, bright red berries on a woody shrub with small, silvery scales on its twigs. The leaves have a distinctly silver color on the bottom. The berries are sweet and can be eaten on their own or used for desserts or preserves. As for where to find the autumn olive, it appears throughout the United States. "It grows in the same type of environment as the multiflora," Liddick says. "You find them on edges, like where a field meets the woods."

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3. Hickory Nuts

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Hickory nuts are green or brown on the tree, depending on the species, and can be collected and eaten raw or roasted. Heather Simkiss/Shutterstock

There are lots of nuts dropping from trees as the weather cools, and while some of them are tough to crack — think black walnuts' thick hulls and chestnuts' spiky burrs – the hickory lends itself nicely to a beginner forager.

"Shagbark hickory [Carya ovata] is the tastiest," Liddick says, "and it's really easy to ID because the trees have super, well, shaggy bark."

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Hickory nuts, which you can collect from the ground as they fall, have a green or brown hull that needs to be broken open and removed. Once the nut is free, you can crack it to expose the meat inside, which is edible raw or roasted.

4. Hackberries

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Hackberries (Prunus padus), aka bird cherries or hagberries, are said to have a taste similar to raisins. ArtoPhotoDesigno Studio/Shutterstock

Most wild berries, like gooseberries, raspberries and wineberries tend to ripen in the summer.

But the hackberry is at its sweetest in autumn and offers foragers a unique snack, thanks to its crunchy, edible seeds.

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"The berries are dark red, almost black, and you can eat them as soon as they're the right color," Liddick says. "People say they taste like raisins. Some people call it 'granola bar fruit' or 'nature's Grape Nuts.' They have a really satisfying crunch."

The hackberry tree is easily identified by its bark, which is gray and smooth with warty growths all over it. "It's been described as the Grand Canyon of barks because it can have so much texture," says Liddick. "Once you find one, you'll never forget it."

Hackberries are common in multiple habitats, she says. You can find them in richer soil and upland forests, and also in stands of mixed hardwoods.

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5. Dandelion and Sunchoke Roots

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Freshly dug Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) tubers are delicious and easily storable for later use. iMarzi/Shutterstock

One of the most accessible things for new foragers can actually be found beneath the surface.

"It's root season," she says. "Things like dandelion and sunchoke are easy to identify and hard to miss."

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Dandelion roots can be oven-roasted until they are dry and used for tea. "It's delicious and it's really great for your liver; helps you detoxify," Liddick says.

Sunchokes, or Jerusalem articokes, are the roots of plants that look like tall, thick-stemmed sunflowers with multiple blossoms. "That's a really delicious one. It's got a big tuber you can eat," says Liddick. She adds that while sunchokes are often found growing wild, cutting up the tuber and replanting it will create a bigger crop next year. "It's one of the things I encourage people to do," she says. "Tend the ground you're harvesting from."

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A Note on Caution and Foraging Safety

While wild edibles are easy to find and forage, it's important to make sure you've got a positive ID before you eat any berry, fruit or mushroom that you find in the wild. Many edible and delicious wild fruits have poisonous lookalikes, so make sure you know what you have before you pop it in your mouth.

There are lots of plant identification apps that are easily downloadable to your phone and therefore always within reach while you're out scouting for foragables. So, don't let fear stop you from discovering the food that is literally all around us, but proceed with all due responsibility and caution. And have fun!

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