SUMMER FORAGING GUIDE: Wild foods can be found all year if you know where to look! The summer months provide soft fruit, flowers, herbs, nuts and some fungi that are great for foraging. A few autumn species are present, but they are not quite ripe yet.
Fruits: Summer is soft fruit season, and several varieties are very flavorful and worth the effort. Gooseberries, Strawberries, Red Currants, Cherries, Raspberries, Bilberries and Cherry Plums are waiting to be added to puddings, cordials, wine, cocktails, vinegars, jams, and chutney. The first blackberries are ripening, and it is always the one at the end of the cluster, called the “king” berry, that ripens first. Then Japanese Rosehips, Rowans, Haws, and Damsons ripen.
Flowers: Elderflower time is a distant memory, though the cupboard or freezer should be stocked with cordials, which can go into puddings, cakes, and breads. Roses, Meadowsweet, Himalayan Balsam, and Clover flowers can be harvested and used with desserts, drinks, cocktails, puddings, and cakes.
Greens: Summer foraging finds Chickweed in the fields that can be used as a lettuce. Watercress abounds in the wild, and it must be cooked into a soup or vegetable dish to avoid the risk of liver fluke. Fat Hen is plentiful, however, avoid the woodier stems. It is used in soups, curries, quiche, or as a green vegetable side dish. Pine Needles make a refreshing fruit cordial that is delicious on a warm day.
Herbs: Summer is a good time for foraging for herbs, and many, such as Marjoram, Fennel, and Mint can be dried. The dried herbs can be used in the autumn with crab apples for herb jellies. Sorrel is abundant in the meadows with a multitude of uses, including a sauce for oily fish, salads, quiche, or bruised with buttered new potatoes.
Nuts: Hazelnuts are visible in the hedgerows and on the grass where the squirrels have thrown their leftovers. The flesh of green Hazelnuts has the crisp crunch of overgrown peas, and a sweet vegetable-like taste that quickly becomes rather addictive!
Fungi: Thunderstorms usually kick-start the fungi season. Chanterelles, Chicken of the Woods, Fairy Ring Champignons, Field Mushrooms, and Red Cracking Bolete, also known as Porcini, are all ready for harvesting during the summer months.
WILDCRAFTING & FORAGING GUIDELINES:
Always properly identify plants. There are some great foraging field guides out there that can help with plant identification.
Know the sustainability status of the herbs to be included in the harvest. United Plant Savers is an organization that works to protect at-risk plants and preserve them for future generations. If a plant is on the to-watch or at-risk list, find a sustainably cultivated source to use instead of harvesting it from the wild.
Be sure to harvest plants growing in clean soil.
Stay away from roadsides, places where chemicals or animal feces run off or are dumped, and areas close to city buildings and businesses. These places can be contaminated with chemicals and other toxins that will also be contained in the plants.
Be sure to have permission to harvest on private property.
Don’t harvest all of the plant in one given area. The forager’s rule of thumb is to only harvest ⅓ of the plant growing in any given area. This is to ensure that there’s more for other foragers, for animals that survive on plants, and for the plant’s life cycle to continue.
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis): a member of the touch-me-not family, Jewelweed grows 4-5 feet tall. It has translucent-like, watery stems with swollen joints, and it branches out in different directions. Leaves are ovate, thin, smooth, almost wax-like, serrated, and light green-grey in color. They have a silvery shimmer to them when placed in water. Jewelweed has a distinct irregular blossom that is yellow or orange in color with 5 petals, 2 of which are united, 3 sepals, and 5 stamens. Seed capsules, when mature and full of seeds, explode, throwing seeds all over.
To harvest jewelweed, clip the smaller branches with a pair of sharp scissors.
Jewelweed is mostly used in fresh form, but it can also be juiced or gently boiled in water and frozen into ice cubes to preserve it. It’s most commonly used as a poultice or infused in water, witch hazel, or vinegar, but some use it dried in infused oils, salves, and soaps. Jewelweed is a well-known astringent herb and is commonly used for external skin conditions. It has cooling and moistening energetics.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria): also known as “Queen of the Meadow” meadowsweet loves to grow in damp meadows and banks. It grows from 3 to 7 feet tall. The individual flowers are quite small but have five petals and many stamens, typical of the rose family. The leaves are dark green on top with a whitish and downy color on the underside. They grow as leaflets that are three to five lobed on the terminal leaflet. Meadowsweet blooms from June to September and boasts creamy white flowers. The flowers are strongly aromatic and sweet smelling.
Foraging meadowsweet in summer offers large concentrations of salicylates contained within the aerial parts. When harvesting meadowsweet, both the green leaves as well as the inflorescences and fruits can be harvested. The herbs can be stored and dried. When drying the herbs, the inflorescences should be hung.
Herbalists use meadowsweet to treat a variety of conditions including pain, indigestion, heartburn, arthritis, gastritis, chronic ulcers, peptic ulcer, minor stomach upsets, and diarrhea. Meadowsweet has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and astringent actions. A simple meadowsweet tea is wonderful medicine. It is strongly aromatic, sweet, and slightly astringent. Use a heaping tablespoon per pint of water. Steep covered for 15 minutes. It will get noticeably more bitter with the longer steeping time. Meadowsweet also works well as an alcohol extract or tincture. Generally, a small amount of glycerin is added to help extract the tannins.
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris): grows to 4 feet in height, but occasionally reaches heights of up to 6 feet. Its angular reddish-brown stems have bitter-tasting leaves that have a sage-like aroma. The plant blooms with yellow or dark orange flowers in the summer.
Harvest mugwort by cutting the top 1/3 of the plant when in flower. Hang the plant upside down to dry or chop into small pieces and spread onto newspaper. Roots are dug up and collected in the fall. Use a scrub brush and a bit of water to clean the roots, then spread them out on newspaper or on mesh sheets in the dehydrator and let them dry completely. All parts of the plant should be stored away from light.
The mugwort plant is used for colic, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, headache, epilepsy, irregular menstrual periods, anxiety, hypochondria, fatigue, sleep problems, restlessness, irritability, and depression. It is commonly used in cooking to flavor fish, meat dishes, desserts, pancakes, soups, salads, and beer. Mugwort is used in a variety of herbal preparations, including extracts, tinctures, supplements, and as a poultice, a soft, moist mass of plant leaves kept in place with a cloth and applied to the body to relieve soreness and inflammation. Mugwort can be made into a tea by adding 1.5 teaspoons of mugwort leaves to a cup of boiling water, steeping for 10 minutes then straining off the leaves and serving. The roots of mugwort are used to make an energy tonic.
Mullein: (Verbascum thapsus): a biennial plant that grows in zones 3 through 9. It prefers full sun and dry soil. The plant grows from 6 to 10 feet tall, so to prevent it from spreading in the landscape, remove the fuzzy rosettes that appear on the plant. Remove the flower stalk before the seeds disperse to prevent a widespread seeding.
Mullein leaves are usually gathered the first year of growth, although the second-year leaves are as effective in medicinal teas. The stalk and blossoms grow the second year. The mullein flowers are harvested daily, as they open. After the harvest, use fresh immediately or dry them for storage. Mullein can be used fresh for tinctures, teas, and oils, or dried for all herbal preparations. Fresh flowers work best in tinctures, wilted flowers in oils, and dry for storage and later use.
The leaves, flowers and roots of the Mullein plant are used for the treatment of various inflammatory diseases, diarrhea, asthma, coughs and other lung-related ailments.
Peach Leaves (Prunus persica): an herb that is commonly foraged during the summer months. There are several varieties of peach, but most all are medium sized trees with 4-inch-long, lance shaped, finely serrated leaves. Blossoms grow in groups of 2 or more at the end of last year’s branches and are pink in color with 5 petals, 5 sepals, and many stamens. Blossoms turn into fruit with thin skin, juicy flesh, and seed encased in a wrinkled pit.
Peach leaves are harvested after the fruit has ripened on the tree. Heavily harvest peach leaves by clipping those free of blemishes with a pair of sharp scissors. Peach leaves can be used fresh or dried in poultices, teas, syrups, and tinctures.
Matthew Wood suggests using peach leaves to cool and moisten hot, dry conditions like those that can present themselves during allergies or autoimmune issues. He also recommends it for skin eruptions, hot digestive and respiratory conditions, and to help cool the body during menopause. It’s also an excellent herb for children and sensitive individuals. Kiva Rose suggests using peach for to aid an upset stomach and nausea anytime there are signs of excess heat, to help with adrenal health, to relieve hot, swollen bug bites, and to soothe the nervous system as it has an almost sedative-like effect that varies from person to person.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): a pretty little shrub with cheery yellow flowers that have a burst of long, showy stamen in the center, the blossoms of St. John’s Wort last from midsummer until fall, and they are followed by colorful berries. St. John’s wort grows well in sand, clay, rocky soil or loam, and tolerates acidic to slightly alkaline ph. St. John’s wort adapts to both moist and dry soil, and even tolerates occasional flooding. It also withstands drought but grows best with irrigation during prolonged dry spells. Plant in a location with bright morning sunlight and a little shade in the hottest part of the afternoon. Water slowly and deeply after planting and keep the soil moist until the transplants are well-established.
Harvest the leaves around June 10th, and harvest the flowers around June 24th. Harvest the leaves and stems on a morning or evening, when the dew isn’t on and the sun isn’t at its peak. Clip the stem off about an inch above the ground and dry the entire stalk on a flat screen or hang it upside down. Harvest flowers mid-morning or early evening by taking the first inch or so of stem and leaf below, as all will contain the oil needed for herbal remedies. Try to harvest flowers that are unopened. The most popular preparation method is St. John’s wort oil, which is used topically. The leaves and/or flowers are infused in a carrier oil, such as olive or sesame oil, and the process is magical! As the herb infuses, a red volatile oil is pulled out of the yellow flowers and turns the carrier oil blood red. To use St. John’s wort internally, it can be made into a tea or tincture with either fresh or dried herb.
St. John's wort boost mood, relieves symptoms of depression, calms anxiety, eases menopause-related symptoms and PMS, and helps with seasonal affective disorder, and smoking cessation. An oil made from St. John’s wort has also been used topically for wound healing and a variety of other skin conditions such as eczema and hemorrhoids.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): grows from 1-5 feet tall, and has many rough, hairy stems sprouting from a rhizomatous root. Bipinnate leaves branch off the stem in a spiral pattern with larger leaves at the base of the plant and smaller leaves at the top. The leaves are finely segmented giving them a feathery look, and the creamy white, daisy-like flowers grow in flattened, terminal, loose heads, or cymes.
Yarrow can be harvested as soon as the flowers have bloomed. It’s recommended to harvest mid-morning, after the dew has dried and before the sun’s heat evaporates lighter volatile oils. If using the whole plant, grab at the base of the stem and gently pull upward to pull the plant out of the soil, roots and all. If only harvesting the tops of the plant, using sharp scissors or shears, cut 6 inches above the base.
Yarrow can be used in fresh or dried form in teas, tinctures, oils, salves, and syrups. Rosemary Gladstar suggests using yarrow to increase circulation in order to open the pores and induce sweating as a way to gently lower body temperature. She also suggests it as a first-aid herb to slow internal and external bleeding, to relax cramping of the digestive and reproductive organs, and as an antiseptic wash for wounds.