By Adam Strunk
Amanda Mayflower gave some simple advice for novice foragers.
“Don’t eat berries if you don’t know them,” she said to a small crowd Tuesday morning. “That goes for mushrooms, too.”
The Healthy Harvey Coalition, Peace Connections and the Newton Farm and Art Market had invited Mayflower to lead a foraging walk at the Sand Creek trail starting at Memorial Grove in North Newton.
Mayflower runs the Little River Food Forest in Wichita that focuses on growing edible native plants.
She spent the next few hours showing the group various plants and tree parts that were either edible or medicinal.
She said much of foraging is about sensing the plants around you and observing. The best locations to forage are often on borders of environmental transition zones.
She also recommended best practice for prospective foragers was to use a map, to mark edible plants so they could be found in the future.
Here’s a look at some of the edible plants along the trail she pointed out:
While Red Cedars wreak havoc when unchecked, Mayflower explained that the blue berries are part of the juniper family can be used as a seasoning or made into a tea or tincture. The tea has a cooling, woody, smoky flavor, she said. The berries can also be used to season meat or eaten raw. Theoretically, they could be used as a flavoring in alcohol, as well.
Often foraged but often identified as a weed, Mayflower said dandelions can be used in several ways. The leaves can be made into salads and dressed with an acid, such as vinegar. The roots can be made into tea to treat several ailments.
The heads can be used to make wine, served in salads or fried.
Crabapples are edible and can be used to make jams and jellies, but are often very tart. Cultivars bred for eating are the best to use. Also, avoid using the seeds as you would in a normal apple, as the seeds possess trace amounts of cyanide.
Mulberries are common in Kansas and can be turned into all manner of things, including jams, juice and pie. They often ripen turning dark purple or black about the same time as wheat, late spring to early summer.
A common plant like the dandelion, Lambsquarter was brought to the U.S. by settlers as a green. The plant is also commonly eaten in Europe. It can be cooked in a number of ways like spinach and also cultivated in a garden. Mayflower said the best way to harvest it is to cut the top down to encourage bushing out. It’s a similar method to how one harvests basil.
The hackberry tree produces berries with some amounts of sugar in them when they ripen and turn a reddish color in the fall, Mayflower said. She said it was more of a starvation food than something that one would regularly eat.
Maligned by farmers for its habit of forming woody clumps and mounds, the sumac plant produces berries that can range from sour to peppery taste. The berries can be used in a cold-water tea or made into seasonings.
Sumac is a common ingredient in some cuisines, especially in the Middle East, and used in herb blends like Za’atar.
Currant varieties are common in Kansas and produce small tart berries with a dark color. They often grow in bushes. The flowers have a distinctive smell similar to Juicy Fruit Gum. The berries can be used in pies or jellies.