Last week in Olympia my mother and I went blackberry picking twice, and ended up picking something like 35 cups of berries. If we didn’t love the wild blackberry so much, we might have spared some of our picking time for the many other forageables we encountered out in the brush. As Langdon Cook at Fat of the Land has shown, there are so many interesting wild edible plants out there, especially in the Northwest. The blackberry’s own rubus family made several additional appearances in our path, such as this salmonberry:
I’m not a particular fan of this rubus, although salmonberries are indeed very pretty. Some people love their mild taste, but I think they’re kind of insipid. I’m more partial to another rubus, however: black caps. From their looks, I’m guessing they are closely related to the domesticated black raspberry:
Black caps taste somewhat like raspberries, but they have a distinct, tannin-y cabernet overtone that sticks in your mouth. They are excellent for munching when you’re out traipsing through the brush. They’re fairly delicate, though. We picked some and put them into their own plastic bag, but by the end of the day they had gotten fairly mashed.
Lastly in the rubus category, we found some thimble berries. They have a pleasant floral raspberry taste, but they’re not really fleshy enough to be worth picking – at least, not when there are blackberries and black caps around. Moving away from rubus, we found plenty of red huckleberry bushes:
Red huckleberries are grassy and sweet and acidic, like little orbs of rhubarb juice. I might make some red huckleberry syrup for cocktails at some point.
We also encountered many wild hazelnut trees, which were already bearing unripe hazelnuts encased in prickly husks. The nuts inside were a lovely tawny color:
Come fall, these hazelnuts will get darker and be ready to harvest.
The final forageable plant we encountered, which I had no desire to actually collect, was stinging nettles. Langdon Cook has detailed many culinary uses for nettles, and they’ve even been a topic on The Kitchn. They’re reportedly very good for your health. Unless, of course, you accidentally touch one. Which I did. Repeatedly.
You can identify stinging nettles visually by the toothed leaves and bushy structure. And you can identify them aurally by the extreme cursing you make when you accidentally touch one. If you’re going to forage nettles, bring some thick gloves.