Get out your pumpkin spiced lattes and fall décor out as remnants of summer begin to wane. Don’t go inside just yet though because September means harvest time! Many delicious and nutritious species become “ripe” for the picking – so to speak – during the month of September. While not necessarily found in our grocery stores, wild plants have been a source of food, medicine, and recreation for humans over the course of millennia.
When foraging for edible wild plants, location is key! Be careful to avoid places with lots of pollution or run-off like along highways or on pesticide-treated lawns. Additionally, many edible plants can look eerily similar to inedible or poisonous plants. If you are unsure as to whether the plant you have found is the edible plant you are searching for, do not consume it. Find a helpful field guide or friendly botanist that can assist you in identification. Lastly, do not take more than what you need from any one area. A good rule of thumb is to only harvest a plant if you can visibly see 20 or more individuals of the same species in a given area.
Here are a few recommended plants that are ready to harvest this month:
Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana
The Latin name for Persimmon is Diaspyros, which in Greek means “divine fruit” or “God’s pear.” For those who enjoy a tasty but bitter snack of Persimmons in late August, you know exactly why it got its namesake. Persimmons can be eaten raw, dried, or cooked and several species are really popular in dishes found throughout most of the world. In Ozarkian folklore, it is said that cutting open a persimmon to observe the seed can tell you the severity of the upcoming winter (https://www.ky3.com/2020/10/20/predicting-winter-weather-in-the-ozarks-using-folklore/). For the best quality taste of a persimmon, it is best to wait until after the first frost to enjoy.
Wild grape, Vitis riparia
Grapes are a group of climbing vines found all throughout the world, although, North American species can be difficult to tell apart. Riverside grape can usually be found along margins of woodlands or streams and make for a delicious trailside snack. Wild growing grapes are usually acidic and bitter compared to their cultivated cousins used for wine making. However, they can be made into a delicious addition to your pantry, as you might try this recipe: https://foragerchef.com/wild-grape-reduction/ .
Giant Ragweed, Ambrosia trifida
While it is the bane of all allergy sufferer’s existence this September yet ragweed seems to grow along every roadside in the KC metro area. Gardeners and allergy sufferer’s alike hate this weed although ragweed actually has numerous edible uses. Native Americans planted their seeds because they are high in protein – even more so than maize. It could make a useful cooking oil when other plants were scarce. Ragweed cultivation was likely stopped due to its impact on allergy sufferers. The pollen of ragweed is second only to mold in its aggravation of histamines in the human body. Ragweed is also great in areas of polluted soil because it removes toxins (like lead) from the soil bank.
Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana
Chokecherry is a large deciduous shrub with dark red to purple fruit in the stone fruit family whose fruit grows in clusters. In the fall, you’ll notice the ripening of the berries that get their namesake from their astringent taste. Harvest them too early and you’ll notice its sour taste, however, the later the better as there are so many delicious uses (https://practicalselfreliance.com/chokecherry-recipes/) for this plant. Some butterflies and moths, like the Tent caterpillars, will use the Chokecherry bush to complete part of their life cycle.
For more information check out some of these books for edible plant foraging :
Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide by Kelly Kindscher
Edible Wild Plants: Wild foods from Dirt to Plate by John Kallas
Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to over 200 Natural Foods by Thomas Elias