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Our 5 Favorite Things to Forage

Updated: Feb 10

Our 5 Favorite Things to Forage

Each season, one of my favorite things to do as the days get warmer is to forage for all the wild edibles and medicinals on and around our land. From making Pine Tip Syrup and wild berry jellies to salves, tinctures, and wild pickles, the bounty of the land is incredible. Most of the food items we carefully process, preserve, and package. The medicinal items we use to stock our own home apothecary as well as create handmade herbals for our newly launched Byers Ranch Apothecary shop. Today, we wanted to share with you our 5 favorite things to forage, as well as some of the ways that we prepare these items.

A Quick Disclaimer

Before we start, let me remind you I am not a trained forager, medical professional, or certified herbalist of any kind, and I have no professional training.

Harvesting and eating unidentified wild plants can be dangerous or even deadly. Some plants have parts that are safe and parts that are toxic. Others have close cousins or lookalikes who are toxic. If you don’t believe me, just consider the tomato, which is part of the same plant family (Solanaceae) as Belladonna and Mandrake. And though we eat the fruit of the tomato plant regularly, the leaves and stems are poisonous. The information here is intended to be fun and educational, not necessarily instructional. It is absolutely crucial to be 100% sure that what you’re eating has been correctly identified and is safe to ingest.

As for herbal medicine, I prefer to treat simple ailments on my own whenever possible, but I am in no way suggesting that you should fail to seek medical advice when needed. Remember that just because something is natural doesn’t automatically mean it’s safe. Certain herbs can be harmful to pregnant or nursing mothers. Others can have adverse interactions with existing medications. Always do your research, and speak to a professional regarding any major concerns.

Forage Responsibly

Whenever you go out to forage, always forage responsibly. This means never decimating an area or a single plant to the point that it cannot continue to reproduce or live. Never remove a plant by its roots (unless the root is what you’re after.) Remember that you are not the only one who may want or need this plant. All of the wild foods and medicines that can be foraged are food for the creatures of the land. Consider this, if you were to pick a patch of wild raspberries clean, the bear that eats them every year will now be forced to find other food. Which could perhaps lead him to someone's home or yard. Protecting the land, the animals, and the ecosystem starts with you.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) is a prolific plant found mainly in mountainous regions of the U.S. It is characterized by its broad fuzzy leaves that grow in a basal rosette pattern. The plant is biennial, meaning that it grows only leaves the first year and flowers in the second year before dying off.

Why we love it:

We are lucky enough to have mullein growing throughout our property, so there is always plenty to harvest each year. This is a great medicinal that helps to relieve coughs, congestion, and lung issues. Topically mullein is anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and protect and softens skin which is why it is a primary ingredient in our Winter Skin Salve, we also mix mullein into our Fire Cider, as well as our Cold Busting Tea.

How we prepare it:

I make many different preparations of mullein leaf each year. We macerate the fresh leaves on their own or in a blend for tinctures or salves. We also store the dehydrated leaves for use in teas throughout the cold season.

Mullein Tincture

#2 Dandelions

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is probably one of the most easily recognized “weeds” around. Characterized by its bright yellow flower with a hollow stem and its long toothed leaves that grow in a basal rosette. Long before the invention of laws, the dandelion was prized ad both food and medicine and every part, from its flowers to its roots, is edible.

Why we love it:

The mighty little dandelion’s leaves can be used in salads, its roots can be made into a coffee substitute, and the flowers make a lovely tea or jelly. As for medicinal qualities, the plant contains vitamins A, C, D & K and compounds useful for liver, gallbladder, and kidney function, as well as pain relief and heart and immune health.

How we prepare it:

Each spring, I look forward to a fresh dandelion harvest. I harvest the entire plant, roots and all. The first thing I make is a dandelion jelly using just the flowers. The roots and leaves I use to create a dandelion tincture that we take daily for an overall health boost, and we use a blend of dandelion roots, mint, juniper and cayenne to create our Pain Away Salve.

Dandelion Tincture

#3 Ribwort Plantain

Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) is a common plant often found growing in places where the land has been disturbed by human hands. It is characterized by almost ribbon-like leaves with parallel veins that grow in a basal rosette with leafless, hairy flower stems. There are about 200 varieties of plantain, but the most common are Broad Leaf Plantain and Ribwort Plantain.

Why we love it:

This is another plant that grows plentiful on our land, providing us with a steady supply each season. Plantain contains compounds that may reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and promote wound healing. We use it to treat insect bites and stings as well as minor cuts.

How we prepare it:

Each season I harvest the plantain leaves and hang them to dry. Once dry, they are turned into an infused oil that is subsequently used to create our Plaintain First Aid Salve as well as our Sting Sticks.

First Aid Salve

#4 Chokecherries

Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) is a large, deciduous shrub that grows 20-30 ft. tall and often forms thickets—characterized by the dense clusters of white flowers that are followed by red fruit that deepens to a dark purple when ripe. The chokecherry bush will often be found growing near water. Though the berry is edible, there’s a reason it’s called a “choke” cherry, and I recommend against popping one in your mouth unless you wish to experience a choking sensation! It is also important to note that the pit of the chokecherry is toxic and contains cyanide.

Why we love it:

Chokecherry is one of those plants that can only be obtained through foraging, and there are very few places to purchase chokecherry items. For me, it’s a signature flavor that reminds me of childhood. Growing up, my entire family would go on a chokecherry hunt in the fall. We would harvest bags and bags of them that my grandmother would turn into jelly. We never purchased jelly, so in our house, a PB&J was almost always made with chokecherry jelly.

How we prepare it:

Like my grandmother before me, Each fall, I harvest as many chokecherries as I can and turn them into both jelly and syrup. I honestly can't remember the last time I used maple syrup on pancakes. Chokecherry syrup for me all the way!

Wild Chokecherry Syrup

#5 Yarrow

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is native to North America and will grow wild in almost any region since it requires less than an inch of water per week. Characterized by its soft fern-like leaves and a flat-topped cluster of small flowers. In wild varieties, the flowers are typically white, but as a cultivar, they can be found in shades of pink, orange, and yellow.

Why we love it:

Though yarrow grows wild in large patches throughout our property, I love it so much that we also grow it purposely in the garden. Once referred to as “Soldiers Woundwort,” this mighty plant was carried by soldiers not only during the Civil War but as far back as the Trojan War as a means to spot bleeding when soldiers were wounded. Admittedly, I was skeptical at first until I cut my hand in the kitchen. The cut was deep, and my kitchen looked like a battlefield (it may have needed stitches, but I hate ER visits). I cleaned the cut, poured some yarrow powder on it, and wrapped it up. Thirty minutes later, I removed the wrap to check it. Not only was the cut no longer bleeding, but it was completely sealed, and there was no pain at all. I also love that it it’s safe for both people and animals, so it’s a very useful product on the homestead!

How we prepare it:

Yarrow leaf powder couldn’t be simpler to make. All that is required is harvesting the leaves, hanging them to dry, and then blending them into a fine powder. Once they are powdered, we place them in a jar and store them with our first aid kit. This is another one of those things we stock in our apothecary as Bleed Stop.

A Foraged Bounty

This list is just our top five. But there are so many other things we forage each year. Some other favorites include Juniper Berries, Wild Strawberries, Mushrooms, Osha, Mallow Weed, Purslane, Pine Tips, and Red Clover. What about you? What are your favorite things to forage? Tell us all about it in the comments below. Tag us in your foraging pics on Instagram, or tell us all about it in the comments below! Forage on my friends, and as always,

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Our 5 Favorite Things to Forage

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