Wild food doesn't all grow in one spot. You have to have your foraging grounds. It might mean scheduling seasonal foraging expeditions. Being a forager requires being attuned to the plants and their cycles, knowing when the greens emerge, the flowers bloom, the fruits ripen, and the nuts drop from the trees. A forager follows the cycles of plants and knows which plants produce every year, which ones continue to come back, or which ones produce in cycles, with lean years in between prolific years. Very often it's a matter of being in the right place at the right time for a particular harvest. Always be alert and prepared when the opportunity presents itself.
Generally, gather leaves when they are tender and showing new growth, either before flower buds appear, or after reseeding, when new fall growth appears. Mid-morning is a good time to gather leaves, after the dew has lifted but before the sun has gotten too hot and wilted the leaves.
The time to pick flowers is right before or when they are reaching their peak, while they are still vibrant. After their peak they start fading in color and taste. Flowers are usually best picked in the mid to late morning, after the dew has lifted. Flowers that have just opened don't need to be washed. Avoid washing flowers when possible to retain their pollen.
Most areas have a fairly long berry season. Watch the birds and look for seeds in animal droppings. This will let you know what's in season and when it's time to start picking. It is generally best to gather fruits early in the morning. If you wait too long, the birds will get there first and will often pick it clean or leave partially pecked out fruits on the ground. It's also cooler for picking the summer berries. You want to only pick those that are ripe unless it's a fruit that will continue to ripen after it has been picked.
How can you tell if a fruit is ripe?
Some fruits, when ripe, will drop to the ground. Others cling to the plant. If you tug on the fruit and it releases easily into your hand, it's ripe. Color will often reveal the degree of ripeness. Sample taste to find one that is just right and then you know.
Many wild fruits have a short shelf life. If they lie on the ground too long, they start to ferment. If it feels bubbly when you pick it up, the fermentation process has begun. Gathering fruits often means visiting the same area regularly while the fruit is in season.
In the fall, nutrients are stored in the roots as the top parts die back or go dormant. This is the time to gather roots. The roots continue to grow underground throughout the winter months. They can be gathered up until the plant starts developing new growth above ground. Roots often become tough and woody at this stage.
In areas that experience extreme cold during the winter, roots should be dug before the ground has become too frozen. Otherwise you may have to wait until spring. In warmer climates, early morning or late afternoon is a good time to dig roots.
Sap begins rising from the roots in late winter and early spring. Tapping trees for sap to make syrup is usually best on a warm, sunny day after a cold spell, before the leaves have developed. This is also when bark peels most easily for harvesting the inner bark of some trees.
Seeds should be harvested just before they are ready to drop. It should be done on a clear day, preferably following several days with no rain. Use clippers to snip off the seed head and turn upside down in a brown paper bag. As the seed head continues to mature, the seeds of some plants will release and drop to the bottom.
Wild rice seeds releasing from seed head