Wild berries are an elusive fruit. They appear for a short period during summer and fall, and then seem to disappear just as quickly. Their period of perfect ripeness moves quickly to a state of over-ripeness, giving foragers just a few summer weeks to take their harvest. In addition to the short overall window for harvest, you’ll also be locked in constant competition with bugs and birds for the ripest, choicest specimens. Once harvested, you have a delightful candy to turn into pies, jams, jellies, wines, pancakes, breads, fruit leathers, and more.
These delightful little pea-sized berries are great for juicing. Some are turned off by chokeberries because they try a few and find them dry and tasteless, but find the right plant, and pick them at peak ripeness, and the berries will be a uniquely-flavored treat that blends very well with other berries in addition to being ideal for juicing. Chokeberry is a shrub, and berries can be black, red, or purple, depending on subtype. Berries grow on the ends of long stalks.
Not to be confused with chokeberry, listed above, chokecherry looks very much like a wild cherry—but many foragers some find chokecherry to be even more delicious. Chokecherry is a small tree that blooms hanging clusters of small, white-petaled flowers with yellow centers. Leaves are very finely toothed, alternating, and somewhat oval-shaped. The unripe berries are red, but ripen into a deep purple to almost black color. Like the flowers, the berries hang in clumps.
Much to the chagrin of many homeowners and urban public works departments, mulberry trees shed their ripened blue-purple berries in droves, leaving piles of berries that get crushed by passers-by on sidewalks and driveways, stick to your shoes, and track purplish juice into homes and businesses. There is an invasive Asian mulberry tree that has found its way into the United States, sporting a white berry rather than a dark purple one.
4. Rose Hips
Rose hips are the red berries of the rose plant, which is quite common in the United States. They make a great tea or syrup, and despite there being an array of rose varieties, the berries are easy to identify if you know what a rose bush looks like. Characterized by arching, spiny stems, rose bushes bloom classic-looking flowers in shades of red, pink, and white. Before using them, remove the stems and the tips of the blossoms. Then remove the seeds by cutting each berry in half, as the seeds are slightly irritating and not good to eat.
Elderberries are prized for their immune-boosting properties. Studies found that some forms of elderberry, such as concentrated elderberry syrup, can be as effective as Tamiflu in battling the dreaded influenza virus. The berries are toxic until they have fully ripened. Either way, cooking the berries assures these compounds are destroyed. This makes elderberry slightly more complicated to forage than other berries, but it has so much potential value as a survival tool for fighting and preventing illness. Round clumps of small, slightly waxy and purple berries hang between thin branches with oval to lance-shaped, oppositely-arranged and serrated leaves.
6. American Persimmons
Persimmons fruit grows on trees up to sixty feet or taller, and are characterized by the craggy, chunky, scale-like gray bark on their trunks. Leaves are glossy, large (up to eight inches or so) and teardrop shaped. The fruits look like something between a plum and a tomato, depending on the type and region. Fruits ripen in late fall, and unripe fruits are astringent and sour. Ripe ones, however, give a blast of sweetness with every delightful bite. The choicest fruits will be very soft and may be somewhat wrinkled.
7. Wild Strawberry
Most berries on this list grow on shrubs or trees, but wild strawberry is a creeper. It is good at keeping quiet and hidden, spreading close to the ground as fruits emerge to dangle from the low-lying vines. This makes wild strawberry patches easy to miss. Wild strawberries look similar to commercial ones, but are smaller. They have white, five-petaled flowers. Strawberry leaves are toothed, and appear in threes. The only real lookalike is the pesky false strawberry, which is very similar-looking and also edible, but completely tasteless and dry. False strawberries have yellow flowers, and seeds rub off easily.