October is nearly upon us. A riot of yellow, red and orange foliage is beginning to color many parts of Indian country.
The air is different now. Aromas of meadows, sweet grass and wildflowers linger in the air.
Soon there will be happy gatherings to celebrate good harvests, and folks will be industriously committed to completing storage tasks for winter.
Many weather people predict a hard, snowy season this year, yet nature and coyotes love to play tricks on us.
One of my favorite things about the start of the fall season is being able to forage for wild edibles. My mom taught me to always carry a knife and a small spade in a basket for chance encounters with edible prey. Over time, I have added garden snips and small plastic bags.
Some people go after specific plants, medicinal teas, nuts or mushrooms, but I don’t trust what I do not recognize. So I stick with what I know.
Jerusalem artichokes are a favorite, as well as sassafras, beach plums, chokecherries, elderberries, grapes, goldenrod, sumac, and the list goes on.
When I first learned that goldenrod was edible, I naively added some to a bread recipe, thinking how “pretty” it might be. Not so. I tried the same with cranberries; both experiments turned out gray without any redeeming flavor. Mistakes are to learn from. So I try, try again.
There are a few, simple rules worth noting when it comes to foraging activities.
1) Do not pick all that you see, so the plant can replenish itself for the next year,
2) Be careful of roadside plants that have chemical residue from traffic,
3) Be sure you are not on private property where you might get chased, or worse, shot at (it happens).
As the nights and some days have a chill in the air, I like to make natural teas. If the day is still warm, they become iced tea.
There are so many wild teas available, especially now, although you can usually find supplies all year even in the bleak mid-winter. Sassafras, white pine bark, goldenrod, mints of all kinds, sumac, beebalm—too many to list.
Making tea is a basic process: boil water and add your herbs, spices, leaves, bark or berries, and let it steep (sit for 5 to 10 minutes) with the heat turned off. It is advised to try each natural tea just plain the first time. If needed, add a natural sweetener. A lot of people favor honey and lemon. I usually like sweet tea, but the first time I had white pine bark tea just plain, it was delicious and didn’t need a thing. Other teas are fancy, like the one below, and said to be perfect for hunters who go out after midnight with only the full moon to guide them.
Hunter’s Moon Tea
6 cups cold water
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup honey
1 small cube of ginger root, or a teaspoon of ground ginger
½ teaspoon of ground allspice
Puree all ingredients in a blender, then heat on a stove. Serve hot with cinnamon sticks.
If preferred cold, serve over ice with lemon slices.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.