Summer is the season of fruits. The Iroquois gathered all of the fruits and berries they could eat and dried the rest to last them through the year. Their use of prescribed burns enhanced the berry crop. Strawberries ripen first, followed approximately by juneberries, raspberries, black raspberries, blueberries, and finally blackberries. Somewhere in that line up you’ll find the black cherry, choke cherry, thimbleberry, currant, elderberry and wild grape. Don’t forget the sumac. You’ll often find the velvety red sumac heads throughout the winter but it’s best to harvest them as soon as they ripen, when the concentration of “red stuff” is still strong and the bugs haven’t moved in. Lesser known fruits include those of the various viburnum species such hobblebush, wild raisin, and high bush cranberry which tend to ripen in the late summer and fall. Think of all these fruit sugars as fueling the high activity of long summer days, travel, gardening, building, hunting, sports, dancing, swimming…
Other summer foods include the tops of milkweed shoots and milkweed buds, common sorrel, and cattail “corn” soon followed by cattail pollen (another thing I would consider collecting and storing). Purslane proliferates on city sidewalks. I love to snack on Indian cucumber root even when the plant is in flower. No one can resist the cuke root. Even wilde-phobes are drawn to its exquisite texture and taste. Actually, I’ve heard so many herbalists say they don’t eat this because it’s not abundant enough and eating the root, of course, kills this delicate perennial, but I spent the last two months before I came to Portland counting and measuring the heights of indian cucumber in the Alleghenies and, believe me, I have no qualms with harvesting a handful.
Chicken-of-the-woods I consider somewhat of a summer mushroom and oysters can be found fruiting randomly after rains but a definite major summer mushroom is the horn-of-plenty which is found on the oak plateaus of the Allegheny starting around July. This mushroom is incredibly hard to see until it is pointed out to you. It looks like dead oak leaves, but once a search pattern is established you’ll run into it everywhere.
I mentioned in the intro that summer is also peak medicinal herb season. Some herbs I collect in the summer include elder flower, St. Johnswort, motherwort, yarrow, skullcap (this one is kinda hard to find. I look in rocky areas along the Allegheny river and reservoir), mullein, red clover, mints, raspberry leaf, comfrey, mugwort, and linden blossom.
Stay tuned for fall…!