People are, for the most part, scared to death of wild plants. At the moment, for example, wineberries are ripe in my neck of the woods (and much of the U.S.). But tell people that there is a widely abundant and tasty wild raspberry near them and their reaction is, “Oh my God! What if I pick the wrong thing and then blood comes out of my eyeballs and my skull melts and I die?”
To which I say this:
• How can we get Donald Trump to eat some?
• Relax. There is nothing out there that looks like a raspberry that will hurt you. Come to think of it, there’s nothing out there that looks like a raspberry that isn’t good to eat.
The forging books don’t tell you this, but there’s a pretty good way to tell if a plant is dangerous: Taste it. That’s right. What do you think our distant ancestors did to tell which plants were good to eat? Here’s the logic. With the exception of mushrooms—and you do not want to mess with them unless you have years of experience—things that taste good are good. Things that taste bad aren’t. But there’s nothing out there of which a single taste will kill you. Just spit it out. (An unripe persimmon might make you pucker up for a few hours, but it’s not dangerous.)
Anyway, Rubus phoenicolasius is an introduced plant in the raspberry family found over much of the U.S. It grows along the edges of roads and fields, and on recently disturbed land. Michelle and I picked a little over a pound in 15 minutes yesterday. The ones we don’t eat right away we freeze to use all year in smoothies. They’re fantastic mashed and mixed into vanilla ice cream.
I don’t know why people are so afraid of the good things growing all around us. Consider this: The average fruit or vegetable you buy in a grocery store, I once read, is 17 days old at the time of purchase. Which is why we now eat stuff bred for one thing—shipability. Screw taste and nutrition. What wholesalers want is stuff that can survive the voyage from field to store. So we meekly buy and consume tomatoes with all the taste and texture of tennis balls, rock-hard pears, and peaches you could put in a bag and use as a blackjack. You know why you can’t buy sour cherries in grocery stores? Because they don’t ship well. And a good sour cherry pie is about as close to heaven as you can get. Especially with ice cream on top.
Chances are there are wineberries close to where you live. All wineberries are good. To me, however, there is a hierarchy. The darker, the sweeter. Good ones are a deep, ruby red. Superb ones are almost purple. So send a tiny message to the food industry that you’re not gonna take it anymore. Go pick you some wineberries.
Photos by the author