Story last updated at 8/21/2013 - 3:31 pm
Salmonberries, crowberries, red huckleberries, blue huckleberries, nagoonberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries, red raspberries, wild strawberries, high-bush cranberries, lingonberries. The list continues and seems endless.
"I love cloudberries, they taste like baked apple," said Stacy La Mascus, a naturalist guide for Gastineau Guiding and an upper elementary school teacher at Montessori Borealis, "I take salmonberries, blueberries, and cloudberries and make pie. A friend from Wisconsin said it was the best pie he ever had."
La Mascus said she's spotted cloudberries out on North Douglas, and advises foragers wait until they're fully ripe before picking.
"When they're peachy," she said, "they're not quite there yet. They need to lose their color before they're ready."
The compulsion to forage, pick, and put up the wild harvest has infected many Juneauites. Right next to the big back-to-school display at Fred Meyer there's a whole aisle of preserving supplies. Sun and warm days, and more sun and warm days mean there's been lots of chances to head out and find berries.
Just don't ask anyone where they're picking. Normally friendly, chatty, and generous people suddenly become quiet and secretive when it comes to foraging spots. Or, if they're very polite and demure they'll make excuses about why they're not available when you want to go picking. There are exceptions of course - folks who would rather have company in the muskeg or woods, even if it's just to help scare off bears. And once you have a few foraging spots in your internal geography, you can trade them for others: "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours."
Whether you're new to foraging or a seasoned wild plant hunter, there's always more to learn. Juneau has a ripe resource downtown in the Bill Ray Center. The Juneau office of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension is a source for many free publications and in-person advice from experts on all sorts of Alaska edibles. The publications provide nutritional, harvest, and preserving information as well as recipes.
Sarah Lewis, the Home Health and Family Development Agent for the Cooperative Extension said it was an early year for berries. She said she's had some luck with blueberries and hopes to do better by going up in elevation. Lewis said that beyond what the UAF Cooperative Extension publishes, foragers can Google "Cooperative Extension" plus the name of the plant they are interested in to find publications from all over the country available for download.
Lewis and Darren Snyder, the 4-H Youth and Development and Agriculture/Horticulture agent for the Cooperative Extension led a Sustainable Harvest camp last week for ages 11-18. Campers learned to harvest and process wild fish and game, plants and berries.
"This year the camp focused on fish and deer," Lewis said, but she expects to have more emphasis on traditional wild edible plants in the future.
Ed Buyarski of Ed's Edible Landscaping cultivates edible plants for a living. But he still forages in his spare time.
"There are very few blueberries this year because of the weather back in April," Buyarski said.
He noticed that a late freeze killed blueberry flowers, but he's seen lots of red huckleberries. Buyarski speculates that the low blueberry harvest may not only be an issue for humans.
"Lack of berries are going to cause problems with the bears," he said.
Berries aren't the only bountiful wild foods right now - the ocean and rivers are filled with salmon, halibut, lingcod, shrimp and dungeness crab. Hunters are seeking black-tailed deer, mountain goat, waterfowl and grouse. While hunting and fishing require a commitment of time and equipment, a bucket or bag is all you need to forage for wild berries and plants. Juneau happens to be at the cusp of berry season and mushroom season - alert foragers can probably find both in one excursion.
"It's a great time of year for collecting seaweed," Buyarski said.
He advises that foragers make sure they're hunting in a clean spot for any kind of edible. Highways and beaches that see a lot of human and dog traffic are not the best places. It's best to keep in mind that plants absorb what's in the air and ground around them. Pick in a place where the water, earth and air are clean.
Dave Gregovich is a fisheries biologist with the Department of Fish and Game, and an avid mushroom hunter.
"It looks like a really good mushroom year," he said. "The warm weather seems to really help the mushrooms that are decomposers."
He said that the bright, orangey Laetiporus sulphureus, or "chicken of the woods," has been particularly plentiful already. He offers some advice about harvesting.
"Mushrooms like chicken of the woods - right when they are coming out, and are still kind of small, tend to be softer, and if you pinch them, they give a bit, so there's some sponginess to them. If you cut a chicken of the woods when they're young, some moisture will come out. But after that point, they start to wrinkle and get thinner, and you know it's too late."
He also has spotted a few golden chanterelles and winter chanterelles. Gregovich warns against hunting mushrooms without sufficient knowledge. Through the Juneau Audubon Society, he offers a mushroom walk each season.
"I show people which ones to avoid, and which ones are good for the table," he said.
This year's walk will take place on North Douglas, Saturday, Aug. 24.
The human eye pans and focuses like a camera, sometimes taking in wide expanses, sometimes zooming in for a macro look at surroundings. A second trip down the same path can yield rewards missed the first time. When you head out in search of berries, they may seem difficult to spot, but after a short time in the right bit of landscape, your eyes adjust, and suddenly, they're everywhere.
Juneau office of the University of Fairbanks Cooperative Extension
Bill Ray Center
108 F Street, Suite 213
Juneau, AK 99801
Wild Foods and Medecines http://wildfoodsandmedicines.com - Ethnobotanist Elise Khron writes about wild edible plants of the pacific northwest.
Juneau Audubon Society: http://www.juneau-audubon-society.org/ Contact Amy Clark Courtney via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the wild mushroom walk on Aug. 24.
The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council produces a Seasonal Subsistence Calendar. Contact them to get a copy. (907) 586-6942. http://www.seacc.org