TRAVERSE CITY — Clay Bowers strolled through overgrown fields near Silver Lake Road, stopping now and then to pop seeds from a wild carrot flowerhead or berries from an autumn olive into his mouth.
“I’m just a complete plant nerd,” said Bowers, who named his 3-year-old son, Nettle, after a favorite wild plant. He shares his love of botany in monthly classes called Foraging Unlimited.
More than a half-century after the publication of Euell Gibbons’ groundbreaking book, “Stalking the Wild Asparagus,” foraging for wild edibles is catching on again. Bowers’ students include everyone from home cooks to survivalists.
And fall foraging offers a particularly plentiful bounty, from roots and leaves to nuts and berries.
“There’s all kinds of mature things out there this time of year,” said Charlevoix area forager John Sheets. He’s a café manager and chef who likes to use his wild harvest in home dishes like cream of mushroom soup. “The vast majority of mushrooms come out late summer to fall, including chanterelles and a variety of lobster mushrooms and black trumpets and boletes. The huge variety of mushrooms is later in the year, where you might go out and pick 10 species in one foraging.
“Some of the best mushrooms come up in the fall, and some of the very best edible mushrooms are very easy to identify. They’re not the traditional cap-and-stem button-like mushroom,” he said.
Another fall edible is highbush cranberries, which are often found on area streambanks and can be used in jellies and sauces, Sheets, 52, said.
“They’re not the same as the lowbush cranberry, the Thanksgiving cranberry. They have a softer skin, they have some seeds in them. They take a considerable amount of work because they’re incredibly tart. It requires a fair amount of sugar,” he said.