When we first learn to forage for berries and fruits, we often try to impose patterns on nature that don’t really exist. But you have to go deeper than color when it comes to wild foods. For example, if most of our region’s red-colored fruits happen to be edible, then it’s easy to start assuming that all red fruits are safe to eat. Unfortunately, this kind of wishful thinking can get foragers into serious trouble (like plant poisoning). Color alone is not a safe way to judge fruit and berry edibility. You’ll need to positively determine the plant’s genus and species: by studying the plant’s leaf patterns, branch patterns and the innards of the fruit or berry. Before you take the first bite, check each of these seven features on fruits and berries.
The color of a fruit or berry is the first thing we see when walking up to a bush, vine or tree. The outer color is the first thing that catches our eye and an important factor in identification, but it can’t be your only concern.
2. Pulp Texture
You may find pulp, pith or juice when you squish open a fruit or berry. Whichever the case, the fruit or berry should contain the right texture of interior for that species.
3. Pulp Color
The interior color may match the skin color or be completely different. This color needs to match the color you expect to find.
4. Seed Number
Count the seed number from several specimens and come up with an average. Some species have only one seed while others have many. In some cases, the difference between one seed and two seeds can mean the difference between an edible fruit or a poisonous one.
5. Seed Color
Again, color comes into play with identification. From pale tan to jet black, the seed color should be right for that species.
6. Seed Size
Big seeds, little seeds, and seeds in the middle – check the seed size to make sure you have the right berry.
7. Seed Shape
Seeds may be round, pointed, oblong, curved, flat or any number of shapes; they need to be the RIGHT shape. As with each of the other features listed here, use a reputable foraging field guide to ensure that the features you are seeing in a fruit or berry match the species.
Are berries on your foraging radar? Please share your favorite by leaving a comment.