Foraging reflections

Another school year has started and another season of changes on the farm. Since the summer garden is coming to an end and we wait, again, on the new seedlings for the next veggie season, there has been more time to take notice of what is growing in our ‘grasses of mystery’ as I like to think of them. I am starting to love the possibilities as I start out learning what is popping up at my feet, with only the help of natures gardeners (birds, squirrels and so on).

The best parts of a food forest/permaculture farm is seeing the results of patiently watching the “weeds” grow. It is probably no secret that we love our winged sumac here on the farm. With the American Indian Lemonade recipes we have posted, it is obviously a favorite. But as we explore the grounds in our 4th summer/fall season here, the abundance of the winged sumac is just glorious. They are everywhere and they are all at different stages of growth. Although they are considered an aggravating invasive plant, to some, I mean one Sumac bunch seems to have 1000 seeds, I can’t help but appreciate what all they can provide, once you take the time to research them and use them.

So, here is what we have come to appreciate about this plant. First, as the spring flowers fade into summer and the veggies start producing and stop flowering as much, the sumac flourishes with flowers. And the bees are very thankful! The ‘dearth’ period, when bees have small amounts to forage, was not so harsh for our buzzing friends. Next, you get to see the white flowers fade away and a crimson berry form. The tall branches with their winged leaves stretch out to provide shade for our chickens and a welcomed napping spot for our dog. Now the fun begins, harvesting their sticky berries. We have been harvesting the sumac berries going on a month or so now and the prime time is still coming. We have been making so much Sumac Lemonade and it is being perfected with each harvest. We have learned that the darker the berries and the juicier they look, the tangier the flavor. So yum! We have now perfected our identification of the exact moment to pick them to achieve the best flavor. That is when there has been a hot, dry spell and the berries are deep red with a white glaze over them. The rain washes away the wonderful lemon flavor and the beneficial vitamin C so harvest before a big rain.

So yesterday, as the weather appeared to be starting to storm, I rushed outside to collect the best looking berries. As I walked around, I noticed the different stages the Winged Sumacs were in. Some were at their very end, with dried black berries, some were just turning a red color, some haven’t even started producing berries. I stopped and realized how thankful I was to have this “invasive” surrounding our farm. What a rewarding gift. Then I found other recipes and uses of this plant. I made Sumac Lemon Pepper and ground Sumac for seasonings. I found that the young shoots of a sumac are edible, still need more research on this. Then there is the spice blend to make Za’atar, an eastern Mediterranean spice blend which uses ground Sumac. I am in heaven! And to think none of this would have been discovered if we didn’t patiently let the farm grow wild.

And this is just one moment in the year of seasonal surprises. We have so many favorites on the farm, our wild blackberries, the purple violets in the spring, native persimmons that are coming soon, the wild hazelnuts, our newly discovered Elderberry and more! Each year we learn more, discover more and we all grow taller for it. Patience, persistence and perseverance have been our strategy and there is more to come! We encourage you all to go out there and explore, just make sure you wear bug spray, sunscreen and bring along field guides for safe identification.

Cheers to happy foraging!