Urban Foraging

Foraged harvest: from left - elderflowers, wild garlic, Saskatoon berries, linden flowers, grape leaves, mulberries and mulberry leaves

As the summer progresses and seasonal native plants begin their cycle of growth, attraction, and fruit bearing, I like to plod through my patch of the city to familiar spots where I find berries, leaves and flowers. This neighbourhood is a very built up residential area in midtown Toronto in close proximity to colleges and tourist attractions, and in spite of that there are still a few little oases of wild that exist mostly through abandonment and neglect.

I have several personal rules for foraging:

  • Don’t trespass, unless of course it is on a vacant lot that is accessible.
  • Always leave lots of fruit and flowers for the birds and the pollinators.
  • Go quietly about your foraging.
  • Be discreet as to those with whom you share foraging locations – not everyone is respectful of the need to harvest in moderation.
  • Avoid areas where dogs frequent
  • Wash your gatherings well in cold gently running water

My kit includes scissors, a 3 quart fruit basket with handle, 1 pint and ½ pint berry boxes. I loop a stretch elastic to hold the basket around my waist for hands-free picking.

Mulberry Tisane

Black Mulberries are in abundance throughout July in this part of the world and while their sweet juice-filled berries are a fleeting pleasure, the leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season. Because the trees are found in so many parts of the world, I’m going to focus on the leaves of this one plant and demonstrate how to make a sweet tisane that will be refreshing hot or cold. You’ll be happy you’ve put it by to enjoy throughout the year.

Smaller Mulberry leaves are ideal for rolling and drying to make a sweet tisanes

The Japanese make a tisane called Kuwacha using the White Mulberry (Morus Alba). I haven’t tried it, but have read that it has a similar flavour to Sencha, which is hard to imagine…

For those of us unable to grow true tea (Camellia Sinensis), Mulberry leaves present an opportunity to pretend we are making tea. The process is similar enough to say, white tea, that for a few suspended moments. we can imagine…

The leaves of the Black Mulberry can be wilted, rolled and air dried to create a pleasant, mildly sweet tisane. The Black Mulberry (Morus Nigra) found throughout Europe and North America is of the same genus, but a different species of Mulberry than that found in Asia – the kind silk worms love – but similar enough and safe to consume.

Here’s how:

  • Pick the smallest leaves, about 1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter.
  • Rinse them in cold water and pat dry.
  • Let them wither until they are pliable – depending on the weather, under an hour
  • Roll them up loosely shiny side in
  • Now roll them briskly between your palms until they hold their shape. This allows some of the leaf juices to surface
  • Let them dry for a day or two

Freshly picked Mulberry leaf withered for one hour

Mulberry leaf rolled with shiny side in

Mulberry leaf dry - several days later

Put 10 – 15 leaves into a small vessel (I like to use a gaiwan) and pour over with boiling water. Infuse for 5 minutes.

Pour over with boiling water and infuse for 5 minutes

Mulberry leaves slowly unfurl, infusing the water with a fresh, sweet flavour

While researching the Mulberry leaf for The Tea Book (page 140), I discovered that the leaf has traditionally been used to treat symptoms of coughs, cold, flu and fever, sore throat and headache. I’ve enjoyed this tisane with no problems, but as with any herb, don’t overdo it. If you have doubts, ask your health practitioner if they think it is safe for you.

Apart from its pleasant sweetness, the most enjoyable part of this exercise is harvesting the leaf, especially when the berries are in season. One for the basket, one for me! The leaves can be harvested for several more months, so happy foraging!

 

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