A Year Of Urban Foraging

January 12th, 2016 - filed under: The Food » Food and Health

urban foraged fruits

Beach picnic with beautiful, vibrant prickly pear, passion fruit, and figs, all gathered on the 7-block walk from my house to the beach. (summer 2014)

1. urban foraging
The practice of foraging for free fruits, vegetables, and other “wild food” around the city

Urban foraging is one of my very favorite hobbies, and it’s something I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember. It’s something I wish more people did, and it’s something I wish more cities would make more possible for people to do! It just so happens to be my personal belief, in fact, that all government buildings should be landscaped with kale and cauliflower; that city streets should be lined with fruit trees; and that public parks should all be planted with with beautiful berries, brightly colored peppers, and edible flowers everywhere. Can you even imagine? What a world that would be!

But until then, we have to make do with what we’ve got. And at the beginning of 2015, I made myself a secret resolution. My Mission: to urban forage a different food from a different place, every single month in 2015.

And you know what? I did it! And I had so much fun. If you’re interested in exploring urban foraging, this is a great little challenge to get you started. You also might want to read this helpful intro post on my “Rules Of Urban Foraging” that I wrote a few years back.

So! Every singe item on this list was collected within 5 miles from my home in downtown Santa Barbara, California. Here’s what I found in 2015 . . .

Month: January
Distance From Home: less than one block // less than one block

urban foraging santa barbara
Dandelion greens grow everywhere, and as long as you know your neighborhood, they should be safe to eat when foraged in urban areas. Just make sure you wash them well! I love dandelion greens in juices and smoothies.

urban foraging california
urban foraging in santa barbara
We found these oranges in an alley behind our house, on an afternoon when we were taking a wagon ride/walk over to visit Jeremy at the shop. Citrus grows everywhere in California in winter, and these beautiful Valencia oranges were large, juicy, and perfectly sweet. A great snack for our journey!

Month: February
Distance From Home: 2 miles // 4 miles

urban foraging in california
There are 3 kumquat trees that skirt the edge of the Rose Gardens at the historic Santa Barbara Mission, about 2 miles from our home. They produce the biggest, fattest, most perfectly sweet-tart kumquats I have ever tasted, and Waits and I collect them every February.

homemade citrus infused gin
Most of them go straight into our mouths, because kumquats are “nature’s candy.” But this year I also made some kumquat-infused gin. (DIY infused spirits tutorial can be found here)

urban foraging
River mint is one of my favorite wild treats, and it grows in abundance in all the riverbeds which run from the foothill neighborhoods of Santa Barbara, all the way through downtown SB, and right on into the ocean. Waits and I found this particular mint on a creek walk with some friends, although we gather it nearly year-round whenever we’re near a creek bed. It makes awesome wild mint mojitos in summer!

Month: March
Distance From Home: 3.5 miles // 3 blocks

foraging mushrooms in california
Beautiful! These gorgeous morel mushrooms were popping up all over the back yard at Waits’s in-home preschool. The children were finding them for almost an entire month, and most of the families were able to take some mushies home. Such incredible little treasures. ♥

urban foraging avocados
There is a giant, I mean GIANT — one of the biggest I’ve ever seen — avocado tree just a few blocks from my house, and it drops ‘cados all over the sidewalk for about 6 months out of the year. I grabbed this perfectly plump beauty, plus a few others, one March afternoon while Waits and I were skating around the neighborhood.

Month: April
Distance From Home: 3 blocks

urban foraging southern california
urban foraging in southern california
Loquats are little fleshy fruits that grow in clusters on small semi-tropical trees. They sort of resemble miniature apricots, but the flavor is sweet and very, very tart. Loquats originate from south China, but they are a staple of Southern California, and it’s a fact that no SoCal kid can grow up without many memories of gorging themselves on loquats.

We found this bunch on yet another wagon ride from our house to the store to visit Jeremy. Wagon rides make for great fruit eatin’.

Month: May
Distance From Home: 3 miles

california urban foraging
I love edible flowers, and spicy sunbright-colored nasturtiums are some of my favorites. I collected these by the side of the road while running errands around town, but they could have come from anywhere. Nasturtium flowers blanket the yards and parks all over Southern California through late spring.

I like to eat my edible flowers in salads, to preserve and highlight their beauty. So pretty surrounded by all that fresh green! (Nasturtiums are peppery and add a bit of bite, which i adore.)

Month: June
Distance From Home: less than one block

southern california urban foraging
There is a glorious fig tree that overhangs a fence a few houses down. Every year I watch as the figs ripen, eagerly anticipating the sweet juicy fruits which indicate the beginning of summer. Figs are basically like alien fruit. They’re so weird inside . . . but man are they tasty!

Month: July
Distance From Home: 1.5 miles

santa barbara urban foraging
urban foraging in socal
This is a chayote, and I found it in the back yard of a house I was viewing to potentially rent. Chayote is a South-American vining melon, sort of like a spiny cucumber, and they are super rare around here. So when I saw a vine in that back yard I knew I had to grab one! Waits and I didn’t end up caring for the flavor, but we were still stoked to be able to try something so unique.

Month: August
Distance From Home: 3.5 miles // 8 blocks

urban forage santa barbara
I saw these cherry tomatoes on the side of the road in the scorching heat of summer one day, while driving to drop Waits off at outdoor school. I had to swerve to pull over and Waits was like “MOM what are you doing?!” and I was like “TOMATOES” and he was pretty understanding. These were just growing on the side of the road, no doubt the seeds had been dropped by some bird after the tomato had been plucked from a nearby neighborhood garden. We only got a small handful but they made for a wonderful afternoon snack, all sun-warm and sweet and delicious.

urban forage california
Mmm Mmm Mmm Mojitos! One of my favorite summer cocktails. The mint in this mojito was grown in my own yard, but the limes I’d nabbed from an abandoned grove of fruit trees down by the train tracks, on a bike ride home from visiting a friend. These were some of the juiciest, most flavor-filled limes I’d ever tasted.

Month: September
Distance From Home: 4 miles

santa barbara urban forage
Nopales are giant cactuses that grow all over Southern California and Mexico. You can eat the actual cactus paddles, but I’m not too fond of them. The fruit though? Amazing!

Cactus fruit, also called prickly pear, can be tough to pick and prepare because it’s covered in very fine hair-like needles that hurt like you wouldn’t believe, if they stick ya. Still, it’s worth it for that incredible, unique fruit!

urban forage california state
Prickly pear lemonade with foraged prickly pear, organic lemons, and raw agave. This is summer in a pitcher and Waits can’t get enough of it. Look at that color!

Month: October
Distance From Home: 4 blocks

city foraging california
city foraging southern california
I love rosemary, and I feel like it’s such a perfectly autumnal herb. I collected this little bundle on a walk back from my neighborhood grocery store. Rosemary grows like crazy around here and people often use it for landscaping, so it’s not too hard to come by. But it reminds me of autumn, so that’s when I like to use it. Rosemary cashews, rosemary roasted potatoes, rosemary chocolate chip cookies. Yes please!

Month: November
Distance From Home: 2 miles

city foraging santa barbara
Lavender is so beautiful, and here in Santa Barbara it blooms in late spring and on through summer. Which is why I was so happy to find this lucky rebloom in late autumn! I like to use lavender in DIY beauty products, or make satchels for my linen drawers. It’s such a lovely herb with so many traditional, medicinal, and magickal applications.

Month: December
Distance From Home: all over town

citrus growing around california
Winter in Santa Barbara is all about citrus. This past December I actually collected an abundance of varieties on my adventures around town — from tangerines to mandarins to regular ol’ lemons. Someone even gave me a Yuzu they had grown!

But the only picture I managed to get was of this little meyer lemon, all smooth and soft-skinned and smelling like heaven. Waits and I grow our own meyers on a miniature meyer lemon tree in the back yard, and we use the lot of them to make a lemon loaf every single Christmas Eve (the tree is so small, we only get 3 or 4 each year). But this was earlier in the month, and it was so nice to get a taste of that wonderful flavor.


And that, my friends, is that. My Year Of Urban Foraging! I had so much fun, I just might have to do it all over again, now that I’m moving to a whole new neighborhood next month. But until then, I want to hear what YOU collected out and about around your own cities this year. Any cool foraging finds? Let us know in the comments below!

  • Aline

    Full of wonderful! Not too much available on my walks in Massachusetts this time of year. Enjoying the snuggling and looking forward to fresh foraging in the spring which will likely kick off with fiddleheads from the Fells :)

  • Lacy Davis

    This is sooooo inspiring! So glad to hear from you , blog-style!

  • Rebecca Carnes

    Does foraging your Dad’s backyard for Avos & lemons count??? LOL He lives in Fallbrook and his Avocados are SO much better than store bought!!
    This is so cool, I’m going to make a point to keep my eyes open for some foraging opportunities when P&I are out and about town….. There is usually a ton of Lavender and Rosemary growing wildly around!

  • Bianca

    Wow! You have such bounty available there!! SOOOOO JEALOUS OF THE AVOCADO TREE! I found a fig tree a couple years ago in the yard of an apartment building behind my house, and no one was picking the ripe figs. So I stocked up! I was so excited to do so again this past season, but somebody beat me to it! They got all the figs, even the ones up high so they must had a ladder.

    I also discovered that a giant weed bush growing in my backyard is actually an elderberry bush! So I harvested those this year. I didn’t have time to do anything with them right away, so I chunked them in the freezer. But I will be making elderberry syrup soon!

  • Anna

    I was jealously looking at your bounty when I realized that there is a website for urban foraging (fallingfruit.org)! I’m going to try this in my area.

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Oh I bet there’s all kinds of cool stuff around where you live! It’s really just a matter of training yourself to look for it. Free food is everywhere! Can’t wait to hear what you and P find. =)

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Awesome, thanks Lacy! And man, Portland has some seriously amazing foraging. I used to go all over the southeast! Berries berries everywhere!!!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    That’s so cool! Like 5 or 6 (maybe more? oi . . . ) year ago I wanted to develop a mobile app that would let people post alerts on maps whenever they found a good foraging spot, and then other people could log in to see what’s in their area. Cool that there’s a website doing something similar!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Aww you got scooped! And that’s bad form, one should never take all of what they’re foraging. You always leave some for the next person! That’s just manners. ;-)

    And I am super jealous of your elderberry, that is RAD! I have always wanted to make elderberry syrup. Such great magickal and medicinal properties with that berry. Have so much fun with it!

  • http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/ Sayward Rebhal

    Haha, oh man, yeah it’s not really a year-round activity everywhere. But I bet Mass has some amazing foraging from late spring through fall. Apples, right??

  • katta

    We take the lane ways when we walk around home too (Melbourne, Australia) – we have a giant mulberry tree the small kiddo loves more than life, an avocado tree that requires standing on shoulders (but man they’re worth it!), figs, apples and grapes all within two blocks. Its amazing what you can find! This winter the kids would forage greens on the way home from school (chickweed, dandelions etc) from the park and make smoothies or bliss balls with them as their snack! Its awesome seeing their eyes open to the potential around them in an urban area!

  • B M

    Wow this is amazing! How wonderful to be surrounded by such an abundance of delicious plants! The only thing I have been able to forage here in CO mountains easily is mint and wild raspberries (omg, so good). And though it is not edible, I love pine sap and it smells incredible.

  • Jessica Minguez

    Meyer lemons really are one of my favorite scents and flavors. I miss a lot of that Southern California foraging! We have some berry patches around here in Alaska, but it’s slim pickins in this climate. :)

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