Sustainable Seawolf: Spring foraging for beginners

With temperatures rising, spring is in the air for Anchorage residents. For avid foragers, spring means the beginning of a bountiful season filled with fruits and greens, all of it free, fresh and local. If you’ve always wanted to bring home a five-gallon bucket filled with blueberries still wet with rainwater, then knowing when and where to go is crucial.

In Alaska, foraging seasons can vary greatly depending on whether or not the summer is hot and dry or rainy and chilly. Consider this a guide on when to start keeping an eye out for various yields during the upcoming Spring season.

Early spring

This time of year can be tricky for foragers. Unlike fall, which tends to have longer foraging seasons for crab apples and berries, spring’s foraging season for things like fiddlehead ferns can be as little as two weeks. Because of this, it’s important to be on your game for this part of the year.

In the Anchorage area, the easiest things to forage in early spring are devil’s club, nettles, and fiddlehead ferns. They are simple to identify and usually aren’t mixed up with anything that can be poisonous, though you want to have a thorough understanding of what they look like before you bite down on anything.

Typically, fiddlehead ferns come first in the season. Fiddlehead ferns are a spritely green colored vegetable that corkscrew at the top. They are usually found near bodies of freshwater, such as creeks or rivers. In Anchorage, areas like Russian Jack and Kincaid have plenty to go around. They can be sautéed with butter and garlic as a side dish or preserved and pickled.

Small nettle leaves drying for tea. Photo credit: Abigail Slater

Quickly after fiddleheads come nettles, also known as stinging nettles. While the stem of the nettle plant is irritating to the skin and can cause itching, the leaf of the plant is fine to consume once it’s cooked They are often found both on sunny, exposed hillsides and in more shaded areas, making parks a great place to keep an eye out for them. They tend to appear in mid-April, though they sometimes come in earlier.

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Around the same time as nettles, you can also find devil’s club. Largely believed to have medicinal properties, devil’s club can be used in salves and teas. The base of the plant has long spikes that will break off in skin, making it one of the more difficult plants to pick, but also making it easily identifiable. A pair of leather gloves will take care of any skin-to-spike contact. It typically grows in woodland areas, making places like the Eagle River Nature Center and Kincaid great spots to forage.

Foraging etiquette

With a few hundred thousand residents within the Anchorage and Mat-Su area, locals could wipe out these resources if we don’t practice good foraging etiquette. It’s important to keep a few things in mind if you want to forage sustainably.

  1. Never take more than you need for the immediate future.
  2. Don’t litter in the areas you forage or disturb wildlife.
  3. Don’t wipe out entire areas; harvest every few plants and leave some in between.
  4. Share your bounty with others when you have excess.

Foraging can be a rewarding hobby. For those of us who like to multitask, it gives hiking a delicious purpose. By being mindful of sustainability practices, you can enjoy what Alaska has to offer while making sure that it can continue offering it for many years to come.