Welcome to the Gathering Cycle of the Year. This is a resource built from local cultural knowledge, passed down from the generations that came before us. Living in sync with the cycles of the land can build a powerful connection with your local environment, and incorporating locally harvested wild foods in your diet is a wonderful way to celebrate and create local food traditions. We hope you find this resource helpful. Happy gathering!
In an effort to document and share the experience of following the gathering cycle, Kaare Melby compiled a series of monthly articles about his experiences living through the 2020 Gathering Cycle. Click here to explore those articles.
Download a printable PDF of this resource here: Finland Area Gathering Cycle of the Year.
Maple Syrup – Tim Melby always said: “Make sure your taps are in by St. Urho’s Day”.
Birch Sap – I’ve heard it said that “The birch sap flows when the peepers sing”, I’ve also heard that birch sap starts flowing after the maple sap turns “buddy”.
Leeks/Ramps – Tastes like garlicky-onions. These are some of the first green things on the forest floor in the spring.
Wild Ginger Root – As soon as you can dig them out of the ground. You can also harvest in the fall.
Dandelion root – As soon as you can dig them out of the ground. The earlier you harvest the roots, the sweeter it will be. You can also harvest in the fall.
Fishing Opener – In May. Check local regulations (DNR).
Sucker Fish– According to Harvey Klinker “The Suckers run when the poplar leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear”
Spruce Tips – Around the beginning of June.
Cat Tail Shoots – Soon after the young shoots start coming up. Supposed to be similar to young asparagus. We don’t have a lot of experience doing this.
Dandelion greens – As soon as they start coming up until they turn too bitter.
“Wild” Asparagus – I’ve heard it grows wild on the sides of roads and near old homesteads. I don’t have a lot of experience with this, but they would likely be ready at the same time as the asparagus in my garden is ready, around the beginning of June.
Oyster Mushrooms – Oyster mushrooms tend to fruit in the middle of a whole day of rain and are highly perishable in damp conditions. They can fruit fairly early in the season since the end of May and early June are often wet, but the early ones aren’t as easy to find unless you are willing to be out in the rain. It helps to know a stand of popple/aspen and to check leaning or dead trees with broken off tops. Each tree generally only fruits once or twice a season, so once it has happened, don’t bother to check that tree again unless things dry out a bit and then rains again a month or so later. They will fruit through summer until the first frosts of fall if there is enough moisture.
Wild Mint – Starts in the spring and goes through the summer until the fall.
Raspberry leaves for tea – fresh young leaves make the best tea. Dry and save for later in the year.
Cow Parsnip – really good in soup – a lot like celery. Easy to find when looking for wild leeks. Not quite as early. Just before leeks are done for the season.
Clover – For tea, or a foraging snack. For tea, pick the flower heads and either use right away or dry. As a foraging snack, just pluck the purple parts out of the flower and eat raw. They’re slightly sweet and tasty.
Wild Strawberries – These require some careful watching. Wild strawberries are delicious but tiny, and they grow very close to the ground. It’s best to find the plants early in the spring and watch them. People are not the only animals that know about these tasty treats, so pick them as soon as they are ripe, or they will be eaten by something else.
Wild Raspberries – Pretty self-explanatory, pick them when they are ripe and tasty!
Juneberries / serviceberries – Oddly, these berries are usually ripe in July.
Chanterelle Mushrooms – In my experience chanterelles fruit July – September. Obviously, there is variation year to year. Chanterelles seem to stop fruiting with the first frost of fall. They tend to fruit after it rains. Sometimes several days after a rain.
Blueberries – Around the end of July, often through mid to late August. Ripen earlier close to Lake Superior, especially on sunny, rocky outcrops. Inland are slightly later, in rocky swampy areas – acidic soil. Sometimes really prolific in burned or logged areas.
Lobster Mushrooms – Late July – they parasitize other mushrooms – russulas – so there’s a different cycle first, then the lobsters come. They are bright orange, easy to spot. Often kind of dirty and can be hard to clean.
Wild Rice – Late August – Harvesting wild rice is a great way to gather a large amount of food very quickly. Wild Rice is our local wild staple food. Harvesting wild rice requires some skill, and it’s best to learn how to harvest wild rice from someone who already knows how to respectfully and responsibly harvest it. Like many wild foods, harvesting wild rice requires scouting and watching the plants as they develop. Once the rice is ripe, the window to harvest is fairly short. Different lakes ripen at different times, and rivers are unique not only in timing but river rice has unique characteristics. Harvesting wild rice is done with a canoe. One person stands in the back of the canoe and uses a “duckbill” pole to push the canoe through the rice, as another person sits in the middle of the canoe and uses two sticks to gently harvest the wild rice from the plants. Both jobs require practice and skill, and picking is a very specialized skill that some people really excel at. Harvesting wild rice does require a license from the DNR, which can be bought anywhere that sells hunting and fishing licenses. If you want to eat MN wild rice but aren’t ready to harvest it yourself, you can buy local hand-harvested wild rice at the Finland Co-op.
Hazel nuts – Late August, you can tell if they’re ripe when you peel off the prickly stuff and crack open the nut inside. If the nut fills the shell and the skin on the nut (inside the shell) is beginning to turn brown, they’re ripe enough to pick. You want to pick them and dry them so that the prickly stuff isn’t as prickly. Then you can figure out a way to rub them (wearing gloves, or inside a sack) to get the prickly stuff to disintegrate, so that you can get at the nuts in order to crack them.
Apples – Apples aren’t exactly wild, but there are many old trees that have been forgotten on homesteads here and there. Often with a bit of pruning, they will revive. Some varieties are ready at the end of August. Slice the apple in half and examine the seeds – if they are brown, it’s ready. If not, wait. Green apples can be used to make your own pectin for jams and jellies, and are good for many other specialty recipes that call for pectin or tartness. Many apple varieties require a hard frost in order to properly ripen.
Pin Cherries – These cherries get ripe in the late summer to early fall, they make great jam/jelly. You can also make them into a sauce.
Bolete Mushrooms – Coming out later in the season, Boletes seem to not mind early frost, and can remain and even thrive after the more fragile “summer” mushrooms like chanterelles have stopped fruiting.
Rosehips – good source of vitamin C, but beware the poky inner fiber. Best to dry whole and then boil thoroughly for tea. Trying to de-seed them is not worth it.
Wild blackberries – not a lot of fruit for the amount of brambles you get caught in, but still fun to eat.
Thimbleberries – very delicious, find the plants and watch them. They should be ripe mid- to late-summer.
Acorns- Our northern red oak trees produce a lot of acorns. Acorns have been consumed by cultures all over the world. Acorns are a wonderful source of nutrition and can be a staple food. But they must be processed in cold water to remove the tannins in order for them to be edible. It’s best to learn this process from someone who knows how to do it, but there are also resources online you can learn from. On Facebook there is a group called “Acorns are Food” that has good information and can help you connect with people who have experience processing acorns.
More Apples – Once there has been a hard enough frost, apples are ready for making applesauce, cider, cider syrup, cider vinegar, apple butter and more. Crab apples add excellent flavor and color to sauce and cider, and can also be pickled or fermented. The last apples to ripen are usually the best keepers – really hard apples – they store well in a cold spot or root cellar to be used throughout the winter.
Pears – there are also old pear trees scattered about the area on old homesteads. They are not always good for eating out of hand, but can be mixed with apples to make more interesting sauces and ciders. Anything you can do with apples, you can also do with pears and it is usually really good.
Wild Plum – very rare, but here and there. Small and tart, but good eating.
Hawthorn/Thornapple – Smaller than apples – looks like a very tall rosebush with many orange/red berries, but with long, dangerous looking thorns. The apples can be used for pectin, sauces and cider just as regular apples are and add an interesting flavor, but not great on their own. BEWARE OF THE THORNS. Always offer tobacco before harvesting so the fairies who live in the bush don’t come after you and poke you with the thorns. 🙂
Choke Cherries – Wait until these cherries turn very dark, almost black. These are one of my favorite fall treats, and also make really good wine.
Bear Hunting – Even if you are not a bear hunter, the bear fat is often not used by the hunter. Bear fat renders into bear grease, which is an extremely useful substance. Excellent for baking, or frying. Learn who hunts bears in your community.
Dandelion root – As plants prepare to survive the winter, they send their energy to their roots. The later in the fall that you dig them, the sweeter the root will be.
Wild Ginger Root – As plants prepare to survive the winter, they send their energy to their roots. The later in the fall that you dig them, the sweeter the root will be.
Strawberry leaves – gathered after a frost, once leaves have begun to turn red. Good for tea, especially for women’s reproductive health.
High Bush Cranberries – These cranberries become sweeter after a frost. Wait as long as you can to harvest these.
Low Bush or Bog Cranberries – scope these out when blueberry picking, but don’t pick until later. There are a couple different methods. You can pick them early, before the frost, but then you have to put them in the freezer or they won’t ripen properly. Or you can wait until after the frost to pick. Sometimes fall rains make this difficult. Then you need waders, and you tromp around the swamp and the berries float and can be more easily gathered.
Whitefish Netting – starts in mid-October, but usually not reasonable to set nets until early November – the 2 weeks before inland lakes start to freeze. Nets have to be checked once a day. Nets set in shallower water with rocky bottom – fish flop on the rocks in order to spawn, so you want your net near where they do that. You need a license and to know the regulations.
Duck Hunting – works really well in tandem with whitefish netting since the seasons overlap. You can set your nets and then go duck hunting on the water. Again, you need a license and to know the regulations
Grouse Hunting – also works really well in tandem with whitefish netting. Same thing, you need a license and to know the regulations. Grouse like gravel, and the sounds of running water, so streams and gravel roads. In the fall they like to come out and sun themselves if the sun is out.
Deer Hunting – So many theories and techniques and methods – rifles, bowhunting etc. Where-ever you choose to deer hunt, go there, study how animals move through there.
Cherry Bark for tea – Works well for sore throats, but also tastes good. Can be made into cough syrup by adding maple syrup and cooking it down. The tea of the bark tastes more like cherries than the fruit does – without the sugar.
Chaga for tea – Overharvesting is a serious concern. Chaga takes a long time to grow into a large chunk. Best results are doing dual extraction, first a long slow simmer for at least 24 hours (crock pot!), strain and then add more water to the grounds. You can do this a number of times to get a lot of chaga tea. Once the batches start to look not as dark, then strain, then cover the grounds with alcohol and let sit for at least a month. Each method extracts different medicinal components.
More High Bush Cranberries – easier to spot in the winter! Still good!
Ice Fishing – Another one with as many different techniques and methods depending on the fish, lake, or people’s preferences.
Ice Netting – Whitefish can be netted through the ice as well. System involves cutting holes, anchoring the net on one side and using a long pole with a hook to push or pull the net through to stretch it out to set it. You have to have enough room between the net and the ice (meaning you have to properly anchor your net) so that your float line doesn’t freeze into the ice.
Grouse Hunting – Grouse hunting goes all the way until the New Year. A lot of people quit once it snows, but it’s still possible, just more difficult.
Cedar Needles – Tea, also good for braising meats and other foods.
White Pine Needles – Tea
Spruce Needles – Tea
Balsam Fir Needles – Tea