2013 is a good year! I discovered a wild edible growing twenty yards from our mailbox. Starting in September, every time I picked up the mail, I popped a handful of nannyberries in my mouth and slowly chewed, separating the meaty pulp from the seeds. This can take a couple of minutes if you have a mouthful, then you spit the seeds out.
Nannyberries are substantial. Some people compare them to raisins. The closest food I would compare them to is figs.
The photo below shows the fruit as it grows, in a cluster, with the green being unripe, and the black ripe. If you wait until the fruit starts to wrinkle, it doesn’t taste as good.
It probably seems silly, but I experience real joy when I discover a new, wild edible. It is so difficult to find a new one on your own. Until you are able to see it, a thing remains invisible. I think our mind does more of our seeing than our eyes, if that makes any sense to you.
It amazes me that this bush, which is probably at least fifteen years old and been producing fruit for at least ten years has been invisible to me. Not only did I not know what it was, I didn’t even see the berries and go, “hey, what kind of berries are these?” I’ve been yards away from this bush thousands of times. I don’t think its a stretch to say this bush was ‘invisible’ to me.
I started thinking about nannyberries when I heard Sam Thayer say it is his favorite wild edible on public radio. I reread the chapter on nannyberries a few times in Sam’s first book, The Forager’s Harvest. My mind was primed.
And then one day as I picked up the mail, I noticed these clusters of berries. I guess it would be more accurate to say they jumped out at me, as this is a large specimen as you can see in the bottom photo. My mind was opened so I could see.
I didn’t go pop a handful in my mouth. I retrieved my book and returned. The photos are never exactly like the specimen you’re looking at. What sold me was Sam’s description of the claw-like bud at the top of the clusters of fruit.
When I saw that, I was 99% sure, but I was still cautious. I picked a wrinkly one and tasted it. It wasn’t very good, which made me wonder about Sam’s description. I picked a less-wrinkly one and it tasted better.
I chewed and swallowed, and that was it for the first day. I wanted to wait and see if I would get sick later. I’ve never gotten sick from a wild edible, but when I’m discovering a new one, I’m very cautious.
I didn’t get sick, so I ate more the next day. Like anyone trying a new food, it took me a few tries to really start to desire it. I also had to figure out which berries were ready to be eaten.
The scientific name for Nannyberry is Viburnum lentago. I noticed the genus name, Viburnum, is the same as the Highbush Cranberry, Viburnum trilobum, which I planted several of this spring in my Permaculture orchard.
When you see a scientific name, the genus comes first and is capitalized, followed by the species which is not capitalized. If two things share the same genus name, they’re related. If two things share the same species name it doesn’t mean they’re related taxonomically, but it could mean something else. For example, Fraxinus americana and Ulmus americana refer to the American ash and American elm tree respectively. They’re not related, except for the fact that they’re both found in North America.
I was intrigued to find the Nannyberry and Highbush Cranberry are both Viburnums. I found there are over 150 species within the Viburnum genus. I can’t wait until my Highbush Cranberry starts to produce fruit and I can enjoy and compare to Nannyberry.