Foraging Daze: The humble Hackberry

by Nathaniel Huntley

Winter foraging can be a little slow. Fortunately, there is a “weed” tree that helps fill in some gaps. Yes, the humble hackberry is a great foraging plant! The fruit dries on the tree for eating from late fall to early spring. The tree is abundant, very draught tolerant, and tastes like a date! What’s not to love about this awesome tree?

Ok. To be fair the fruit is very small and mostly pit. I have read that the Original Americans had a gazillion uses for this fruit. Some made jellies or condiments to season meat, some mixed with fat and roasted it, some made pounded it into powder for cakes and some made Pemmican (why have I still not made Pemmican?!) and almost everyone ate it fresh.  While these practices are not nearly as commonplace today, they still thrive in many native households and communities. How grateful I am to be able to learn from these awesome people (I’m looking at you Shelby!).

We are spoiled with abundance so we just eat it fresh. My son is a one at a time kind of kid, he works the coat and meat off the seed and ten spits it before he gets another. That seems like an all day effort for a meal to me so I gather a small handful and work it over in my mouth, making a delicious sweet gravy. When the flavor is gone I spit and repeat. If they taste a bit green wait a few weeks, if they are dry you are too late; find another tree. The trees seem to ripen at different times, extending the harvest.

We like to make sure the chickens get the seeds, they love them. Heck our dog even eats the ones that fall to the ground. I am experimenting with grinding the berries into a powder. When I have acceptable recipes, I will post for those interested.

The uses of Hackberries go well beyond food. The bark has been used as medicine for sore throats, the leaves and branches can be boiled down to make a red dye, and the wood used for everything from furniture to firewood. The treat top will help heat our home next year, as it is shading our solar panels. We have already replanted (or rather encouraged a new location) and will continue do so with as the root suckers. These trees grow great with oak and sand plums!

So next time you are out foraging don’t walk past the humble hackberry. The fruit is small, but it packs a big flavor punch!