Secret Serviceberry


Okay, I admit it. I love to gather fresh food for free, especially if it’s right in front of me and nobody else is noticing. I’ve discovered that the polite term for this habit is urban foraging. I’m not a fanatic, though I have gotten some curious looks from passersby as I’ve been picking linden flowers off the trees in front of the library. If someone asks, I’m glad to share my knowledge about the trees and my plans for my harvest. Little leaf linden (Tilia cordata), the European species of linden, are commonly planted for shade along city streets. The flowers appear in June and July and fill the air with their honey fragrance (bees love them). When dried, they make a pleasing, mild tea that has a calming effect (in France it is called tilleul). Our county does not spray (a good thing to check), but I take the flower bracts home and wash them in warm water, then dry them on wire racks before storing them. I add the flowers to mint and chamomile for a delicious and soothing tea. Perhaps my favorite source for free gastronomic delight is the serviceberry (Amelanchier), a small tree or multi-stemmed shrub that has been used widely as a landscape plant in cities. A native plant in the rose family, serviceberries have lovely white flowers in spring and bright reddish orange leaves in fall. During the summer, they produce small red to purple berries that taste like a cross between blueberries and raspberries. Most people ignore them, though the birds don’t. I recently discovered a nearby street that has three trees in a row. The berries are just ripening (a little early this year), and I got right to work picking and putting them in a brown bag I just happened to be carrying. The entire time I was selecting berries, a robin was dashing in and out of the branches scolding me. I apologized but I didn’t stop picking. Urban foraging is a growing movement, and a number of websites help identify safe urban food sources. There’s even an organization called Falling Fruit that has created a huge, collaborative map of urban areas where fruit and other foods can be foraged for free. I will not be contributing the location of the serviceberries, though. For now they are my selfish secret!