Many of us do not have the luxury of an own garden. And even if we have, there is only so much fruit you can grow in a normal sized (or rather small) garden. Most of us are not living on a farmstead.
But there are many different kinds of wild fruit right there in front of your eyes. And some of them are there for you to harvest as you like and use in your kitchen.
Here are 20 types of fruit I found in the wild – or on free land that I could pick for free and use to make juice, jam, cake or to spice up some other dish. You may not be able to find all of them in one place or area. I found some of them in or around Berlin and some of them in the Bavarian mountains and some in Rhineland. I am sure if you open your eyes, you can find your own species and harvest a treasure.
While the forests surrounding Berlin have some blueberries, the Bavarian Forest simply is a Blueberry country. In the Bavarian mountains, they grow everywhere: deep in the forest, on unused pastures, in the valleys and high up the mountains. In some years the blueberry bushes are so full of fruit, you can fill whole buckets of them in a short time. I grew up with the luxury of running wild in the Bavarian Forest and picking blueberries whenever I wanted a mouthful of something sweet and tasty.
Only in years when they bloom early and some late hard frost destroys the blossoms, there are fewer blueberries, or you have to go hiking to get to places where they are big and tasty.
I use blueberries to cook jam or juice. We eat them pure and uncooked with milk or cream. We make cakes (for instance blueberry cheesecake or blueberry streusel cake). We add blueberries to ice cream or yogurt and cream cheese.
(And do not mistake the big „blueberries“ you can buy in the supermarket for the real thing. Wild blueberries have soooo much more taste you will never be able to mistake the supermarket ones for blueberries if you had the real thing just once!)
Forrest raspberries are smaller than the garden ones. But they have a lot more taste. And if you find the right spot to pick them and the summer is sunny without too much rain at the wrong time you may well be able to pick a few pounds of raspberries at a time. Only rain is not a friend of raspberries; the humidity makes them rot on the bushes.
As with blueberries, you can find some raspberries in and around Berlin, but the sunny Bavarian mountainsides are so much richer in raspberries.
I use them quite similar to blueberries: for juice, jam, cakes – or pure with milk or cream.
But they take longer to pick than blueberries and won’t keep as long as they tend to rot very fast.
Picking wild blackberries is a little like going to war with their thorns. Never go in shorts, or they will scratch your legs from top to toe. Also, wasps like to drink the juice, if the blackberries are very ripe, the wasps sit on the berries – but they often seem a little tipsy and slow so they will usually not sting very fast.
Forests around Berlin are rich in blackberries, but in dry years they simply dry up before they are ripe.
In the Bavarian mountains you can often pick a ton of them in the valleys – but higher up the mountains it depends on how sunny the summer is. In rainy summers, the blackberries may not get ripe enough in the short season before frost comes again in autumn.
Blackberries have a hard kernel that makes them not too well suited for making jam – rather filter some juice and make jelly from it. Or as with blueberries make juice or syrup that you can add to ice cream or yogurt.
Since I do not eat so much jam and jelly I usually make juice or syrup from the blackberries.
European cranberries are much smaller than the american type. They are a rare fruit, and you need to know where they grow to find enough to fill a bucket.
I have seen bushes of cranberries around Berlin but never picked any there because they only have very few berries on them. It simply seems a waste and not worth the time.
Again Bavarian mountains are a much richer area regarding cranberries. But even there, you have to know your spots. My mother had a couple of spots where she knew they grow – this year while taking a shortcut on a trail run I stumbled over a „field“ of wild cranberries. It is a cranberries fan’s dream come true.
I already picked a couple of kg in August – and then two weeks ago I returned to Bavaria, and there were still some cranberries to harvest. We ended up having so many cranberries – Yummy!
Cranberries make a perfect jam that goes with meat like deer or duck. This year I plan on making my first cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving (as I am German, I never made a Thanksgiving dinner before but am planning to have one this year).
Yes, apples. But to be honest, wild apples are very small and sour – I am talking about real apples here. That means that some human has planted them. But in Germany, there are many places where people have given up fruit plantations or left a tree unattended. In Brandenburg (the countryside around Berlin) apple trees were planted as alley trees alongside roads. Even the forest officials plant some new apple trees right in the forest.
Since apple trees are always human planted, you have to make sure that they do not „belong“ to someone else, you do not want to steal them! Or simply ask the owner if you can pick some.
This year, a friend invited me to help to harvest an old fruit plantation she owns that is otherwise not harvested. And I was allowed to take home what I want. So our cellar is full of apples (and pears) for the cold winter months.
I am looking forward to a lot of apple pies and cakes, juice and crumbles, baked apples and other tasty stuff this winter.
You still with me? The peaches came to me as a surprise. I found the first wild peach tree right in Berlin’s Grunewald forest when I had a picknick with our family after a bike trip. And there it was: a peach tree, growing tons of peaches. They were still fairly green, so I came back two weeks later and picked a basket full that I made into jam and juice.
Since that first time I have found a couple of other peach trees, but I realized that I still am not sure about the exact time when peaches are ripe. So the last couple of years I missed the best time to pick peaches.
However, this year I visited one of the peach trees at the right time, taking home a small load of peaches that we ate pure, made some cake and turned into a wonderful iced peach drink.
8. Wild Pears
As with apples, there are some pear trees around Berlin that no one is harvesting any more. But there are also some wild pear trees growing tons of fruit. These fruits are not for eating raw.
The fruit itself is much smaller than the pears that we all know from the market. The skin of wild pears is much harder, and you do not want to bite into the pear since it makes your teeth feel funny and tastes rather bitter.
But they make a wonderful juice if you cook them and put it through a sieve.
9. Wild Cherry
I have seen wild cherry trees around Berlin. But they grow in masses to huge sizes in the Bavarian mountains. A huge old wild cherry tree is giving us shade in the hot summer months on the terrasse in front of our house. When I was growing up, I know that some of the farmers around used to pick a ton of wild cherries and turn them into juice. I tried once, but it is a lot of hassle without much result.
Wild cherries have a kernel that is almost as big as the one from real cherries, but the fruit itself is much smaller. The taste of wild cherries is a little sweeter that the plantation cherries. But since the fruit is so small compared to the kernel, the result of a lot of labor is rather small.
However, to eat them is huge fun for kids.
10. Plum cherry
I did not know these until recently. When we were out in the wild, training our dogs we saw them, and I researched them. They are one of the species that the plums we know are cultured from. They are bigger than cherries but smaller than plums. The color can be anything between red and lilac. The fruit is rather sour and has a kernel that reminds me of plum kernels only slightly smaller.
I did not have time to pick a lot, but I think they probably make wonderful juice or – even better – syrup since the fruit is very tasty but rather sour.
11. Blackthorn fruit
Blackthorn fruits is also an ancestor of the plums we know today. They are dark lilac and grow very late in the year. You should wait for father frost before you harvest them – or put them in the freezer before you process them.
In Europe, blackthorns were planted between fields to give a home to birds to nest. In good years you can see whole hedges turn lilac with fruit.
Blackthorn fruit make a quite famous liquor – you can make one yourself. I use them to make a very thick juice that I spice up with cinnamon and cloves, and I drink it hot: simply use 1/5 of the juice, 4/5 of hot water and add a tablespoon of honey. One of my favorite very healthy hot winters drinks.
12. Black Elderberries
In Germany, black elderberries are quite commonly used. The flowers are made into syrup in spring and served with some mint and champagne for a drink called „Hugo“ or with mineral water for „Children’s Champagne“ without any alcohol.
You can also use the flowers to dip them in a dough and bake them in oil into little cakes.
The black fruit can easily be made into jam, juice or syrup. The juice can be spiced with cinnamon or other spices and makes a wonderful hot winter drink that supposedly works wonders against cold.
13. Red Elderberry
Red elderberry is a variety of elders that is more native to the mountains, so I pick them in Bavaria. The fruit ripens earlier than the black ones. Since the kernels of red elderberry are slightly poisonous and can cause stomach pain, you have to sieve them thoroughly after cooking. You can then cook jelly or syrup from it. A like to add a little vanilla and cinnamon.
I find that the taste of red elderberries needs a little getting used to – but I rather like it. And red elderberries are supposed to work even better than the black one against the cold in winter.
14. Rowan Berry
The rowan berry is a red fruit whose bright red turns the mountainsides and forests into the colorful vision they are in autumn. Birds will only eat them late in winter when every other food is already gone. If you want to harvest Rowan berries, you should either also wait for the first frost or put them into the freezer for a couple of days before you use them
When I was young, the rumor got around that Rowan berries are poisonous. That is not true. In early days farmer’s women used to harvest tons of rowan berries and turned them into juice or jam. In rare cases, you can even buy rowan berry jam on the market.
The taste is rather bitter and needs quite a bit of sugar.
15. Rose Hips
Rose hips are the fruit of dog roses. They make a wonderful jam – but it is a real hassle to pick them since first you have to fight of the thorns and then you have to take out all the kernels. Better wear kitchen gloves for this tedious work because the kernels will make your skin itch.
If you are lucky, you may be able to find some rose hip jam on the market.
This is one kind of plums that is not lilac but yellow or red. I discovered a couple of bushes near one place where we go for training with the dogs. I was not in Berlin when they turned ripe – so no harvest for me this year, but they would make wonderful juice.
17. Cornel Cherries
I did not know this kind of cherry. Marina made me aware of them since she knows them from her childhood. We planted a bush on our property in Bavaria. Marina uses them for jam and juice.
18. Sea Buckthorn
Sea Buckthorn is very, very sour. My sister in law told me to be careful when picking sea buckthorn because if the berries burst, the juice can easily hurt your fingers because they are so sour. To make harvesting even harder, sea buckthorn have very long and strong thorns.
Sea Buckthorn is rather famous in the coastal areas of Germany, where you can buy sea buckthorn sweets, tea, and juice and jam.
There is a garden variant of sea buckthorn – without the thorns, which makes it easier t harvest. But there are many sea buckthorn bushes in the sandy areas outside ofAndrlin. And while I have not tried harvesting sea buckthorn, I am certainly going to try…
19. Woodland Strawberries
Have you ever tasted these small wild relative of the cultured strawberry? They are sweet and have a lot of aroma – not to be compared to the bigger strawberries you can buy. Woodland strawberries rarely grow in large quantities, but if you find the right spot a small bowl can be taken home. Most of the time we eat them right from the bush into the mouth.
If you are lucky enough to find more than just a handful, woodland strawberries would make awesome jam.
I admit that mushrooms are not really a fruit. But you can find them in nature and I love mushrooms. They give taste to a lot of dishes. And since I often walk through the forest with the dog, I can simply keep my eyes open and bring home a couple of tasty mushrooms.
I am not going to recommend any sorts of mushrooms here, for the simple reason that they vary from region to region. And not knowing exactly which ones to pick can easily end up with a bad stomach or worse.
In the Bavarian Forest, there are years when you can harvest tons of great, tasty mushrooms. We often dry them to use them later as a spice in the kitchen.
Hazelnut grows everywhere. In Berlin forest and in the mountains. The nuts are slightly smaller than the ones you can buy in a supermarket. If you pick them yourself you have to compete against various wild animals – even if you found some whole nuts, they may well be already eaten and be empty inside.
I know a couple of walnut trees in and around Berlin. We recently took one from Berlin to Bavaria and planted it on our property – so far it is growing well, but we have not harvested our own nuts yet.
The trees I know did not grow enough nuts to make picking worth my time and I often get a basket of walnuts from friends or relatives who have a tree in the garden. Supposedly a walnut tree can help keep the mosquitos away.
Chestnuts I neither found in Berlin nor Bavaria. But I know that in other areas of Germany there grow Chestnut trees, and you can simply collect bucket loads of chestnuts. Just mind the thorns on the outsides of the fruit.
I harvested my wild chestnuts south of Bonn in Rhineland.
I am sure there are more fruit, vegetables, and nuts to harvest out in the wild. The selection in this post is from my limited experience from the different areas of Germany. I would love to hear about edible fruit and vegetables you have found in other areas.