The Urban Garden: Foraging for Secret Harvests in the City

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Tracy A Woodward / The Washington Post / Getty Images

A woman picks mulberries next to a bridge in Rosslyn, Virginia

In a delightful piece for this week, Healthland contributor Anita Hamilton wrote about foraging for fresh greens and berries in the city. You might balk at eating produce plucked from an urban lot, but you’d be missing out.

Hamilton wrote:

For about three weeks each summer in the U.S., mulberry trees are impossible to miss — if you know what to look for. That’s when the trees’ sweet, ripe berries, which look a lot like blackberries, fall from the branches and leave telltale bluish-black stains on the pavement or ground below. It’s happening right now in New York City, and I’ve been collecting and eating mulberries all week: sometimes I plop them on top of oatmeal or mix them in with granola; other times I eat them á la carte.

The benefits of foraging are many, Hamilton argues: wild vegetables and fruits are higher in nutrients than the stuff you buy at the store. They’re cheaper too; hard-core foragers say they can shave up to 40% off their grocery bills.

Perhaps more to the point, foraging is fun — like a treasure hunt. And it reconnects you to the natural world around you, which is something that city-dwellers don’t often stop to do.

Some consider it a political statement: “The ability to go out and get your own food is a strong rebellion against the industrial food system,” Hank Shaw, author of Hunt, Gather, Cook, told Hamilton.

PHOTOS: Urban Farming

Plus it can introduce you to wholesome new foods — mulberries, dandelion greens and hen of the woods — that you wouldn’t otherwise think to include in your diet. It also helps burns calories. After all, you can’t pick a wild mushroom from the couch.

Hamilton recommends several handbooks and guides, some Web-based, for beginning foragers. Read her entire story here, then get outside this weekend to see what you can find.

Meredith Melnick is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeredithCM. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.