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21Country: Learn about Northeast Indiana’s wild, edible plants

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ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WPTA21) - Earlier this year, Allen County Parks began monthly walks through Fox Island County Park, to allow hoosiers to learn and interact with 21Country’s wild, edible plants.

Indiana Master Naturalist Carrie Vrabel leads explorations through the seasons, sharing with others, how food can be foraged in Northeast Indiana, all year long.

To say she’s passionate on the subject, is an understatement.

Vrabel left her career with a local library system, to pursue learning about edible plants, and teaching others, full-time.

“I’ve always loved being outside, ever since I was a kid,” she told us, “my family’s from Kosciusko County, out in the country.”

She continued, “I loved the feeling of being able to recognize what I was seeing, and what I could and could not eat. It made me feel like I live here, like this is my home, and I have familiar faces around me all of a sudden.”

Wild Edibles in the Summer

So if you haven’t attempted to forage before, where would one even begin?

Vrabel narrowed down varieties of plants into several categories.

“I feel like there are some, I consider, staple foods - foods that would sustain you, that you could eat a lot of,” she explained, “and then there are some plants that maybe have a quality… a spice, a nice flavor!”

“Of course there are medicinal plants - that’s a whole other branch there,” she added, “and then the poisonous plants that you really want to watch out for.”

Vrabel says her number one rule of foraging, is to be 100% sure that the plant one may sample, is correctly identified.

Two resources she recommends to get started, is Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio: Wild Berries & Fruits Field Guide

She also suggests, to stay away from phone apps, which in her experience aren’t always accurate.

We should note, foraging is not allowed in Allen County Parks, unless it is in participation with a class like Vrabel leads.

Instead, she suggests private properties (with permission of land owner) or state parks. 

Beware though, while state parks have a lot of plants that can be legally foraged like berries and leaves, some things like roots and tubers, which would destroy the plant, cannot be harvested.

In the web extra video below, Vrabel highlighted five plants within Fox Island County Park, four that are edible, and one that is toxic.

They include: smooth sumac, purslane, wood sorrel, autumn olive, and white snakeroot.

How to Learn More

Year-round, you can find things to forage here, and there’s so much beautiful green space in this part of the country,” Vrabel told us, “and I’m really happy to have the opportunity to have a place like this to learn about these plants and make relationships with them and to connect with where we come from.”

Vrabel’s next walk at Fox Island County Park, is September 25th, from 10 a.m. to noon.

Cost is $2.00 for admission to the park, with pre-registration required by September 20th.

To reserve a spot, contact Jeff Ormiston via email at jormiston@allencountyparks.org or by phone (260-449-3184).

Vrabel also offers private tours. You can contact her here to arrange your own, ask her to ID plants, and follow her Facebook page for updates.

Author Profile Photo

Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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