Harvest time – where an explosion of summer’s abundance is met with the fragrant smells and colors of autumn first breath. There is so much joy to be had from picking out oddly shaped squashes, being dazzled by golden tones, or feeling the slow creep of crispness in the air. As things begin to wind down, this time also creates an excellent space to reflect on how the year has passed by, and consider what comes next in the seasons’ cycles.

At the Alliance, our work has always focused around resilience. Despite difficult circumstances, we have found ways to help keep our communities more adaptable. One of the ways we strive to do this is through designing for and planting ‘multifunctional’ species along our riparian buffer corridors or within our lawn conversion projects. Multifunctional simply means that a planting site is designed to not only protect our waterways, but give back to the landowner through various natural materials, including native edibles.

Diversity in all forms is the key to supporting life. Native plants play important roles in increasing our biodiversity such as insect populations and wildlife habitat, but also can expand a farmer’s economic reach as well. Multifunctional buffers can potentially provide a nice boost to a household’s income through specialty markets. Production of hickory oils, or aronia berry juice, maple syrup, elderberry tonic, or decorative dogwood cuttings all make great additions to the farm stand, root cellar, or dining room table.

We are all familiar with the old cliché of not ‘putting all of your eggs in one basket’. Through multifunctional design we are supporting agriculture resiliency- so that when markets crash or dairy prices plummet, our farmers may be able to tap into their reserves in new and flavorful ways.

Favorite species include:

  • Fruit: Serviceberry, Chokeberry, Highbush Blueberry, Persimmon, Pawpaw, and American Plum
  • Nuts: Shagbark and Pignut Hickory, American Hazelnut
  • Decor: Winterberry, Pussy Willow, Red-Osier Dogwood
  • Value-Added Products: Witchhazel (medicinal), Maple (syrup), elderberries (jam or tonic)

For inspiration on what these native species can do for your palette check out Forager Chef’s blog to find creative ways to flavor your table this fall with native shrubs and trees. As you savor these autumnal tastes, consider planting some new shrubs or trees this season to get started on your own perennial backyard harvest.

Here are a few of my favorite recipes that use native edibles:

  1. Buttercup Squash Ravioli with Hickory Nuts and Birch Syrup
  2. Elderberry Jellyor Simple Chokeberry (Aronia) Preserves
  3. Smoked Venison Ribs with Spicy Wild Plum Glaze
  4. Pawpaw Pudding

Note: Elderberries are bountiful and are packed with antioxidants, which can boost your immune system. Careful though! These berries must be cooked before consuming.