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Foraging in Berlin: Head out on The Wild Path

We consulted foraging instructor Simka Senyak of The Wild Path to find out what palatable plants Berliners can harvest this spring and summer.

Photo: Imago / Pond5 Images

Tired of paying over €2 for a lousy sachet of herbs at Rewe? Then foraging might be a viable option for you – the forests around Berlin are a veritable paradise for grabbing seasonal grub. Scouting for plants in the woods isn’t just about free food, though. Rather, it’s an opportunity to educate yourself about the local ecosystems and appreciate the rich nature around the capital. The best thing: it doesn’t require expertise to get started.

Just ask Simka Senyak. They run foraging workshops through their organisation, The Wild Path. A Berliner since 2017, they didn’t have the kind of earthy upbringing that made foraging part of their life. “I really came from this background of oh, everything around me is probably poisonous, and I think a lot of us, growing up in the West at least, have that approach to the natural world.”

Senyak started foraging when the world slowed down for Covid and they were escaping burnout from a day job. They had a little mushroom foraging experience, but when someone reminded them that wild nettles were edible, something clicked. “I had vague knowledge in the back of my head that my grandmother used to pick nettles for tea, but I just assumed they were disgusting,” Senyak recalls. “But I picked some nettles, and I made them into a cream sauce and I just had such a mind-blowing moment of oh, if these are this delicious, how much else have I been missing?’”

Photo: Jericha Senyak

Equipped with a plant ID app (a great tool, but don’t rely on them to be perfectly accurate), Senyak found that there was a lot they were missing out on. One surprising highlight to forage in the warm months is hops. Typically an expensive plant to buy in stores, they’re readily available in the forests of Brandenburg – and they’re not just for brewing beer. “They start sending out these little shoots that wind around stuff like fences, abandoned bicycles or other trees. You can just snap them off, and they taste like something between asparagus and green beans,” Senyak explains.

🌿 Foraging in Berlin: A seasonal guide

Their hot tip? Sauté them with salt and olive oil until they’re dark green and a little crispy. For easy-to-find greenery, there’s the few-flowered leek. It’s a popular plant to forage in Berlin in early spring and can be found in almost absurd quantities, even in urban areas like the Planterwald. Because of its garlicky taste it’s often mistaken for wild garlic (which is actually endangered and rare in these parts) and makes for a great ingredient in pesto or herb butter.

It’s not only herbs and vegetables that can be foraged in spring and summer: around August, Senyak looks for Cornelian cherries, which are available for just a short window. “They have this really delicious, super tart and astringent flavour until they’re ripe. And then the exact moment when they’re ripe they’re just so special and delicious. They’re really good for making jam or to ferment into different drinks.”

So who goes foraging? Well, theoretically, anybody – it can be both social or solitary – but Senyak notes that in Berlin, there’s a lot of interest among the queer community, particularly internationals who move here. “There’s a lot of people trying to create new ways of being and community,” Senyak says, but they note that there’s a well-established German foraging culture, too, although the crowd may skew older and more conservative.

Photo: Jericha Senyak

If you want to get started, then all you need to do is figure out what to look for. Learning to identify plants stresses some beginners out, so Senyak suggests a more organic approach, and not just cramming from books or guides. “My philosophy is to make friends with the plants,” they say.  “It sounds a little cheesy… but it’s like if you see someone over and over and you really form a relationship.” Figuring out where to forage isn’t too hard: we don’t want to spoil any particular area by naming it here, but Senyak just recommends looking for green patches on Google Maps and paying attention to your surroundings. “I think just walking around, keeping your eyes open and then saving your favourite places to return to works.” Just make sure that the area you’d like to go foraging in isn’t under protection or on a private property.

It all sounds straightforward enough, but there’s still a few (mostly unwritten) rules to heed. The most important one: don’t take more than about 20% of what’s available; less for rare plants, maybe more if it’s ubiquitous. “It’s about making sure that you’re leaving enough for other beings: humans, but also critters that rely on that food.” For example, if you over-forage flowers, fruit that animals rely on may not appear later in the year. But mostly, Senyak says, just enjoy it: “You don’t have to be an expert in everything. Just learn from as many different sources as you can, and have fun with it.”

  • Details on Simka Semyak’s foraging tours can be wildpathcoaching.com