When you picture outdoor activities in the Grand Junction area, you probably think of scenic hikes, thrilling bike rides, and cliffside climbing excursions. But there’s a less talked about the option that’s sure to excite the adventurous foodie: foraging in Colorado.
Foraging is the act of identifying and gathering edible plants in the wild. This activity gives visitors the chance to explore Colorado’s unique landscapes while collecting a wholesome snack along the way.
Let’s check out some of the tastiest edible plants Colorado has to offer.
Watercress is a leafy green member of the mustard family. Its peppery flavor makes it a bold addition to salads, soups, and sandwiches. Since watercress is packed with antioxidants, it helps to lower the risk of diseases like cancer or diabetes.
Where does watercress grow?
Watercress thrives in the cold water. So, look for it near streams or along the banks of the Colorado River in the Grand Junction area. Since this little plant is sturdy, it has a pretty long growing season, but your best chances of finding it are between March and October.
2. Wild Onions
Colorado’s wild onions, also known as Geyer onions, have a thick stalk and small pink flowers. The entire plant is edible, including the bulb and the flowers. However, unlike grocery store onions, wild onions have a tiny bulb. So, many people harvest the stalk and leave the rest in the ground. You can use wild onions as a garnish in a variety of dishes, or you can place them center stage with this delicious garlicky creamed wild onions recipe. Tasty!
Where do wild onions grow in Colorado?
Wild onions grow in a variety of conditions, but you’re most likely to find them in meadows, hillsides, and next to streams like Leach Creek—just a short drive from Grand Junction. This pungent plant blooms from May through August.
3. Porcini Mushrooms
Known as one of Colorado’s most popular mushrooms, porcinis look like large brown hamburger buns. Their nutty flavor makes them a tasty addition to pasta, risotto, or any dish that calls for cremini mushrooms. As a bonus, dried porcini mushrooms contain seven grams of protein. This makes them a great plant-based alternative for beef jerky.
Where do porcini mushrooms grow?
While you may spot a porcini at 7,000 ft, you’re more likely to see one at higher elevations. Look for porcini mushrooms lounging under spruce trees and along mountain streams below the treeline. The Crag Crest Trail is lined with forests of spruce trees and rises above 10,000ft, making it a bountiful place to hunt for porcini mushrooms. Bring a big basket!
Porcini mushrooms prefer warmer weather. Plan to start hunting in June and expect to wrap up the search come September.
4. Juniper Berries
Gin lovers might recognize this one because it’s one of the most important ingredients used to make gin. Here’s another interesting trivia fact: juniper berries aren’t actually berries. They are tiny seed cones and they give gin its piney flavor. Even if you don’t like gin, there are plenty of delicious ways to cook with Juniper Berries. This juniper spiced venison and greens recipe not only tastes great but is healthy for you too.
Where to find juniper berries
The juniper trees that juniper berries grow on prefer open rocky areas with lots of sun. You can find them all along the Golden Star Canyon Trail if you’re up for an easy hike in the Grand Junction area. But, before you start picking berries, you should know it takes a few years for them to mature. The best way to know if one is ready for harvest is to give it a little tug. If the berry comes off the tree easily, it’s ready to eat. While you can technically harvest juniper berries year-round, fall is the most reliable time to find ripe ones.
Many people consider dandelions pesky weeds, but we strongly disagree. They’re actually a perennial herb you can use in a variety of dishes. Add its leafy greens to salads or use its roots to make a morning cup of joe. Some research suggests that dandelions reduce skin inflammation, making them a wonderful addition to your skincare routine. Your selfie never looked sunnier.
Where do dandelions grow?
Folks often start their Colorado foraging adventures with dandelions since they’re so easy to find. Their bright yellow flowers make them quickly identifiable, and they pop up all over the Colorado terrain. You may even spot a few in your own backyard. Dandelions start popping up as the weather gets warm in March and stick around through September.
6. Wild Strawberries
Colorado is home to wild strawberries during its warmer months. Hikers often spot strawberry plants growing in clumps along the trail. However, these sweet little berries don’t last long. Wild animals like birds, moose, and elk love this trailside treat as much as we do.
Where do strawberries grow in Colorado?
Most of Colorado’s wild strawberries grow in the state’s southwestern portion. Dedicated foragers may discover them growing above forest floors or open meadows during the summer months. If you can’t find them growing in the wild, grab some at the Grand Junction Farmers Market on Thursday nights from June 23 to September 8.
7. Prickly Pear Cactus
The sharp spines of the prickly pear cactus may look intimidating, but this pointy plant is a delicacy. Aside from its spines, the entire cactus is edible. The paddle-shaped stems can be cooked like a vegetable or thrown on the grill. The colorful fruit is sweet when ripe and can be eaten like any other fruit once it’s peeled, and the plant’s vibrant flowers can be used to add a pop of color to late summer salads.
Where to find prickly pear cacti
The prickly pear cactus thrives in dry arid climates, making them easy to find in places like the Colorado National Monument. While you can’t harvest plants within the national park, you can look for them in the surrounding area. The best time of year to forage for Prickly Pears is late August when the fruit is ripe. However, you can still snag some delicious stems through early winter.
You’ve probably seen asparagus stocked in the veggie section of your grocery store. But did you know they grow wild throughout Colorado? This low-calorie veggie is packed with antioxidants and tastes great in pasta, stir fry, or as a side dish.
Where does asparagus grow in Colorado?
You’ll often find asparagus around farm fences or moist ditches from April through July. If you’re hunting for asparagus in early spring, try to locate last year’s dried stalks. Wild asparagus grows in the same spot yearly, so dried stalks indicate you’re looking in the right place.
Start foraging in Colorado
Find these foods and more in the Grand Junction area. View the Official Grand Junction Visitor Guide and begin planning your next foraging adventure today.