Food for Thought
Walk right up to good food, growing close to you!
We have always casually foraged for food as we walk in the woods, however the last few years has shown us how important food security has become as supply chains aren’t what they once were and prices keep increasing. As it turns out, Mother Nature does provide a variety of options, if you know when and where to look and if you’ve done your homework! This is not, by far, a “how to” guide. There are plenty of good books, clubs, and educated individuals who would love to walk you through the process to ensure you are finding, and tasting, safe food stuffs. We are ONLY showing you some of our lucky finds the last few years—the ones we’ve felt comfortable identifying, harvesting, and trying. Remember, like the insect world, many plants may look similar. This is known as mimicry—a plant or organism evolves to resemble another plant/organism physically or chemically, increasing its chance of reproductive abilities or being left alone. Mimicry in plants hasn’t been studied near as much as that of animals. One of my favorite mimics are hoverflies. At first glance, many mistake them for other stinging insects.
Some of my favorite finds in the early Spring are ramps. These garlicy, oniony greens are a welcomed addition to any meal, but go especially well in scrambled eggs! Ramps are very slow growing plants that should not be over harvested. Each plant has two large green leaves that emerge from the bulb. A conscientious forager will only pick one of the two leaves and definitely leave the bulb in the ground. If the bulb is harvested, the entire plant is now gone and will not reproduce/return next year. ***Lily of the Valley is also commonly found this time of year, and looks a lot like wild ramps. It is poisonous if consumed!***
Harvested ramps, including bulbs :-( A wild ramp patch
A common suburban weed, the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), is a very versatile plant. It is one of the easiest to identify and all parts are considered edible--flower, leaves, roots! The root of the dandelion is a long taproot that is often roasted and used as a caffeine free coffee substitute. Dandelion leaves can be harvested at any time but they’re at their most tender during early spring. Use these in your salad to add a source of vitamin A, folate, vitamin K, and vitamin C (in its raw form), and a good source of calcium and potassium. The dandelion flowers should be picked later in the morning when the blooms are completely open and dry. Dandelion flowers have a delicate and sweet flavor. They can be used to make dandelion jelly and tea. ***Caution when harvesting dandelions, make sure they have NOT been sprayed with an herbicide.***
Berries are also a family favorite! We grow some of our own, but I find it to be an extra special treat when we find berries on our hikes. Mulberries can be found starting mid/late June to and blackberries begin in July. Jams, jellies, wines, juices, ice cream toppings, and the list goes on!
An ice cream bucket fully of mulberries! Wild blackberries!
While not a berry, I did want to add a yummy fruit to this list--Native Pawpaw (Asimina triloba). These trees are an understory addition to our forest and the trees are easy to spot, but the fruit, which doesn't stick around for long (deer, raccoons, etc. love it!) is hard to see.
Pawpaw tree flower. Ripe Pawpaw fruit
This is what a cluster looks like in a tree. How many clusters do you see here?
Our final forage category is the most diverse both in regards to season as well as type. Fabulous forest fungi! Instead of talking briefly about each variety, I'll mostly show pictures and let you know what type of mushroom we found, how we prepare it, and what season it can be harvested. These are among the most difficult to identify from our blog post, so please, don't compare your species to our pictures and claim you've made a positive ID. Look at the growing site, substrate, spore print, and consult with those who know before you venture out too much into the realm of mushroom hunting. It's fun, but can be dangerous if not done properly.
Here's a GREAT resource if you live in the Midwest!
Morel (internet picture). Many enjoy these battered and fried. Found April - May.
Chicken of the Woods (C.O.W.). Cut into strips and substitute for chicken...especially good in fajitas. Usually found late summer to fall.
Giant puffball. Thick and meaty, can be substituted for meat (i.e. new type of hamburger patty?!). Usually found late summer to fall.
Oyster mushrooms. Used where you add mushrooms to a meal. Can be found year around.
Chanterelles. Used where you add mushrooms to a meal. Usually found mid to late July.
Shiitake mushrooms that we inoculated in logs. We've been having two - three big flushes of mushrooms for the last three years. We frequently harvest and freeze chopped mushrooms to be used in meals later.
We've been enjoying branching out and finding new treasures to add to our list. Remember, this activity takes patience and a lot of practice and research. Don't try anything until you have thoroughly identified it and even then, please only try a small portion to ensure you haven't made a mistake or you aren't allergic. Remember, peanut butter isn't considered poisonous by most of us, however there are a few who would dispute otherwise...