Morels: Hunting mushrooms in spring.

Anyone who has looked at my art photography surely has to have noticed that I am fascinated with mushrooms. So it was pretty difficult for me when I decided that the beginners mushroom hunting book that I have wasn’t quite up to my standards of safety, despite marketing itself as super conservative and being criticized in amazon.com reviews as overly cautious. I may be overly cautious, but I would rather err on the side of safety.

So I decided that I would put mushroom hunting on the list of things that I wanted to learn at some future date. That was until I stumbled upon a patch of what looked a lot like morels, while clearing garlic mustard near the creek in the woods behind our house.

Close up photo of a morel mushroom.
My first morel (Morchella species)

I remembered that there was a chapter about morels in Teresa Marrone’s Abundantly Wild. While I sometimes find Abundantly Wild to be more useful on the cooking end of foraging than the identifying end, I read the Morel chapter, and was very impressed with the photos and identification instructions. After checking to make sure that several online sources also agreed with her same basic identification rules and also said that morels were one of the easiest mushrooms to identify, I was confident enough to go pick one and see if it was a morel.

Today around lunch time, I headed down to the woods, cut one right at the base of the stem and brought it back home to check it out. I sliced it open and it easily met all the criteria. I put it in the fridge until my wife came home from work. I figured she would want to pick one herself, so I showed her the biggest one at the edge of the patch. She immediately spotted another one growing closer to us that I had missed during my previous visits. She picked it and we brought it back home. It also matched all the criteria.

Photo of the inside of a morel.
Note the smooth transition from the inside of the cap to the inside of the stem.

I cleaned and cut both morels into thin slices and sauteed them in butter. We let them cool for a couple minutes, and then sampled them.

Photo of sliced morels sauted in butter.
Sliced morels sauted in butter.

They were amazing! I’m not really a much of a foodie (I eat wild food more for the ethics, economics, and nutrition than the flavor), but I know good food when I taste it. Of course cooking almost anything in butter is going to give it an unfair advantage, but the flavor of the morels came through perfectly well. I honestly didn’t want to eat anything else for a while, because I didn’t want to lose the taste of the morels

So far we have found over twenty five growing in two patches, but we will only pick a small proportion of them. I know next year I’m going to be looking for a larger area to hunt morels.

Thanks for your interest, please leave some feed back if you have a minute.

Nate

* any pictures or descriptions of plants (or fungi) or information about them is provided for your information and inspiration. I highly recommend foraging, but buy yourself a reliable guide like either of Samuel Thayer’s books from Forager’s Harvest Press.

** I rely heavily on Nature’s Garden and The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer, and to a lesser extent Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by Steve Brill, as well as Abundantly Wild by Theresa Marrone. All of these books are quite good, however I find Thayer’s work to be the most reliable and detailed.

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Two Edible Trees.

There is something very different (at least to me) about foraging from trees and shrubs versus ground cover plants. I can’t fully put my finger on it, but picking from a tree just feels more primal to me in some subtle way. I find this distinction to be even more pronounced when what is being picked isn’t fruit or nuts, but leaves, twigs, or flowers.

It is finally time to start looking up and seeing what is going on in the world above the forest floor. Spicebush’s leaves are growing fast, sassafras flowers are blooming, and this week I have gotten to try some tree products that I have been waiting a good while to sample.

Photo of basswood or linden leaves opening.
New leaves of basswood or linden (Tilia species) unfurling.

There are quite a few species of basswoods and lindens. Some are native and some have been introduced. All of them have the same edible qualities. According to Samuel Thayer, the leaves, flowers, cambium, and nuts are edible, but processing the nuts is too inefficient to make them be of any real food value for humans.

There are a few basswood or linden trees in the woods near our house. I believe them to be small leaved linden (Tilia cordata) but they could be another of the introduced lindens. The leaves are too small for american basswood. Usually I am very cautious with knowing exactly what species I am eating, but since I am sure it is some kind of Tilia and they are all edible I am fine making an exception.

Two of them are small enough for me to be able to reach the leaves easily. One of these has multiple trunks, meaning a whole lot of leaves are accessible. I have been snacking on the leaves and leafbuds all week, and included a few in a salad at supper this evening. They have a pleasant mild flavor that worked well with the violet, star chickweed, and aniseroot leaves that made up most of the rest of the salad.

Photo of flowers on redbud tree.
Eastern redbud tree (Cercis canadensis).

Eastern readbud trees are small understory trees with beautiful purplish pink flowers. They are a legume tree, so might be useful in forest/forage gardening as nitrogen fixers.

I have been waiting almost an entire year to try flowres from a redbud tree. This week I tasted a few from a nearby park, as well as some from a tree at the edge of our yard. Not only are they an extremely attractive food, but they have a very nice taste with a little bit of a sour kick.

Thanks for taking the time to read, please spend some time outdoors too.

Nate

* any pictures or descriptions of plants or information about them is provided for your information and inspiration. I highly recommend foraging, but buy yourself a reliable guide like either of Samuel Thayer’s books from Forager’s Harvest Press.

** I rely heavily on Nature’s Garden and The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer, and to a lesser extent Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by Steve Brill, as well as Abundantly Wild by Theresa Marone. All of these books are quite good, however I find Thayer’s work to be the most reliable and detailed.

Bloodroot Flowers, plant associations, and other pleasures.

Last summer I identified bloodroot as the plants were on their way out. They aren’t edible, but do have some medicinal uses. I think that they are another example of how our native woodland plants are amazingly beautiful and full of personality. I have been waiting with great anticipation since last year for my first chance to see them flower in the spring.

I had been checking the area in the woods where they were growing last year. Once the mayapples came up, I knew that it couldn’t be too long before they appeared, and that they would blossom for only a brief time before I would have lost my chance to see the flowers this year.

I have been very busy, and while I had spent some time in the woods, I didn’t make it to that area for almost a week. When I did make it there, I was pleased to see their distinctive leaves already almost fully grown. However, upon closer inspection I noticed that I had already missed their flowering.

Photo of a bloodroot plant.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) plant, not edible, but useful.

The next day while my son and I were walking in the woods at the park, I noticed two white flowers growing along the side of the path. They were already starting to show some signs of aging, but there they were, two bloodroot plants in full bloom.

Photo of bloodroot flower.
Bloodroot flower.

As a someone interested in growing wild food as well as foraging it, I am trying to learn as much as I can about plant associations. I am starting to figure out some basic woodland plant communities, and excited that many of them are made up almost entirely of edible and or medicinal plants.

The bloodroot plants that are growing right at the edge of our woods grow with mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), Violets (Viola species), Honewort (Cryptotaenia canadensis), and solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum). The bloodroot at the park is growing alongside mayapple, in the middle of a huge colony of some variety of trout lily (Erythronium species).

All of these are not only very useful plants, but I think that they would make a very visually appealing ground story for a forest/forage garden or a meditation/worship garden.

Photo of a bag full of harvested garlic mustard.
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

I have been foraging a lot lately. I should have a post soon about my family’s first meal comprised almost entirely of wild food, but first I just wanted to show how much garlic mustard one person can easily pick in less than forty minutes in a woods that is being overrun by it. The grocery bag is packed tighter than it may look. We have been enjoying eating it, but probably have more than we will use. I have dried some, and am considering experimenting with fermentation.

Photo of serviceberry flowers.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier species) flowers.

Another plant that I have been waiting to see flower for most a the past year is serviceberry. It is also known as juneberry and shadbush. The berries somewhat resemble blueberries, but have their own distinct flavor. This photo is from a neighbor’s shrubs that hang over a wall next to the road. I can’t wait for serviceberry season.

Thanks for reading. Please take the time to discover something beautiful, and if you have kids, take them for a walk in the woods.

Nate

* any pictures or descriptions of plants or information about them is provided for your information and inspiration. I highly recommend foraging, but buy yourself a reliable guide like either of Samuel Thayer’s books from Forager’s Harvest Press.

** I rely heavily on Nature’s Garden and The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer, and to a lesser extent Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by Steve Brill, as well as Abundantly Wild by Theresa Marone. All of these books are quite good, however I find Thayer’s work to be the most reliable and detailed.

Spring: A Fast Paced Forest Floor.

Spring is in full swing here. Plants that had been showing slight signs of life, are bursting forth so rapidly that you could miss an entire stage of growth in less than a day.

Photo of spring beauty flower blooming.
Spring beauty (Claytonia vinginica) flower blooming.

The spring beauty plants that I transplanted last year are starting to bloom. These spring ephemerals have edible leaves, stems, flowers, and roots. I would use the small potato-like roots more frequently if they were more abundant in our woods.

Photo of common solomon's seal shoots.
Shoots of common solomon's seal (Polygonatum biflorum).

I have never bothered to eat solomon’s seal. In Nature’s Garden, Samuel Thayer says that he finds the flavor of the rhizomes unpleasant except in early spring, and even then he doesn’t give them a real great review. He does rate the shoots very highly, so I may try a few this year, but my window of opportunity is extremely limited as some of the larger shoots are already past their edible stage. Note the unfurled leaf and associated bend in the larger shoot. This apearently indicates that the shoot is past its prime. Whether I get around to tasting it or not, solomon’s seal is one of my favorite woodland friends. It is just one more example of how our native vegetation can be so beautiful and often seems so much more “exotic” than many of our European weeds.

Photo of common spice bush.
Flower and leaf bud of common spice bush (Lindera benzoin).

Spicebush is a great plant to know. It is supper abundant in this area, and makes a wonderful tea. I often mix it with white pine and or sassafras, but mostly because I think it improves their flavors, not the other way around. Depending on the season, I either use the leaves or the twigs, however I recently read in Teresa Marone’s Abundantly Wild that the leaves can be dried for year round use. Steve Brill recommends using the berries to replace allspice, but I have never tried this because they seem to always develop dark spots on them before I can process them. That may be more of a problem with me than the berries, but they do go bad pretty fast.

Photo of newly emerged mayapple plant.
Newly emerged mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) plant.

Mayapple plants are so amazing. While I discovered last year that my system doesn’t handle mayapple’s fruit very well, I just feel so happy to be able to walk though colonies of such a strangely beautiful plant spread out around me on the woodland floor. I do want to say that other than the ripe fruit, this is an very toxic plant.

Photo of ostrich fern fiddleheads.
Ostrich fern (Matteucia struthiopteris) fiddleheads.

Last year I identified ostrich fern right after the last of the fiddleheads had unfurled, meaning that I didn’t get to try any. This year I have been waiting and watching, and the patch in the woods has finally started sending up its fronds. There are other fiddlehead ferns that are not edible, I strongly recommend reading Samuel Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest for the most accurate information on ostrich fern.

Photo of ostrich fern fiddleheads cooking.
Cooking my first fiddleheads.

I picked a couple of the fiddleheads that were the farthest along and cooked them in water with some salt. Well actually a lot of salt, in fact way too much salt. I will have to try them again soon to see what they really taste like.

Thanks,
Nate

p.s. I wrote most of this post three days ago, and then my internet went down, so at this point some of the information is old news in the fast paced world of spring on the woodland floor. Since it was written I have tried a solomon’s seal shoot. it was very good. Somewhat like asparagus, but with a much more delicate taste. Also the majority of the ostrich fern fiddleheads in the woods are already past their prime. I have more news to share from the emergent plant world, but that will have to wait.

* any pictures or descriptions of plants or information about them is provided for your information and inspiration. I highly recommend foraging, but buy yourself a reliable guide like either of Samuel Thayer’s books from Forager’s Harvest Press.

** I rely heavily on Nature’s Garden and The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer, and to a lesser extent Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by Steve Brill. All three books are quite good, however I find Thayer’s work more reliable and detailed.

Gardening: Cultivating Wisdom.

Photo of book cover.

Gardening: Cultivating Wisdom edited by Dan O’Brien, from the series Philosophy for Everyone edited by Fritz Allhoff, Wiley-Blackwell 2011.

So here I am, the wild food proponent, reviewing another gardening book. How did that happen? Well sometimes one thing leads to another. After reviewing The Resilient Gardener, I was offered for a review copy. Considering it covers gardening and philosophy, I was pleased to read it.

While this isn’t a super specialized foraging or permaculture how to manifesto, like I often read, it is a very good book that would be of considerable interest to anyone who wants to learn more about people’s relationship with the natural world, especially in the context of the garden.

The book is comprised of numerous essays by different authors, each with their own unique angle. I am very impressed that Permaculture is mentioned at least once by name, and hunter-gatherers, foragers, and horticulturalists, are discussed in many of the essays. Also, each author brings their own definition of gardening, and some of them are broad enough to include the most cutting edge forest gardens as well as many primitive peoples’ land management techniques. Even the essays with a more narrow view of what a garden is had interesting thoughts of our interaction with plants and how that impacts us philosophically.

Of special interest to me were the essays grouped together in section two. These four deal with the political and hierarchical nature of gardens in specific times and places. They cover a range of topics such as how early the British and early Mediterranean Empires used gardens as tools to maintain social inequality to the effect of urban allotments on the level of political engagement of the working poor in the United Kingdom.

Another essay that I found enlightening was about the attempt of Epicurean philosophers to replicate the positive aspects of primitive peoples’ lives, while continuing to benefit from the security provided by the cities of their day. Their critique of society and their understanding of history are remarkably similar to current Primitivist thinkers.

Anyway, these are just a few examples among the many thought provoking essays in this quality book.

Just a quick personal note, now that my first photography show has come and gone, I should be able to post more frequently again. The plants have been coming to life so fast that I am at risk of developing a serious backlog. I’ll try to keep up, but get out and see for yourself what is happening all around us in our yards, our gardens, and out in the woods.

Thanks for reading,

Nate