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.

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