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A Complete Wild Food Guide

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December 08, 2016

It's Barberry Collecting Season

Though most people don't think of this time of year for collecting wild foods, there is one in particular that I think this is about the best time there is: Barberries.

Barberries are good for many uses from adding to rice when cooking it, to making jams out of them - usually with just a few of them in with other ingredients.

They have a naturally sour taste that comes from being so full of vitamin C. I really like the taste when a few are cooked into foods. In Iran where they are still used commonly, they are often cooked first with some sugar, then added to foods. However, I don't have a sweet tooth and far prefer them straight up.

They can be collected earlier in the year, but the problem is the Barberry shrub attracts the blacklegged tick, also called the deer tick. This is the one that can carry Lyme disease. But when it is cold, the barberries are at their prime, and the tick is not active.

Barberries can be collected all winter long, but I like this time of year the best.


2006-10-22Berberis03-02

Beautiful Barberries. These are Japanese Barberries. By: Wildfeuer GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2


October 19, 2016

Seasonal Notes

Where I live in Southern Ontario I've noticed it is a very poor year for Hickory nuts and Black Walnuts. The Bur Oaks have a very sparse crop of acorns too. Good years come and go, but this is the first year in a while where all three are poor. I've also noticed a lot more squirels around this year than the past few years. Grey squirels seemed to be on a steady decline for the past five years, but this year they are all over in numbers.

The Wild and Woodland strawberry crop was almost non-existent this past summer. I can't speak for other areas, but I'm going to blame the weather in part. Until August, it was very dry - near record drought in Southern Ontario for June and July, then suddenly lots of rain.


October 19, 2016

Big Changes to Site

I've been working hard during the past month to improve the site. I've added hundreds of pictures. One of the suggestions I kept getting was to add more pictures. I had links to pictures on the web for each plant, but now pictures that I think do a good job of helping identify each plant are now on the the page below each description. The work is not done - especially in the mushroom section, but most plants now have enough pictures to give a good idea of what to look for.

The other change is that a lot of links relating to descriptions of the plants go to pages that are on the site, not on some external site. For instance, previously, when you clicked on the word "Margins" in the description section, you were taken to a Wikipedia page about leaf margins. Now, you are taken to a description and pictures on this site that help you understand what the different types of margins can look like. This was done so that I could customize the descriptions to my liking, something you can't do with external links. This is an ongoing process, but many have been done.

The Important Notes when Identifying page has been completely redone with drawings and photo's that should help someone learn how to identify plants - hopefully with greater ease.


September 17, 2016

Best Field "Microscope"

Years ago when trying to identify plants and mushrooms in the field, I would carry a magnifying glass. Helped for sure. Often times however, I wished I had a weak microscope I could take with me. There was no way I was going to take my little cheap microscope with me to the woods though, just too awkward. Besides, I already had too much other stuff with me and even though it was little, it was no pocket item.

Then I remembered what I had done playing around with my mom's binoculars when I was a child. I would use them backwards to look at the red, green and blue dots on our new first color TV in 1972. For those that have not done it (at least the old picture tube type) TV screens were nothing but red, green and blue dots or red, green and blue bars. All the colors you see are just made up of those colors and how much of each one is lit per area. Anyway, the thing is I realized binoculars could make a good field microscope. I already kept a compact pair of binoculars with me each time I went out.

The trick in using them is finding the focus point. Start at what you are looking at about 3/4 of an inch (2cm) from the "eye piece", and look into the big end from about 2 inches (5cm) to start. Slowly keep moving each end around until you find the focus. When you get to know the right distances, you will realize this is a great trick for taking a really close look at plant and mushroom features that it's even hard to see with a magnifying glass. Now you can't see individual cells - it not really a microscope power, but for field use, it's a great help. In fact, I find it to be the perfect power of magnification.

Make sure whatever it is you are looking at is in full light. That might mean you have to look from an angle and not straight down, but just keep playing at it and you will be amazed.

And...it's a really fun way of looking at tiny bugs up close.


Spot the mushrooms.JPG

You know what this picture has to do with microscopes? Nothing. See if you can find the clump of mushrooms peeking out at me when I took the picture.


September 14, 2016

Opening Pages Change

Based on feedback, and spending time reading about how to make a website more user friendly, I've made a significant change in how the site works. Up to now, most times when you clicked on a link, it opened in a new page. I was told this was not user friendly, so the change has been made. From now on, when you click on a link, it opens in the same page you are on. To go back to the page you were on, just click the "Back" button on your browser.

Thank you to those that took their time to let me know their preference. If there is anything else you would like me to change with the site, let me know. I spend so much time working on it, I can't see it objectively anymore, and really appreciate feedback and comments. I'm not a web specialist, but I'm learning quickly on the job!


September 12, 2016

Mushroom Season

Not all mushrooms are best found in the fall, but many good ones are. Even if you don't want to just find edible ones, but want to go out and see what mushrooms are about, the fall is a great time.

The ones I keep a look out for starting now are the Chanterelle, Hericium and Honey Mushroom. Also around now you can still find the Common Mushroom, Field Mushroom, Giant Puffball, Horse Mushroom, King Bolete, Oyster Mushroom and the occasional fruitings of the Shaggy Mane. You will see the Sulphur Shelf, but often they are past the best time to collect - but not always. It all depends on your area, the type of year it has been and the current weather.

The best time for walking around in woods with the fewest bugs and the best weather is also the fall. Choosing a time to go out is basically simple: the best time to find mushrooms is after a long hot spell with plenty of moisture, then it turns very cool at night. The couple of days after a sudden drop in temperature when the ground has plenty of moisture in a woods, will bring out the best mushroom fruitings. Knowing this, you can be prepared ahead of time by watching the weather forecasts for cold fronts moving through in the fall. Have everything ready to go that you will need - paper bags, sharp knife, paper towels and the right clothing.

If you do decide to eat wild mushrooms, you must read the warnings and identification information I provide on each mushroom page. I very strongly suggest going on walks with an expert. If that is not possible, do far more research than just the information I provide, make sure you take a spore print in cases where it is possible (each mushroom page has information on how to do that) and if you are not 100% sure of what you have, do not chance eating it. I was given this advice, and I will pass it along. Spend a lot of time out and about finding mushrooms and identifying them, but not eating anything you find. Hard to pass up some finds, but if you do this a lot, your ability to identify gets better and better. By doing it this way, you reduce your chances greatly of making a serious mistake. Of all wild foods, mushrooms are by far the hardest to figure out. I've been serious about identifying them for close to 30 years now, and I still find it hard in a lot of cases to know what I'm looking at.

It's also a great excuse to go for a walk in the woods.


Turkey Tail

Not edible, but very beautiful grouping of Turkey Tails found on an early September woods walk.


September 09, 2016

Wild Food Mapping

One of the many lessons I've learned over the years is to make maps of where wild foods are. There are many reasons for doing this. People forget or get confused where a certain tree or bush is, or surroundings change making it hard to get your bearings. For trees like Walnuts and Hickory, I find the best thing to do is just put a dot on a map where the tree is. I've used both paper and GPS maps for this. Each has advantages, neither is perfect. A red dot for Hickory for instance, yellow dot for a Hazelnut patch, green for Walnuts, etc. You don't need to be absolutely exact, as these are not hard to spot when you are near them.

Another reason for mapping plants is the one I'd like to talk about now, and that is: certain plants are very hard to spot when you want to harvest them, but rather easy to find in their off-season. So lets use the wild Asparagus as the example. Actually, there are many like this, but Asparagus is a classic need-to-map wild food plant. When it is time to harvest Asparagus in the spring, it is just a few inches high and very often hard to find in the grasses and other plants coming up. In the fall, Asparagus is a plant that stands well above most grasses and field plants. Though wispy and almost see-through, once you get an eye for them, you can spot them in fields without too much strain. Go to the Asparagus page for more information, and make sure you make use of "Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images)" links to know what to look for. The red berries on it help too.

Once you find an Asparagus plant, map it. A GPS is good for this situation. Either make note of the coordinates, or just have the GPS put a marker on the spot with a description. Then, next spring when it is time to harvest, take your knife and bag and harvest. It is so much more fun this way than poking about looking for Asparagus sprouts in the spring. Besides, walks in the fall are really nice, you have a wide window of time to find them in the fall - unlike the spring when a few days can make or break a harvest - so you can take a more relaxed attitude. If you don't have a GPS, or just prefer the map method, put a dot on the map, then make a note on the map of how far it is from some definite landmark. Something like, "22 feet south-west of the big Oak with the pile of field stones under it". Though not as elegant as a GPS, it is the method that worked for me for the years before GPS - yes, a time before GPS!


September 07, 2016

Hunting the Elusive Beech Nut

Ah, the elusive Beech nut - one of the hardest treats to get from the woods. Why? Some years are great harvests, some basically nothing. A good harvest year is called a "mast year". Another reason is the nuts have to be picked from the tree most of the time - hard to find any left on the ground as other animals get them quickly. Also, a very good percentage of the nuts are empty. I guess those just didn't get pollinated. Yet another reason is the nuts are very small with little in them to eat. On top of that, the nut meat is hard to get at. You have to get the nuts out of the outer shell, then peel off the tough leathery skin from the meat. This is hard to do without mashing the nut, or having it flip away making you have to look around and see where it landed.

After all that, why bother? The taste. Not all Beech trees have nuts that are good - don't bother with any other than a true American Beech. See the Beech page for more on that story. But, the bottom line is this: if you can find American Beech nuts and have a few, even just to taste, I think it is worth the effort. Nothing else tastes like them, so you get to try a completely new flavor. How often can you do that?


Burdock Root

From now until the ground freezes is a good time for harvesting Burdock root. See the Burdock page for all the details to harvest. Make sure you know how to tell a first year from a second year Burdock. The root is only good to harvest in the fall of the first year of this biennial plant.

You don't have to harvest all at once unless you plan to gather for drying. Drying is one of the best ways to save this plant for use all year long. Harvest the root, clean well with a brush under running water, cut out dark spots, chop up finely and dry. If you don't like the look of the skin on the root, you can peel it before chopping up. The skin is very dark and dirty looking even when clean, but the inside of the roots is a nice soft white color. If you have a food dryer, that is of course a great way of drying. If not, put the oven on very low (200F or lower), and spread out the chopped up root on a flat pan, put in over and leave until fully dry. After cooling, put the dried root in sealed containers.

Some foods come with those little packets of moisture absorbers - I use toasted Nori and each package of Nori comes with a packet. I add one of those packets to the dried root before I seal up the jar. This helps the dried root last longer and prevents moisture from letting a batch go moldy. Only use the kind that come with food items, don't use the kind that come in packaging of non-food items.

You can add a little of the dried root to soups or casseroles for flavor. Not too much, half a teaspoon of dried root at most. It re-hydrates and cooks soft like a carrot. The flavor is strong but nice this way. Gives foods a strong, rich, robust flavor. I've never had someone try foods with Burdock in it say they didn't like the flavor. Burdock root is a commonly used root food in Japan. I also use some when making coffee - again, see the Burdock root page for how I do that.

Of course, during this season, you can use it fresh. I suggest peeling them if you use fresh.

Oh yes, one more thing - don't harvest from areas of clay if you can find some growing in sand or loam. These are deep roots, and the ones in clay tend to branch out and be stringy, while the ones grown in loam and sand tend to have single long, thin roots - sort of like long, thin carrots.


September 06, 2016

Hickory Nuts

So the question I get asked the most is, “What are your favorite wild foods”?

Since it is nearing fall, the season of harvest, I’m going to start with my favorite fall wild food: Hickory Nuts. This is my first wild food, and still my favorite of all time. The season they are available is short, and the competition from animals – especially squirrels – is fierce, and the trees to gather from get fewer and fewer as they are cut down for subdivisions and to widen roads. All that said, it is worth the effort. Read the specifics on the Hickory Nuts page.

If you don’t know when to gather for your area, I would suggest starting to look in late September or early October. You don’t pick these from the trees in most cases, you gather from the ground. So if the nuts are still in the tree, you are too early.

Make sure you have pails, bags or boxes to bring them home in. Make sure you are dressed for gathering from the ground under trees in weeds and long grass. Very rarely do you get the pleasure of gathering off a mowed lawn. Keep in mind ticks like this type of area, so I’d consider putting a DEET based bug repellent on your clothes and shoes at the very least.

When gathering, remove the outer thick husk as soon as you pick them up. If the husk requires more effort than just a light peeling off, the odds are very good there is a worm in the nut.

The nuts need to sit in a dry basement for a couple of months before they taste their best.

The hardest aspect of gathering Hickory nuts is finding the trees. If you don’t know know where there are any, your best bet is to start with roadside areas between the field’s fence and the shoulder of the road in the country. I have a map in my mind now where the best trees are in my area, how well the tree produces nuts and when they are ready – they are not all ready at the same time.

Deep sandy loam areas seem to be the best, and the kind of areas used in the east for corn and soy crops also have the best trees. Don’t bother looking in areas where the soil is acidic or damp all the time. Hickory trees are always found in the areas that have deciduous trees, not in areas of conifer trees – well, at least that is true where I live.

I prefer the nuts just cracked and eaten. If you like desserts, I do have a recommendation. Get a recipe for Pecan pie and instead of using Pecans, use Hickory nuts. Make sure when shelling them for this, you get every speck of shell. Pecans are way easier to shell and separate. By the way, Pecans and Hickory nuts are closely related.


catails

Hickory Nut almost ready to fall from tree in late September. Shagbark Hickory.




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Important Notes when Identifying
Rules & Cautions
Dangerous Plants to Avoid Touching
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