Category Archives: Foraging

Foraging: Lion’s Mane

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

There are several reasons to get excited about Lion’s Mane. First of all, it’s arrestingly beautiful, and when you spot it in the forest it appears to be luminous, as if a beam of light is shining through the forest canopy directly onto it. Lion’s Mane cascades over a log like a dreamy waterfall, frozen in time, with it’s milky stalactites. It’s also called the pom-pom mushroom for the obvious reason.

Second, it can’t really be mistaken for anything else. Some guides tell you to compare it to the poisonous yellow-tipped coral because when Lion’s Mane gets old the tips turn yellow, but the coral grows upwards. Even as a novice mushroom hunter though, I was pretty certain that what I had found (pictured above) was the real thing and that thought was backed up by two others more experienced than I am. (I have just eaten it, so if it’s not, it was nice knowing you.)

Furthermore, you can cultivate Lion’s Mane and it is widely said to have medicinal benefits, like Shitake and Reishi. Experts say that it improves neurological function and alleviates anxiety.

On top of that, it’s utterly delicious, tasting (raw) like a more meaty, fragrant, cooked lobster, with exactly the same texture.

If you’re looking to eat less seafood, you can buy kits to cultivate this exquisite delicacy and grow it yourself. Once you’ve tasted it, it’ll seem like a no-brainer. This mushroom is about 20% protein.

To prepare it, I sliced off the top part that had a lot of forest debris in it. Then broke off about five clumps of the tendrils and washed them thoroughly. (You never know what animal might have peed on it.) Then I separated the tendrils until I had what looked like about almost a cup of loose lobster meat and sweat it in butter. Then I added three beaten eggs and scrambled the mixture. You can see a piece of raw mushroom top left (below).

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

Foraging: The Year of the Mushroom

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

The natural world breathes its seasons’ wild crops like a vital, forceful green lung and you never can tell what will blow in with the wind. When it breathes in, we get wild apples the size of a man’s fist; when it breathes out, the result is a vast rash of mushrooms, some the size of dinner plates. On this part of the world at least, a wide ridge at the top of a Catskills mountain, we can’t seem to have both. This year, the wild apples are half the size they were last year and less sweet, but you can find your way home through the forest by the trail of mushrooms of myriad varieties. It’s like the forest floor got a very vivid case of acne. The mushrooms are mushrooming, because we’ve had so much rain and humidity. I have about a hundred of what I think are blewits behind my house.

It seems like a sign, so I’m following it, as if my woods have handed me a purpose: mushroom identification, and it’s not like I like things simple anyway. It’s a good thing because there are so many variables to consider. It’s a practice like yoga or medicine: you’ll always be learning and that’s also a decent rule by which to live. Don’t think you know it all. Last year, I found four huge boletes on my property, each one almost the size of my foot, and made a mushroom gravy with them, but this haul was an anomaly on our property, except one huge, fine specimen I found in the same place yesterday. This guy’s too old, however, but he’s probably lain a million spores in the immediate vicinity. Continue reading

On Mushroom Hunting

After yesterday’s torrential rain, our forest floor erupted with mushrooms, of all shape, size, name and color, like twinkling jewels amidst the undergrowth and quite an extraordinary sight to behold.

Beautiful, ethereal Ghostpipe (or Indian Pipe, pictured above) has proliferated like never before seen in our forest. To see a venerable plant that is ordinarily quite rare, this seems magical. Not technically a mushroom, it’s rather a plant that doesn’t photosynthesize, devoid of chlorophyll and taking its nutrients from a delicate balance of conditions: decaying deciduous leaf matter, conifer trees and an underground fungus network, in perfect measure. It’s pretty much impossible to cultivate because it’s so sensitive and venerated because it’s an analgesic, for physical and emotional pain, that is over harvested. To be presented with such a plant in abundance feels like a gift, so I’ll be harvesting a small amount this year to make a tincture. Continue reading

Shroom Prep

A bit of homework: this handy beginner’s guide to mushrooms of the North East teaches the beginner how to take the first step in making positive identifications. It can’t hurt to swot up early: last year, I found a small crop of Bolete on my property and made a mushroom gravy with them. I had no idea at the time that they were King Bolete, forming a symbiotic relationship under a conifer tree and a coveted mushroom in the foraging world, up there with chanterelles, black trumpet and oyster mushrooms. The Bolete were as big as my foot and tasty. A neighbor down the hill found some huge puffballs at the time.

Authors Walt Sturgeon and Teresa Marrone take pains to state that their simple guide is only the beginning of your foraging career. The book is very easy to read because the mushrooms are sorted by appearance with very good, clear photographs. Some of the mushrooms appear with their poisonous look-a-likes and color-coded references. For example, Chanterelles can easily be mistaken for poisonous Jack-o-Lanterns. There’s a great deal to learn about mushrooms but this tiny guide is an excellent teacher.

Mushrooms

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

Due to the heavy rainfall, the mossy forest floor has sprung a vast city of fungus of all shapes, colors and sizes. We have purple, orange, yellow, red, brown, tall, short, tiny, thin, spindly, hand-sized and completely round like dense soap bubbles. All this has sprung up en masse within the space of about 24 hours in totally unprecedented quantities. Well – quantities not seen since the city girl went country. After just a half-hour walk with the dog, I’ll be lighting up Instagram for the rest of the afternoon. I believe the flat, white mushroom growing on the log is chicken mushroom, but would not dare eat it. Thanks to the humble acorn for it’s modeling stint.

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

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Foraging: Yarrow

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

We have a whole field full of yarrow this year, which is an anti-microbial herb with a distinctive aroma that’s reminiscent of anti-bacterial oils like tea tree. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be harvesting the best of it and drying it for use as a tea.

Yarrow is revered in the world of natural medicine with reports of it having universal healing powers, arresting conditions like bleeding, pain, infection, allergies, colds, flu, toothache, and gastro-intestinal disorders like cramps, bloating, indigestion and even urinary tract infections. The herb is an astringent and the liver benefits from yarrow’s bitter components. When taken as tea, yarrow is said to increase the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

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More Wildflowers

© J.N. Urbanski 7/2/15

© J.N. Urbanski 7/2/15

Some of the wild flowers I’ve seen fade so quickly that catching them in their prime requires daily survey. I don’t know what these flowers are, but they are blooming and wilting in abundance. Update: this is crown vetch which was introducted to the United States in the 1950s, primarily for soil erosion control, from the Meditteranean region. According to the USDA: “crown vetch is a useful but overused erosion control plant. Its spreading growth habit, and strong root system provide soil holding ability and ground cover. The dark green foliage and profuse flower have aesthetic value. It is a good plant for road bank stabilization in areas where rocky conditions predominate, but… in general, however, crownvetch dominates other plants and tends toward a monoculture”.

© J.N. Urbanski 7/2/15

© J.N. Urbanski 7/2/15

 

Wildflowers: Milkweed

© J.N. Urbanski 7/2/15 5.40pm

© J.N. Urbanski 7/2/15 5.40pm

I embarked on the Daily Catskills project on September 10th 2014 and every day I take an image – or several, or a hundred – of the Catskills. After a few months of this, in order to keep things interesting, I had to get more creative and, as a result, developed a more acute awareness of the landscape. Wildflowers are especially fascinating because many of them only have a short life. You have to pay daily attention to catch the budding, flowering and expiring of plants like rhododendrons, lupine and lilac, for example. Milkweed has quite a long life and milkweed’s long, green stalks began to grow on our ridge in May. Now, the buds are in various stages of which there are about three main stages: the green closed bud (1), which turns pink (2) and the open pink bloom (pictured above). Quickly after that, the pink blooms wilt, become floppy and fall off, but most important you can find buds at all stages on one milkweed stalk.

I’ve never seen milkweed in such abundance on our ridge until now and it’s attracting many gorgeous butterflies to the area, like the Monarch which the Sierra Club says is endangered. Programmes like Monarch Joint Venture encourage people to create milkweed habitats for the Monarch Butterfly.

© J.N. Urbanski 7/4/15 5.40pm

© J.N. Urbanski 7/4/15 5.40pm

Eat Your Edible Weeds: From Pest to Pesto

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

Many foragers, hikers, herbalists and conservationists consider it a travesty that instead of pulling and eating their edible weeds people throw chemical weed killer on them. It’s bad for the water table and our health. Dandelions that are so prevalent in our gardens now are fully edible raw and full of vitamin A. One cup of chopped dandelion is said to have 111% of your daily vitamin A intake, for example.

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