Category Archives: Foraging

Eat Your Weeds: Purslane

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Most of the weeds that are considered a blight on the lawn are edible, including purslane. One of the tastiest and power packed with nutrients, purslane is quite distinctive from other weeds because it’s a succulent so when you bite into it there will be a crunch and some juice that tastes like a mix of lemon, cucumber, and a dash of pepper that’s much milder than arugula. The juice contains pectin, so it also makes a good thickener instead of flour for gluten-free cooking like soups and stews, but really it’s good for every meal.

Purslane is said to have more Vitamin E than spinach and more beta carotene than carrots.  Allegedly, It’s also a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids. It goes nicely raw in salads, or cooked well in soups. If you put it in a soup, cut off the red stems as they are a tad bitter. Leave the red stems on if you’re putting it in a stew.

Like spinach, a widely cultivated and popular vegetable, purslane is on the FDA poisonous plant list. Like spinach, purslane is high in oxalates but so are beet greens, lamb’s quarter, rhubarb and Swiss chard – also very popular vegetables. This is something to be considered before you eat it. The FDA states that these vegetables interfere with calcium absorption in the diet in certain amounts. Oxalates are present in most foods, even fruit and nuts, and are virtually unavoidable, but high levels in the body could lead to kidney stones or other ailments.

However, despite this it is becoming so popular that farmers are now selling it at markets and because it takes little to no cultivation or effort, naturally appearing on the understory or in empty beds for two months between summer and fall, it’s a vegetable with a high profit margin. If you buy purslane, you’re helping a farmer. And of course, if you have a garden and find it carpeting your raised beds, it’s free for a couple of months out of the year. If you don’t want to eat it, use it like a nutritious cover crop to restore your soil and turn it over in the raised bed like farmers do with clover. Just don’t spray weedkiller on it.

Foraging: Chanterelles

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Chanterelles are in the same family as the northeastern Black Trumpets (Craterellus), but they have a few toxic look-a-likes, so they’re much trickier to identify than Black Trumpets. When you’re foraging for mushrooms, a positive identification is essential before you even think about eating. For example, there are plenty of bright orange mushrooms in the forest that you should not eat and so if there is any confusion, forget it. The intricacies of mushroom hunting are so varied and convoluted that, for the layman, most mushrooms are not worth the risk of misidentification. Rest assured that mycology – the study of fungi –  is a lifetime of learning and that most of what you find in the forest should be left alone.

So – to identify these chanterelles pictured here, as I did with the boletes I found two years ago, I sought the opinions of at least two experienced foragers to help identify them. Continue reading

Foraging: Black Trumpet Mushrooms

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Like Lion’s Mane that I wrote about last year, Black Trumpet mushrooms are easy for the novice forager to identify because they don’t have any toxic look-a-likes. Plus, like Lion’s Mane they are absolutely delicious: earthy, aromatic and deeply flavorful, possibly one of the best smelling and tasting mushrooms out of all the top edibles.

To the layman, they could possibly look like, perhaps Devil’s Urn, little, round cups that grow on rotting wood but even then, the Devil’s Urn only appears in spring. Wood Ear could also be considered similar, but wood ear looks like, well, a brownish/black, flattened ear. There are black boletes, but they have pores not gills. It should be noted here that if you’re going to learn about mushrooms, a pocket guide is essential and you should have a good few year’s worth of mushroom-hunting experience before you start thinking about eating anything without at least two positive ID’s from experts. A novice should always have a mentor. Plus, most important, mushrooms affect people in different ways. Some people can’t even tolerate edible mushrooms and you may have an allergy of which you are unaware. Continue reading

Mushroom Hunting

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This week’s torrential rain created ideal mushroom growing conditions and the chicken mushroom, turkey tail, ghost pipe, chaga and polypores are all ripe for the foraging. Get out there and pick them, paint them or just generally admire them before they dry, rot, or get eaten by other creatures, like the hungry bears that the July drought had forced towards more urban areas. There’s even a bolete or two in advance of their normal August season. The reservoir is high, creeks are gushing and mushrooms are glowing in the understory like little alien beings. Like a movie cliche, yesterday the dog bound off into the forest to chase a much faster creature than him, and I ran off after them both and stumbled into a grove of hemlocks dotted like acne with polypore and a carpeted with ghost pipe. The polypore pictured above is a tinder polypore, good as a fire-starter for campers, was an ancient antibiotic and a sort of chewing tobacco used by certain indigenous Alaskan tribes. Continue reading

Foraging: Burdock

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Burdock is a biennial, wild invasive species that looks rather like a thistle, but is a cross between rhubarb and celery and repellent to animals because of its bitter outer layer. It’s noteworthy because of it’s initial growth of the instantly recognizable, huge, spade-shaped leaves with frilly edges that have a whitish underside. At first glance, the first year plant looks like rhubarb.

It grows better in rocky, disturbed soil like roadsides, in full sun or partial shade. We have one that’s thriving in the garden, though, in mulched earth and letting it go to seed to see if it can be cultivated because if you only have one plant you can’t really make full use of it. You really need a patch to harvest at different times. Continue reading

Foraging: Lion’s Mane

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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).

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Foraging: The Year of the Mushroom

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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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