After a morning eating too many sweets at The Dane County Farmers Market, my son and I checked the cattle and foraged for Pigweed and Golden Oyster Mushrooms. Isabel combined with onions and cooked them up and served them with a new product for us, Beef Bacon. Delicious!
Craving fresh greens? Don’t want to shop? Look for a patch of Stinging Nettle, (Urtica dioica).
Wear gloves, or use the tough parts of your fingertips to pinch off the tender tops, being careful to not let your wrist brush against the little stinging hairs which line the stem. Don’t eat raw! It may kill you. But even a small amount of heat renders it harmless.
Saute` in butter. I missed the next step, but Isabel added mushrooms and onions. Delicious!
One is they are saprotrophic, meaning they grow on dead material, which makes them much easier to find, as once you find them, they tend to continue producing throughout the summer. I like foraging, but I like it even better when its like going to the supermarket!
Another advantage is they are highly productive. Check out all the beauties on this one tree.
In my research, I learned something else new. Wikipedia says Oyster mushrooms and other fungi as well are Nematophagous, which means they catch and eat nematodes. Nematodes are round worms. Are you getting hungry?
Gross factor aside, I’m finding fungi more fascinating the more I learn. Would you like to eat Oyster mushrooms?
Below is the largest poison ivy vine I’ve ever seen. Doug said loggers used to eat a little bit to immunize themselves against its effects.
I visited with Doug over the course of the weekend and I heard him say, “It’s all there,” several times. It’s a vague enough saying you can use it just about anywhere. I think the first time I heard him say it was out on a nature walk, and the next time was in exclamation of the excellent chili, (great food, by the way).
“It’s all there, that’s your motto isn’t it?” I asked.
“Well I don’t know if it’s my motto,” Doug said. “But’s it’s not a bad one to have.”
“It just about says it all,” I said. “I think I’m going to make it my motto.”
And I am.
I think about my boys who used to love to put lego projects together. We would scissor open the bags containing all the tiny pieces, and they would follow the instructions step-by-step, ending up with the prescribed toy. I remember the drama that would ensue if one piece was missing, as now it wasn’t all there, and everything was ruined.
Now we have a drawer filled with loose lego pieces. My five-year-old nephew makes a bee-line to that drawer when he comes over. He happily builds something excellent, and then we let him take it home. We joke that we are slowly transferring the contents of the drawer to my sister’s house.
But we never worry about drama with the lego drawer. I think it’s the combination of passion with autonomy, and the sense that it’s all there. Nothing is missing, and they are confident in their abilities to create something cool.
I’m all signed up and excited to attend the Midwest Wild Harvest Festival, September 12th-14th at Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin. It’s three days and two nights of foraging fun at Badger Camp. I can’t believe it’s been seven years since I attended something like this.
Below is a photo from a foraging weekend near Lacrosse, Wisconsin. Sam Thayer is in the left of the photo. He and his wife Melissa, are two of the organizers of this festival. A fun added benefit for me, and for the rest of the campers, he said modestly, is that my pork will be served at some of the meals.
I don’t think it’s too late to sign up. If you are interested in wild edibles, this will be a weekend you won’t forget. I hope to see you there!
You know how you like adventure, but there is always discomfort in any adventure? Stinging Nettle, (Urtica dioica), represents that for me.
When I was maybe six or seven, it occurred to my classmate and I that it would be possible for us to walk across the fields, as the crow flies, and explore. If our Moms drove us, it was about four or five miles, but if we walked , each of us would only have to walk about a half mile to meet in the middle.
We did just that, and I can still remember the ideas we had about the caves which must be under the creek, and how we could dig to find them. Exploring at six years old is such a rush. I’m sure our Moms could probably see us, but it felt like we were at the ends of the earth.
At some point we walked through a nice stand of Stinging Nettle, wearing shorts. And then we started itching. Which just makes it worse. I’m not kidding you, these memories are vivid, even though I’ve probably never told this story to anyone.
Another Stinging Nettle story I remember is with my college friend, Konrad. After graduating from college, my friend Doug and I drove down to Florida, all the way to the Keys, and I bought a surf board in Miami. It was a short board, and I should have purchased a long board, as long boards make it easier to catch marginal waves. I think Wisconsin would have to be the definition of marginal waves, right?
So I felt stupid when I brought the board home, but we started a sport based on a magazine article Doug read. We called it “Streaming.” What you do is tie a rope to a bridge where the river current is strong. We modified the current with some logs we found to make it faster.
You grab the rope, and if the current is strong enough, and your balance is true, you stand, and you are stationary surfing! So of course we had to share this with all our friends. Did I mention you had to walk about a mile on the edge of a cornfield, where the weeds were over your head? That’s just part of the fun!
My college friend Konrad came over for a visit. I told him he may want to wear jeans, as the Stinging Nettle was bad, but he said it was never a problem for him. Why am I such an asshole that I didn’t insist on him wearing jeans? Of course he walked through the Stinging Nettle, and of course he itched. I can still picture his face as he stood in the cold river water and splashed it up over his legs. He was actually moaning.
So Stinging Nettle and I have a history. The final chapter I guess is finding out it was edible, summoning up the courage to put it in my mouth, cooked, and enjoying it. And then finding a woman who will cook it for me!
Curly Dock, (Rumex crispus), is very common on our farm. I found it was edible in Sam Thayer’s second book, “Nature’s Garden.” I was excited to try it, because its been a long winter and this plant starts growing even earlier than Stinging Nettle.
Sam recommended cooking it, and I concur, or possibly using it raw as part of a salad. It’s a little too bitter for me to make it my entire salad. I eat eggs nearly every morning and it’s a welcome addition, as pictured below.
Besides wild berries, I’ve only been learning and eating wild edibles for the past eight years, inspired by Sam’s first book. Something I’ve learned is that even though I’m an adventurous eater, I need to try something a few times to get a taste for it. By the next year when the plant is ready for harvest, my taste buds, or brain, or something, is primed, and I’m looking forward to enjoying it for many meals.
A permaculture guild is a strategic design of organisms benefitting the whole. Like all the best concepts of permaculture, this mimics the way nature designs.
The photo above shows an abandoned fenceline along Oak Grove Lane. I started thinking about this fenceline when I noticed the Nannyberry bush, which is in the left of the photo with yellow, red, and green leaves.
It’s a little bit humbling, but I realized if I’m successful with my edible windbreak planting, in fifteen years it will look like this abandoned fenceline. It’s also reassuring to know I’m mimicking nature, which uses space so wisely.
The amount of solar energy turned into food and fodder for everything from microorganisms to birds to humans is amazing. Just in this photo there is the Nannyberry bush, growing under a Chokecherry tree, which has Wild Grapes hanging from its limbs. Grasses and forbs cover the ground. The rest of the life in this area would take a lifetime to catalog.
2013 is a good year! I discovered a wild edible growing twenty yards from our mailbox. Starting in September, every time I picked up the mail, I popped a handful of nannyberries in my mouth and slowly chewed, separating the meaty pulp from the seeds. This can take a couple of minutes if you have a mouthful, then you spit the seeds out.
Nannyberries are substantial. Some people compare them to raisins. The closest food I would compare them to is figs.
The photo below shows the fruit as it grows, in a cluster, with the green being unripe, and the black ripe. If you wait until the fruit starts to wrinkle, it doesn’t taste as good.
It probably seems silly, but I experience real joy when I discover a new, wild edible. It is so difficult to find a new one on your own. Until you are able to see it, a thing remains invisible. I think our mind does more of our seeing than our eyes, if that makes any sense to you.
It amazes me that this bush, which is probably at least fifteen years old and been producing fruit for at least ten years has been invisible to me. Not only did I not know what it was, I didn’t even see the berries and go, “hey, what kind of berries are these?” I’ve been yards away from this bush thousands of times. I don’t think its a stretch to say this bush was ‘invisible’ to me.
I started thinking about nannyberries when I heard Sam Thayer say it is his favorite wild edible on public radio. I reread the chapter on nannyberries a few times in Sam’s first book, The Forager’s Harvest. My mind was primed.
And then one day as I picked up the mail, I noticed these clusters of berries. I guess it would be more accurate to say they jumped out at me, as this is a large specimen as you can see in the bottom photo. My mind was opened so I could see.
I didn’t go pop a handful in my mouth. I retrieved my book and returned. The photos are never exactly like the specimen you’re looking at. What sold me was Sam’s description of the claw-like bud at the top of the clusters of fruit.
When I saw that, I was 99% sure, but I was still cautious. I picked a wrinkly one and tasted it. It wasn’t very good, which made me wonder about Sam’s description. I picked a less-wrinkly one and it tasted better.
I chewed and swallowed, and that was it for the first day. I wanted to wait and see if I would get sick later. I’ve never gotten sick from a wild edible, but when I’m discovering a new one, I’m very cautious.
I didn’t get sick, so I ate more the next day. Like anyone trying a new food, it took me a few tries to really start to desire it. I also had to figure out which berries were ready to be eaten.
The scientific name for Nannyberry is Viburnum lentago. I noticed the genus name, Viburnum, is the same as the Highbush Cranberry, Viburnum trilobum, which I planted several of this spring in my Permaculture orchard.
When you see a scientific name, the genus comes first and is capitalized, followed by the species which is not capitalized. If two things share the same genus name, they’re related. If two things share the same species name it doesn’t mean they’re related taxonomically, but it could mean something else. For example, Fraxinus americana and Ulmus americana refer to the American ash and American elm tree respectively. They’re not related, except for the fact that they’re both found in North America.
I was intrigued to find the Nannyberry and Highbush Cranberry are both Viburnums. I found there are over 150 species within the Viburnum genus. I can’t wait until my Highbush Cranberry starts to produce fruit and I can enjoy and compare to Nannyberry.
2013 is the year of the Wild Plum, (Prunus americana)! Yields were prolific, bending branches with the weight of the juicy orbs. I ate my fill, yet the pulp of fallen plums squished underfoot.
I wonder why it was such a good year. I know the weather at flowering in the spring is a large factor. It must have been perfect this year. The wild apples were the best ever as well.
What other factors affect yield? I read that drought reduces yield for plum trees. Last year we had a severe drought until August. This year our drought started in July, following over-abundant rains.
My theory is the plum trees suffered early last summer, but were then recharged with the late summer 2012 and early summer 2013 rain, resulting in huge yields. I’ll have to wait and see if next year’s yield is affected by this year’s drought.