Tis the season . . . for spicy lattes! As the temps drop and a chill fills the air, there's nothing better than a cozy sweater, a bowl of nourishing soup and a warming beverage. Why have a pumpkin spice latte, filled with tons of sugar and who knows what in the ingredients list, when you can create your own tastier, foraged latte with a much cooler name and health-supporting ingredients practically for free?
I call the fire engine red berries of the Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), "spiceberries," mostly cuz it sounds cool. They are easy to harvest, if you can find them at exactly the right time (that bright red is important), right around the autumn equinox (now) in Appalachia. Though it can take awhile to harvest plenty, because they're small. The most important point of processing them, is to do it quickly! They have a lot of volatile oils, meaning they go rancid super fast.
It's hard to dry them enough without a dehydrator, but you could try it in an oven on the lowest setting. Dry them until they are dark red to black, feel completely dry all the way through, and you can bite through them easily. They should taste like allspice, which they were substituted for way back in the day when the spice trade was difficult. Though I'm sure native folks were aware of them much before that.
Here's my recipe for Spiceberry Spice:
Be aware that the taste of spice berries is strong. Some people are more sensitive to it than others. Start with a smaller amount first, if you wish. Also, feel free to change the amounts of any of the other spices to your personal taste.
2 Tbsp* powdered spicebush berries
2 tsp powdered cloves
2 tsp powdered nutmeg
2 tsp powdered cinnamon
2 tsp powdered ginger
Simply mix together and pour into a spice jar with a shaker lid.
It seems spiceberries go rancid faster once they are powdered, so I usually don't make any bigger batches than this for personal use.
I'll let ya in on the secret of how I make my lattes. Be aware, every forager I know, including myself, is a foodie!
This is also an awesome spice for roasted squash or pumpkin/squash soup.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Other fun things to do with spicebush:
Wanna learn more about spicebush? Check out my friend and co-founder of our Sassafras Appalachian School of Plantcraft (2020 applications now being accepted, hint hint) Becky Beyer's blog all about it (on her website, Blood and Spicebush). Then, go harvest some yourself, of course making sure you have 100% positive ID, or get someone like me to show you.
Other cool tidbits about spicebush:
Episode #5 of Wander, Forage and Wildcraft is here!
You can now check out the latest listener-supported podcast I dreamed up: wildcrafters and foragers around the world share their stories, tips and tricks to empower you on your wild path.
Give it a listen!
(You can also listen and subscribe to Wander, Forage & Wildcraft on your favorite podcast platform).
About the Episode:
It's very possible, especially if you're from Appalachia and interested in plants, that you've already met Marc Williams. He's known the world round as an expert in many things botanical. But not only that, he's a good friend and a respected teacher of mine!
It was such an honor to interview ethnobiologist, Marc Williams, at his home in Weaverville, North Carolina. Marc explained what the title ethnobiologist means to him, along with sharing his journey to becoming one. He, of course, talks about foraging, but goes deeper into some of the complexities, like how do we know what quantity of native plants are sustainable to harvest, and foraging invasive plants isn't as simple as we'd like to think sometimes.
Marc and I discussed academic education versus life education and our experiences in each. He's had some amazing teachers through his many years of education and shares about them, as well as his own tips and tricks for foraging, especially in such a biodiverse region as western North Carolina. He was kind enough to share this unique recipe for wild bean dip (aka hummus), along with some good botanical and herbal info on its ingredients.
Marc is always a wealth of information and we had so much to talk about that we couldn't fit it all in. He'll definitely be back soon! Let us know what you think of the episode and your experience with the recipe in the comments below. Thanks for listening!
Wild Bean Dip (aka Hummus) Recipe
by Marc Williams
4 c Garbanzo Beans/Chickpeas or other type of bean
2/3 c Oil (Olive, Sunflower, Safflower)
1/2 c Lemon Juice or 1 c loosely packed Wood Sorrel (Oxalis species)
1/3 c Tahini
1/4 c Fresh Herbs (2 Tbsp dry) i.e. Parsley, Queen Anne's Lace*, Cilantro, etc
2 Tbsp Spices such as Paprika, Cumin, Turmeric
2 Tbsp Miso
2 Cloves of garlic or similar amount of other Onion/Allium family member
Sea salt to taste
Puree ingredients in food processor, adding oil and water, if necessary, while the machine is running to help with blending.
*As Marc talks about in the podcast, Queen Anne's Lace is in the Carrot family, a family that has some deadly members (like Poison and Water Hemlock). Please only add it into this recipe if you have 100% positive identification! If you are uncertain about identifying it, substitute one of the other named herbs. Always forage safely! You can check out my video about Queen Anne's Lace on Instagram here.
More about Marc Williams:
Marc Williams is an ethnobiologist. He has studied the people, plant, mushroom, microbe connection intensively while learning to employ botanicals and other life forms for food, medicine, and beauty. His training includes a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies concentrating in Sustainable Agriculture with a minor in Business from Warren Wilson College and a Master’s degree in Appalachian Studies concentrating in Sustainable Development with a minor in Geography and Planning from Appalachian State University. He has spent over two decades working at a multitude of restaurants and various farms and has travelled throughout 30 countries in Central/North/South America and Europe and all 50 states of the USA. Marc has visited over 200 botanical gardens and research institutions during this process while taking tens of thousands of pictures of representative plants. He is also Executive Director of Plants and Healers International www.plantsandhealers.org and on the Board of Directors of United Plant Savers. He has taught hundreds of classes to thousands of students about the marvelous world of people and their interface with other organisms while working with over 70 organizations in the last few years and online at the website www.botanyeveryday.com Marc's greatest hope is that this effort may help improve our current challenging global ecological situation.
Thanks for being here!
If you like the stories, tips and tricks on my listener-supported podcast AND want to hear more from wildcrafters and foragers around the world, please consider making a one-time or recurring donation here.
Until next time, I'm off to find new ways to empower YOU on your wild path.
Botanical Property Surveys are one of the most fulfilling parts of my job: seeing landowners and stewards gain a whole new perspective on their land. I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "Wow, I walk past that plant every day and never knew it was edible/medicinal! Knowing what they can and, just as importantly, shouldn't eat, is a true moment of enlightenment.
I always tell folks, "Make it a party! Invite your friends, family, neigbors, whoever you want." My botanical property surveys include at least two hours of a private plant walk on your land, learning what's edible, medicinal, and poisonous. Some people bring small flags to label the plants or a map of the property to help jog their memory after the walk. Then I send you a spreadsheet after the walk, including all of this information, plus notes on the edible and medicinal aspects we discuss and more. (Find out more info and schedule here.)
On the property survey pictured above, in North Carolina, the host invited his neigbors and had a barbeque afterwards. Near the end of our walk on the late summer mountainside, I started talking about hen of the woods mushroom and how delicious it is. As nature magic often happens, within minutes we were walking on an old, abandoned logging road next to a giant red oak tree when it was impossible not to notice the cluster of hen of the woods growing right in the middle of the road! They love to grow on red oaks and were growing on the roots under the road. We had a delightful lunch of barbecued mushrooms!
"Magical Mountain is truly an appropriate name for Tracey and Peter's Farm! I was amazed at how agilely they scaled the mountainside. They wanted to find a way to live on their land full time and were thinking of creating a native nursery. They wanted to know what plants were already growing that they could propagate. They're pretty knowledgeable and already knew a lot about the plants that are there. But, there were some surprises...like this big witch hazel grove! We found some edibles they didn't know about and some rare medicinals, along with identifying some dryad's saddle mushrooms they had been wondering about. They were excited to know what they were and cook them up for dinner! I love dryad's saddle because a dryad is a tree nymph. It's so fun to imagine them riding on the mushrooms!
"Abby is amazing!!! She surpassed all my exceptions for my land survey! We can now use our property to its full potential since Abby has identified our edible and medicinal plants! She is an expert and was able to answer all of our questions thoroulghy. I would recommend this for every house hold and also makes a great fathers day gift!" - Rachel E.
Rachel and her husband got a survey for themselves and one for their parents in Kentucky, too.
On another property survey in North Carolina, for two next-door neighbors, we were in a lush, biodiverse forest by a flowing stream. The owner said she had just bought some pawpaw trees to plant and thought that area seemed like the perfect place. A feeling of nostalgia came over me as I'm originally from Ohio and have sweet memories of foraging midwestern pawpaws . I told them I'd never seen pawpaws growing wild in this region. More magic! Her neighbor looked down at a big-leaved plant and asked what it was. I racked my brain in disbelief, thinking it must be a magnolia. I rolled the leaf in my hand and sniffed, a pawpaw! There was a whole patch of them right where they wanted to plant some! Later we found lobster mushrooms and much more.
This lovely child wanted to learn more about plants from a real-life "sage". That was quite a title to live up to! They really enjoyed learning about how they could eat sassafras leaves directly from the tree like the animals, and it would actually help the tree to heal faster. Thanks to her teacher for recommending me! I have high hopes for her herbal future.
"Spending time with Abby is a gift. She is of-the-Earth. She helped us get to know a property that was new to us. Our survey piqed our senses and helped us to plan how we would move forward with loving on the land. So thankful for Abby bringing people and nature closer together." - Virginia R.
Ready to learn what food and medicine is growing on your land? Get all the details and schedule here.
My good, old (in time, not age) friend, Doug Crouch and I catch up on the world of permaculture and his new incarnation of it, along with all things pawpaw in this episode of Wander, Forage, & Wildcraft. Doug's the owner of TreeYo Permaculture and has been managing his family's land at Treasure Lake in Petersburg, Kentucky for pawpaws and spicebush for 17 years now! He'll tell us all about what he's learned over those years about propagating and nurturing spicebush for the best yield. If you don't know what a pawpaw is (the largest native North American fruit) or want to grow some of your own, or are just curious, then this is the show for you!
Doug's Bio: Trained as both a Permaculture Designer and Fish and Wildlife Manager, Doug has extensive knowledge surrounding landscape planning and food production systems. This regenerative design and implementation work spans the globe ranging in contexts and climates, including tropical agro-forestry, Mediterranean organic gardening, and temperate suburban edible landscaping. To facilitate this work he founded TreeYo Permaculture, thus building off his other formal training in small business management. Incorporating this knowledge and experience into sustainability educational programming has now become Doug’s main focus as he continues his ecological design and holistic development primarily at Treasure Lake in Northern Kentucky and its bioregion.
If you're intrigued to learn more, join Doug and me at Planting Abundance, a day long learning adventure at Treasure Lake on May 18th.
Doug's Pawpaw Ice Cream Recipe
Paw paw pulp
Some sort of milk - dairy, almond, coconut, or hickory
Some sort of sweetener (Doug prefers maple syrup from his land)
Put the pulp in a blender and add milk a little at a time, blending in between, until it's the consistency you like (custard-like is good).
Add sweetener, also a little at a time, blending in between, to taste.
Place in ice cubes trays and freeze.
Empty trays, filling a big freezer bag. Freeze and serve when needed.
Try it? Like it? Have something to add to the recipe or share about your experiences with pawpaws or thoughts on the podcast? Please leave a comment below.
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Meet forager, plant folklorist and Appalachian folk herbalist Becky Beyer of Blood and Spicebush School of Old Craft in this episode of Wander, Forage, & Wildcraft. My partner in Sassafras School of Appalachian Plantcraft and dear friend. We'll explore our favorite plants and more, with a heavy emphasis on her favorite plant, Spicebush.
Becky's Bio: Rebecca (Becky) Beyer is a farmer, forager, herbalist, woodcarver, and witch from Asheville, NC. She holds a B.S. in Plant and Soil Science from the University of Vermont and has been learning and teaching in the Primitive Skills community for the last 6 years. She teaches foraging professionally at Appalachian State University where she completed her Masters in Appalachian Studies in 2018. Her passions include botanical illustration, the folklore of Appalachian plants and writing her blog: Blood and Spicebush. She is currently stewarding land at the Hawk & Hawthorne, a community of magical people growing food and teaching classes on foraging and esoteric arts in Western North Carolina.
Becky's Spicebush Honey Recipe:
From Becky: I make Spicebush honey for many reasons, one being its great medicine for colds and flu, and heck, it tastes awesome. Somewhat spicy, orangey almost. You can use this honey to add to other medicinal teas, drizzle on hot cornbread, or just straight up eat by the spoonful when your feeling the need for a bit of warming fire.
First off. Place spicebush berries in a clean, dry jar. I add enough good vodka to the berries to lightly coat them when swirling the jar around before I add the honey. See above. I like to rough the berries up a bit with a spoon. I smoosh 'em around to let that alcohol and honey soak on into the fragrant fruits.
Then I just plop that honey right on top. I use a local Haw Creek Honey because our bees need all they have to make it through the winter. I stir it up to mix the alcohol and honey. I like to add a bit of alcohol when I use fresh herbs in honey, as there is always a risk of things going off if they have water content. I'll let this sit for about 3-5 days and then gently heat the jar in a water bath and strain out the berries. I like to use the left over, honey-covered berries in a short decoction to make spicebush chai tea. Just gently simmer the left over berries and add milk!
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I'm so freaking excited and I just can't hide it! My new book is finally out for you to devour! This book was one of my most dear labor of loves. It is the culmination of a lifetime of learning and all the herbal classes I have taught. If you've ever been to one of my classes, you'll recognize some recipes and some teachings, but they go further in and have some twists and tweaks here and there to take you deeper into your herbal journey. And if you're brand new to herbalism, the book lays a sturdy and accessible foundation to make it easy for your to walk right in. Tons of herbal recipes and Materia medica (an informative herbal glossary) with growing and foraging tips at the end of every chapter, are combined with gorgeous pictures from my apothecary (including my hands in all kinds of interesting poses) from the amazing photographer, Jack Sorokin.
Here's some more info from the back of the book:
I wanted to give you a little free and helpful preview, so here's my elderberry and cough syrup recipes from the book (because I appreciate you so much). Use the elderberry syrup to keep you healthy the rest of the winter and the cough syrup, just in case you need it.
Try the recipes and let me know how it goes and your favorite twists on these recipes.
You can get your own copy of the Herbal Handbook for Homesteaders, and they make great gifts for friends and family, on Amazon here or buy it from me, here on my new website, for a signed copy made out to you or whomever you'd like. If you buy from Amazon, please leave a review, so we can help as many people as possible see it and empower themselves with their own herbal healthcare.
Here's some current reviews to get you excited:
Thanks so much to all of you for your support through the years! This book wouldn't be here if it weren't for your desire to learn.
You may be wondering, "What the heck is 'Lion Pot Pie' and why would I want to eat it?!"
Well, I'm here to say, "Have no fear, and get your taste buds primed and ready for some scrumptiousness!"
Lion Pot Pie is my cute name for Lion's Mane mushroom pot pie. Lion's mane, also referred to as monkey head mushroom, bearded tooth, satyr's beard, or yamabushitake, is one of several species of the Hericium genus of mushrooms, usually Hericium erinaceus. Both parts of the Latin name mean hedgehog (even though this is not the mushroom usually referred to as a "hedgehog"), and you can hopefully see why from this picture of one I found a couple weeks ago on a tree in South Carolina and a closeup of its spiny appearance.
Here's what MushroomExpert.com (one of my fave resources for wild mushrooms) has to say about it:
Ecology: Saprobic and parasitic; usually growing alone or in pairs; fruiting from the wounds of living hardwoods (especially oaks); late summer and fall, or over winter and spring in warmer climates; widely distributed in North America....
Fruiting Body: 8–16 cm across; consisting of one, unbranched clump of 1-5 cm long, soft spines hanging from a tough, hidden base that is attached to the tree; spines white, or in age discoloring brownish to yellowish.
Flesh: White; not changing when sliced.
(Find more here: https://www.mushroomexpert.com/hericium_erinaceus.html)
I find this mushroom, it's a struggle to make a decision: eat it or make medicine with it? Hopefully, I find enough for both because both are fantastic! It is one of the tastiest mushrooms I know, some people say it tastes like delicious seafood, and one of the most medicinal.
The very first time I foraged this mushroom, I made a very unfortunate mistake: I washed it. Believe me, it was one of my best lessons and I'll never do that again! Some mushrooms, this one especially, are like big sponges; they soak up every bit of water they're exposed to. Better to use a clean paintbrush, toothbrush, or damp cloth, or it will end up tasting like a sponge!
There's some pretty amazing research coming out about lion's mane and its abilities as neuroprotectant and neuroregenerative superpowers for ailments like Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's, dimentia, and nerve damage (check out this study for more info:
It's also said to be anticarcinogenic and immunomodulating, like many other wild mushrooms, which is why I like to eat and/or take my mushrooms every day!
Now onto the cooking!
I got the idea for this recipe as a result of necessity being the true mother of invention! We were overloaded with a bunch of lion's mane (a good problem to have!) and were getting tired of eating pan sauteed mushrooms, so I looked around the kitchen and got creative. I found a recipe for gluten free chicken pot pie and tweaked it a little. I especially liked the recipe because it had an herb crust and only a top crust. Here's what I came up with!
This can be vegan if you choose the coconut oil option and egg substitute (here's a recipe for making your own from flax seeds). If you'd rather have a bottom crust and a top crust, just double the crust recipe. If you only have access to dried lion's mane, rehydrate by soaking in water first. Then, saute for a few minutes in a dry pan, until most of the moisture evaporates.
1 cup gluten free all purpose flour (+ a little extra for rolling out dough)
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dried rosemary (or less if you’re not crazy about rosemary, or substitute other similar herbs)
¼ cup cold butter or soft (not melted) coconut oil
1 egg (or egg substitute)
2-3 Tbsp ice water
In medium size mixing bowl, mix together flour, salt, and rosemary.
Mash butter or coconut oil with a fork and mix into dry ingredients until crumbly.
Beat the egg in a small bowl and pour 3 Tbsp into the dough.
Add cold water 1 Tbsp at a time, mixing after each Tbsp. Stop when the dough forms a ball.
Put dough in a container and refrigerate while making the filling. You can also do this step a day ahead of time.
4 Tbsp Butter or coconut oil (+ extra to grease pan)
1 cup sweet potatoes, cubed into ¼ - ½ inch pieces
½ cup water
1 1/2 cups fresh lion’s mane mushroom, cubed into ¼ - ½ inch pieces
1 Tbsp rosemary (or to taste)
2 cloves garlic minced
1 medium onion diced
1 tsp salt of choice (or to taste)
2 medium leaves kale chopped
1 ½ cups hot chicken or vegetable stock or 1 ½ cups hot water with 1 bouillon cube whisked in
3 Tbsp gluten free flour
If you put the crust in the fridge more than 30 minutes ago, take it out at least an hour before starting to make filling to soften (especially if you used coconut oil).
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Melt 1 Tbsp butter or oil over medium heat in large skillet.
Add sweet potatoes and water. Cover and let simmer for 8 minutes. Then remove lid and continue cooking until water is cooked off.
Grease 9 inch pie pan (equal size cast iron pan will work, too). Pour in contents of pan and cover with kale.
Pour Stock or bouillon mix into a 2 cup measuring cup or small bowl.
Whisk in flour until smooth. Pour over contents of pan.
Use a piece of parchment paper to prevent the crust from sticking. Coat countertop or parchment paper with a dusting of flour and smooth some over your rolling pin. Roll crust until it’s the right size to fit over the filling and to the edges of the pan.
Gently drape parchment paper, upside down, over the filling and loosen crust so it covers filling. Take a fork and press the edges that overlap the pan (running perpendicular to the edges of the pan). Cut small slits with a knife in a few spots in the crust to vent the steam.
Brush gently with remaining egg.
Bake for 30 minutes or until crust starts to brown and the filling bubbles.
Cool for 5 minutes, cut and enjoy!
Please let me know how it turns out and any thoughts or questions in the comments section below. Happy eating!
Oh this plant, what can I even say? It sells itself through its loveliness, its bright yellow brilliance standing in giant pre-bouquet bunches in the meadow and smaller huddles in the forest. It's late in the growing season yellow seems to internalize sunshine and hold it for us for the rest of the year. I love to preserve it partly for that purpose.
I am currently reading my new favorite book, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (I am in love with this book, please check it out), in which the author talks about trying to figure out why goldenrod and purple asters look so beautiful next to each other. When she asked this before starting college for botany, she was told she should major in art instead. She was disappointed, understandably, that no one had an answer for her and didn't think this was an important part of botany. I agree with that sentiment. She later found out that, alone, both of these plants are wonderful pollinator attractors, but together they're a pollinator attractor super duo! So their collaboration is mutually beneficial, woah good metaphor for life!
There's a ton of goldenrod species that are native to the USA and a few more in other countries. There's about 75 species in this region (according to the Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States by Alan Weakley)! They're not difficult to identify and I don't think there's anything else, at least around here, that looks similar to them and blooms at the same time of year. However, as Juliet Blankespoor of Chestnut Herb School says (in her article "Goldenrod: The Bees Knees and Urethras Love it Too"), they can look close to another plant in the aster family, commonly called ragwort (not ragweed, which we'll talk about in a minute). Though it would be very uncommon to see a ragwort blooming this time of year.
As you can see above, the sturcture of the goldenrod plants can vary greatly. The top picture was in an open field, and the bottom on the edge of a woodland. They can have flowers only near the top of the plant on branching stems, or flowers in clusters along the central stem, between the leaves, and interesting structures in between.
As I said, they're in the aster family, Asteraceae, along with about one of every nine plants in the USA. If something has a flower that looks like the shape of a daisy (no matter size or color), it's mostly in the aster family. Though there are some asters that don't look this way, like the thistle below. They also have alternate, generally long oval-ish or narrow leaves with coarse teeth that come to a point at the ends.
You'll often see them with giant galls, or hard ball-like structures on the stem. These are caused as a result of the goldenrod gall fly. You can often cut them open carefully and find the living larva getting ready to eat its way out.
The Latin name of goldenrod's genus is Solidago, which means "to heal or make whole". This comes from one of its other common names, "woundwort", (referrring especially to the European species Solidago virgaurea) as it was found to be helpful applied topically for healing or binding tissue back together.
I like eating the flowers, partially just because it's fun to eat flowers. My favorite thing to make from them is goldenrod infused honey. This isn't the goldenrod honey you'll find at the store that involves the pollen of the goldenrod, it's made by harvesting the flowers, letting them dry a little (to avoid mold) and infusing them in honey for a couple weeks (check out the recipe in my new book, The Herbal Handbook for Homesteaders). I love to leave the flowers in for a whole beautiful sensory experience when I eat it.
Though some people (not me) don't like the slightly musky taste of the leaves, they make a lovely mild tea. I include the flowers and the leaves in an infusion, chopping coarsely and steeping, covered, for 20 minutes or more. This is a favorite tea of mine for the allergy season, as it's an awesome antihistamine, decongestant, and anti-inflammatory (basically anti-allergy). I also include goldenrod in allergy tinctures, adding a mucilaginous (demulcent) herb, like marshmallow root or rose of Sharon, to counteract the drying effect it can have.
Many people wrongly accuse goldenrod for their fall allergies, when it's actually ragweed, that's blooming at the same time, that is the culprit. Ragweed pollen is tiny and flies easily, getting into our sinuses and making us miserable. However, goldenrod pollen is giant and sticky, so doesn't fly well. It makes a fabulous ragweed antidote.
My student, Lisa, gave me a fabulous gift of goldenrod infused oil. Because goldenrod is anti-inflammatory, it works wonders topically for inflammation, and is especially helpful for menstrual cramps. Try it!
It's also a bladder and kidney tonic, helpful with urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections. Talk to your healthcare practitioner and do more research before trying, it can be contraindicated with chronic liver or kidney disorders or when diuretics are contraindicated.
This one I'm super excited about! Goldenrod makes a beautiful yellow dye! In my upcoming retreat: Retreat & Reconnect: Wild Color, our timing is perfect to include goldenrod as one of our natural dyes. Come join me and check it out!
Hopefully, now you've seen the light, the sunshiny brilliance of goldenrod that is! Let me know if you try the tea or honey, or if there's something else you love to do with goldenrod, in the comments below.
There's a fungus among us!
Actually, with all the rain we've had, there's a cornucopia of fungi among us! It always amazes me when I come upon an abundance of choice edibles (that's what the fungal nerds call the super tasty mushrooms), and no one has noticed or harvested them. Mushrooms are sometimes called the meat of the forest because they have so much protein in them. So, if you're a vegetarian, looking for a free protein-rich meal, or wanting to know how to survive in the woods with the least amount of effort (hunting takes a lot of energy), then knowing your mushrooms is priceless!
Of course, I have to start with the obligatory disclaimer, becauase you may have heard the famous saying, "There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there's no old, bold mushroom hunters!" It's for real, y'all! So, I'll say it again, Always have 100% positive identification of anything wild before you eat it! And if you don't know, ask. There's probably a local botanist/mycologist/forager who can tell you. If you can, go on a walk with someone knowledgeable (hint, hint, check out my upcoming walks here). To continue with that disclaimer, it's a lot harder and more deceptive to learn mushrooms (and plants) from books. The following is just an introduction. Please make sure you know before you eat! Also, none of this information is backed by the FDA, it's been compiled from research of studies and traditional history. These mushrooms are species that I've seen growing in the eastern US, but may be more widespread depending on species.
There are also plant or mushroom identification groups springing up all over Facebook. Here's a few good ones:
The Mushroom Identification Forum
Edible Wild Plants/Mushrooms/Trees, Identification & All Aspects Discussion
Herb, Plant, & Foraging Identification Workgroup
Botany Everyday (my friend, Marc Williams' awesome by donation educational site, support if you can)
Do you have any favorite pages or sites? Please share in the comments.
And on with the mushrooms!
I've seen most abundantly in the Midwest, though sometimes here in the southern US, too. Being hard and almost woody, it's a medicinal, not an edible. There are some look-alikes, probably not poisonous and very possibly medicinal, too, that just haven't been studied much. The way you tell them apart from other species is the pore surface (or underneath part with the little holes). Most mushrooms have pores or gills (like a portabella). These should have a white pore surface with tiny pores just visible to the naked eye, if you have good eyesight. The tops can also vary in color anywhere from brown to gray to blue to green.
The current research is showing that many wild mushrooms are not only medicinal, but anticarcinogenic, too. This means they supposedly fight and prevent cancer, and turkey tails are supposed to be one of the best. They are also said to be immunomodulators as well, meaning they are believed to be safe for folks with autoimmune disorders because, instead of boosting the immune system, they take it from where it is to where it needs to be. Nature is so cool, right?!
It's recommended to make medicine from the mushrooms using what's called a double or dual extraction because they have alcohol and water soluble components. This means making a separate alcohol tincture, then a tea decoction (very long simmer), and then combining the two. There's lots of online sources for how to do this. This is my favorite book on the subject.
If you're not ready to make your own tincture, you can find my lovingly wildcrafted four mushroom blend here and support my work.
Chanterelles are a favorite eating species for me, partly becauses they're so abundant. I tend to see them in July, but I just found this big one in West Virginia on September 2nd. They like to grow on the edge of old road cuts, so look for them on the side of trails. Their spores (kind of like plant seeds) tend to wash downhill. If you see them, make sure to look around the area, and especially up and downhill from where you find them. They're fragrant and lovely, often said to smell like apricots.
When you harvest mushrooms, do yourself a favor and field dress them by cutting off the bottom part with the attached soil, giving them a light tap on the top to release any little insects, and bringing a little paint brush or a special tool made for this that has a curved knife on the top and a brush on the bottom, to brush out the soil stuck in crevices. The awesome thing about mushrooms is that they're the fruit of the organism, like an apple on a tree, so you can pick as many as you want without hurting it, since most of the life is underground or under the tree bark. (This isn't true of chaga, which isn't a true mushroom, so please don't overharvest it.)
The trick to chanterelle identification is that they don't have true gills. They're sometimes called ridges. Can you see them here?
Chanterelles also grow on the ground individually, as opposed to their most commonly confused poisonous look-alike, Jack-o-lantern (Omphalotus species), which grows on wood and in clusters. However, that can be slightly deceiving since they could be growing on decaying buried wood or roots. The coolest thing about Jack-o-lanterns is how they got their name, because they often glow in the dark! They are also supposed to make a good purple dye, too.
To cook mushrooms, there are a few simple guidelines:
Oysters are probably the most abundant edible species with the longest season that you'll find in this region. This is partly because they're not very picky about which tree species they grow on. I've seen them on ashes and tulip poplars, but there are many more, and they can grow on living or dead trees. You have to catch them at the right time. Too late, and they're dried out, too wet, and they're mushy and gross. This is a good one to tap the top, because little tiny beetles like to hide in the gills. The oysters have a very specific smell to them that you'll always know once you've smelled them.
(Lactifluus [previously Lactarius] indigo)
These are pretty rare to see, but I had to include them because they're just so amazing. The milkcaps are a kind of mushroom that exude a milk-like substance from the gills, especially when they're fresh. They're not all edible, but these are. These even exude a blue milk! My friend and awesome forager, Jenifer, was remarking how incredible it is to see something that's naturally blue and doesn't make you vomit (or want to) when you eat it. Ditto to that!
These may possibly be the most incredible mushroom! They start as a white, mostly inedible mushroom in the Lactarius or Russula genera (plural of genus), and are colonized by a different fungus to turn them orange and super edible. Woah, Mother Nature! These start having gills and end up with no gills or faint ridges. They smell and taste somewhat lobsterish and grow on the ground, usually in groups, but not clusters. Lobsters love to grow in pine forests, thought I've seen them in areas of more decidous woods, too.
These are also often a dye mushroom with a wide variety of dye colors. We'll be trying them out at my Wild Color Retreat coming up soon. Check it out!
There is one thing that makes honey mushrooms super spectacular. They are the largest living organism on earth! They cover almost 2,400 acres in Oregon!!! While it's recommended to gather wild mushrooms in mesh bags to help spread the spores, the opposite is true for these. They can destroy trees, so collect them in non-mesh bags.
Honey mushrooms are definitely at leaste a 202 level mushroom, i.e. not for beginners! This is because they could be confused with a very poisonous mushroom called The Deadly Galerina. Here's what that one looks like.
There are ringless honey mushroom and ringed honey mushrooms. I find mostly the ringless in the Midwest, which are also blamed for causing possible gastric upset, which can possibly be prevented by parboiling them first. I've never experienced any problems with them. But it brings up a good point. For any mushrooms you're trying for the first time, it's a good idea to only try a tiny bit and wait 24 hours to see if you have a reaction. Anyone can be allergic to anything.
I've heard a couple of reasons why honeys are called honeys. One is because of their buff honey color. The other is because they get sticky on top when they get wet. There are several ways to tell them apart from the deadly Galerina. One way is the little hairy dots on top of the cap of ringless honeys. The ringed honeys have a ring of flesh around the stalk. The best way to tell them apart, though, is the spore print. The spores are white (as opposed to the deadly Garlerina's brown spores). You can take a spore print by putting the cap face down on newspaper and covering it with a bowl, then waiting a few hours. You'll have a beautiful print in the shape of the mushroom cap and gills. However, usually you can cheat with honeys. Since they grow in clusters and have prolific spores, their spores can often be seen on the caps of the lower mushrooms in the cluster, where they fell.
Once again, do not try eating this one at home until it's been shown to you by a trusted teacher! Look here for more info on the Deadly Galerina and here for more info on Honey Mushrooms.
Chicken of the Woods
(Laetiporous sulphureus or Laetiporous cincinnatus)
Ahh, good old Chicken of the Woods. I have a special connection to this one partly because I'm from Cincinnati and the cincinnatus part came from a high school teacher in Cincinnati who was the first one recorded as describing it and giving it this name. I wonder what the Native American call it. (I'm reading the fabulous book, Braiding Sweetgrass, and it's inspiring me to curiosity.) That species has a white to pinkish underside, while the sulphureus species got its name for the yellow underside.
It's a very beefy mushroom, tasting like chicken. It can take awhile to soften it up, so my favorite thing to do with it is make "chicken" curry. Some people get gastric upset from this one, which I suspect is a result of not cooking it long enough. When you harvest it, make sure to get it while it's still semi-tender, or just take the more tender outer edges. It likes to grow on oaks especially.
I made this one huge, so you could see the detail. Sometimes some related species are called comb's tooth mushroom. I think that kind of describes it, too. My same foraging friend, Jenifer, and I just found about 7 of these in the woods in Cincinnati. There is something magical that happens when you've been foraging for awhile. The plants and mushrooms become old friends. Every year it's like a homecoming when you see them again for the first time. But then there are some that you only see very rarely, and then it's super special, especially when they hold such special medicine. That's what happened when we saw these.
We were about 3/4 through a pretty rough, overgrown hike through brambles and thousands of burs. It was Cincinnati summer, so in the 90s with like a bajillion percent humidity. We were worn. Then, I just happened to turn around at the exact right moment and gasped. Jenifer turned at the sound and shrieked. There's almost nothing better than foraging with someone who knows and appreciates the forageables as much as you do.
These are a species that can cause a major dilemma for me. I can't deciede whether to eat them or make medicine out of them. I think they are one of the most medicinal mushrooms in the world right now. They are said to be basically a miracle for brain function and nerve regeneration, great for memory and learning, for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and ALS, and repairing nerve damage. I highly encourage you to do your own research.
Again this one is very sponge-like, so definitely don't clean it with water. My advice would be to eat a little and make medicine out of the rest. They grow on several hardwood species, especially oak.
That is all for now. There's so many more I could have included and some I could have left out, but they are all special to me. As always, it's a perfect opportunity for gratitude. They are giving of themselves for our food and medicine. The least we can do is say thank you.
Please comment on your experiences with them below and which ones are your favorites. Forage on!
Have you heard the Barbra Streisand song, People?
Here's a few lyrics for you:
People who need people
Are the luckiest people in the world."
While the rest of the lyrics can feel like a bit of an overly sentimental stretch, I can't stop pondering these first few lines. It plays over and over in my head. We all need people, right? And we can feel like the luckiest people in the world when we are surrounded and supported by great people, right?
While I originally thought my mission was to (re)connect people with nature, the more years I spend teaching, the more I realize that people are seeking and needing connection with other people often equally as much. That's not just true for my students, but myself, too. It gets lonely working and teaching alone so much. I have so many talented friends, I figured why not collaborate?! That way I can share their gifts with my students, as well as my own gifts.
I've had a dream for years now about partnering up with some of the best teachers I know. They teach amazing material, offering you, my students, a wider breadth of knowledge. The general idea is to create a whole weekend to immerse yourself in nature, to disconnect in order to reconnect, with nature, each other, to refill and rejuvenate. Called Retreat & Reconnect, I'll be offering a series of retreats where you get to spend two days walking the forest, learning basic botany, including identification of wild edible and medicinal plants, trees, and mushrooms; along with wild food cooking, herbal medicine making, and other awesome skills taught by someone amazing.
The first retreat is the last weekend of September and will be Retreat & Reconnect: Wild Color. Along with wild edibles (for a fabulous Saturday dinner that we'll create together) and medicinals (for making our own tea blends), we'll be harvesting wild plants and mushrooms to make natural dyes. Then, with instruction from my fabulous friend, Kelly Gaskill, we'll dye silk scarves and yarn samples to show a wide diversity of colors you can make from natural materials. And that's just the first of many retreats to come, including subjects like clinical herbalism, wild foods cooking, permaculture, and primitive skills.
We rarely take time to address our deepest needs, to retreat from the day to day stresses and noise and let ourselves relax and hear what our bodies, brains, and spirits are trying to tell us. A little bit of nature can go a long way.
Register now (to ensure there's enough materials and food for you) and join us!
Stay tuned for more upcoming retreats and let me know what you'd like to learn. Also, check out some more exciting collaborations, like Trees: The Treasure in the Forest, a day long edible, medcinal, and permaculture workshop with my friend and amazing teacher, Doug Crouch, of Treasure Lake (in KY), and my upcoming Appalachian Wild Edible & Herbal Plant Walk in cooperation with my friends at Thrifty Adventures (in NC). Hope to see you here or there, in the forest and beyond!
Founder of the WANDER (Wild Artemisia Nature Discovery, Empowerment, and Reconnection) School, Botanist, Herbalist, & Professional Forager, Abby Artemisia, lives in rural Appalachian North Carolina. She learned about plants playing in the Midwestern woods of Ohio, working on organic farms, an herbal apprenticeship, a bachelor's degree in Botany from Miami University, and running her own tea business. She teaches about plant identification, native plants, and working with plants for food and medicine throughout the country. Her mission is offering nature and herbal education to create healing through connection with the natural world and each other. She is the author of The Forager's Wild Edible and Herbal Plant Cards and The Herbal Handbook for Homesteaders. She is the host of the podcast Wander, Forage, and Wildcract, founder of The WANDER School, and co-founder of The Sassafras School of Appalachian Plantcraft.