Josh’s Foraging Tip #3

Attend a Wild Edibles Walk

Photo of Dandelion taprootsWhen I began my wild foods journey about a decade ago, I attended several walks in Massachusetts led by longtime forager and teacher Russ Cohen. Russ gifted me my first taste of Autumn-olive fruit leather, introduced me to dozens of low-growing lawn plants with edible parts, and inspired me to dine more often on the wild.  In those early years, I also attended weekend foraging classes taught by Arthur Haines (author of Ancestral Plants) of the Delta Institute and Mike Douglas of the Maine Primitive Skills School.

Much more than just a stroll through a field, these hands-on classes got me gathering, processing, and eating wild plants alongside other wild food enthusiasts. During those weekend-long courses, I gathered my first Wild Leeks, Ostrich Fern fiddleheads, and Sweet-flag rhizomes, helped harvest trays full of Dandelion taproots (pictured), and prepared herbal salves, infusions, and decoctions using (at least in part) wild-harvested ingredients.

Don’t get me wrong, reading books and watching videos of experienced foragers is a great way to learn. But, as with so many earth skills, the real magic happens when you go outside. If you’re new at foraging, or if you’re looking for new ideas, I recommend finding someone near you who offers walks. Many foragers (Russ Cohen and myself included) offer walks free of charge and love to pass on their knowledge.

Green Deane, of EatTheWeeds fame, maintains a list of foraging instructors on his website. If his list doesn’t lead you to a nearby forager, look up primitive skills schools in your area.  Often they will have a wild foods enthusiast on staff.

Have you ever attended a foraging walk or talk?  Share your experiences below.

–> Event Notice: I’m giving a free talk on foraging for wild edibles in Wells, ME on Tuesday, May 20, 2014.

Washed Ashore: Atlantic Dulse

Photo of Atlantic Dulse

On the beaches I frequent in southern Maine, I occasionally find clumps of Atlantic Dulse (Palmaria palmata) standing in color-contrast to the majority of wave-tossed algae.  Much more commonly, I find pieces of Knotted Wrack, Bladder Wrack, Irish Moss, and various Kelps — none of which have the rich red color of Atlantic Dulse.  The blades of this alga can be eaten fresh (when found alive), and dried pieces can be lightly toasted for a fine, salty treat.

Quiz #97: Bird

Who carved the holes in this Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)?  The top hole measures roughly 7″ X 3″.

Photo of Quiz #97: Bird

(Photographed in Wells, ME.)

A. Downy Woodpecker

B. Hairy Woodpecker

C. Northern Flicker

D. Pileated Woodpecker

E. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

When ready, scroll down for the answer…












These sizable holes were made by a Pileated Woodpecker.  Among New England woodpeckers, the Pileated Woodpecker is the largest, nearly the size of an American Crow.  Have you ever seen one of these birds?  Share your comments below.

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Josh’s Foraging Tip #2

Be Willing to Try a New Food More Than Once

Photo of Black ChokeberryI don’t know about you, but in my experience trying a new food isn’t always love at first bite. Sometimes I have to taste a wild plant, or a cultivated plant for that matter, several times before my taste buds adjust.  And other times I simply need to locate a better-tasting sample.

For example, as I wrote about last year, I have tasted the fruit of Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa, pictured here) many times and found it hardly worth swallowing. Then, last summer, I found a delicious crop of juicy fruit and proceeded to gather several pounds.  What I didn’t eat fresh over the next few days, I stashed in my freezer to enjoy over the coming months.  The fruit of Black Chokeberry is one food I’m glad I didn’t give up on after my first few tastes.

Have you had a similar experience with a new food?  Share your stories in the comments below.

This post is part of a series of tips for foragers of wild plant foods.  For my core gathering practices, see Josh’s Guidelines for Foraging.

Shorebirds: Piping Plover

Photo of Piping Plover

Piping Plovers are on the short list of birds who nest directly on the sand of New England beaches.  Given the high human traffic on most beaches during their breeding season and the outright loss of habitat due to shoreline reshaping, it’s a wonder that some of these tiny shorebirds manage to eke out a living and successfully raise young each year.  Maine Audubon reports that in the entire state of Maine in 2013 there were only 44 nesting pairs, not all of whom fledged young.  Please take care when sharing the beach with these threatened creatures.

–> Event Notice: On Sunday, April 27, 2014, I’m leading a free bird walk at Emmons Preserve in Kennebunkport, ME.  (We won’t see Piping Plovers at this inland location, but we will observe a variety of songbirds.)