Josh’s Foraging Tip #5

Keep a Foraging Journal

The practice is simple: whenever you gather a wild food, make a note of what, where, and when you gather (e.g., first Common Dandelion leaves, backyard, 4/15/14). You might also note other plants who are almost ready to harvest or who've gone by.

I've kept records in a spreadsheet document (sample below), with columns for the plant name (both common and scientific), location (if I primarily gather the plant in a particular place), and edible part (in case the plant has another part with a different season of availability), and one column for every two weeks of the growing season. Once a day, I went through the list and place an X in the appropriate column to denote which wild edibles were available.

Screenshot of Foraging spreadsheet file

Another option is to dedicate a calendar -- a wall, desk or pocket-sized daily or weekly planner will work -- and once a day jot down your foraging activities and/or observations.

Maintaining a foraging log, however simple or complex, can pay dividends in future years by reminding you of when various foods are available in your area. Over time, you'll likely internalize many of the natural cycles and come to anticipate the availability of your favorite edibles without consulting your written record.

Do you keep a record of your foraging activities? If so, what method do you use?

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.

Quiz #101: Mammal

Identify the mammal pictured below.

Photo of Quiz #101: Mammal

(Photographed in Biddeford, ME on May 11, 2014.)

A. Eastern Gray Squirrel

B. Red Squirrel

C. Eastern Chipmunk

D. Northern Flying Squirrel

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A is incorrect. Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are usually gray (though their fur color can range from red to black or even white), and their bushier tails are typically comprised of white-tipped hairs.

B is Correct! I watched this Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) quietly munch on an acorn for several minutes.

C is incorrect. Eastern Chipmunks (Tamias striatus) have striped backs and smaller tails.

D is incorrect. Northern Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus) are nocturnal and have large black eyes with no white around them.

Foraging Wild Greens: Curly Dock

Photo of Curly Dock spring rosette

A member of the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae), Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) is a widespread, resilient, and valuable herbaceous plant. In winter, the dead standing stalks of Curly Dock can help you notice where this plant likes to grow. Visit these places in spring and look for the plant's basal leaves, which feature crisped, or curly, margins, as the species name crispus describes.

Photo of Curly Dock leaf

Curly Dock has numerous edible and medicinal uses. I enjoy the young leaves as a cooked green.  Other foragers report enjoying the tender leaves in their raw form, the seeds when ground and included in baked goods, and the young, peeled, boiled stalks. This plant is also known as Yellow Dock.  This name refers to the yellow taproot, which can be tinctured (or otherwise prepared) and used for a variety of medicinal purposes.  I've also made a quick poultice -- chewing up a leaf and applying it to the affected skin -- to relieve the sting of Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica).

Foraging Wild Greens: American Trout-lily

Photo of American Trout-lily

American Trout-lily (Erythronium americanum) is an easily recognized native perennial plant who often grows in moist forest soils. Non-flowering plants produce a single leaf in spring, whereas flowering individuals have two -- one on either side of the flower stalk. American Trout-lily's water-resistant, mottled leaves are edible and make for a succulent raw snack or cooked vegetable. Also, the small bulbs can be unearthed, cleaned, boiled, and eaten.

Photo of American Trout-lily leaf

If you find one plant, chances are you've found a hundred, as American Trout-lily tends to grow in dense clumps. As with any wild plant, only harvest when the impact of your gathering will not place undo stress on the local population. That said, your local stand may very well benefit from occasional, thoughtful thinning.

Quiz #100: Wild Edibles

May in New England isn't generally thought of as a month with much ripe wild fruit, but Eastern-spicy Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) and Partridge-berry (Mitchella repens) are two subshrubs with edible, fleshy fruit that can persist from one green season to the next. The close-up photo below shows a fruit from each of these plants. Which fruit belongs to which plant?

Photo of Quiz #100: Plant

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Answer: The fruit on the left featuring a five-parted calyx belongs to Eastern Spicy-wintergreen. The smaller fruit on the right with two circular scars belongs to Partridge-berry.

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