This story was initially revealed in Might 2018.
Strolling via forests and fields with an skilled forager is a lesson on commentary and survival that really modifications how one seems to be on the pure world.
I’ve attended a number of foraging workshops and nature walks in recent times, which has given me the chance to be taught from many various individuals. And since there are such a lot of edible and medicinal crops in Maine, every time I am going out with considered one of these foragers, I be taught one thing new.
Such was the case just a few weeks in the past after I attended a wild edibles workshop on the Changing into an Open air-woman in Maine (BOW) spring mini collection, a daylong occasion during which members attended three workshops of their selecting. Hosted in western Maine on the College of Maine 4-H Camp & Studying Middle at Bryant Pond, the occasion was all about ladies buying outside expertise, stepping exterior their consolation zones and making connections.
The chief of the foraging workshop, Emily Fox, was knowledgable and captivated with native crops and their many historic and present makes use of. Many of the crops we discovered and talked about that day had been totally new to me. Then there have been crops that I’d seen 1,000,000 instances earlier than however would by no means have by no means guessed had been edible, not to mention tasty.
Earlier than I share a few of what I discovered, I’d prefer to clarify that this submit won’t assist you to really determine edible crops. To do this, you’ll want a minimum of a plant information. There are such a lot of completely different traits — leaf form, stem coloration and size, texture, scent — that act as identifiers for crops, serving to you distinguish one species from one other.
And yet another factor. When harvesting wild crops, go away some behind so the species can reproduce and return the next season. The final rule is to reap considered one of 4 wild crops, however in some circumstances, it’s possible you’ll need to scale back that proportion to 1 in 10 crops. And if the plant is uncommon or endangered, don’t harvest any in any respect.
Now that I’ve gotten these necessary disclaimers out of the way in which, listed below are just a few fascinating and customary wild crops in Maine you can eat.
Indian cucumber (Medeola virginiana)
As quickly as we stepped into the woods, we got here throughout Indian cucumber, a small forest plant that has two tiers of leaves, the primary containing 5 to 9 leaves all rising in a circle, and the second containing fewer, normally three. The plant is inexperienced and sort of blends into the panorama. Its flowers are small, greenish yellow and dangle down beneath the higher tier of leaves. And within the late summer time, the plant produces darkish purple berries. Nevertheless, these usually are not edible. In reality, the one edible a part of this plant is the roots, which style — you guessed it — like cucumber. The plant’s crispy roots are sometimes utilized in salads or may be pickled.
Warning: If harvesting this plant, be certain there are a minimum of three different wholesome crops inside a 3 foot radius that you just go away alone. It will make sure you don’t deplete the useful resource. Additionally of be aware, a look-alike to this plant is the starflower, which may be poisonous. Nevertheless, starflowers solely have one tier of leaves, not two.
Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)
I’ve at all times been informed to not eat random crimson berries as a result of they’ll make you sick, and that’s partially true. There are many crimson forest berries that may make you sick in Maine, however there are just a few which can be totally edible and will simply assist you to in a survival scenario. A type of is partridgeberry, a standard woodland plant that produces brilliant crimson berries. This evergreen plant has slender stems that path alongside the bottom and are coated with small, shiny darkish inexperienced leaves. On these crops, solely the berries are edible, and that doesn’t imply they’re notably tasty. In reality, they don’t style like a lot in any respect, and their consistency is mealy. Nevertheless, as a result of these berries keep on the stem over winter, they’re an necessary nutrient supply throughout that point. Additionally, traditionally, these berries have been used medicinally for a wide range of issues, together with to deal with delayed, irregular or painful menses. They’ve additionally been made right into a wash to appease hives, arthritis and rheumatism.
A glance-alike for this plant is wintergreen.
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
One other forest plant that grows low to the bottom and infrequently in the identical locations as partridgeberry is wintergreen, which has thick, shiny, oval and barely toothed evergreen leaves that odor and style distinctly minty. These edible leaves, which alternate on the stem and infrequently develop in clusters of three, may be gathered all year long and make a great tea or trailside snack. You may as well eat the berries, which had been as soon as used to taste beer. Historically, wintergreen tea was taken for colds, complications, abdomen aches and fevers, and externally it was used as a wash for sore muscle mass and rheumatism. The leaves had been additionally used as a treatment for toothaches.
Warning: Don’t boil the leaves. Boiling releases doubtlessly poisonous oils.
Widespread broadleaf plantain (Plantago main)
This plant is one thing I contemplate to be a “weed.” In reality, for a very long time now, it’s been essentially the most despised weed in my garden. Its extensive leaves unfold out, killing grass throughout it, and its roots are thick and run deep. So it was an awesome shock to me to be taught that frequent plantain is definitely fairly yummy if harvested whereas younger. They are often boiled, like spinach, or eaten uncooked in salads. And as a treatment, the plantain has many makes use of as a result of it has astringent and soothing properties. It’s been used to assist forestall infections, deal with diarrhea and soothe insect bites and stop poison ivy from spreading. This final use me essentially the most. Principally, all you need to do is chew or shred the leaves and apply it to the chunk or rash. Additionally, an infusion of the leaves and seeds have been used to deal with all kinds of points, together with bronchitis and bladder issues. To seek out this plant, simply go to a yard that hasn’t been chemically handled and will get loads of solar.
Japanese hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis)
To finish the foraging workshop, we gathered a few cup of recent development from the tip of jap hemlock tree branches. These recent, mild inexperienced needles had been then thrown right into a pot of sizzling water and steeped to make a tea. The jap hemlock tree is likely one of the many evergreen bushes that develop in Maine, and they are often recognized by their needles, that are pretty quick, flat and rounded on the tip (not spiky) and, for those who look beneath them, every needle is marked with two very skinny white strains that run the size of it. The tea constructed from hemlocks are wealthy in Vitamin C and different vitamins, which can clarify why loggers within the space someday brewed this tea through the winter. Medicinally, the inside bark and leafy twig ideas of the tree had been utilized by Native People to deal with all kinds of illnesses.
Warning: Don’t boil the needles. Boiling can launch risky oils. Merely steep the needles in sizzling water. Additionally, a look-alike of the hemlock is the American yew, which is a poisonous shrub that usually grows proper subsequent to hemlocks. The American yew lacks the white stripes on the underside of its needles.
Blue violets (Viola sororia)
To sweeten our hemlock tea, we picked blue violets — one other frequent “weed” present in lawns all through Maine — and made them right into a easy syrup. To do that, you harvest simply the purple flowers (they’re known as “blue violets” however they’re purple) and steep them in a mason jar of heat or sizzling water for 12 to 24 hours. Pressure the violets out, then add the liquid (which ought to now be a bit purple) right into a pot. Add two cups of sugar for each cup of water and stir over low warmth ensuring to not convey it to a boil. Add in just a few drops of lemon juice to maintain the purple coloration of the combination vibrant. When the syrup will get to a consistency you want, you’re accomplished. It needs to be brilliant purple. As a result of they’re edible and delicate tasting, violets are additionally usually utilized in adorning muffins and salads. And like most wild edibles, violets have a historical past of being utilized in medication for a wide range of illnesses.
Warning: Whereas the leaves and flowers are edible, don’t eat the roots, which might trigger nausea and vomiting.
These six wild edibles are only a small proportion of the numerous edible species of crops that develop within the Maine forest. To be taught extra, I counsel attending a foraging workshop like I did and investing in just a few good books on the subject, akin to “Wild Crops of Maine: A Helpful Information” by Tom Seymour, a really well-known forager and outdoorsman who lives in Maine.