This past Sunday, Mr Chiots and I attending a mushroom identification class at the Hidden Valley Nature Center. We spent the morning inside, learning about mushroom identification features. The class was taught by Greg Marley who wrote the book Mushrooms for Health: Medicinal Secrets of Northeastern Fungi.
After class room time we went out into the woods to forage. We picked every mushroom we saw and identified them as either edible or not edible. It was a real hands on class about mushrooms, which we really liked.
Overall it was a great day and we learned a lot. Mr Chiots and I love mushrooms and are looking forward to finding more wild ones on our property. When it comes to mushroom hunting, a little direction from a professional will certainly give you the peace of mind you need!
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This past Tuesday evening, Mr Chiots and I attended a seminar at our new local library about mushrooms. It was led by Greg Marley who wrote Mushrooms for Health.
It was mainly geared towards the health benefits of mushrooms and why you should add them to your diet. I’ve read a lot on this topic and we try to eat a lot of mushrooms, both because we like them and for their health benefits.
He also brought in loads of mushrooms to look at and identify. They came in all colors, shapes and sizes and were so fun to look at.
He also talked about which edible mushrooms you could find in Maine, specifically, which ones we could find this fall! I knew many of the mushrooms we had in Ohio. Mr Chiots and I harvested morels in our own backyard. I even grew some of my own mushrooms last fall from logs I had inoculated with spawn plugs. I am looking forward to learning all the edible mushrooms we have here on our property. We certainly see mushrooms by the hundreds when we’re out hiking.
Greg definitely knew a lot about mushrooms, I was very impressed with his knowledge. He collected mushrooms all over the Northeast and sells tinctures and mushroom tea. You can read more about him and see his products on his website Mushrooms 4 Health. I’ll definitely be reading his book soon and all the other books he recommended.
Mr Chiots and I are even going to talk to him about partnering with us in a new project we’ve got in the works (more on this exciting new in the coming months).
Greg is leading other seminars in the area this month, I may just have to attend one on mushroom identification. I would love to learn a lot more about all the wonderful mushrooms I find, both edible and not. There are always books (a few that he recommended are listed below), but there’s nothing quite like hands on study when it comes to something like this. A photo in a book doesn’t come close to seeing something in person.
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When sugaring season rolls around I start keeping my eyes peeled on the ground as I walk around and gather sap. The same weather that is good for sugaring is good for the earliest of the wild greens like bittercress and garlic mustard. When I was out planting lettuce seeds on Monday, I noticed that the bittercress on the front hillside was ready to harvest. Since this is a south facing slope with rock walls, it’s usually a zone ahead of the rest of the garden. While the ground in the raised beds in the back is still frozen, the earth here has already softened.
I’m not quite sure why bittercress has it’s name, it’s not bitter at all, at least not this early in spring. Typically I like to mix it with more tender lettuces and spinach, but I chose to grow cover crops this past winter instead of overwintered lettuce. Thus our salad was all bittercress.
Bittercress ‘cardamine hirsute’ also known as Pennsylvania Bittercress, Jumping Jesus, Flickweed, Popping Cress, and Common Bittercress. It’s a member of the mustard family, which is evident when it blooms. The reason it’s called flick weed, popping cress and jumping Jesus (my favorite name which I’ll call it from now on) is because the seed pods explode when they’re ripe. I have, on many occasions, had seeds flicked right into my eyes when I unknowingly brushed up against them while weeding
Bittercress is considered a weed, as many edible plants are. You could try to spray it out as many people recommend, but why not just eat it. It’s not as spicy as arugula and has a bit more flavor than lettuce, it does get spicier and tougher as the weather warms. It also has a lot of texture and thus is better when mixed with a variety of greens. The smaller the rosettes are when you pick them the more tender they are. The best way to harvest them is to slice the main root right above the soil line with a knife. Then you can cut the small branches from the main root.
Since bittercress is a member of the mustard family it’s highly nutritious. I couldn’t find nutritionally information for is specifically, but it would be similar to mustard with highly levels of Vitamin K, A, C, B1, B2, B3, B6, E, Folate, Manganese, Calcium and so many more wonderful things. For the health benefits of mustard see this article at World’s Healthiest Foods.
I love foraging for food, you certainly can’t beat filling your plate with food you harvested but didn’t have sow or tend.
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I mentioned yesterday that the wild violets were in full bloom and we’d been harvesting the blooms and the leaves for our salads. Since I don’t treat my lawn in any way, the violets have slowly taken over and now my entire lawn is dotted with beautiful purple blooms.
I decided to make some violet syrup this year. The syrup is a good source of vitamin C and is supposed to be a great cough syrup. It’s also said to help you fall asleep without making your drowsy. Since I can be a bit of an insomniac, this sounds wonderful to me!
Making violet syrup is no small feat, you need 8 oz of violet blossoms. At first this may not seem like a lot, until you start picking. I harvested a pint of blossoms and they weighed in at 1.2 oz. Out came the big half gallon mason jar and I spent some time sitting on the front lawn harvesting those tiny purple beauties. I’m sure my neighbors were wondering what in the world I was doing. It was quite relaxing though, I enjoyed myself. Mr Chiots saw me through the window and had to come out and get a photo.
It took me about an hour to pick a half gallon jar full of blossoms, which happened to weigh 8 oz. If you have kids this would be a great project for them to do, they would not doubt love this chore!
Pour 2 cups of boiling water over the blossoms and use a wooden spoon to slightly mash the blossoms down into the water. If you need a little more water to cover the blossoms add just enough to cover. I added an extra half cup of water. Let sit overnight on the counter. In the morning, strain out the blossoms and you’ll be left with a beautiful violet liquid. I bet this would be a wonderful natural dye for Easter eggs, or fabric.
Pour the violet water into a saucepan and add 2 cups of honey. Simmer for about 30 minutes until slightly thick and syrupy (keep an eye on it in the beginning as it can foam up and boil over). Pour into jar and store in the fridge. You can waterbath can this for 10 minutes if you’d like to make larger batches. I ended up with about two and a half cups of syrup.
I’m looking forward to using this syrup throughout the year. It tastes like honey and smells of violets and is a beautiful lavender color. It would taste wonderful on ice cream or in tea and as far as cough syrup goes, it’s so much better than the mediciny stuff you’d buy at the store.
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This time of year our lawn is flush with tiny purple blossoms from all the wild violets. They are quite beautiful, definitely a great reason to not spray!
Wild violets aren’t just a pretty face either, they’re quite healthy. Violets are loaded with vitamin C and all kinds of other goodness (read a great article about them here). You can eat the flowers, leaves and the tubers (although tubers should be eaten in moderation).
There are all kinds of things you can do with them, candy them, make jelly, tincture them, make syrup. We mostly pick them and add them to our salads. I’ll be making violet syrup this year as well (recipe and info on that tomorrow). I may also try to make a tincture to use in my ears. I have tinnitus on occasion and it’s supposed to be helpful for that, I’ll let you know if it works.
In addition to violets, we’ve been picking dandelions and garlic mustard blooms for our salads. Spring is truly a beautiful time, both in the garden and on my plate!
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