A Walk in the Woods, Week Ending 7/21/2019

Full disclosure: these photos were taken a week ago. The daily highs in central Maryland have been in the upper 90s, with staggering humidity so I have not gone back to the woods for newer pictures. It’s. Just. Too. Hot.

Summer is a dynamic time in the forest, just like it is in our own home yards and gardens. Here are some of the wild edible highlights (in no particular order).

I was delighted to discover shiso (aka perilla, aka beefsteak, Perilla frutescens) growing nearby. Most of my garden greens are eaten up with bugs or too bitter to bother with. I may make a return trip if the heat ever breaks to harvest some for an evening meal.

Shiso, aka Beefsteak, aka Perilla
Shiso, aka Beefsteak, aka Perilla

I hunted for hackberry trees  (Celtis occidentalis) with fruit I could reach. I was mostly thwarted.

Hackberries Up High
Hackberries up high

The crunchy fruit is best harvested in the late fall or winter, when the cold temperatures have brought the sugars out. There are plenty of hackberries around here – even one in my yard – but I just can’t reach!

Speaking of out of reach, I spotted some wild grape clusters (Vitis species) that were also maddeningly high up in the trees to which the vines clung.

Grapes just out of reach
Grapes just out of reach

Other fruit was within reach, however. The wineberries (Rubus phoenicolasius) are winding down, with only a few ripe stragglers remaining…

Wineberries winding down
Wineberries winding down

… but blackberries (Rubus species) are just starting to ripen!

Blackberries ripening
Blackberries ripening

The berries are unfortunately very small due to the lack of rain in the past weeks. They still pack a flavor punch though!

Other fruit still has a while to go until it is ripe. The black cherries (Prunus serotina) are close, but not quite there yet.

Black cherries
Black cherries

If I can harvest enough black cherries, there are a lot of amazing looking recipes in Forage, Harvest, Feast. We had a very late frost at the end of April that impacted some of the wild fruit trees. Since I haven’t harvested black cherries before, I don’t know if there are so few because of the frost, or just because that is the tree’s nature.

Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) have gotten harder to find as the forest undergrowth has filled in. Somehow most of them have lost their leaves, making it even more difficult to locate them.

Mayapple
Mayapple

I’ve been stalking a few plants since spring, and they still have the single fruit (even when the leaves were gone!). They aren’t quite ripe yet – the mayapple fruit turns yellow when it is safe for human consumption. I am hoping they don’t turn ripe and get eaten by forest critters before I can get back into the woods!

There were fewer rosehips than I expected, given how many wild roses (Rosa multiflora) grow along the roads and trails.

Rosehips
Rosehips

I found plenty of crab apples though. I think the local variety might be the “American crab apple” (Malus coronaria) and sources disagree about whether the fruit are worth eating.

Crab apples
Crab apples

Either way, they certainly aren’t edible now! I nibbled one to check for the apple-like texture of the fruit. The astringency made my mouth pucker instantly!

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) berries are also slowly ripening in the forest…

Spicebush

… as is the belle of the forest, the pawpaw (Asimina triloba).

Pawpaws
Pawpaws

I located much fewer pawpaws than I was expecting, given how laden the branches were with flowers this spring.

What I did not find at all was autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) fruit!

Bare autumn olive branch
Bare autumn olive branch

I don’t know if the late frost impacted them as well, but I was very surprised to see the branches of my favorite plant – with the sweetest berries in this area – completely bare of set fruit.

Other woodland plants are currently flowering. Among them is yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) which has just started to put out the delicate yellow flowers that hang like a jewel under the leaves.

Jewelweed
Jewelweed

While not edible, jewelweed is still an important plant because its sap can soothe bites and stings, and has traditionally been used to treat poison ivy. I brushed up against a nettle plant – on purpose, to check for the sting – and the jewelweed sap definitely eased the pain.

I also found wild bee balm (aka wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa) for the first time! Well, I’m sure it was there all along but I just didn’t know what I was looking at.

Wild bee balm (aka wild bergamot)
Wild bee balm (aka wild bergamot)

The flowers and leaves can be used for seasoning, tea, or herbal infused vinegars. I haven’t tried this yet, since I only just identified the bee balm.

While cataloging the fruits and flowers, I found an excellent example of greenbrier (Smilax species) edible shoots.

Greenbrier shoots
Greenbrier shoots

The growing end (the meristem) is soft, shiny and yellowish-green in color. This whole tip is tender and edible. I mean, it was. Yes, I ate it then and there.

One thing I’d hoped – and failed – to find in the woods was chanterelles (Cantharellus spp). My Instagram feed is full of other foragers finding armloads of these delicious yellow and orange mushrooms. I am guessing we’re not at a high enough elevation here… or the forest was too recently disturbed… or I don’t know. No chanterelles for me! But I did find a young lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) fruiting body.

Lion's mane
Lion’s mane

Lion’s mane is an easy mushroom to forage because there are no poisonous lookalikes. This one does not have the characteristic shaggy appearance of lion’s mane because it is still very young. I should have left it to grow larger, but I was feeling sorry for myself since I couldn’t find any chanterelles! It was delicious sauteed in butter and folded into an omelette.

Do you have any woods nearby? If you braved the blistering summer heat to see what’s growing, what did you discover?

Please note: I am not an Amazon affiliate marketer, because I don’t want my writing to pressure readers into buying yet more stuff. I recommend borrowing books from the library; links to online shopping sites are provided as a convenience. If you would like to support my work, please consider hiring me to speak or consult, or making a donation.

 

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