This weekend I had the opportunity to assess a 74 acre piece of property in West Virginia. This isn’t the first WV property I’ve surveyed for foraging & wild edibles, and I was struck by how different each piece of land was from each other. The state has many different ecosystems and climates, which impacts the variety and type of plants (edible and otherwise) which can grow at each location.
Warning! This is a long, photo-heavy post! I divided it into two separate sections, for wild edibles I found (most of the photos), as well as things I didn’t find.
What I Found
Birch (Betula spp.). Possibly even sweet birch (Betula lenta), one of the native sweeteners of the area (in addition to honey and sugar maple (Acer saccharum)). In addition to sweet sap, the inner bark of birch is edible (although it should only be harvested from downed trees).
There may have also been sugar maples, but I am still learning to distinguish maple varieties. I can tell red maple by the red stems of the leaves, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten!
Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum). I have never encountered sourwood before, but here’s some info I found about it. I doubt I’ll try making jelly from the flowers, since I don’t eat much jelly, but there may be other applications.
I didn’t manage to photograph everything. Sassafras (Sassafras spp.) grew in abundance. There were also locust trees, though relatively small. They seemed too spiky for black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia – edible flowers), but not spiky enough for honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos – edible seed pods). More research is clearly needed!
Additionally, I did not see as much hickory (Carya spp.) or oak (Quercus spp.) as I would have expected. I believe this property was timbered years ago, and the largest hardwood trees were selectively removed for lumber. Many of the trees were at sapling stage; the forest floor was overcrowded from the light let in when the tallest trees were removed; and we encountered multiple sizeable stumps from the culled trees.
Shrubs / Bushes
Rhododendrons (Rhododendron maximum). Not edible. In fact, the opposite of edible, rhododendron flowers and leaves – even honey from bees that visited them – can make humans sick. But great rhododendron was noteworthy because its presence indicates acidic soil, an important thing to know for any of the property that might be put under cultivation
Blueberries (possibly Vaccinium pallidum). Again an indicator of acidic soil… and possibly a feast next year!
Eastern Teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens). One of my foraging unicorns, often referred to as wintergreen in foraging books. It’s a provider of wintergreen flavoring as an extract or tea.
(The torn leaf in the photo may have been where I snagged a piece to crush, releasing the wintergreen scent!)
The berries are also edible, and one of the few fruit which survive the winter cold. Although given the average annual snowfall locally, and the small stature of the plant, they would be pretty tough to find! The leaves reportedly contain methyl salicylate, an anti-inflammatory. I would research the plant in more depth before trying to use it for any medicinal preparations.
Greenbrier (Smilax spp.) and blackberry (most likely Rubus allegheniensis, based on the long, elegant leaflets) grew in tangled knots everywhere, making large areas of the forest floor unpassable.
While greenbrier shoots and tips are considered edible, there’s no way foraging would make a dent in this overgrowth! Nor would the summer’s crop of blackberries do much to improve the landscape.
At least once, I encountered greenbrier berries which I mistook at first glance for grapes. (Obviously I didn’t sample them … this is why we confirm our ID before sampling any wild foods!)
I did see grapes (Vitis spp.), but they were backlit against the sky so I skipped the photo.
I only encountered one lone multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), uncharacteristically crowded out by native species.
There were other familiar faces as well, such as the broadleaf plantain (Plantago major)…
… as well as wild carrot / Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) – confirmed by the carroty smell of the leaves, and the nearby presence of dried flowering heads from earlier in the season.
The previously mentioned logging stumps provided ample habitat for edible mushrooms. I’m still relatively new to foraging for fungi, so I only documented what I (believed I) saw, rather than actually harvesting anything.
Honey mushroom (Armillaria mellea). Several stumps offered clusters of honey mushrooms, some newly emerged…
…and other larger colonies that were past their prime.
Still, it’s important to note their location for a similar (maybe slightly earlier!) time next year.
Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus). I’m much more familiar with this fungus, but this particular specimen was definitely past its prime.
There was also evidence of where lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) had previously grown. Hard to say how long ago, but again, it’s worth keeping an eye on this spot.
Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor). More of a wild medicinal than edible, at least for how I use it to support my immune function. I guess you could eat fresh turkey tail, but I personally wouldn’t want to!
Non Edible but Still Cool
Concentric Boulder Lichen (Porpidia crustulata). It’s just cool looking!
What I Didn’t Find
I assumed – apparently mistakenly – that the ecosystem wouldn’t be so different from what I’ve experienced in the central MD area. But I saw no sign of:
- Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
- Black cherry (Prunus serotina)
- Pawpaws (Asimina triloba)
- Persimmons (Diospyros virginiana)
- Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
- Hazelnuts (Corylus americana)
These trees and shrubs represent some of my “core” foraging expertise, so I felt out of sorts when I couldn’t locate any of them!
Black walnuts (Juglans nigra). There were no black walnuts anywhere – despite their prevalence in the surrounding areas – though I think I know why. A large but crooked log lay on the ground near this stump, and I suspect the loggers left that piece because it wasn’t straight enough for lumber. The log turned out to be walnut, suggesting this stump probably was as well. All the black walnut trees may have been removed by the loggers. I didn’t even find black walnut saplings.
Other items which grew in the area, but had no specimens on the property included cattails (Typha spp.) as well as milkweed (Asclepius syriaca). Oh and the ever-invasive species autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)…
Vigilance will be required to keep these two particularly aggressive non-native species at bay! Luckily there are very tasty ways to do so!