• F.H. King

Foraging Round 2

Hello everyone! After a somewhat successful, but incredibly fun first forage, I am hooked on the process and here to fill you in. If you did not read my first post, my name is Chris and I am an amateur forager; I am going to be blogging all my adventures so we can learn together and have some fun.

And we're off...

On an another beautiful day, my friend Greg and myself were out taking in the curious patterns of the sunshine, rain and soil. It was a cold day, but this time Greg and I came fully equipped now that we had one full foraging experience on our belt. We began by harvesting a fair amount of spruce, pine, and cedar “tips” (the key is to pick the newer spring growth at the end of the branch because they tend to be more tender and flavorful).

Greg asked me if he could eat some of the spruce needle to which I replied, yes, but that he would likely derive no satisfaction from doing so; rather, the best way to prepare them would be to brew them into a tea at home with a cinnamon stick and some honey (I have a highly sophisticated pallet).

After happily packing our bags with conifer needles, we took a stroll down by the river. Immediately, we pointed out the hundreds of dead burdock branches (only just before, we had discovered that the notorious “burrs” originate from this common plant). Early spring is actually a fantastic time to dig out burdock taproots, but we weren’t in the mood to get down and dirty in the soil. Instead, we located an interesting looking, cone-shaped patch of furry red things on a hillside at about eye level.

Not long after carefully inspecting one, Greg pointed up, and there and behold stood hundreds of more patches at least ten feet above us. It didn’t take too long until we found our culprit: Sumac, or Rhus typhina as Sam Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest book stated.

Greg, quite eager to stick one in his mouth, frowned like a puppy being denied its treat when I informed him that they aren’t supposed to be harvested until dark red and fully mature in late summer. It also wouldn’t have been wise to eat something whose identity we weren’t completely positive with. In fact, it is an unsaid rule in the foraging community that “thou shall not eat something if they are not 101% sure of its identity.”

But as foragers, we are the bad-boys of the horticulture community. I mean look at this guy:


We plopped a few in our mouths and casually nibbled on this furry foreign substance, eagerly watching each other’s expressions for any sort of reaction.

It was pretty anticlimactic. No immediate seizures, no swelling of our necks, itchy throats, nor even a hint of distaste. In fact, it was not unlike swallowing a flavorless “puffball” from a dandelion seed. I later read that good sumac berries (as in those that are harvested in August and not early March), can actually be used for a wide array of purposes, including as a spice rub for lamb, fish, and chicken, as a tart herbal tea, and best of all as an ingredient for zesty red sumac lemonade! And no, there are definitely no health risks from eating it when it’s not ripe, although you may risk looking like an idiot while munching on a red furry plant along the trailside.

After this encounter, we came across a lone berry tree ornamented with miniature, shriveled up black berries (just to clarify, not actual “blackberries” but berries of the color “black”). A few yards away stood another scrawny tree with a few remaining berries of a light red hue. I told Greg that these looked exactly like the type of berries your mom would warn you from putting anywhere near your mouth because they would kill you on the spot.

So as I said, we're the rebels in nature so we had to give them a try.

Just kidding, the threat was just large enough to deter our watering mouths from gulping them down. I never actually found out what they were, although when I cut it open, it released a pretty acrid odor. It might’ve been a European highbush cranberry tree, but I guess I’ll have to wait until summer to test that out.

And with that, our second foraging adventure was over. We weren't rediscovering sliced bread, but it was still more exciting than the first time.

It's all about learning and having fun and Greg and I did just that. We found some cool stuff, tasted some treats and got fresh air. What more could you ask for?


Plants Found:

  1. Sumac - Rhus typhina

  2. Burdock - Arctium minus

  3. Garlic mustard - Alliaria petiolata

  4. Highbush cranberries - Viburnum trilobum

  5. White spruce - Picea glauca

  6. Eastern white pine - Pinus strobus

  7. Eastern redcedar - Juniperus virginiana

Also, if you want to follow more closely along on my journey, follow @kristofursun on Instagram