• F.H. King

Shoes are for Posers (Foraging Round 3)

Hello everyone! Not going to lie, I feel like some of you don't think I'm going to continue foraging since my success has been less than stellar so far. But guess what, I'm addicted. I'm not stopping now and neither are these blogs. I am here to lead all the amateur forages through the woods and to the gardens of victory. Alright, let's get this next one rolling!

All I can say is, What. A. Day.

Until the day before, I had no idea that "Havenwoods State Forest" even existed. Although you don’t necessarily need a “state forest” or “natural park” to forage wild plants, we figured that our chances as amateur foragers would be much higher in a wild open park like Havenwoods.

The landscape at first glance was pretty barren, essentially a stereotypical grassland with trees scattered along the edges. Almost by instinct, Greg and I felt the urge to abandon our shoes and roam the land with our bare feet. It was incredible. No boundaries between us and the soil.

For those of you who aren’t aware, cattails are those brown, furry, hot-dog things you see on top of long, tapering, green leaves by any swamp, marsh, or pond you pass by. Most people have passed by one in their lifetime, but I doubt that many of them know that you can use cattail pollen and rhizomes to make muffins, bread and other baked goods.

That said, Greg and I quickly found ourselves knee deep in the chilly water wading around in search of cattails to harvest. The first one I attempted to pull out was more challenging than I expected. The ground was still in the process of thawing from winter, so the rhizomes (horizontal stem underneath the cattail shoot), were still quite embedded in the soil.

After enough tries, I had my first cattail out of the ground and in my hands. Dangling from the bottom of the cattail was a murky mess of roots, and I just barely managed to pull out what I thought was the rhizome. Tossing the rest of the cattail aside, I vigorously scrubbed the rhizome and what was left was a spongy glob of cream/brown colored root with several smaller roots protruding from its sides.

"So do you just eat it like that?” Greg commented, staring intently at the squishy rhizome in my hand. Once again, I told him that it would require at least a few more steps before the rhizome became a usable form of flour, although it wouldn’t kill him to take a bite if he really wanted.

Fortunately, we resisted eating it right then and there, but we did harvest a few more just in case. We found that many of them were rotten, which we could tell by the oozy mud that drizzled out of the core as opposed to the firm, healthy core that a living rhizome would have.

Momentarily fatigued, Greg and I sat down on the grass and just observed the land around us for some time. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves hovering over an intricately patterned green leaf formation.

Instinctively, we felt the urge to dig it up, and so we did. Five minutes later, we found ourselves holding a massive eight inch long taproot with a pleasant carrot-like scent to it.

After brushing the dirt off, our hunch that it was a wild carrot became more of a “calculated guess.”

We rummaged through our three foraging books, all by Sam Thayer, for wild carrot along with any other plant that resembled it. Eventually we narrowed down our options to wild carrot, wild parsnip and poison hemlock. I was almost 100% sure it wasn’t poison hemlock, because poison hemlock doesn’t give off a “carroty” smell. I also didn’t consider the possibility of it being parsnip, frankly, because I had never eaten parsnip and because I wanted it to be a carrot. To our satisfaction, there were more carrots in the area. Hundreds of them at least. Careful not to overharvest one particular area, we dug out numerous more around the park, washed them in the marsh, and marched out of the park with a large grin on our faces.

Back at home, I tested out my hypothesis by boiling a small chunk of a carrot to eat. The next day, seeing I hadn’t gone to the hospital in the middle of the night, I decided to cook up the rest of my batch and serve it to my whole family!

It wasn’t until two weeks later that an unexpected rash on my toe forced me to reconsider my find. After hours of deliberation and squandering, I admitted to myself that indeed we had probably harvested parsnips.

Luckily for us, the parsnip taproot itself isn’t dangerous to eat; however, if one finds themselves in ideal conditions, the juice of the plant will interact with sunlight and form a highly itchy and blistery rash that can leave scars for years.

Lesson for today: don’t walk around barefoot in a landscape you’re unfamiliar with. Or do so. Live life and have fun.

What. A. Day.

Plants Found:

  1. Wild parsnip - Pastinaca sativa

  2. Wild carrot - Daucus carota

  3. Cattail - Typha latifolia

  4. Thistle - Cirsium spp.

  5. Garlic mustard - Alliaria petiolata

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