recently asked me to write a blog about the rules around foraging in public
places. What a great idea! Since most of
my foraging happens in Polk County, WI, that’s where my focus will be for this
When I think
about “Public Land”, I think of 4 categories: Federal, State, County, and
Municipal. Each category has slightly different
rules about foraging, so let’s break it down.
In Polk County,
we have the National Park Service area along the St Croix River, and various
tracts of US Fish and Wildlife areas south of Highway 8. Perhaps there are other Federal Lands too,
these are the ones I’m aware of.
Here is a link that outlines specific rules about activities on National Park Service land along the River, including foraging: “Visitors are allowed to harvest and eat berries and mushrooms in the Park, but collecting freshwater mussels, mussel shells or wildflowers is prohibited.”
In a State park, Forest, Natural Area or Trail in Wisconsin we can pick edible fruits, edible nuts, wild mushrooms, wild asparagus and watercress for personal consumption. I will add that we can pick edible invasive plants as well – things like garlic mustard, feral parsnip, and hybrid cattail. This link has a list of state lands in Polk County.
Polk County Parks, Trails and Forests have pretty much the same foraging rules as State Lands, above. There are presently no policies written down, but the kind county forester that I spoke with said that respectful harvesting of wild edibles for personal consumption would be considered legal.
This link has a list of Polk County parks and trails. You’ll notice some of these are also in the State Land list – that’s because some parks and trails are jointly owned/managed by DNR and the county.
I debated about calling up all of the Polk County villages and cities to see what they had to say………but I got lazy and didn’t, lol! My advice here is to call your local village/city office and ask if it’s alright to pick mushrooms and wild edible plants from the parks in town, and then also ask if herbicides/pesticides are used in any of the parks as well. I imagine each village or city will have different rules.
So there you have it. Go forth and forage, my friends.
One recent morning, my husband Dan and I were talking about a spot on our 40 acre property. He was explaining to me how to get to this particular spot: “You walk along the Ridge Trail (we have names for the trails and even some of the more distinctive trees on our property) almost to the Meadow (a clearing in the woods that you can’t see from our house).
I interrupted, “Do you mean until you are parallel to the
Meadow?? because the Ridge Trail doesn’t
get close to the Meadow”.
“Um, yes it does”.
“Nope. Nope it does not”!
We then looked at an aerial photo of our property, where lo
and behold our Meadow was indeed very close to the Ridge Trail. How can that be?! Our 40 acre square looks so different in my
I must admit here that navigating through woodland is a skill that I am, um, well I don’t want to say ‘lacking’, so I’ll say ‘honing’ instead. I may have even gotten sort-of-lost in my own woods, once. A long time ago.
Why am I telling on myself like this?? Because I want to point out that We Don’t
Have To Be Good At Everything.
Though it seems reasonable to WANT to be good at navigating
through woodland when foraging for wild foods is your chosen profession, you
don’t HAVE to be.
What I lack in skill here, I have learned to make up for in rigorousness. (Is that a word? Yes, yes it is). I do what I CAN do, without getting lost, and I have some ‘rules’ that I’ve made for myself. Obviously, I could forage in fields and open places where it would be difficult to get lost……..but……I LOVE being in the woods! And that’s pretty much the only place you can find wild goodies like fiddleheads and morels. SO….here’s how I navigate:
I follow trails, and only leave the trail if I can still see it.
If the trail forks, I mark it somehow so that I’ll know which way to turn when I come back. See the photo at the top of this post? I took a few sticks and laid them out in an arrow shape in the middle of the trail so I’d be sure to see it, and take the correct trail.
I make mental notes about things that stand out – like a boulder that is heart-shaped, or a tree that looks like it has lips. When I’m heading back to my starting point, I can reassure myself along the way that haven’t gotten turned around.
I always tell someone where I’m going. Usually this ‘someone’ is my husband, Dan. That way, if I get myself in trouble and my phone doesn’t have service, he will at least know where to start looking if I haven’t returned in time for cribbage on Saturday morning.
You don’t have to be good at everything, so be good at what you DO know. Be fearless. And make a smart plan.
Herbcraft This is the work of Jim McDonald, a Michigan Herbalist. I love the humor and human-ness he brings to his excellent writing about all things herb-y.
Learning Herbs Rosalee de la Forêt writes prolifically about Food as Medicine, and publishes great recipes.
Eat the Weeds Green Dean lives in Florida, and surprisingly a LOT of the plants he writes about are here in Wisconsin, too.
Learn Your Land Adam Haritan lives in Western Pennsylvania, another area that has many plants that are also found in Wisconsin. He produces great videos with tons of super good information about wild edibles and mushrooms. I had a great opportunity to meet him this summer when he was traveling in Wisconsin, and I can say that he is every bit as animated and kind in person as he is in his videos.
Forager’s Harvest Sam Thayer is a Wisconsin native who is an avid Forager and Teacher. He and his wife Melissa have a store in Bruce, Wisconsin, right on Highway 8. They hold classes there and other places as well.
Forager Chef Alan Bergo is a Minneapolis based chef who specializes in using wild foods in his menu. I had to fun opportunity to take a class with him this fall, he is thoroughly entertaining and knowledgeable.
Edible Wild Food Karen Stephenson lives in Canada and writes a great blog with tons of plant information and recipes.
Grow Forage Cook Ferment Colleen Codekas lives in Southern Oregon and has a beautiful website packed with loads of rich information about living close to the land.
It’s Elderberry Syrup time! It’s been cold outside for many weeks now, and we’ve been indoors, mingling with family and friends, viruses and bacteria, so now is the time to boost up that immune system to ward off The Crud.
I LOVE taking those berries out of the freezer and inhaling the scent of summer when there is snow and ice outside. As I pour them into the kettle and simmer them with a bit of water, I think about the days I harvested them. One time was at a friend’s house – he had an enormous bush, heavy with berries that he wasn’t going to use this year. I picked over 10 pounds in a short while that day! And I made sure to gift him with some syrup. 😊
Another time I noticed a little shrub growing alongside theroad not far from my house….I’d never seen it there before. It was little, but there were lots of berries on it, and I actually got to them before the birds ate them all.
The fondest memory from this summer, though, is when I picked Elderflowers and then, later, Elderberries with some Good Friends. (You know who you are. 😊 ) I know that these warm memories fuel the healing energy in the syrup simmering away on my stove.
My recipe for Elderberry is SUPER simple. Equal amounts of frozen berries and water – I usually make it in batches with 2 cups of berries, 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and let it simmer for 30 minutes or so. Let it cool a bit, strain out the berries (give ‘em a squeeze so you get as much juice as you can), add honey to taste. That’s it. It’ll keep in the fridge for a few weeks…..but we use it every day, so it never lasts that long. If you wanted to keep it longer, just add some brandy.
Here are links to other Elderberry Syrup recipes you might enjoy, too.
Wintergreen is a tiny, low-growing plant which, as its name suggests, stays green all winter. This is a lovely plant to harvest in the winter, as those shiny green leaves and beautiful little red berries show up really well against a dusting of snow. I often find them under pine trees, so even if there is heavy snow cover, there tends to be less snow underneath pines, so I can still see that punch of color.
It’s tough to get enough berries to do anything with because I cannot resist eating them as I pick – they are deliciously minty! The leaves are strongly minty, too, and make a wonderful tea. I find it interesting that this plant is NOT in the mint family – it is in the same family as blueberries and cranberries. I’ve got a tincture made with the berries and leaves that I’m going to try using in some baking this winter. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Wintergreen often grows alongside and intermixed with Partridgeberry, and they are similar looking. In the picture below, you can see how the Partridgeberry leaves are smaller and rounder. The berry is more orange than red, and if you look close, you can see how the berry has two little depressions that makes it look like it has eyes. While Partridgeberries are edible, you’ll probably be disappointed like I was when I first ate them – they are tasteless. Not bitter, not sweet, not anything. Oh well, they are pretty.
In the very top left corner of this photo, you can see Wintergreen’s larger leaf photo-bombing this Partridgeberry shot. Oh, Wintergreen, I’ve got my eye on you!
Chaga is not a mushroom, though it is often included in mushroom books and referred to as Chaga Mushroom. Rather, it is a hardened mass of mycelium (the underlayer of growth that produces mushrooms). The proper term for this hardened mass is Sclerocium, and the plural is Sclerocia. See, that’s fun to say, isn’t it?
Chaga grows exclusively on Birch trees. Other trees have similar looking growths, and mostly those are Burls. Burls are an abnormal growth that is covered by bark, often caused by an injury or a virus. Chaga starts growing in the heart wood of the tree, and slowly pushes its way out through the bark.
Chaga is medicinal. It has been used medicinally for many years, and like many folk medicines, our science is slowly beginning to ‘prove’ it. It strengthens our immune system and even has some cancer fighting properties. Here are links to a couple of studies:
We don’t eat the chaga – it’s much to hard and woody. We simmer the chaga chunks or powder for a long time and then drink the ‘tea’. It tastes like coffee, but much smoother.
It can be harvested in the winter. In fact, it’s much easier to harvest in the winter-time because we can easily see the blackened outside part of Chaga against the white of the Birch without all the leaves in the way. Some people say we should ONLY harvest in the winter, but that’s just not true. There is no change in the medicinal value of the chaga in other seasons, and you won’t harm the tree by simply cutting the chaga off.
Here is a link to more detaily information about chaga by a fellow forager in Eastern Wisconsin. Enjoy!
Hubby and I were out looking for mushrooms on Thursday October 18 (which happens to be our anniversary – 38 years and counting!). I really wanted some Hen of the Woods to make jerky with, but….we got skunked. Well, not really, since we found a BIG Beautiful patch of Rose Hips. Look at how gorgeous these are!! Some of them were shriveled and dry, which is perfect because I’m going to dry them anyhow. If you have rose bushes, you might be in the habit of pruning faded rose blossoms to encourage more flowers, but if you leave them, you will see these small, berry-like seed balls.
I thought about making some jelly with some of these berry-like seed pods. It would be quite tasty….but….I don’t use a lot of jelly. I drink a LOT of tea, though, so that’s what will happen with this bunch. I’m going to put them in the dehydrator until they get crisp, then keep them in a glass jar until I’m ready to make a nice bright and tart and sunny-tasting tea, full of vitamin C. Good stuff for dark, cold winter months. These were hips from Wild Roses in Northern Polk County, and you can use hips from virtually any roses at all – wild, shrub, vines or cultivated.
Here’s what the inside of the Rose Hips look like. One thing to note here is the tiny, hair-like fibers that you can barely make out surrounding those seeds. If you want to make jam, pie, or anything that involves eating the entire berry, you will want to scoop those seeds out of the berry. Those hair-like fibers don’t break down in the digestive process and they cause itching and discomfort on the, um, tail-end of the process. You just don’t want that, trust me.
I have noticed that I find Wild Rose Hips near water – on the South Shore of Lake Superior; near Lake of the Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan, near McKenzie Creek in northern Polk County. They are out there right now, go get yours. 🙂
The chokecherries are ready to harvest! I don’t know why the birds haven’t gotten them all, but I’m glad! Last weekend, hubby and I harvested 25# of these beauties, most of which are bubbling into wine right now. We saved out a few pounds to make jelly and syrup with, too. They are delicious when cooked, but very astringent when you eat them raw. It feels like they suck the spit right out of your mouth, leaving it dry and feeling weird.
One of the ways to know you have chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) is to look on the leaf petiole (stem) to see if it has a couple of little glands – they look like tiny bumps, and you can see them here, just barely. Black cherries hang in a long cluster, just like chokecherries, and can be used interchangeably.
To make a syrup, I pull the little berries off the stems and put them in a pan with enough water to not-quite-cover them. I simmer until they get good and soft and I start seeing the pits floating around, then strain the pits out, keeping as much of the pulp as I can. (I like my syrup chunky….if you like it smooth, then you’ll want to use a finer mesh to strain just the juice). I’ll put the chunky juice back into the pan with an equal amount of organic sugar, then boil until I can’t stir it down. Cool and refrigerate. So far the syrup I made has lasted a week in the fridge, and I am going to freeze it soon. I’m using it to flavor my kombucha, and over ice cream.
Sheep Sorrel is a summer delight. Those interestingly shaped leaves – are they sheep heads with little tiny ears and big fat snouts? Or electric guitars? Or Arrowheads? Whatever they are, they are tart, tangy and delicious.
I rarely cook Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), though it can add a nice tang to soups and hot dishes. I prefer to eat it plain as a snack when I’m out in the yard, or else in my salads and smoothies.
Sheep sorrel grows in sunny spots, and I see it flowering along country roadsides everywhere. As a member of the buckwheat family, it has a tall flower spike with tiny florets adorning it. Unlike other plants, the leaves of Sheep sorrel stay tender and tasty even when it’s flowering. It is hardy, too – it grows in our yard and gets mowed down over and over again….only to keep popping back up, over and over again.
Advice from Sheep sorrel: When life mows you down, dig your roots deeper and come back stronger.
This is such a pretty little plant, and delicious, too. Chickweed (Stellaria media) is one of those nice wild greens that never gets bitter and can be good to eat all through the growing season. The flavor is mild and tastes like summer. I see it in a variety of places – alongside an old barn, out in a pasture, on the edge of the woods. The long, leafy stems like to lay down, but if they get crowded with other plants, they will grow upright.
At first glance, the Chickweed flowers look like they have 10 petals, but a closer look shows that there are really 5 deeply lobed petals. This is a common trait in the Pink family, which Chickweed belongs to. You might see a very small, sort of fuzzy plant that looks just like this, with the same kind of flower – that would be Mouse-ear Chickweed. That one is edible, too. Fuzzy food is not my favorite, so I just leave that one be.
I usually eat Chickweed raw in salads and smoothies. I’ll go out and snip some stems with a scissors, then pull the leaves off the lower, tougher end of the stem. The stem tips are usually tender enough to use.
I see you there, baby Chickweed, growing in my strawberry bed, lol!! It’s okay, you will make a nice ground cover, and since this is right out my back door, I won’t have to walk very far to pick some tender leaves for my salads.