Many of us are soaking in the beauty that autumn colours gives us this time of year and the hiking weather is generally perfect with fresh crisp air to enjoy. Depending where you live, autumn also can bring a feeling of sadness as many of the wild plants we love to forage wither away.
There are many foraging opportunities still out there so it isn’t time to pack away your tools for the season – not quite yet! Keep out your shovel, trowel and knife because this is primo time for root collecting and perhaps some fungi.
Depending on where you live you may have missed out on some of these edible fungi but some of these are still out there even in the more northern areas of Canada.
When foraging for fungi NEVER eat anything that you cannot identify with 100 percent certainly. To be on the safe side, all fungi collected in the wild must be cooked – never eat raw. If you are trying a mushroom you have never consumed before start off by eating one – you need to be sure you have no reaction before having a serving size.
Some people are not careful when identifying fungi and the land up in hospital. Even if you think this cannot happen to you, always keep one fungi in the fridge so in the event you made an identification error and have to seek medical attention, the doctors can be given that fungi so they know how to best help you.
Shaggy Manes (Coprinus comatus): This mushroom often fruits where the ground is hard packed such as along trails, in fields and even along less travelled roadsides. Interestingly, the gills are packed together so tightly that the spores cannot be dispersed into the air. Instead the cap digests itself into an inky dark liquid that contains the spores and insects visiting the mushroom get the job of transporting the sticky spores to new locations.
Wood Blewit (Lepista Clitocybe) nuda): Wood Blewits are bluish/violet when they are young. The cap surface loses its blue or violet colouration and turns ochre or tan from the centre; however, the gills and stem retain some of their colouring even when fully mature. They grow in wooded areas.
Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphurous): These fungi grow in large clusters of brackets arranged in a shelving or rosette formation on dead or living oaks, although they may occasionally colonize other host species. The brackets themselves can approach 30 cm across, and are typically fan-shaped to semicircular or irregular.
Turkey Tails (Trametes versicolor): These are found primarily in forested areas on dead logs or stumps. There has been quite a bit of research done on these for their medicinal value as adjunct cancer treatment including colorectal cancer and leukemia. Turkey tails are used as tea not ‘food.’
Birch Polypore (Piptoporus betulinus): This is a round to kidney-shaped bracket fungus that grows from a single lateral attachment point on the trunks of dead birch trees. It has a tough, smooth tan/white upper surface that cracks and turns grayish with age, an incurved margin, and a white pore surface. It is readily identified as it grows exclusively on birch trees although it can grow on other wood if artificially inoculated.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus): The interior of chaga is yellow (amber) to yellow/brown often with some bits of white mixed in and is moderately hard with a somewhat pebbly, corky texture. The outer surface is dark brown to black, very hard, with a deeply cracked texture – like a horrible scab. It can be brittle with pieces easily rubbing or falling off.
This is a good time to get out there and collect the roots of plants that are still green and look relatively healthy. Primarily this would be dandelions and thistles. Oh course you will need gloves to protect your hands when collecting thistle root.
Roots should be dried first (dirt will fall off as it dries-any leftover earth can be brushed off). Once thoroughly dried, store in mason jars or brown paper bags and keep in a dark area.
Burdock Root Collecting
It is prime time in October and November to be collecting burdock root (first year only)! It is easy to tell the difference between year one and year two – year one does not have a stem. The reason we harvest year one is because all the nutrients and energy of the plant returns to the roots in the autumn. If you miss harvesting in the autumn you can collect roots in the spring before the stem develops!
Burdock roots contain a significant proportion of inulin which is a soluble dietary fibre – a prebiotic. It is a blood purifier.
Burdock root contains loads of minerals and vitamins as well as good amounts of electrolyte potassium (308 mg or 6.5% of daily-required levels per 100 g root). Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure.
You can eat burdock roots raw (like a carrot) but are typically cooked. Cut them into batons then stir fry them or slice thin then add to a stew or soup. Make a health nourishing tea – use any unused as to make rice!
For storing burdock root long term it is best to cut the root up before it dries because once dried it will become too difficult to cut and will need a saw. Dry the roots on a screen and the dirt will fall off as it dries – any leftover dirt can be brushed off. Once thoroughly dried, store in mason jars or brown paper bags and keep in a dark area.
Word to the wise – when harvesting use a shovel because the roots are huge; a trowel is no good.
So there you have it! Lots of harvesting opportunities are to be had; just dress for the weather and enjoy the fresh air – you’ll be glad you got out there!