Fall Foraging – Beginner’s Edible Mushrooms

At a time of year known for harvesting and for things that thrill and terrify us, it seems only appropriate to talk about edible mushrooms.  No doubt, if you’re like most of us, you’re harboring a healthy fear of wild mushrooms (and with good reason).  There are some very dangerous, and very lethal wild mushrooms.  Some of them kill you quickly but uncomfortably.  Some of them make your liver fail over the period of a couple of weeks.  And some of them just give you such severe stomach and intestinal issues that you might wish you’d eaten the lethal ones instead.  Mmm.  Makes you want to go right out and eat a plateful, doesn’t it?

You’re probably wondering why anyone would even want to attempt such a hobby.  For some, it’s the challenge that motivates them.  For us, it was a variety of reasons.

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Have you ever had a home grown vine-ripened tomato?  Would you agree that it’s not the same as a store bought tomato?  The same applies to most wild foods.  Wild strawberries and blueberries, for example, have intense flavor that makes the store-bought versions taste like water.  You could easily make the same comparison between button mushrooms and their wild brothers.  To validate that point further, many exclusive restaurants prize wild mushrooms for their gourmet entree’s.

Nutrition & Health

Many types of wild mushrooms are nutritional powerhouses with a surprising amount of health-giving properties.  Depending on the type of mushroom, they can be high in fiber, protein, Vitamin D, Iron, Niacin, Vitamin C, and compounds known for boosting immunity, lowering blood pressure, fighting cancer and even shrinking tumors.

Independence

While most of the food we eat is through traditional grocery supply chains, we like having at least some knowledge of how to find food outside of the system.   You’ll see a common thread throughout this blog of “eating wild” through fishing, catching crayfish, berry picking, mushroom hunting, and foraging for other wild edibles.  It probably seems strange to most, but there’s a certain satisfaction gained that comes from learning the age old practices of finding your sustenance at it’s natural source.

Fun 

Who doesn’t like tromping around in the woods?  Foraging gives you an excuse to do it.  Plus, there’s the sense of excitement and inevitable adrenaline rush that comes once you’ve discovered a treasure trove.  Even if you don’t find anything, or (more likely) you don’t find anything edible, you’ll still have had a wonderful day breathing the fresh air, exercising, and having a little reflection time in nature.  Pack along a picnic lunch to make it a banner outing.

The Key:  100% Certainty in the Mushroom Identification

There’s a saying among wild mushroom foragers:  “There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are NO old, bold mushroom hunters.”

The key is to make sure (100% sure!) that you’ve identified the mushroom you’ve found correctly.  If you’re not sure, don’t eat it.  Not even a little bit.  This takes a bit of work, and truthfully, 99% of the time, the mushrooms we find are inedible, poisonous, or else we just can’t be certain of it’s identification.  For those, back to nature they go.

We use a minimum of 3 different field identification guides, and often internet resources too.  Try to find mushroom guides that are specific to your geographical location. Learning how to take spore prints is an important identification tool also.  Many areas also have mushroom hunting clubs or tours.

Some of the more advanced mushroom foragers  use chemicals and microscopes. Admittedly, we’re not at that level.  I don’t know if we ever will be.  For now, we’re content to stick to the ones that are easy to identify and have low risk in terms of poisonous look-alikes.

3 Easily Identified Wild Edible Mushrooms

Early in the fall season, we were fortunate to find 3 amazingly delicious wild mushrooms while in Northern Ohio. (These are all fairly widespread across the continent, and even in other parts of the world.) Brace yourself.  None of these wild mushrooms will look even remotely like what you’re used to seeing at the marketplace.

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While available in higher end grocery stores, the taste is not the same as the fresh wild ones.  When harvested at their peak, they are tender and flavorful.  They remind me of seafood, and would make a lovely chowder. Or, simply use them as you would any mushroom in your favorite dishes.  They also make a delightful vegetarian version of calamari that’s much more tender than their tough and chewy squid counterpart.

Oyster mushrooms are reputed to contain the following:  Dietary Fiber, Protein, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Magnesium, Zinc, Manganese, Riboflavin, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Phosphorus, Copper and Potassium.

Look for Oyster mushrooms on deciduous trees that are dying, or on logs.  Do not eat oysters growing on conifers/evergreens, as they can be toxic.  Learn to identify the difference between Oyster Mushrooms and the potentially dangerous Angel Wings.

Maitake Mushrooms*

Maitake mushrooms have held a position of respect in the alternative medicine realm for some time, but are also a gourmet mushroom with strong nutritional contributions.  Also known as “Hen of the Woods” (not to be confused with “Chicken of the Woods”, see below), Dancing Mushroom, or by it’s scientific name Grifola frondosa.hen of the woods - maitake

Hen of the Woods mushrooms have a more substantial and almost gamey flavor, when compared to the more delicate flavor of oyster mushrooms.  They also will batter fry well, especially in a tempura style batter, and will add both nutrition and flavor to any dish you use them in.  I love them in stews, soups, and pasta dishes.  I’ve even tried them roasted in butter and honey, which was an odd pairing, but a delicious treat nonetheless.

Hen of the Woods/Maitake will usually be found in large clusters at the base of oak trees and maples.  They’ll be growing from the tree roots in the ground, near the base of the tree.  Often, there will be multiple bunches circling the tree.  This mushroom should have no gills.  If it does, it’s not a Maitake.  Use your field guides to be 100% certain of the identification.

It’s not uncommon for a single harvest to be 10 lbs. or more.  They seem to last longest in the fridge in brown paper bags, but you’ll want to plan to process them soon after harvesting.  Hen of the Woods wild mushrooms dehydrate well (clean them before dehydrating).  You can also sautee’ and freeze them.  These mushrooms are also a bit unique, in that you can freeze them raw (clean them and cut to size first).  Just be sure to take them straight from the freezer to the pan without thawing for best cooking results.  Maitake mushrooms also make nice pickles.

Maitake mushrooms boast 190% of your daily Vitamin D requirement per serving.  It also has a reputation for fighting cancer, diabetes, and boosting your immune system.

Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms*

While the names are similar, Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) is nothing like Hen of the Woods.  The only thing they really have in common is that they’re both gourmet finds that would make the finest chefs envious.  Named for it’s supposed chicken flavor, I found it to be decidedly different and delicately flavored; not mushroomy, but not like chicken either.  In addition to it’s delightful taste, it’s also visually appealing and retains it’s coral color after cooking.chickenofthewoods

**Tip: Don’t cook it much longer than the 20 minutes required, or it gets tough.

Chicken of the Woods contains potassium, Vitamin C, protein, Vitamin A, antioxidants, and compounds suspected of fighting bacteria and cancer.   I haven’t tried dehydrating, but is supposed to work with this mushroom.  I stuck with the traditional method of sautéing and freezing for later use.

For more information on Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms see: https://www.tyrantfarms.com/introducing-the-chicken-of-the-woods-mushroom-laetiporus-cincinnatus-et-al/

NOTE:  For all 3 of these types of mushrooms, it is best to stay away from any that are growing on evergreen trees (they can be toxic).

A Few Last Tips to Remember

  1. Once you’ve 100% identified the mushroom as edible, do not eat it raw.  Eating raw wild mushrooms can make you very sick.  Instead, cook the mushrooms at least 20 minutes. This breaks down the proteins that are otherwise very hard on your digestive system.
  2. Eat only a small amount the first time.  Some people have allergic reactions, so it’s best to take it easy at first.  Test a little, and see if your system is ok with it before eating a large quantity.  Although, it’s not advisable to eat a whole plateful of mushrooms regardless.  That can overload your digestive system also.  All things in moderation!
  3. Only take as much as you are prepared to process and use.  No need to be greedy.  Wild mushrooms don’t have a long shelf life, so you’ll want to be realistic about how much time you have to dedicate to cleaning, preparing, and cooking or dehydrating your find.  Again, take only as much as you can really use.  Be a pro, and leave some for nature, or for others to find.
  4. Take note of where you found the mushrooms and when.  As long as you’re careful when you harvest them (cut them above the surface of the tree and don’t dig into the tree), the mushroom organism should be fine to continue it’s job of breaking down the tree, and produce fruit (mushrooms) for several years.
  5. Share your recipes! 🙂

How to Cook & Eat Crawfish

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Crayfish are easy to catch and are a great source of protein!

It couldn’t be easier to cook up a tasty batch of crawfish.  You can pay a premium for them at a fish market, or just invest in a $25 crawfish trap and catch them yourself.

How to cook Crayfish:

Once you have a fresh batch, here’s the simplest way to prepare them:

  1. Place the crawfish in a large container and rinse them with fresh water until the water runs clear.

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    Wash the crayfish in clean water until the water’s clear

  2. Fill the container with water, and remove any crayfish that are floating.  (Their meat goes bad quickly when uncooked, which is why crawfish and lobster are cooked live.)
    ***Do not cook and eat any crawfish that were dead before you cooked them***
    Note:  as long as you’re cooking a fresh harvest, this won’t be an issue for you.  It really only matters when you’ve purchased crawfish that may not be as fresh, or have let your harvest sit a bit. (We keep ours on frozen “icees” in a cooler, and (so far) they’ve been fine for up to 36 hours.)
  3. Select a cooking pot that’s large enough to hold your harvest, with some room to spare.
  4. Place 4 or so inches of water in the bottom of the pot, add a little salt, and bring the pot to a rapid boil.
  5. Dump the crawfish quickly into the pot, reduce heat to a low boil, and cover the pot.
  6. Depending on how large the crawfish are, let the pot simmer for 8-15 minutes.  (overcooking them can make them tough and chewy though)
  7. Drain the water, and serve with melted butter.  Enjoy!

How to Eat Crawfish

How to eat crawfish, is a different matter.  It does require a bit of effort, and is messy… but worth it.  And, as long as you consider it entertainment and part of the fun, you’ll have a good experience!

  1. Have plenty of napkins available, and a bucket or bowl to place the scraps in.
  2. Select a cooked crayfish.
  3. Remove the tail by grasping the tail near where it joins the body.  Then just gently pull.  It’ll separate pretty easily.
  4. To get the meat out of the tail, just peel the shell off.  Dip the meat in butter and enjoy!  (if the “mustard” bothers you, you can always wipe that off)
  5. If large enough, you can also crack the shell and remove the meat from the claws.
  6. Toss the rest and the shell scraps into the bucket.
  7. Pick up another, and repeat!

If you have extra, you can refrigerate or freeze the cleaned meat.  Use the crayfish meat instead of shrimp or lobster in your favorite recipes.  Or, try some other crawfish recipe ideas that you might enjoy:

Crayfish Nutritional Value

There’s some good and some bad about eating crayfish.  The worst is that a single serving makes up 40% of the average daily recommended cholesterol allowance.

But on the positive side, they are surprisingly low on fat (1% of the average daily allowance).  They’re also a good source of protein (a 3 oz serving has 15g of protein).  The meat also contains potassium, calcium, vitamin B6, iron, magnesium, and a high amount of vitamin B12.

How to Catch Crayfish

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Freshly caught and cooked!  Crayfish are a tasty treat

Who would guess that crayfish would be not only fun to catch, but also make a tasty protein-rich meal!  This summer, we’ve definitely come to appreciate crayfish as a much neglected delicacy, and we’ll tell you exactly how we did it!

Truth be told, we didn’t even think about catching them until we browsed the Minnesota fishing regulations pamphlet.  As it turns out, with a fishing license, you can catch and keep up to 25 lbs of crayfish per person. (Picture 5 x 5lb bags of sugar.  That’s the weight of the max catch you’re allowed.  That’s a lot of crayfish!)  What’s more, the water quality in the lakes here on the boundary waters is some of the cleanest that you’ll find anywhere.  So it only made sense to try our hand at catching crayfish.

Here in the land of 10,000 lakes, we’re always around water, but you never really see crayfish, as they’re primarily nocturnal.  So, we weren’t sure how easy it would be to find them up here.  But, after listening to some swimmers concerned about something nipping at their toes in the water, we decided that our resort was as good a place as any to try.  And what do you know!  This area is loaded with crayfish!

 

Hunting? Trapping?  Fishing?  Whatever you want to call it, catching wild crayfish couldn’t be easier. We tried first with an old minnow trap that was here at the resort (see picture below).

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A basic minnow trap works ok.

I’m sure you’ve seen the type.  Basically two long tubes of wire netting, held together by a hinge and a clip.  At each end is a small hole that allows the crayfish (minnows) to enter.  We did harvest a good catch after just one night, but we weren’t impressed with the trap.  It seemed too easy for the little critters to get out.

 

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If you don’t want to get pinched – pick up the crayfish by the mid section (from behind)!

 

So, after some investigation, we settled on this trap (see below).  We ordered it on Amazon and had it in no-time.   We followed the same routine – same bait, same placement of the trap, same length of time the trap was out.  We’re pleased to see that this one yielded a better catch (and was easier to use).

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South Bend Wire Crawfish Trap

How to Catch Crayfish:

  1. Select a slow moving (and reasonably clean) body of water that you can easily access.  You want the crayfish trap to be able to rest on the bottom.
  2. Add the bait your trap. We used fresh fish carcasses (after we’d filleted them for the meat).  I’ve read that you can also use other things (like the trimmings from raw chicken) to catch crayfish, but haven’t tried them.
  3. Close and fasten the trap shut.
  4. Make sure you have a rope or line securely attached to your trap, and that the line is long enough so that the crayfish trap can rest on the bottom of the stream, lake, etc.
  5. Holding on to the loose end of the rope, toss the trap into the water.  Make sure the trap is resting on the bottom.  (We learned this the hard way:  if your trap is resting on a rock instead of on the bottom, the crayfish won’t find it.)
  6. Tie the loose end of the rope to a something sturdy that’ll mark the place and keep the trap in place (or you can fasten it to a buoy that’ll float and mark the place of your trap).
  7. Let the trap sit overnight.
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  8. Check it first thing the next morning by pulling the trap in.  Be sure to have a cooler or large bucket with a cover handy to put the crayfish in.  (You’ll also want a couple of frozen “icees” in the container, to slow the metabolism of the crayfish and keep them fresh until you cook them later in the day.)

Note:  It’s important to check the trap the next day, for a couple of reasons.  1) you want to harvest the crayfish before the bait runs out and they start looking for a way out of the trap. 2) unattended traps can sometimes “walk off.”  3) leaving a trap unattended is a bit thoughtless, as it can lead to injuring other animals.

Stay tuned for another post soon on how to cook and eat crayfish!

Foraging for Wild Blueberries!

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Wild Blueberries Ripening on the Bush

In northernmost Minnesota, wild blueberry season is just getting started. Soon there will be cars along the country roadsides, with hopeful souls scouring the hillsides.  They may very well be fortunate, as our unusually rainy summer seems to be making for a bumper crop.  Hunting for wild blueberries is so popular that it hardly seems like foraging.  Still, they’re well worth the wait, and the effort  Besides being amazingly tasty, these prized little gems are nutritional powerhouses.

Tips for finding blueberries:

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Wild Blueberries – These Aren’t Ripe Yet!

Blueberries love acidic soil and sunshine.  You often will find them on the edge of a forest clearing, on rocky hillsides, or in areas that have been exposed to forest fire.

Note: Lowbush Wild Blueberries grow pretty low to the ground, so be prepared to do a lot of bending over.  You’ll definitely be aware of your back muscles by the end of a day of picking.  Also, you can pick berries that are just nearly ripe.  They will ripen anyway.

Wild blueberries grow best in the northern states and Canada, but can be found elsewhere as well.  See:  US distribution map for (lowbush) wild blueberries.

A word of caution:  Be aware of your surroundings when foraging. Avoid areas that are “unclean” (such as dumps, roadsides, etc.).  Also, be warned that we’re not the only species that enjoys berries.  In particular, bears do love their wild berries too and can be protective of their food sources.  Just be alert and make some noise while berry picking (hum, talk out loud, cough, etc.) to alert any bears in the area of your presence.  (Surprising a bear’s never a good idea.)  If there is a bear there, it will likely leave the spot before you get there.  If it doesn’t, don’t challenge the bear – go find another berry cache!

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Found fresh bear poop in my secret wild blueberry patch.  I thought it looked like someone else had picked the berries already!

Update:  Today I discovered yet another bunch of critters that are protective of their wild blueberry patch: Ants!  My secret berry patch is covered with downed timber that’s in various states of degradation. I was surprised to find biting ants that relentlessly challenged me to the patches.  Being chased off by ants from a berry patch was a first.  But, I don’t feel too badly about it.  After studying one spot in particular, I could tell that a bear had recently tried foraging the same patch and was also run off in haste by the little mighty fighters.  Definitely something to be mindful of.

Lastly, when foraging (whether for wild blueberries or anything else), be respectful.  What does that mean?  Basically, don’t ruin the area for others.

  • Always leave a significant number of berries for nature to replenish itself.
  • Try not to trample the plants.
  • Leave no trace… don’t leave trash, cigarette butts, etc. behind.  It should look as pristine as you found it, minus some berries.
  • And of course, use your plant identification books to make sure you’re picking the right plant and not a poisonous look alike.

Nutritional Information About Blueberries:

Besides being a “superfood” that’s filled with a ridiculous number of antioxidants, studies are showing that blueberries:

  • contain multiple compounds that are strong anti-cancer agents, with the potential of preventing the spread of several kinds of cancer (including liver cancer).
  • supply nutrients to help strengthen your vision.
  • contain a compound that not only helps your skin defend itself from overexposure to the sun, but battles skin cancer.
  • help prevent your muscles from atrophying as you age.

Note:  If you’re foraging your wild blueberries, you’re getting the most organic version that you possibly can!  Why is this important?  Commercially grown blueberries are one of the worst offenders for retaining pesticides from their environment.  This puts store-bought non-organic blueberries consistently on the “dirty” list of harmful foods to avoid.  Organic and wild blueberries are healthful, however.  You just don’t get more natural than what God and nature provide.

Note:  While you’re at it, consider picking some of the blueberry plant’s leaves!  Air dry them, and store them in a dark, dry container for making homemade winter teas.  They contain a compound that helps reduce blood-sugar levels, as well as helps battle urinary tract inflammation.

Just for fun… Some out of the ordinary blueberry recipes:

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(Feel free to share your favorite wild blueberry foraging stories or recipes in the comments!)

Foraging Fun – Dandelions

One of the most common and most nutritious wild edibles is right under our feet!

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You’ve, no doubt, heard about dandelion wine.  But have you heard about all the other ways that you can use dandelions? Or about how amazingly nutritious they are?

Believe it or not, the very same weed that plagues your lawn was grown as a food (and medicinal) crop for centuries in Europe and Asia.  It was so important to the early colonists that they brought dandelions (on purpose!) with them to North America. As a result, dandelions became a staple food for many pioneers.  Later, they were a survival food during the Great Depression when food was scarce and expensive.

Now that food is so abundant, we think of them only as weeds.  But dandelions are actually are a tremendous blessing in disguise.

For starters, dandelions are a perfect plant for beginning foragers since the plants are so common and there are no poisonous look-alikes.  For any foraging that you do, please use at least one field-guide to make sure you’re identifying your plants properly.  Better yet, use two!  You’ll also want to avoid picking dandelions on treated lawns (to avoid eating the herbicides and pesticides).

While foraging is a popular trend these days, it’s always something I’ve been interested in.  And, even more so now that hubby and I have embarked on our new nomadic lifestyle.  We love the idea of being able to supplement our diets with locally provided truly natural foods!

Dandelion Nutrition Information & Uses:

Dandelion Leaves:

  • has more iron and calcium than spinach, and more beta carotene than carrots.
  • contain vitamins A, B1, B2, B5, B6, B12, C, D, E, K, biotin, potassium, zinc,  phosphorus, copper, manganese and inositol.

Harvest dandelion leaves for use in salads or as cooked greens (like you would spinach).  They’re tastiest when picked in either early spring (before the outside temperature gets hot) or late fall (after the first hard frost).  You’ll want to harvest leaves from plants that have not yet flowered or they’ll be tough and bitter.  Tea can be made from the leaves at any time in the season.

Dandelion Root is reportedly one of the safest and most popular home remedies.  The root decoction is a tonic that has a reputation for strengthening your whole body system.  It’s also known for cleansing and reducing swelling in the liver and helping to get rid of gallstones.  It helps with jaundice and indigestion.

Tea made of the root and leaves act as a gentle diuretic, helping your kidneys cleanse your blood and recycle nutrients (without removing the potassium from your system).

Dandelions are also supposed to be good for your bladder, spleen, pancreas, stomach and intestines.

The leaf’s white milky sap has a reputation for removing warts, moles, pimples, calluses and sores.  It’s also supposed to soothe bee stings and blisters.

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Dandelion roots can be harvested at any time, but are best when the plant is dormant (fall to spring).  Dandelions often grow in very close proximity to other plants, so just make sure that the root you take home is from the dandelion plant you identified. Use the roots in soups, teas, steamed,roasted or sautéed.

Dandelion flowers contain antioxidants.  They are the most tender when used early in their bloom cycle (when the petals are still yellow).  The flowers and blooms can be cooked in stir fries, pickled, battered and fried, an ingredient in bakery, to make a sunny tasting sweet syrup, or to make wine. If using the flowers, only use the yellow part of the flower (the green part is bitter).

Dandelion Recipes

I’m just getting started with dandelions, so we’ll have to take this adventure in recipes together.  So far, I’ve taken the easy route by mostly just using the greens in tossed salads.  I’ve also been enjoying a nice hot tea simply by steeping chopped dandelion leaves in hot water.

Most recently, I tried a simple Summer Cucumber Dandelion Salad.  It was very easy and tasty.  Just slice a cucumber into thin discs.  Place them in a bowl along with thinly sliced sweet onion (like Vidalia) and julienned dandelion leaves.   Stir in just enough sour cream or plain yogurt to make a dressing.  Salt and Pepper to taste. (See photo below.)

 

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Cucumber Dandelion Summer Salad Recipe

 

Here are a few other dandelion recipes that you might have fun with:

**If you have favorite recipes, please don’t be bashful!  Share them so that we can all enjoy them too!

Foraging Fun: Wintergreen

Foraging for the healthful abundance of natural foods that God & nature have provided for us has been an idea that’s fascinated me in recent years.  I have many books that I’ve read till the covers have worn thin.  I have a gazillion websites that I watch about it.

I’m reminded that one of the purposes of this simple living approach to life is to have more time for the things that we choose to do.  So, I think it’s high time that I stop reading about it, and get to it!

First, lets start with some basic rules for foraging:

  1. Always, always, always make sure you have a positive identification of a plant before trying to eat it.  Use a couple of different field identification guides to make sure you’ve properly identified the plant.  This is very important.  Some wild edibles have very poisonous “look alikes” that are not to be trifled with.  (I tend to stick to only plants that are easy to identify without any scary look alikes.)
  2. Be respectful and only harvest in areas that are legally allowed.  If it’s private property, ask permission first. Most property owners consider these plants weeds and are more than happy to have you harvest them.  Plus it gives them something funny to talk about with their friends!
  3. Avoid areas that have been treated with herbicides, chemicals, or that are right on a roadside.  You don’t want to consume plants that have been contaminated.
  4. Be respectful of nature.  Don’t destroy the patch or area around it to get what you want.  Don’t take more than you can realistically use.  Don’t take more than  20% of the patch (this allows nature to keep the patch going for future use).  And don’t take more than 1 leaf from any one plant (to let the plant continue to live and grow).

We’re in northern Minnesota for the summer, so for now, the wild edibles will be what I can find up here.  And they’ll be ones that I can easily identify.  I’ll share my experiences with them, and the recipes (if they turn out well).  Some of these edibles will be things that you’ll find in other part of North America also.

Wintergreen is a good place to start, primarily because it’s what I found on my hike the other day.

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Wintergreen, with a few other wild plants growing in close proximity.

Wintergreen has thick, shiny, leathery leaves that are slightly toothed.  The leaves are 1 to 2 inches long, and are clustered together at the top of a short but woody stem.  Younger leaves are yellowish-green.  Older leaves are dark green.  The entire plant is perhaps 6″ tall.  (The western states have a different variety of wintergreen called western wintergreen that grows as a tall shrub.)  Here’s a map showing the general area that creeping wintergreen grows in:  USDA Wintergreen Habitat Map

The red ripened berries hang under the leaves, and have a cross on the bottom.  Berries ripen in the fall, but winterover and are often still on the plants in the spring.

Wintergreen goes by many different names including checkerberry or tea leaf.  It’s an evergreen shrub that spreads by a complex root system (the plants in one area tend to be from the same root system).  Wintergreen loves poor and acidic soil.  It prefers clearings.  It is a cousin to blueberries and cranberries which also prefer the same soil and climate.

Please note that there are other plants that produce red berries that can grow in the same areas, so make sure you have a positive identification before eating them.  The best way to know for sure, is this:  pick a berry or leaf and crush it.  If it smells like wintergreen, it is.  If it doesn’t, toss it aside.

Wintergreen berries are very high in vitamin C.  Wintergreen is reported as being helpful for those suffering from arthritis.  Wintergreen was used by the American Indians for pain and fever.

For a refreshing trail nibble, nibble on a few.  Chewing on the berries or leaves will freshen your breath.  Supposedly it will also bring relief to irritated gums and canker sores.  You can successfully freeze the berries and leaves.

Don’t dry or dehydrate the leaves or berries – it changes the oil, and leaves them tasting very bland.  Steeping them in hot water for tea doesn’t work well either.

Also, unless you’re a trained professional, it’s best not to try to extract oil from wintergreen.  The extracted oil is extremely powerful and lethal even in small doses.  Don’t ever use wintergreen oil internally.  Avoid altogether if pregnant.

What can you do with wintergreen (besides freshen your breath or nibble a couple of berries)?

  • Make a fermented wintergreen tea that’s tasty and restorative.  Simply fill a glass jar with freshly picked and washed wintergreen leaves.  Cover with filtered water.  Cover the jar with a paper towel or other breathable fabric, and secure with a rubber band (keeps bugs and dust and such out).  Let it sit on the counter for 3 days.  As long as you didn’t use chlorinated tap water, you should see bubbles forming from the fermentation.  You can now strain out the leaves, and drink the tea (cold or warm).  If warming it, just barely warm it (do not boil), or you’ll ruin it.  It’s a very refreshing drink for a hot summer day.  Drink it warmed, and it’ll warm you up from the inside!
  • Make an extract (similar to vanilla extract that you buy at the store for baking, but that’s wintergreen flavored).  Use it for making cookies or candies, or flavoring drinks.  how to make a wintergreen extract
  • I haven’t tried this one, but here’s a recipe from another blog that used wintergreen berries to flavor muffins.
  • And a recipe of my own creation:  Cranberry Wintergreen Breakfast Cake (Gluten-Free)

Please share if you have other favorite recipes or uses for Wintergreen!  Happy foraging!

Cranberry Wintergreen Breakfast Cake (gluten free)

This gluten-free wintergreen recipe was a homemade experiment, but I like how it turned out. (It did also get good reviews from hubby and my co-workers at the seasonal resort we’re at this summer.)

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Cranberry Wintergreen Breakfast Cake Recipe (Gluten-Free)

Although, a bit crumbly, it’s a decadent breakfast cake using frozen wintergreen berries harvested in the wild.  Perfect for today’s overcast and chilly morning.

Mix in a large bowl:
–  2 1/2 cups almond flour
– 1/2 cup sugar (or sweetener of choice in proportion)
– 1 tbsp. baking powder
– 1/2 tsp salt

Add 6 tbsp. of cold butter, cut into thin slices.  Toss in the flour mixture, and using a pastry blender (or two butter knives side by side), cut in the butter until the largest pieces are the size of peas.

Add 1/2 cup cranberries (halved), and 2 tbsp. wintergreen berries (halved) and stir in until evenly mixed through.

In a separate container mix 1/2 cup whole milk with 2 large eggs until blended.  Add all at once to the dry mix, and stir until batter is thoroughly mixed.  The batter will be very moist, but should be able to hold it’s form somewhat.  If not, add more flour as needed.
Place on an ungreased baking sheet and form into a rectangle.

Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 -40 minutes, or until the top is firm to the touch.

Note:  This makes for a very mild and subtle wintergreen flavor. I intentionally wanted it as a subtle flavor, so that the bakery wouldn’t taste like toothpaste.  If you’d like it a bit stronger, add more wintergreen berries.

Also, I used wintergreen berries that were harvested in the spring (hold-overs from fall in the wild).  I don’t know if freshly ripe berries harvested in the fall would have a stronger flavor, so you may want to experiment a little.