Foraging in Minnesota: Wild Strawberries

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If you’re itching to get out and pick some wild berries this year, I have good news for you: the strawberries are in. They won’t be for long and they won’t offer the volume of picking as later berries, but they’re still worth pursuing.

It’s my opinion that wild strawberries are a good way to get kids interested in foraging, or at least engage them in conversation about where food comes from. For one thing, wild strawberries are very tasty; they’re typical of wild berries in that they’re smaller but have much more flavor than their cultivated counterparts. Another reason is that most any kid should recognize a wild strawberry as something they already know as food, and putting that berry in their mouth directly from the plant is a special way to connect with the natural world.

Fragaria spp.

Minnesota is host to two similar wild strawberry species, Fragaria virginiana and Fragaria vesca. Differentiation between the two species is not generally important. F. virginiana appears to thrive in sunny, dry locations, whereas F. vesca is known as the “Woodland strawberry,” and reportedly tolerates more shade and moister soils. Botanists agree that telling the difference between the two will require fairly acute inspection and will not make the berries taste any sweeter.

Leaves are very recognizable, arranged in groups of three. They are regularly toothed with strong veins. Leaf shape seems to vary somewhat in my experience, ranging from oval to elliptical to somewhat ovate. Still, there aren’t many things that resemble them so close to the ground, and a strawberry is unmistakable when you taste it.

Strawberries are famous for colonizing new ground with vigor. The stolons (runners) of our wild strawberries are reddish (sometimes bright red) and will sometimes shoot out quite a distance from the parent plant. While cruising the woods or prairies, it’s the stolons that will usually catch my eye, causing me to stoop and look for a quick treat.

Wild StrawberriesWhere to Look

It’s hard to nail down exactly where wild strawberries will be found. It seems like they’re almost everywhere, especially between the two species. In the woods (F. vesca), just keep your eyes peeled. F. virginiana seems to do well out in the open when it doesn’t have to compete with vegetation that’s too tall or thick. All the same, there are some hotspots I’ve found in the sunny places:

Edges of lawns can be good, and similar places that see only occasional mowing.

Sandy beaches and lake margins where it seems other things have trouble growing.

Restored prairies in sandier soils will often host patches, especially around the perimeter.   

What to Make

If you’re planning on picking enough to make jam, let me know how that goes. Otherwise, it’s best to plan on having only a small amount- the berries themselves are famously petite. They would be good with some yogurt and/or granola. Perhaps also good added to muffins, but I’m no baker. Personally, I prefer eating them “bear” style: right where I find them.

 

Foraging in Minnesota: Ostrich Ferns

Read More Foraging fiddleheads

The Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) seems to be gaining in popularity among foragers, if mentions in social media are any indication. Posts about “fiddleheads” are becoming more and more common this time of year. Also apparent in the social media soup is how much confusion there is when it comes to knowing which species are edible and how they are identified. 

Some people- a proportional few- are vocal in their opinion that the Ostrich fern is not the only edible fern in Minnesota. While that may be true for sometimes complicated reasons, I will not subscribe to that school of thought. Allow me to explain why.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Ostrich Ferns”

What to Fix: Recipes for Ramps

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Ramps are special, and the season is short. For some foragers, it’s the taste of Spring, and they wouldn’t miss it. I’m not that fervent, but I do like them nonetheless. This year, I made a point to branch out and do more than scrambled eggs with ramps. Now, I’m no chef, so don’t expect any groundbreaking ideas or recipes here. My perspective is that of an avid forager and great fan of trying new things. Continue reading “What to Fix: Recipes for Ramps”

Foraging in Minnesota: Ramps

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Once again, I blame social media. For what, you ask? For the ridiculous fame that ramps seem to be “enjoying” nowadays. Of course, people have known about ramps for a long time, even holding spring festivals for them in parts of the eastern U.S. where they used to grow prolifically. I say “used to” because it is well known that wild ramp populations are hurting. Because of that, they really don’t need any extra harvest pressure. Every foraging group I subscribe to on Facebook, however, is currently experiencing Ramp Mania. Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Ramps”

Foraging in Minnesota: Black Cherry

Read More Minnesota black cherry

I’m sure you’ve heard of “black cherry,” either as a flavoring or as a type of wood. For me, the name evokes a certain flavor of candy. But did you know it’s a harvestable fruit here in Minnesota? Yes, it is. And this year’s harvest was outstanding. 

I’d been waiting several years for a good crop of these cherries- perhaps 4 or 5. They were not something I went out of my way for, but I usually checked on a couple different trees at least once toward the end of each summer. Well, this year, it was clear conditions were somehow just right. Branches were full of green clusters by July all over in my area.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Black Cherry”

Do Something New: Smelt Netting

When I was growing up in the ’80s, the smelt boom on Lake Superior was already over and fading into collective memory, becoming legend. “Smelting” in its heyday was something everybody knew about and a great many rushed to the rivers to partake in. Nowadays, it’s almost exclusively a “used to” activity; you might have heard it too: “we used to go up there and fill up a barrel with smelt in half an hour.” In recent years, however, I’ve learned that the smelt still run and a select few still pursue them. 

Last Wednesday, I bought a smelt net from a guy on Craig’s List for 10 bucks. The next day I headed for Lake Superior with that net, hip waders, a 5 gallon bucket, what little information could be gleaned from the internet regarding current conditions, and a whole lot of hope. The plan was to start up the shore after sunset, and work my way down if I found nothing. The first stop was the booming metropolis of Knife River.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Smelt Netting”

Do Something New: Tapping Maple Trees and Making Syrup

Read More Minnesota maple basswood forest

When you try something new, sometimes it doesn’t go so well. A week ago, it was looking like I wouldn’t see so much as a drop of maple sap coming out of my taps. There was more than a foot of snow on the ground, and although the temperatures seemed perfect, nothing was happening. I didn’t know the first thing about how to make maple syrup, not to mention all the nuances regarding the tree tapping and sap collection along the way.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Tapping Maple Trees and Making Syrup”

What to Fix- Chokecherry Recipes

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Believe me, I’ve been there too. You find yourself in the presence of an abundance of some kind of foraged treasure- perhaps for the first time– and you collect more than you know what to do with. Most of the time these things can be preserved, and we can decide to do with it all later. For some reason I always seem to envision this taking place on a January day that’s so nasty I can’t even go ice fishing. 

Anyway, the time to decide what to do with all those chokecherries has come. If you’re like me, you’ve made a couple batches of pancake syrup and/or jelly, but there are still several bags of berries waiting down in the basement freezer. The good news is, chokecherry syrup and jelly are unique and tireless, at least in our house (I believe every forager owes it to themselves to at least try the pancake syrup). The better news is, you don’t have to restrict yourself to syrup and jelly; if you use your imagination a bit and have the patience to endure a little trial and error, there are lots of uses for your purple tree caviar.  Continue reading “What to Fix- Chokecherry Recipes”

My Public Lands: 2018

After the Public Lands Day rally at the state capitol rotunda last year, it seemed like a good idea to keep track of my public land usage until the next rally rolled around. I normally visit a lot of state and federal public lands throughout the year, but never kept a record, and so never really knew the extent of my own personal use. My mission to document my outings proved not only enlightening, but also spurred me on to go new places and try new things. 

The following is a visual representation of my visits- as well as my varied activities- on Minnesota’s public lands since last April. You may notice that not every single day or visit is represented by a photograph. For instance, some photographs represent an activity carried out on several different parcels, at noted. Likewise, some outings occurred on many different days, such as foraging in Chippewa National Forest and George Washington State Forest throughout the summer and fall. I only wish I had remembered to bring my rally sign with me every time; regrettably, there are some gaps in coverage. 

Our public lands, as you can see, are important to me throughout the year for camping, fishing, hunting, foraging, educating my children, and much more. If you are so inclined, please consider joining the Public Lands Day rally at the Minnesota state capitol February 7th, at 3:00. Thanks, and get outside. 

C.C. Andrews State Forest, Kettle River

Sucker fishing and camping, Cloquet Valley S.F. and CC Andrews S.F., April 2018 Continue reading “My Public Lands: 2018”

Foraging in Minnesota: Chaga

Read More Drying chaga

If there was a beauty contest for fungus, I know one that would probably come in last: chaga. Resembling a black scaly scab on the wound of a birch tree, there is really nothing attractive about it. But for every point it loses for its ugliness, it makes up for in medicinal qualities. Well, that’s the reputation it has, anyway. It has quite a following among select foragers. However, that could possibly be chalked up to a lack of other things available to gather through the cold months. 

Inonotus obliquus

Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Chaga”

Foraging in Minnesota: Cranberries

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The fourth Thursday of November is still more than a month away, but now is the right time to go out and find that Thanksgiving staple: the cranberry. Didn’t know cranberries are growing wild in Minnesota? You’re definitely not alone. Yes, wild cranberries are fairly widespread in our great state, and with a little patience, a person can harvest enough to get a good taste.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Cranberries”

Foraging in Minnesota: Maitake

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Whether you call it Maitake, Hen of the Woods, Sheepshead, or just Bill, Grifola frondosa is a sought-after mushroom. It doesn’t seem to get the hype that morels and others do, but it is, in my opinion, one of the best tasting, most versatile, all-around great mushrooms. I get downright giddy when the summer is coming to a close and I can start checking my favorite spots. Throughout the season, I see a lot of excitement on social media over some really mundane mushrooms like Pheasant Back and Chicken of the Woods; frankly, I don’t get it. Maybe taste and texture don’t matter as much to other people. Don’t get me wrong; I eat those too when I find them. But for me, there are few mushrooms I’d rather find than Maitake when I head out the door. Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Maitake”

Foraging in Minnesota: Wild Hazelnuts

Read More wild hazelnuts

Minnesota is host to two varieties of wild hazelnuts: American (Corylus americana) and Beaked (Corylus cornuta). The Beaked hazelnut grows mainly in the Appalachian and Northeast states, the western Great Lakes region, and West Coast states. The American hazelnut’s natural habitat is exclusively east of the Rocky Mountains, mainly from Minnesota to Maine and south to Arkansas and the Carolinas. They occupy slightly different ranges and habitats in Minnesota, but are both widespread and can often be found growing side by side. Their seeds- a bit smaller than the commercially grown european variety- are eaten by gallinaceous birds (grouse, turkeys, etc.) and especially squirrels, chipmunks, and mice.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Wild Hazelnuts”

What To Forage

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Click on links to view full articles:

  • Foraging in Minnesota: Wild Strawberries
    If you’re itching to get out and pick some wild berries this year, I have good news for you: the strawberries are in. Wild strawberries are a good way to get kids interested in foraging, or at least engage them in conversation about where food comes from.
  • Foraging in Minnesota: Ostrich Ferns
    The Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is gaining in popularity in the foraging community. Learn how to identify and cook this springtime treat.
  • Foraging in Minnesota: Ramps
    Spring kicks off the foraging season. Ramps are popular and a delicious addition to many meals this time of year. Allium tricoccum and Allium burdickii are similar but separate species. Minnesota is host to both, but A. tricoccum is by far more common.
  • Foraging in Minnesota: Black Cherry
    I’m sure you’ve heard of “black cherry,” either as a flavoring or as a type of wood. For me, the name evokes a certain flavor of candy. But did you know it’s a harvestable fruit here in Minnesota? Yes, it is.
  • Do Something New: Tapping Maple Trees and Making Syrup
    This year I tried tapping maple trees and making maple syrup in Itasca County, in northern Minnesota. I had to learn how to make maple syrup, but it was worth the time and effort.
  • Foraging in Minnesota: Chaga
    Foraging for chaga in Minnesota is getting popular among foragers. Know where to find it and how to prepare it as chaga tea. Inonotus obliquus has been known for hundreds of years as a medicinal fungus; do yourself a favor and give it a try.
  • Foraging in Minnesota: Cranberries
    Minnesota is host to two different varieties of wild cranberry: Vaccinium macrocarpon and Vaccinium oxycoccos. They can be found in the many swamps and bogs in northern and eastern Minnesota, and much of that is on public lands.
  • Foraging in Minnesota: Maitake
    Grifola frondosa is a sought-after mushroom. It doesn’t seem to get the hype that morels and others do, but Grifola frondosa is one of the best-tasting, most versatile, all-around great mushrooms.
  • Foraging in Minnesota: Wild Hazelnuts
    Wild hazelnuts are like a smaller version of the cultivated varieties, and Minnesota is host to both the American and Beaked hazelnuts. Know where and when to look for them, as well as how to identify them in the field and what to do with them.
  • Foraging in Minnesota: Chokecherries
    Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) are widespread in Minnesota, as well as northern and western United States. Their flavor, once extracted from the heavily-pitted fruits, is unique and delicious.
  • Foraging in Minnesota: Thimbleberries
    The Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) is native to Minnesota, but is not necessarily abundant. Closely related to the raspberry, it tastes somewhat similar, but has its own unique flavor and charm.
  • Foraging in Minnesota: Chanterelles
    Along with morels, hen of the woods, and a few others, chanterelles are one of the most popular mushrooms for foragers in Minnesota. Their mild, sweet flavor is very desirable in the kitchen, however there are several look-alikes which need to be avoided.
  • Foraging in Minnesota: The Early Season, Part 1
    The Minnesota spring foraging season offers much more than just morel mushrooms. Fiddlehead ferns (ostrich ferns), ramps, pheasant back mushrooms, greens, and more are all widespread and available for the taking.