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”

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: 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”

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”

Foraging in Minnesota: Thimbleberries

Read More Rubus parviflorus

August 2005, Isle Royale    My wife and I went ashore from the ferry as it stopped at Windigo. With half an hour until the ferry continued around the island, we went into the visitor center to get our book stamped and ask about what we might find on the trail. We learned about the wolves, moose, and thimbleberries. “Whatberries?” I wasn’t sure if I’d heard correctly. “Thimbleberries,” repeated the Park Service employee. She described the berry she was talking about, and sure enough, we found plenty over our 6 days of hiking the island.  Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Thimbleberries”

Foraging in Minnesota: Chanterelles

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The young jack pines were thick and visibility was limited where my dog and I searched for the elusive spruce grouse. Lush green moss covered the ground and made for easy walking. All at once, my eyes were drawn to a handful of bright yellow spots off to my left; they glowed on the dark moss, almost as if lit from within. I knew instantly they might very well be the other prize I was looking for: chanterelle mushrooms. Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: Chanterelles”

Foraging in Minnesota: The Early Season, Part 1

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It can be hard to believe, but we are not much more than a month from the beginning of foraging season here in Minnesota. Probably everyone has at least heard of the morel mushroom, but few know of the other treasures to be found in the spring. It is too early for fruits of any kind, so the early season is all about greens and the first mushrooms. Continue reading “Foraging in Minnesota: The Early Season, Part 1”