Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fishing & Forage

The Turtle and I made our way to Spencer Lake for a morning of fishing this past week. We didn't catch any fish. After 3 hours of sitting around with virtually no interest from the fish we set out into the field for a bit of foraging.

Please, if you are going to forage for wild food, do your own research. Don't take my word here as bible on what is safe for you or your family to eat.

To the left are some of the interesting things we found out there - most but not all of them edible. Starting in the upper left we found some hickory nuts. I has spotted these on a recent hunting excursion and took a few home to identify. There are 5 varieties of hickories in Ohio, 4 of which are edible. The non-edible one distinguishes itself with 4 bony spines along the nut shell. They have a green husk that rots to black, and the husk segments into 4 sections as it dries. Although the ground was littered with old nuts, most appeared to have been from the previous year and wouldn't yield anything edible. We did score a couple dozen newly fallen nuts. I discovered that you can smack them on top with a kitchen mallet and the husk will split off of the shell readily.

Just west of the hickory nuts are an old favorite - black walnuts. We had a monolithic walnut tree growing next to our house growing up which would dump its bounty onto the roof every fall. The sight and scent of these is unmistakable - round green husks with a pungent almost pine-like smell.

Down from there is a little plant we discovered near the shores of the river. It had thorns and small yellow fruits, a few which were ripe. I broke a fruit open and it had the scent reminiscent of a green pepper or tomatillo. I took this sample back with me for identification. Thanks to the OSU Weed Guide I identified the plant to be horse nettle. It is a relative plant to the tomato, tomatillo, ground cherries, etc. but it is not edible! Lucky thing my mom was there with me to constantly tell me, 'don't put that in your mouth.' I imagine I must have been a handful growing up!

Left of that we have another plant we had not previously discovered in our foraging. Mom asked me about cattails which we saw. I reached over to pull a dead one up to show her the part of the root where the starch is stored. When I stepped near the bank I evoked an herbaceous scent. We poked around until we found the source - field mint! I had never tasted this variety of mint before. It is pretty readily identifiable by the ring of light purple flowers which ring the stem, and the unmistakable scent of mint when the leaves are broken off.

Finally pictures is a cluster of elderberries. There are several elderberry trees at the north end of the lake I spotted while out hunting. We picked about 2lbs of them in pretty short order. Before cooking these have a potent dry flavor and a texture like raw cranberries (or, for those of you who have never bitten a raw cranberry, the texture of balsa wood.) Cooked without sugar these yielded an almost coffee-like flavor.

We also saw several ground cherry plants, many growing right along side the road. If you have ever seen a Chinese Lantern plant, ground cherries look a lot like them (big surprise, they are relatives.)

We also saw a lot of jewel weed, which means there is a lot of poison ivy. I myself don't have a reaction to it, my mother does though. Looking at the OSU site I saw that poison ivy yields clusters of white berries. Be careful when foraging out there, and don't put that in your mouth!


  1. I enjoyed my morning of fishing and foraging with Mark. We had nice conversation, a relaxing morning and a nice 2 1/2 hour hike through the woods and the cornfields (until I started whinning), followed by a wonderful lunch at the Spencer Diner. I was glad that Mark took my advice on not putting the wild "finds" in his mouth. I am always a little nervous after both of his sisters ate iris leaves (which are VERY poisonous) when they were little. We all survived that episode but I wanted to make certain we didn't have a follow up with their brother.

  2. As a follow up - I hulled all of the hickory nuts and left them for a few weeks to dry in their shells. They all went bad! 2 had gross looking larvae in them! I think I'll have to crack them and take the meats out as soon as I get em next time.