Monday, February 8, 2016



                                        Spring Slated for Mid-March Arrival


A forecaster from National Weather Service has come out with word that by mid-March, the northeast will see a warming trend. The last few years have seen late-arriving springs, partly due to lingering arctic air. But this year, there will be no arctic air and a strengthening March sun will work wonders toward warming us up.

For me, this comes as the best possible news. Wild edible plants will become available earlier and trout fishing in streams and rivers will crank up into high gear by early April.

Today is February 8 and until just a few days ago, I was able to go out back on the hillside by my house and pick fresh wintergreen leaves to chew on. That’s because what little snow we had melted, leaving wide swaths of bare ground on south-facing hillsides.

Before that, though, three resident deer had pawed through the snow to get at the wintergreen. This surprised me. I didn’t know that deer liked wintergreen. I knew that partridge liked it, because many lf the birds that fell to my shotgun in fall had crops filled with wintergreen leaves.


Today, though, temperatures are in the low teens and a major snowstorm is on the way. But it’s only early February and we must expect such things. So let it freeze, let it snow and do whatever it wants. With news of a big warmup in March, we can handle about anything that nature gives us. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016


Wild Medicines of Winter


          I regularly put up medicinal herbs for the winter. This is an annual ritual, since most of the plants lose their potency within one year or less. Besides plants that we harvest just before cold weather sets in, there are a number of plant medicines available year-round.
          For instance, willows contain salicylic acid. If that sounds familiar it’s because aspirin is manmade acetylsalicylic acid. Willow is a natural form and it is a powerful medicine. I sometimes use the fresh bark, perhaps a half teaspoonful of chopped, inner bark, steeped in a tea. The only drawback is that the wild product is not buffered and can cause stomach upsets.
          Maine has numbers of different kinds of willows, and these tend to hybridize, making exact identification difficult. But since all willows, Salix species, contain some amount of salicylic acid, foragers needn’t worry about which willow is which.
          Balsam fir, Abies balsamea, another tree with medicinal properties, is common throughout Maine. Balsam gum has healing properties and can be used on cuts and other wounds. It’s easy to gather the gum (oleoresin) by cutting or simply popping the blisters, or bubbles on the bark. The leaves (needles) make a tea that is taken for coughs and colds.
          I’ve said many times before that I prefer taking my medicine in the form of food. To that end, I favor watercress. Yes, you can buy watercress in the market but it grows wild, too. A stream behind my house has lots of watercress, and it grows year-round. It’s kind of cold work, reaching in the frigid water to pick watercress. But it’s worth it. Watercress is a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals, among which are Vitamins A, B, C, B2, copper, iron, calcium and magnesium. Its iron content is higher that that found in spinach. Watercress is low in carbohydrates.

          I offer these as an example of what we can gather from the wild, even in mid-winter. There are plenty other plant medicines out there. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Seminar Schedule and June Report


It’s been a busy and exciting foraging season for me thus far. I’ve visited many different parts of Maine and have met many interesting and friendly people. As of now, my only remaining previously-planned seminars are a plant walk for Islesboro Land Trust at Islesboro on July 11, a medicinal plant weekend course at Eagle Hill Institute in Stuben from September 11 through 13 and finally, a DVD presentation followed by a plant walk at Waldoboro School for SAD 40 from 10 – 2:30 on September 25.

Persons wishing to participate in any of these may contact me and I can forward sign-up info.

Also, I am open to events and private sessions at any time. Just call me at (207) 338-9746 or email me at tomgseymour@gmail.com.

Participants in my seminars have shared some fun, new thoughts regarding wild plants. First, I learned that the inner pith from the base of new growth (twigs) of staghorn sumac makes a tasty trail nibble. To use, just break off the end of the twig from the larger branch and peel the bark from the end nearest the break. This exposes a white core which, when removed, can be eaten raw. These have a somewhat unique flavor which is difficult to describe. All I can say is that it is a pleasant taste. This product is best in spring and very early summer.

Next, while discussing bunchberries, a lady asked why flowering plants exhibited 6 leaves, while non-flowering plants had only 4 leaves. I’d never noticed this distinction before, which goes to show how any of us can be in near-constant contact with a plant (it grows profusely close to my house) and not notice small, distinguishing features.

As per my own personal foraging, one of my all-time favorite wild greens, lamb’s quarters, is ready for the picking on a pile of “composted” cow manure I got from a nearby dairy. The stuff looked so good when first delivered, and the farmer told me that he had taken pains to make sure it was fully composted. Well it wasn’t and now it is thick with lamb’s quarters. This couldn't have pleased me more. 

I planted my winter squash on this pile and the lamb’s quarters are at the stage now where they need harvesting because they are crowding out and overshadowing the young squash plants. As soon as it stops raining and things dry out, I plan to tackle this job. There is sufficient lamb’s quarters to allow for lots of fresh eating as well as freezing a quantity for winter.

Next, regarding the perennial wild spinach, Good King Henry that I used in a trial last season, it didn’t produce enough to justify it taking up garden space. So last fall I transplanted the plants to a bed inside my small greenhouse. This was usually reserved for lettuce, but lettuce never did well there.

Anyway, this spring it appeared that the Good King Henry plants had perished over the winter. Somehow, though, I thought it prudent to forbear to pull them out right away, so they remained in place until sometime in mid-April. And then I was surprised to see that the crowns had survived and were sending up new growth. I’ve had numerous meals of this delightful wild green and by the looks, there is more to come.

Now a question. Is this abundant and quick growth because the plants were transplanted and like their new home, or might it simply be because the plants are now a year older and thus stronger and more productive? I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter much. Good King Henry has earned a permanent home at my place.

Because of the lingering cold, wet spring, many plants are far behind where they should be for this time of year. Cattails ought to be putting out those sausage-shaped seedheads (the actual “cattail” part), but in my part of Midcoast Maine, that has yet to happen. Whenever the seed heads do develop and ripen, I'm ready to go out and harvest a bunch. When trimmed of stems and boiled, they can be eaten like corn-on-the-cob. While they don't taste like corn, they do have a pleasant, nutty flavor. 

Many other plants are late. Even cultivated plants in my garden are far smaller than they ought to be for late June. The predicted extra-hot summer has not yet become reality and the long-term Accu Weather forecast indicates only moderate heat for July.

This next topic aggravates me. I’m really tired of hearing people say we need more rain. Maine was not and is not in a drought. In early spring, the ground dried to a point that forest fire danger was high, but that didn’t mean that the water table was low, because it wasn’t. Springs, natural ponds, the kind not regulated by dams and streams are all up to very reasonable levels. Wetlands and swamps are full and in fact, some places that ought to have dried out by now are still very wet.

Sure, certain areas of the country are experiencing drought conditions, but Maine isn’t one of them. We have more water than we know what to do with. And that's a good thing. 





Saturday, May 9, 2015

Springtime Edibles On Sale Now


Okay, the wild edible plants aren't really on sale. But now that I have your attention, let me announce that all of the early spring wild edibles are ready now in most of Maine.

Lingering cold throughout April, followed by unusually-warm conditions in early May have served to make emerging plants grow like rockets. Also, the timetable for many plants has gone askew. For instance, all plants follow an emergence pattern, as in one comes out, followed by another and so on, in a regular sequence. But not this year.

For the first time that I can remember, everything has come around at once. Coltsfoot, dandelions, purple trillium, ostrich fern fiddleheads, stinging nettles, blunt-leaved dock and false Solomon’s seal are all up and ready now. And while I haven’t looked for it, I’m certain that wintercress is up as well.

What does this all mean? Well, it’s good that we get to take our pick of favorite wild plants, but it’s kind of too bad that emergence dates are not spread out. It’s akin to giving children their Christmas presents two weeks early. Anticipation, the great magnet that draws us afield, is nowhere to be seen.

However, there are ample wild edibles that haven’t come out yet, plants that are likely to follow their predictable emergence tables. So all is not lost.

For those who put up wild plants by canning of freezing, the next week or two will certainly be a busy time. And if the task seems a bit overwhelming, just harken back to those bleak days of winter, when a package of fiddleheads or a canning jar of dandelions helped to dispel winter blues. So yes, it’s all worth it. Persevere, I say.

Here’s something positive, at least for those living in the Midcoast area. While I have spent much time in the woods and fields this spring, much of it in prime whitetail deer habitat, I haven’t noticed one deer tick. Usually by May, I have found at least two or three ticks crawling or already attached to me.

This is no excuse to forgo nightly tick inspections. Sure, it’s a nuisance to inspect every inch of skin before going to bed. Sometimes I’ll forget and have to get up and go in the bathroom and do my check with sleepy eyes. But I do it. And so should you.

In the end, it’s far better to conduct nightly tick searches and find no tick, than to not do the searches and find a tick already embedded and fully engorged.

Happy foraging season, my friends. It’s going to be a busy one.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Next 2015 Presentation - Old Bristol Garden Club

Tom looks at cattails.
Come enjoy a presentation of spring edibles for the Old Bristol Garden Club on April 9. Meetings are held at the 2nd Congregational Church at 51 Main Street in Newcastle.
The meeting begins at 1:30PM and the presentation runs from 1:50PM to 2:30PM. The public is invited to all meetings and there is no fee.
Pick up your own copy of Wild Plants of Maine after the presentation.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tom's 2015 Seminar Schedule


With bi-weekly snowstorms and nighttime temperatures hovering around zero, it’s difficult to imagine that the foraging season is nearly upon us. But people who organize season schedules for organizations already have most of their slots filled. Accordingly, I am slated to give presentations at several different locations around the state.

Here, below, is my schedule of events as it stands now, March 4, 2015. I do have a few other events scheduled, but these are mostly for private groups and participant lists are already filled. What you see here are all open to the public and if you would like to attend, just contact the organizations listed.

I’ll update and revise the list as the season progresses. Here, then, is my 2015 schedule thus far:

Presentation for Old Bristol Garden Club at the 2nd Congregational Church in Newcastle on April 9. Meeting begins at 1:30PM and the presentation runs from 1:50PM to 2:30PM. The public is invited to all meetings and there is no fee.
Merryspring Nature Center, Camden, lecture and walk, April 16, 10 – 12 a.m.

MSAD 20 Adult Ed class held at Union Elementary School, May 9, 10 a.m.
 
Eagle Hill Institute, 59 Eagle Hill Road, P.O. Box 9, Stuben, ME 04680. (207) 546-2821, office@eaglehill.us. Participants welcome. Visit website or call. My seminar is for Saturday and Sunday, May 30 and 31, with a get-acquainted time on Friday night. This is a stay-over session. Eagle Hill has lodging, food, etc. The topic is springtime foraging for wild edibles.


Deer Isle Hostel, begin 9:30 a.m., June 20. More info to follow. Indoor presentation followed by field trip.

Islesboro Land Trust Plant Walk, July 11. More info to follow.

Eagle Hill Institute, same contact info as above. September 12 and 13, course title: Making Medicine from Wild Plants.

        

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Harbor Pollock Centerpiece of Foraged Meals in Winter


Wild Plants And Wooly Bears


       
Cold, windy and snowy. That’s the way things look from now on. And yet, foraging continues, in a way. While foraging for wild plants is pretty much out, I have contented myself with catching and eating harbor pollock and when the opportunity presents itself, brook trout and brown trout.

While trout fishing opportunities are limited now, given that only a few streams are open this time of year, pollock fishing is permitted anytime, anywhere. There is one rule, though, and that’s a daily bag limit of 12 fish. And truthfully, I wouldn’t want to clean more than 12 pollock.

These plentiful fish are available around piers, floats and breakwaters for most of the fall and into winter. Really, the only thing that stops me from catching them in midwinter is the extreme cold.

It aggravates me to have to buy fish when there are so many underutilized species out there that few people bother with. Which explains my fascination for pollock and other less-than-glamorous species.

I like to skin and fillet my pollock. These fish have been running about 12 inches and weighing close to one pound, so each fish gives two, hefty fillets.

Sometimes I’ll use my fresh pollock fillets in conjunction with preserved, wild edible plants to make a wholly-foraged meal. Home-canned goosetongue and frozen dandelions go well with ocean fish. Other times I’ll mix and match homegrown vegetables such as carrots and squash to make not a foraged meal, but a combination of foraged and homegrown.


So even during the gray, cold days of early winter, we can still enjoy our foraged foods. It just takes a bit more work. But it’s worth it.