Sunday, September 28, 2014

Foraging Season Draws To An End

After two heavy frosts, most of the plants that we foragers seek have withered and died. The season, sadly, draws to an end. But a few plants continue to offer their bounty, particularly those plants near or right on the coast.

One plant, an old familiar one that grows nearly everywhere is the dandelion, Taraxacum officinalis. But aren’t dandelions too bitter now for eating? Well, they became bitter immediately upon flowering and remained so until right now. But after a heavy frost, dandelions lose their bitterness. And in Waldo where I live, dandelions have since become palatable once again.

So if you yearn for some wild foods before they go by for the year, and you live in a region that has had a frost or two, try digging some dandelions. It’s a fall bonus that all dandelion lovers ought to take advantage of.

Another tenacious wild plant, curled dock, Rumex crispus, has the determination of a Timex watch; it keeps ticking when the others begin quitting. Specifically, curled dock pretty much dies back in mid-to late summer, but then in the cool of fall, starts putting out new growth. This it does until constant freezing temperatures put an end to new vegetative growth.

Tree nuts are a perennial fall favorite, but nut-bearing trees are widely scattered and therefore, not a dependable food source, at least here in Maine. If you have access to shagbark hickory, American chestnut or butternut trees, be thankful for your good fortune. Beechnuts, a common mast crop in Maine and liked by animals as well as people, are notoriously coquettish and for the last several years, I have not found any beechnuts to harvest.

A number of wild plants remain, plants that, like curled dock, experience a second shot of growth. What you find and where you find it depends upon serendipity and a bit of luck. But since we have so little time left before a hard freeze and even snow puts a finality to our foraging days afield, I suggest you get out now and have a season’s-end fling. It’s a long winter and the shorter you can make it the better.