The Forest Floor: Spring Foraging 101

Early spring time is our absolute favorite time of the year to use any excuse to explore what winter has been hiding from us over the last several months. 

As the spring foraging season starts to makes its way up toward the midwest, all kinds of edible magic can be found off the beaten path tucked gently into the forest floor. Many a foodie's obsession, we enjoy not just eating foraged foods, but often the hunt more than the spoils. 

We've highlighted a couple of our favorite spring foraging treasures with tips we've learned over the years. It's important to know that any forager must pick these goods only on public land (check local restrictions) or from a friend's private property. Don't say I didn't warn you. Happy hunting!
 

RAMPS

Ramps can be identified by 2-3 thin smooth leafs and a burgundy stem.

Ramps can be identified by 2-3 thin smooth leafs and a burgundy stem.

WHEN TO LOOK 
Now (Aprilish) new leaves will emerge from the perennial bulbs around the same time tree buds are really starting to emerge and green up. 

WHERE TO LOOK
They can be found in cool, shady areas with damp, rich soil high in organic matter. They like sandy, wet soils, so a good place to look for them is on slopes with pines, near streams and creeks.

BEST PRACTICES
This part is very important. The whole magic in foraging is the return of plants or mushrooms year after year. Sustainable foraging practices are critical to allowing these critters to return next year and to spread. Leave isolated bunches alone, and take only around 20% of larger patches you find in the ground, leaving the rest for next year. Pack a knife with you because you will want to limit the amount of bulb and roots your remove, cutting just below the soil surface leaving half of the bulb and roots intact.  

 

FIDDLEHEAD FERNS

WHEN TO LOOK
Anytime between May and June in the Northern part of the country

WHERE TO LOOK
Like Morels and Ramps, Fiddleheads or baby ferns can be found off the beaten path in wild wet areas on the edges of rivers, stream banks and swampy areas. They are bright green and can easily be seen amidst the dark soil, twigs, and leaves from which they emerge. They should be found in clumps of about about six. Pick the tender tight little rolls as soon as they are an inch or two above the ground. 

BEST PRACTICES
All ferns have fiddleheads at some point, some more edible than others. Ostrich ferns are the most safe for cooking. Ostrich fern fiddleheads, which are about an inch in diameter, can be identified by the brown papery scale-like covering on the uncoiled fern, as well as the smooth fern stem, and the deep ”U”-shaped groove on the inside of the fern stem. Please make sure and leave at least a few unpicked fiddleheads to avoid devastating and killing the fern completely. 

 

 

MOREL MUSHROOMS

Pick only the common (yellow or grey) or black Morel. Do plenty of research before you head out so you can be confident you are eating the non-toxic variety. 

Pick only the common (yellow or grey) or black Morel. Do plenty of research before you head out so you can be confident you are eating the non-toxic variety. 

WHEN TO LOOK
This can totally depend on the type of spring you are having and varies geographically. Once the first dandelions start to spread and the lilacs are in bloom you have about a three week window to start foraging. Keep in mind the crop is moving up from the South so as of April 27th southern Minnesota has started picking.

WHERE TO LOOK
First off most hunters guard their hunting spots with their lives. Any serious hunter would never even hint at their hunting locations. (real talk, my uncle Pete claims to have a cave somewhere on his corn field where he collects several pounds each year, have I ever seen this cave? Hell no. A corn field with a Cave?) 

Second off, if you find a good score chances are the mushrooms will return to that same spot each year, veteran foragers will say to collect your shrooms in a mesh bag or basket to allow these spores to drop and spread as you forage. 

Friends will likely find one or two randoms in their backyard, sure. But the best places to look are wild areas, creek or river banks but not areas that have been flooded. Morels have a symbiotic relationship with trees and in many areas that relationship seems to be the strongest with dead Elms. This is Morel hunter nerd for: look for dead Elms and a Morel or two should be near by. 

This is about as much as we can say about the subject before we get angry letters from our husband + the morel hunting community. Do you really need any more excuses to get out and go for a hike (adorable basket in hand)? 

BEST PRACTICES
Picking wild mushrooms requires a good deal of caution, because even a small nibble of the wrong mushroom can be lethal. Check local restrictions on foraging in public parks and wild areas.

LET'S TALK ABOUT TICKS
Foraging season for the above happens to also be the beginning of Tick season. If you have an irrational fear of Ticks (maybe like us) we suggest the following.

  • Wear tall rubber boots with knee high socks.
  • Wear tight thicker pants/leggings to prevent the critters from crawling up your legs. The little devils usually live on the forest floor and make their way up via a pant leg.
  • Dryer sheets, yes toss a few dryer sheets into your boots. 
  • Soothe irrational undiscovered tick fears by taking a hot warm bath and washing your hair when you get home. (really can't most irrational fears be soothed by a little bath salt and hot water?)