Since signing the closing paperwork on our new land, we’ve visited the property several times. During each visit, we explore and discover new things. The last few times that we’ve been out there, we’ve spent most of the time focusing on the plant life. Most of which, we recognize. Some of which looks like it came from a foreign land.
At one point, I had sent out a social media blast looking to see if anyone recognized the new plant babies we had discovered. A couple photos were identified, but one of the comments caught my attention.
Underneath a picture of one of the odder looking plants, was someone recommending the PictureThis app. So, I downloaded the free trial, and took a peek.
In the app, users take a picture of a plant in question. Then the app scans the picture and identifies the species. It then goes on to list nicknames, a description, whether a plant is toxic, edible, the characteristics, and more. I decided to test it’s accuracy by taking pictures of everything green around my yard. The accuracy was amazing! I was sold!
I headed straight to our land to start documenting everything I could. The PlantThis app also allows you to save species to “my plants” so you can build your garden catalog. As it turns out, a large portion of the plants on our land are edible. Mulberries, wild grapes, black cherries, and black raspberries are some of the more common varieties. However some new ones surprised us!
For example, weeds like red clover and fleabane have edible, or medicinal, properties. So does the hop hornbeam and sumac we also found. This gave me the crazy idea that would later turn into the hilarious adventure you are about to read about…the adventure of foraging.
Where The Wild Things Are
Since Messy Masterpiece Blog is really just a diary of my family’s journey back to healthier, simpler living, what better topic to include than foraging? After all, people have foraged for food since the beginning of time. It’s the core that makes up the the ancient “hunter-gatherer” lifestyle. How much more “basic” can we get than that? Little did I know the reality check I was about to experience.
Before venturing out in to the wilderness, I wanted to do some basic research. I really didn’t want my last words to be “hmm, I wonder if this is edible?” So, I consulted my friend Google. Two articles helped me feel a little more confident in what I was doing; Interest In Foraging Is Booming; Here’s How To Do It Right and A Dozen Things To Forage For In The Midwest This Spring.
The first article describes the increase in foraging popularity post-pandemic and some of the hazards of doing so irresponsibly. The second article, though it’s geared towards springtime, lists examples of various plants to be looking for. There are numerous foraging books, articles, and local classes out there for you to reference. I do NOT recommend anyone go out foraging without doing at least some basic form of research first. Which, perfectly leads me right into what happened next…
Over The River And Through The Woods
I had done my research. We chose the park we wanted to walk and printed the trail maps. The bug spray and sunscreen were packed. Water bottles were filled. The wagon was loaded. We were going on an adventure!
When we arrived at the park, we located the entrance of our chosen trail and started unloading our gear. Now, it always takes a while for my kids to acclimate to exciting, new environments. It kind of reminds me of the little dog my family had when I was growing up. His name was Max.
When it was time to take Max for a walk, he would pull on the leash so hard it would choke him, at first. The middle portion of the walk was more pleasant. He would walk nicely next to me until we reach the last third of our route. He would then drag behind, like a sulky toddler, because he had ran out of steam. Much like Max, once my kids get settled, they do fairly well.
Once we got past the initial “leash pulling” excitement, and the family’s frustration of me stopping to take a PictureThis app photo every 5 feet, the trail walk became quite pleasant. The kids were happy to explore all the plants and look for bugs and other crawly things. Within 5 minutes, my husband had found a bush full of gooseberries. Foraging success! This was going to be awesome!
The trail was a freshly mowed path that twisted and turned its way through huge trees and farm fields. We even got to say hi to come cows, who had stopped to graze at a fence by the trail. It was all going beautifully, until we rounded the corner and discovered the steps to the valley of death.
Where’s The Snakes…And Where Are We?
Ok, it wasn’t the valley of death. But it was still a staircase that led down into shin high weeds with who knows what kind of creepy crawlies lurking below…
*Quick side note…I am TERRIFIED of snakes! Like, I have literally run out of my shoes like a cartoon character after seeing a snake before. Matters were made worse when I suddenly remembered a conversation with friends, not too long before this, where they informed me we actually DO have venomous snakes in our state. “It’s called the timber rattlesnake, but so long as you’re not in the timber, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see one“, they said.
Suddenly, as I was following my husband and two kids down through the weeds, I became all too aware that I WAS IN THE TIMBER! All of my senses became heightened and I quickly found myself in a game of “the floor is lava.” I was ready to turn back and abort the foraging mission. If it wouldn’t have been for the coaxing of my family, who was already a good distance ahead, I probably would have. Since I didn’t want to disappoint them, I forced my goosebumps covered body to tip toe on.
I think my husband came to regret not letting me turn around when the questions “Do you know where we are? Where are we on this map? Are we lost?” escaped my lips every few minutes. I tried to phrase it differently each time in an effort to keep his blood from boiling, but I don’t think it worked. The last few responses came through gritted teeth followed by something mumbled under his breath. I like to imagine it was “I love you”, but I doubt that’s what it was…LOL!
This Too Shall Pass…Hopefully
I’d like to say my fears eventually settled like my kids’ “Max-like” excitement, but I’d be a liar. And a liar I am not! In fact, the fears got even louder and more fear levels became unlocked. Anxiety is no joke folks!
It didn’t help that my incredibly frustrated-with-me hubby would say things like “I wonder if there are any bears that live in here” or “Look guys! I think something moved over there in the grass!” Where most people get excited at the thought of a nature encounter, I think the worst.
All I picture is a bobcat jumping out of the bush and mauling us all because my husband lied and we’re probably lost and will have no idea which way to run!!!!! The flash back of the day I was 16 and chased by a wild buck while walking through the trails in my hometown doesn’t help. Safe to say, nature likes me more than I like it.
The next fear came when my kids spotted the river. They took off running towards the bridge that overlooked the view and my heart stopped. There’s the mental images again…one of my kids is probably going to trip and fall into the the river. I’m 5′ 3″ and built like a child and my husband can’t swim to save his life, let alone theirs. They’re both gonna die!
Awful, Awful, Awful…Then There’s A Moment
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, we rounded the bend and there it was. A wide open meadow surrounded by lush green corn and wildflowers. You could see blue skies and sunshine for miles!
For the first time since finding the gooseberries, we started seeing things we could forage. Actually, the first plant was found by smell. A breeze flowed by laced with the scent of oregano. We looked around and spotted a small grove of bee balm. A few steps later, we found red clover. At the end of the meadow loop, we found licorice root. That was my favorite because I love the smell of black licorice!
Unfortunately, the loop ended by dumping us right back into the woods. Here we go again…more goosebumps and heebie-jeebies. We navigated through fallen trees, uneven steep descents, and mosquitos who must have been on steroids. The thought of bears, bobcats, and rattlesnakes still plagued my brain with the occasional concern of poisonous foliage, allergic reactions, ticks, and the Stranger Things monster sprinkled on top. I can’t tell you the level of excitement, and accomplishment, I felt when we topped the hill and saw our car. But…we did it!
We set out to forage and forage we did. I think we left with more hilarious memories of me freaking out than we did with foraged goods, but here are a few of the things we did end up finding.
A couple of Christmases ago I tried gooseberry jam for the first time. Though it wasn’t my favorite, it wasn’t terrible. The fresh berries, on the other hand, were very good!
Fresh gooseberries taste like a cross between a grape and a cranberry. They are tart and crisp! Unfortunately, most of the ripe berries had already been visited by the birds, so we only were able to get handful.
Bee balm smells, and tastes, just like oregano. I was excited to get this bunch home to add to my spaghetti sauce!
Just remember, when taking plants from parks, don’t take very many and leave the roots in tact. This ensures the plants will regrow next year for others to enjoy!
Otherwise known as wild anise and sweetroot, this plants smells just like black licorice! All parts of this plant are edible.
It was so cool to learn new plants and their uses on our walk. Even my kiddos got into it and eventually were asking to borrow my phone to take a PictureThis photo.
The Ones Better Left Behind
Though everything I read about garlic mustard says it’s edible, I decided to leave this one behind.
The app says the leaves will smell like fresh garlic when crushed. Since the leaves from this plant did not, I decided “better safe than sorry.”
Make sure when foraging to use all of your senses along with you common sense. This could save you from accidentally poisoning yourself or your family.
During our walk, we discovered both walnuts and hickory nuts. Since this is not the time of the year where nuts are in season, I knew these were probably ones that fell off the trees last year.
Just for kicks and giggles, I brought a few home just to test. They say that if you drop them in water and they float, then they are no good. Sure enough, every nut I brought home was no good.
Many of you may be used to foraging for morels, but most wild mushrooms are actually extremely toxic. It’s best to leave all of these little buggers behind. Especially, when first starting to forage.
Our afternoon of foraging was an incredibly eye opening experience! Not only did I discover fears that I didn’t even know I had, but I learned the difference between being a country girl and being a woodland girl. I, unfortunately, am NOT a girl who enjoys spending time in the woods. Sorry Yogi Bear. You won’t be getting any pic-a-nic baskets from me!
What I found even more eye opening than these self revelations, was just how different life is today than it was centuries ago. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around what living back in the primitive days would be like. In addition to gardening and bartering, hunting and gathering was how they lived. That’s amazing! But, right now, I couldn’t do it.
This thought motivates me even more to get out there and learn more back to basic” life skills. With time and experience, the fears will improve. Will they ever fully go away? Probably not. I’m pretty high strung. However, maybe the next time my family and I decide to go foraging, there will be more moments of enjoyment, and a little less fear. Here’s hoping!