Summer Mushroom Foraging

I don’t usually have enough time to create a blog post over the summer and early autumn months, for what should be obvious reasons. The gardens look atrocious right now, as I have neglected clean up in favor of harvesting and preserving before it’s too late. I wanted to share a brief glimpse of some of the wild foraging I have been doing over the course of the season.

I’ve been getting braver every year with mushroom hunting, and have been learning to identify and eat/make medicine with more species. This year I’ve found morels, Berkeley’s polypore, black staining polypore, hen of the woods, chanterelles, craterellus ignigolor (an edible chanterelle lookalike,) black trumpets, small white puffballs, turkey tails, reishi (ganoderma tsugae,) and honey mushrooms. I think there are a few more varieties, but those are the ones I could easily identify and harvest enough to save at home. All mushrooms should be cooked before eating them, but some can just be lightly sautéed in butter. Most of the mushrooms ended up in my dehydrator to be dried and stored for later use.

Reishi and turkey tail mushrooms make incredibly powerful medicine that improves immune system functioning. Turkey tail mushrooms even have reported cancer-fighting benefits. Most of the other mushrooms I have been foraging mainly for eating purposes, but all mushrooms hold tons of vitamins and extra benefits that modern produced vegetables just can’t beat. Check out this list of some commonly foraged mushrooms!

In order to retain the mushroomy goodness in an easy form, I made a broth with a combination of a little of almost all of these. I simmered slowly for about 4 hours, then strained and poured this into ice cube trays so I can just pop one into whatever soup or water I am boiling (like for pasta or rice.) The ice cube size keeps the amount of broth small enough not to change the flavor of what I am cooking, but still add precious vitamins and minerals to my food. The broth itself is a medicinal powerhouse but I can honestly say taking a sip of it was not a tasty experience. I also started tinctures of the reishi and turkey tail, which I need to strain soon (now that I think about it) and remove the mushrooms to do a water decoction. Different constituents are extracted with different methods, so I do a double decocted tincture with my foraged medicinal mushrooms. Then I strain and combine equal parts decoction with the alcohol extraction to create a tincture fit for fighting bodily crime.

Mushroom broth

For whatever reason, life and the Great Spirit have given me the gift of being able to learn and recognize both plants and mushrooms with more ease than most people. I am very grateful for this, and hope to share it with more people as time goes on. If you would like to book a foraging class or hire me to come walk your land and show you all the edible species right under your nose, please utilize the Contact Us form. Obviously winter is not the best time to forage, but I can help you from now through early November, or any time starting in early April through the rest of the year. I occasionally arrange foraging classes on my own, but I can be available for private functions as well. I can do Herb Walks, Mushroom Walks, Edible Walks, or even teach a class on how to make some simple medicines or foods with the ingredients we find.

Keep an eye on my blog and Facebook or Instagram pages for more foraging posts and finds! And go watch Fantastic Fungi if you haven’t done so yet. It’ll blow your mind!

Food IS Medicine!

Before herbs, before drugs/pharmaceutical medicine, before therapy, what is there in this world that you put into your body EVERY SINGLE DAY to run you, heal you, activate you, motivate you, energize you, or even just to survive on? FOOD.

It is really difficult to get this message through to people for some reason. I actually might present a class on it, if I can muster enough resources.

The food that you eat every day is almost entirely what determines your energy levels, ailments, health, mental state, happiness, desire, life. It makes sense to me that since the health and well-being of my entire body is so dependent upon what I put into it, I should pay attention to the quality of that fuel.

I’m not shaming you for drinking booze occasionally, or eating some chips or cookies once in awhile. We all have weaknesses, and eating or drinking something we know is bad for us once in awhile is a human right. Many of us regret doing so later (diarrhea, nausea, hangover) but it was fun while it lasted. But the things you ingest regularly matter more than you can imagine. Cookies and cocoa puffs are not meant to be everyday fare.

You’ve probably heard about your microbiome, that symbiotic colony of bacteria inside your body that is more than partially running your organ systems, like tiny little engineers. This is related to the Gut-Brain connection, which basically means the bacteria in your gut affect your mood and behavior. Remember that episode of Futurama where Fry eats a gas station sandwich and suddenly his body is colonized by generations of tape worms that clean out his organs, increase his intelligence, and make him healthier? That’s not how it actually works with parasites (much the opposite,) but your gut’s natural microbiota DO have a similar effect on your system.

Which is a healthier food choice: a salad or a box of Oreos? “Duh!” you say. “I’m not an idiot!” But which one do you eat more frequently? Which one, honestly, would you rather have?

I don’t eat Oreos anymore. I refuse to support Nabisco because their demand for palm oil has decimated the only forests in the world that are the last remaining natural habitat for orangutans. But I digress. Cheap processed food is made to trigger the happy centers of your brain. But it doesn’t run your body the same way a salad or a baked potato would.

This is one of the best winter time meals ever, no matter where you bought the potato

Every human body has different needs; this post isn’t meant to be taken as a knock on you or your dietary restrictions, specific condition, or income level. I’ve certainly been in a spot in life (See: How to Eat When You’re Poor) where I couldn’t afford to eat great quality food, especially not organic vegetables. BUT I DID know that vegetables and fruits were the best thing I could put into my body, and I did my grocery shopping with that in mind. Are organic potatoes and collard greens better for you than conventionally-grown? Abso-freaking lutely. But are the regular cheap veggies still better than eating Top Ramen and Cheetos for dinner? DUH. You can go shopping at Aldi and CHOOSE to buy a bunch of veggies, meat, and cheese instead of shopping in the chips aisle. It should be well-known by this point that I agree with the theory that Processed Foods Are Bad.

When you (hopefully) reach a point in your life where you can do some of your weekly shopping at the local farmer’s market instead of the grocery store, you should be excited as hell because THOSE veggies are going to be fresher than anything you could possibly get at the local store.

Maybe you can even grow a little garden yourself? Even if you think a garden is too hard, ANYONE can grow a tomato plant in a pot on their front step. If you can’t grow a tomato plant, I pity whatever gods gave you the blackest thumbs in humanity. Nothing tastes better than a tomato you grew and picked yourself!

As far as protein goes, you know damned well I want you to eat eggs. Which eggs you buy and eat DOES make a difference, which you can see just from cracking some open. While I will say again that buying the cheap 80 cents a dozen eggs from Wal-Mart is still healthier for you than eating a can of Chef Boyardee for dinner, if you are at a point where you can choose where to buy your eggs, please, PLEASE buy from a local farm or at least buy Free-range eggs. Quick note: “Vegetarian Fed” chickens are probably freaking miserable. Chickens naturally eat bugs and sometimes even eat mice and small snakes. They are omnivores; anyone who forces them to only eat vegetable sources is cruel.

Our eggs frying in bacon fat in February

Buying your meat from sources LOCAL TO YOU is incredibly good for the environment, and it helps the farmers in/near your community rather than some asshat who clear cut half the Brazilian rainforest for his crappy beef cows. We raise meat birds on a very small scale here, mostly for our own consumption. But there’s always a meat vendor at the farmer’s market selling great quality meats. I like to know that I can go pat the cow on the head and see it happily eating grass a few weeks before I eat some of it.

I’m going to stop ranting now, but I want to make it clear to anyone struggling to eat healthfully, lose weight, or stop feeling so crappy in your tummy: EAT REAL FOOD. If it was grown as a plant of some sort or produced by an animal somehow, it’s better for you than Tasty Cakes and Doritos. If you have specific questions or a different situation and would like help figuring out the best dietary changes or herbal additions for YOU, please remember that I do Consultations, in-person and online.

Happy eating!

How to Eat When You’re Poor

I’ve been poor for a long time. We’re doing fairly well for ourselves right now, despite having a mountain of debt, but about seven years ago I literally had about $200 in savings and a car and some personal belongings. After my first season on the farm where I interned, I couldn’t find a better job, so I was a substitute teacher in Massachusetts. This lasted about 6 months, while I was fighting my ex with custody and financial issues at the same time. Nik had a job making $9/hour at a warehouse, and I would drive him to work in the morning, then drop the kids off at school (if I had them that day,) then book it to whichever school in town had hired me for that day. Our combined income for the month was about $2500 IF we were lucky and I had been subbing the full week. Our shitty little apartment had a barely-working heating system, so we were paying over $300/month for heat that barely kept the apartment hovering around 60 degrees at best (this was winter time in the Berkshires)

I only tell you all this to assure you: I know how to live on very little. It isn’t glamorous, but we did it.

The FIRST and MOST IMPORTANT thing you HAVE to do if you are in poverty is learn how to cook for yourself! Even if you manage to get on Food Stamps (we never did, because the system was overburdened and they kept screwing us over on appointments) you will be frequently handed things you may not know how to cook or reheat. There is always an inexpensive grocery mart somewhere not too far away, so if you keep some pantry staples on hand you can make it through.

Always have: Potatoes (whether a bag of white, sweet potatoes if you can get them, or whatever you find on sale.) Onions and garlic (Almost everything I cook has these.) Butter and/or a package of bacon (save the bacon fat to cook in)! Just use an old glass jar.) Rice is up to you–I found a huge 8 lb bag of black rice (which has a nutty flavor and more nutrition) at the Asian market for $7, so worth it! Apple cider vinegar is great to have on hand to help flavor things. Eggs– cheap protein! Apples and peanut butter—best snack ever! Just opt for the peanut butter that’s made with only peanuts and salt. Cheese! Any cheap bag of shredded cheese or super cheap brick of cheese will do. Salt, pepper, and any herbs you can afford. HERBS can add all kinds of benefits to your food, and can contribute to keeping your body healthy when you’re on a limited diet.

You can live on soup, or make broth with just about anything. Of course, any time you have the money, buy alternate vegetables or fruits. Celery is good to have on hand, as well as carrots or beets, and definitely buy collard greens if you can afford to.

For broth, buy a pack or even JUST ONE of these:

chicken leg

That one chicken leg can be thrown into a big pot of water with whatever vegetable scraps you have on hand, salt, pepper, herbs, chunks of celery or onion, and BOOM you have broth, and after you pull the meat off you have a soup!

“Baked potato night” is easy– bake each person a potato, sauté some frozen broccoli in bacon fat, add cheese and sour cream if you can atop the broccoli on top of the potato. YUM! And filling.

Nik actually lived several months (before he met me) buying a bag of frozen chicken, a bag of potatoes, a bag of whatever frozen veggie he could afford, and a pound of butter every week. He ate these things in variations for nearly 6 months, with barely anything different. It’s survival food, but it works.

Anything can be made into a stir fry as long as you have rice. Cook rice, then add some fat to a pan, vegetables you have on hand (always onions and garlic), and whatever leftover chunks of meat you have. Don’t be afraid to go to the meat counter at the grocery store and ask for JUST ONE drumstick, pork chop, etc. They don’t care as much as you think they do.

You can cook ANYTHING in a single cast iron pan. Trust me.

Cook bacon every day and your pan will season itself!

Even now, with our tiny farm and house and an income more than $1000 higher than we had back then, we still do not let anything go to waste. We had lamb short ribs the other night– I bought a pack of them at Walmart for $10 and roasted them. Delicious! We saved all the bones after eating the meat on them as well as the drippings from the pan. Add this to a little water in a pot and simmer several hours. BAM, lamb broth! It’s so concentrated and fatty we froze some in ice cubes to use in soups or whatever we need later.

What little leftovers we don’t eat go to the chickens and ducks, who repay us by laying beautiful eggs!

Sorry if this post was a bit rambling… it’s January, we haven’t had sales of anything in over a month, and are barely hanging on to the bills with what we make from our day jobs. Winter sucks for everyone. Anyway, if this rant can help just one person in need to hope or advice, it’s done its job.

Thanks for reading!