GTPulse: Foraging in Northern Michigan, What’s Popping Up Now
The closest I’ve ever been to foraging was picking those tiny, poisonous red berries off of decorative bushes used for landscaping in suburban neighborhoods. Of course, I knew not to eat them but when I was little my brothers and I would pick them and squish the blood-filled little orbs between our fingers and pretend we had pricked our fingers on a spindle or got injured in a heroic battle. Clay Bowers, a local forager in Traverse City moved here from Metro Detroit but he won’t be going back anytime soon. He’s grown to love Northern Michigan and has only gained more skill in foraging since moving here 10 years ago.
“My basic interest in it started about 15 years ago. I got into it because I was interested in survivalism. If the world is going to hell in a handbasket, I don’t wanna be eating dried beans out of a bucket. I’d rather learn about what’s edible outside.”
Spring is a great time for foraging, and if you’re looking to get creative with outdoor fun, foraging can be a new way to learn about natural life and also a way to see if anything you forage could be something you like enough to incorporate into your diet.
Morels – “Mushrooms. Those are the big things that people are looking for right now. Specifically, morels. They kind of look like Freddy Krueger’s face.” Morels are a big draw for foraging because a lot of upscale or farm to table restaurants like to use them in seasonal recipes. Their elusiveness makes them desirable and expensive. Their texture is more dry and dense than that of a cremini or portobello. Because their distinctive earthy and nutty taste is so different from other mushroom variations, morels have popularity with all kinds of palettes. They grow in a symbiotic relationship with trees that is difficult to replicate, so if you’re lucky enough to eat one, know that it was picked by hand.
Stinging Nettle – “Stinging Nettle are just starting to come up. It’ll sting you, but once you cook it that goes away. If you touch it it’s pretty painful for most people. It’s got these little hairs all over the plant and it will inject you with the same sort of compound that ants do when they bite you. It’s a native plant and was thought to not be for a long time. We thought Europeans brought it over here but now we know that these species have been here for a long time.” The stinging nettle can be eaten simply by blanching them, heating them in a pan over high heat, adding cooking fat of your liking, and cook until they’re tender. Add some salt and seasoning and you’re good to eat. As a bonus, stinging nettle is praised for its potential to combat seasonal allergies and arthritis pain.
Cattails – Natures corndogs. “Cattail shoots are just starting to come up. There are two species of cattails in our area, well I should say three. One of them is the native, one of them is non-native, and one of them is a hybrid between the two. You peel off the outer leaves, take them home and wash them.” They’re said to have a bitter taste similar to a cucumber. The stalk, after being peeled, looks like the white part of a scallion.
Dandelion Greens – “Most greens are harvested in the Spring because once they reach a certain point of maturity they become bitter. That being said, you can harvest dandelion greens all year if you understand that they’re going to be pretty bitter,” Clay said. They can be eaten raw and are packed full of vitamins A, C and K.
If you’re looking for some foraging fun, the best places to go to are wetlands. You have the best chances of finding a little bit of everything. Foraging can be done on state and private property, but Clay noted that stinging nettle cannot be picked on state land. “There’s a lot of stuff that grows right near each other. You can find the ingredients to make a meal all outside.”
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