Posted by: A Part of the Solution | April 27, 2010

Harvesting the Woods

When people first arrive on my farm, they’re often impressed with the amount of land we have all around the homestead. There are about thirty acres of pasture and field visible from the house. And then I remind our visitors that the larger part of our acreage is woods.

About seventy-five acres in total is forested here. This pleases me. I am a forager born. I have longed to harvest whatever the woods provide since I first saw the property last September. Now that spring is upon us, I am out there almost every day bringing the wild goodness back with me by the bag, sack and pocketful.

Fiddleheads–the uncurled frond of the unfolding fern– were my first treasure. They really don’t taste like much but fresh, green springtime. Salt, pepper and butter all help. But I was able to take advantage of their tiny size and appealing shape just last week. We had the Bedford County Chamber of Commerce over for their After Hours, and I put those fiddleheads, one each, into the mini-quiches I made. They looked great, provided a nice crunch, and super-localized a dish prepared with eggs from three miles away, and top-milk and cheese from eight miles up the road.

Next out of the woods was sweet woodruff. It’s a popular landscaping ground cover for shady areas. But it grows wild here out back. I recognized it from my garden down in Takoma Park. And I recognized it as the key ingredient in German May Wine. Soak the woodruff in white wine for several weeks. It gives the wine a charming light-green tint and an appealing herbal flavor. It’s traditional in Germany–though I don’t know to what event or threshhold it is specific. I’ve just always found it tasty. In a week or two more, I’ll have some of my own!

For the last week, I’ve been bringing nettles by the armload out of our woods. They grow in small clusters of stems. Their stems are square and their leaves alternate; this tells me that they’re members of the mint family (a big family, basil is in it too). I take only the top two leaf pairs from each stem, so that there will be plenty next year and even further into this season. When full grown, nettles are covered with tiny hairs that prickle and then inflame the skin. When they’re young, they make a fabulous infusion which I have found very helpful in reducing my over-responsiveness to the tree pollen in the air. I just cover the leaves with water and then some, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and then turn off the heat and let steep. Drink hot, warm or cold. And it’s tasty….

As I walk, I’m still looking for morels with every step I take. I’m keeping an eye out for where the Sulphur Shelf grew last year (another great eating fungus–and a bright, Cheetos orange with no ‘mimics’, so this is a good one for beginning mushroomers). And I’m marking the blackberry brambles. There’s nothing I like more than standing in the Poison Ivy and heat picking blackberries in full summer. I wonder how much more I’ll find before next winter falls?



  1. Wild blackberries??? YUM.

    • You bet. They’re all over the place here. In the woods, on the margins–up hill and down! I can hardly wait to be standing out there braving the thorns and PI to get at my favorite wild harvest!

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