It’s been a cold wet start to the year but at long last the ground is warming up and the birds are singing again. So I took myself off to the woods for the first serious foraging this spring. In early Spring after lots of rain you can always rely on Wood Ear mushrooms to pop out of the elders and they didn’t let me down.
Wood Ears, Auricularia auricula-judae, are a really good edible mushroom, popular in most South East Asian countries. With their crunchy texture and savoury flavour they are great in soups, stews, sauces and stir fries. They also make great jelly sweets. Soak them in fruit juice or your favourite liqueur then coat them in chocolate or candy them. Studies have shown Wood Ears to be beneficial to the enzyme activity of the pancreas and to glycogen metabolism in the liver. This leads to better control of hypoglycaemia and diabetes. It has strong anti-bacterial properties and was used traditionally in Scotland in a decoction to treat sore throats.
I was pleasantly surprised to find fresh growth of another much sought after medicinal mushroom, Many-zoned Polypore aka Turkey Tails, Trametes versicolor. There were three fallen trees covered in this, a sycamore, a pine and an ash.
Many-zoned Polypore is not generally considered a culinary mushroom. In North America it has traditionally been used as a kind of chewing gum. Fresh young brackets when chewed have a sweetish mushroom flavour that gets stronger as you chew it. Made as a decoction it makes a similar tasting tea. Many-zoned Polypore has been shown to have strong anti-cancer properties. Several drugs are made from extracts of the mushroom in China and Japan, under the names PSP and PSK, and used alongside chemo- and radio-therapy to improve patients recovery.
Wet weather favours the jelly fungi so it was no surprise to see Witches Butter, Exidia glandulosa, and it’s close relative Exidia nucleata. These were growing on the same ash twig.
As well as the mushrooms there were signs of woodland flowers. Primroses were in full bloom, but a little battered by the rain. Primroses are a pleasant spring vegetable. The young leaves can be used raw in salads along with the flowers. Older leaves can be cooked like spinach. The flowers are used to make a traditional country wine.
A speciality of damp woods is the easily overlooked Moschatel. This is just forming the flower buds that give the plant it’s other name Town Hall Clock. it is also edible and probably best used as a salad herb. It has a pleasant but mild taste.
Care should be taken not to muddle Moschatel with the Wood Anemone which grows in the same habitat and bears a passing resemblance to it. As part of the Buttercup family Wood Anemones are toxic.
In drier areas there were plenty of the more common edibles to forage, young Nettle tops, Chickweed, Red Dead-nettles, Cleavers, Cow Parsley and the first Hogweed shoots.
In the coming weeks Spring is going to race ahead. We will soon see an abundance of good edible plants and some choice mushrooms too.
If you would like to discover more about foraging why not join us on one of our Spring Foraging workshops