Spring Foraging mushroom goodness

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 Ear Mushrooms
Wood Ear mushrooms on a standing Elder tree

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.

Wood Ear Mushrooms
Wood Ear Mushrooms on a fallen Elder

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.

Turkey Tails
Many-zoned Polypore on a Sycamore stump

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.

Witches Butter
Jelly Fungi on an 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.

Primroses
A bed of Primroses, flowers dropping under the weight of the rain

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.

Town Hall Clock
Moschatel just coming into flower

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.

Wind Flowers
Wood Anemones, the flowers waiting for some sun before they open.

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.

Nettles
Young Nettle tips ripe for picking

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.

Chickweed & Red Dead Nettle
A bed of Chickweed with Red Dead-Nettles

If you would like to discover more about foraging why not join us on one of our Spring Foraging workshops 

Mushroom Foraging May 2017

This week we had the first proper rain of the year and what a difference it has made. The last time we had any fungi in the woods was back in February.  This is what I found today.

Wood Ears, Auricularia auricula-judae, was the most abundant. They react quickly to heavy rain. Wood Ears are a very good edible mushroom with a subtle peppery taste that adds a savouriness to dishes and a crunchy texture like slice of cucumber. They are popular in Chinese cuisine as they are good for the digestion and act as a probiotic in the gut. They are most common on old Elder bushes, Sambucus nigra.but they were also growing on  Holly, Ilex europea, which is a first for meand on Ash, Fraxinus excelsior.On the same Ash tree, on the other side of the trunk, was some White Brain, Exidia thuretiana.I found a close relative of the Wood Ears, Tripe Fungus, Auricular mesenterica, growing on a dead Alder trunk, Alnus glutinosus. This is also a good edible though not as common as the Wood Ears but can be used in the same sort of dishes.On a fallen Oak branch, Quercus rober, was a fresh flush of Many-zoned Polypore, Coriolus versicolor, known as Turkey Tails in North America. This is a medicinal mushroom. A number of drugs used in cancer treatment are made from extracts of this mushroom. In North America the native Americans used fresh Turkey Tails as a chewing gum.One of the reasons I went out today was to see how this Chicken of the Woods had developed. Five days ago it looked like this.With the rain over the last few days, it has turned into this.Chicken of the Woods, Laetiporus sulphureus, is another popular edible mushroom. It has a very meaty texture like succulent chicken breast with a lemony flavour. It can be used in any recipe as a substitute for chicken breast.

On an Elder were the small orangey dots of Coral Spot Fungus, Nectria peziza. Walking through the woods the distinct smell of rotting flesh brought this Stinkhorn, Phallus impudicus, to my attention. This mushroom imitates this smell to attract houseflies and bluebottles which it uses to disperse it’s spores in the same way as plants use insects to disperse pollen.Finally I returned to the tree where I had seen the slime mould back in February, which looked like this then as it munched it’s way through some Toothed Crust.

Today, four months later the same slime mould has completely devoured the Toothed Crust, Basidioradulum radula, and has started  to sporulate and looks like this.It is most likely a Badhamia species with it’s fruit bodies hanging like bunches of grapes.This is what is left of the Toothed Crust.I didn’t expect to see this slime mould still developing on the same oak branch after all this time.

Cricklade North Meadow

Found myself in Wiltshire last weekend at the perfect time to see the fritillaries at this nationally important nature reserve. This meadow has 80% of the UK’s population of snakes head fritillaries. I have known about this meadow for a long time but this is the first time I have been to visit. It is quite a spectacle. Obviously the main attraction are the fritillaries.

Snake’s Head Fritillary
White Snake’s Head Fritillary

Because this site has always been managed as a traditional hay meadow there are lots of other plants amongst the fritillaries that are no longer common in the rest of the UK. I was particularly interested in the number of different plants looking like they were in the Apiaceae family (carrot family) Among the true Apiaceae there were the familiar Cow Parsley and Common Hogweed. The deadly poisonous Hemlock Water Dropwort looking remarkably like it’s relative Wild Celery.

Hemlock Water Dropwort
Hemlock Water Dropwort
Hemlock Water Dropwort

With out a distinct smell, and definitely no celery smell this was not Wild Celery. The Hemlock Water Dropwort can be seen along the banks or the River Churn and River Thames that define the boundaries of the meadow.

Also on the banks of the Thames were a few plants of Wild Angelica.

Wild Angelica

Another member of the Apiaceae that I found there was, I suspect, Pepper Saxifrage. This plant looks very like wild carrot but is hairless. The field guides seem to pay little attention to the shape of the leaves of this family of plants and it is a long way from flowering so difficult to reach a conclusive identification.

Pepper Saxifrage
Pepper Saxifrage
Pepper Saxifrage

There were a number of plants that, before they flower, look like members of the carrot family. One is Meadow Rue which forms large dark green patches across the meadow.

Common Meadow Rue
Common Meadow Rue

The pinnate leaf and bract wrapping round the stem at the base of the leaf stalk are typical carrot family features also found in the rue family. These feature are also found in the buttercup family and there was plenty of meadow buttercups doing carrot impressions before they flowered. The palmate divided leaves give it away as a buttercup.

Meadow Buttercup
Meadow Buttercup

Lastly there was both Meadowsweet along the banks of the river

Meadowsweet

and the closely related Dropwort after which the Water Dropworts are named.

Dropwort
Dropwort

Both Meadowsweet and Dropwort are in the Rose Family and have sweet smelling flowers used in the past to flavour drinks. The name Meadowsweet is actually a corruption of Mead Sweet and it was used to flavour mead. These two plants are also a rich source of salicylic acid and were the original source for the drug Aspirin which gives the leaves a bitter taste.

Chicken of the Woods in season now

Added some new pages to our website about wild mushrooms in season now, Chicken of the  Woods and Fairy Ring Mushrooms

http://wp.me/P7neDj-6W and http://wp.me/P7neDj-6G

Wild Garlic Foraging Workshop

Just over a week left before our last Wild Garlic Foraging Workshop for this year. It’s on Sunday 15th May. We’ll be exploring the delights of Suffolk Wildlife Trusts Arger Fen Reserve before heading into the wild garlic and finish off with Carl creating the finest wild food dishes from our days foraging. Anger fen has spectacular bluebells too, which will be in full bloom. You can book your place on the Mushroom Table Shop.

Wild Garlic (1)

A purple Day foraging for St George’s Mushroom

Out in the woods this afternoon looking for St George’s Mushrooms. Not expecting much  as it is the lunar perigee today. They have been a bit patchy this year. Some rings have been dormant others prolific. This bunch weighed in at around 500g

Calocybe gambosum
St George’s Mushroom.

But lots of wild flowers in the woods to see while looking for mushrooms and they all seem to be purple-ish.

Viola canina
Dog Violets

Dog violets have been out for a few weeks but seem at their best now

Dactyolorhiza fuschii
Early Purple Orchids

Early purple orchids are in full flower now

Dactylorhiza fuschii
Early Purple Orchid

This group were taking advantage of a clearing in the woods

Ajuga reptans
Bugle

Bugle, a relative of mint is one of my favourite woodland plants

Ajuga reptans
Bugle

Here’s the top down view showing it has a square stem

Glechma hederacea
carpet of Ground Ivy

Many paths are carpeted with Ground Ivy. You often notice the aromatic smell before you realise your walking on it.

Glechoma hederacea
carpet of Ground Ivy

It’s also known as Alehoof as it was used to flavour beer before hops were introduced

Lamium purpureum
Red Dead-nettles

Another purple plant is the Red Dead-nettle, Lamium purpureum. Called a dead-nettle because it has no sting. It’s in the mint family.

Spring in the woods

Here are a few views from my office today. You know it’s spring when you see wild flowers everywhere. It’s when the woods come alive. Everyone knows bluebells, with their vibrant colour and heady scent.

bluebell woods
Waves of Bluebells

But if your really lucky you’ll see this too

wood anemone
Carpet of Wood Anemone

or this

golden saxifrage
Bank of Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage

and keep your eyes peeled for these beauties

Sweet Violets
Sweet Violets
Dog Violets
Dog Violets
Garlic Mustard
Jack by the Hedge
Wild Strawberry
Wild Strawberry flowers
Wood Sorrel
Wood Sorrel