Wild Foods

American Mountain-Ash Berries

A few weeks ago we traveled to northeastern Vermont to visit family. This was an incredibly relaxing vacation for us. And I had the opportunity to finally try a fruit that I had only previously read about… berries from the American Mountain-Ash (Sorbus americana). This small tree is related to the European Mountain-Ash, and these trees are also commonly known as Rowan. I’ve written more about this genus in a previous article.

We happened to be in Vermont in the middle of September, and this appeared to be the peak time for Mountain-Ash berries this year. As we drove the small country roads and boated on the lake, I could see the clumps of bright red, almost glowing, berries growing on these small trees. I grabbed a bucket and some kitchen shears before we got on the boat one morning, and we found an overhanging tree covered in fruit.

Note that Mountain-Ash berries are not eaten fresh. They are very bitter and high in tanin, and they honestly do not taste very good. But birds love them fresh, and they serve as a great cold-season food for birds as the berries hang on the tree long into the Winter. I have found some reports that the fresh berries contain a substance (parasorbic acid) that is potentially nephrotoxic (toxic to the kidneys); however, this substance quickly breaks down into a harmless substance (sorbic acid) when the fruit is cooked or dried. The fruit was used by natives of North America as a medicine and food. Meat was dried and ground into a powder along with the dried berries and often mixed with other ingredients for a Winter or travelling food source that was high in protein and Vitamin C.

Excited to find some Mountain-Ash!

We had to harvest from the boat. The kids were excited to help… but quickly lost interest when they noticed the fish!

Mountain-Ash berries grow in large clumps which make harvesting pretty easy. I just clipped the clumps with some kitchen shears and tossed them into a bucket.

In about ten to fifteen minutes, we had a five-gallon bucket almost two-thirds full of loosely packed clumps of berries. Harvesting was significantly easier than cleaning. But cleaning was easy if not tedious. I spent a few hours sitting on the back deck pulling the stems off berries, tossing bad berries, and flicking off the variety of insects that make their home on the American Mountain-Ash. This was relaxing work, and my oldest son enjoyed helping out… volunteered on his own to help, even when I took some breaks!

My oldest son volunteered to help me sort and clean the berries.

Not a bad haul for 10-15 minutes of harvesting!

Mountain-Ash Berries!

There may be an easier way to really clean the berries, and I’ll share it if I find it. The berries had a lot of dust and debris on them even after the initial cleaning. I washed them all in the sink, draining them in a colander. I then took one cup at a time and tossed them in a bowl of clean water. Many of the bad berries and leaves and dried flowers floated to the top and could be easily picked out. This final cleaning took about another hour. I then spread all the berries in a thin layer on some kitchen towels on the counter to dry. The next morning, I packed all the berries into quart ziplock bags and ended up with about a gallon of berries. I packed these bags into my carry-on bag for the flight back home to East Tennessee. The TSA employees were just a little curious about what were in the the little ziplock bags!

We ended up with 4 quarts of berries.

Back in Tennessee, I decided to experiment with the berries in a variety of ways: mead, cordial, jam, and tincture. I’ll briefly describe the purpose and methods I used for each.

American Mountain-Ash Mead: Mead is a fermented honey drink also known as honey wine. When mixed with fruit, a mead is technically called a melomel. I used 3 pounds of a local honey (1 quart) for this 1-gallon batch of mead. This will give a nice medium-bodied mead. Less honey will be lighter and less sweet. More honey will be heavier, thicker, and more sweet. The Mountain-Ash berries are very high in tannin, and this adds a dryness to the wine, similar to a dry red wine such as a cabernet sauvignon. The fruit will also give additional and unique flavor to the mead. I boiled a half-gallon of water then stirred in the honey until it was all dissolved. I put the clean berries into a previously sterilized, 1-gallon glass jug, and I poured in the almost boiling honey water. I then filled the jug the rest of the way with just boiled water. I capped the jug with a rubber stopper (as seen in the photo below) and let the jug rest until the water cooled to about room temperature. I then pitched (poured in) the dried brewer’s yeast that I had in my garage. Ideally, I would have used a champagne yeast, but I didn’t have it on hand. I replaced the rubber stopper with a plastic airlock that allows the fermenting mead to release gas without allowing outside air, and contaminants, into the mead. The mead is bubbling away as I write this, and it will probably will do so for a few weeks before I transfer it to another jug to age.

Mountain-Ash Syrup: A syrup is basically any concentrated liquid (tea, juice, etc.) that is sweetened with sugar, honey, or any other sweetener. The purpose of a syrup can be for flavoring or medicinal. Often used as a way to make herbal teas or decoctions more palatable. There are number of medicinal uses for Mountain-Ash berries. Because they have a high Vitamin C content, they were traditionally used to prevent scurvy, especially considering that the berries stay on the tree long into the Winter. Mountain-Ash berries are very astringent (drying… due in large part to their high tannin content), and were also used for anything that involved swelling or irritation (upper respiratory infections and sore throats, diarrhea, boils, etc.). Additionally, it was commonly used as a “digestive” to aid or stimulate digestion. From a medical perspective, I believe that this probably helps increase gastrointestinal motility, but I have no evidence for this yet. However, because Mountain-Ash berries have also been used as a mild laxative, I believe this makes sense, at least theoretically. This syrup was pretty easy to make. I added about 1/2 cup of water to a quart of berries and simmered them until the berries were very soft, about 20-30 minutes. I used a potato masher and smashed all the berries. I poured this mashed fruit into a fine colander and let the juice drip out. I could have left it drain overnight in the refrigerator for a very clear juice, but I didn’t want to wait so I pressed the mashed fruit to quickly express as much juice as possible. This resulted in a cloudy juice. I heated this in a small, clean saucepan, and I added honey to this to make it quite sweet, but not overly so. I store this in the refrigerator, so I am not too concerned about spoilage. I will likely use this syrup as a flavored sweetener to a hot cup of tea this coming Winter. It has a very bitter flavor, but there is a nice, aromatic fruity flavor behind it. I enjoy a nice bitter drinks like a strong IPA beer or coffee, bitter greens like endive and radicchio, and semi-sweet foods like grapefruit and dark chocolate, so the bitterness in Mountain-Ash is rather nice, if not rather strong.

Mountain-Ash & Apple Jam: I have read that Mountain-Ash/Rowan berries pair well with sweet and tart fruits like apples and cranberries. Well, I didn’t have any cranberries on hand, so I used apples. This was a simple jam recipe. I used about 1 cup of table sugar, 1.5 quarts of Mountain-Ash berries, and 3 apples (I think… it may have been 4. They were Honey Crisp if I remember). I added all these together and simmered them for about 30-40 minutes. I let it cool just a bit, then I put the mixture into a blender and pureed it. Some people will use more sugar, but I didn’t want to mask the flavor of the berries. It has a similar but sweeter flavor to the syrup above, but be warned… it is very tart and bitter! Since I made just a small amount, I decided to store the jars in the refrigerator instead of doing a hot water bath.

Mountain-Ash Tincture: Tinctures are a medicinal product created by soaking a plant, mushroom, or animal product in alcohol. These are simple to make. I poured about a pint of berries into an old port bottle I found when I was living in Portugal. I topped the bottle off with Vodka. I will let this set for weeks to months. I have tested it after about a week, and it is strong stuff! Not just the Vodka… a lot of the tannins come through, at least so far. They may mellow a bit. One thing people may do to make tinctures more palatable is to add honey to the tincture. This would then be called an elixir. If the flavor doesn’t mellow, then I will probably be doing this.


From left to right: Mountain-Ash Mead, Mountain-Ash Syrup, Mountain-Ash and Apple Jam (three jars), and Mountain-Ash Tincture


All photos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

Subscribe to TCPermaculture.com and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Planting Ramps in our Forest

There is something about the Spring forest that brings me a deep sense of joy and contentment. The days are growing longer. The air is warming. The trees are waking from their slumber. The songbirds are returning.

After the Winter, walking in the Spring woods seems to rejuvenate me as well.

It is in this temperate climate Spring forest that Ramps will grow.

These wild onions with strong garlic and leek undertones are true Spring ephemerals. They only shoot up in the early Spring forest, and they quickly depart as the trees’ canopy fills back in with new leaves to cover the forest floor in shadow.

I have previously written about Ramps in one of my plant articles.

Ramps are now growing on our farm in Tennessee!

When we moved to our farm in East Tennessee, Ramps were one of the plants I was hoping to find. Unfortunately, I have yet to come across a wild patch of them on our property.

I had been contemplating how to bring Ramps to our farm when an opportunity crossed my path.

My family and I recently had to travel to northern Indiana. We try to use our camper as much as possible, and we used it for this trip staying at a few different campgrounds. I spent many early mornings walking through the forests in and near the parks where we were staying, often with one of the kids who woke up early enough to join me.

The ephemeral Spring woodland where the ramps were growing.

There was a small forest bordering the property of one of the campgrounds. I recognized it as a special place as soon as I entered. Overhead were mature maple and beech trees with their young leaves just forming. There was an understory of flowering dogwood and pawpaw trees. Blanketing the moist ground were at least three different Trillium species all in flower, Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum), Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum), Wild Ginger (Asarum), multiple ferns, and… Ramps! Literally thousands of Ramps covered the floor of this Spring forest! Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo of the areas with dense Ramp plants, but I did get the photo above where there were a lot more of the other Spring ephemerals.

Fresh Ramps!

I spoke with the owner of the campground, and he told me he owned this forest as well. He was unaware of the plants he had growing there, but he seemed very interested to learn what I had found. He also told me that I could harvest a few Ramps for myself. I did so, but very carefully. Trilliums are sensitive to disturbance, and they will usually die if any part of the plant is picked or damaged. Since many Trilliums are endangered, I chose to harvest Ramps that were not growing near the Trilliums. I carefully dug up the Ramps preserving as much of the roots as possible. I then pushed the soil back in place and replaced the forest detritus.

I decided to eat a few Ramps with breakfast, sauteed in butter with our free-range chicken eggs… amazing! I saved the rest to transplant.

I planted the Ramps (3)  near Mayapples (2) and Pawpaw saplings (1).

We returned to Tennessee a few days later, and I knew exactly where to plant the Ramps. One small valley on our property has relatively moist soil. This is where our largest Pawpaw patch resides nestled under the overstory of hickory and oak. There are Mayapples, False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum), and ferns growing underneath. This environment best matched the location where I harvested the Ramps.

I won’t know until next Spring if the Ramps took to their new home. But I am excited and hopeful. If they do survive the transplant, it will probably be 3-5 years before I will feel comfortable with their establishment before I will harvest any.

Regenerative agriculture is a long game.

It takes patience.

But the rewards are well-worth the wait.

And sometimes they are delicious, too!

Woodland Edge Plant Identification

A few days ago, I was walking through our pastures getting things ready to move our ewes to a new paddock. We have a clump of Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) trees on the edge of this paddock, and I noticed a swath of bright green growing under the trees and spilling over into the pasture. I went over to investigate and noticed a number of plants that I could not identify. I took a few photos and did my best to identify them, but was only partially successful. So I posted them on Facebook and had an almost immediate response from a number of online friends. Within a few hours I was able to confirm all the species in the photos. This is when I love social media!

Here was my initial post:

Plant Identification Photo 1

Plant Identification Photo 2

Plant Identification Photo 3

Looking for some plant identification help.

These plants are all growing on the edge of one of my pastures, on the western border of a clump of Eastern Red Cedar trees. They are in a low point, so they have plenty of moisture, but not sitting water.

1. Pretty positive this is Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum).
2. ? The wispy plant with tiny white flowers
3. Pretty sure this is a type of burdock
4. ?
5. ?
6. ? These plants have gotten quite tall in a few spots in the pasture… maybe up to 6 feet?

Anyone know these plants?


As I said, I was quickly able to identify all the plants. And as I was confirming the plant identification, I was able to learn some useful information about these species. I’ll show the photos again with the species and information:

Purple Dead Nettle

The characteristic “square stem” of Purple Dead Nettle

1. Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) – Native to Europe but introduced to North America. Considered a weed. Does not sting like its relative Stinging Nettle. It is considered edible and nutritious, but most people blend them into smoothies (I am guessing to mask the flavor?)


Hairy Bittercrest

2. Hairy Bittercrest (Cardamine hirsuta) – Native to Eurasia but introduced to North America. Considered a weed. In the Cabbage and Mustard family. The leaves and tiny flowers are edible and have a spicy-hot cress flavor which can be used in small amounts in salads or cooked as a potherb.



The “burrs” of Burdock. Note the small hooks on the ends of the tips.

3. Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa) – Native to Eurasia. Considered a weed in North America. Used a root vegetable and is reportedly very good (has a neutral flavor that picks up the flavor of whatever is cooked with it)… I’m going to have to try some! Also used in folk and traditional medicine for many purposes.




Chickweed’s diagnostic single row of hairs on one edge of the stem.

Chickweed for breakfast! Sauté with butter in a cast iron skillet with over easy duck eggs… delicious!

4. Chickweed (Stellaria media) – Native to Europe but introduced to North America. Often considered a weed. Highly nutritious wild edible; some say when cooked they taste just like spinach. I tried some just this morning for breakfast, and it was excellent. I really mean that. Often time, “wild” foods are bland or very strongly flavored, and you have to force yourself to eat it. But not so with Chickweed. I will be harvesting this for food on a regular basis!



5. Cleavers (Galium aparine) – Probably native to North America. Often considered a weed. Tender young shoots, leaves, and stem are edible (before fruits appear). Geese like to eat it (also known as Goosegrass) – I have geese! In the same family as coffee; the fruit can be dried, roasted, ground, and used like coffee!



Giant Cane/River Cane

6. Giant Cane/River Cane (Arundinaria gigantea) – This is one of our native North American bamboo species in the genus Arundinaria. We only have three native species of bamboo in North America: Giant Cane (Arundinaria gigantea), Hill Cane (Arundinaria appalachiana), and Switch Cane (Arundinaria tecta). Base on the size of the plants on our property, this is Giant Cane (Arundinaria gigantea), also known as River Cane. It has grown well over 6 feet on our property, but can reach heights of over 33 feet (10 meters)!. It has all the uses of other bamboos around the world. I am especially interested in the shoots for cooking! Giant Cane is also an “important habitat for the Swainson’s, hooded, and Kentucky warblers, as well as the white-eyed vireo. The disappearance of the canebrake ecosystem may have contributed to the rarity and possible extinction of the Bachman’s warbler, which was dependent upon it for nesting sites.” (quote from Wikipedia)


All photos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

Subscribe to TCPermaculture.com and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Spring Forest Plants!

Spring may be my favorite season.

I love walking in our woods and seeing the Earth wake up from its Winter slumber.

Here are some photos I took this morning…

Cercis canadensis, the Eastern Redbud, is much more pink and magenta than red.
Redbuds are “nitrogen fixers”… that means they pull nitrogen from the air to be used for its growth. It also provides some excess nitrogen to surrounding plants.
The flowers are also edible!


Asimina triloba is the Common Paw Paw, the largest native North American fruit!


Another photo of Asimina triloba, the Common Paw Paw.
Its scientific species name, “triloba” refers to the flower’s three-lobed calices and doubly three-lobed corollas.


Silene virginica is known as Fire Pink.
It attracts and is pollinated by the Ruby Throated Hummingbird.


Prunus americana is the American Wild Plum.
Their fruits are edible, and while sweet they are also very tart.


Carya ovata, the Shagbark Hickory.
Bud in the foreground and trunk in the background. The trunk is what gives this tree its name!


Carya ovata, the Shagbark Hickory.
Now with the bud in focus.


Viola sororia, the Common Blue Violet… but considering its purple color, I prefer its other name, the Common Meadow Violet.
Edible flowers and leaves!


Oxalis violacea is the Violet Wood-Sorrel.
The flowers, leaves, stems, and bulb are all edible and taste sour (in a good way), similar to a lemon.
Also known as the “Wild Shamrock”.


All photos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

Subscribe to TCPermaculture.com and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Wild Onions!

We’ve got a lot of Wild Onions (Allium canadense) popping up in our pastures right now.

According to one source, there are over 100 Allium species in North America. Allium being the genus of species containing onion and garlic species. These are a number of similar appearing plants, but fortunately, any of these plants that smell like onions or garlic are edible. Some species are more tasty than others.  Note that there are many plants that resemble onions or garlic, but if they do not smell like onions or garlic then these may be toxic. Wild Garlic (Allium vineale) and Wild Onion (Allium canadense) are closely related and can be difficult to differentiate. The best way to tell them apart is to examine their leaves. Wild Onion has solid, flat leaves, while Wild Garlic has hollow leaves.download full film Ex Machina

It’s easiest to use just the green tops of Wild Onion or Wild Garlic as scallions/green onions. We can also use the bulbs if we want to dig them up. They are usually pretty small, but they still have a good flavor, somewhere between a mild onion and garlic clove or shallot.

Wild Onion and Wild Garlic will form spherical-shaped flower clusters, and often the flowers are replaced with bulblets  (as seen in the photo above).


Subscribe to TCPermaculture.com and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!


Making an Herbal Tea with Local Ingredients

All people have a specific set of taste preferences. This is a combination of genetic predispositions, culture, food and taste exposures, and likely many other factors. My oldest daughter (currently age 4) has a set of taste preferences closest to mine; we will pretty much eat anything. This will range from “common” American food to those foods that are more “acquired tastes” such as sushi to olives to sauerkraut to organ meat. She is the only one of my four children that will drink tea with me. Most mornings she will ask if we can have a “cuppa”.

I thought it would be fun to teach her how to make an herbal tea from ingredients we collected from our farm.

We went for a walk through our pastures, and we collected Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) flower buds, Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) flowers, Pasture Rose (Rosa carolina) flower petals, petals from another species of wild rose with deep pink, double flowers but less fragrance than the Pasture Rose, and new leaves from Blackberry (Rubus species) plants.


All the ingredients mixed together.

All the green parts from the Red Clover and Honeysuckle flowers were removed. We saved all the petals from the Roses. Then we dropped it all into a glass bowl. Everything smelled wonderful and very fragrant.

We poured almost-boiling water over the whole mix and let it steep for somewhere between 12-15 minutes. I’ll be honest, this smelled rather vegetal, and not so good.

We then strained the tea into mugs. I tasted it, and it had a mild, pleasant flavor. We added some local honey and a little bit of cream, and this made a huge difference. The sweetness of the honey really highlighted to floral essence of this tea. My daughter and I both finished our mugs and decided we need to do this again soon!


Subscribe to TCPermaculture.com and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!

Why I Love Hunting Mushrooms

The art above is Mushroom Picking, painted in 1860 by Polish painter Franciszek Kostrzewski.


Cooking some Shaggy Mane mushrooms I collected when living in the Azores, Portugal.

Cooking some Shaggy Mane mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) I collected when living in the Azores, Portugal. One of my favorites!

1. I love to eat mushrooms!

This is a pretty common reason why people get started hunting mushrooms, and I am no different. I had little love for mushrooms as I was growing up in suburbia. The choice was Button Mushrooms or Button Mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus), and I thought they were bland and slimy. However, after many years of traveling around the world, and being exposed to a wide variety of traditional, cultural foods, I not only grew to appreciate the mushroom as a food, but I became intrigued with the heritage and culture of foraging for this sometimes elusive prey. There are so many mushrooms with amazing flavors and textures that cannot be cultivated; they can only be foraged from the wild and only in the right season when all the conditions are perfect for a particular species to form the fruiting body (aka the “mushroom”). This has taken me on an exciting culinary journey: Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius) in the Pacific Northwest; Boletes/Porcini/Steinpilz (Boletus edulis) in Spain (with wild harvested snails) and Germany (with wild boar in a cream sauce); Morels (Morchella) in Minnesota; Shaggy Manes (Coprinus comatus) in the Azores; and most recently, Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea), Crown-Tipped Coral Fungus (Artomyces pyxidatus or Clavicorona pyxidata), and a Bauernhof Bolete** (Xanthoconium purpureum) on our farm in East Tennessee. 



Two photos of one of my sons with a Purple-Spored Puffball (Calvatia cyathiformis) taken 36 hours apart. This mushroom grows fast! This one was insect-ridden, so unfortunately it could not be eaten.

2. I love to be outside!

Any reason to keep me outside is a good thing. It is healthier for humans to be outside than to be indoors, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. I hope to write more about this in the future, but there is a lot of modern research that supports what many people have been saying for centuries.


The Gem-Studed Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum)

The Gem-Studded Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum), another edible mushroom in our forest!

My son and I found these Old Man of the Woods Mushrooms (Strobilomyces strobilaceus, also called Strobilomyces floccopus )

My son and I found these Old Man of the Woods Mushrooms (Strobilomyces strobilaceus or Strobilomyces floccopus), and these are yet another edible species of bolete on our farm!

3. I love to be in the forest!

This is a bit of an extension of “I love to be outside!”, but is is different. There is a drastic difference when I am working with my animals in the pasture versus when I am meandering through the forest. Both are outside, but there is an almost magical feeling for me when I am walking under the canopy of large trees. There is shade. The temperature is cooler. The air is moister. The noises are different. The colors are simultaneously muted but more intense. There is a rich scent that can only be found in the woods. This is where most mushrooms reside and hide.


A stunning Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)

A stunning Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) – not my photo

An Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) - also not my photo

An Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) – also not my photo

4. I love to observe nature!

Hunting for mushrooms is not a fast chase. It is a slow, thoughtful stroll in the woods. Walk too fast, and I will miss the mushrooms. When I slow down to a mushroom-hunting pace, I notice more things. I come across new plants and insects. I see a tree I didn’t know was here. Birds settle down more and care less about my presence. Only a week ago, on the day I found the Bauernhof Bolete** on my farm, a Red Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) flew into the hollow I was traversing. It landed in a tree just a few dozen yards from me and began to cry its classic kee-eeeee-arr!  About ten minutes later, I noticed a flash of reddish-brown and white and saw an Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) hunting for food amongst the shrubs on the forest edge. Only two minutes after than, a vivid blue Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyane) landed on the branch of a pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) I was excited to see was fruiting. These experiences are not what I get when I am hustling through from one point to another with only the destination in mind.

Identifying mushrooms also requires identifying the plants surrounding the mushroom. Was the mushroom fruiting on a conifer or hardwood tree? What species produced these dead logs and branches? Was the mushroom growing in the soil or on a log or on a log buried in the soil? These observations may make a big difference on whether I can identify a mushroom or not.


The first edible bolete I found in our forest!

The first edible bolete I found in our forest!

Classic bolete mushroom showing pores instead of gills.

Classic bolete mushroom showing pores instead of gills.

Another photo of the same species.

Another photo of the same species right before I cooked them!

5. I love to learn new things!

Thankfully, there is a never ending wealth of information and observations in the natural world. Mycology, while not a young science, is a rapidly growing field. I will not run out of new material when it comes to mushrooms!

**I came across the above bolete mushroom in our forest, and I was excited. Okay, I was pretty ecstatic! I absolutely love mushrooms, and a decent argument could be made for calling boletes the king of culinary mushrooms. But I had a heck of a time identifying this species. I am 99% sure that this is Xanthoconium purpureum. Also known as Boletus purpureofuscus, this summer bolete is common in the oak-hickory forests of the eastern United States, which is exactly where my farm is located. The cap (pileus) is velvety when young and can come in a range of colors from purplish-red to maroon to brown. I was surprised that this mushroom has no common name.

This species can contain a fair amount of bitterness, especially in the cap, but the stalk is quite good.

In celebration of finding this delicious mushroom growing in our forest, and the fact that this mushroom has no common name, I decided to call it the Bauernhof Bolete (after our farm, the Bauernhof Kitsteiner). Scientific names are a lot more difficult to create, but not a common name. That’s as easy as, well, just proposing it… like I just did!

(For full disclosure, there is a chance this mushroom is Xanthoconium affine, but I don’t think so. I will verify it with some chemical testing when I find some more samples!)


The Crown-Tipped Coral Fungus (Artomyces pyxidatus or Clavicorona pyxidata) is a delicious and very uncommon edible mushroom!

The Crown-Tipped Coral Fungus (Artomyces pyxidatus or Clavicorona pyxidata) is a delicious and very uncommon edible mushroom! They have a great, almost crunchy texture

A Common Earthball mushroom (Scleroderma citrinum), a non-deadly, but poisonous mushroom found in our forest.

A young Common Earthball mushroom (Scleroderma citrinum), a non-deadly, but poisonous mushroom found in our forest. It can cause significant gastrointestinal upset!

My 6 year old son is able to identify this Destroying Angel Mushroom (Amanita bisporigera)

My 6 year old son is able to identify this Destroying Angel Mushroom (Amanita bisporigera). It is a deadly mushroom, which is why he is giving a “mean face”.

6. I love to be adventurous!

There is a bit of adventure and a bit of daring when it comes to finding a new mushroom, identifying it, determining its edibility, then preparing it, cooking it, and eating it. It is not the same as hunting a wild animal, but it is not entirely unlike it either. Proper identification can make the difference between a fantastic meal or a night spent with intestinal misery (rarely death, but that is also possible if an egregious error is made). There are many, many people who think I am a bit, well, unconventional to eat mushrooms I collect from the wild. As mycologist David Arora, writes…

Bring home what looks like a wild onion for dinner, and no one gives it a second thought – despite the fact it might be a Death Camas you have, especially if you didn’t bother to smell it. But bring home a wild mushroom for dinner, and watch the faces of your friends crawl with various combinations of fear, anxiety, loathing, and distrust!


It was quite fun to show kids why this Dog Stinkorn ( Mutinus caninus) has an appropriate name!

It was quite fun to show my kids why this Dog Stinkorn (Mutinus caninus) has an appropriate name!

A montage of items collected with my 4 year old daughter during a walk in the woods.

A montage of items collected with my 4 year old daughter during a walk in the woods.  Clockwise from the turtle: Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea), Bolete (I believe it is Boletus harrisonii), Meadow Violet (Viola sororia), Crown-Tipped Coral Fungus (Artomyces pyxidatus or Clavicorona pyxidata), Unripe Mayapple, also known as the Wild American Mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum).

7. I love to teach!

Taking my kids into the woods and showing them the science, art, and craft of foraging wild foods is one of my favorite things to do. This activity combines most of my favorite things in life: nature, forests, science, foraging, food, and family. Life just doesn’t get much better!


If you liked this article, you may like…

Seventy Distintive Mushrooms
Wild Mushroom Identification (and a project for kids!)


Subscribe to TCPermaculture.com and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!


Photo References:

  • All photos of mushrooms are mine. Please ask if you would like to use them.
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mushroom_hunting#/media/File:KostrzewskiFranciszek.Grzybobranie.1860.jpg
  • https://www.audubon.org/sites/default/files/styles/hero_cover_bird_page/public/Indigo%20Bunting%20c22-37-204_V.jpg?itok=RL9WiOBS
  • https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/21/Pipilo_erythrophthalmus_-Quabbin_Reservoir,_Massachusetts,_USA_-male-8.jpg

Eggless Elderberry Flower Fritters

So I was a little giddy when I found a number of Elderberry bushes growing on our new farm. I saw the large, white, disks of flowers from a distance. I wasn’t positive until I got closer, but sure enough. We have Elderberry growing on the farm!

I did a quick search for Elderberry Flower Fritter recipes, and they all include eggs. That is not an issue for me, but one of my sons is allergic to eggs. So I set out to create a recipe for a Eggless Elderberry Flower Fritters! It was a huge success, so I wanted to share it. This recipe is great for anyone trying to avoid eggs, no matter the reason. I should also note that I really don’t like to use wheat flour, but I did so for a few reasons. First, when I am developing a variant recipe, I try to start with a more traditional recipe and make small changes. This allows me to catch mistakes/errors with more ease (Permaculture Principle Nine: Use Small and Slow Solutions). Second, once in a while, I do eat foods that are not healthy for me, because they just taste good! I will share results as I continue to experiment.

On a side note, we know my son is allergic to chicken eggs. He may not be allergic to duck eggs. Many people who are allergic to one species’ egg are not allergic to another species’ egg. Just something to keep in mind if you deal with chicken egg allergies.

When harvesting any “wild” plant, proper identification is vital. Following are some images of our Elderberry shrubs to help aid identification:

One of our Elderberry shrubs.

One of our Elderberry shrubs.

The flat flower heads are numerous.

The flat flower heads are numerous.

The tiny, individual flowers make a large flower head. The flowers have a soft, delicate fragrance.

The tiny, individual flowers make a large flower head. The flowers have a soft, delicate fragrance.

Elderberry leaves.

Elderberry leaves.

Note the tight, serrated edge.

Note the tight, serrated edge.

My daughter and nephew with our harvest!

My daughter and nephew with our harvest!


We harvested about 12-15 heads of Elderberry flowers.

There is always a balance to strike when harvesting flowers from a plant that also produces such amazing berries, but our harvest represented less than 1% of the total flowers from our collection of Elderberries. We harvested 12-15 heads.


The flowers were rinsed in clean water and allowed to dry.

It is also important to wash the flowers before use. I knocked off numerous, little insects. I wish I could have gotten a photo, but there was a small spider that looked as if it was designed just to grow on Elderberry flowers. It was beautiful!

While the flowers were drying, I put together the batter recipe.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Coconut oil for frying – I heated the oil in a medium pan until hot. Don’t let the oil get too hot, or the batter will burn.
  • Honey and powdered sugar (confectioners sugar) for drizzling and sprinkling.

The fritter batter should resemble a pancake batter. It cannot be too thick, or you will have a hard time getting the batter to stick to the individual flowers. If it is too thick, then you can add some more milk to the batter. I didn’t take any photos of the battering process, but it is pretty simple. Hold the flower head by the stem. Drip it into the batter. Dunk it up and down a few times, then drag it clockwise and then counter-clockwise a few times. This distributes the batter over the whole flower head. What you end up with looks like a ball of batter with a stem coming out the top – the weight of the batter collapses the flower head. Gently shake the battered flower head over the batter bowl. The excess batter will drip off. I then blotted the battered flower head on a plate to get even more excess batter off the flower head. I also think that this maneuver distributed the batter more evenly over the individual flowers.

Next, gently lower the battered flower head into the hot oil. You can do this with tongs if you are not used to cooking/frying with hot oil. Make sure you use a pan with high walls. The batter causes the oil to bubble up, and you can cause a fire if the oil bubbles over.

Once the battered flower head hits the oil, the flower head opens back up to its original size. If the batter is too thick, this is less likely to happen. Fry until the batter is golden.


Elderberry Flower Fritters frying!


Elderberry Flower Fritters drying! (I starting to sound like Dr. Seuss)


Finished fritters drizzled with local honey and sprinkled with powdered sugar!


This plate of fritters only lasted a few minutes before the kids devoured them!



Subscribe to TCPermaculture.com and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!


Photo References: All photos in this article are mine. Please ask if you would like to use them!

Permaculture Plants: Wineberry

Common Name: Wineberry, Japanese Wineberry, Wine Raspberry
Scientific Name: Rubus phoenicolasius
Family: Rosacaceae (the Rose family)


The Wineberry (great photos from World Turn’d Upside Down Blog)

Many people living in the eastern U.S. have seen this plant without knowing it, because it is often mistaken for the wild blackberry or raspberry plant. To be honest, people who know of Wineberry either love it or hate it. It is used as an ornamental and is grown for its delicious berries, but, this plant is viewed as a weed and invasive in many parts of the eastern U.S. and Europe. If you are not a fan of Wineberry, it doesn’t much matter as it is not going anywhere soon. Instead of trying to eradicate it with toxic chemicals, we can use it as a supplemental feed for browsing animals, and we can use its sweet fruits for ourselves.


Wineberry Rubus phoenicolasius

Native and widespread in Asia (China, Korea, and Japan). It was introduced into the U.S. in 1890 (at least) to be used for breeding programs with raspberries/blackberries and as an ornamental. It “escaped” and has spread through eastern North America becoming so well established that it is often considered invasive. Wineberry is still used today in berry breeding programs.


  • Wineberry berries are not technically a berry, they are considered an aggregate fruit, just like raspberries and blackberries.
  • Wineberry’s stems are covered in reddish hairs (rather thorny) that make the stems appear red from a distance. This was a main contributor to its ornamental appeal. The Latin name phoenicolasius is derived from phoenicus which is Latin for red.
  • It was once thought that the Wineberry was a partially carnivorous plant. The developing berries are covered in a bristly calyx that produce a sticky fluid. Insects are often caught in this fluid, but research has shown that the plant does not digest the insects.

Wineberry Tartlets (click on the image for the recipe in German)


Primary Uses:

  • Fresh eating – many claim to like Wineberries better than raspberries, but others believe there are too many seeds for the size of fruit. When fully ripe, it has a flavor of mostly raspberry with a bit of strawberry.
  • Cooked – used as raspberries or blackberries. Pies, tarts, cobblers, jams, preserves, etc.
  • Alcohol – should be a great primary or adjuct juice for wines, beers, and liquors.

Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – the red stems are rather pretty in the Autumn and Winter
  • Pioneer Plant –
  • Wildlife Shelter – birds and small mammals take shelter in the brambles.
  • Hedge Plant – large animals (4 and 2 legged) have a hard time traversing a hedge of Wineberry. Could be used/encouraged as a planted barrier/fencing.
  • Wildlife Food – birds, mammals, and some reptiles enjoy the fruits (and therefore spread the seeds!)
  • Browse Plant – while I would not plant this specifically for browse (i.e. food for goats, sheep, etc.), if you have it on your property, it can be used for this purpose. There is research from Wisconsin that shows cattle will graze, and may prefer, foraging on brambles.
  • Can be used for dye (purple/blue).


Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Berries are produced in early Summer to early Autumn.
Storage: Use fresh. Can be frozen (individually on a cookie sheet is best, then stored in a freeze bag). Can be dehydrated. Use within a few days at most.

Harvesting Wineberries

Harvesting Wineberries (great photos from World Turn’d Upside Down Blog)


Wineberry canes in production.


USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 4-8, although some sources state hardiness only to Zone 5
AHS Heat Zone: 8-1
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Small Shrub
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Shub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: While interbred with blackberries and raspberries, the Japanese Wineberry has not been improved much in the U.S. as it is often considered an invasive, although it was cultivated in Asia. There are some named varieties.

Pollination: Self-fertile. Pollinated by insects.
Flowering: Late Spring to early Summer (May-June)

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Fruiting: 2 years
  • Years of Useful Life: No good information available, but as this plant produces on second year growth and spreads so easily via root buds and new canes, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.

Wineberry fruit ready to harvest!

Wineberry stems have numerous, small thorns.

Wineberry stems have numerous, small thorns and red, bristly hairs covering the stems.

Wineberry fruits developing.

Wineberry fruits developing within the calyces covered in bristly hairs that secrete a sticky liquid.


Size: 9 feet (3 meters) tall and 3 feet (1 meter) wide
Roots: Fibrous
Growth Rate: Fast

Wineberry seedlings

Wineberry seedlings


Light: Prefers light shade to full sun
Shade: Tolerates light to moderate shade, but likely produces more fruit with more sun
Moisture: Prefers moist to wet soils, but can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions
pH: Tolerates a wide range of soil conditions

Special Considerations for Growing:
Wineberry produces fruit on second year growth. Here is how it works: New growth originates from the root as a single, non-woody, non-branching stem called a primocane. That primocane will grow to full height, but it does not put out any side shoots, and it doesn’t produce any flowers. Come the second year, the stem becomes woody and is now called a floricane. The floricane does not grow taller, but it will now produce side stems or shoots. These side shoots will produce clusters of flowers on a structure called a racime. These flowers will then yield the Wineberry’s berries.

Seed – easily. Requires cold stratification for 4-16 weeks. Layering with tips is commonly used – new plants grow from the tips of canes that touch the ground. Can be divided in Spring.

It is important to cut out and remove the old, fruiting stems (floricanes) after fruiting. This is typically done when the plant goes dormant in late Autmn or Winter. This allows the plant to move nutrients from the leaves and stems into the roots. However, it can be done right ater harvest if the plants are showing a lot of disease.


  • Listed as a “noxious weed” in many locations. Connecticut and Massachusettes have banned Wineberry.
  • Spreads easily through seed (birds are a major factor) and vegetative growth.



Subscribe to TCPermaculture.com and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!


Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f2/Rubus_phoenicolasius_D.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5f/Japanse_wijnbes_rijpe_vruchten.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/85/Rubus_phoenicolasius_stem_001.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Botanischer_Garten_Uni_Bonn_-_Rubus_phoenicolasius.jpg
  • http://www.permacultuurnederland.org/planten.php?zoek=braam&laag=&functieSER=YjowOw==&page=0&pid=27&sort=naz
  • http://chocolat-bleu.blogspot.com/2010_07_01_archive.html
  • http://worldturndupsidedown.blogspot.com/2011/07/wild-berry-picking.html
  • http://donwiss.com/pictures/F-2011-07-04/0017.jpg
  • http://www.plantillustrations.org/illustration.php?id_illustration=3995&height=3621
  • http://thefruitnut.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/imgp9587.jpg


Wild Mushroom Identification (and a project for kids!)

I want to take a few minutes to explain why identifying your local mushrooms is important. Even if you have no desire to ever eat a wild mushroom, which I think is a travesty, there is still a few good reasons to go beyond simple avoidance.

And for all you sticklers out there, I know a “mushroom” is really called a “fruiting body”, but for sake of simplicity for the average reader, I will stick with the layman’s vernacular. 

These mushrooms popped up all over my neighborhood... but what were they?

These mushrooms popped up all over my neighborhood… but what were they?

Before I get into the reasons, let me give you some background:
We’ve been in our new neighborhood for a few weeks now, and last week it rained quite a bit. Within a few days, there were mushrooms popping up in many of our neighbors lawns. Now I never really dismiss mushrooms. I am kind of addicted to them. I like to try and identify mushrooms, and I absolutely love to find edible mushrooms. However, I am not a highly skilled mycologist. Yes, when comparing myself to the average man-on-the-street, I am smarter than your average bear pertaining to the topic of mycology. But I am not a Paul Stamets or David Arora (these are two famous and noted mycologists… two of my favorite mycologists, in fact… and I know it makes me a geek when I actually have “favorite” mycologists!).

Well, the ones I saw were large, mostly white, and gilled. While a number of mushrooms can make a person sick, very few mushrooms in North America are actually deadly; however, there are a few mushrooms fitting this description that are, indeed, deadly. This includes the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) and the Destroying Angels (species including Amanita ocreata, A. verna, A. virosa, A. bisporigera). If a person is a beginning mushroom hunter, you should avoid eating any mushrooms that comes close to this description. If you are a mid-level, amateur mycologist (like me), then it is fun to identify them, but I would probably never eat this type of mushroom, just in case I am wrong. A seasoned mushroom hunter or a professional mycologist may feel comfortable eating a mushroom of this type, but even some of these people avoid eating them. There is not room for error with these mushrooms. This nice thing is that these mushrooms are easily avoided. And there are so many other edible mushrooms that are easily identified, that we are not missing out on much by avoiding mushrooms that may look like deadly species.

Well, I saw a few of these mushrooms, and I quickly realized they were not going to be easily identified without a little bit of work. I had a few guesses for species, but I wasn’t sure. But we had just moved here, and we had a lot of other things going on, and frankly, I just didn’t have the time to try and identify these mushrooms. But then I saw more of them, and then some more, and then even my wife was telling me about them popping up in the neighbors’ lawns. I started to reevaluate  the need to identify these mushrooms, and I came up with a few reasons why it could actually be more than just a personally interesting project.

First – I really just like to know the biology that is surrounding me. It was kind of bothering me to have this many mushrooms popping up around me when I didn’t know what they were.

Second – In a worst-case scenario, one of my children, one of my neighbors’ children, or even my dog, could end up taking a bite of one of these mushrooms. It would be very helpful to know how concerned I needed to be about these mushrooms surrounding me, my family, and my community.

Third – I will be working in a local ER in a few weeks. It is not uncommon for parents or babysitters to show up with a child who ate some mushrooms from the front yard. They often come in with the remnants of the mushroom cap. Since this is my local area, it would be good to have this information on hand to make a faster clinical decision.

Fourth – I had a great kids science project right in front of me. Every time we walked past these mushrooms, my two boys (age 5 and 6 years old) would ask if these were poisonous mushrooms or not. I kept telling them that since we didn’t know what they were, we have to assume they are poisonous for now.

A partial Fairy Ring.

A partial Fairy Ring.

Once I decided to try and identify these mushrooms, I had to gather some information. I grabbed my boys, and we went for some collections of data and specimens. We found this partial ring of mushrooms growing a few houses away. This ringed pattern is sometimes a full circle, and it is called a Fairy or Elf Ring/Circle. After reading The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit with my kids at bedtime, by boys loved that name!

I took photos of mushrooms at various ages of development, from just popping through the soil to very mature. (see the photos that follow)

Young unidentified mushrooms.

Young unidentified mushrooms.

False Parasol Chlorophyllum molybdites

Prime Unidentified Mushroom

False Parasol Chlorophyllum molybdites

Another photo of the same specimen from above, showing the gills and the firmly attached ring (annulus).

False Parasol Chlorophyllum molybdites

A mature specimen of our unidentified mushroom. 

We returned to the house with a number of photos and a few specimens. After really examining these mushrooms, I had already narrowed down the list in my head, but I was still not certain. I took about 10 minutes, and gave my boys a little science lesson on the parts and life cycle of mushrooms. They really got into it, and they can still name all the parts to a mushroom (fruiting body) – they were looking over my shoulder as I wrote this and pointed them out to me!

All my books are still being shipped from the Azores, including all my mushroom and mycology books, so I used the MycoKeys Online Morphing Mushroom Identifier. This is a really useful tool, and is pretty simple to use.

With the information I had gathered so far, I had narrowed down the choices to two likely species. The first was the highly edible Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera) or the False Parasol (Chlorophyllum molybdites) which is not deadly, but definitely poisonous causing severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. The False Parasol is responsible for the most mushroom poisonings in the United States each year. But how do we tell them apart?

The answer is a Spore Print. This is a very simple project, and my kids were fascinated by it. The spores produced by a mushroom will drop from the gills under the cap. Each individual spore is way too small to be seen by the naked eye, but if there are enough of them in one spot, we can determine the color of the spores. The fallen spores will leave a pattern that is unique to that species and individual specimen, just like a fingerprint. A mature cap (I used the one pictured above), with the stalk (stem) removed, is placed on a piece of paper. Putting the cap on a half sheet of black and a half sheet of white paper will ensure the spores can be seen if the spores are all white or black. The cap is left for at least a few hours, but it is best to leave it overnight. I had a very mature mushroom, and my kids were impatient, so after about three hours we checked on our print.

A beautiful spore sprint!

A beautiful spore sprint!
I put half of the cap back on top to show both the cap and spore print in one photograph.

The spore print was a nice, pale green, and this clinched our identification. Our mushroom was the False Parasol (Chlorophyllum molybdites). My kids now know that these mushrooms are poisonous. I am relieved they are not deadly. I have a bit more confidence in my mushroom identification skills. My kids had a fun time without even realizing they were learning… which is how education should be! And I got to know some of my mycological neighbors.

But, if I am honest, I was a bit bummed they weren’t edible!


Other popular related articles:


Subscribe to TCPermaculture.com and receive updates whenever a new article is posted!


Photo References: All photos are mine. If you would like to use them, please let me know!