The weather in northwest Wisconsin is below average and I am still heating my home in Minong. It is a wet and rainy season this spring and impossible to start a garden under these circumstances.
My friend Debora and I went out to the Washburn County forest at 5 p.m. last evening to a favorite haunt between Hayward and Minong in search of leeks also known as ramps. There were large colonies of leeks and yellow trout lily. The lily bulbs were quite small and we decided not to gather them outside of a few that came along with the leeks when we dug in the deep, composted and compacted forest soil. I tried a few yellow trout lily bulbs and they tasted like raw potatoes.
I never saw as many trout lilies in my life.
This was certainly a bountiful colony stretching across the forest floor in the near and far away woods.
The leeks are difficult to dig when growing in large clumps among other woodland plants. One needs to separate them out after digging. Leek leaves and bulb are both edible. Yellow trout lily on the other hand only provides an edible bulb. The fun is in the gathering.
I have learned over the years that it takes three times the work to clean, sort, cut roots and save leaves after gathering.
Leek leaves need to be dried by using paper towels and placing single leaves in a tray, separated by layers of paper towel sheets between each row of leaves. Place the leaves in the freezer for a few minutes to start the freezing process.
Then remove the trays from the freezer and transfer leek leaves with paper sheets intact to a ziplock freezer bag. Be sure to mark the bag in order to identify what you have preserved. Believe me, after a while, most foods will look the same after they have been in the freezer for any period of time.
Debora noticed something else in the woods and went to explore what it was. She discovered emerging what we thought were ostrich ferns.
It was only later I learned that the fern was cinnamon (Osmunda cinnemomea) or interrupted fern (O. claytonia). I have gathered fiddlehead ferns before and I enjoy bracken fern as fiddleheads. Now I know why I prefer them.
For one the ferns left a stain on the plastic bag we were using. I should have been alerted then that something was wrong. Then I tried to eat one that I blanched and it tasted terrible. Even an experienced gatherer like myself can get confused. Always research before gathering. We should have carried the Forager’s Harvest or Nature’s Garden by Samuel Thayer to the gathering site and verified the species before picking. I had left the books in the van. Live and learn!
Fiddlehead ferns of cinnamon and interrupted fern have a hairy covering and simply are not worth taking a risk. Don’t ever use either one. Seek true ostrich or bracken ferns for wild edibles. They are delicious and you will be well pleased.
Another group of wild edible gatherers are going to another forest where Happy Tonics has a wild butterfly habitat with land use for the habitat from the DNR. I know we have bracken fern out there in the clearing and I hope the ferns are ready to gather on Monday. I will let you know next week how this turns out.
Be happy insectamonarca friends where ever you are.