Love of Foraging

Collecting and utilizing items from the wild has long been a hobby and passion of mine.  I have been extremely fortunate to have many outstanding teachers.

First on the list would have to be my father, Dr. Frank Manzer, a retired Plant pathologist at the University of Maine.  He introduced me to identification and utilization of various weeds, berries, and fungi.  While my mother and I did most of the collecting, our entire family got in on the act.

My wife’s parents, who were struggling farmers in impoverished central West Virginia, were also avid foragers largely out of necessity.  I enjoyed collecting nuts, greens, berries, and other native bounties in West Virginia with them.

In college I was also lucky to have at my disposal two highly renowned plant taxonomists in Drs. Faye Hyland and Charles Richards.  These two were indispensable in my gaining proficiency identifying all types of wild plants.

While I (purposely) haven’t addressed any edible fungi in this column, I owe gratitude to the late Dr. Richard Homola.  He taught me mycology and was an all around great guy.  Through his tutelage I learned the importance of collecting spore prints and studying the entire sporophyte, not simply a section of it.

The reason I don’t wish to include mushroom foraging is simple.  It’s too easy to make a mistake and one error could cost a life.  The common meadow mushroom (Agaricus campestris) is nearly identical to the commercially raised ones (Agaricus bisporus) in all the grocery stores. It is completely safe and very good.  Some people call them the pink bottom mushroom. One problem is that they closely resemble the destroying angel (Aminita verna), which is also white, but with a white spore print and not a black one.

Aminita also has a cup-like base called a volva that holds the mushroom.  Both species have cream colored caps with scales and a ring on the stipe.  The genus Aminita accounts for about 90 percent of mushroom related deaths.

What is a spore print?  It is like a fingerprint for mushrooms; that’s one more identifying factor.  The spores may be light or dark colored, so it’s helpful to take a print on both white and dark paper.

Separate the cap from the stem (stipe) and lay it gills down on the paper.  In a few hours the spores will be released and the print will appear.  Note the color and don’t take any chances.

One destroying angel in a whole basket of meadow mushrooms could be enough to kill.  The two species are often found growing in the same areas at the same times.

There are numerous common, safer, and less confusing species, but unless someone is a serious aspiring student of mycology I suggest avoiding wild mushrooms.  We have so many wild greens, berries, and nuts, why take the chance?

Most of the best greens are available during the spring, fall, and winter.  Berries abound in the summer, and grapes, nuts, paw paws, and persimmons are plentiful in the fall.  I’ll continue to cover them as their seasons’ progress.

Ted Manzer teaches Agriculture at Northeastern High School

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper ( I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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2 Responses to Love of Foraging

  1. Sarah Wilson says:

    Does foraging include finding and gathering more than just plants? I thought it would include animals, too, such as insects. Top Chef had an episode with Shailene Woodley as a judge, “known for her love of foraging.” I’m trying to learn more. I’m also organizing The Grasshopper Festival this summer in Northeast Washington state.

    • tedmanzer says:

      Absolutely insects count. So do other things that aren’t even used for food or medicine like dyes or natural fiber for insulation and the like.

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