ForagingMarch 22, 2021
On any given day in the woods of Southern WV, you can find native herbs, berries, mushrooms and flowers to snack on or add to your next meal.
Long before humans planted gardens or had the luxury of shopping at the market, they foraged in the woods for foods to eat. Today, foraging is popular because people want to eat more local and seasonal foods, and feel a connection to where their food comes from and how it is grown.
Many foragers also just like spending quiet time in the forest.
Being a forager means that you have to be able to identify the plants that you want, know the most likely spot for the foods you are looking for, and when they are most likely to be found. You will also need to develop your cooking skills and learn how to prepare and preserve your delicious, healthy and nutritious food finds.
The golden rule of foraging is to only take what you need, and leave some plants so there are foods for others to find, and so the plants can repopulate year after year.
There are many different plants that you can forage and eat safely, like common berries such as raspberries and blackberries, although there are many plants like Sting Nettle that you will want to safely identify to make sure you are only eating the edible parts of the plant. Learning to safely identify plants can take time, and if you have any doubts, don’t eat them.
To develop your foraging skill, we recommend that you keep a foraging journal and make notes of what the plants look like, where they are growing and what time of year you find the plants.
For a complete list of edible plants in Southern WV be sure to check out this list of Edible Plants from the WV Department of Agriculture.
While many berries are easy to recognize, you can also find less commonly known ones, like huckleberries and gooseberries in the summer months
Flowers & Greens
Ramps are some of the most popular springtime greens for foraging. They have deep green leaves and flower as the temperatures get warmer. A cross between an onion and a garlic, we even have festivals dedicated to this notoriously pungent green.
The Dandelion flower is the most easily recognized flower just about anywhere you go. The greens and flower of the dandelion can be added to soups or salads, and the flowers can also be breaded and lightly fried, very similar to tempura. The dandelion root is also dried and roasted to make a tea that soothes digestion.
The most popular foraged green is the Pokeweed or Poke. It is popular at farmers markets and roadside vegetable stands. The greens are harvested and used when they are young, green, tender 6-inch shoots, and can be used just like spinach. Once the plant is matured and has a reddish tinge, don’t eat it. Nor should you ever eat the root, as both are poisonous.
While mature Nettles are generally avoided for their rough prickly exterior, the young, tender prickle-free shoots are an amazing green. Gently boil them in water and butter for 10-12 minutes, and you will be pleasantly surprised by how tasty they are.
The steep hills, ample rain and intense humidity in Southern WV makes for great mushroom foraging from late spring through fall. You’ll easily spot chanterelles, chicken of the woods and morels growing in damp shady spots, on logs and out of tree stumps. There are also many other varieties of edible fungi to be found.
Starchy Roots and Tubers
Queen Anne’s Lace, with its distinctive large white flowers, has very sweet roots. They are very similar in flavor and sweetness to carrots. In fact, modern carrots were bred from Queen Anne’s Lace.
The roots of the Arrow Leaf taste like potatoes. The Arrow Leaf can be found growing by ponds or shallow lagoons.
Foraging is a tasty treasure hunt, and the mountains of West Virginia have diverse and very lush plants to tantalize your taste buds. We hope you spot some of these native edible plants.
Let us know if you do, and if you have a nibble or two of them!