Foraging Fridays: A Wild Nor’easter

Growing up in the high desert of Northern California, I had a difficult time appreciating the flora. With long, hot, dry summers, plants had to be either short lived, or tough. Those that could withstand the heat were fiesty in their protective devices, being woody or prickly or poisonous. I would pine away as a kid, longing for the succulent abundance that is New England in the summertime, with junglelike humidity and plants with enthusiastic foliage. Eventually as an adult, those atributes of West Coast plants that left me dismayed as a child, were the very things that endeared them to me.

So it was a bit of a shock during our trip to be assaulted with the gregarious growth of Cape Cod gardens and Maine forest understory. Having grown conservative in my expectations of the plant world, five foot high coneflowers just seemed, well, extravagant. Fortunately, all shock quickly faded, and there were no complaints from this gal as I filled my pockets with rose hips and my mouth with blueberries. To the point that Jeff’s family felt the need to warn me on our last coastal outing in a nature preserve, “Mary, you can’t forage here”.

On Cape Cod, beach plum bushes line the shore, and they were loaded with almost ripe hips. Not to be confused with the actual beach plum plum, they are a type of ornamental rose from Asia that has adapted enthusiastically to the East Coast. And like our  smaller California hips, these beach roses are medicinal out the woo woo wazoo.

Rose hips show up in the fall, just in time for the seasonal transition with its need of fortification. They are chock full of vitamin C, and taking a tablespoon of rose hip syrup at the first sign of a cold, or ongoingly as a tonic, is just what the witchdoctor ordered.

This was supposed to be on of those romantic look at my abundant gathering type shots. But instead it’s just a good excuse to show you my necklace.

Rose Hip Syrup

Hips are ripe when they are cherry red and slightly give to the touch, but not wrinkled.

Process your hips by grinding them up in a food processor, or chopping up finely with a knife.

Measure out your hips and place them in a saucepan along with an equal amount of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for up to 45 minutes. Strain through a coffee filter or cheesecloth (this is crucial, because the hips have little irritating hairs that will screw up your tummy). Let cool down for 15 minutes and then add in raw honey to taste. This recipe looked good to try as well, but is more for culinary use and involves white sugar.

Your syrup should be kept refridgerated. I’m sure there is a way to can it, but since my ENTIRE 16 OUNCES of syrup molded due to lids that didn’t seal, well…I’ll tell you through my bitter tears that you should just keep that magic in the cold. *Sob*.

Fortunately, I was able to procure immune system back up, thanks to these beauties…

Echinacia Purpurea or Eastern Purple Coneflower is perhaps the most well known herbal remedy in North America. At this point, you can probably buy echinacia fortified Oreos, since it’s a household bandwagon that everybody has jumped on.

Practically every front yard had a little patch of these natives, and I kept having that giddy foragers reaction like I had discovered the motherload, while simultaneously looking over my shoulder to see who I was going to have to ward off. After a while, the sight of them was almost too common…almost, but not quite.

Fibonacci would approve.

Fresh Echinacia tincture

Dig out your coneflowers by the roots, when the flowers have just opened and are still sprightly.

Chop up the roots and the entire flower. Marvel at the beauty of life.

Stuff your finely chopped up flowers and roots in a jar, filling it. Pour in enough vodka, slowly, to top it off. Label and cap and let it sit for two weeks (preferably not in the back of your rental car, like I did), giving it a friendly shake each day.

Strain and use to boost your immune system.

The tinfoil method is totally legit, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Upon our arrival in Maine, I was delighted to note that it wasn’t only the ghosts and red squirrels who had gained a foothold. The grassy area surrounding the house, having been unmanicured for five years, had gone feral. The wild strawberries that used to scatter my Aunt Marion’s lawn like rubies had found their way down the shore, along with her Black Eyed Susans. There was also a large patch of Red Clover, the nourisher and detoxifier, as well as Evening Primrose and lots of young Dandelion.

Most of the Red Clover made its way into Fern’s pockets.

Our second night there, we gathered greens for dinner.

No pinecones were harmed in the making of this meal.

The evening primrose was of the small and modest variety, unlike the va va va voom of the giant goddess I picked at Secret Beach.

Most of our land in Maine, despite having been logged at the turn of the century, still has this feel of being pristine, a wholeness that I found reminded me of my own inherent well being. Perhaps it will never again host the abundant wildlife that prefaced the era of the “great” huntsmen with their nasty metal traps, yet having recovered from tree harvesting, it is an ecosystem in a state of vitality and upswing. The forest floor is home to abundant flora and funghi, all of which is native.

This is not edible, but unfortunately is often foraged for placement in tiny terrariums and berry bowls.

A little fragile lichen called British Soldiers. 

My Gram, as well as her friends, the Eatons (who caretook  Big Camp and stayed in Little Camp) were aspiring botanists and naturalists. This sweet book is from 1893, and is kept company by an ever growing collection of identification manuals.

Certain species were sought after and their location marked, prized jewels that appeared year after year, like Rattlesnake Plantain Orchid.

They too, are becoming scarce from folks harvesting from our “abandoned” property in the wintertime.

The pine needle carpet also has some fun medicinals, like Pipsissewa…

The dried flower head. The leaves have lovely white markings, and are used for bladder complaints and kidney stones, as well as to induce fever.

And my favorite, the Checkerberry.

But you might know it as Teaberry, or Wintergreen. This is the first edible and medicinal plant I ever learned, taught to me by my Aunt Helene, at the age of 8.

Wintergreen still life with mushroom and moss.

Alright, but what you really want to know is, are Wild Maine Blueberries really what it’s all about?

You betcha.

High bush blueberries line our shore, and in our absence had grown very, very high indeed. It was a banner year for the berries, and we arrived right at the peak. Before we had even gotten out of the car our first day, we had already pulled handfuls from the bushes, leaning out the window and giggling maniacally.

Blueberry picking is so pleasant. A hum de dum, down the lane sort of experience, so unlike the ow, Ow, OW! process of blackberries. It took days to gather enough for pies, but because somebody kept eating the harvest.

Not who you think, although chipper certainly wasn’t helping. It was necessary to let the berries sit out for a bit after picking, to give time for the blueberry bugs to disperse.

A blueberry bug. They look alternately like an unripe blueberry, or a leaf spot, depending where they sit. They are cute as…well, a bug…and I didn’t mind them at all. But I didn’t think they’d go well in a pie.

This is the blueberry thief…

After a while, she figured out that she was perfectly capable of collecting her own.

The bushes were full of Cedar Waxwings, gorging on the fruit. This poor git banged into our window, and it convalesced in a nearby tree for hours. But when it did it again three days later, well…Bang into a window once, shame on you, stupid human. Bang into a window twice, shame on you, birdbrain.

And this has nothing to do with foraging, but is a gratuitous picture of a Cardinal. A Cardinal! I had never seen one in the wild, and for three weeks I just couldn’t get over it. That beak! It’s so red! That song! It’s so beautiful! I think Grandma Timmins thought I was a bit nutty about the bird, chasing them about in her backyard. We set up a bird feeder in Maine, right by the window, so I could watch them to my heart’s content. Ahhhh…

Where were we? Oh yes, berries

And birds.

A neighbor on the lake had a paddling of ducks, and they took to following us about when we were in the canoe, despite the fact that we weren’t feeding them. They would announce their arrival to our front shore, with a grand swasplosh, landing in unison at the water’s edge. They liked blueberries too.

Leaping for blueberries.

Interspersed among the bluebers were these, which I call huckleberries, but I’m not actually sure what they are. But I ate one and it didn’t kill me, so I ate 57 and I still was fine. Stupid, but fine.

Seedy and delicious.

So I made 8 jars of jam and 2 pies, one in Cape Cod, and one at Camp.

Blueberry-Rhubarb at the request of Sabra and Grandma Timmins.

Just plain blueberry, at the request of papa, babe and Grandma Good.

You know what the perfect accompaniment to Blueberry Pie is?

Ice Cream from Shaw’s Ridge.

Sometimes we like to do “instant gratification foraging”.

New England is good for it’s tiny farm creameries. We’ve been going to Shaw’s since I was a kid. Grammy’s Coffee is the best.

Sigh. Many of you have commented that you wouldn’t have wanted to leave such a place, and why did we come back at all? Indeed, we are wondering (sometimes seriously considering) the same question. In the meantime, it gives me great pleasure to share it with you. Thank you for reading along. Believe it or not, there’s still a few more Maine posts to come!

But this weekend I will be pairing y’all up for the Bioregional Swap! Monday’s post will announce partners. I’m so excited, it’s going to be a great time!!

The Disclaimer

Think with your stomach! Do not ingest wild plants unless you are sure you have identified them correctly and are willing to take responsibility for using yourself as a guinea pig. It is SO not my responsibility if you eat the wrong thing and get poopy pants, or die. You’re an adult. you can make your own choices.


15 thoughts on “Foraging Fridays: A Wild Nor’easter

  1. I’m so lucky, I got to dip my finger in the most dee-licious dee-lightfully gorgeous jar of handpicked, handmade blueberry jam today. It is hands down the best blueberry concoction I’ve ever tasted. Or that Steve has ever tasted. Can taste the light of a Maine summer I reckon. Makes me laugh to think of Grandma Timmins giving you doubtful glances as you run about the yard after birds. Haha! kisses from all of us to all of you. I never want these New England posts of yours to end. xoxo

  2. Yes, I do love our gargantuan flora! My hubby is from Colorado and it ‘s always such a different experience when we visit the dry climate. And to not have oaks and maples! I’ve been tincturing up a storm and just finished a Pine Bee Balm cough syrup. And yes, it’s in the fridge! Thanks for sharing all your beautiful photos (including the gratutitous necklace shot) with us. Bright blessings.

  3. So guess what: I could almost smell the moss, the leaves, and the damp in this post. We have such a long “summer” (as you know) that when a little grass starts to pop up, I’m practically rabid.

    Speaking of rabidity, those photos — all of ’em, but especially the echinacea — is enough to make everyone nuts. And the blueberries… and the birds… and Fern looking just totally asdlkajfs adorable with her icecream. Please, please, please, don’t ever let these posts end!


    1. that last line makes my heart soar…thank you for indulging me, and i’m glad it’s indulgent for you too!

      p.s. i’m still laughing about centipedes in your bed. 😀

  4. I love hearing (and seeing) about your adventures at camp, even though it makes me even more sad that we were unable to make it to our camp this year. Oh well, I’ll just live vicariously through your family. Thanks so much for sharing all these great pictures and words, for a few minutes I was at camp. Magical.

  5. Yes – I used to live in Maine (year round) and now since we are still on the east coast , we go back up each summer. It is lovely, the lakes and shores of the ocean I could just melt into. The kindness of the people – full of smiles. The air – the air is just delicious. The food cannot be beat. But summers in Maine are short!! My friend who is a born and raised Mainer (who now lives in Colorado) gave me the answer when I asked her how she ever left Maine — “Ummmm, the muddy season and bugs and winter – remember? Also there is a lot more cultural oppurtunity out here” So that is 1 answer. I do remember. The hibernating season is a long lonely one in Maine. For some it is well worth it! But I would suggest going for a visit in other seasons before jumping on the moving van!! That said – there is no other place in this country better than Maine on a beautiful summer day. YUM!

    1. i’ve been to maine in the fall and winter, although have never been there in a big snowy time. my father is still scarred from the muddy season, and you hear it from everyone who lives there. it’s true! however, i also am scarred from 16 years of living in perpetual foggy narnia…always winter and never summer. so it all weighs in. glad to know maine has a soft spot in your heart too!

  6. just wanted to chime in and say thanks for sharing this adventure here…..your photos, the captions, your love. it’s so appreciated. can’t wait for the next post! ♥

  7. simply gorgeous! i think i’d squeal with delight if i saw a real growing blueberry! living in so cal that just doesn’t happen. the echinacia tincture looks amazing, those flowers are beautiful. pies, jam, birds, nature and great pictures – yep you covered all the areas that equal a perfect post!

  8. sigh. I’ve never been to the East Coast. Except for JFK airport 😉 Part of me wants to go and another just keeps wanting to explore this wild fringe of the West. America is so vast. Thank you for sharing your little corners of it with us. A wild Echinacia patch? That’s reason enough to love a place.

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