The Long Island Forager

By Patty Servido
Spending quality time in nature has always been one of my favorite pastimes. In days gone by, I often found myself on a blanket in the backyard, either reading or writing while enjoying the sounds of the breeze in the trees, the birds nearby, and the squirrels as they chattered to one another from opposing sides of my property. As many of you know, my husband and I frequently take walks in nature preserves on Long Island. Getting back to basics and finding peace in the silence is the perfect antidote for the craziness of Life.
As some of you also are aware, I forage from the wild. I follow several foragers, including the Appalachian Forager on Instagram and Yoga Girl Rachel Brathen on both Instagram and Facebook. Over the past few years, I have created a Yoga Girl-inspired syrup from fresh spruce tips, dandelion honey from flowers found in a rarely used field and violet syrup from violets in the woods. I made a household cleaner from white pine needles and vinegar, which took about three weeks to fully process. I collected and dried Mugwort from an open field and made a batch of incense. For a recent sinus infection, I used Mountain Mint buds that I collected and dried for a soothing cup of mint tea. It truly amazes me that nature has the power to heal in so many ways.
Hubby and I have been in the process of cleaning our home of several decades of collected items over the years, which recently led him to inquire about the collection of paper plates that were lined across the dining room table. “What is all of this?” he asked as he picked up a chunk of chaga mushroom, sniffed it and put it down rather quickly.
I explained the benefits of chaga tea to him and further advised him that after carefully washing my “stash”, it needed to dry before I could ground it and use it for tea. While the large chunks can be used several times for multiple cups of chaga tea, it had been my ultimate plan to grind the turkey tail mushrooms that were drying beside the chaga, along with the chaga, and add the powder to coffee. As I might have previously mentioned in another article, chaga has been known to boost immunity and has been used to boost white blood cell production, the first line of defense against viruses and bacteria. Turkey tail helps to boost the immune system and has even been used to treat certain types of cancer in ancient times.
Hubby pointed towards another container; a Tupperware filled with brownish jelly-like objects. “And these?” The jelly-like items that sat forlornly on the bottom of the plastic container were Amber Jelly Roll Fungi, a mushroom with a rubbery texture that is essentially tasteless but takes on the flavor of the dishes in which it cooks. This mushroom is available year-round and can be found after a good rain. I’ve used it in soups, omelets, and rice dishes. One of the foragers I follow noted that his children referred to the mushroom as “crunchy Jello”. It’s a very accurate description.
Other items that have been drying on the dining room table are Wood Ear mushrooms, which are similar in texture to Amber Jelly. These mushrooms have multiple benefits, which include cholesterol and blood sugar regulation, high fiber content for gut health, and high iron content for preventing anemia, to name a few. Wood or jelly ears are usually dried, as I explained to my husband, and saved for future use in dishes. We were lucky enough to find a tremendous cluster of them when our daughter and “son” took us hiking this weekend at the spot where they took their vows in October. The area was stunning and so serene that I literally felt my blood pressure drop at least ten points. My wood ear harvest was the proverbial icing on the cake.
When Hubby realized that it was futile to prevent me from collecting these precious gifts from nature, he decided to join me. Just last week, we found a tree that had a tremendous chaga conk upon it. He rolled up his coat sleeves and collected a large amount, which was covered in Crystal Brain fungus. The clear, jelly-like fungi, which was not deemed edible, was also very sticky and left a residue on his hands. I muffled a giggle as he furiously wiped the jelly off his hands with sanitizer and a large napkin but was grateful that he joined in the hunt.
Foraging is a wonderful activity, but it requires a great deal of research and knowledge about what one collects. Many foragers have fallen ill or even died because they did not investigate nor identify their harvest properly. I have decided to forage only that which I know is edible, and that which will benefit us. As one forager wrote on his website, “While certain jelly mushrooms don’t look all that appealing, in the event of world collapse, they are the perfect food for survival.” I’m not expecting worldwide collapse, but I am learning a great deal about the benefits of those things that have worked for centuries to assist in the betterment and overall health of humans. Wintertime is a slow time to forage, but spring is around the corner. I wish you all a happy forage, should you choose to go a-hunting!

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