Too late for fiddleheads but there is lots more food in the Maine woods!

When Linda got the call from a neighbor with a back 40 that has a nice patch of fiddleheads every spring, she rushed right up. Unfortunately, the fiddleheads were almost gone by. She got one nice picking and that was it.

To overcome our disappointment, I pulled out Tom Seymour’s newly revised Wild Plants of Maine guide, published this year by Just Write Books, and we checked out our own back 40.

Wow. We’ve got lots of edibles out there!

Wild Plants of Maine by Tom SeymourTom’s first guide, published in 2010, has been updated with lots of new plants and mushrooms.  Not all the plants in the book can be eaten, but those have been our focus so far since we got the book a few weeks ago.

The book is conveniently organized by season, so we began with spring. Who knew that cattail sprouts are edible? But they require getting into the very cold water in the stream next to our house, so we passed on those.

Clintonia was a major surprise, with cucumber-tasting leaves in early May. You just cut them up and toss them into a salad. As we strolled through the woods and along the brook, I was genuinely impressed with how many of the plants out there are edible. Tom also features plants with medicinal value, and we found some of those to.

Tom has been one of my favorite Maine writers for a long time. His columns in The Maine Sportsman are especially good, but he has also authored a whole bunch of books on foraging, hiking, fishing, and wild critters. He conveys a lot of information in a very entertaining way.

I paid close attention to the edible plants that you can munch on as you stroll through the woods. He calls these “trail nibbles.”

orpine “Many times while trout fishing,” he writes, “I have eaten my fill of young orpine leaves and considered it my very good fortune to have found such fare there for the taking.” My gosh, after looking at the photo, I was astonished to realize that I see orpine almost everywhere I fish. From now on, the fish won’t be the only species that is nibbling!

And speaking of photos, the book is full of clear color photos of each plant – very helpful as you forage along. This book is now always in my backpack.

I’m sneaking a peak now at the section on summer plants, looking forward to some Pineapple Weed tea. And having grown up eating Dandelion greens, I’ve proposed to Linda that we add them to our regular menu. As Tom reports, “It pains me to hear the host on my favorite gardening show explaining to callers how best to rid their lawns of dandelions. After all, I often travel many miles to dig dandelions from fields and pristine lawns.” Tom’s tips include a tool that makes digging dandelions simple and fast.

I plan to get some of my vitamins from Curled Dock, try a dessert made with Japanese knotweed, rub some wild mint on a trout before cooking, enjoy cattail stocks prepared like corn-on-the-cob, spread some tansy around on the ground of our patio to discourage mosquitos, and bake hazelnuts. I’m also going to start nibbling daylilies. According to Tom, each cultivated daylily has a different taste.

And then there is the section on the seashore. Sure enough, our favorite Goosetongue greens are featured. We harvest them in Lubec and Campobello on our trips there.

Linda and I are now able to identify five wild mushrooms that we are confident in harvesting and eating. Tom features four of our five, including Chanterelles and Black Trumpets. They are actually quite easy to identify. Barbara Skapa, Mount Vernon’s mushroom expert, taught us how to identify all five of ours, and we did it by taking our initial pickings to her house for verification.

Toward that end you may want to sign up for one of Tom Seymour’s Wild Plant Seminars. You can attend one of his scheduled events, or schedule your own with Tom. We had him up to camp one summer, and he took a bunch of us into the woods to identify wild edible plants. It was wild! And very entertaining.

But we didn’t really get into the spirit until we got Wild Plants of Maine. OK, I’m still working on bringing Linda along. She is just a wee bit worried that I’m going to poison her! There is really no chance of that, because Tom’s plant descriptions are thorough and exact, and the photos are very clear and helpful. I promise!

Contact information: Tom Seymour, 94 East Waldo Road, Waldo, ME 04915, 207-338-9746, tomgseymour@gmail.com.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.