Reedmace Hearts

Greater Reedmace (Typha latifolia), early April 2019

06/04/2019

Reedmace (otherwise but incorrectly known as “Bullrush”)(Typha spp.) is a semi-aquatic grass-like plant which dies back every autumn and re-appears in the spring from its rhizomatous rootstock. The plant itself is instantly recognisable. Even in mid-winter, when the living parts are safely hidden beneath the mud, the fluffy seed-heads from last years flowering stems give their location away.

Several different parts of this plant are edible, at different times of year, but my favourite has got to be the tender hearts of the fresh spring shoots, which have just come into season in south-east England. The green parts of the stem are not so great to eat, rather like leeks or spring onion. Reedmace stems should be treated similarly, although instead of just chopping off the green bits and leaving the white, the outer layers of the Reedmace stem bases can be gently peeled off (use your fingers, not a knife).

Reedmace hearts, ready to be eaten raw, or steamed

The taste is mild, fresh, slightly grass-like and a little bit peppery. They are excellent raw, sliced into salads, or can be steamed and served with a little butter or white sauce.

There’s not much you’re likely to confuse Reedmace with, but it does sometimes grow with Yellow Flag Iris, which is poisonous. It also tastes vile, so there is unlikely to be a problem, but take care.

If you cannot find any Reedmace locally, and would like to try foraging some yourself, there are still a few places left on our spring foraging courses later this month.

Smooth Sowthistle

Email: geoff@geoffdann.co.uk

04/03/2019

Spring is just around the corner, and the early spring plants are ahead of their normal schedule due to the very mild second half of February. In my own immediate locality one of the best-known spring vegetables is currently super-abundant (as is often the case). Smooth Sowthistle (Sonchus oleraceus) has been highly regarded as an edible wild food since antiquity. The Latin “oleraceus” literally means “having the qualities of a pot-herb”. Viewers of the BBC’s new adaptation of Watership Down, screened in two parts at Christmas, may recall the numerous mentions of this plant as being reserved for the most high-ranking rabbits in the burrow, and an older common name is “Hare’s Thistle”, in reference to its supposed beneficial effects on hares and rabbits.

There are three common species of sowthistle in the UK, and while the other two (Perennial and Prickly Sowthistle (S. asper and arvensis) are also edible, they are more spiny. Smooth sowthistle is the best for eating, having more tender and slightly tastier leaves. There are plenty of things you might confuse it with, nearly all of them other members of the Daisy Family (Asteraceae), but none of them are dangerously poisonous so it is a relatively safe option for foragers.

Smooth or Common Sowthistle (Sonchus oleraceus)

The biggest problem, at least in urban areas, is dog contamination. They tend to grow exactly at the level and in the sort of places where dogs like to go, which is rather off-putting. Fortunately, they are also so prolific that you can usually find somewhere less likely to be contaminated – the ones we had for dinner this evening (pictured right) were growing outside the front of my next-door neighbour’s house, in a raised area out of the reach of passing dogs.

What to do with them? The very young leaves go well as a salad leaf, slightly bitter but less so than either Rocket or its relative Raddichio. Older leaves are more bitter, but this bitterness is significantly reduced by boiling for a couple of minutes, after which they can be served like Spinach. The midrib of the leaves retains it crunch even after brief boiling, and they make an excellent component of a stir-fry. They are also nutritious, containing significant quantities of iron, calcium and vitamins A, B and C.

If you’re interested in learning more about foraging for spring plants, there are still some places free on our new courses at Brede in Sussex. All the details can be found here.

Merry Yule and a Happy New Year

Email: geoff@geoffdann.co.uk

20/12/2018

For me, the solstice is more important than Christmas. For a forager, or anybody else who spends a lot of time outdoors observing the natural rhythms of life, the shortest day is the most meaningful mark of the ending of one year and beginning of the next.

Every year is different, but some are more different than others. I can only hope 2019 is something closer to normal than 2018 has been. First we had “the beast from the east”, then the hottest, driest summer since 1976, and finally the weirdest, longest and least predictable autumn for fungi that I can remember.

My last post was premature; the end of October wasn’t the end of the mushroom season. After the rains just didn’t come in sufficient quantity, I had started to give up on any sort of major recovery, and stopped taking bookings for mushroom foraging in November. Since then the downpour has been relatively relentless, and the result was a very late fruiting of all sorts of species, including some that had already fruited three times earlier in the autumn, and others I’ve never previously seen in December at all, let alone new ones coming through in the middle of the month (including Fly Agaric, which has had the most incredible year).

Velvet Shanks (Flammulina velutipes), showing fruit bodies produced behind bark, looking remarkably like cultivated Enokitake

Normal service has finally been restored. It’s now muddy again where it is supposed to be muddy, and all springs in my immediate locality are back in full flow (some of them had been dry since August). And today, even though there hasn’t been a frost yet, I spotted the first of the winter specialists: Velvet Shanks growing in a ghyll in my local park. In this case they were fruiting partly beneath some dead bark, which showed, much more than normal, how they are in fact the same species as the cultivated Japanese enokitake.

Our Christmas tree isn’t up yet. Christmas trees are one of the traditions taken from yule, rather than having anything to do with Christianity. We’ve decided to go easy on Christmas anyway, it being our daughter Dorothy’s first and us being somewhat allergic to the whole commercialised consumerist merry-go-round it has become. So the tree will go up tomorrow, on the solstice itself (yule). It is currently in a pot in our back garden (we decided to try to keep the same tree each year, so it grows with Dorothy), and when I inspected it this morning I noticed a load of

Snakeskin Brownie (Hypholoma marginatum)

mushrooms growing in the pot. They were exactly the sort of “little brown jobs” I wouldn’t usually bother putting much effort into identifying, since there’s so many that look a bit like that and almost none of them are edible, but I also didn’t want to kill them unnecessarily but didn’t particularly want anything poisonous coming into our living room. Turns out they are Snakeskin Brownies (Hypholoma marginatum), closely related to the very common and poisonous Sulphur Tuft (H. fasciculare), as well as couple of good edible species. This species is a saprophyte, usually found in coniferous woodland growing on needle litter. They are of unknown edibility, but if the rest of the family is anything to go by then they aren’t likely to be dangerous, and if they are poisonous at all then they are probably bitter.

Anyway…Merry Yule, Christmas and a very happy new year.  Keep safe.

Geoff

Late flush to end this year’s mushroom season

Email: geoff@geoffdann.co.uk

31/10/2018

Horse Mushrooms and Honey Fungus (plus one solitary Salt-loving Mushroom on the right), 30/10/2018

After a difficult few weeks, there has been a recovery of of sorts. Two weeks ago most of the country was deluged with rain, and in many parts this has been enough to bring out a second flush of some species that had already fruited, as well as helping the species that typically fruit late in the season anyway to have a better year than might otherwise have been the case. Yesterday I found a beautiful second flush of Horse Mushrooms (Agaricus arvensis) in a place they’d already fruited in August (and in perfect condition, not an insect grub in sight, because the insects have gone for the year). I also found a massive and quite fresh fruiting of Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea). Both of these were in the Westerham/Biggin Hill area of north-west Kent. There’s still very little to be found in the far south-eastern corner of Kent and Sussex though, since the deluge did not quite reach us. There have been some spits and spots since, so it may yet improve here too.

Overall, 2018 will not be remembered as a vintage year for fungi. I am looking forward to next year now, and some details of next year’s events are available for people wanting to buy Christmas presents.  Specific dates will be available at some point in the next month.

South Indian Style Fried Eggs with Duckweed

Email: geoff@geoffdann.co.uk

17/10/2018

Just to make a change, I am going to blog about something other than fungi, right in the middle of the autumn. Suffice to say it is a very strange year for fungi, extremely unpredictable so far due firstly to the very hot summer and secondly to different places receiving different amounts of rainfall since the heatwave broke. However, last Sunday’s deluge should be enough to get things back on course for everywhere apart from the far south and east (which didn’t get any rain at all in some places). It usually takes ten days to a fortnight for the larger fungi to respond to that sort of soaking.

Today I have been playing with a wild food I’ve long neglected, perhaps because it just doesn’t seem that appealing. Turns out I should have been paying it more attention, because it’s a good one. We tend to think of duckweed as a pest of ornamental ponds, but some types (notably the Wolffia species, which are the smallest flowering plants on Earth) are actually cultivated for food in south-east Asia (where they are known as “Water Meal”). They are incredibly nutritious, right up there with things like soy and lentils. They also reproduce at a vast rate in the right conditions, and contrary to some reports I have heard, they are also pretty good to eat.

Yesterday I discovered a pond hidden away close to our new base in Brede – it appears to be a natural, very shallow spring-fed pond, surrounded and overhung with trees and overflowing gently down a slope into a field. The water was crystal clear, not stagnant at all (helps being spring fed, so the water is continually replaced) and covered with a carpet of the smallest of the European Lemna species – Lemna minor, or Least Duckweed. This is almost as small as the Wolffia species, the main difference being that it has a root and the wolffias don’t, and the small size is quite important in terms of what you can use it for.

Collecting it is simple – you just use a sieve to carefully scoop the duckweed off the surface, making sure you avoid disturbing anything large or disintegrating down below. I can imagine this might be quite difficult in some circumstances, but at this location it was very easy, the only non-duckweed getting into the sieve being large oak leaves, which were easily removed. I then took it home and washed it (which resulted in duckweed getting all over the place), then dried allowed it to drain.

I tried various dishes – just frying it first, then making an omelette with it, cooking it with soy sauce and fish sauce, but the experiment that worked out best by far was a variation on South Indian style fried eggs. This usually involves boiling some eggs and then frying them in a mixture of spices, and this version involves the addition of garlic, ginger, fennel seeds and cooking in ghee instead of oil. After a couple of modifications, I am rather pleased with this. I can imagine it would also work well with paneer instead of eggs. The taste of the duckweed is mild, but very pleasant and complements the other components in this recipe very well. Apologies for the terrible food photography, and no those aren’t hairs – those are the duckweed roots.

Ingredients:

4 eggs
2 tbsp ghee
1/2 tsp cumin seeds freshly ground
1/2 tsp fennel seeds freshly ground (wild if you’ve got them!)
1/4 tsp chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
120g Least Duckweed (or about 1.5 times the amount of eggs, by volume)
1cm of ginger, peeled and chopped
pinch of sea salt

Method:

Hard boil and peel the eggs, and 4 cut grooves in each, 2mm deep.
Heat the ghee in a frying pan
When hot, let the spices sizzle for 30 secs
Add the eggs and fry for a minute or two, turning continually
Add the garlic and ginger, and fry for another minute, turning
Add the duckweed and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, keeping everything moving
Add salt to taste, and serve immediately

Desperately need some rain now…

Email: geoff@geoffdann.co.uk

EDIT 14/10/2018: I think we can safely say we’ve had quite a lot of rain now, except the south-east corner of Kent.

03/10/2018

After an encouraging start to the mushroom season, things are very sparse now. Very few ground-fruiting fungi are about in south-east England, and the reason is that the ground has simply not recovered from this summer’s heatwave. We’ve had some bits and pieces of rain, but not the prolonged drenching needed to return things to something like normal. In many places deep cracks that had started to close are now re-opening. It is even worse in some other parts of the country: on a recent visit to Northamptonshire the cracks hadn’t even started to close, and we walked for over three hours and saw no ground-fruiting fungi at all.

A typically spectacular fruiting of Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea)

Where fungi are fruiting they are doing so in ones and twos where in a more typical year there’s be a whole patch or a large ring. Only the wood-fruiting species are doing reasonably well, and even some of those seem to be suffering. Only one good edible species is fruiting abundantly right now and that is Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea).

In previous years when conditions have been like this at the start of October it has gone one of two ways. If a decent amount of rain finally arrives before the end of October then there could be a spectacular showing in November. But if it doesn’t then we might be looking at a write-off, and 2018 will go down as a dud year for fungi.

Because of this uncertainty I am reluctant to schedule any more public events. The ones I’ve already scheduled are almost entirely sold out, but there’s no point in me adding extra dates if it is going to be very difficult to find anything.

UPDATE 04/10/2018: Some signs of improvement today. A second flush of parasols and a fresh penny bun coming through. Not brilliant, but better than I expected.

UPDATE 11/10/2018: I have added an extra date at Mill Wood, on the hope that so many things are currently missing that if we do get some decent rainfall soon, early November should be pretty good.

 

Dark Penny Bun Bonanza!

Email: geoff@geoffdann.co.uk

30/08/2018

An update is required! Having blogged a couple of days ago about finding lots of large boletes but no Dark Penny Buns (Boletus aereus), today I came across a bonanza of them. I also saw quite a lot of the other things I described as “missing” in that post – plenty of Brittlegills and Milkcaps, Leccinums and Suillus coming through, as well as a lot of poisonous Livid Pinkgills (Entoloma sinuatum). And gazillions of Blushers.

Pretty good ID shot

I had originally tried a spot I’ve seen them before. I found one specimen, rolling around loose having been knocked over by an animal. So I decided to check somewhere else that I’ve previously seen Chestnut Boletes. There were none (but quite a lot of other stuff). Then I headed off home via a different route and was really excited to find about 15 Dark Penny Buns – more than I’d ever found in one place before, and in good enough condition to get a much better ID photo than my existing best one. I was very happy with my afternoon’s work.

Not worth taking these. Much better left to spread their spores around.

Then about 50 metres away I came across the motherlode. Well over 200 of them growing under a row of oaks I have passed countless times before, but never seen any of this species. I do sometimes criticise people for irresponsible “over-picking”, but this was one of those situations where this was almost impossible. Firstly, there was no shortage of large, old specimens which weren’t worth picking, because they were too soft and grub-infested.

So I was only interested in the youngsters, and most of these were at the early stages of infection with “Bolete Eater” mould, which means that within a day or two they were destined to become both inedible and infertile.

Dark Penny Buns being attacked by “Bolete Eater” mould, but still edible at this point

And since nobody else forages in this location (almost nobody else even goes there – it is rather inaccessible, the footpath into it is poorly marked and doesn’t go anywhere sensible. I’ve never even seen a dog-walker there, just the occasional horse rider) I figured I’d take as many as I could carry!

Dark Penny Bun Bonanza

This is the biggest mass-fruiting of one of the big edible prized boletes I have ever seen in one place at one time.

It’s looking good. Let’s hope it stays this way, and 2018 could be a classic mushroom year.

Edit: I found another huge flush a few days later, video here.

Large boletes are out in force, it’s mushroom time!

Email: geoff@geoffdann.co.uk

28/08/2018

I love this time of year. The oppressive hot weather has gone, and nature is at its most abundant for a forager. Best of all, it has been 9 months since mushroom season ended and I don’t have many foraging clients, so I actually get to remember what my hobby was like before it became my job. And because every year is different, it’s never boring.

Oak Bolete

The opening of mushroom season 2018 is quite selective – a lot of things aren’t fruiting at all – but the things that are fruiting are doing so very abundantly. Most predominant of all are the large boletes. This morning I found the biggest flush of Oak Boletes (Butyriboletus appendiculatus) I have seen in many years, and finally got a photo that eluded me while collecting photos for my book (the photo of this species in the book is one of the few that aren’t my own). This is an absolutely first class edible – my wife Cathy ranked it higher than a Penny Bun (Boletus edulis), and I’m tempted to agree with her. Our six month old daughter Dorothy was also impressed. They are sweet, and almost crunchy even when cooked. Do be careful

Rooting Bolete

though – there were some very similar-looking mushrooms under the next tree, no more than ten metres away, but these were the poisonous and bitter Rooting Bolete (Caloboletus radicans).  Apart from the taste, the most obvious differences are slight differences in the colour scheme, and the patterning on the stem (compare photos).

I actually spotted these Oak Boletes yesterday and went back to photograph them this morning, and their abundance prompted me to spend the afternoon seeing what else I could find.  The result was a very wide selection of large boletes, including Summer Boletes (B. reticulatus), Penny Buns, Lurid Boletes (Suillelus luridus),

Clockwise from top left: Lurid Bolete, Summer Bolete, Penny Bun, Oak Bolete, Bay Bolete, Scarletina Bolete

Scarletina Boletes (Neoboletus luridiformis) a couple of Bay Boletes (Imleria badia), as well as handful of smaller species. Dark Penny Buns (B. aereus) are also fruiting in south-east England, but I didn’t see any today. These species typically do well after a long, hot summer, so this is not unexpected.

Another edible species that is really going for it is The Blusher (Amanita rubescens), which is having its best year in a long time.  There’s a decent amount of various members of the Agaricaceae about (Agaricus species, Parasols and Shaggy Parasols, Giant Puffballs), and I found a big fruiting of one of my absolute favourites – Poplar Fieldcap (Cyclocybe cylindracea).

Poplar Fieldcap

Some things are missing though, including some boletes: I haven’t seen a single Leccinum, nor a Suillus. There are a few brittlegills (Russula) about, but nothing like what you’d expect in a good year for this group. I haven’t seen any chanterelles or any of their relatives either, and I’m expecting a quiet year for these after they fruited so prolifically last year. No sign of the rest of the Amanitas either, apart from a couple of False Blushers (Amanita spissa) – no Deathcaps (A. phalloides).

All things considered, it’s looking pretty good for this year’s mushroom season. I expect the things that are missing will start turning up in the next two or three weeks.

Finally, it is also looking like an exceptional year for sloes.

Sloes

Good luck and stay safe!

Geoff

Dorothy Dann samples an Oak Bolete

New foraging camp at Mill Wood up and running. Extra date added.

Email: geoff@geoffdann.co.uk

22/08/2018

Basecamp at Mill Wood, brand new kettle on the fire

We’ve spent the last couple of days setting up the basecamp for some foraging events in a new location, the first time we’ve run anything like this. If today was anything to go by, these are going to be very interesting sessions. This secluded, and rather overgrown, private woodland in East Sussex has a rather strange history, having been turned from ancient woodland into a pig farm which apparently wasn’t a success, before being left for nature to reclaim it for a few years. It was purchased by an old friend of mine last autumn, and the first thing he told me about it was that it looked really good for fungi. And it seems he was right.

Basecamp at Mill Wood, Chicken of the Woods in the foreground

Yesterday, after 3 hours of messing around with different trees and ropes, we finally managed to get an 8x6m tarpaulin set up to our satisfaction, and today we set up a smaller tarp to protect the fire in wet weather, and had a first go at using our new cooking equipment. I also spent some time looking around the woodland for fungi, and ended up finding so much within 200 metres of the base camp that I had no need (or time) to foray further afield. The area I was looking in is mainly oak, birch and hornbeam, several edible species within a few metres of the tarp, including a Penny Bun (Boletus edulis) which one us unfortunately trod on, two Chicken of the Woods, several edible Brittlegills and some other edible boletes. A large flush of Weeping Widow (Lacrymaria lacrymabunda) wasn’t much further away.

Something mysterious lurking under a log (see text).

I also came across a real oddity. I was looking around in the immediate area of the base for logs suitable to be used as seating. There are a lot of logs round there that look like stumps, because they’ve been there for so long, so anything that looks like an attached stump was worth wobbling, to see if it was loose. One of these I turned over, and to my great surprise there were some fungi fruiting underneath it. Without my reading glasses to hand, it was not at all obvious what they were, especially as this is a very strange habitat for any fungi to be fruiting in. I guessed they might be some sort of earthstar, took a photo, and continued searching for seating.

Blushers

Only when I got home and looked at the hi-res photos did it become clear what they are. These are very young Blushers (Amanita rubescens), just emerging from their universal veil. You can tell this by the pink discolouration, and the veil remnants on their emerging caps. But this is still a mystery, because it is not at all clear why they’d be fruiting under a log that looked like it had been there for several years. Fungi normally fruit where the mycelium detects lights (so if you have an infected damp beam in your loft, the fungi will grow down into your bedroom rather than up into the dark loft). So why would an Amanita mycelium try to fruit under a log? If the mycelium was only under the log, and not the surrounding area, how did it get there?

Puffballs, looking very much like Meadow Puffballs (Lycoperdon pratense), although this is an unusual habitat for that species.

Amanita at this stage have been confused for puffballs in the past, and in some cases this has led to serious poisonings when the Amanita in question was a Deathcap. It is easy to see how somebody might have made such a mistake. There were some puffballs around today too,  growing on a thin layer of soil that had accumulated on what looked like hardboard covering some sort of pit. These are Soft Puffball (Lycoperdon molle).

Anyway, I am now very much looking forwards to these sessions, and I have now added a new one to the original two (see below for details). They will be approximately 4 hours long, starting at 10.30. We’ll start by exploring the area nearest the basecamp, which I’ll have scouted out beforehand. We’ll then take our finds back to the base to have a good look at them and make sure everybody knows how they were identified, and then have a wild-mushroom-based lunch. After that we will head out for a second forage, this time going further afield into areas I will have not scouted beforehand, so I won’t know what we’re going to find, or where. Finally we will return to the base, go through what we found, and we will cook up all the finds on the campfire.

These sessions are an introductory price of £45 this year (they will be £65 next year).

Fungi season 2018 is now up and running and it is looking good. Have fun and stay safe!

Drought over, and the late summer fungi are out

Email: geoff@geoffdann.co.uk

13/08/2018

Just a quick update on the weather and fungi conditions.

The last couple of days have seen another generous helping of rain in south-east England, and the first clear evidence that the fungi are back. And in fact the omens are positive, and right now I’d tentatively guess we’re in for a good autumn as far as fungi are concerned. This afternoon I visited a location I’ll be running some new events at this autumn. Details are available via the link at the top of this page, the area is called “Mill Wood”, and it is the site of a woodland pig farm that has been reclaimed by nature for the last four years, plus some adjacent land. We found plenty of Brittlegills (mainly Charcoal Burners), a Blusher, some boletes, a couple of very young Chicken of the Woods, a large flush of Common Puffballs just coming through and a lot of White-laced Shanks (all edible). There were also a few other, inedible bits a pieces. That’s not bad at all for August 13th after an extended spell of extremely hot and dry weather.