Wintergreen: Also called Teaberry, Checkerberry, or Boxberry and hidden under dried leaves, a forager can easily locate tiny clusters of these growing on the Valley’s forest floors. The red berries are edible and noticeably taste like wintergreen. The leaves can be dried and brewed for tea, or chewed for flavor—disposing of the remnants. The classic wintergreen flavor and fragrance is caused by the presence of methyl salicylate.
The berries are great in salads and lamb dishes and add color and flavor to any dish. However, eaten plain they are a bit dry.
Cattails: In late May, Cattails have already grown three to four feet high, although they haven’t produced their well-defined leaves nor their later-season characteristic brown cylindrical vegetation. That makes this the optimum time to harvest the heart of the plant. Just fold the two largest leaves away and grasp the remaining leaves as low as you can reach and give a firm, steady tug. The inner leaves should pull out revealing 4 to 8 inches of white at the bottom. Only the solid middle is what you need—so peel off any outer layers. After peeling, the long stalks vary in thickness at each “bamboo-like” joint. Breathe in your harvest’s essence and be delighted with a fresh-smelling combination of celery and cucumber.
Now that you’ll be heading out foraging, you’ll save money, add some local spice to your culinary skills, and get some good clean fresh-air exercise while surrounded by the Valley’s unsurpassable beauty. Quite a lot of benefits from a woodland treasure hunt, wouldn’t you say?
Check out the next issue of VISITvortex for summertime forest foraging finds.
Consult with a reputable field guide or other resource before eating anything you find in the woods. It’s best to start with easily identified plants and those away from busy roadways and other areas that may have a negative effect on soil, groundwater, and air. It is also advisable to connect with groups such as “Farm Catskills,” a grassroots organization focusing on keeping the region “a working landscape.” This group is a collaboration and consortium of regional farmers, restaurateurs, and other concerned citizens—from homeowners to local government officials.