Maine: A Forager’s Paradise in the Spring, Summer, and Fall
Mainers have always been known to have a deep reverence for nature. From its verdant forests to its rocky coasts, our very own vacationland is home to an abundance of natural resources that people have foraged for centuries. In fact, much of Maine’s identity and culture has been cultivated by the wild foods that blossom from the beautiful landscapes each season, making it a true forager’s paradise for beginners and professionals alike.
Chances are, if you’re standing outside just about anywhere in Maine, there’s likely an earthly edible nearby. What I love the most about foraging is that it’s almost like a partnership with nature. If you pay attention and immerse yourself in your surroundings, you’ll be rewarded with the variety of wild delicacies that can be found right at your feet. Each season in Maine brings forth its own unique foraging opportunity, making it accessible year-round. Though foraging can be done anywhere from your backyard to your favorite trails, there are some important things to keep in mind when you’re out there searching for the fruits of the forest.
When I first started foraging, I didn’t go anywhere without my guidebooks. Two of my favorites are Foraging New England and Wild Edibles of Maine: A Useful Guide, both written by native Mainer, Tom Seymour. Each of these guidebooks offers advice on where to find wild edibles, how to ethically harvest them, and how to cook with them. If you ever forget to bring your guidebooks with you, try an app, such as PictureThis (www.picturethisai.com), which can help with plant identification. And if you’re interested in all things mycology, subscribe to the Maine Mycology Association (https://mainelymushrooms.org) newsletters.
Foraging Opportunities in Maine
One of the most educational ways to learn about foraging is to get outside with a professional guide. Once spring rolls around, there are plenty of opportunities for guided forays throughout the state. One of my very first guided walks was put together by the Piscataquis County Soil and Water Conservation District and was led by the aforementioned author, Tom Seymour. Other opportunities for forays and edible education can be found through the Maine Primitive Skills School (www.primitiveskills.com), Northspore (https://northspore.com), and the Coastal River Conservation Trust (www.coastalrivers.org). Follow these organizations on social media to stay up to date with their walks and talks.
When you’re out there this year, here are some of the more common edibles, medicinal plants, and mushrooms to keep an eye out for during each season:
Spring: Morels- After a long winter, some of the first mushrooms to emerge from the hardened ground are morels. Though rather elusive, morels can often be found hiding amongst apple orchards or under dead elms anywhere from late April to mid-June. The honeycomb-like pattern found on these beautiful mushrooms make them distinguishable and easy to identify. Like many other mushrooms, these are best prepared when fried in oil until they are soft and brown.
Summer: Chanterelles- For many mushroom lovers, chanterelles are the golden child– quite literally. Their distinct, bright colors are commonly found emerging out of the mossy ground during mid-summer months. Chanterelles favor hardwoods like maples or oaks and they generally spawn after a couple days of rain and humidity. Chances are, if you find one chanterelle, there are likely more in the area, as they grow in small colonies. Chanterelles are known for their delicate, peppery taste and their chewy texture. They are best prepared when sautéed in butter, and they make a delicious addition to a cream sauce.
Fall: Chicken of the Woods- “Chicken” of the woods is no misnomer. Though they don’t look like chicken, they certainly taste like it. These large bracket mushrooms commonly grow on the decaying trunks of oak, cherry, or beech trees. Chickens often grow in clusters and resemble thick, orange shelves that fan out of the bark of trees. The first time I found chickens, I was overwhelmed at their size. As always, I only took as much as I’d be able to consume, and once they were cooked, they quickly became my favorite edible mushroom.
Spring: Fiddleheads (Ostrich Fern)- You know it’s springtime when you’re able to spot the furled fronds of a fiddlehead. Fiddlehead foraging has been a long-standing tradition in Maine, with its season starting in late April and extending to early June. Fiddleheads are often found near forest streams and are delicious when sautéed with butter and garlic. Since they’re a Maine forager’s favorite, follow The Golden Rule: pick only enough for you and leave some for the rest!
Summer: Cattails- Cattails are one of the more versatile edibles since you can utilize many parts of the plant. The shoots, spikes, and pollen are all edible, with each part offering its own unique flavor. The shoots can be chopped up and eaten raw; the spikes can be boiled; and the pollen is known for its great source of protein.
Fall: Elderberries- Elderberries are another versatile edible that can be used for both medicinal and culinary purposes. Not only do the berries make for a tasty, tart jelly, but they can also be concentrated into a tincture that can stimulate the immune system.
Spring: Japanese Knotweed- Japanese Knotweed is known for its healing properties and its ability to make a great pie filling. This common plant can be found along roadsides and abandoned lots and its bamboo-like appearance makes it easy to identify. Knotweed is known for its many healing properties, including its ability to enhance immune function.
Summer: Yarrow- Yarrow is my absolute favorite summer plant. It is common throughout summer and can be found standing tall along roadsides. Yarrow has been known to alleviate cold and flu symptoms and the leaves can be chewed to eliminate toothaches. It also acts as a styptic, which means it can slow or stop bleeding when applied to a wound, making it a great survival tool for outdoor enthusiasts.
Fall: Wintergreen – This wild plant can be found just about anywhere during any season, even winter. One of my favorite things to do when I find a patch of Wintergreen is to tear open the leaves and breathe in the fresh, minty aroma. Traditionally, indigenous peoples were known to crush Wintergreen and use it for sore muscles and inflammation. Its minty flavor can be used to flavor tea, toothpaste, and ice cream.
Get yourself out there and reap the benefits of nature’s bounties. And whether you’re a seasoned forager or a beginner, always remember to respect the land, leave some for the next picker, and have fun exploring all that Maine’s forests, coasts, and woodlands have to offer.
Story by Noelle Auger. Noelle is an outdoor enthusiast living in southern Maine. She is an English teacher in Lewiston and enjoys writing about nature in her free time.