Sunday, July 20, 2008

Rocky Mt. Forage

FOTL is still on sabbatical in the Colorado Rockies. While the emphasis has been on R&R, a few local forage treats have been duly noted.

We're still early for the great fruiting of king boletes that graces these mountains in summer, but Ruby found an aspen bolete on one of her flower walks with Mom. These members of the Leccinum genus (known for their scabrous stems) are myccorhizal with—you guessed it—aspen, which we have in good quantities around here. Though traditionally considered fairly choice, there are recent records in Colorado of gastric distress and hospital visits associated with these boletes, and given our remote locale we opted to admire it with eyes only.

As for the plant kingdom, we're overrun by carrot family umbels (Apiaceae). The family known for striking aromatics such as parsley, fennel, celery, dill, cumin, and so on is a forager's dream and nightmare—dream for flavor, nightmare for identification. As with certain mushrooms, a nibble on the wrong carrot can be fatal. Just ask Socrates. Poison hemlock is in the carrot family, as is water hemlock. Even choice edibles like cow parsnip come with strings attached, with the particular string in this case being a phototoxin that reacts in ultraviolet light and can cause burning rashes if its juice contacts skin in sunlight.

Speaking of cow parsnip, damp meadows and creek banks are loaded with Heracleum maximum right now. When sliced off below the bulb and peeled, the stem makes an unusual addition to salads and stir-fries, with a complex, almost sweet flavor and a celery-like crunch. As pointed out in an earlier video post, cow parsnip is not for everyone.

A hike along Silver Creek revealed meadows blooming with another umbel, what we think is wild caraway (Carum carvi), or a close relative. In general it's a good idea to avoid any member of the carrot family unless you're absolutely sure of the identity, but in this case we were able to rule out the real baddies and felt confident enough to try a taste. The umbels were already fruiting in sunnier spots, and we picked the seed-like fruits and chewed them along the trail. The flavor of licorice was distinctive.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has just started to bloom at our elevation in the past week. Yarrow has been used for centuries to make medicinal teas for various ailments, including colds and flues.

Of course, if it's protein you're after, the Rockies offer superb big-game hunting in fall and more storied trout streams than an angler can hope to shake a rod at in a lifetime. In the next installment before our return to the PNW, I'll have footage of local brookie action.

1 comment:

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Socrates' last words: I drank WHAT?!

Always avoid that hemlock -- not good eats.