Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) dried rhizomes and fresh leaf. This edible and medicinal fern is native to the Pacific Northwest and can be found growing on mossy trees and rocks. Notice the leaves of this species are pointed and more delicate than the rounded leaves of the eastern species Polypodium virginianum. The rhizomes of licorice fern can be used fresh or dried and taste just like licorice root. The flavour is improved and intensified after drying. It can be used to make teas, decoctions, tinctures, herbal liqueurs, lozenges, and cough syrups for cough, cold, and flu. Traditionally it has also been used to help with indigestion and diarrhea. Harvest a small portion of the rhizomes in the fall to forage without disturbing this lovely fairy fern.
Three identification photos of Polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) growing between boulders on a forested lakeshore. Polypodys are my favourite fern species! Yes I am a fern nerd if you couldn’t tell from our business name! Polypody virginianum, Polypody glycyrrhiza, and Polypodium vulgare are edible and medicinal ferns, but you don’t eat the tiny fiddleheads, you eat the rhizomes (roots, sort of). The rhizomes are sweet and throat-soothing, tasting of licorice. All over the world this little fern family has been used by Europeans and First Nations as medicine to treat colds, flus, lung congestion, sore throats, and diarrhea. It was also an alternative to candy where there wasn’t any.
The species that has angel’s singing around it is Polypodium glycyrrhiza or “licorice fern” from the Pacific Northwest. It is the sweetest of them all and tastes the most strongly like actual licorice root. The rhizome can be chewed fresh, picked out of the moss of big leaf maple trees. Drying truly enhances it though and then it is an amazing flavour for liqueurs, mead, candy, desserts, and herbal medicines. Add it to cough syrups, immune system boosting tinctures, medicinal mushroom extracts, and herbal tea blends.
The rhizomes are sweetest in the spring, but to harvest polypody ferns sustainably we should forage for the rhizomes in autumn (when it is still pretty sweet) and only harvest 10-20% of one area. Look for them on large rocks and fallen trees for accessibility. Also, ferns are awesome! Another “fairy” plant throughout different cultures.
Two photos of rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata), also known as “rock guts” and “tripe de roche”. It is a native lichen with a leaf-like shape and can be found growing on any exposed rock or boulders along the Canadian Shield near forested lake shores. Lichens are amazing complex organisms created by the natural symbiotic relationship of fungi and algae. When you find large rock tripes it means you are in a clean, healthy ecosystem.
Rock tripe looks like leathery green-brown elephant ears when fresh but shrivels up and looks like grey-brown to black leaf litter when old and dried. The front side ranges from pale grey-brown to deep red-brown and the back is black. It is hard to tell how large each rock tripe “leaf” is from the first photo so I’ve included the second photo with my hand for scale. These are late winter / early spring rock tripes, so they were much bigger when fresh.
Winter is taking its time leaving this year, it snowed yesterday and it’s snowing as I type. If we didn’t have the grocery store and the pantry was getting barren — we’d be looking for emergency survival foods. This rock tripe lichen is technically edible and can be treated like Chinese black fungus (Umbilicaria esculenta) to prepare it as food. Re-hydrate dried specimens and thinly slice into strips. You may want to marinate them or pickle them before eating to improve the flavour.
In Chinese medicine the “rock mushroom” is considered a restorative and it could be a traditional spring ritual to eat it as a medicine rather than a survival food. Laboratory tests of Umbilicaria esculenta have revealed antiviral properties which back up its traditional uses in Asian cuisine and medicine.
Scarlet elf cup mushrooms (Sarcoscypha austriaca/ dudleyi) are one of the first mushrooms of spring here in the Ottawa Valley. They have a white to flesh-coloured underside and a rich vermillion red interior. I am convinced this mushroom belongs to the fairies.
They are considered edible but there is little to no info on actually eating them. What makes a mushroom a choice edible? The popular vote and market price I suppose. I’ve seen them eaten raw, stuffed as appetizers but think they are best pan-fried in butter or bacon fat with fiddleheads and feral asparagus. I think they would do well in a hot and sour soup as well…
Have not experimented with drying and rehydrating them yet. They taste mild/bland and they take on other flavours. When you see scarlet elf cups in the woods it means you should look for morels and oyster mushrooms in the following weeks. ~ Sarah
We had quite the two day wind and snow storm! We went from no snow to almost a foot over night! The power went out and we couldn’t get the back up generator working, but we stayed snug and warm as we live in a rural village and are lucky to have a wood stove and a wood shed. More snow is forecasted…
Our property is covered in fallen branches including this birch fork covered in not-turkey-tail mushrooms. The give-away for it not being turkey tail was the muted colours and the toothed pores underneath. Turkey tail is a polypore and is smooth and grey-white underneath, the pores so tiny they are almost invisible.
New post over at our blog to get you ready for spring foraging! Spring goes by fast and the season for most of these edibles lasts only 1-2 weeks, so it is good to be prepared! What are you looking forward to harvesting and eating?
Spring is coming soon to our Northern climes! It is time for foragers and chefs to get ready for spruce tip season. Here’s a teaser of the locally wild harvested spruce tip goods we’ll have in the online shop tomorrow (shop link is in our profile). Spruce tips make a lovely tea, cooking/baking herb, and flavouring for syrups, beer, soda, and liqueurs.
The edible and medicinal mushroom goodies coming soon to our online shop. We love our mushroom medicine! Been busy processing and packaging new products. Finished a photo shoot today am am now attempting to get all the goods in the shop and a newsletter sent out. No rest for wicked, even when you have small children!
Dried turkey tail mushroom rosettes from inoculated maple logs on our own property. Did you know you can grow your own medicinal mushrooms at home in your yard? Hoping to find time to write an article on it for the blog! In the meantime we are juggling shipping and making products for the shop. These turkey tail mushrooms will soon be available as a medicinal mushroom broth blend and a plain double extract tincture.