Written By Joshua VanBrakle.

Posted on August 21st, 2015.

Share it!

On a muggy July morning—the kind where your clothes feel like they’re glued to your skin—I’m out hiking through a deep hemlock grove on the West Branch Nature Preserve.

I don’t have a specific destination in mind. I just want to explore, to see what catches my attention.

On a muggy July morning—the kind where your clothes feel like they’re glued to your skin—I’m out hiking through a deep hemlock grove on the West Branch Nature Preserve.

I don’t have a specific destination in mind. I just want to explore, to see what catches my attention.

Maybe it’s because I’m hiking around 11:30, but what catches my eye is a cluster of mushrooms growing on a cherry tree.

chicken of the woods

My stomach starts rumbling. I’m pretty sure these mushrooms are Laetiporus sulphureus, commonly called “Chicken of the Woods” because it’s edible and has a mild, succulent flavor. This mushroom cluster has the right color and shape, and it’s even growing on a decaying hardwood—a good sign, as the variety that grows on conifers is poisonous.

But hungry as I am, I don’t feel like getting poisoned on my hike. While there are edible mushrooms in the woods, there’s no room for error in identifying them. If you’re wrong, you’re dead. Since I’m not absolutely certain of my identification, I leave these mushrooms alone and move on.

Farther down the trail, my tummy gets a reprieve. The hemlock forest ends in a reverting farm field, and in this sunny spot I find some highbush blueberry. This native, wild blueberry is safe to eat, and although it’s early in the season, this bush has a few berries on it. Certain of my identification this time, I snag a handful and eat them. They’re just on the brink of ripeness, and they have a sweet, mildly tart flavor.

wild blueberries

But a few berries aren’t much to go on, and now it’s getting on to lunch time. Still hungry, I pause at an apple tree growing along the field’s edge.

This apple tree isn’t a native plant. It’s here thanks to the farmer who worked this field as far back as the 1840’s.

The apples on this tree aren’t like what you’d find in the grocery store: ping-pong ball-sized and green. At the store you’d reject them without a second glance. But I’m hungry, and hey, I know they aren’t poisonous, so I try them out.

It only takes one bite to realize my mistake. The green apples aren’t even close to ripe, and they’re horribly bitter. I spit out what’s in my mouth and toss aside the rest.

wild apple tree

So much for my in-woods meal. I turn around and head back to the office for lunch.

To be sure, the forest has edible goodies for people who know what they’re picking. But keep a healthy dose of skepticism. If you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it. As for me, next time I go hiking in the woods before lunch, I won’t rely on the forest. I’ll pack a trusty PB&J instead.


Share it!