Growing Oyster Mushrooms from Wild Grasses

I consider myself to be quite opportunistic, readily willing to identify and take advantage of the potential benefits of any given circumstance, no matter how bleak or uncomfortable they appear from the outside. This being said, I got to thinking about one of the most popular commercial substrates for commercial oyster mushroom (Pleurotus spp.) production, straw, and whether or not the old, dried, fibrous stalks and leaves of various wild or naturalized grass species could be used in much the same way as straw derived from commercial cereal grain crops. So I decided to put on my mushroom cap and put this one to the test myself. Continue reading “Growing Oyster Mushrooms from Wild Grasses”

Foraging Fun: Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba, commonly known as the maidenhair tree or just plain ginkgo, has got to be one of the most distinctive, and in my mind interesting and captivating, plants in the world. Believed to be truly indigenous to only a single province in China , this 270 million year old species belongs to an ancient lineage of species that have since disappeared for one reason or another over the past few millennia, making Ginkgo biloba (known as a ‘living fossil’) the sole extant representative of what was once a vast and diverse group of organisms. In fact, the ginkgo tree is so unlike any other living plant species that this tree has it’s own genus, family, order, class and division. To put this into terms that may be easier to conceptualize: the only thing that ginkgo trees have in common with other plants is they are also plants. This means that pretty much everything about their genetic make-up, physiology, general behavior, reproductive strategies (including their mobile sperm; a trait particular to ferns, cycads and algae) and even their ability to photosynthesize is anywhere between slightly-off to fundamentally different from any other living plant. Oh, and you can eat it’s seeds. Continue reading “Foraging Fun: Ginkgo biloba”

Foraging Fun: Asimina triloba

Pawpaws: one of the most curious and extraordinary of foraged autumn delights. These fruits can weigh in at a 1/2 pound or more and are produced individually or in groups of up to 5 or 6 from small, thicket forming trees found wild in only a few sites in southern Ontario. They have a wonderfully sweet aroma when ripe that easily fills the whole room with a tropical fragrance. The flesh has a soft, creamy texture and a succulent custard/banana flavor. The ripe fruit won’t last for long and is difficult to adequately preserve (save for attempting to scoop out all of the flesh and freeze it before it oxidizes). They are truly unlike anything else that one can encounter either in the wild or being cultivated as a food tree in the whole of Canada. Continue reading “Foraging Fun: Asimina triloba”

Achilles’ Heal Gruit Ale

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is probably one of my favorite native perennial medicinal herbs. It was one of the first plants that I learned to identify with confidence, and it is a common sight in many parts of the northern hemisphere, found virtually right across the top of our world. One of the chief medicinal applications of yarrow has been to both as a topical disinfectant and to stop profuse bleeding when wounded. It’s these compounded characteristics of the plant which earned it its genus name Achillea. Achilles is a warrior in Greek mythology who was believed to have treated the injuries his soldiers sustained in battle by applying a poultice of crushed yarrow leaves.

Indigenous peoples, where ever they have access to this plant, developed surprisingly similar medicinal and therapeutic traditions for yarrow, many of which have been proven by modern science including it’s ability to increase perspiration and thin the blood. Folk medicinal proclaims yarrow to be almost something of a cure-all, and many of this proposed medicinal attributes I can personally vouch for either directly or indirectly including it’s effectiveness for soothing sore throats, relieving nasal congestion, easing headaches and discouraging/relieving symptoms of indigestion and nausea. Continue reading “Achilles’ Heal Gruit Ale”

Foraging Fun: Sumac Lemonade

Even those of us who are not intimately acquainted with the wide diversity of useful and beautiful plants that grace our rural and urban landscapes here in southern Ontario (or eastern North America in general for that mater) can at least recognize the staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina, even if they do not know it by name. This characteristic, thicket-forming shrub in the cashew family (Anacardiaceae, which also includes such familiar species as mangoes, poison ivy and pistachios) can be found growing in a wide variety of different but open, sunny habitats including the edges of forests, along dry ridges, invading open meadows and bordering farm fields and railway corridors just to name a few.

Staghorn sumac can be easily identified especially in mid to late summer by it’s long terminal clusters of tightly packed fuzzy red seeds that last well into winter and only begin to lose their red glow and look tired come spring. The long pinnately compound leaflets with pale white undersides that look almost palm-like are also quite hard to miss and stand out from the surrounding foliage. Each individual specimen is short-lived but sends up new shoots from it’s invasive root system that can grow several feet in a single year, making this a very aggressive and successful species, quickly occupying new territory and shading out competitors. The alternating, angular pattern of growth near the ends of the branches coupled with the soft, velvety texture of young twigs vaguely resembles the antlers of a male deer, hence the common name staghorn. Continue reading “Foraging Fun: Sumac Lemonade”