This month I have some berries to look for, a nice edible mushroom and one of our most deadly species to AVOID.
It’s an exciting time in the hedgerows and woodlands at the moment with the first big wave of mushrooms starting to appear. With more rain forecast more are sure to follow in the coming weeks.
Many berries are also ripening, a patch of blackberries near to my house are ready to pick and up in the hills nearby, bilberries make a nice snack while walking on the moorland edge.
August is the month to get prepared, we are on the cusp of lots of berries, nuts and mushrooms emerging in a very close time frame. Let’s just hope the weather doesn’t spoil things, too hot, too wet or too dry and it could put a real fly in the foraging season, particularly for mushrooms.
This month I have some berries to look for, a nice edible mushroom and one of our most deadly species to AVOID. Remember wherever you explore this month, only ever pick and eat something from the wild if YOU are 100% sure that YOU know what it is.
Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Elder is one of the most useful plants to forage. We have discussed this species before, but that was mainly for its wonderful fragrant flowers, this month I want to delve into its wonderful fruit.
Elder produces lovely bunches of dark purple, almost black, berries towards the end of August and into September. Generally, the warmer it is, the quicker the berries ripen, if there’s a cold, wet August then there’s a real risk that the berries will not ripen at all.
This plant is a relatively easy species to identify. The berry clusters appear on large bushes and the leaves have 5-7 leaflets, which do not smell pleasant when crushed, in my experience. It’s a common plant in most places; hedgerows, parklands and woodland edges are all great places to find it.
Once you do you get your hands on the berries remember, they are slightly toxic to eat RAW and you’ll get an upset stomach if you eat enough. To get around this you can cook them or soak them in vinegar or alcohol, as these methods will destroy the toxins.
The berries are often used to boost the immune system as they’re packed with vitamin C and antioxidants and the extract of the berries is actually used in many high street flu remedies. One of my favourite ways to preserve the flavour of berries also wards off colds in the autumn. I take a Sloe gin recipe and replace the gin with white wine vinegar and the sloes with elderberries, adding sugar to taste. This makes the most delicious vinegar but I will also take a few swigs if I’m starting to feel run down - just in case!
The berries can also be made into flavorsome jellies, delicious cordials and even tasty home-made liqueurs.
Summer Bolete (Boletus reticulatus)
This is a wonderful edible species and until relatively recently this mushroom was considered a form of the more famous Boletus edulis, aka Porcini, Cep or Penny Bun. However, the Summer Bolete is a species in its own right now, found to be quite numerous in some areas. With the mushrooms growing to a decent size, you can take one or two whilst leaving plenty for other woodland creatures to enjoy.
Like many of the true Boletes, these mushrooms don’t have traditional gills, instead they have pores underneath the cap, making them look more like sponges. These pores start off pale, almost white, but as the mushroom matures they become more of a yellowy-green. The cap itself is a rich brown colour, starting off like suede but becoming cracked with age. The stem is more slender than the Penny Bun, and is covered in a reticulated network right down the stem.
An early species, August is a great time to go looking for Summer Bolete, especially in woodland or parklands with oaks or beech trees. It seems to be noted more and more recently, possibly as more identification books are illustrating it, keeping it on peoples radar, rather than an actual rise in the species.
When it comes to eating this species, then young fresh specimens are great sliced and fried with garlic, while older specimens, once the pores turn yellowish, are better dried to be used throughout the year. We use dried boletes in all sorts of cooking, calling upon them to as pizza toppings, in pasta dishes or even as an alternative to crisps.
Deathcap (Amanita phalloides)
You do not get a title like Deathcap without cause, this Amanita is one of our most deadly species, so a good one to learn how to avoid. As is common with many of our Amanitas, the gills are white while the cap is a goldish/ greenish colour. The mushroom emerges from a sac and the base to the stem is swollen. There is a veil which protects the gills when fresh, but this drops to form a ring on the stem - in drier weather this can fuse to the stem and make it more difficult to see.
One of the more interesting features of this mushroom is its smell, sweet, like honey- conning some people into thinking it is edible.
Its status differs from region to region around the U.K., in some of the southern counties it is very common, but here in Greater Manchester it’s a rare find. A mushroom of deciduous woods, it favours oak and beech trees, areas where you may be foraging for other edible species.A species that seems to prefer a long ‘autumn’, it can be early to emerge and sometimes seen just before the first frosts.
There are no ‘rules’ when it comes to foraging in terms of what is and is not edible, you identify a species and learn about whether it can be eaten or not, but some advise that avoiding anything with white gills allows you to exclude the Amanita family, which does contain some of our most deadly species.
As always use this blog as a guide of things to look out for this month, always confirm your identifications with reliable books and resources and only ever eat something if YOU are 100% sure that YOU know what it is.