If you ask a group of people to list things they could find in a forest, they’ll most likely list items most often found in spring and summer. I think it’s a bit of a shame that we don’t talk about the amazing things we can find in the woods during the cooler months. Just because the trees are leafless and underbrush plants are gone, doesn’t mean that foragers have nothing to hunt for. Even beginners have plenty of reason to bundle up and head out. One chilled foraging favorite is amber jelly fungus!
Amber jelly fungus is a common wood rotting species in the northern hemisphere. Since it likes cooler weather, you can find it here on the eastern coast of the US from October until mid April, though it’s easiest to find when the leaves have fallen. Sometimes called amber jelly roll or willow brain, it grows most often on dead attached branches and twigs of willow trees. Amber jelly fungus’s appearance is pretty easy to guess from the name. It looks like shiny lumps of brown or amber jelly stuck to dead wood.
With a description like that, this may seem like the last thing in the woods you’d want to put in your mouth, but amber jelly fungus is TECHNICALLY edible. Due to it’s strange texture, lackluster flavor and inconsequential calorie count, many experts might say “Why bother?” That being said, foragers that recommend eating them stir fried with Asian flavors, candied or as a thickener for soups are not short coming.
If you need an excuse to head out into the forest before the weather warms up, here it is. Go hunt down this strange, gooey woodland treasure and maybe make it into a tasty snack. As always, please remember to never munch on a hunch. Happy foraging!