Review: Mora Companion Heavy Duty

Mora has quite the reputation for making quality yet very affordable knives. Because of this, they are immensely popular among outdoor-living instructors, backpackers, and seasoned Bushcrafters as well as novices alike. The blades may not look as pretty as a $350 custom knife, but they are every bit as functional. The Companion Heavy Duty is no exception.

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This model is carbon steel and has a 104mm (4.09 inches) long blade with a Scandinavian grind and a 3.2mm (.126 inches) thick spine. The handle has a black, rubberised grip, and while a little large for people like me with average-sized hands, this is an advantage in winter, especially if you’re wearing mittens or gloves, since the knife will be easier to control. I bought the knife on amazon.com for about $18, but it can be found for a bit less. As you can see, I put a forced patina on it for a more rustic feel ;) .

I know there are many reviews of this knife out there, but I wanted to add in my two-pence worth. The Companion, particularly this design, has become a loved-standard in the Bushcraft community – because of that, it seems appropriate to base my future knife reviews in comparison to this one.

The ‘Companion’ series gained popularity two years ago as a step-up from the older ‘Clipper’ knives. The major upgrade was in the Companion tang, which extends nearly 2/3 of the way through the handle, as opposed to a shorter tang with Clippers. It comes with a durable, plastic sheath – plain and simple. Like the Clipper sheaths, it has a sturdy belt clip so you can easily put it on and take it off without much hassle. The Companion Heavy Duty also comes in bright orange, a wise option if you are prone to placing your knife down and forgetting where you put it. Companions are also made in stainless steel (Companion F Rescue, F Serrated, Orange, MG, and others) though none of them have the 3.2mm thick spine. Mora’s carbon steel knives are hardened to 59-60 Rc – stainless blades are 57-58 Rc.

To begin, I collected some Eastern White Pine and Sugar Maple logs, approximately 1.5 inches diameter for each.

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Starting with the pine, I shaved off curls from one side to simulate general carving. Thanks to the Scandinavian grind, this was a breeze :) . Next up was the batoning test.

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The blade went through the log like butter. Not only did the Scandinavian grind split the fibres with ease, but the 3.2mm spine wedged the two pieces apart without getting stuck. The same was true with the piece of Sugar Maple.

I split the pine log again into quarters, and used the inside corner for finer carving, making a featherstick. This is where the Scandinavian grind really excels, planing off thin shavings.

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Truncating was a different story. The Companion got the task done, but adequately. The thickness of the blade proved a slight disadvantage here because it cannot cut through the fibres as easily as a thinner blade.

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Another downside is that the spine is rounded-off, so using it to strike a ferrocerium rod (firesteel), will prove difficult. I’ve heard that you can use the very tip where the grind thins to the point, but this did not help. I gave up after a half hour’s effort. It should be noted, however, that since most firesteels come with a striker, using the back of your knife is not necessary. I don’t know where the idea came about that you must use the spine of your knife against a firesteel in order to create a sufficient shower of sparks to light a fire. I’ve done just fine with the small striker that came with my firesteel. But if you so choose, you can take a sharpening file and roughen the spine so that it will throw sparks better. I am including this test because many outdoorsmen/women use the back of their blades to strike sparks, and my findings would be useful to them.

For last, I used a knee-lever grip to see how much bite the knife has. I favour this technique over the more commonly known chest-lever because I can slice larger chunks of wood more efficiently. This comes in handy when large stock removal is needed in a carving project.

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The Companion made short work of the quartered pine log, and was equally effective with maple.

In conclusion, I can say that the Companion Heavy Duty is a capable, well-rounded blade. It is a great choice if you plan on using your knife for moderate batoning, and it performed well overall with the carving tasks. The only downside was that it couldn’t strike sparks from a firesteel, but this doesn’t matter for me.

Some folks have raised concern over the tang because it isn’t a full, wide tang, and therefore won’t be as strong. This is true, but it should be remembered that knives weren’t meant to handle the abuse of heavy chores in the first place – that’s what the axe or hatchet is for – and batoning is a fairly new concept. That said, if you use it hard enough, it will break at the handle…but at $18, the Companion can be replaced without much heartache. Personally, I wouldn’t use it on a regular basis for splitting anything thicker than 2 inches diameter.

I have owned this knife for almost two years now, and it has lived up to its name. I’ve only needed to sharpen it a few times with a fine stone followed by stropping. One can clearly see why the Companion Heavy Duty is so popular. For more information of Mora knives, visit http://www.moraofsweden.se/

New Hampshire Trip

I just got back from 5 beautiful days spent in Piermont, New Hampshire. Nothing much to talk about since this was mostly a family “R and R”, but I wanted to share with you some pics and a few thoughts.

We stayed on a dairy farm managed by a friend, on the edge of the Connecticut River . Here’s the view from my hammock on the first morning, overlooking the river.

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Canoeing it was even better – placid waters with wisps of mist spiraling into the air like water sprites, cradled by the branches of bushy Canada Hemlocks and stately Eastern White Pines along the banks.

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I also had the chance to do a bit of foraging, and the farmer was happy to show me around where the good spots were. I fixed myself some fried Day-Lily flowers and buds, Common Chickweed seasoned with Wild Basil and Field Mustard, and a delightful tea of Pineapple-weed and Canada Hemlock. The woods by the farmer’s cabin were filled with Paper Birch, Bunchberry, and Beaked Hazel.

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I’m really liking the Olicamp kettle and Emberlit stove combo ;) .

Here’s my shelter set-up, a DD 3×3 meter tarp in coyote brown with a Frontline hammock made by the same company.

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For insulation I have an olive-drab Grabber Outdoor space blanket (without the hood) as a top quilt, with a Thermarest Trail Pro mat. I find it to be a great, lightweight summer sleep system…and it takes up little space in the rucksack.

Sunset was the best part of each day…well, second to the sunrise ;) .

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The top photo was taken from the canoe at around 20:30 (8:30 pm) in the evening. On the bottom is a view by the farmhouse.

And on the morning of the fifth day, we stopped at the farm store before departure to purchase a few goodies :) .

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Here’s the inside of the store, an icon of old-fashioned Americana. The wooden beams on the ceiling are original to the property, and you can see the hewn marks left by a broad-axe. Fresh food, great people, and a gorgeous landscape…it doesn’t get any better than that ;) .

And this brings me to briefly touch on an issue important to novices, as well as seasoned-outdoorsmen/women (including Bushcrafters), who are new to an area. It is often difficult to find places to practice skills these days. Open fires are banned in many wilderness areas, overnight stays are sometimes costly (Connecticut state parks, for example, charge an average of $10 a night per-person), foraging is frowned upon or restricted, and often campsites are crowded, noisy, and not at all comfortable. Of course, some places will not be as restrictive as others, and you may even find a location with lenient rules. But my point is that unless you own a good chunk of land or have a relative or friend who does and is willing to let you practice skills, it may be hard finding a suitable place where you aren’t tripping over all kinds of regulations.

Fortunately, you can inquire with private landowners and farmers. You may not receive a “yes” the first time you ask, but it is definitely worth it. Sometimes you can do a little compromise, such as helping to manage the property by picking up litter, reporting trespassers to the authorities, some minor trail maintenance, giving a helping hand with the farm work, etc. When you inquire, don’t forget to mention ‘Leave No Trace’ and stress that point. If you get a “yes”, there may be some rules the landowner will expect you to follow – after all, you are a guest on their land. If they answer “no”, don’t be discouraged. Thank them for their time and move on to another location. Inquiring opens you up to many opportunities, perhaps even meeting like-minded people who wish to learn and share wilderness skills.

Leave No Trace: Code of the Responsible Outdoorsman

It’s a sad truth that seemingly everywhere we go to enjoy ourselves outdoors, there is nearly always litter scattered about. This is a major problem in public parks where rules and regulations are not enforced, and on private land that isn’t managed adequately. The amount of rubbish carelessly discarded on Mount Washington, for example, costs the Forest Service thousands of dollars to remove annually. Even with volunteer support, it can be challenging to keep park lands across the country litter-free.

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It’s ironic that our nation is embracing the “Green” movement yet trash continues to pile up. So, who’s at fault?…obviously, the negligent fools who dump their rubbish are a big part of the blame, but so are those who refuse to pick up litter left behind by others. Fortunately, as the outdoor community continues to grow, so does the awareness of ‘leave no trace’.

Now, ‘leave no trace’ isn’t just picking up litter – it’s about leaving a minimal environmental print. Bush-whacking should be done with care so as to not trample vegetation – when possible, use established trails. Leave your campsite the way it was before set-up. Thoroughly douse your campfire remnants so that they are cool to the touch – scatter the charred bits or bury them. Where open fires are forbidden, use a stove. Practice sustainable foraging techniques – never harvest rare or endangered plants (unless you have permission or a permit to do so), and if you’re harvesting berries, always leave some for the wildlife. Another good custom is to collect plants in such a way that promotes growth, such as picking just above the leaf node. If you’re digging for roots and the plant has already started to produce seeds, scatter them about the area. Removal of invasives is encouraged. And, of course, carry-out what you carry-in…take a plastic bag or two with you. If you see rubbish lying around, collect and dispose of it properly.

Essentially, ‘leave no trace’ is common sense, something many summer outers seem to lack. Our forests, open prairies, and waterways are precious. Please do your part in preserving them so that they may be enjoyed for generations to come.

Further information can be found at https://lnt.org

Summer Forage 2014

Happy (late) Independence Day! I hope you have all enjoyed your 4th of July weekend :) .

The weather has finally cooled-down some after a week of high temperatures with equally high humidity, thanks to the knock-out blow provided by some intense thunderstorms. Taking advantage of this, I ventured out for the seasonal forage. One of the first plants I came across was a shrubby Black Raspberry on the meadow’s edge. Where you find one bush, you’ll likely find several others.

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Black Raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) grows very aggressively on a variety of soil types, though generally it prefers a moist environment. It is widespread in Connecticut and other parts of the northeastern US. Too often, people scorn this particular bramble as a weed without realising its potential as a food source. Towards the end of June and through July, the purple berries can be collected in quantity – they are much better than the store bought red raspberries, which are mushy and taste sour to me. Black Raspberries are sweet when ripe, with a bit of tartness to balance the flavour. Made into jam or jelly, they are delectable. You can also use the fresh or dried leaves to make a delightful tea. Just be mindful that the whole bush will be armed with thorns, so gather carefully.

There were clusters of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) everywhere in the meadow. It is largely unknown as an edible, and where it is mentioned in wild plant field guides, it is often described as “extremely bitter”. These sources often say to boil the edible parts (young shoots, buds, and young seedpods) in multiple changes of water to reduce the “bitterness”. In truth, I have not found Common Milkweed to be bitter in the least – rather, it has a taste much like cooked green beans. Towards the end of June, the green flower buds can be collected, though by now most of them have already opened into blossoms. I only found a few worth picking.

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Common Milkweed has a sticky, milky white sap which is considered to be slightly toxic, though really it seems to be little more than a meat tenderiser. Simply boiling the collected bits until they are tender (usually no more than 10 minutes) and draining off the water renders them safe to consume. You can also eat them without draining the water, but only in small amounts. It is not recommended to eat Common Milkweed raw – you’ll likely end up with one heck of a sore throat and stomach ache.

**Dogbanes are sometimes confused with Common Milkweed, especially in the earlier growth stages during spring. Dogbanes are mildly poisonous and are best left alone. Their shoots are dark reddish and much thinner than those of Common Milkweed. Dogbanes also lack the slight bit of fuzz that is present on Common Milkweed stalks. Both plants produce a white sap, so this cannot be used for correct identification.**

Further down the path, I saw the familiar sight of chickweed, growing in thick patches on either side. This variety appears to be Stellaria graminea, or Grass-leaved Starwort.

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The tender leaves, stems, and flowers of all chickweeds (Cerastium, Stellaria, and Myosoton genus) can eaten raw or cooked (lightly boiled or stir-fried are popular methods). However, certain species such as Mouse-Ear Chickweed (C. fontanum) and Sticky Chickweed (C. glomeratum) should always be cooked.

There was also some Yellow Wood Sorrel along the path.

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Wood Sorrel leaves have a distinctive, light sour taste similar to apple peel. This flavour is caused by the presence of small amounts of oxalic acid. While some say that you should only eat small quantities of raw Wood Sorrel at a time, the levels of oxalic acid are in fact minute – you’d have to consume pounds of the stuff on a daily basis for awhile before it would pose a threat. Let’s not forget that oxalic acid is also present in spinach, lettuces, garlic, radishes, and other healthy vegetables. So feel free to eat more than “just a wee-nibble”. I like to munch on the leaves as I scout around looking for other edibles. Not only is it a common plant, but the sourness is quite refreshing.

At this point in the year, Stinging Nettles have reached their maturity, shown by the flower clusters at each leaf node.

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You can still pluck off leaves for tea, soups, and stews, but this is the time when the plant is at its best for making cordage. Nettle fibres are quite strong and can be used fresh off the plant, dried, or twisted into twine.

Amongst the various foliage in the field, I noticed the five-pointed white and purple flowers of Horse-nettle (Solanum carolinense), a member of the Nightshade family.

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The whole plant is poisonous…a little reminder to watch what you’re picking.

As I approached the marshy part of the meadow, I harvested some Peppermint. Fortunately, the path wasn’t boggy from the recent heavy rains.

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Like all mints, Peppermint can be enjoyed as a tea. I’ve also heard from other foragers that it can be used to flavour ice cream…sounds delicious to me :) .

Walking back up to higher ground, I spotted some Wild Carrot (aka ‘Queen Anne’s Lace’).

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The flowers haven’t yet opened, so correctly identifying for harvest it will be critical…misidentifying a member of the Carrot Family (Apiaceae) can prove fatal. Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) and Fool’s Parsley (Aethusa cynapium) can be confused for Wild Carrot. The key differences with Wild Carrot are that the stems are hairy, and just below the flower-head, you will notice many three-forked bracts encircling that part of the stem. Neither Poison Hemlock nor Fool’s Parsley has these characteristics. It is much easier to identify Wild Carrot when it blooms – you will notice a single, tiny purple blossom in the centre of the white flower head, which none of its look-alikes have.

The edible root is best brought to a boil and then simmered until tender – it can be eaten raw, but is very tough and chewy. As I couldn’t see any other Wild Carrots in the vicinity, I decided to leave this one alone. They do best in waste places and other areas with well-drained soil…I guess the meadow wasn’t dry enough for them to thrive.

A little ways ahead, I stumbled across a thick patch of Virginia Peppergrass (aka ‘Poor Man’s Peppergrass’) along the winding trail of the meadow’s gentle sloping hillside. The seed clusters at the top of each stem make all peppergrasses easy to recognise from a distance.

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Field Peppergrass is a close relative and looks very similar, though the stems and leaves are fuzzy whereas Virginia Peppergrass is bare. Either is perfectly edible, as are all who share the Lepidium genus. The name “Peppergrass” comes from the spicy seeds, which are usually dried and then added to dishes as a zesty seasoning, though they are just as tasty fresh.

There were also masses of Red Clover here, there, and everywhere. It is a favourite flower for bees to pollinate, so take care not to get stung. Red Clover has an unmistakable appearance and is extremely common.

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The whole plant can be eaten, but it should be cooked as it’s difficult to digest raw. I prefer the leaves and flowers, lightly boiled for a few minutes with a dash of salt. Red Clover is rich in protein.

Making my way to the hedges that border the greater woodland, I stopped to collect some Curly Dock leaves. Sadly, most of the other dock plants were mown and clipped by the trail maintenance crew.

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Dock leaves, when gathered young, are a bit sour (due to small levels of oxalic acid) and can be eaten raw, though most folks prefer them cooked. Some say that they have a taste similar to spinach when steamed. You can also pick the larger, mature leaves, though these will be bitter and require longer cooking.

Around the corner at the fringe of the forest, the hedges were teaming with unripe Blackberries. It appears that we will get a bumper-crop this year :) . They’ll be ready for picking in about two weeks.

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The more prominent thorns, reddish-green canes, and 5 pointed leaves (young leaves will only have 3 leaflets) distinguish this bramble, Common Blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis), from Black Raspberry. When ripe, the berries will also taste a bit tart and sweet, but are much juicier. As with Black Raspberry, blackberry leaves can brewed into tea.

A short distance into the woodland beside the pond, I found a Spicebush.

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The leaves, twigs, and berries, which turn a waxy red when ripe, are aromatic and make an outstanding tea. During the Revolutionary War, colonists would dry the ripe berries and grind them into powder as a substitute for allspice. Spicebush can be found on lake shores and stream banks where the soil is rich and moist.

Sadly, all the Hedge Garlic which was so abundant in spring is now past its prime, and the mature plants are starting to die. On the bright side, the dead stems make excellent fine kindling for fire-lighting even through winter. I continued along the trail to the patch of Wild Strawberries, and stopped to gather a few leaves for tea.

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Next, I turned off the path and bush-whacked my way to the top of the woodland hill in search of other edibles to forage. There were small Wild Blueberry bushes all around the crest, and this looks like the first year they will produce fruit.

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The soil was certainly acidic enough for them, as could be seen by the presence of sphagnum moss. Still too early for munching the berries, but they might be ready in two weeks or so – I can hardly wait :D .

I looked towards the western slope where the woods opened to a clearing to see if there was anything available. I found many Black Cherry trees, but the fruits won’t be ready for awhile.

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The cherries are seldom eaten by other people, though the birds love them. The juicy pulp and skin are edible, but the pits should be spat out as they contain cyanide. You can also crush the cherries, pits and all, shape them into biscuits, and bake them in the oven or in the ashes of a fire covered with embers. Heat destroys the cyanide.

Closer to the ground, I could see the white flower clusters of many Yarrows, attracting lots of bees.

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Yarrow’s genus, Achillea, originates from the Greek legend of Achilles using the crushed plant as a coagulant to halt the bleeding of his soldiers’ wounds. Indeed, it contains achileine (also named after Achilles), an alkaloid which promotes blood clotting. The leaves and blossoms can be made into tea – it has a delicate minty taste.

And no more than a few inches away from this group of Yarrow was a bit of Wild Basil (Clinopodium vulgare). This variety has a much milder scent and flavour than cultivated Basil, but it can be used just the same for culinary purposes.

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I decided to follow the gravely path on the hill back down to the meadow – rocky walkways are great places to look for plants which favour a well-drained environment. So it was that I caught the fragrance of Melilot Clover (aka Sweet White Clover), thriving on the edge of the path.

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Melilot has elongated leaves and often grows much taller than other clovers. The white flowers and leaves make an interesting tea with an aroma much like vanilla.

The gravel was also home to several Ox-Eye Daisies, a classic summertime flower. Most people have no idea that daisies are edible…they don’t know what they’re missing.

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The young leaves and flower buds are delicious raw, with a taste similar to carrots. They would be an excellent addition to a salad.

On either side of the path were bushy Autumn Olives, and tangled in the mix on one of the shrubs were Wild Grape vines. There are four native species of Wild Grape (Vitis genus) in New England, all of which produce edible fruit – some will be sour, while others are delightfully sweet and tart. I like to pick them off the vine and eat them straight away, spitting out the seeds. I’ll have to wait until early autumn before I can leisurely munch on them, though.

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This species is Summer Grape (V. aestivalis), a common vine which often climbs high into tree canopies. The grapes will be fairly small and turn purple when ripe. Its brown, flaky bark is easily peeled off and is great tinder for fire-lighting. However, when it comes to harvesting Wild Grapes, be sure that you are not collecting the fruits of Canada Moonseed, which are poisonous.

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Canada Moonseed is not related, but has a similar appearance to Wild Grape, with a few exceptions. The ripe fruits are very dark purple, almost black, and they are grouped in much smaller bunches. Also, the leaves have no serrations along the edges, and the vines lack tendrils.

I kept walking on the gravel path past the first meadow and into an adjacent field, where I found a White Mulberry tree with fruits starting to fully ripen.

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Mulberries are one of my favourite wild fruits. I grew up snacking on them as a kid until my hands were spotted with purple. And nowadays, no matter how hard I try to harvest a lot of them for jelly or fruit leather preservation, I end up stuffing my face all the way home with a full stomach when I reach my door. Commercially, mulberries are often made into choice wines. I plucked off the few fruits that were ripe for a quick nibble.

There was a large Wineberry bush growing in the shade beneath the mulberry’s branches. Wineberry is an invasive from Asia, but the fruits are just as delicious as our native brambles.

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They aren’t quite ripe yet, however.

The predominant plant in this field was Common Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa). Come September, this whole field will be filled with its yellow flowers, heralding the end of the summer season and the arrival of autumn.

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The leaves have a mild sweet fragrance when crushed, similar to that of its close relative Sweet Goldenrod (Solidago odora). The leaves of all goldenrods can be brewed into tea.

By now, my foraging bags were starting to fill up, and so I headed home. Along the way, I discovered a Japanese Honeysuckle growing next to a Canada Elder bush. Unfortunately, the Elder isn’t yet mature enough to start providing berries, but the honeysuckle was in bloom.

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The leaves of Japanese Honeysuckle can be boiled until tender, though I personally prefer the blossoms, eaten fresh off the plant. They have a mild sweet flavour.

Nearby, I recognised the climbing vine of Common Greenbrier.

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Although it is a bit late in the year, you can still eat the tender young leaves and tendrils raw. They are at their best earlier in spring.

As I reached the end of my street, I stopped to dig up a blossoming Day Lily on the shoulder of the road. The unopened buds and flowers can be consumed after cooking – boiling for 5-10 minutes is the usual method, or you can add them to soups and stews. I also like to eat the bulbs raw after rinsing in water. All edible parts will leave a mild, spicy aftertaste on the palate.

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Day Lilies are questionable in terms of edibility because of hybridisation with cultivated varieties. To that end, it is recommended to only eat the unspotted orange variety (as shown above), Hemerocallis fulva.

Here is the day’s collection:

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A little more than 3 pounds of Black Raspberries, some Yellow Wood Sorrel leaves, chickweed flowers, Common Milkweed buds, Peppermint, Virginia Peppergrass seeds, Curly Dock leaves, Spicebush leaves, Wild Strawberry leaves, Yarrow, Wild basil, Melilot Clover, Red Clover, Ox-Eye Daisy leaves, Common Goldenrod leaves, Japanese Honeysuckle flowers, Greenbrier leaves and tendrils, and Day Lily.
Happy Foraging :) .