Talcon Quinn is an eighth-generation Athenian who forages and wildcrafts using traditional techniques, objects and living beings from her environment. Whether it’s selecting weeds and roots for wellness tinctures or utilizing junk wire and deer bones for jewelry, Quinn is creative with how she celebrates the land.
“The fact that I’m Appalachian is a huge piece to my business. I really like expressing my roots in my heritage through my work,” Quinn says. “We are interconnected with the world and our community is not just humans and what humans make, but also the plants, the rocks, the animals, everything that is on this planet.”
Within the Appalachian wilderness live edible plants and fungi, which people have reaped the benefits of for generations. Foraging remains a highly cherished way of sourcing food in Southeast Ohio.
Quinn’s Appalachian grandmother and great grandmother both passed down the tradition of using local plants and fungi as food and medicine.
Quinn’s expertise also comes from her studies at Columbines School of Botanical Studies and Hocking College. She now teaches her own wildcrafting classes and mentors people wanting to live off the land.
She believes that foraging is an act of stewardship, and that in order to celebrate nature, we must respect it.
“Harvesting is a huge issue,” Quinn says.
Ramps, or scallion-like plants, are particularly sensitive to reaping. Quinn says a good rule of thumb is to refrain from digging the bulbs if people have not been mentored on how to do so, as, “harvesting the root can be damaging to the stand.”
Quinn also says the commonly known “one-in-ten rule” is not always accurate, especially in cases where the item being picked is extremely popular, such as Appalachian spring morel mushrooms.
Homer Elliott is a Hocking College Natural Resources faculty member, and wild and edible plants, dendrology, field biology and mycology teacher.
Elliott says overharvesting is likely an issue in the area with spring morels.
“There’s so many people looking for them and not really caring. It just makes it more of a challenge for everybody. It’s all about numbers,” he says.
Pat Quackenbush, parks and museum education program manager at Hocking College compares the popularity of hunting morels in Appalachia to the popularity of hunting deer.
“I always say there are two big hunting seasons over here,” Quackenbush says. “Some people who do this regularly, you have to physically torture them to give up their patch locations.”
Both Elliott and Quackenbush are passionate about the benefits of mushrooms. Elliott mentions how mushrooms, such as spring morels, chanterelles and chicken of the woods are especially tasty to cook with and are easy enough — with some patience — to find in the area.
Elliott says oyster mushrooms, which can be found from late fall through the winter, are good for lowering cholesterol.
He also says that, aside from being great for health, mushrooms are essential to the environment.
“We wouldn’t have the soils that we have or the ecosystems that we have in the first place from the very beginning, when plants colonized land and made terrestrial habitats happen,” Elliott says. “Pretty much all your woody species out there have a relationship with mushrooms, and they linked each other.”
All the more reason for foragers to be conscious of their harvesting practices.
Starting with the weeds of one’s own backyard can be a great place for beginner foragers, Quinn says. Beginners avoid the risk of improper harvest and learn to distinguish different basic greens.
Quinn mentioned how one can commonly find yarrow and clover in a yard, which is two thirds of her wellness “trinity.” The third are nettles.
Quinn says that nettles’ leaves contain every vitamin and mineral humans need aside from B-12 and can be used for toning the liver and uterus. Clover is high in protein and also heals the liver.
“My grandmother used to have me pick red clover. She used to say it helped move her blood,” Quinn says. “Clover gets us moving in a more productive way.”
Quackenbush even describes enjoying cattails.
“I think it tastes like super sweet celery. I eat it with peanut butter,” Quackenbush says.
Beginner foragers need to be mindful of legality and poisonous look-alikes.
For the most part, foraging is completely legal and even encouraged by professionals like Quackenbush, especially if the species is invasive. However, according to a Wayne National Forest representative, on national forest property there are certain areas, such as research or special interest areas, that are off-limits.
One should be mindful of poisonous plants when foraging. There are many toxic look-alikes, so Elliott, Quackenbush and Quinn all recommend bringing a guide out into the woods for first-time foragers.
Besides poison hemlock, the infamous flower that killed Socrates, there are many more unknown villains. Elliott mentions “false morels,” jack-o-lantern mushrooms, death angel mushrooms and gallerias.
“They’re pretty common around here. They wouldn’t even taste bad if you were to cook them up. They would taste good. But then you start developing flu-like symptoms, and then after several days, it feels like you’re getting better, but then your liver fails,” Elliott says.