Kiawah River Wildlife Conservancy: Foraging with Brian Wheat

In April, Kiawah River Wildlife Conservancy welcomed naturalist Brian Wheat to Kiawah River to lead residents on a foraging walk, in search of mushrooms and other edible plants along the trails that wind through the community. This is the latest event that Chief Environmental Officer Jeff Snyder has organized to keep residents connected to the surrounding ecosystem, and to foster appreciation of nature in our community. Residents were treated to a lovely springtime walk through the woods while learning a lot about their natural surroundings from Brian and Jeff.

Brian began with an introduction and an explanation of best practices to observe while foraging. He stressed that you should go out with the expectation that you will enjoy your time in nature, and not look for something specific. This walk’s main purpose was to get familiar with the environment, gain some knowledge about what can and can’t be eaten and hopefully, find some edible mushrooms. While it was a little too early in the season for many mushrooms, residents focused instead on getting out into nature and learning from a knowledgeable guide what to look for when mushroom season arrives.

Brian explained that ideal conditions for mushrooms are not necessarily the ideal conditions for us—they like hot and humid weather and grow best in summer. A perfect example of this is the chantarelle mushroom: a bright orange mushroom that is very prevalent from late spring through fall in the Charleston area. This delicious fungi grows on organic matter such as rotting logs and leaf litter. Jeff explained that this is one of the main reasons he tries to leave fallen trees if they’re not in the way—they make a great home for mushrooms and other beneficial inhabitants of nature.

While only a few non-edible mushrooms were found on the walk, the foragers found a bunch of other edible plants that call Kiawah River home. A few of the highlights were Smilax (aka “Poor Man’s Asparagus”), Wisteria (the purple, grape-looking edible flowers that are found all over Charleston in spring) and Yaupon Holly (the only caffeinated plant in North America which can also be brewed into a tea).

Of course, Brian cautions to make sure what you’re harvesting is edible. One good resource is “Southeastern Foraging” by Chris Bennett, a book that focuses on edible plants in our region. Participating in walks like these and interacting with experienced foragers is probably the best way to learn what’s best to harvest. And if you ever have any doubt, it’s best to err on the side of caution and not eat it.

Be sure to keep an eye out for more Kiawah River Wildlife Conservancy events or contact Jeff Snyder to find out what’s coming up. We’re hoping to have Brian back in August for another foraging walk—when chantarelles are plentiful and we can have the chef at the Spring House cook up our bounty to enjoy.