Foraging for ingredients for brewed beverages

Foraging for Ingredients for Brewed Beverages

Mushrooms—they’re in your tea and coffee and they’ve been in your stir fry for a long time. In recent years they’re even in face cream and shampoo.  But putting mushrooms in your beer?

Russ Cohen

Russ Cohen is a wild edibles expert based in Arlington, Massachusetts. Above he holds burdock root, which is used in Asian cooking and has many health benefits.

In the beginning, as in “The Beginning,” there were only wild things available to make the fermented drinks our forebears concocted. (Those Cro-Magnon folks were not as daft as they’re made out to be.) Wild fruit, berries, fungi, tree bark, tree tips, resins, honey—all were fair game for flavoring those ancient fermented beverages. 

Take fungi, for example. For centuries, mushrooms have been used for medicinal purposes, each type having a particular purpose, e.g, turkey tail, a polypore mushroom found throughout the world, is prescribed in Japan as an effective anti-cancer drug. Chaga, another fungi, is a black mass that grows in cold climates, primarily on birch trees. It’s loaded with antioxidants and has been lab tested to have numerous benefits.

Foraging for ingredients for Brewed BeveragesIn your beer, however, Chaga’s health benefits may or may not survive the brewing process, but it adds a lot of flavor.

Here, we let Tom Madden, co-owner and brewer at Lone Pine Brewing Company in Portland and Gorham tell his story.

“We defer to the experts for the actual foraging, so North Spore Mushrooms in Westbrook finds the Chaga we brew into our Chaga Stout,” said Madden. Clocking in at 8% ABV, this stout is also fueled with antioxidants and vanilla and spice flavor notes. “If you know what Chaga tastes like, you’ll recognize it,” he said. “We premiered Chaga Stout in 2016 at the Black Fly Brewfest. People in Houlton were interested in foraging and they were already familiar with Chaga. It’s still one of our most popular beers.”

Animal and test-tube studies found that Chaga extract may boost immunity, prevent chronic inflammation, fight cancer, lower blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol. However, more human studies are needed.(www.healthline.com).

Up Munjoy Hill from Lone Pine is Root Wild Kombucha. Owner and brewer Reid Emmerich also forages for ingredients to enhance his ‘booch.’

“I use local ingredients all the time: Rosa rugosa—the lovely roses you see along the beach—are super floral, beautiful,” he said. Rose hips, which appear on those Rosa rugosa hedges are also used in brewing, adding Vitamin C and more antioxidants. “A woman came into Root Wild once and invited me to take all the elderberries growing in her yard,” said Emmerich. “She knew what they were and hated to have them go to waste.”

Emmerich grew up loving the outdoors, studied environmental science and eventually became a guide. “I love that this connects people to the land,” he said. “That woman with the elderberries and another guy who had a peach tree in his yard: that they cared enough to find me, asking if I’d have a use for them.”

Other wild things Emmerich uses in his kombucha are rhubarb, pine, bayberry, juniper berries, even purple shiso, an ornamental, edible green that is in the mint family and adorns many a plate of sashimi. “Get to the tasting room,” Emmerich urged. “That’s where you can sample all the flavors of foraging.”

If you want to do some foraging for yourself, there are a number of classes in Maine. Wild Seed Project in Portland sponsored a Wild Edibles Walk last June with expert Russ Cohen of Arlington, Massachusetts. The Viles Arboretum campus served as the location for this two-hour walk, where Cohen stopped frequently to pull up a plant and display its roots, and pull leaves down from a tree to taste them. With 45 years of experience, an expert like Cohen can help you learn to identify the hundreds if not thousands of plant species growing right around you, in a meadow that abuts your land, or even your own backyard. By simply looking around, you might find watercress, good for soothing coughs, curly dock, with its digestive properties, or dandelion greens to detoxify your liver. It’s all waiting, ripe for the picking. Just make sure you are trained properly to identify each plant before tasting.

Get more information on foraging

– Contact Russ Cohen: eatwild@rcn.com or 781-646-7489

– Search Facebook for foraging events such as Pineland Farm for mushroom foraging

– Maine Mycological Association hosts several forays a year for members. It’s $10 for a membership; well worth it to get true expert teachers www.mainelymushrooms.org

— Text & Photos: Kate Cone. Kate is the author of What’s Brewing in New England: A Guide to Brewpubs and Craft Breweries (Downeast Books, 1997 and 2016). She loves finding all the wild things.

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