Which came first, letterboxing or foraging? In our case, it was foraging. I learned about letterboxing from a friend, and figured it would be a good hobby since we were already walking around in the woods being very observant. Our week usually consists of seeking out foods in known spots, and letterboxing in a new area hoping to get lucky with some edibles. We went out to find a box, found some Solomon's Seal and False Solomon's Seal along the way. This is a new edible for us, so we took some photos, gathered the edible roots, and came home to try some. There are similarities and differences between the plants.
On the Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum biflorum, or Polygonatum commutatum), the stalks are singular, arching and smooth, and it's leaves are alternate, elliptical, without stems, and the veins run parallel from base to tip. The plants grow very slowly in colonies, so you should only dig a few from each area at any time, since taking the rhizome will kill the plant. Beneath each leaf axil grow the flowers, which are white, bell-like, and tubular. It's root is white once dug and scrubbed. Each flower will later become a dark blue fruit in late summer. They are not edible, but useful for identification purposes later in the season when you can dig for the roots, although they are supposedly sweeter in the spring.
On the False Solomon's Seal, or Solomon's Plume (Maianthemum racemosum), the stalks and leaves are very similar to the Solomon's Seal. The visible difference lies in the flower stalk, or plume. The white flowers grow in a terminal panicle, clustered at the end of the stalk. Each flower is tiny, with 6 petals. These flowers will become spherical red fruit in the autumn, and are edible, but not really palatable. These plants also grow very slowly in colonies, and need to be carefully and selectively harvested. We dug a few rhizomes, and they are a light tan color, with many small roots coming from the rhizome.
The roots were about as thick as a marker. The rhizome only grows about 1-3 inches a year, and you can see where last year's stalk grew along the length of the rhizome. We scrubbed the roots, and tasted then raw. They were very fibrous, and a bit sweet and nutty. Robert then cut them into 1/2 inch sections and boiled them briefly, and they seemed softer. Both ways, the roots were tasty, although not a favorite of ours. The shoots of both plants are also edible in early spring, and we will return to this area to try some next year. It was a nice surprise to find them on our walk today, and a good tasting experience for us.