Midwest Foraging exhibition is returning in 2023! Focused on the foragable plants found along the Family Discovery Loop and Heartland Harvest Garden, look for a new digital tour and more in the coming year. Embrace your Midwest spirit while appreciating the natural landscape throughout Powell Gardens.
Location: Family Discovery Loop, Heartland Harvest Garden
Tip: Look for BLUE plant tags that feature flower and leaf symbols to identify selections from the collection and learn fun facts about each plant or fungi along the way.
NOTE: Foraging is not permitted on Powell Gardens property. In the interest of public health, safety, and in respect of our conservation efforts, all participants are expected to appreciate this tour for the educational content provided.
Each month, the education and horticulture departments will feature a foraged item found on Powell Gardens’ property. Learn about how these plants grow, where to find them throughout the Midwest, and what to do with your harvest.
Click below to see last year’s foraged finds. More to come in 2023!
Morels (Morchella) seem to appear overnight. They tend to grow in 24 to 48 hours and typically pop up in late April or early May, usually after the ground reaches 50 degrees. Rain followed by warm weather is also good for sprouting morels. (When mayapples start to pop up, it’s usually time to start looking for morels!)
You can look for morels in moist woods, river bottoms and on south-facing slopes. They’re often found near dead elm trees, in old orchards or burned areas as well. Experienced morel hunters have their secret hiding spots where they know the morels pop every year. You’re lucky if they share that information with you!
Be mindful of false morels. Poisonous false morels are reddish and have wrinkled, lobed, or brain-shaped caps and dense (not hollow) stalks. As with any wild edible, be sure you can identify morels before ingesting them.
At Powell Gardens, the Family Discovery Loop features a display of mushroom logs and wooded area that is suitable for morel growth.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier species), sometimes known as Juneberry, is a medium-sized deciduous flowering perennial tree.
In the springtime, there are beautiful white flowers, and in the fall the foliage turns an orange-pink hue. June (hence the name) is the perfect time to harvest the berries from the tree. You want to wait until the berries have turned a dark purple-blue color- this is when they are the sweetest. The fruit is slightly larger than blueberries and tastes like a combination of a strawberry and blueberry.
Studies show that this fruit is more nutrient rich than blueberries. You can use this in a few different ways, smoothies, jams, and cobblers just to name a few!
At Powell Gardens, you can find serviceberries in the Heartland Harvest Garden and the David T. Beals III Woodland and Stream Garden.
Popular with pollinators, Coneflowers (Echinacea) are an easily grown garden plant and native to North America. A popular perennial with smooth, two to five foot stems and long-lasting, lavender flowers. Flowers occur singly atop the stems and have domed, purplish-brown, spiny centers and drooping, lavender rays.
The genus name is from the Greek echinos, meaning “hedgehog,” an allusion to the spiny, brownish central disk. The flowers of Echinacea species are used to make an extremely popular herbal tea, purported to help strengthen the immune system; an extract is also available in tablet or liquid form in pharmacies and health food stores. Native Americans also used this plant to treat ailments.
At Powell Gardens, you may find coneflowers in the Butterfly Meadow, Children’s Garden, and Heartland Harvest Garden.
The American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) is a perennial aquatic plant with edible roots, nuts, leaves, and flower petals! The plants grow best in full sun and produce pink, white, or yellow flowers. Their leaves float on the water’s surface or stand three to five feet deep above the water depending on the depth of the water.
Lotus roots can be harvested from late summer through mid-fall and grow buried at the bottom of ponds. The tubers are linked, so when you do forage, cut between the linked tubers to remove those you want for cooking. Be sure to wash the lotus root, then cut each end off and make sure that the hollow tubers are clean. Rinse out if there is mud. Do not confuse water lilies with American Lotus!
This vegetable is great deep fried (it has quite a crunch) or in soups and stews. The young leaves can be prepared like spinach, and you can eat the seeds raw or cooked. As with all wild edibles, make sure you can identify the American lotus before ingesting.
At Powell Gardens, you can see this plants in the Marlese Gourley Lowe Island Garden and on the 1-mile Family Discovery Loop. Learn more at powellgardens.org/american-lotus.
You will likely recognize the Osage Orange Tree (Maclura pomifera) by its fruit, hedgeapples. Despite their name, this fruit isn’t related to apples at all! They are part of the Moraceae (mulberries) family.
Osage Orange is a medium-sized tree with a short trunk, dense, round, or irregular crown, and thorns. It flowers from May through June. It produces large yellow-green fruit in September and October. (Some say the fruit resembles a brain!)
Also called bois d’arc and bow-wood, it was used by the Osage Tribe to make bows. A yellow dye can be made from the plants’ roots. Settlers across the Midwest used Osage Orange as a living cattle fence.
At Powell Gardens, you can find Osage Oranage trees along the one-mile Family Disovery Loop and on the Fortopia lawn. (One of the forts has fabric dyed using Osage Orange Trees!)
There are more than twenty species of Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) across the Midwest and each can be used interchangeably. It is a native wildflower whose blooms start in August and continue throughout the fall. Goldenrod is a clumping perennial that stands up to five feet tall.
Forage for Goldenrod on a warm, dry, sunny day. Gather the full stalks of the leaves and sprays of the flowers. To dry the flowers, hang bundles in a large paper bag to catch the drying, opening, and puffy flowers. Goldenrod can be used for tea, cocktails, or even in beer. The flowers have an anise flavor.
At Powell Gardens, goldenrod can be found in the Wildflower Meadow or Butterfly Meadow.