June 8, 2022 at 7:34 p.m.
Foraging a way of life for Brown
There is a small and simple missed opportunity in many people’s lives when they unwittingly miss the forage for the weeds.
Shane Brown of Sauk Centre has made it his goal to share the incredible bounty of nourishing plants and mushrooms growing wild. He and his wife, Pam, have developed their skills in foraging, cooking, canning and drying. Now, Brown leads a public foraging group through the River of Life Church, is a Saturday regular at the local farmer’s market and is developing a mushroom cultivating enterprise.
Brown has established himself as an expert on the topic.
“I learned 27 species of mushrooms and about 40 plants that I can eat,” Brown said.
Over time, his natural friendliness expanded to leading foraging groups and sharing his knowledge more broadly. From June until weather turns too cold, small groups will go out on forays most Saturday afternoons and many evenings. Sauk Centre’s River of Life Church is hosting the group in its series of “Life Groups,” which are open to the public. Participants can take home their finds, and the group will sometimes follow up a foray with a group cooking and tasting experience.
On a fine spring day in May, Brown set out with a small group of beginning foragers to explore a local pasture and woodland on a farm near Sauk Centre.
Just steps from the farmhouse, a 4-year-old group member drew the group’s attention to the first find: the original “stick-it” plant, cleavers. Brown demonstrated the clinging properties of the fine hairs on the plant by sticking the cleavers all over his shirt. Beyond their use as stylish accessories for clothing, they are good for eating.
“Cleavers are full of vitamins and minerals,” Brown said. “If you chew it up really well, it doesn’t stick in your mouth. Once it’s in your garden, it’s there permanently. It’s horrible, but it’s good for you.”
One step farther drew the eye to everyone’s favorite bright yellow lawn-covering flower: the dandelion.
“The best part about this one is, I get acid reflux from coffee, so I make my coffee out of the dandelion roots,” Brown said. “You roast it in the pan and brown it real good, dry it, grind it and seep it. All of the parts are edible, though the leaves can get bitter.”
Next find on the foray: soft and furry Mullein.
“It’s great for respiratory problems,” Brown said. “Cut and boil the leaves and flowers and breathe them in. Even the smoke of mullein is of respiratory benefit. Steep the flowers in olive oil to create ear drops for earache, swimmer’s ear and infections.”
A walk in the woods prompted an exciting discovery of a large mushroom with beautiful brown patterning fanning out from a dead stump: Pheasant Back.
“It doesn’t have gills on the bottom,” Brown said. “Look for tight-knit pores. The bigger ones can grow in a matter of days [and] can produce all through the summer. I like them the size of a grapefruit.”
As the group continued walking, Shane demonstrated how he takes a little piece of the Pheasant Back and puts it in a groove in a log to aid in spreading the spores for future years of mushrooming.
Mushrooming is one of Brown’s biggest interests. He’s licensed or in the process of getting licensed through the University of Minnesota Extension to grow many varieties of mushrooms.
Mushrooms are a topic which often raises safety concerns for foragers. Some of the prominent foraging favorites are easy to identify and difficult to mistake for poisonous varieties, but good foraging safety protocols and awareness are the responsibility of everyone who ventures out on the land.
“When in doubt, don’t eat it,” Brown said. “I could be the lunatic walking in the woods, so go research it just to be sure. Look it up and make sure the pictures are the same. Anytime you’re introducing a new plant to your system, only try little bits, or chew it and spit it out. See how it reacts.”
Brown regularly receives calls and requests from complete strangers seeking assistance with identification. He welcomes this contact and enjoys providing this support. Still, a healthy respect for the wide range of plant and fungus life in the wild is wise.
Brown can often be seen at the Saturday farmer’s market in Sauk Centre.
“My goal is to get enough mushrooms to sell, but even that is to get to talk to people about mushrooms,” Brown said. “You can’t get them to your table unless you have a lot of mushrooms.”
Loving the land can foster conversation and grow relationships, as it has for Brown and the many people who he welcomes to forage and share the generosity of the land with him.
“Almost everything that God put out here is edible or useful for something,” Brown said. “This is your natural medicine at its finest. No side effects.”