Cultivated Ginseng
Image by Deven Connelly

Cultivated Ginseng

Collecting wild berries is a great way to utilize natural resources

shiitake mushrooms on sale at a farmers' market in NYC
Image by Sandy Repp

Shiitake mushrooms for sale at a farmers' market

Image by Iain Buchanan

Forest owners can collect a variety of wild nuts from the forest floor

Edible Wild Plants and Mushrooms

Medicinal Plants

Collecting forest plants for medicines, flavoring, or nutrition is one of the oldest uses of forests.  Since the early 1990s, several North American investigators have pursued domestic cultivation of Chinese medicinal plants. In the Hudson Valley region of New York, High Falls Gardens has been conducting production trials of Chinese medicinal plants since 1996, funded in part by federal and state agricultural agencies which support new crop development.  CCE of Columbia and Greene Counties partnered with High Falls Gardens through grants from NYS Viability Institute and developed one of three Chinese Medicinal herb demonstration gardens in the Siuslaw Model Forest.  High Falls Gardens currently functions as a cooperative among about 40 farmers across NYS working toward local production of these herbs to supply practitioners with an alternative to importing lower quality medicinal herbs.

At one time, circa 1910, there were as many as 5,000 ginseng farms in upstate NY.  Farming American ginseng is re-emerging as an option for forest land owners. Ginseng is a native medicinal herb and can be deliberately cultivated under a forest canopy.  American ginseng ( Panax quinquefolius) is a long-lived, short-statured, deciduous forbthat rarely exceeds two feet in height.  The number of compound leaves, commonly called “prongs,” indicates the plant’s age and root size. The more large leaves a plant has, the older the plant is, indicating larger roots and a more valuable plant. Good ginseng growth begins with a productive planting site. The best soil condition for growing ginseng is moist, well-drained soil that is high in calcium and high in organic matter. Planting sites should have deep, dark soil that is loose and covered with a good layer of leaf litter. A 'Practical Guide to Growing Ginseng" is a great resource to learn more.

What kind of berries can you get or raise in the woods?

  • Blackberry, Black Cherry, Serviceberry, Currant, Elderberry, Chokeberry, Raspberry, Blueberry, Staghorn Sumac, Strawberry, Crabapple, Wild Apple 

Forest owners can harvest edible fruit and berries when they are ripe. Some of the at-home uses include flavoring meals, garnishing salads, or serving the fruits to birds. Some forest plants and trees contain high amounts of nutrients. Forest fruits and berries can be marketed only if they are clean and packaged attractively. To keep this project going for the long term, plant new trees and shrubs every year and only harvest a small amount, even when they are abundant. Among the problems people run into are foraging by birds and wildlife, drought reducing yield and changing the taste, and keeping the fruits stored.

What kind of nuts can be gathered or grown in the woods?

  • Hickory Nut, Butternut, Beachnut, Walnut, Chestnut, Acorn, Hazelnut, Pine Cone

Active forest owners can collect pinecones, acorns, hickory nuts, beechnuts, and hazelnuts from the forest floor. Although woodlot owners in the Southern Tier are likely to use them for attracting and feeding wildlife, you can also propagate new forest trees, use them for rustic decoration projects and grind into recipes calling for nuts. People considering edible uses must be sure of the identity of the tree or shrub. As an income-producing project, cones and seeds can be packaged into edible mixes for wildlife, baked into retail goods containing natural products, planted as trees for sale, or marketing to crafters. Supply is important, so you should replant species to continue production, and plan to manage your timber to favor nut- and cone-producing trees. Problems with this forest activity include over harvesting, insect larvae appearing in the nuts, and preserving nuts.

Mushroom Cultivation

One of the classic “forest farming” practices, woodlot owners are growing mushrooms for their own consumption. Various species of mushrooms are inoculated on cut logs in forests. They are used as a food, a natural remedy to ailments and as a potent flavoring. It is possible to sell mushrooms directly to consumers, restaurants, and stored in a dried form. Use logs cut according to a forest management plan. Fungi can behave unpredictably, so you would need to adjust to unpredictable fruiting, careful storage, and proper sanitation to prevent contamination with other fungi. CCE of Columbia and Greene Counties offers demonstrations of a shiitake laying yard and totem oyster mushrooms in the Siuslaw Model Forest.

Useful mushroom cultivation resources include:

Content for this page was originally written or compiled by CCE of Schuyler County and edited by CCE of Columbia and Greene Counties

Last updated July 18, 2022