One Month at a Time: Finding wild, wonderful food in West Virginia’s woods

For April, reporter Bill Lynch is learning about foraging for food in the wild, and then somehow eating it. He has a long way to go. Bill Lynch, Gazette-Mail photo.

By: Bill Lynch, Staff Writer | Posted: April 5, 2018 | Source: WV Gazette-Mail

I parked the car at the top of the hill and then went to the front porch of the small house.

This part of Roane County felt remote and half forgotten, just a few houses with plenty of elbow room between them, a yard full of battered heavy equipment, but no men working.

A couple of miles down the road from where I stood, half of the two-lane had collapsed. A piece of twisted guardrail dangled over the bank of the muddy creek.

The cloudy, April sky promised more rain and it was eerily quiet, just like one of the good parts in a horror movie.

It occurred to me, a little late, that maybe I should have told somebody back at the newsroom where exactly I was going, but I knocked on the door.

A burly, bleary-eyed man covered in tattoos answered with a yawn.

“Brian Lucas?” I asked.

He shook his head and said, “No.”

He looked down the hill, to the left and to the right.

“I don’t know a Brian Lucas, not around here,” he said.

I stood on the porch for half a minute, quietly cursing my GPS and wondering if I’d remembered to bring Brian’s phone number. Then I apologized and went looking for the guy who was supposed to introduce me to chickweed, fiddleheads and daylily roots.


After a month of trying to climb up into the sky, I wanted to spend some time close to the ground. I looked into caving, but a friend who does that kind of thing warned me that this time of the year I might have the same problems with the weather that I’d had with learning about flight.“If you’ve got a lot of rain, we don’t go into the cave,” my friend told me.

The plan just hadn’t come together in time — so, maybe later.

Instead, I hit on foraging, harvesting food from the wild. This would not be hunting, which is an entirely different skill, but collecting roots, leaves and whatever else you can eat.

The idea had first been suggested on a list the West Virginia Division of Tourism provided me after I asked for suggestions about things I might check out around the state.

Foraging had been on the list for April, along with “training and participating in the 32nd Annual Great Greenbrier River Race.”

After a month of eating my feelings, shedding weight and getting in some kind of shape for a triathlon sounded bad. Besides, I didn’t know how the new owners of the newspaper would feel about me submitting a kayak as an expense.

I should maybe start small.


Foraging sounded interesting, particularly since we are headed into the ramp season. People love ramps. Over the next couple of weeks, small church and community groups will be hosting ramp dinners around the state.You’ll see their hand-lettered signs stapled to telephone poles and posted in grocery stores.

I’ve never been to a ramp dinner and, to be honest, really never understood the fuss about ramps.

I’ve only eaten ramps once. I bought them from a food vendor at the state Capitol during the Vandalia Gathering. For a couple of bucks, I got a Styrofoam bowl with an oily potato, a little bit of rubbery egg and a couple of wilted, green strands that were supposed to be ramps.

The only impression it made on me was that it didn’t make an impression.

The texture was a little like an onion. The potato had more flavor. I dumped the bowl and went looking for ice cream.

Spending a month learning about foraging — literally learning about how you might live off the land — sounded like the opportunity to revisit ramps and learn about some of the other wild delicacies I’ve heard mentioned over the years but never tried, like molly moochers (morel mushrooms) and fiddleheads (a kind of fern).

Getting started, however, proved to be a little difficult.

While I was able to round up a list of names, the first few people I emailed didn’t seem all that interested in participating — at least, not in April. My schedule was a little early. A couple of my contacts even suggested I wait until September, when wild food enthusiasts will gather for a weekend at North Bend State Park.

Discouraged, I began to look through the classified section for kayaks. Maybe I could convince the new owners to buy me a used boat.

Then Brian Lucas sent me a list of about 20 items that could be found on his property right now. Brian was willing to show me around, point them out and help me collect them.

I just had to come to him.


Brian lived out in Left Hand, a few miles from Amma, a place I had never heard of, but that my GPS assured me was real.The GPS didn’t get me lost, but the directions overshot the mark.

It took me a while, but I found Brian waiting out in his driveway with a backpack full of plastic bags and a small gardening spade.

I’d driven past him three times before I decided that the guy in camouflage clothing standing near the road holding a shovel wasn’t dangerous.

Before we got started, Brian said he was worried a little about me taking things he said out of context or editing them for effect.

I told him, “I’m just here to learn something. I don’t have an agenda.”

Brian laughed and said he did. People have become so disconnected from their own world.

“The average kid can recognize 1,000 different corporate logos, but they can’t identify 10 plants,” he said. “I think that’s wrong.”

Brian also thought that most Americans have become too accustomed to accepting whatever is on sale at the grocery store as normal and nutritious. He believed the roots, berries and leaves he regularly harvested from his four-acre plot weren’t just novelty foods but were in some ways superior to what was available at Kroger.

Most of it tasted better, once you got used to it.

“And it’s better for you,” Brian said.

He said a lot of supermarket produce has been engineered to make it more durable for transport and storage, and to make it look more attractive to the consumer.

“Grocery store tomatoes don’t ripen on the vine,” he said. “They’re picked green and then gassed with nitrogen, which turns them red.”

This is also why these same tomatoes can be as tender as a tennis ball.

Commercially grown produce also has fewer nutrients, my research showed me. Partly this has to do with genetic modification, but it’s mostly because of soil depletion. Factory farmed vegetables have less vitamins and minerals than they did decades ago because the lands they’re farmed on lost many of their nutrients due to decades of continual use.

Brian said he was a largely self-educated forager, at least in the beginning.

“I started when I was about 8 years old,” he said. “I was curious. I had a grandmother who would tell me what things were — like sour grass. I picked up the rest as I went.”

Now 62, Brian said he’s learned from other foragers, as well as a few survival experts who also have an interest. He’s happy to pass along what he knows, and the wildcraft lore is part of what he teaches at Premium Martial Arts in Dunbar, where he works as an instructor.

Edible plants are all over, Brian said. Most people just don’t know what to look for. Once they’re shown them, they’ll see them all the time, he said.

Of course, there can be some risk, too, particularly for people new to the hobby. Some deadly plants can be confused with the nonlethal variety, and even if a plant doesn’t kill you, it can make you feel like it’s going to.

“And allergies,” Brian acknowledged. “If you have a lot of food allergies to begin with, this might not be a good idea.”

I told him I was fine.

With trying wild food, Brian recommended moderation, trying different items in small amounts and separately, at least at first.


Brian handed me his backpack, picked up his gardening spade and told me to follow him. We walked out to the front end of his property and began.We pulled up dandelion roots and leaves.

“You want the tips of the leaves and not the stems,” he told me.

The leaves could be eaten in a salad or made into a tea. The roots could also be roasted and eaten or used for tea.

Earlier is better for eating the leaves, as they tend to get bitter with age.

Brian pulled up wild garlic, which he said most people think of as wild onions.

“You can use these in soup,” he said. “You just chop up the green parts when they’re small.”

We gathered white clover, yarrow and willow bark, which Brian said had medicinal value.

“Yarrow is good for wounds,” he said. “Willow makes a kind of aspirin. You would boil it to make a tea and then use it if you felt kind of yuck, had a slight headache or something.”

We dug up daylilies and picked off the tiny tubers among the roots.

“You want to wash those,” he said.

Brian recommended treating them like potatoes — boiling them, sauteing them in butter or roasting them — but warned me not to gorge myself.

“They can have a laxative effect,” he said.

We packed everything in separate plastic bags, labeled them and stuffed the bags into the backpack.

Foraging, Brian said, could be a lot like gardening. Good gardeners know what a particular plant or crop needs and where it grows best.

“Ginseng, for example, likes shade and well-drained soil,” he said. “So, you look on the eastern or northern slopes of mountains.”

Brian said ginseng also needs soil with a lot of calcium.

“So, you look for trees like sugar maple. There’s a lot of calcium in the leaves of sugar maples,” he said.

Sympathetic plants will also sometimes grow together, which makes it easier to locate a difficult to find plant, if you know what it will grow next to.

On a certain level, I understood this.

Some gardeners plant beans, squash and corn together. They’re called “the three sisters” because they work well in unison. Squash leaves provide ground cover, which reduces weeds. Beans fix nitrogen in the soil, providing nutrients to the other plants and corn stalks give beans something sturdy to climb.

I tried that once, but the weird, mutant zucchini squash I got from my father just climbed up the corn stalks, pulled them down to the ground and then strangled the bean plants in their sleep.

The deer were delighted.

“With ginseng, you should look for the maiden’s head fern,” Brian told me.

It was also a little early for ginseng.

Brian told me he and his family have been living on the property for about five years. He walked his land often. What was available to harvest changed with the season, and he always carried his cellphone.

Like with every other hobby or interest, there are smartphone apps for foragers. Brian used Forager’s Buddy, which uses GPS to keep track of plants or mushrooms you find and when.

“So, if you find it once, you can find it again,” he said.

After around two hours of stumbling through the mud, picking leaves and digging roots, Brian gave me a bunch of bags full of things to take home and try.

“If you have any questions, give me a call,” he said.

Reach Bill Lynch at, 304-348-5195 or follow @lostHwys on Twitter. He’s also on Instagram at and read his blog at

Brian Lucas, a martial arts instructor at Premium Martial Arts in Dunbar, took reporter Bill Lynch out to show him about foraging for wild foods. Brian collected a mushroom he thought might be turkey tail mushroom, which is used in medicinal teas. Before consuming, Brian recommended checking it to be sure. Bill Lynch, Gazette-Mail photo.

Brian Lucas, a martial arts instructor at Premium Martial Arts in Dunbar, took reporter Bill Lynch out to show him about foraging for wild foods. Brian collected a mushroom he thought might be turkey tail mushroom, which is used in medicinal teas. Before consuming, Brian recommended checking it to be sure. Bill Lynch, Gazette-Mail photo.

Elkview teen’s first muskie captures club’s big-fish trophy

When she landed her first muskie in October 2017, Kristin Tanner had no idea it might win her the West Virginia Husky Musky Club’s trophy for the largest Elk River fish taken that year. Tanner became the first female in the club’s 49-year history to capture the award. Courtesy Photo

By: John  McCoy, Staff Writer | Posted: Mar. 30, 2018 | Source: WV Gazette-Mail

In the West Virginia Husky Musky Club’s 49 years of existence, its big-fish trophy had always gone to a man.

Kristin Tanner changed that.

Tanner, 17, of Elkview, recently became the first female to earn the award given to the member who landed the year’s largest Elk River muskie. Her fish, caught and released last fall near Blue Creek, measured 44½ inches in length.

When she accepted the trophy, Tanner had been fishing for muskies just three years. The fish that brought her the prize was the first one she ever landed.

“I caught it on Oct. 16, 10 days after my 17th birthday,” she recalled. “I’d gotten a new muskie rod and reel for my birthday, and I was trying it out.”

In the true spirit of starting at the top, Elkview teen Kristin Tanner's first muskie measured 44 1/2 inches and captured the West Virginia Husky Musky Club's traveling trophy for largest fish caught from the Elk in 2017. Courtesy Photo

In the true spirit of starting at the top, Elkview teen Kristin Tanner’s first muskie measured 44 1/2 inches and captured the West Virginia Husky Musky Club’s traveling trophy for largest fish caught from the Elk in 2017. Courtesy Photo

She gave the rod its first workout the day before, but luck wasn’t on her side.

“We were fishing up around Frametown, and I had a 40-incher come up and look at the lure. I did the figure-8, but the fish wouldn’t strike.”

Her fishing partner and mentor, Mac Myers, called her later to see if she’d be interested in giving it another try the next day. She eagerly accepted his offer.

“He’s the one that got me started muskie fishing,” Tanner said. “He heard that I liked to fish, and he offered to take me. On our first trip, we saw 11 muskies. I don’t know if I was his good-luck charm or if he was mine.”

Seeing muskies and catching them are two entirely different things. Even if one shows interest in a lure, there’s no guarantee it will bite.

When Tanner finally experienced that first bite, she got a close-up view of how suddenly it can happen.

“We hadn’t been on the water long,” she said. “I was throwing a Double Cowgirl spinner. I’d only made a couple of casts when I saw a fish come up behind the lure. I thought it was going to go under the boat, but it latched on just as I was starting to figure-eight.”

Tanner described the ensuing fight as “interesting.”

“I only had a few inches of line out,” she said. “It took and went under the boat. All I could get out was, ‘Mac, get the net!’”

Her brand-new muskie rig was up to the task. The medium-heavy 8-foot rod allowed her to lever the hard-fighting fish back out into the open, and the 80-pound-test line easily countered its weight. After a brief but intense close-quarters battle, Myers netted the fish.

That would have been the end if it except for a chance encounter with Jeff Hansbarger, a Division of Natural Resources fisheries biologist.

“I didn’t even know the Husky Musky Club existed,” Tanner said. “Jeff told me about it and I signed up. Then later, I got a notice to come to the banquet. That’s where I got the trophy.”

The trophy features a large wooden pedestal topped by the silver figure of a leaping muskie. Small brass plaques bear the names of previous recipients. Tanner’s plaque stands out; to commemorate the award’s first female recipient, club members had her name engraved on a red one.

The trophy will remain in her possession for a year — unless, of course, she’s fortunate enough to land this year’s largest muskie.

If she doesn’t, it won’t be for lack of trying. She said she can’t wait for the weather to break and for the Elk River’s water levels to come down a bit so she can go fishing again.

Reach John McCoy at, 304-348-1231 or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.

Arizona elk arrive in West Virginia

West Virginia Divsion of Natural ResourcesNews Release: March 19, 2018

Media Contact: Samantha Smith, Commerce Communications Director
(304) 957-9364  |

Contact: Paul Johansen, Wildlife Resources Section Chief
(304) 558-2771  |

HOLDEN, W.Va. — Fifty-one elk completed their journey from Arizona and were released into a holding facility in Logan County earlier this month.

The elk, which are part of West Virginia’s elk restoration project, were captured in late January and held near Flagstaff, Arizona for disease testing. The elk arrived at the holding facility near Holden, West Virginia, late on March 4.

“It has been a wonderful experience working with the wildlife professionals in Arizona and all of the private supporters who are helping make West Virginia’s elk restoration project possible,” said DNR Director Stephen McDaniel.

DNR Law Enforcement and Wildlife Resources staff transported the elk through a partnership with Energy Transportation LLC of Bridgeport, and EQT Corporation. David Alvarez, owner of Energy Transportation, and Greg Hoyer of EQT donated use of their company’s trucks and expenses from transporting the elk to West Virginia. The trip took 31 hours.

This group of elk will join more than three dozen elk previously brought in from Kentucky over the past two years. The Arizona elk will be quarantined until they are released onto the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan County, as directed by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Each elk is equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS) radio transmitter to monitor its movements. All GPS transmitters were purchased and donated by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Read more about the WVDNR’s Elk Management Plan at


WV Wildlife: Weekend Trout Stockings

Rainbow trout like these will be stocked on weekends soon. Photo courtesy WCHS-WVAH.

By: Brad Rice | Posted: Mar. 1, 2018 | Source: WCHSTV (View article and full gallery)

If you’ve never been able to experience this before, your chance–a really good chance–is coming up soon thanks to our West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

Starting this Friday, and going through May 19th, 27 different streams and lakes across our state parks will be stocked with a nice variety of trout–and you’ll be able to know when and where ahead of time!

(Stephen McDaniel, Director West Virginia Division of Natural Resources) “These are different because the dates and locations are being published in advance. we’ve never done that here at the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, and we’re hoping that will entice some of the beginner anglers to come out and give trout fishing a try”.

And trust me, it’s easy to get ‘hooked’. These Friday and Saturday stockings will also help those that are too busy during the week–to possibly bring their families out to make a weekend out of it. The hope is also to get even more people out to our beautiful state parks.

(Stephen McDaniel, Director West Virginia Division of Natural Resources) “We’re trying to promote tourism with these, and we have several lakes and streams that are located in the general area of state parks, so we thought that would be a good place to start, because it’s on the weekends. We’re hoping that people will come out and maybe rent a camping site, or a cabin, or a lodge–and make it a family deal”.

These stockings won’t impact other stockings across the state, either. all waters will receive the same amount of trout that they typically do.

(Stephen McDaniel, Director West Virginia Division of Natural Resources) “I have received dozens of emails, text messages since we announced this at our last commission meeting. Everyone is so pleased and so happy that, you know, it all comes back down to working men and women, students and kids–it’s just something we’re trying to do for them”.

For a complete list of these upcoming weekend stockings, you can find them over at the WVDNR website–

(Stephen McDaniel, Director West Virginia Division of Natural Resources) “I think this gives us an opportunity to draw some of those people to our state parks to maybe try trout fishing. If they catch a couple fish, they’re more likely to come back and try again the next time we do the stockings”.

Outdoor burning times change effective March 1

Photo courtesy: ananaline/iStock

The West Virginia Division of Forestry recently announced the new outdoor burning times that go into effect starting tomorrow, March 1. Forest Fire Season runs each year between March 1 and May 31, and October 1 and December 31. Commonly known as the 5:00 P.M. Burning Law it allows citizens to burn nonflammable material between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.

According to the West Virginia Division of Forestry website no person can set fire or cause to be set on fire any forest land, or any grass, grain, stubble, slash, debris, or other inflammable materials. Any fire set between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. must be extinguished prior to 7:00 a.m. prevailing time.

Fire must be attended at all times. Area must be cleared down to mineral soil for a minimum distance of 10 feet around what is being burned. If your fire escapes, you are liable for the costs of fighting the fire and any damage the fire may cause to others.

The Clendenin Leader reached out to Kevin Clendenin, Fire Chief for the Clendenin Volunteer Fire Department to comment on safety precautions for the upcoming burn season. Clendenin said, “Never leave a fire unattended. If the fire would happen to get out of your control get away and call for help immediately. Do not attempt to fight the fire by yourself.” He added, “Never start fires with accelerate such as gasoline or burn on windy days.”

Walt Jackson with the West Virginia Division of Forestry said, “Debris burning causes most of the fires in West Virginia costing thousands of dollars to fight and hundreds of thousands of dollars of property damage.” “Preventative measures such as keeping water and hand tools nearby to keep fire under control and to not burn during dry and windy days will drastically reduce the chance of starting a fire.”

Remember, it is illegal to burn household trash and solid waste. Willfully setting fires is a felony and punishable by fine and/or imprisonment. The maximum fine for the violating the burning law is $1,000. If you have any information regarding arson activity call the West Virginia Arson Hotline at 1-800-233-FIRE (3473). There is a $1,000 reward for information to the arrest and conviction of an arsonist.

For more detailed information on West Virginia Forest Fire Laws visit the West Virginia Division of Forestry website at

Download and share the Fire Law Flyer [PDF] sponsored by the West Virginia Division of Forestry, West Virginia Forestry Association and the United State Forest Service.

Preparations for the 1st Annual Clendenin Homecoming Festival Underway

The Clendenin Fairs and Festivals Committee held a meeting on Saturday, February 17, 2018 at 3PM at Momma Payne’s restaurant on Main Street to discuss the first annual Clendenin Homecoming Festival, which will take place June 22-24, 2018 in Clendenin, West Virginia, and is scheduled to reoccur the last weekend in June every year.

The discussions focused around the coordination of events during the festival, which included the parade, beauty pageant, fireworks, carnival, car show, activities, and entertainment, as well as food and craft vendors, and fundraisers.

According to Committee members, they are anticipating 1,000-1,500+ people during the three day event and more than 100 volunteers are needed to assist with everything from general labor, concession stands, parking, fundraisers, etc. Anyone interested in helping should send a message on the Clendenin Homecoming Festival’s Facebook page at, where you can also view additional information about the festival. Volunteers do not have to live in Clendenin town limits and do not need to be on the Clendenin Fairs and Festivals Committee to participate. Everyone is welcome.


Elk Conservation District Announces 2018 Photo and Poster Contest

Photo Credit: Kent Mason | Early morning mist in Smoke Hole Canyon on the South Fork of the Potomac River in West Virginia.

Photo Contest

The Elk Conservation District announces their Annual Conservation Photo Contest for amateur photographers in Braxton, Clay, Nicholas and Webster Counties. The contest is part of the WV Association of Conservation District Supervisors Conservation Photo Contest and the National Association of Conservation Districts Conservation Photo Contest.Elk Conservation District Map

There are four main categories for photos:  Conservation Practices, Close-Up Conservation, Conservation in Action & Conservation across AmericaAll photos submitted must be taken in West Virginia.

ECD contest deadline is June 25, 2018. Click here for entry forms. Please visit the Elk Conservation District website for all guidelines, examples, and standards. The Elk Conservation District serves Braxton, Clay, Nicholas and Webster counties.

Poster Contest

Elk Conservation District invite you to participate in a national conservation poster contest sponsored by the National Association of Conservation Districts. We do realize classroom schedules are tight, but hope you will take time for your students to create a poster and possibly receive a prize.

If your class wishes to participate, please notify the Elk Conservation District office before April 1, 2018. Posters need to be in the district office for judging by May 1, 2018.  If needed, someone will pick up your posters for judging. Winners will receive T-shirts. Theme for 2018 is “Watersheds: Our Water, Our Home”.

Entries must be submitted to the district office no later than May 1,  2018 to be eligible. Click here for entry form. Please visit the Elk Conservation District website for all guidelines, examples, and standards. The Elk Conservation District serves Braxton, Clay, Nicholas and Webster counties.

For more information contact Suzie Steele, District Manager or Cassidy James, District Assistant at 304-765-2535 or email

A pre-industrial night’s sky lingers over remote West Virginia

The Milky Way pirouettes in the vast darkness above Dolly Sods, West Virginia – Photo by Anne Johnson.

By: David Sibray | Posted: Jan. 21, 2018 | Source: West Virginia Explorer

Longing for a life far from city lights?

You could hardly do better than to move to West Virginia.

Sparsely populated, the state is part of a region of extremely low light — ironically located near the center of the eastern U.S., one of the most lighted regions in the world. (more…)

WV to receive more elk from Kentucky

The 24 elk stocked in West Virginia late in 2016 came from the Land Between the Lakes Elk and Bison Prairie in western Kentucky. Seventeen more elk will be shipped from there in early March. JOHN McCOY | Gazette-Mail

By: John McCoy, Staff Writer | Posted: Jan. 19, 2018 | Source: WV Gazette-Mail

West Virginia’s fledgling elk herd will receive a surprise gift sometime in February.

Late Friday afternoon, Gov. Jim Justice announced that 17 elk from Kentucky’s Land Between the Lakes Elk and Bison Prairie would be shipped to the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan and Mingo counties.

Paul Johansen, wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources, said the arrangement has been in the works for about two months. (more…)

Clay woman bags huge bear with long-distance shot

Courtesy photo: Bears weighing nearly 500 pounds aren’t common in West Virginia, and when Chelsea Mullins of Bomont downed one with a 252-yard shot in early December, it created quite a stir. The bear weighed 489.6 pounds and measured 7 feet from nose to tail.

By: John McCoy, Staff Writer | Posted: Jan. 13, 2018 | Source: WV Gazette-Mail

You never know what you might encounter while deer hunting.

For Chelsea Mullins, it happened to be the biggest bear she, or any of her friends, had ever seen. And make no mistake, they’d seen a bunch of them.

“I’m an experienced bear hunter,” said Mullins, a 22-year-old dental assistant from the Clay County town of Bomont. “I’ve now killed three, and I’ve been along on a lot of hunts.”

All of those hunts, however, were with hounds that treed the bears so they could be shot. The bear Mullins killed on Dec. 2 was different.

“We couldn’t use hounds for this hunt because it was during [West Virginia’s firearm season for buck deer],” she explained. (more…)