Mayapple is easy to identify by its distinctive leaves, which can be seen on the Wikipedia page. The umbrella-like leaves can be found in forests. Unlike the past several foods I’ve tried, which are found on the borders between woods and fields, I’ve found mayapples deep in the understory of hardwood forests.
It’s a little difficult to find mayapples anywhere near ripeness, since they are a favorite among wild animals. I picked them a little underripe and stored them in a bag for a few days to ripen. Since the fruits are low to the ground, I found them by getting close to the ground to look under the umbrella-like leaves. The lemon-like fruits can be seen in the not-so-great photo below:
The smallest of them is about the size of a ping-pong ball.
There are recipes for jellies and jams made with mayapples, but they all call for cups and cups of the fruit. The above picture represents my total harvest from the forest near my house, so making jam is not a reality at the moment. I just cut the top off of a dead ripe mayapple and sucked the pulp out. The pulp was very seedy, so I spit the seeds out. I was able to chew through the skin, but it was a little tough and sour, so I stuck with eating the pulp. My mayapple jelly recipe calls for using the entire fruit.
The taste is a little similar to wild grapes, which probably doesn’t mean much to the beginning forager. It’s a perfumy, almost tropical flavor, and I really enjoyed it. This may be the best-tasting wild food I’ve found so far, and I’m eagerly anticipating next year’s mayapple season. In the meantime, I’ll be scoping out new patches of the fringed umbrella leaves.