Finding Mayapple

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. 

Harvesting Mayapple

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.

Preparing Mayapple

 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.

Eating Mayapple

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.

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13 Responses to “Mayapple”

  1. Cindy Says:

    Last evening, my husband and I harvested about 50 of the Mayapple fruits in varying stages of ripeness. I agree, the taste and fragrance is exactly like a green grape my father used to grow. I plan on making jelly or juice out of my bounty.

  2. glge Says:

    I picked a bushel of mayapples this year, and learned the hard way to ripen them in a plastic bag (not paper). They wound up very tough and bitter, since the grocery bag I had them in absorbed a lot of the moisture from their skins. Maybe next year…

  3. Marsha Wathen Says:

    could anyone offer a good recipe for mayapples? I have just found a nice wild patch of them and want to be ready next year to harvest some to make jelly or jam.

  4. glge Says:

    I haven’t found a way of preparing them that really works for me, but there are recipes here:

    Good luck!

  5. Audrey Says:

    Hey there, was just browsing around, and saw your blog, I am glad you enjoy them so much. However, recently I’ve been reading up on common herbal plants and the such. As a word of warning, and hoping not to offend anyone, but Mayapples are extremely poisonous! Make sure to remove everything but the pulp when you eat them, they can inflame the stomach and intestanes and possibly lead to death. I hope I don’t turn anyone off from this interesting treat, but just wanted to warn those unknowing.

  6. Nathan James Says:

    I can’t believe I didn’t mention that! They don’t call it “American Mandrake” for nothing. Thanks for the comment.

  7. Andrew Maule Says:

    I found a nice patch in North Kettle Moraine State Park north of Milwaukee. I’m not talking about bushels of them, but enough to fill a paper (oops) bag full of them. I simply like eating them fresh, but try and save the seeds to replant on my next excursion to the park. Not sure what the seeds require to germinate, but I figure it’s my way of contributing back to something that could easily be over-harvested if enough people showed interest.

    As for the poisonous comment, yeah, it should be noted. However, it shouldn’t scare people away from trying the fruit, as some of the domesticated plants we eat have poisonous parts.

    • Nathan James Says:

      I’ve never found a patch all by itself–do a few circles, and I’m sure you’ll find more. With regards to reseeding, I usually take the ones that go bad while I’m letting them ripen and pitch them deep into the woods anytime I’m hiking, but I don’t keep track to see that any are germinating. The plant is a perennial, though, so the patch you’re harvesting from will come back next year, whether you pick all the fruit or not.

  8. Ray & Kay Robinson Says:

    How do I know when the mayapple is ripe?

    • Nathan James Says:

      They’ll be soft and lemon-colored. They smell will also be noticeable–very sweet and “perfumey”.

  9. georgia estes Says:

    I have heard that the pulp is safe, but the skin and seeds are not. Is it easy to separate pulp from skin and seeds…like when eating Persimmons? or…is it easier to cook them and separate through a sieve?

    • Nathan James Says:

      I haven’t had any luck with this. Running the whole chopped fruit through a food mill added a lot of bitterness to the pulp, probably from the rind, and running just the seedy pulp through didn’t work either–it didn’t really separate. Re-comment if you come up with anything.

  10. Tim Clifford Says:

    The recipe in Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons is my favorite, used in several times…
    Cut the ripe yellow fruit in quarters, simmer for 15 minutes, until mash-able. Squeeze puree through a colander to remove the seeds and skin. I have moved from the east to the west, and will miss the availability of this foraging favorite.

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