Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 2012 Meadowbrook apartments tour

We had a small group for the tour Saturday, but I thought it was perfect anyhow.

I'd like to post some information and resources on the plants we covered.

We started with one of my very favorite invasives, kudzu (Pueraria lobata):  the vine that swallowed the south.  Just about every part of this plant is useful and nutritious as a food source for people and livestock.  The dried stems are great for basket weaving.  Kudzu has also been used to treat alcholism.
Pueraria lobata's distinctively shaped compound leaves of three.
Pueraria lobata covering all other growth.

Even though there are not yet any nuts visible on the tree, I did point out the beech tree (Fagus sylvatica), since it is so plentiful in this area and recognizable.
Fagus sylvatica

Next, we covered the medicinal properties of English ivy (Hedera helix). A plant that I've used with great success to treat my family's bronchial problems related to illness and seasonal allergies.
Hedera helix

We talked some about poison ivy (toxicodendron radicans) as well, something all Virginians should know how to recognize and avoid.
toxicodendron radicans

Next we saw some broad leaf plantain (Plantago Major), a technically edible plants that I love for it's usefulness as a topical anti-inflammatory, as well as a mild laxative.  later in the tour we also took note of the long leaf plantain (Plantago Minor), which is identical in use and properties.

Plantago Major(top) Plantago Minor (bottom)

My six-year-old always insists on teaching this part of the tour, as yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) is her favorite plant.  I can never get her to eat anything green inside the house, but whenever she's outside, she can be seen munching away on a handful of wood sorrel.
Oxalis stricta
We talked about the lovely day lily (Hemerocallis fulva) a visual delight as well as a reported culinary delight in this part of the country at this time of year.
Hemerocallis fulva

I pointed out the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), which I believe is an important source of medicine for preppers to know.
Ailanthus altissima
Of course we covered poke weed (Phytolacca americana), the blow fish of the plant world.  A highly regarded pot herb that sustained generations, and deadly poison if harvested or prepared incorrectly.

Phytolacca americana

Phytolacca americana

 I pointed out the poisonous horse nettle (Solanum carolinense) that seems to be everywhere this year.  It's spiny enough to keep most people away from the greens, but in late summer to fall, it will have some nice looking berries that may be tempting to children.
Solanum carolinense
Solanum carolinense

We saw burdock (Arctium species) which has a large tap root that can be eaten, or tinctured to use as an effective blood purifier.  The leaves are also useful as a treatment for bruises and burns.
My kids pointed out the indian strawberry (Potentilla indica), a tasteless, but edible cousin of the wild strawberry.
Potentilla indica
I did offer the tour participants a snack from this nice little black berry (rubus spp.) bramble, but my kids were snatching them up pretty quick.  They already knew where it was because it's their back yard, so they kept running ahead to pick the ripe ones.
rubus spp.

I used the poor man's pepper grass (lepidium Virginicum) to demonstrate characteristics of the mustard family.

lepidium Virginicum

We sampled the little sheep sorrel (Rumex hastatulus) leaves growing along our path.  It's pleasant sour taste got good reviews, and I've found it useful for lowering fevers in my toddler. 
Rumex hastatulus pretty little basal leaves remind me of a fleur-de-lis.
We talked about mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) and it's destructive properties in your garden, and helpful properties in your medicine cabinet.  It's also used as food in some parts of the world, but should be used with caution in all applications because of it's potential hallucinogenic properties.
Artemisia vulgaris The white underside of the leaves, along with the wonderful comfrey-like smell, cinches it's identity for me every time.

Next is curly dock (Rumex crispus), a plant that offers up tasty leaves, plentiful edible seeds, and a medicinal taproot.
Rumex crispus

 We stopped to smell the lovely wild spearmint (Mentha spicata) that has recently volunteered.

Mentha spicata
We sampled everyone's favorite wild green, lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album).

Chenopodium album
I pointed out a stand of queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota) or wild carrot, and went over the dangers of this family.  Foragers or would-be foragers are most commonly poisoned when misidentifying this plant.  They say it is easy to distinguish it from it's closest look a like, poison hemlock by the coarsely hairy stem, and the single red flower in the center of the white umbrella, as well as the absence of identifying characteristics of the hemlock plant, such as the purple splotches on the stem.  It's interesting to note, though that among this little stand of flowers in my back yard, not one of them has the little red flower, although all other traits match, and later in the day I saw a patch on the side of the road that had the red flower, but was lacking the hairy stem.  Just another reason I choose to avoid members of the Apiaceae family until I have a lot more experience.  The possibility for confusion is too real and too risky.  The poisonous members of this family are among the most powerful neurotoxins on earth, and the wild edible members, from what I hear, are unimpressive as food.

Daucus carota

The spiderwort (Tradescantia) was closed up for the day by the time we got to it, but it was still recognizable and we talked about this wonderful plant's culinary possibilities.  

Tradescantia, as it looked when I scouted the route in the morning.

Tradescantia, as it looked when the tour group got there.

We munched on some tasty feild garlic (Allium oleraceum) seeds along the way and talked about the healing properties of this wonderful member of the alium family.

Allium oleraceum seeds, poking out of the surrounding greenery.
I pointed out our back yard grape vine, which I believe is a river grape (Vitis riparia), and the nearby green briar (Smilax) vine which offers a tasty salad green in it's young leaves and tendrils. 
Vitis riparia


There are more wild edibles to be found on this property, but this is all we had time for.  You can see why I love living here, and why I will probably lead another tour here in the future.  You may have many of these wonderful plants growing in your own back yard too, so get out there and discover!

I hope you find some of these links helpful, I also want to give a recommendation to those with smart phones.  Wildman Steve Brill's app is the most transportable and easy to use field guide for beginning foragers.  I highly recommend it!

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