Transformational Gardening

Disclaimer: Foraging can be fun, rewarding and provide health benefits. As a novice forager, I will be sharing my foraging experiences. However, in order to be safe, always consult with local foraging experts and guidebooks before beginning foraging. Children should learn to forage safely by being guided by experienced adults. Never ingest anything unless you are certain of the identification and safety of the plant. Some plant species are inedible and some are poisonous.

April 2011 Foraging Experiences

(Back to: March 2011 Foraging Experiences)
(Forward to: May 2011 Foraging Experiences)

April 1, 2011

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

I bought five galvanized steel maple sap buckets, covers, spiles (spouts) and a 7/16 inch drill bit. Everything I need to gather maple sap ... except the drill and the maple tree! I didn't realize how difficult it might be to find a maple tree without the leaves. Fortunately, even in early April, there are some dead leaves under the trees that can be unfurled to help with identification. As you can see from the picture on the right, it is clearly a maple tree and based on the leaf shape and it appears to be a Sugar Maple. It has similar leaves to the Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), but the Sugar Maple has fewer teeth on each lobe.

Sugar Maples are large trees growing 70 to 100 feet tall. The leaves are opposite, 3-1/2 to 5-1/2 inches wide with 5 palmately divided lobes. The lobes have 5 main veins from the base and have few narrow, long-pointed teeth. Leaves are dull dark green above and paler green beneath. The leaves turn red, yellow and orange in the Fall. The bark is gray-brown with rough vertical grooves and loose-edged plates.

The season to collect Maple Sap is from early March to approximately mid April. Ideally, the temperatures get below freezing at night and then rise to above freezing temperature during the day. The sap will flow as the temperatures rise above freezing.

I took two collecting buckets and drilled holes in two trees at a slight angle so that the sap could drip out. I then tapped the spile into the tree and hung the bucket on the hook that came with the spile. The cover is to keep the rain out that could dilute the Maple Sap. Putting the cover on is a little bit more tricky than I thought. I still haven't figured out the easiest way to do it.

I collected 1/2 gallen of Maple Sap from approximately 12 noon to 8:30am the next day. That is pretty good for just two 12-inch diameter trees! I filtered the Maple Sap and then tasted it. It is very tasty and refreshing with a suble sweetness.



April 11, 2011

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

My first encounter with Coltsfoot! I was surprised to see a flower blooming just a few days after the snow melted.The Coltsfoot flowerheads and buds can be eaten raw in salads. The flower stems can be eaten raw or cooked. Young leaves can be eaten raw, but remove white hairs prior to consumption to avoid irritation. When the leaves get older, they can be eaten by boiling them in one or more changes of water. Apparently, the ashes of Coltsfoot leaves can be used as a salt substitute.

All parts of the plant can be used to make a medicinal tea by infusion. However, the leaves are the safest because they contain only trace levels of pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can be hard on the liver. The tea treats asthma, cough, soothes mucous membranes (mucilagenous) and is an expectorant. Use by making a strong infusion or by drying and smoking the leaves.


Coltsfoot is a 3 to 18 inch tall, rhizomous plant. It flowers in early Spring (April to May) - one of the first flowers seen. The yellow flower is 1 inch wide and made up of numerous thin ray flowers surrounding disk/tubular flowers. The flowers bloom first and then the leaves grow out of the stem. The 2 to 8 inch long leaves are basal, broad and heart-shaped (very large notch), has teeth that look like black-tipped spines (irregularly spaced), is shallowly lobed, palmately veined and densely gray-wooly on the underside. The leaves get more rubbery as they age. The two outermost main veins are not completely surrounded by green tissue. The flower stem is scaly. Grows in damp soil of streamsides, waste places, roadsides (paved or gravel roads).



April 15, 2011

Southern Ground Cedar (Fan Clubmoss) (Diphasiastrum digitatum) (Synonyms: Lycopodium digitatum, Lycopodium flabelliforme)

Southern Ground Cedar and other members of the Clubmoss (Lycopodiaceae) family are not related to moss, but considered closely related to ferns. Members of this Genus (Diphasiastrum) have a tree-like structure with a main stem and side branches (although the stems are so weak that the plant lies along the ground) and the stalks with the cone-like structures called strobili have branches of equal length on each fork. Notice the leaves along the branch are the little spine-like structure lying nearly flat against the branch. Note: all of the images in this section are of Southern Ground Cedar.

Southern Ground Cedar can be distinguished from similar Clubmosses:

The strobili (cone-like structures) appear in the Fall and they contain spores that the plant can use to reproduce. Although the plant also spreads by rhizomes (horizontal underground stems).

When the strobili are collected in the late Summer and Fall, they can be dried to release a yellow powder (often referred to as Lycopodium Powder). The powder can be applied topically to treat skin conditions such as eczema, to prevent chafing and to apply to wounded tissue to absorb moisture. In Chinese Medicine, Lycopodium cernuum is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, traumatic injuries and spasms of the arms and legs. In Western Herbal Medicine, Lycopodium spore powder has been used to treat edema (swelling), as a laxative, to treat diarrhea, to relieve gout, to treat scurvy, for bladder irritability and to ease rheumatism pains.



Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

This was my first time tasting Shepherd‘s Purse. Many authors call it a mild salad green. It was mild and even bland in my opinion. But I never had been a big fan of salad greens. I will go back and harvest more in a week or two.

Shepherd‘s Purse is very easy to recognize when it has gone to seed. It has distinctive, flat, heart-shaped seed capsules growing alternately up a stem (not pictured). You can see pictures of these seed capsules on the Shepherd‘s Purse Local Images web page. This is one reason I was sure it was Shepherd‘s Purse.

Shepherd‘s Purse will grow in a basal rosette of leaves. The rosette leaves of the mature plant are only 2 to 4 inches long, oblong, taper from the upper third of the leaf towards the base and are often deeply lobed but sometimes only slightly lobed (especially when the plant is a seedling). The leaves tend to be consistently smaller than look-alikes such as Dandelion, Cat‘s Ear and Sowthistle. The lobes tend to point straight out (perpendicular) from the leaf. One major distinguishing characteristic are the very tiny sharp spines that can be see at the edge angle of the lobes. See the picture at the bottom left below for a close-up view. If you pull the leaf apart at the center a core string will remain. The plant does not contain a white, milky sap as does many look-alikes (see below).

There are a number of other plants in a rosette with lobed leaves that could be confused with Shepherd‘s Purse:



Bull Thistle (Spear Thistle, Roadside Thistle, Plumed Thistle) (Cirsium vulgare) (Synonym: Cirsium lanceolatum)






Red Maple (Acer rubrum)




Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)





April 22, 2011

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

Harvested some Coltsfoot tops to make an infused tea for my lungs.



Flat-Branched Ground Pine (Flat-Branched Tree Clubmoss, Ground Pine, Princess Pine, Rare Clubmoss) (Lycopodium obscurum) (Synonym: Dendrolycopodium obscurum)






April 24, 2011

Striped Pipsissewa (Spotted Wintergreen, Striped Prince's Pine) (Chimaphila maculata)






April 26, 2011

Spring Whitlow Grass (Spring Draba) (Draba verna) (Synonym: Erophila verna)

I saw this very small clump of white flowers in the grass near where I live. It took an hour to identify. The XID Services weed identification software was a big help. It does not always get me the exact species, but it can often identify the genus.

Spring Whitlow Grass is a 2 to 12 inch tall plant with a clump of 1/2 to 1 inch oblong, hairy basal leaves. The long flower stem is hairy, especially near the leaves. Stem leaves are absent, unlike the similar species, Cushion Draba (Draba lanceolata) which does have stem leaves. The 1/8 inch wide flowers have 4 white petals that are so deeply-notched, it appears as if there are 8 petals.




April 28, 2011

Common Periwinkle (Vinca minor)






American Trout-Lily (Dogtooth Violet) (Erythronium americanum)






April 29, 2011

American Trout-Lily (Dogtooth Violet) (Erythronium americanum)

I went back today to collect American Trout-Lily for food. Saw three patches of it growing. The patch in the location more exposed to the sun had flowers already while the other two patches had no flowers.

I steam the Trout-Lily leaves and bulbs for 8 minutes. The leaves might have been overcooked a bit and had the consistency of cooked spinach. Good taste, but the leaves didn't break down much upon chewing (unlike spinach).



April 30, 2011

Showy Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia [F. suspensa x F. viridissima])

There are three main types of Forsythia in the Northeastern United States:

There are many cultivars of Forsythia, especially the Forsythia x intermedia variety. It is used for a very decorative Spring border along roads and in yards. As you can see from the images below, the pith is chambered between the nodes. But you have to look at a cross section along the length of the branch to see that it is not hollow.




American Fly Honeysuckle (Canadian Fly Honeysuckle) (Lonicera canadensis)

It would be easy to walk by this plant without noticing the flowers as they are often hidden behind the leaves. It has bell-shaped pairs of yellow flowers, each pair hanging down from a flower stem originating at the base of the leaf petiole (stem). Leaves are opposite, ovate (wider at the base), have distinctly hairy but untoothed margins and leave veins are pinnate and curve towards the rounded leaf tip. It grows up to 3 feet in height and is found in wet woods, thickets, bogs in peaty acidic soil. It was growing in woods along with Eastern White Pine (Pinus strubus) and Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis).

It is similar to Mountain Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera villosa) except that the leaves on Mountain Fly Honeysuckle are sessile (no leaf stems/petioles) and the flower stems (peduncles) are extremely short.

In June or July this plant produces pairs of red berries that I think are inedible.



Pennsylvania Clubmoss (Hickey's Tree Clubmoss, Intermediate Ground Pine) (Lycopodium hickeyi) (Synonym: Dendrolycopodium hickeyi)

This is my third clubmoss! Previously, I have identified Southern Ground Cedar (Diphasiastrum digitatum) and Flat-Branched Ground Pine (Lycopodium obscurum). Pennsylvania Clubmoss is very similar to Flat-Branched Ground Pine in that the strobili (cone-like structures) have no stalk (sessile), but grow right from the leaved branches and the main stem is not prickly (the tiny leaves do not stick straight out). It grows upright like Flat-Branched Ground Pine -- looks like a little tree.

But the main difference is that the Pennsylvania Clubmoss branches with leaves feel round when held, but the Flat-Branched Ground Pine branches feel flat. This is due to the fact that the Pennsylvania Clubmoss leaves are all the same size and spread the same amount while the Flat-Branched Ground Pine has leaves on the bottom that are much smaller and not spreading (which gives it a flat feel). Compare the second picture on the right of a Pennsylvania Clubmoss branch with the very last picture on the bottom left which is a labeled picture of a Flat-Branched Ground Pine branch.






Running Clubmoss (Running Ground Pine) (Lycopodium clavatum)