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 2012 Foraging Experiences

(Forward to: May 2012 Foraging Experiences)

April 7, 2012

Purple Deadnettle (Red Henbit) (Lamium purpureum)

At first I thought this was a huge plot of Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea). It has a similar look. But Ground Ivy grows closer to the ground and roots at the nodes while Lamium species do not. Purple Deadnettle has a purple flower with a hairy, curved hood/lip at the top and two lobes at the bottom. Ground Ivy has a bluish-purple flower with no hood at the top, a big and slightly split lobe at the bottom middle and two smaller lobes on each side of the bottom lobe.

There are other Lamium species in New Hampshire:

Purple Deadnettle is edible. I will definately go back for a harvest soon!

Queen Anne’s Lace (Wild Carrot) (Daucus carota)

There were no other Queen Anne’s Lace (Wild Carrot) plants in the area, so I decided not to dig this one up to eat the root.

Notice in the last picture (below) how hairy the stems are. Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) has similar-looking leaves, but is smooth and without hairs.

April 8, 2012

American Trout-Lily (Erythronium americanum)

Luckily, I looked through the calendar section of Arthur Haines' excellent book, Ancestral Plants (Volume 1) to see what would be available to collect in early April. American Trout-Lily bulbs were one of several available to collect and from last year I knew exactly where to find them!

They are much harder to collect than expected. Not only are the bulbs deep in the ground (for such a small plant), but tree roots get in the way of digging. It take patience -- much more than I had today. I ate some raw and they were a little bland, but not bad. I steamed the leaves and bulbs in a metal steamer. Steamed American Trout-Lily leaves are very good. Last year, when I cooked the leaves in water, they got too soggy and weren't very good, but steaming is the way to go. The bulbs were just as bland cooked as raw.

But the best find of this little trip was a “motherload” of:

Orpine (Witch's Moneybags, Livelong, Frog's-stomach, Live-forever) (Hylotelephium telephium) (Previously: Sedum telephium)

I saw at least a hundred little baby Orpine plants between the marsh and the trail.

April 9, 2012

Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Garlic Mustard (Jack-by-the-Hedge) (Alliaria petiolata) (Previously: Alliaria officinalis))
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

Last year I focused on learning to identify a variety of edible and non-edible plants. This year I want to focus on foraging and using wild plants regularly. Today, I went to the overgrown public gardens area and picked some Common Dandelion, Ground Ivy and a few leaves of Garlic Mustard for a vegetable medley. I steamed the vegetables and they were surprisingly mild and good. But it could have used some salt, come to think of it.

A couple of things I noticed were that the Common Dandelion grow in direct sunlight and the leaves had sharp teeth. I expected the leaves to be bitter (since it is my understanding that dandelion grown in shade is less bitter), but it was mild. This may be due to the leaves being so young. Adding a few Garlic Mustard leaves did not make the dish bitter. I have read that bigger, older Garlic Mustard leaves tend to be less bitter.

Even though it was cold and windy, I love going “shopping” like this. Time to make it a regular habit! The last picture shows drying dandelion root for tea.

April 15, 2012

Threeleaf Goldthread (Coptis trifolia)

This is one of the best medicines for sore throats. Both the golden root and the above-ground part of the plant can be used to make a tincture or tea. In addition, the root can be chewed for immediate effect. The root is so bitter that it will make you forget that you have a sore throat. In fact, the bitterness will make you forget you have a throat at all!

I am not sure why I could not find this plant last year. It is all over the place in this forest of Eastern White Pine, Eastern Hemlock and American Beech trees.

Pennsylvania Bittercress (Cardamine pensylvanica)

This plant was growing in a 30-foot wide, 6-inch to 2-feet deep stream. Some of the plants were partially above the water and some were in the middle of the steam several inches below the water. It looked like watercress. After futile attempts to confirm identification, I sent a couple of pictures to Arthur Haines and he suggested that it looks like Pennsylvania Bittercress, but he couldn't be certain from the two pictures I sent.

Pennsylvania Bittercress is not bitter, but it is a fantastic green that can be eaten raw or cooked. When eaten raw it has a nice, horseradish-like taste. After cooking, it becomes much more mild. I picked a bunch to eat and enjoy.

I will need to do more work to confirm identification. I have narrowed it down to one of the following:
The reason I am somewhat wary of the Pennsylvania Bittercress identification is that I am unsure if it is often completely submerged underwater as this one was. On the other hand, the Nasturtium species I listed usually have leaflets with petioles. This plant does not one leaflets with petioles.

Update from May 28, 2012: I took some pictures of the flowers and the seed pod (silique) and was able to confirm that this plant is: Pennsylvania Bittercress (Cardamine pensylvanica). See the second set of pictures from May 28th on the Pennsylvania Bittercress Local Images web page.

April 18, 2012

Northern Bog Violet (Viola nephrophylla)

I have been nibbling on a lot of violet flowers and some violet leaves while on the trail. The flowers are very tasty!

Differentiating between violet species is sometimes difficult (for me). But the new botanical guide by Arthur Haines, Flora Novae Angliae: A Manual for the Identification of Native and Naturalized Higher Vascular Plants of New England makes it a bit easier. From the pictures below, you can see the flow of steps used to identify this species of violet:

American Dog Violet (Alpine Violet) (Viola labradorica)

Using the new botanical guide by Arthur Haines, Flora Novae Angliae: A Manual for the Identification of Native and Naturalized Higher Vascular Plants of New England, you can see the flow of steps used to identify this species of violet:

April 26, 2012

Smooth White Violet (Northern White Violet) (Viola pallens)

Using the new botanical guide by Arthur Haines, Flora Novae Angliae: A Manual for the Identification of Native and Naturalized Higher Vascular Plants of New England, you can see the flow of steps used to identify this species of violet:
I could have easily mistaken this with Sweet White Violet (Viola blanda). According to all of the books I have read, they are easily confused. The leaf blade margins (edges) are low-serrate (very low saw-like teeth pointing forward). I find it almost impossible to tell whether these leaves are low-crenate or low-serrate.

Viola blanda var. blanda has a flower stem tinged in red and hairless. The last two pictures below show the flower stem. The first of the two pictures show that the top of the flower stem is tinged in red or purple, but the next picture shows that the rest of the flower stem is green. The problem with it being Viola blanda var. blanda is that the leaves of that plant come to an acute point at the tip, but the leaves of this plant have a blunt or rounded tip. The other variation, Viola blanda var. palustriformis has hairy flower stems and upper lobes of the flower that are not strongly bent back. The plant in these pictures have a hairless flower stem and upper lobes of the flower that are strongly bent backwards.

April 27, 2012

Carolina Rhododendron (Carolina Azalea) (Rhododendron carolinianum)

I hope I got this identification right. Most Rhododendron plants bloom in the late Spring. But Carolina Rhododendron is an early bloomer and combined with a very hot early Spring in New England, it is flowering in April. The large pink flower matches what I have seen online.

The Carolina Rhododendron is one of two Rhododendrons in New England that have scales on the back of the leaf. See closeup picture to the right. The other is the Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) found on alpine ridge and plateaus and which grows to only 4-12 inches in height and has smaller flowers.

April 28, 2012

Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)

Last year I made a horsetail tincture and later found out that horsetail should only be taken regularly after it is boiled to deactivate the thiamine (Vitamin B1)-destroying enzyme, thiaminase. Taken as a decoction, it is useful for inflammation and the silicon is an important mineral for healthy bones and tissues.

I was surprised that I have never found Field Horsetail in an actual field. I find it at the sides of dirt and gravel roads and trails. Some of the key distinguishing features are:

Kidney-Leaved Crowfoot (Kidney-Leaved Buttercup, Little Leaf Buttercup) (Poisonous) ☠ (Ranunculus abortivus)

I see quite a bit of these type of plants around, so it is good to know that they are Buttercup (Ranunculus) and are poisonous upon consumption. This one is very similar to the Allegheny Mountain Buttercup (Allegheny Crowfoot) (Ranunculus allegheniensis). The beaks of the achenes (seeds) on Allegheny Mountain Buttercup are 5 times longer (0.6-1.0 mm) and strongly curved/hooked. The beaks of the achenes of this plant are closer to 0.1-0.2 mm. See bottom several images below. Even though the back of some of the sepals (green petals surrounding the flower) is hairy (see closeup below) as would be Allegheny Mountain Buttercup, without the long, hooked achene beaks, I think this must be Kidney-Leaved Buttercup.

Thyme-Leaved Speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia)

This little plant would have gone unnoticed, but I sat down on a big rock at the edge of a parking lot (at a city park) and it was growing next to the rock. Speedwells are inedible.

Garden Yellow Rocket (Wintercress) (Barbarea vulgaris)

April 29, 2012

Painted Trillium (Painted Wakerobin) (Trillium undulatum)

Finally caught Painted Trillium in flower! I found the fruit of Painted Trillium last year on July 28, 2011. Painted Trillium is the only Trillium species in New England that has leaf stems. All of the others have sessile leaves (without leaf stems).

April 30, 2012

Bluebead Lily (Yellow Clintonia, Corn Lily) (Clintonia borealis)

I found Bluebead Lily (Yellow Clintonia) last year on July 28, 2011 when the plant had inedible blue berry fruit. The plant has 2-3 large lily leaves that clasp the base. From what I have read, the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked for 10 minutes when they are very young and unfurled. After the leaves have unfurled, the taste is no longer pleasant. I missed the harvesting this year!

Wood Horsetail (Woodland Horsetail) (Equisetum sylvaticum)

This is the only Horsetail species in New England that commonly has compound branches coming off the stem. In other words, branches coming off the main stem split up into smaller branches. Some of the other key distinguishing features are: