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.

May 2010 Foraging Experiences

(Forward to: June 2010 Foraging Experiences)

May 3, 2010

Came back from a month in Florida and am ready and excited to begin the foraging season! Walked along the road today and took a few pictures of plants I saw:

Red Clover
Trifolium pratense
Common Dandelion
Taraxacum officinale
Common Mullein
Verbascum thapsus
Canadian Dwarf Cinquefoil
Potentilla canadensis

Black Mustard (???)
Brassica nigra
Black Mustard
Brassica nigra
Black Mustard
Brassica nigra
Common Plantain
Plantago major

Great Burdock
Arctium lappa
Great Burdock
Arctium lappa
Ground Ivy
Glechoma hederacea
Ground Ivy
Glechoma hederacea

May 6, 2010

Ground Ivy (Gill-Over-the-Ground) (Glechoma hederacea)

After reading about some of the qualities of Ground Ivy: (Green Man Ramblings: Ground Ivy; Ground Ivy: A Weed by Any Other Name)
I went back to gather a bunch of it. Fortunately, there was decent-size swaths of Ground Ivy along side a dirt road that is rarely-travelled.

Ground Ivy is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), so the stems are square and it has a slight smell of mint. It took about 25 minutes to gather the amount shown in the picture. Since the tincture recipe (Ground Ivy: A Weed by Any Other Name) called for using just the leaves and flowers, I removed them (time consuming!) and then rinsed (with spring water) and dried them for a few hours. The rest of the recipe:
Now I just need to let it sit for 4-6 weeks, shaking every day and making sure all of the leaves and flowers are still covered with Vodka so they don't mold. After 4-6 weeks, I will strain through cheesecloth into amber-colored tincture bottles with droppers. Then I can use 5 drops of tincture in water or tea three times per day.

As you can see below, I had enough left over to make a pint of "Gill Tea." Gill Tea is made by steeping 1 ounce of Ground Ivy leaves and flowers in 1 pint of boiled water. I left the covery of the jar on to keep from losing the Vitamin C. Let cool and then strain and sweetener with chosen natural sweetener. Drink small amounts several times per day.

May 10, 2010

I went to a Spring Foraging class with
Arthur Haines of the Delta Institute. The course Friday (7pm-9pm), Saturday (8am-8pm) and Sunday (8am - noon) with lecture, extensive plant walks that included very detailed plant identification, use, harvesting information. In addition, we made a tincture, tea, learned and practiced a little bit on making fire and cord using plant materials. There was some rain on Saturday which kept us inside a bit.

Pictures from the class can be seen on the following web page:

The only Bed & Breakfast I could find available to me happened to be a clothing-optional, Finnish sauna-style Bed & Breakfast: Richmond Sauna Bed & Breakfast. Only got to have one brief use of the sauna because I was in class most of the time. Comfortable rooms and beds and very easy-going atmosphere at the B&B.

I went for a couple of short walks today. One at a dog-walking part set about 10 feet above and along side a river. That is where I saw Western Poison Ivy and Celandane. When I was standing in the tall grass looking at the poison ivy, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a snake slithered by my feet! Not used to seeing snakes. This is the same park where I almost walked right into a skunk last year. The second place I walked was up a hill that runs along a creek. There were a large number of plants from the Spring Foraging class I took, some of which are listed below. Some that I found there that aren't listed below include Wild Violet and something that looked a little like Wild Ginger ... although more things look like ginger now that my acupuncturist told me I need to eliminate certain spices like ginger.

Western Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii)

Last year I spent countless hours feeling the leaves of almost every plant trying to find the stingers of Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica). I never found Stinging Nettles, but it wouldn't surprise me if I had my hands on some Western Poison Ivy. It is extremely common in New England. Thanks to the Spring Foraging Class with Arthur Haines, I have at least some ability to identify Western Poison Ivy.

Western Poison Ivy is a deciduous, upright shrub with brown-to-gray woody stems. The leaves alternate up the stem. Each leaf stalk (petiole) has three leaflets. You can see that the stalk of the central leaflet is much longer than the stalks of the side leaflets. This is a common feature of poison ivy. The leaf edges can be slightly lobed or smooth (entire). It seems that there is often (but not always) a slight redish tinge to some of the leaves. There will be a group of small yellowish flowers and in the Winter, ivory-colored fruit. A detail description can be found at:

Celandine (Chelidonium majus)

I had no idea what this plant was, but the flower and leaves were very distinctive, so I took a picture and went to my Guidebooks and online resources such as the New Hampshire Wildflowers web page and their color thumbnail images. I thought I'd have no trouble finding a 3-petal yellow flower with heavily lobed leaves. But I was fooled by this plant. After some detective work, I determined that a flower petal and fallen off and it was really the 4-petal yellow flower of the herb, celandine. According to A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve, the dried herb is used to treat liver and gallbladder disorders, eye disorders, cancer and other disorders. The juice is used externally on warts. However, because of cases of adverse effects from use of commercial celandine preparations, it has been recommend that consumers only use celandine products when prescribed by a healthcare professional. See detailed monograph of celandine on page 136 of Herbal Medicines (Pharmaceutical Press, 2007). I didn't harvest any celandine because I saw only one plant and was focused on the snake that slithered by my foot.

Notice the deep yellow colored 4-petal, radially symmetrical flower. The leaves are over 4 inches long, alternate up the stem and are divided into heavily-lobed segments.

I found a large batch of Celandine along a dirt road, not far from where I was collecting dandelion roots.

Feathery False Solomon's Seal (Treacleberry, Solomon's plume, False Spikenard) (Maianthemum racemosum)

One of the more common plants along the edge of this deciduous tree forest is the Feathery False Solomon's Seal. This plant is on the side of the trail every couple of feet. The rhizome (underground stem) is edible and can be collected all year, but it is somewhat fiberous and need to be cooked 30-40 minutes. The dried ground rhizomes can be made into a tea (decocted) to be used as an expectorant for the lungs. The young shoots are edible and can be collected in early Spring. I didn't collect any rhizomes because I was on the hunt for the somewhat tastier (I am told) rhizome of true Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum biflorum).

The leaves are similar in shape to the true Solomon's Seal, but the most obvious difference is that the tiny flowers are all bunched and hanging down from the apex/front of the plant. True Solomon's Seal flowers hang down are various points below the stem. (See Solomon's Seal pictures below.) The leaves are a pointy oval shaped and alternate along the stem. Like the Solomon's Seal, the rhizome has swollen nodes, each node indicating one year's worth of growth. The rhizome of Feathery False Solomon's Seal has an orange tinge, while the rhizome for Solomon's Seal is white. It can be found in moist woods, clearings and banks. You may notice that Feathery False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) has the same genus as Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) and a similar style of leaf.

Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

There are quite a bit of dandelion plants in yards and fields, but many of them are treated with toxic pesticides. On the trail or in abandoned fields may a good place to collect dandelion roots and leaves. This late in the Spring the leaves are too tough and bitter to use for food, but the leaves and root can be dried for a very nutritious tea.

Dandelion contains lecithin, which is an emulsifier of fats. This helps prevent to deposition of fats in the blood vessels and it helps with the absorption of fat soluable vitamins such as Vitamins A, D, K, etc. Lecithin gets broken down into acetylcholine which may help prevent age-related mental decline. Dandelion is a rich source of beta-carotene, calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium. It is taken as an herb to cleanse and heal the blood and liver. It can be taken as a tea on a daily basis.

This was my first batch of self-harvested dandelion root tea since the early 1980s! I cleaned the roots and then dried them in an oven at 175 degrees until the pieces were brittle (approximately 6 hours). Decided not to roast the roots at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes. I like the tea better with unroasted roots. Roasting the root makes the tea taste more like coffee. As you can see from the picture on the far right, I gathered more dandelion root for drying and brewing. I'll brew the tea with a touch of dried licorice root or add a bit of honey to give it a little sweetness.

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

Orpine is one of the most unusual-looking and pleasant-tasting plants I've encountered. The leaves are very mild-tasting throughout the Spring and Summer and go really well in salads. You just need to pinch off the upper one or two layers of leaves and leave the rest of the plant. Orpine does not seem to grow in large swaths, but instead you will find plants spread out throughout the forest. Therefore, it's important not to over-harvest so that there is enough for everyone. Just take the tops of every third or forth plant until you have enough.

I picked enough for a small salad. Mixed the Orpine with some leaf lettuce. Added a simple dressing of olive oil and tamari (probably added to much dressing as you can see). I highly recommend trying Orpine!

The root is a twisting clump of tubers that is edible. Thoroughly cook in soups or stews.

Orpine is used medicinally to stomach, lung and bowel problems. The juice is used topically to treat inflammation, burns and skin conditions.

Solomon's Seal (Smooth Solomon's Seal) (Polygonatum biflorum)

I picked a Solomon's Seal root for soup, but when I got home it was gone! Thought I put it in my bag, but must have left it by the trailside. I only picked one root because the true Solomon's Seal was fairly rare along the trail. There were countless Feathery False Solomon's Seal plants (Maianthemum racemosum). You can see that one of the main differences between the plants is that the flowers of the true Solomon's Seal grow all along the bottom of the stem and hang down. The flowers of the Feathery False Solomon's Seal grow at the apex/end of the stem. Also the root of the Solomon's Seal has more pronounced nodes -- each node signifying one year of plant growth.

The root of the true Solomon's Seal is reported to be very tasty. Since it contains calcium oxalate, it should be cooked for 15 minutes or more. The best time to harvest the root is when the berries are formed, so that the berries can be replanted to keep the crop coming up in the future. The young shoots can be eaten raw or cooked. Harvest when the shoots are still curled up and before the leaves expand. Solomon's Seal looks similar to Feathery False Solomon's Seal and Bellwort when young.

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

Found a nice patch of Ground Ivy for collecting leaves and flowers for drying and making tea. These are much clearer pictures than my last set. The leaves look similar to the kidney-shaped Garlic Mustard leaves (see below), but the Ground Ivy leaves have many more oval teeth along the edge.

Common Burdock (Lesser Burdock) (Arctium minus)

Burdock is a common and unmistakable plant in New England. It is a biennal plant. Burdock grows as low to the ground rosette of large, wavy, lobed leaves in its first year. In the second year, a large stalk bolts out of the center of the rosette. The burdock in the pictures to the right are from a first year plant.

The most commonly-eaten part of burdock is the root. It tends to grow very deep and can take some digging to get it out. Burdock root contains large amounts of inulin and mucilage which may help treat gastrointestinal disorders. Traditionally, herbal practitioners have used burdock for respiratory disorders, abscesses, joint pain, urinary problems, skin problems and for cleansing the blood.

One way to tell the difference between Common Burdock (Arctium minus) and Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa) is that the stalk of the lower leaves of the Common Burdock are hollow. Apparently, Greater Burdock is more commonly cultivated in gardens and sometimes escapes into the wild. I'm sure there are other ways to tell them apart without having to tear off a leaf.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Finally! I found Stinging Nettle after a year of searching! It is fairly common; I just didn't know what the plant looked like. I picked a small bunch of Stinging Nettle and added it to a onion, burdock, tempeh and vegetable broth soup I made tonight. I also went back and took a large number of pictures so that I wouldn't forget what it looks like. See below for the images.

In the Spring Foraging class, we looked at and ate Wood Nettle and I thought this was Wood Nettle at first. Both the Stinging Nettle and Wood Nettle plants have tiny stingers along the stem and leafs. These stingers break the skin and inject chemicals that can cause a rash. But there are many differences. Some of the main differences include:

Stinging Nettle
Urtica dioica
Wood Nettle
Laportea canadensis
Leaves opposite of each other on the stem. Leaves alternating up the stem.
Moderately thin, coursely-toothed leaves. Slightly ovate (oval), coursely-toothed leaves.
Leaves smaller towards the top of the plant. Leaves larger towards the top of the plant.
A couple of dozen or more leaves on the plant. A dozen or so leaves of the plant.
Likes sunnier locations. Likes shadier locations.

Stinging Nettle is exceptionally nutritious. It contains significant amounts of calcium and magnesium -- approximately three times more of each than collard greens. It contains fairly large quantities of Vitamin C, Pro-Vitamin A, potassium and iron. It also high in protein for a green vegetable.

In the early Spring, the upper 2 or 3 sets of leaves of the young plant can be harvested for cooking. In the later Spring until the early Summer, the upper 1 or 2 sets of leaves can be harvested. Lower sets of leaves and leaves in the mid-Summer and Fall tend to be too tough and fiberous. But these more mature leaves are ideal for drying and making a nutritious Stinging Nettle Tea infusion. The stingers are deactivated by drying or cooking.

Canada Mayflower (False Lily-of-the-valley) (Maianthemum canadense)

As far as I know, the Canada Mayflower plant is not edible. I took pictures of this plant and wanted to learn it because it seems to be all over the trails. Often times, I see it without the umbrel of white flowers -- just countless singles leaves along the trail.

According to Native American Ethnobotany by Daniel E. Moerman, the Potawatomi tribe used to eat the berries, but there was no written description as to if the berries needed to be processed to make them edible. The Potawatomi used the root for sore throats. The Iroquois used a decoction of the roots for the kidneys. The Montagnais and Ojibwa used an infusion of the plant for headaches.

You may notice that Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) has the same genus as Feathery False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) and a similar style of leaf.

Pink Lady's Slipper (Moccasin Flower) (Stemless Lady's Slipper, Mocccasin Flower) (Cypripedium acaule)

Lady's Slipper is one of the most unusual-looking flowers in the forest. The flower head looks like a set of lips on its side. It is not used as an edible food. But it has been used medicinally to treat insomnia, anxiety, nervous tension and painful menstruation. The roots were gathered in the Fall or early Spring and dried, ground into a powder and given a teaspoon at a time in water.

Pink Lady's Slipper is listed as Vulnerable or Endangered in several states (New York, Tennessee, Illinois). It is important to take care in not picking too many Lady's Slipper plants.

May 14, 2010

Garlic Mustard (Jack-by-the-Hedge) (Alliaria petiolata) (Previously: Alliaria officinalis))

Like the Canada Mayflower (maianthemum canadense), the garlic mustard is very common on the trail. But I had no idea what it was until ....

A few days ago I was walking along the trail and saw quite a number of plants that looked like Wild Ginger that we had picked and eaten from the Spring Foraging class. (See Wild Ginger images from the class here.). Full of excitement, I dug up a root and tasted a tiny piece. It was not ginger! I couldn't place the taste at that time, but now I know the taste was like horseradish which is typical for garlic mustard roots.

It wasn't until I saw the flowering of a second year of the biennial garlic mustard that I was able to look it up in the professional guidebooks. Even with the flower and leaf, it was difficult to find in these guidebooks. It can be frustrating for beginners like myself!

Garlic mustard was brought into the United States from Europe in the 1860's as a pot herb for cooking. It has overrun many native plant areas and is considered an invasive plant species in many states.

Garlic mustard is a biennial plant with toothed, kidney-shaped leaves low to the ground the first year. The teeth on the leaves of the first year plant tend to be more rounded while the teeth on the leaves of the second year plant are more jagged. When the plant bolts in the Spring of the second year, there are alternate, toothed, kidney-shaped leaves growing up the stalk. The leaves near the top of the stalk tend to be more triangular. The white flowers have 4 moderately-thin petals.

One of the obvious signs that it is garlic mustard is that a thoroughly crushed leaf will emit a strong garlic odor.

Edible portions:

May 15, 2010

There has been a serious lack of true foraging (by me) this year! It has mostly been plant identification and limited plant use as tea, in soups/salads and some trailside nibbles. Part of the issue is that I have not taken the time to find a good foraging location to collect significant amounts of wild food. Another issue is that I simply did not know enough plants. For example, when Springtime foraging was ideal (late April and early May), I was/am still learning how to recognize these plants. The solution will be to keep learning about and identifying the plants, but also to locate good foraging locations such as the location we saw during the Spring foraging class in Maine last weekend.

Indian Cucumber (Medeola virginiana)

Indian Cucumber is a mild, pleasant-tasting root that can be used in salads or as a trailside nibble. It has the consistency (not taste) of a soft radish. It does not taste like cucumber. It has a very mild taste that I can't describe, but one author has said it was slightly nutty-tasting (although I didn't notice that).

The root grows parallel to the ground, so in order to avoid breaking off the root, you need to use your finger to feel which direction the root is growing to dig or pull it out of the ground. If you can find Indian Cucumber growing in bunches, you can harvest enough for a salad while keeping most of the plants alive to assure plenty of Indian Cucumber for future years.

Indian Cucumber is an interesting-looking two-tier plant. About 2/3rds of the way up the thin stalk is a whorl of 6-10 thin, pointy leaves. The stalk continues up an inch or two more where there can be found 3 shorter, but proportionally wider leaves at the top of the stalk. Ocassionally, the top tier of the stalk is nonexistent and therefore the stalk ends in the whorl of 6-10 leaves.

As you can see from the picture, the stalk of the Indian Cucumber has a white fuzz covering it. The root is white and curves underground so that it is growing parallel to the ground.

Bunchberry (Bunchberry Dogwood) (Cornus canadensis) (Also known as: Chamaepericlymenum canadense)

I had heard that Bunchberry could be found along mountain paths, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw large swath of Bunchberry in a forest path (not near the mountains) growing next to large swaths of Wild Strawberries.

Wild Strawberry (Virginia Strawberry) (Fragaria virginiana)

Wild Strawberry is a low-to-the-ground plant with three leaflets on a leaf stalk (petiole). Each leaflet is sharply-toothed on the upper 50% of the leftlet and without teeth on the lower portion of the leaflet. One of the distinguishing features of Wild Strawberry is that the center tooth on each leaflet is noticably smaller than the other teeth. Wild Strawberry has a 5-petal white flower with a yellow center consisting of approximately 25 stamen. The plant produces long runners (up to 2 feet long) which can re-root and create new strawberry plants. Wild Strawberry blooms in the late Spring and early Summer. The is one of the two original strawberry plants that were hybridized to make the typical garden strawberry. (The other strawberry plant was from Chile.)

I've seen bunches of Wild Strawberry plants growing almost everywhere. Along the side of roads, in the forest, near streams. I've never noticed any strawberries growing, but perhaps I missed them. By early Summer, we'll see if there's a big strawberry crop to be harvested.

Other plants seen along the trail, but not profiled:

Starflower (Trientalis borealis)

Fringed Polygala (Gaywings, Flowering Wintergreen) (Polygala paucifolia)

May 20, 2010

While on my walk this morning I realized that many of the plants I see now are only in flower for a short time. If I don't try to identify and learn about them now, then I have to wait until next Spring to try again. So, even though I'm not eating some of these plants, I will try to identify what I can.

Blackseed Plantain (Plantago rugelii) and
Common Plantain (Broadleaf Plantain) (Plantago major)

Common or Broadleaf Plantain and Blackseed Plantain are, by far, the two most common types of plantain in Southeastern, New Hampshire. The rosette of somewhat glossy leaves and parallel veins on the leaves make it easy to identify. There are a number of differences between Common or Broadleaf Plantain and Blackseed Plantain. The most obvious difference as you can see in the images is that the Blackseed Plantain (left) has a strong redish-purple tinge to the leaf stalks near the base of the rosette. Common or Broadleaf Plantain (right) almost always has little or no redish-purple tinge at the base of the rosette.

Other differences according to Weeds of the Northeast include:
Plantain leaves can be eaten raw or cooked when the plant is young in the Spring. The leaves tend to get bitter later in the Spring. Plantain is a rich source of Vitamin B1 and riboflavin.

Plantain leaves are famous for its ability to draw out infections. The leaves can be applied topically to cuts, wounds, skin inflammation, stings, swellings, and have been known to draw out splinters. My experience has been to chew the leaves and then apply them topically. I have read that some apply heated leaves topically as a poultice. Others sugest that freshly pressed leaf juice is the best way to apply plantain topically.

An infusion of the leaves have been used medicinally to treat bronchial issues such as asthma, bronchitis, colds, coughs and upper respiratory infections. The leaves have also been used for urinary infections, uterine problems, fever, hypertension and control blood sugar. The root (in a decoction) has been used to treat asthma, hay fever, diarrhea, gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, cystitis, bronchitis, hemorrhoids, catarrh and as an anti-venom for rattlesnake or spider bites. It is also said to cause a natural aversion to tobacco. Plantain seeds swell in the gut and are commonly-used as a bulk laxative, especially the husks of seeds from Plantago psyllium.

One Native American name for plantain translates as “life-medicine.” Plantain was part of the ancient Anglo-Saxon “Nine Herbs Charm” (from the Lacnunga manuscript) that was intended to treat poison and infection.

May 21, 2010

Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) (Previously: Polygonum cuspidatum)

I had been looking for Japanese Knotweed since last year, but I did not really know what it looked like. But from the pictures, you can see that it is very distinctive and easy to identify. Notice the large, rounded triangle-shaped leaves that are alternate on the stem. The bamboo-like stems are thick and hollow (except at the nodes/joints). The stems have purple blotches. It can grow up to 6 feet tall and it tends to grow in dense clumbs. It grows along roads, waste areas and untended gardens.

Japanese Knotweed is considered a hard-to-eradicate, invasive weed. But one way to get rid of Japanese Knotweed is to harvest and eat it! The best time to harvest Japanese Knotweed is in the early to mid Spring before the plants grow taller than a few feet. Bend and snap off the upper 6 to 8 inches. Remove the any large leaves. Rinse and simmer until they turn light green and droopy. Traditional Japanese Itadori tea can be made by putting young Japanese Knotwood shoots (or coarsely-chopped tougher stems) in cold water, bring to a boil and then simmer under lower heat for 20 minutes. Add natural sweetener to taste. There are a huge variety of ways knotweed can be used in recipies as can be seen in the Japanese Knotweed Cookoff video below.

Itadori tea is used as a natural herbal treatment for heart disease, stroke and as a natural laxative. Japanese Knotweed is one of the best sources of Resveritrol, a chemical believed to improve the skin and stop signs of aging.

Japanese Knotweed Identification / Invasiveness

Japanese Knotweed Cookoff

Indian Cucumber (Medeola virginiana) and
Orpine (Witch's Moneybags, Livelong, Frog's-stomach, Live-forever) (Hylotelephium telephium) (Previously: Sedum telephium)

I found large swaths of Orpine during a lunchtime walk. Off the trail and well hidden. Orpine seems to like shade (even the shade of other slightly bigger plants) and a tendancy for damp soil. Then I found quite a bit of Indian Cucumber root on side trails. There was just enough to make a salad for a potluck dinner tonight. The salad seemed to go over very well, particularly because the Orpine is so succulent.

May 22, 2010

Blackseed Plantain (Plantago rugelii)

I was hoping to find large patches of Common or Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major), but it seems that Blackseed Plantain is more common. Notice the redish-purple tinge at the base of the leaf stalks of Blackseed Plantain.

There are countless web pages discussing the food uses and powerful medicinal qualities of plantain. The International College of Herbal Medicine web page on Plantain has an excellent summary on the science, history, medicinal uses, harvesting and remedy preparation.

I picked enough plantain leaves to be able to make tinctures, healing oil, and medicinal tea. For the tincture, I filled (2/3rds full) two half-pint jars with finely chopped plantain leaves and then filled (to within 1/2 inch of the top) with Rain (brand) organic 80 proof vodka. The vodka was on sale for only $13.95 per bottle! For the oil, I filled (2/3rds full) two pint jars with finely chopped plantain leaves and then filled (to within 1/2 inch of the top) with Bariani (brand) olive oil. Bariani olive oil is very high quality, unfiltered olive oil. I will turn the tincture and oil bottles over every day and they should be ready in 6-8 weeks.

The tea was made by briefly simmering chopped plantain leaves in water for a few minutes and then letting the leaves steep in the water for a couple of hours. I expected a bitter taste, but it's surprisingly mild and pleasant.

May 23, 2010

Meadow Hawkweed (Yellow Hawkweed, King Devil, Field Hawkweed, Yellow Paintbrush) (Hieracium caespitosum) (Previously: Hieracium pratense)

On my walk today, I came across a field of this dandelion-like flower, but it obviously wasn't dandelion, because the leaves were not toothed. Also, the flower was not quite the same as dandelion and there was more than one flower per plant. This one is known in most books as either Yellow Hawkweed or Meadow Hawkweed and occasionally known as King Devil. Notice in the picture at the far right how the stems and leaves (both front and back) are extremely hairy. This is differentiated from Pale Hawkweed (Hieracium floribundum) which looks similar, but only has hairs on the underside of the leaf. Pale Hawkweed is a hybrid of Meadow Hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum) and European Hawkweed (Hieracium lactucella).

People used to cook and eat hawkweed or drink the juice in order to improve eyesight. The naturalist from ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder, noted that hawks eat hawkweed and they have excellent eyesight. Farmers would call this plant King Devil or Devil's Paintbrush because once it takes root in a field, it is hard to erradicate.

May 24, 2010

Jewelweed (Spotted Touch-me-not) (Impatiens capensis)

I came across last year's stand of Jewelweed. Last year, I made a tea to be used topically to treat poison ivy. It is important to learn to recognize plants in different seasons. Notice how light (almost translucent) green the leaves are. When I step back, the Jewelweed plants always look much lighter than surrounding plants.

May 26, 2010

Canada Lettuce (Lactuca canadensis)

For the first time ever, I found a wild lettuce! During my lunchtime walk, along the side of a street with a significant amount of plant growth and not much car travel, there were numerous wild lettuce plants. In this case it was Canada Lettuce (Lactuca canadensis). There are a few of other Lactuca species in New Hampshire that look similar: Tall Blue Lettuce (Lactuca biennis), Hairy Lettuce (Lactuca hirsuta) and Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola). Tall Blue Lettuce, like Canada lettuce does not have prickles on the leaf margins. Tall Blue Lettuce has more triangular lobes, toothed margins. Hairy lettuce has hairs on the stem and leaves and Prickly Lettuce has prickles on the leaf margin and midrib of the lower surfaces (the upper surface is smooth). Also, the leaves of Prickly Lettuce have shorter lobes. (Compare picture of Tall Blue Lettuce, Canada Lettuce and Prickly Lettuce at the UMass Herbarium.) While you can't see it in the pictures, the broken stem exudes a beige-colored sap (not the same white-colored sap seen for dandelion).

I tasted a couple of leaves and they were pleasant, but there was a very slight bitterness to them. Not bad, but probably best to use younger leaves and mix with other greens. I should be able to go back and get a couple of salads from all of the plants along this sparsley-travelled road.

May 27, 2010

Orange Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum)

Today was a day less about foraging and more about plant identification. There's nothing that makes plant identification easier than a plant with a very distinctive flower in bloom. This plant is very similar to Meadow/Yellow Hawkweed, but the flower is bright orange with a yellow center. Notice in the pictures how extremely hairy the stem and the upper and lower surface of the leaves are. You can see that the leaves are untoothed and unlobed -- not like dandelion leaves at all (except that they do grow in a rosette).

There was bunches of these Orange Hawkweed plants growing near Meadow/Yellow Hawkweed. I do not think that Orange Hawkweed is used for food or medicine. But it might be helpful to recognize it and other plants while I learn food and medicine foraging plants. It does add spectactular color to fields of flowers.

Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola)

Lettuce identification is such a struggle!!! I am moderately sure that this is Prickly Lettuce. When looking at Prickly Lettuce pictures online at botany web sites, sometimes the Prickly Lettuce leaves have significant lobes similar to the pictures to the right and sometimes there are little or no lobes on the leaves. For example, the Prickly Lettuce leaves at the University of Wisconsin Herbarium site have little or no lobes but the Prickly Lettuce leaves at the Cal Photos site have significant lobes.

One reason I am confident that this is Prickly Lettuce is that there are obvious prickles on the edges (margin) of the leaves as well as on the midrib of the lower leaf surface. Looking at the pictures to the right, you can see the prickles on the edge of the leaves and can barely make out the prickles on the middle rib going down the backs of the leaves. Prickly lettuce can look a little bit like some Sowthistles (Sonchus L.). They both have prickles on the leaf margin. But one difference is that Sowthistles are not prickly on the midrib of the underside of the leaf.

Tall Buttercup (Common Buttercup) (Poisonous) ☠ (Ranunculus acris)

This is a plant I had not seen since a Spring 2009 foraging class that I took. The Buttercup from that class was only a few inches tall. These Buttercup plants are over two feet tall. Notice how the 5-petaled flowers form a yellow cup. The basal leaves are several inches wide and divided into 3-7 deeped cleft parts. The upper leaves are long, thin and lanceolate.

Sulphur Cinquefoil (Rough-Fruited Cinquefoil) (Potentilla recta)

While they still have their yellow flowers, it is time for me to learn the different Cinquefoils in New Hampshire. I have started a separate Cinquefoil Identification web page to help with separating the diferent Cinquefoils. Cinquefoils are a hugely common plant along the trail. But Sulphur Cinquefoil is much more rare. It is easy to distinguish from the other Cinquefoils because it is much taller and the flower lobes are a much lighter yellow or sulphur color. Leaves palmately divided into 5-7 narrowly oval, deeply-toothed leaflets that are 1-3 inches long. The flowers of other Cinquefoils are darker yellow. It is found in dry fields and weedy places.

Sulphur Cinquefoil is not used for food. The Okanagan-Colville pounded the leaves and stems and applied them to open sores and wounds.

Lambsquarters (Goosefoot) (Chenopodium album)

Last year I picked and ate leaves from lambsquarters plants that were growing as a “weed” in my garden. It was probably the healthiest crop that grew in my garden. Today I was walking down the street and was surprised to come across this lambsquarters growing in front of a house.

You can pick and use the whole plant while it is 6 to 12 inches tall. As Lambsquarters gets taller than that, you can pinch off the top few inches to eat (as long as the plant has not yet flowered). If the stem has toughed, you can still harvest the leaves. When the lambsquarters seed clusters have turned brown by the late Summer or Fall, the seeds can be collected and dried (if they're not dry already). The chaff needs to be rubbed off and winnowed. You can use these seeds to make a nutritious hot cereal or ground them into a flour.

Because lambsquarters has significant amounts of oxalic acid, I prefer to cook it since cooking reduces the amount of oxalic acid. Edible plant books always stress not to overdo the eating of foods with oxalic acid because it can block the uptake of calcium at a meal. Bear in mind that other common foods have oxalic acid (e.g., spinach, beet greens). As long as one has a variety and does not eat lambsquarters day after day, at every meal, it is probably fine to ingest a moderate amount. Persons with kidney stones, gout or rheumatism should be conscious of ingesting foods with oxalic acid in moderation.

Lambquarters has a distinctive look. Young leaves have a gray or silver coating which is especially obvious on the underside of the leaves. The leaves are alternate on the stem. The leaves have leaf stalks (petioles). The leaves are somewhere between rhombic-egg-shaped and lanceolate. They are irregularly-toothed.

Spotted Ladysthumb (Polygonum persicaria)

What a surprise to find a bunch of Spotted Ladysthumb plants along the street next to a Lambsquarters. Spotted Ladysthumb is an edible foraging plant. Pick the leaves. Wash and cook for less than 10 minutes.

Spotted Ladysthumb is easy to identify. The 3-6 inch lanceolate, untoothed leaves have a dark splotch in the center of each leaf. The leaf margins are wavy and drooping. It is a member of the Buckwheat family.

May 28, 2010

Bird's-Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Every time I see a yellow flower I get excited because I think it‘s St. John‘s Wort. It turns out that it is not St. John‘s Wort, but it is the very distinctive perennial herb, Bird‘s-Foot Trefoil. 3-6 yellow pea-like flowers form an umbrel at the top of the stem. The flowers have an appearance of a bird‘s foot. Leaves are compound, made up of 3 cover-like leaflets. At the base of the leaf stalk are two stipules that also look like clover leaves and sometimes give the appearance that the leaf has 5 leaflets. See images below and to the right to see the leaflets and stipules. The plant is many-stemmed and can grow from 6 to 24 inches high.

Bird‘s-Foot Trefoil tea is reported to be useful for treating chronic nervousness, long-term depression, sleep disorders (including insomnia) and heart palpitations. However, parts of the plants contain small, but varying levels of a toxic cyanogenic glycoside. To be safe, only use this plant medicinally under the supervision of an experienced clinical herbalist. In Colonial times, the flowers were used to dye cotton and woolen products. Honey produced by bees near Bird‘s-Foot Trefoil is said to have superb taste. Numerous articles have been written in bee and agriculture scientific journals on the use of Bird‘s-Foot Trefoil by beekeepers.

May 29, 2010

Maryland Black Snakeroot (Maryland Sanicle) (Sanicula marilandica) (Synonym: Sanicula canadensis var. marilandica)

In his classic book, Back to Eden, herbalist Jethro Kloss describes Black Snakeroot (Sanicula marilandica) in this way:
Below are a few quotes from Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to Eastern Indian Tribes: A European species of the Sanicula genus, Wood Sanicle (Sanicula europaea), is widely-used as an herbal remedy to treat a variety of health conditions including: internal bleeding, wounds, hives, blood disorders, chest and lung complaints, dysentery, and diarrhea. It can be used as a gargle for sore throats. Externally, it is used to treat inflammations and hemorrhoids. Some writers have said that Sanicula species are effective at dissolving tumors.

The leaves of the Sanicula species are harvested in the early Summer and the roots in the mid-to-late Summer. They can be used immediately, dried for later use or made into a tincture or ointment for later treatment. The tea is made by decoction (bring the roots and/or leaves in water to a boil and then simmering for at least 20 minutes). Adults can take 30-60 drops (1/2 - 1 teaspoon) of a tincture 3 times per day.

There are four Sanicula species in New Hampshire. I started a Sanicula Identification web page to help me differentiate between the four species. Maryland Black Snakeroot grows on a stout, 1-1/2 foot to 4 foot stem with leaves growing around the stem at intervals. Each leaf consists of 3-7 leaflets in a whorl. The leaflets have deep teeth and are double-toothed (look closely at the picture above on the right (near the start of the Maryland Black Snakeroot section), and you will see sets of “double-teeth” on the edge of the leaflets. The leaflets of the lower leaves tend to be somewhat lobed and toothed. The leaflets on the upper leaves are more lanceolate and unlobed.

As a member of the carrot family, the flowers grow as umbrel (all of the little flowers attached to the same spot on the flowering stem and all of the flowers individually stalked). One of the distinguishing characteristic of Maryland Black Snakeroot is the the styles (stalk of the pistils) are slightly curved and longer than the prickles of the ovary. The styles of most other Sanicula species are the same length or shorter than the prickles of the ovary. Click on and expand the picture up above on the left. If you look very closely, you will see numerous prickles with little hooks attached to the ovary. But you can also see a somewhat faint style stalk sticking out to the left that is longer than the prickles with hooks. Clustered Black Snakeroot (Sanicula odorata) has long styles as well, but the ovary has a short stalk and the sepals are shorter (only 0.5-1.0 mm long as opposed to 1-2 mm long).

Hog Peanut (Ground Bean, American Hogpeanut) (Amphicarpaea bracteata)

This was an important foraging find! Hog Peanut is a low-growing vine with delicate leaves that have three leaflets. The leaflets are ovate and somewhat triangular in shape with an untoothed (entire) margin. The center leaflet has a longer stalk than the other two leaflets. I have found Hog Peanut in areas of deciduous trees along the side of trails. The flower (not shown) is a purple flower that looks a little bit like two jewelweed flowers facing away from each other.

Below each Hog Peanut root is a plump little bean that is a good source of protein. These beans can be collected in the early Autumn through the early Spring (whenever the ground is not frozen). Find an area with somewhat soft ground and use a digging stick in one hand and collect the beans in the other hand. The Native Americans used Hog Peanut, but primarily gathered the beans by taking stashes of beans that had been gathered by rodents (and giving them corn as a replacement).

In addition, some Hog Peanut plants develop aerial seed pods in the early Autumn, especially plants that get sufficient sunlight. These pods can be gathered in the Autumn. They contain edible seeds. But these seeds are apparently small and need to be winnowed. It might not be worth the effect unless large amounts of seed pods can be gathered easily.

The Forager‘s Harvest by Samuel Thayer has a detailed chapter on the identification, harvesting and preparation of Hog Peanut.

May 30, 2010

Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) (Previously: Chrysanthemum leucanthemum)

Oxeye Daisy is a one to three foot flowering member of the Aster family. The flower has 15-30 white rays with a yellow disk in the center. The leaves are coarsely toothed or pinnately lobed. The leaves alternate up the stem. The leaves tend to get progressively smaller from the base to the top of the stem. Oxeye Daisy blooms from late May through August. It can be found in fields and along roadsides.

As you can see from the pictures of the leaves to the lower right, the basal leaves (on the right of the picture) are spoon shaped. Notice how the leaves get smaller and the leaf at the top of the of the stem (on the left of the picture of leaves) is very small and tends to clasp the stem. There are other members of the Aster family with flowers that have white rays and yellow disks, but none in New Hampshire that have these types of leaves and this typical daisy flower.

The leaves of the Oxeye Daisy can be harvested from the Spring through the Autumn. Apparently, the basal leaves tend the be the most succulent. The chopped leaves are use as flavoring in a salad (not the main part of the salad). The flowers are edible as well and reportedly have been used to make wine. The young shoots (leaves, stems and flower buds) can be harvested for food as well. Oxeye Daisy contains more Pro-Vitamin A (Caretenoids) than Spinach. The flowers are used medicinally in an infusion for fevers, to reduce spasms or cramps, for anti-inflammatory effects and as a Spring tonic.

May 31, 2010

Groundnut (Hopniss) (Apios americana)

This is perhaps my biggest foraging find! I had been looking for Groundnut since last year, but did not realize that it is a vine. Here is what Henry David Thoreau wrote about Groundnut in Walden Pond:
Groundnut is a vine that can grow up to 10 feet long and cover the ground of moist thickets (dense growths of plants). The vines do not climb, but grow along the ground or twine around other plants on the ground. The leaves are pinnately compound -- having 3 to 9 slightly ovate to lanceolate leaflets that are 1 to 3-1/2 inches long. Some plant guides state that the Groundnut leaflets grow up to 2-1/2 inches long, but I have seen leaflets that are at least 3-1/2 inches long. Groundnut flowers in July to September with dull redish-purple flowers (not shown). In the late Summer to Fall, Groundnut sometimes produces aerial seedpods that have edible seeds. But the primary edible part of Groundnut is its string of tubers underground that provide a good source of starch. The tubers can be harvested whenever the ground is not frozen.

I dug up a small string of tubers, peeled them and boiled them. Apparently, they need to be cooked (simmered) to remove the protease inhibitors. Do not cook in an aluminum pan. Also, they taste much better cooked and hot. They weren‘t bad, but adding salt or adding them to seasoned soup or stew would have been a good thing to do.