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 2011 Foraging Experiences

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May 1, 2011

European Field Pansy (Field Violet) (Viola arvensis)

My first violet posted to this site! Notice how the flowers are bilaterally symetrical. That means that if you drew a line down the center, the left and right sides would be the same. This is similar to the human body (the left and right sides are the same).

There are a number of white flower violets in New Hampshire, but this one was easy to identify because it is the only one with white flowers and a distinct yellow lower lip. In some cases, the upper petals are tipped with purple. A single flower grows on a stem originating from the leaf axil. The flower towers well above the leaves.

The basal leaves are round to spatulate. The middle and upper leaves tend to be elliptical with coarsely-rounded teeth. The leaf veins on the underside of the leaf are hairy.

Trailing Arbutus (Mayflower) (Epigaea repens)

Evergreen Wood Fern (Intermediate Wood Fern, Fancy Wood Fern) (Dryopteris intermedia)

I had thought this was Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) as almost every foraging guide says to look for a deep groove, brown papery sheath falling off the fiddlehead and no hairs. Thank you to Frank and to Arthur for pointing out that this is Intermediate Woodfern. Arthur told me:

May 6, 2011

Common Blue Violet (Wooly Blue Violet) (Viola sororia)

For me, differentiating between species of violet can be very easy in some cases and very difficult in other cases. If I had to rely on descriptions in a typical field guide, I would have no chance, especially in this case. What I think is far better are step-by-step “Identification Keys”. The one I found the most useful for Violets in my area is the New Brunswick Botany Club Violet Indentification Key (also found in PDF format here). A couple of other useful keys were the Northern Ontario Plant Database Violet Key (scroll down to see Key) and the American Violet Society Dichotomous Key (Eastern U.S.).

This case was particularly difficult because many botanists and guides no longer recognize Northern Woodland Violet (Viola septentrionalis) as a separate species, but now categorize it as part of Viola sororia. Unfortunately, the written descriptions of Viola septentrionalis sometimes conflict with that of Viola sororia.

The second row of pictures show that the plant has no above-ground stem -- leaf stems and flower stems come right from the level of the ground. This eliminated Viola adunca and Viola labradorica as possibilities. The second picture in the row shows there are hairs on the lateral (side) petals of the flower. This eliminated Viola selkirkii as a possibility. In addition, you can see that the little hairs are not dialated (swollen) at the apex (tip). This eliminated Viola cucullata and Viola x bissellii as possibilities.

The third row of pictures show that the sepals (the petals that lie under the flower and are usually green) are ciliate (have short hairs). There are other ways to differentiate between violets, but I think this is the most efficient process. This eliminated Viola novae-angliae and Viola nephrophylla as possibilities.

The fourth row of pictures shows that the typical leaf is as long or longer than it is wide. Therefore, I was able to eliminate Viola sagittata var. ovata as a possibility. According to this Key, the only option left was Viola sororia.

However, I used the USDA Plant Database search to perform an Advanced Search to see what Violets were found in New Hampshire and then proceeded to write down which were purple or blue violets and which of those were not in the New Brunswick Key I used. The ones not in the Key were: Viola affinis, Viola rostrata and Viola septentrionalis. Viola affinis has a hairless or nearly hairless flower stem. As you can see from pictures below, this flower had a very hairy flower stem. Viola rostrata has a huge spur (spike) rising up high from the back of the flower (as can be seen from pictures online). This flower had no huge spike.

This left either the original Key selection, Viola sororia or Viola septentrionalis. Several descriptions I ready for Viola sororia said that the spur flower petal (bottom middle petal) had no hairs. But as can be seen from the pictures on the fifth row, the bottom middle flower petal (spur petal) has hairs. Even though Viola septentrionalis is often categorized under Viola sororia, it has a spur petal with hairs.

Viola septentrionalis also fits other descriptions and images that I have seen including a very hairy stem, some hairs on the leaves, hairs on the leaf blades and growing in moist open woodlands. Since Viola septentrionalis is categorized as Viola sororia by most botanists, I decided to do so as well.

I ate several leaves. They were a touch bitter and it is probably best to not eat a violet salad without any other ingredients, but they were not bad.

Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia)

Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius)

May 7, 2011

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides)

This is a Viburnum with edible berries. The berries are red at first and then turn black when ripened. I will go back and collect some in the late Summer or Fall.

These are typical Viburnum flowers with big white 5-petal sterile flowers surrounding a cluster of little white flowers in the center. The leaves of Viburnum are of varying shapes, but this is the only Viburnum in New Hampshire that has very big leaves without deep teeth on the margin. A Couple of useful Viburnum resources: Is it a Viburnum? and Which Viburnum Is It?.

May 8, 2011

Dwarf Nettle (Annual Nettle, Burning Nettle) (Urtica urens)

Dwarf Nettle has opposite leaves like Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica), but its leaves are bigger and have fewer and far deeper teeth. The plant only grows up to 2 feet tall. It seems to have numerous stinging hairs on the stem and fewer on the leaves. At this point in the year, the stingers are too flexible to penetrate the skin.

As far as I can tell, Dwarf Nettle is edible just like Stinging Nettle. (See: “Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest: A Practical Guide” by Delena Tull and Edible Plants of Florda.) Young leaves can be cooked and eaten. Older leaves can be used to make a healthy tea to drink or to use for skin treatment (in a shampoo for example).

May 9, 2011

Marsh Horsetail (Equisetum palustre)

May 10, 2011

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

I tried raw Trout Lily. It is excellent. Somewhat of a cucumber-like taste. I like it much better than cooked Trout Lily. Found a huge supply in the woods across the street from my discovery of Trout Lily in April.

Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)

I have nibbled on young Japanese Barberry leaves a few times. Wildman Steve Brill has a Wild Food Application and has proven very useful. He says that the berries are unpleasant and bitter which I comfirmed last year when I tried making Japanese Barberry jam. He goes on to say that the young leaves have a pleasant sour taste. Well, I've been trying them for the last couple of weeks using the youngest possible leaves and I agree that there is initially a pleasant sour taste, but it is quickly followed by an unpleasant bitter aftertaste. Maybe I will have to try in mid-April next year.

Small Pussytoes (Howell’s Pussytoes) (Antennaria howellii ssp. petaloidea) (Synonym: Antennaria petaloidea)

May 12, 2011

Arrowleaf Violet (Viola sagittata var. ovata) (Synonym: Viola fimbriatula)

Canadian Dwarf Cinquefoil (Dwarf Cinquefoil) (Potentilla canadensis)

After looking for Canadian Dwarf Cinquefoil all of last year, I found a big patch 50 yards from my front door! Now I can finish differentiating between five of the most common types of cinquefoil in my area on the Cinquefoils Identification page.

Differences between Canadian Dwarf Cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis) and Common Cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex):

May 17, 2011

Azure Bluet (Little Bluet) (Houstonia caerulea)

May 20, 2011

Starflower (Trientalis borealis)

May 21, 2011

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

Very distinctive pair of purple flowers. I saw it last year, but after it was done flowering, I could not recognize it. Notice that the leaves congregate near the top as if they are whorled, but in the pictures (2nd row) you can see that they actually alternate near the top of the stem. The leaves have no teeth (entire) and have a very slight red tinge near the outer edge.

May 28, 2011

Sundial Lupine (Wild Lupine) (Lupinus perennis)

I used the USDA Plant Database Advanced Search to list every plant in New Hampshire that is a member of the Pea family (Fabaceae) and then went through all of them to make sure I had this identification correct. In addition, I used the Weed Identification Software to begin the identification process.

There is another species of Lupine found in the Northern part of New Hampshire (Coos County) and in the Southwestern part of New Hampshire (Cheshire County). It is called Big Leaf Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus). It has 11-17 palmately divided leaflets. The leaflets are much longer with a pointed tip.

May 30, 2011

American Cranberrybush (Highbush Cranberry) (Viburnum opulus var. americanum) (Synonym: Viburnum trilobum)

In New Hampshire, there are only a small number of Viburnums with lobed leaves:
One of the most obvious differences is that Mapleleaf Viburnum and Squashberry do not have the large, showy sterile flowers. They only have the smaller white flowers. Also, Mapleleaf Viburnum does not have swollen glands on the leaf petioles. The margins of Squashberry leaves have many teeth compared to the few teeth on the leaf margins of Cranberrybush.

The Peterson Field Guide for Edible Plants says, ‘A European ornamental occasionally escaped from cultivation, V. opulus [Viburnum opulus var. opulus], is almost a double for Highbush-cranberry, but with bitter fruit.” For this reason, it is important to tell the two apart.

The following web page shows how to tell the two apart (using a table and two links for pictures): The American Cranberrybush has a wide and shallow groove on the leaf petiole, small glands on the petiole and hairs only the leaf veins of the underside of the leaf. The European Cranberrybush has a thin groove on the leaf petiole, larger, disk-shaped glands on the petiole and hairs on the underside of the leaf in addition to the leaf vein hairs.

Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)

The leaves are edible (raw or cooked) when gathered in April or May before the flowering stem appears. At this time, any slight bitterness can be reduced with cooking. Changes to cooking water can reduce bitterness if the leaves are picked later in the Spring after flowering. The rosette of leaves produced in the Fall tends to be mild and can be collected into the very late Fall.

The picture I took were not very clear for showing the alternate leaf arrangement and the hairs on the stem and leaves. I will go back over the next couple of weeks and take more pictures which you will be able to find at: