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.

June 2009 Foraging Experiences

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June 20, 2009

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

On the hunt for Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) to make Pine Needle Tea. Pine Needle Tea has a large amount of Vitamin C. The tea was sometimes brewed with both the pine needles and pine twigs or bark. The bark contains significant quantities of bioflavanoids that enhance the function of Vitamin C.

From what I have read, pine needle tea can be made out of the needles of any pine tree, but I looked for Eastern White Pine today. I will compile a web site with more information about Eastern White Pine identification, where is can be found in the U.S., and medicinal / food uses.

According to the Peterson Field Guide for Eastern Trees (North America), Eastern White Pine is the only native pine tree that has 5 needles per cluster. This should make it easy to identify ... even for someone like me who has a difficult time telling a pine tree from a palm tree!

Most of the large pine trees that I encountered today had no branches below 30 feet, so I couldn't tell if they were Eastern White Pines. I speculated that the lower branches on these pines weren't growing because the forest was packed tightly with deciduous trees that blocked the sunlight and prevented the lower pine leaves from growing. But I was able to find smaller white pine trees:

Came home with a few small bags of pine needles. I was careful to not pull off too many pine needles from any one tree (to avoid damaging the tree). The directions I read online suggested to use one “handful” of pine needles per cup of water. Washed two handfuls of needles and then chopped them. I boiled one pint of water and poured the water over the chopped needles, covered and let steep for 30 minutes.

After a short wait, I had a supply of Pine Needle Tea for the weekend.

It is pine-tasting. Something that I wouldn't think I'd enjoy, but I liked it. It might go better with a little bit of honey. It is very easy to collect the pine needles brew the tea, so I'll try it again soon.

Contraindications: Do not drink pine needle/twig/bark tea when pregnant or if you are allergic to pine.

June 28, 2009

This afternoon, I went foraging for
Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida), and Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus).

Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion is one of the most nutritious and healing plants available. Dandelion greens are a very good source of:
Dandelion root tea is one of the most powerful liver and blood cleansers in Herbal Medicine. It treats hepatitis, cirrhosis, gallstones, skin problems, infections, carious teeth, swollen, red or painful eyes, and fever. It strengthens the digestive system. It is a valuable herb for treating diabetes and hypoglycemia. Dandelion roots can be roasted and ground into a coffee substitute. I will compile a web site with more information about Dandelion identification, where it can be found in the U.S., and its medicinal / food uses

It is funny how people spend so much time and effort trying to erradicate dandelions from their lawns rather than letting it grow and harvesting it from their own yard! My local co-operative market was selling a bunch of dandelion greens for $2.99, but from nature it is free if you can find it. Since most backyards and city parks are treated with toxic fertilizers and toxic pesticides, I went to the state park to try and find dandelion. I didn't see it on the forest trails while collecting pine needles. Even in the fields at the state park I didn't see any dandelions. When I'm not foraging for them, they seem to be everywhere!

I usually see dandelion in grassy fields, so I stopped by another park and found a little. Most of the typical yellow flowers had gone to seed and closed up. The picture on the right shows a typical dandelion with easily-recognizable, toothy leaves. As you can see from the second picture on the right, I almost walked right on top of a skunk while my head was down looking for dandelions!

The Peterson Field Guide for Edible Wild Plants of Eastern/Central North America suggests that the best time to eat the leaves is in the early Spring, the flowers can be gathered for food from the Spring to the early Summer and the roots can be gathered for tea, food or coffee substitute from the Fall to the Early Spring. In the book, The Forager”s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants, Samuel Thayer has this to say about dandelion:

Even the less bitter Springtime dandelion leaves I disliked on the first try, but I tend to like them now. The same was true about pine needle tea -- I was not crazy about it the first time I tried it, but now, with a little honey and mint added, I like it quite a bit. For me, dandelion root tea does not taste bitter (with a little honey or licorice root added). Dandelion greens are so nutritious, I consider eating them like taking a powerful medicine. But what is more important is that since I don't have a foraging guide at my side all of the time, I felt it was important to start out with extremely easy-to-recognize and common plants and then gradually move on to other plants.

I gathered a few small leaves, washed them and simmered for approximately 10 minutes and ended up with an infant-sized portion of dandelion greens!

Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida)

If there was one place in the state I would expect to find pitch pine trees, it would be on "Pitch Pine Trail" in the local park. There were countless trees that I think were cedars and numerous young eastern white pines. But I couldn't find a single pitch pine tree on that trail! Aparently, the pitch pine has 3 needles per bundle and 1/2-inch branches that are fiberous and do not break cleanly when bent. Where did the pitch pine trees run off to?

The most common tree along the Pitch Pine Trail is one I'd like to identify. It looks like an American Beech tree (Fagus grandifolia), but I'm not sure. (See pictures and description of the Beech tree towards the end of the article Ten Tree Species on the NH Botanical web site.) It looks like most trees in that park were missing their nametag.

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

I started loving the taste of chilled Pine Needle Tea (with honey), but ran out of pine needles. So, while hunting for Pitch Pine, I encountered hundreds of young Eastern White Pine along the trail. Having read about traditional uses of pine tree twigs as part of pine needle tea, I decided to collect them as well. But I was careful to collect just a small amount of needles from each tree and I only gathered twigs that were already broken off (just hanging by a thread).

Boil the water. Turn off the water. Add washed and chopped pine needles, twigs and mint leaves. Let steep for 15-30 minutes (or longer). Strain off leaves. Add honey to taste. Refrigerate. Yummy!

Pine needles and pine bark seem to be revered in eastern tradition for longevity and health-giving properties. One page 25 of The Eyes of Power by Karen Gerhart, the author states:
On Page 12 of A Hermit's Pharmacopia by Frederick Dannaway, the author describes what were believed by the Chinese to be health-giving, longevity and even magical properties of pine.

Contraindications: Do not drink pine needle/twig/bark tea when pregnant or if you are allergic to pine.

June 30, 2009

I added a local images column to the
2009 Foraging Key. You can see local images at different times of the year of the plants or trees being foraged.

Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida)

I was walking by a city park today and saw a whole bunch of pine trees. I think they may be Pitch Pine. Pitch Pine is mentioned for its many medicinal uses throughout Book One: Aromatics, part of one of the most influencial Materia Medica in Western Herbalism (written by Dioscorides in the 1st century AD). According to my two guidebooks for Eastern U.S. trees ( Peterson Field Guide for Eastern Trees; National Audubon Field Guide to Trees: Eastern Region), there are only four (4) pine trees native to New Hampshire and three (3) pine trees that are imported to the Eastern U.S.:

Pines in New Hampshire

Common Name Alternate Names Scientific Name Native
to NH
per Bundle
Eastern White Pine   Pinus strobus Yes 5
Pitch Pine   Pinus rigida Yes 3
Red Pine Norway Pine Pinus resinosa Yes 2
Jack Pine Scrub Pine; Gray Pine Pinus banksiana Yes 2
Australian Pine   Pinus nigra No 2
Scotch Pine   Pinus sylvestris No 2
Japanese Mountain Pine Black Pine Pinus thunbergii No 2

As you can see from the pictures, these pines had three (3) needles per bundle. In addition, the Pitch Pine is the only 3 needle per bundle pine that has “half-inch branches that are fibrous and tough; they do not snap cleanly when bent sharply.” I tested a half-inch branch and it bent, but did not break. The cones are 1-3 inches and have thorns. It grows 40-60 feet high. The article Ten Tree Species on the NH Botanical Society web site states that “The big giveaway with pitch pine is that it often has needles growing out of the bark along the trunk, making it look like the unshaven, shaggy cousin of our other pines.” That site also does not mention Australian Pine nor Japanese Mountain Pine as pines in New Hampshire. They point out that Red Pine (“Norway Pine”) is “uncommon in southern New Hampshire, being more common in the Saco River valley of Carroll County and Oxford County in Maine.”

Continue to
July 2009 Foraging Experiences