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Wild and medicinal plants: From trail to table

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Spring has officially arrived and all of us begin to stir, feeling the awakening of our spirit as the Earth renews itself, and we prepare to tackle spring cleaning projects and prepare our gardens for the growing season. This spring has been an exceptional one — one in which all of our lives have been affected, locally and globally. During this season of changes, there is one vital thing we can do to take care of ourselves: Getting back to nature rewards us with fresh air, sweet smells, bright sunshine, warmer breezes and a desire to be outdoors enjoying our Earth.

Perhaps this is why April is designated for both Earth Day (April 22) and Arbor Day (April 24), honoring our home and our environment. This year marks Earth Day’s 50th anniversary and Arbor, or “Tree” Day, has been celebrated for over 200 years and recognizes the importance of our planet’s forests to our very livelihood. So, with this in mind, and the constant changing of our daily environments — both seasonally, and now socially — we can practice safe distancing and focus on foraging for natural foods right from our own backyards.

There are many plants that we take for granted. Look to the poor dandelion. Many people see dandelions and think, “weed.” If only people knew what a healthy, versatile vegetable it is. The dandelion was used as a potherb by pioneer women; young dandelion greens are great in a salad or stew, lending their tart, crisp, slightly peppery flavor; or the nutty crunch of fried yellow flower heads. Dandelion wine offers a refreshing taste, and dandelion root coffee is bitter and stout.

Wild or “Indian” strawberry is a small strawberry that could be snuggled in your lawn. Not nearly as sweet but just as edible, wild strawberries can be used in all recipes calling for strawberries. In folk medicine, the fruit was crushed and added to water to make a wash or astringent for wounds, demonstrating antiviral properties.

Maple trees, the ones in your front yard that shed “helicopters” every fall, have been used by Native Americans throughout history. They taught early settlers about the sweet sugary sap that come from the maples. Though all maple trees are capable of producing maple syrup, the Sugar maple is the sweetest. Maple tree tapping and maple syrup season concluded at the end of February; it’s hard to believe it takes 10 gallons of maple sap, or sugar water, to produce 1 quart of maple syrup …

These are just a few of the plants right outside your back door to be harvested before you even hit Sugar Creek Trail. Only hunt wild edibles with a trained botanist or certified herbalist when beginning to forage on your own. Until then, the information contained in this article should be treated as historical plant folklore.

Reputable, trusted online sources, such as the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (https://www.in.gov/dnr/) provide detailed information on many plant species. More information on field identification guides, may be found on Libby (https://libbyapp.com), such as “Edible Wild Plants” by John Kallas, “The Quick Guide to Wild Edible Plants” by John Musselman or “Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs” by Rosemary Gladstar. Hoopla offers some materials as well: “Edible Wild Plants for Beginners” by Althea Press and “The Complete Guide to Edible Plants by the Department of the Army” are some of the choices. Check out our e-content page (http://www.cdpl.lib.in.us/econtent) for more resources available.

Stay wild and happy hunting!

 

Stephanie Morrissette is a library assistant at the reference and local history department at the Crawfordsville District Public Library.

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