Tag Archives: forest

A May Wildcraft – Reishi and Lady’s Slipper!

4 Jun

I had the opportunity to travel north of Lakefield, Ontario last weekend to do some hiking and plant identification! We found many new plants that I did not have the pleasure of finding in flower last spring. Spring holds some of the most aromatic and floral-scented wildflowers, some of these being my favorites! Here are some of this week’s finds:

1. Trumpet Honeysuckle (not quite blooming)

Trumpet Honeysuckle(Lonicera sempervirens) – I love honeysuckles and this is one that I found growing in the forest’s edge in a small cluster. I am hoping to find another one in a few weeks when in full bloom and add its picture to  this entry. The way the opposite leaves almost make a cup around the flower cluster always catches my attention. These flowers are very pretty and have a wonderful, sweet scent, hence the name ‘honeysuckle’, a hummingbird favorite.

Edibility: None noted
Medicinal uses: You can juice the plant and use the juices externally for bee stings. The leaves were dried and smoked to alleviate asthma symptoms

2. Miterwort

Miterwort growing in a carpet of small snowflakes

Miterwort growing in a carpet of small snowflakes

(Mitella dphylla) – This little delicate flower was growing in the deep woodlands alongside Toothwort, White Trilliums, birch trees, and hemlocks. It can grow almost anywhere in our area but prefers moist soils. I like this plant because the leaves are mirrored symmetrically at the stem and also the way the waxy little flowers remind me of snowflakes.

Edibility: None noted
Medicinal uses: You can make an infusion from the leaves to treat fevers and as eye drops for sore, red eyes.

3. Yellow Lady’s Slipper

Yellow Lady's Slipper, close-up of the flower

Yellow Lady’s Slipper, close-up of the flower

(Cypripedium calceolus) – Lady’s Slipper is also known as ‘Nerve Root’, among others. What a find this was! I knew they grew in our area and are common in Europe, but this is something I have not found or seen outside plant books. The basal leaves were very camouflaged and as we were walking home through the forest trail, my sister’s partner, Kevin, told us he had found something. Katie and I immediately saw the ‘slipper’ and were so happy he found it. It does really have the shape of a shoe; I guess the name was a ‘good fit’…..

Edibility: None noted – can cause dermatitis to the skin and large doses can cause hallucinations
Medicinal uses: Lady’s slipper is most known for its sedative and relaxing effect on the nervous system. It is characteristic of this orchid to have a strong, bitter, pungent smell.  North American Indians used it as a sedative and antispasmodic to ease menstrual and labor pains and to counter insomnia and nervous tension. Nerve root might act as a drying agent to help shrink blood vessels.

4. Large Toothwort

Toothwort in full bloom with white flower clusters (very similar leaf and stem relation to Miterwort

Toothwort in full bloom with white flower clusters (very similar leaf and stem relation to Miterwort

(Dentaria maxima) – I found this plant growing in many areas of our forest walk, noting its similar posture to the Miterwort. A very nice show of white flowers carpeting the forest floor in small patches. This plant is very frost hardy (down to -20 degrees C.) and can be found near rivers and creeks, or in shady forests.

Edibility: Root – You can eat the root raw or cooked. Traditionally prepared by harvesting the pungent root and piled into a heap, fermenting for several days. This allows the root to sweeten where it is then boiled.
Medicinal uses: Again, the root is used as a ‘stomachic’ that helps tone the stomach, improving overall function and increases appetite.

5. Canadian Columbine

Canadian Columbine

Canadian Columbine

(Aquilegia canadensis -L.) – I first noticed Wild/Canadian Columbine when I was living in B.C. and first started to have an interest in wild flowers and identifying them. They really remind me of a nodding onion with the way they are so delicate, bowing down towards the ground. You can find these rosy plants in open or shaded forests and in rocky areas. I found this one in the picture above near a gravely road in the open sun, next to a coniferous forest. Their range covers most of North America. They can grow in acidic and alkaline soils, flower May to June, and grow about 2′ tall. Wild Columbine are perennials.

Edibility: I had no idea that the flower was eaten as a sweet addition to salads as they contain high amounts of nectar. Very tasty to snack on if you have them in your garden! The root can also be consumed
Note: Not known as toxic but other members in the Ranunculaceae family are known to be slightly toxic so caution is advised.
Medicinal uses:  The root is astringent and diuretic. It is chewed or made into a weak tea for the treatment of diarrhoea and stomach aches. The tea is used in the treatment of uterine bleeding. The boiled plant was used as a hair wash. The seed is anodyne and febrifuge. An infusion is used in the treatment of headaches and fevers (PFAF, 2012).

6. Wild Sarsaparilla

Flowering Wild Sassparilla and its root

Flowering Wild Sassparilla

(Aralia nudicaulis) This was an interesting find! At first glance I thought we had found ‘Dwarf Ginseng’, but after a closer look, we saw we had found another usable root, Wild Sarsaparilla. They like to be in dark, rocky, forested areas, found on the eastern half of North America. A perennial that grows just over a foot tall. You can notice the white cluster of flowers and the draping leaves that are taller than the flowers (unlike my mistake with Dwarf Ginseng).

Edibility:  The rootstock is used as a flavouring, it is a substitute for sarsaparilla, and is also used for making ‘root beer’. It is also used as an emergency food (usually mixed with oil), having a sweet spicy taste and a pleasant aromatic smell. A nutritious food, it was used by the Indians during wars or when they were hunting since it is very sustaining. Young shoots – cooked as a potherb. A refreshing herbal tea is made from the root. Pleasantly flavoured[222, 238]. The roots are boiled in water until the water is reddish-brown. A jelly is made from the fruit. The fruit is also used to make wine. The fruit is about 6mm in diameter (PFAF, 2012)
Medicinal uses: Wild sarsaparilla is a sweet pungent tonic herb that acts as an alterative. It had a wide range of traditional uses amongst the North American Indians and was at one time widely used as a substitute for the tropical medicinal herb sarsaparilla. The root is an alterative, diaphoretic, diuretic, pectoral and stimulant. The herb encourages sweating, is stimulating and detoxifying and so is used internally in the treatment of pulmonary diseases, asthma, rheumatism, stomach aches etc (PFAF, 2012).

Narceus Millipede in the forest

Narceus Millipede in the forest

The first blooms of Hemlock Reishi mushrooms

The first blooms of Hemlock Reishi mushrooms

We found these baby fruiting Hemlock Reishi mushrooms on the same Hemlock stump as we found the mushrooms last year. There were about 8-10 new blooms this year which is good to see that we did not over harvest the mushrooms last year! We will be going back to harvest one or two this summer (with photos to come).

Last years Reishi fruit

A Reisi mushroom that fruited last summer

Plant Information Sources:

Web MD – Nerve Root overview: http://goo.gl/tCkqp
Plants for a Future Organization, http://www.pfaf.org
Ontario Wildflowers Database, http://www.ontariowildflowers.com
Newcomb, L. 1977, Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.
Knopf, A. 2001, The National Audubon Wildflowers; Eastern Region, Revised Edition.

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Deep in the Forest Beneath the White Cedars

14 May

“Plant identification may sound mundane, but when you observe the hundreds of  variables and interconnections that single plant has with the surrounding ecosystem, it becomes quite magical.”

A patch of White Trillium we found at the forests edge, just next to a meadow

A patch of White Trillium we found at the forest’s edge, near a meadow

 

This week was a great chance to spend a few days and evenings in the woods, meadows, and swamps near my home. I have been so busy with the garden and work that I have barely had a chance to get into the forest and see all the new living plants emerging from the soil. It is still pretty early in the year, and the nights have been pretty cold this week, but a few new species of plants that I did not have the enjoyment of identifying last year were  some of the ones I stumbled across during my hikes. I have to say that in the past, hiking out into a mucky swamp or down a dark cedar trail, even walking through horse-fly guarded grassland, was not really my thing to say the least! I enjoyed the outdoors and being in the forest but for much different reasons. I enjoyed walking and looking at the trees blowing in the wind, smelling the damp leaves and decaying branches, and spotting any wildlife I came across. These things are still very close to me when I go into the forest, but a new element of observation really ‘clicks’ with me; wildcrafting and plant identification. Plant identification may sound mundane, but when you observe the hundreds of  variables and interconnections that single plant has with the surrounding ecosystem, it becomes quite magical. You learn to notice things like the type and number of pedals an opening flower has, its fragrant pollen, the colors and textures of the leaves and stems, the ecosystem in which it is growing, its population and overall health,  insects which are eating it, its mode of fertilization and seed mobility, and lastly but most predominantly- its full life-force. This idea is what has called me closer to herbalism and understanding (mostly the basics so far) the powers of local plant medicines. I like to routinely grab my bike, my harvest packs/bags, camera, and I.D. books, and enter the woods to see what I can catch coming to life! It is a great way to connect with nature and learn a few things while doing it.

Today I was visiting a store, an old used book store to be exact, and when my partner showed me a National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, I was ecstatic! I spent over half an hour looking at the great detail of the pictures of wildflower petals, the majestic backdrops of the plants found all over the East Coast which featured numerous types of ecosystems, and I wished I was in each one of them. An urgency to visit all these wild places and smell each forest’s scent. The feeling that I get when I am looking through one of these plant field guides or gardening  design books  is a mixture between curiosity and amazement; I want to know where and when each plant will bloom, and most of all, the evolutionary processes and adaptations that occurred to make that plant what it is today. In other words, I am blown away when I try to understand the complicated relationships between predators and protectors of a particular plant; whether the plant adapted  to attract the pollinator or the other way around – that kind of question. It really is quite hard to understand, but the beauty is how well everything works out in the end.

A natural ecosystem, whether one that includes humans or not, is so much more complicated than one would assume. I have shared in the common view of nature as being trees and plants with a few bugs and birds and some natural weather fused in. The reality is unless you get down on your knee and peer deep into the ecology of even the soil beneath your foot, you will miss the very breath that is life on this planet. I have realized how much more there is to a simple forested path than just trees and pine needles covering the trail. There is a myriad of connections you can make that intertwines all the creatures and acts of physics within a wild-space.  For example, on my hike through the forest a few nights ago, my sister and I noticed what looked like a beaver damn in the river. We walked over to the water’s edge to see in fact it was just a burly shaped fallen branch. We happened to be standing in a tightly knit White Cedar forest with only a little light reaching us through the canopy. My sister pointed out that one of the cedar roots beneath our feet was erupting with little baby cedars! We followed a trail that was winding under the soil to the water’s edge. I noticed these were not Cedar trees at all, they were poplar – Balsam Poplars to be exact. We followed the emerging line back the other way, right up and over the root crown of the cedar beside us and abut 6 more feet to the base of a mature Poplar. It was erupting with basal shoots that were infants on a successful root that had made it to a source of sustenance, the river beyond us. I then became aware of the forces at work in this situation;

a) the immense number of emerging roots that became more noticeable as I took along the ground beneath me. A literal spider web, possibly a meter or more deep of roots, supporting a spongy, hollow forest floor.
b) a fierce competition of roots, like arms swarming and reaching over each other to fight for retreating ‘ground’ space.
c) the small clearing we stand has spots of light trickling in from above; the perfect location for these opportunistic Poplar shoots and they were growing steadily toward it.
d) The area was littered with fallen cedar limbs. The energy of the decomposing organic matter made by the cedars now fuels the explosive energy of the pervading Poplar; inviting it into its territory.

There were many, many other examples of associations that were happening while we assessed the forest floor, but this is only my interpretation. As an observer, the story was my own. Another could see the layout I explained and have a totally different understanding. That is the beauty of having your own experience in nature, learning from all the plants and insects around you. Just like us, each living organism has its own complex interactions and associations with its ecosystem.

Next time you are walking on a forest trail or even in your own back yard, stop to notice aspects beyond the flower itself. Look at the shape and color of the petals. Maybe a few quick questions like: How many petals does the flower have? What do the leaves feel like? Are they waxy or fuzzy? Are there any insects living or feeding on the plant?  There are many things we can learn from nature if we look a little deeper and I invite you to open up to this as well.

“The reality is unless you get down on your knee and peer deep into the ecology of even the soil beneath your foot, you will miss the very breath that is life on this planet.”

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This week’s plant-finds:

(Lunar Harvest can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.)
Trout Lily in the forest

Trout Lily in the forest

1. Trout Lily

(Erythronium americanum) – This amazing little lily was blanketing the forest floor with waxy, dark leaves that are spotted (like a trout) and curled. It is native to Ontario and is edible! I came across these earlier in the spring so they have not fully opened, but this is what a Trout Lily looks like when it is fully blooming.

Trout Lily corm

Trout Lily corm

Edibility: at the base of the plant, there is a small ‘corm’ that is edible. I did not pick the ones I found as they are still very young and I wanted to leave them for birds and other wild creatures, but this is a picture of what a corm of the Trout lily looks like. It is said to taste similar to cucumber.
Medicinal Uses: None noted

2. Yellow Downy Violet 

(Viola pubescens) – This awesome little

Yellow Downy Violet

Yellow Downy Violet

yellow violet was all over an east facing hill that was opening is small areas. This one is not fully open, but you can see the fuzzy, round toothed leaves and the typical vertical black marking on the lower petal. These violets are in the Viola family and found in dry, mixed deciduous forests. They bloom in the spring months, April through May.

Edibility: Wild Violets are noted as edible! You can eat the flowers and leaves – great for salads and tea,  syrups and vinegar!
Medicinal Uses: None noted

3. Field Pussytoes

(Antennaria neglecta) – These little white shoots have been something on my to-find-list and I

Field pussytoes ready to bloom!

Field pussytoes ready to bloom!

stumbled across them last night in a grassy field. The name alone is quite interesting as are the flowers themselves. I have always come across this plant in my plant identification book, but have never really noticed it in the past here in Ontario.

Edibility: None noted
Medicinal Uses: Not used very often anymore, but once used for coughs and for the gall bladder. The plant is very rich in mucilage which makes it very valuable in the treatment of chest complaints. It is also used in the treatment of liver and gall bladder complaints.

4. Periwinkle

(Vinca minor) – I have seen these little guys in my

Periwinkle Flower

Periwinkle Flower

neighbors garden before, a waxy ground-cover looking plant that has a little blue/violet flower in the early spring. Periwinkle is VERY invasive and should not be spread or introduced outside the home garden. It grows in many areas of North America, predominantly on the Eastern coast. We found this growing in a dark Locust grove as a ground cover mixed with Wild Grape and deciduous trees. It likes to line moist forest floors.

Edibility: None Noted
Medicinal uses: Periwinkle is an Antispasmodic, Astringent, Bitter and Sedative  tonic, among other important things. It contains a potent alkaloid called ‘vincamine’, which is extracted and used pharmaceutically as a cerebral stimulant and vasodilator. Its real use, since its discovery, is treating heart problems and dementia, which is due to low levels of blood reaching the brain.

5. Marsh Marigold

(Caltha palustris) – This swamp and stream-bed loving flower is known to light up wet areas in April-May with its bright and beautiful yellow blooms. I had seen this in the spring many times and wanted to document it. The Marsh Marigold definitely needs wet, saturated soil to thrive and can also grow in a soil based water garden. I stumbled across this only because it is almost impossible to miss if you are hiking around an area that has and wetlands or streams…

Marsh Marigold in damp creekbed

Marsh Marigold in damp creekbed

Edibility: This plant can be very TOXIC if eaten raw. It contains the toxin glycoside protoanemonin, which can be harmful if sap gets on your skin. It is best to stay away from the older parts of the plant, like lower stem and basil leaves. Cooking is the best method to deactivate the glycosides; Boil in water, then change water repeat, 3 times! I don’t think I would risk eating this plant as most of the nutrients would be gone after a triple boil, but it is good to know for survival.
Medicinal uses: Since the whole plant is an irritant, caution is advised! Externally used to treat warts, or boiled and mashed to create a poultice for sores. A tea made from the leaves can act as a diuretic and laxative.

6. Coltsfoot

(Tussilago farfara) – Coltsfoot is the first plant I tend to see rising; a very eager flower which

Coltsfoot flowers in full bloom

Coltsfoot flowers in full bloom

gladly provides sustenance for early and competitive bee populations. When this stalk emerges, it really reminds me of Pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys) due to the texture on the stem, especially before it blooms.

Edibility: Contains alkaloids that can be toxic to the liver in large doses. Smaller doses are safer. There are many uses for Coltsfoot, most of the plant is edible! The flowers and buds are good raw/cooked and have a light anise flavor. The leaves can be boiled (also rinsed after boiled to help lower the bitterness). A tea can be made from the leaves and flowers and again has an anise flavor. I found out that you can dry and burn the leaves to create a salt alternative!
Medicinal uses: Coltsfoot is a noted for its great Antitussive and Demulcent abilities, helping to relieve coughs and expelling mucus. There are possibilities of toxicity when using in higher amounts, especially dried flowers. Coltsfoot is also used as a whole body tonic.

We came across some other common flowers in the area like Wild Strawberry, White Trillium which is our provincial flower, and an interesting fungus growing on some white and red cedar trees; Cedar-Apple Rust, as shown below. Thanks for reading my post, hopefully I can blog more weekly finds like these in the future!

Cedar-Apple Rust on a Cedar tree

Cedar-Apple Rust on a Cedar tree

A patch of White Trillium we found at the forests edge, just next to a meadow

A patch of White Trillium we found at the forests edge, just next to a meadow

Wild Strawberry Flowering

Wild Strawberry Flowering

Adam D.

Plant Information Sources:
Plants for a Future Organization, http://www.pfaf.org
Ontario Wildflowers Database, http://www.ontariowildflowers.com
Newcomb, L. 1977, Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.
Knopf, A. 2001, The National Audubon Wildflowers; Eastern Region, Revised Edition.

apples and conifers

7 Nov

today we headed to the Trent wildlife sanctuary trails to gather supplies for dream catchers- at the beginning of our hike we found a pile of freshly cut cedar boughs as a result of trail maintenance, so we didn’t have to harvest any from living trees. returning to the forest after dropping our bounty off in the truck, we continued our search for conifer trees, each with their own properties and uses. down a small path that didn’t show to be used very often, we stopped to take some photos as what will probably be one of the last opportunities to catch the sun between branches bearing colorful leaves. here we found a beautiful white pine tree that we climbed (and katie realized she had poop on her shoe, as usual) and gathered some needles for tea :]

we collected thin dogwood strips, tried identifying teeny mushrooms on the leaf littered floor and visited some pine trees overlooking grassy day-beds. as the sun began to set, we filled two bags with about 8lbs of weather beaten, wild red apples! they are so delicious and plentiful; we’re planning on attempting to make apple cider vinegar soon and they would work perfectly. the cold crept in as the sun set quicker thanks to the time change, but it felt sooo good to be outside, making use of what autumn has to offer- foraging and harvesting feels so natural, we’re like little kids while doing it.
 

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