Friday, June 19, 2009

Wild Edible Plants Walk

The Monday Creek Watershed Daycamp this past week was a great success. As a special presentation, I took the campers on a walk around Tecumseh Lake to teach them about wild edible plants. To be honest, I was quite surprised at how attentive they all were throughout the whole presentation. Also, the kids were surprised as well to see how many different plants there were all around them that were edible. When you think about it though, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched. Afterall every plant that we’ve ever domesticated was once just a wild edible like these.

We began our walk on the east side of the lake and continued around to the west side, stopping to talk about every wild edible plant that we found on the way. In fact, we found so many wild edibles just on the walk around the lake that we didn’t even manage to get into the woods to look at more wild edibles in the forest before we ran out of time!

Simply standing in the mowed grassy area around Tecumseh lake, we found several wild edibles right beneath our feet (though we didn’t try any of course, since they were stepped on and goose droppings were all around). Species we found here included red, white, and hop clovers, wood sorrel (aka “sourgrass”), greater and lance-leaf plantain (not to be confused with the tropical banana-like fruit), dandelions, and wild carrot.

We also found many other species among the brush just past the mowed areas. Flowers such as ox-eye daisy, honeysuckle vines (an unfriendly invasive species, unfortunately), and yellow sweet clover were quite common in these areas. Another flower common to this habitat (which is one of my personal favorites) is yarrow, a strong-flavored flower with many valuable medicinal uses. I like to chew on it to help relieve a sore throat. Of these, honeysuckle was by far the children’s favorite. Most of them already knew how to pick off flowers and pull the stigma out the bottom to get a delicious drop of nectar, but were surprised to hear that the whole flower was edible, making it a great edible decoration for many dishes. It should be noted that while the flower is edible, honeysuckle berries are mildly poisonous and should not be eaten.

Some of the woodier species of edibles we found included wild grapevines, blackberries, black raspberries, sumac, sassafras trees, white pine, and white oak. Another easily-identifiable favorite of the kids were the cattails we found in some of the more damp areas around the lake. Cattails are an especially good wild edible to know because when they grow, they tend to grow in large groups. This coupled with the fact that almost all parts of the plant are nutrient-rich and can be eaten at one point or another in its development makes cattail an excellent survival food.

With only a limited amount of time, we weren’t able to go much further and explore the wild edibles of the forest. Ironically, we had to stop for lunch. After a quick glance though, here’s a small sample list of what tasty treats I saw in the woods: American hazelnut, spicebush, stinging nettle, wood nettle, hog peanut, wild violets, mayapple, wild ginger, greenbrier, pawpaw, hickory, and more!

Click on each of the edible species listed in this article to find out how it can be prepared and eaten.

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