Forage Friday #40 Greenbriers

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Greenbrier Berries 122719” and was taken specifically for this article. All of the photos are my original work and are available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Although I chosen to use the cluster of greenbrier berries as tonight’s feature image I wasn’t really able to find a wide variety of references to the food value of the berries themselves. Greenbriers produce edible roots, shoots and leaves and while the berries may not be poison they do contain a large seed and I’m not sure what th e flavor of the berry might be like.

I have never taken the time to sit down and watch the old movie “Calamity Jane” but I understand that’s where the quote “Make mine a sarsaparilla” came from. In the 1800s Charles Elmer Hires made his mark on American culture with Root Beer which was often referred to as “sarsaparilla” but actually didn’t contain any of the plant that gives real sarsaparilla it’s flavor. Instead he used a mixture of birch oil and Sassafras to create his brew. It was a huge success until 1960 when the US Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of Safrole. (The substance that gives Sassafras it’s flavor and is also found in black pepper as well as nutmeg.) However, in other countries the true Sarsaparilla plant which has been used since the 16th century continued to be the soft drink of choice. That plant is one of about 300 species of greenbrier. And that brings me to tonight’s post.

As I researched the article I learned that greenbrier based soft drinks widely available and very popular in other countries. So much so that I’m a little surprised that Americans haven’t been growing smilax ( The greenbrier genus) commercially ourselves.

In the Spring, the soft new growth of the vine is free of thorns. To harvest the new shoots simply locate the uppermost thorn and begin flexing the stem while slowly working your way to the top. When you reach the point where the woody fibers end the tip will naturally break off in your hand. The shoot is tender enough to eat raw right there on the spot. It’s flavorful too. I have enjoyed this myself and it tastes a little like asparagus. It’s also fun to joke with those who don’t forage about being tough enough to chew on briers. I’ve not tried them steamed or boiled but they’re said to be excellent when cooked and buttered.

Next is the leaves. Young leaves like the stem are tender enough to eat raw and go great in a “wild child” salad. They can also be cooked like spinach and served as a pot herb.

But the real harvest is the root crop. Smilax roots are fibrous and those fibers need to come out. It’s a little bit of a process but once you dig up the root it should be peeled like a potato and crushed under water. Allow the starch to settle out in the bottom of the container and gently pour off the water with the floating fibers. The starch on the bottom can be used like flour and can be used immediately or dried and saved for later. This powder is kinda special among starches. By adding a tablespoon of the dry red powder to each cup boiling water you can make a nice jelly. Or by diluting it and chilling it you get the aforementioned soft drinks ( minus the carbonation). I’m guessing that either product will require sweetening. The starch can also be added to soups and stews as a thickening agent.

I have not been able to confirm that greenbrier root contains the Safrole like nutmeg, back pepper and the banned sassafras but if not then it just a wild forage plant but a potential commercial crop for niche markets.

The most popular type of Sarsaparilla is the Jamaican variety but the best variety in North America is the Bull Brier. From my experience it has the fewest thorns and the best flavor.

The late Fall leaves of a Bull Brier showing the different shapes of the leaves.

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Forage Friday #37 Witch Hazel

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Witch Hazel 121319A”. All of the photos are my original work and are available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article.

The young boy was fighting back his tears as he sat on the edge of the tub while his mother washed the dirt and blood from his knees. The cool water from the tap helped to numb his wounds a little. The abrasions were not that bad once they were cleaned up but when you’re that young everything seems like an emergency. His mother spoke in a soothing voice and braced her child for the next step. She retrieved an amber bottle from the medicine cabinet and poured out a clear liquid into a cotton ball. The medicine stung his broken skin at first but soon the astringent qualities of the witch hazel kicked in and made the pain stop.

It’s rare that I do a Forage Friday post on a plant that to the best of my knowledge has absolutely no uses as food. But witch hazel is one of those plants that is probably already in your own medicine cabinet. The parts used are the leaves, twigs and inner bark. However, it’s because of it’s late Fall/Early Winter bloom that I’ve waited until now to include it in a Forage Friday post.

Witch Hazel flowers are a beautiful sight during the dark rainy days of December. 

The delicate flowers of witch hazel always seem to open at just the right time to add some beauty to the otherwise disheartening landscape.  They’re also pollinated by winter moths that are able to survive freezing temperatures by living in the leaf litter to hide from the cold. Wild witch hazel is what we see in tonight’s pictures but a quick Google search shows that there are cultivars that can be planted and have a bloom that is more showy and displays various shades of red and orange.

I also learned while researching the article that there is only one industrial provider of witch hazel in the United States. The trees are farmed on a river bank. Once they’re ready for harvest the entire tree is coppiced (cut so that it will regenerate and friends back) and chipped. The chips are then dumped into vats of alcohol where the tannins are leeched out and then the alcohol is cooked off. The description of the process implies that the steam is collected and condensed into the liquid we find under various labels. It all comes from one supplier and there seems to be a lot of regulatory requirements that guide the production.

A witch hazel twig showing the bud and leaf scar. Leaf scars are like fingerprints that help identify the tree. Witch hazel buds resemble a deer’s hoof.

I also found a process for home production.  It was rather simple.  Collect the leaves, twigs and inner bark (one tablespoon per cup of distilled water) and soak them in water for about 30 minutes and then bring it to a boil. Simmer for ten minutes. Allow the decoction to steep for another ten minutes before straining and bottling.

The beautiful witch hazel growing with the alder from last night’s article.

I’m constantly scanning the environment for native species to incorporate into my landscape. While I’m probably never going to produce enough witch hazel to unseat the one supplier it is not only a beautiful flowering bush to help add color in the winter but a handy resource to have around a homestead.

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The Alder

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Alder Catkin 120819m”. All of the photos are my original work and are available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article.

My breath condenses into long curls as I walk the road towards the salmon colored traces that I noticed as I drove by.  In the past I would refer to the winter as “The Gray World” but this year I’ve decided to make it priority to search for the Color of winter. In doing so I have discovered that our world is always in bloom.  You just need to look a little closer.

I found subtle tones of red and pink as well as pale blues and greens were everywhere.

The feature image is the male catkin of an alder tree and it seems to still have some pollen. Unlike the flowers of the warmer weather the alder depends on the winter winds to carry it’s pollen instead of insects.

The female catkin of Alder tree looks like a little pinecone but has the same beautiful red tones.

The female catkin of Alder

The scales will develop into seeds and they are also carried away by the winds.

The Alder grows near water and has a tight grain that is used for fine woodworking although it is a little on the soft side when compared to something like maple. Still, the wood is honey colored and makes a great veneer. And if you’re a fan of Fender guitars you can thank the alder for the balanced tones. 

The Alder does play a roll in soil conservation. It forms a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen fixing bacteria and forms nodules similar to legumes. It’s sometimes called a pioneer species and while that’s debatable for various reasons it was the first tree to spring up on my property after the 2012 derachio. My forest was pretty battered by the straight line wind and so the alder became a personal symbol of renewal in my life. The one tree in particular sprouted next to my driveway and I simply allowed it grow. Unfortunately, the root system is threatening to destroy my pavement and so the tree has to go. ( don’t worry, I now have plenty of trees to enjoy)

On a final note, I am aware that the inner bark of the alder has traditionally been used by herbalist to treat various conditions. However, it’s not one of the medicinal plants that I have studied to a point where I’m comfortable going into details.

Mostly, alder serves as a a source of enjoyment and beauty in my life. It’s a little pop if color to break up the gray of winter.

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The Hay Ride

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “The Hay Wagon” and is available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article.

The cool night air bites at my cheeks as I stare up into the crystal clear sky. The sun disappeared behind the mountains early in the evening but there’s still a soft purple hue on the horizon. There was a few streetlights dotted throughout the rural community but not so many as to ruin the view of star. The night sky is unbroken by the blinking lights of passenger jets in those days. By the time I was a sophomore in high school I’d had enough allergy treatments to allow me to participatein a hay ride. I had tucked a few antihistamine pills in my pocket just in case I started to have a reaction but they were unnecessary. I leaned back against the wooden sides of the wagon and thought about how much the stars resembled sugar sprinkled across the opaque dome of a late fall night. The only sounds at the moment were the steady clip clop of the horse’s hooves on the hardtop lane. The hay helped keep the youth group warm in the bitter night air and we were covered by beautifully designed Appalachian quilts. And there was rich hot chocolate made with whole milk. Then I felt someone take my hand and I looked down to see the new girl in the group looking up at me. We never spoke. I was too shy in my teen years and seemed to babble and stutter around the girls. Fortunately for me she didn’t speak either. We just cuddled up under the quilt and looked at stars. Nobody seemed to notice us as the horse pulled the wagonload of teenagers through the hills. That is, until the wagon pulled up at her house and she gave me my first kiss before she went inside.

When I see a hay wagon I’m always taken back to a simpler time. A time when the simple things in life were the most important things and we took the time to enjoy them. And, our lives were fully enriched when time was our own.

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Refreshed

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Rainy Day Dreams” and is available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article.

My eyes slowly open to darkened room lit only by the alarm clock numbers next to my bed. My head is still a little foggy as read the numbers and learn that it’s only 4:00 A.M.. I’ve only been asleep for two hours so I pull the covers up and try to go back to sleep. Then I hear it. The rhythmic tapping sound of water dripping onto the window sill. I knew that the rain had finally found my mountain. I listened as the taps got faster and stronger. Soon the sound blended into white noise and it wasn’t long before the sandman lulled my back into a deep sleep.

The next morning came with that wonderful smell of the forest after a good steady rain. The birds were all out playing in the puddles and the landscape seemed less pale.

The rain continues to fall gently over the mountains refreshing the earth. As it collected on the windshield of my big blue truck I wanted to stop and just play in the rain.

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The Richness Of An Appalachian Morning

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Pipevine Swallowtail And Moonflower” and is available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Softly floating from place to place the butterfly explores each bloom searching for the one that has the sweetest rewards. The late summer brings the Moonflower and every little twig becomes a bloom. Off in the distance a Ruby Throated Hummingbird darts skillfully through the underbrush as he carries out the same quest. I turned around to focus but he eludes my lens with ease and disappears back into the forest. The crow in top branches of a snag finds this amusing and cackles in a mocking tone. Bumblebees fly in lazy S shaped patterns and crawl into the last of Pale Jewelweed that dangles from dew kissed leaves. They shake the plant as they dig their way into bloom and send a cascade of droplets to forest floor.

Image Title “Getting Into Her Work”

Life is a series of moments that are welded together in experience. The more experiences you have, the richer life is.

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Poke Berries And History

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Pokeweed Berries 81419”. The image was taken specifically for this article. Unless stated otherwise all photos are my original work and are available as prints by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

My Appalachian ancestors were resourceful people as was the case with most early settlers. They had to fabricate almost everything they had. Iincluding ink.

For those who are unfamiliar with the plant in tonight’s feature image it’s Pokeweed. Sometimes called Poke salet or just plain old Poke. It’s a wild edible plant that requires a little processing in order to safely consume and never when the stems are red. One day we’ll do a Forage Friday post about Poke and the hows as well as the whens of eating Poke greens but for now treat it like poison. Tonight I want to focus on the berries. As far as I know the berries are always poison. What they are good for is making ink.

I have grown up with the knowledge that the U.S. Constitution was written in poke berry ink. However, that’s just an urban legend. ( It’s not written on hemp either. It’s Parchment which is an animal product. ) While I’m a little disappointed to find out that such an important document wasn’t created with the aid of a native plant Poke berry ink was a more common medium back at the time. It was used for less important writing. During the civil war soldiers used it to write letters to home and I’m sure that it was used for anything that didn’t require a permanent record. That’s because the ink just doesn’t last well. It reacts to U.V. light and soon turns brown. Eventually it fades away so much that it can’t be read.

Before I started writing I did a quick Google and found a few facts about poke berry ink. Using the raw unprocessed juice doesn’t work. Apparently the juice alone rots quickly and the message is lost. The prefered method is by fermenting the ink. The alcohol from the fermentation process acts as a preservative. One person said that you can use vinegar to mix up poke berry ink and there seems to be plenty of recipes online.

My personal experience with poke berries as ink just may have been the original paintball game. I remember that we used to make slingshots with rubber bands and use the berries as ammo. The purplish red stain left little doubt as to who was hit.

I hope to do an actual post on poke greens in the Spring but for now the berries are what’s in season. Those who homeschool might step out and collect a jar full of them and look up some of the ink recipes for a historical expiriment.

Hello Friends and thank you for your support of my page. If you have enjoyed the photos or the writings please let me know by commenting and sharing my work on your social media. I also want to invite you to Follow Lloyds Lens Photography on Facebook

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Did you know that I also do portraits by appointment? If you’re interested in a portrait session either message me on Facebook or Use the Contact form. The YouTube link below takes you one of my slideshows.

https://youtu.be/FDcrY6w8oY8

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I’m now using Zazzle to fulfil orders. What this means for you is a secure way to place an order, discount codes & a broader product selection! Simply message me on Facebook oruse the contact form on my websiteand tell me which image you want and I’ll reply with a direct link to where you can place the order.

Clicking on the photo takes you tohttps://www.zazzle.com/lloydslensphotos?rf=238248269630914251

Lastly, all of the photos and writings are my original work unless otherwise specified and are not to be copied or reproduced without expressed written permission from the photographer

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