Forage Friday # 13 Sassafras

Hello Friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled simply “Sassafras Leaves”. The image was produced specifically for this article and is not really as a “sales piece”. However, if you see an image on my blog that you would like to purchase just follow the instructions at the bottom of the article .

The warm humid air carries a sweet spicy aroma as I approach the small trees growing along the road. Because I live in rattlesnake country I use the hook on the end of my walking stick to pull the branches to me instead of wading through the weeds. Taking a bit of the fresh leaf and rubbing it between my thumb and forefinger releases even more of the aromatic oils. Sassafras has one of the most pleasant fragrances found in nature. To me it’s the strongest identifying quality of this very useful tree.

I suppose that my first experience with Sassafras is the preschool memory of my dad coming home from work with the root bark. I remember that he held it out for me to smell. Then he put it a pot of water that was simmering on the stove and the whole house smelled like warm root beer. That was late Fall and the memory of that experience is just as strong as it ever was. But today I have a different purpose for the sweet oils of the Sassafras tree. I plucked a few more leaves and began to crush them up in my hands. I rub the resulting liquid on exposed skin and tuck the bruised leaves under the brim of my hat. The fragrance helps hide me from the mosquitoes that lurk in the shade. Thanks to my grandfather for teaching me this trick while out caring for the cattle.

Sassafras is leaf was formally used for the flavoring in gumbo! Now, I have not been able to enjoy this one personally and gumbo from a commercial source must not contain Sassafras by law. In fact it’s banned from all commercial production due the risk of cancer from the essential oil. ( And yet Philip Morris can still sell cigarettes on every street corner. ) We haven’t been able to use it commercially since 1979. Before that root beer and root beer candy was made with natural extracts and real sugar.

These days this wonderful tree is still sold as an ornamental plant. The large purplish blue berries are a favorite of songbirds. I have to say that I’ve noticed that the drop in the bobwhite and drop in popularity of natural Sassafras flavored products seems to coincide. It’s worth propagating the tree just for the wildlife value alone.

The one commercial use that the FDA allows us to have is the exotic lumber value. Sassafras hartwood is considered to be very durable and is absolutely beautiful. As a forest owner you could probably do pretty well by producing a handful of timber sized Sassafras trees per year. A quick Google search turned up asking prices around ten dollars per board foot. So a rough value estimate of an average Sassafras wood 24 inches thick, 8 inches wide and 30 feet tall came out to around $6K per tree. ( This was a very quick and very rough estimate and it’s been 30 years since I actually had to estimate the value of timber so I am not positive about that estimate. ) Purists may not consider the commercial use of lumber to be foraging. To those good folks, I need to point out that foraging is using the resources of the land to feed yourself and others. Since $6k will buy a lot groceries it counts in my book. And if done right it will open up resources for renewal of the lower canopy to thrive and mature. And that estimate doesn’t really include the possibility of novelties made from pieces that a mill might reject such as lathe turned jewelry and bespoke canes.

Overall, it turns out that Sassafras has a lot to offer and we haven’t even considered the medical uses. ( Mainly because of the FDA ban ) I may revisit this one in the fall when I’m in the mood for a homemade root beer!

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Buttercups &Childhood Memories

Hello Friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Buttercups 51218″and is available for purchase by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Like living smiley faces little pops of living sunshine make their appearance in mid May. I remember kids holding the yellow flowers under their chins as test to see who likes butter.

The phrase toughen up buttercup has become a popular way to infer that one is weak but whoever came up with had obviously never attempted to contol buttercups in the yard. No matter how many times I cut them or pull them out they seem to come back stronger. I don’t really mind. There’s a certain amount of innocent joy I get from them growing on the edge of forest. I’m always taken back to my childhood memories of kids holding little yellow flowers under their chins and giggling at who has the yellow reflection.

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Approaching Thunder Shakes Loose A Childhood Memory

Hello Friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Thunder Ridge” and is available for purchase by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

I stepped out of the big blue truck and walked just beyond the gate. The scent of the impending rain hangs heavy in the air. The local songbirds are all huddled under the bushes for shelter as thunder rolls across the ridge. The empty roads beckons me to come & explore but the Darkening sky forbids me to walk too far. As I gaze down the road I allow my imagination to wander beneath the approaching thunderheads. My thoughts are interrupted by a different thunder. Its the sound of four large engines turning propellers on the tarmac in the distance. It has the be the 130th Airlift Wing warming up a C-130. The massive aircraft is often seen floating above the Kanawha Valley. It’s truly an awesome sight to see them emerge from the thick clouds on days like today.

When I was 11 years old my Civil Air Patrol group was transported to the Patuxent River Naval Air Test Station by the 130th AW ( the aircraft is a C-130 & the Air National Guard Group that is stationed her happens to also be the 130th group. ) My impression of the C-130 was that it’s the aeronautical version of a four wheel drive SUV. The seating for troop transport in the late 70s & early 80s was an adventure all of it’s own for a farm-boy of my age. Imagine that you’re locked into a tube with woven web lawn chairs hanging from the interior of the tube. They strap you in and taxi to the runway. The 130 is an STOL aircraft. That stands for Short Take Off & Landing which means that its angle on take off is really steep. The woven basket that you’re seated in swings like a pendulum as the plane jumps into the air. The sky on that day was really cloudy like you see in the feature image and it was turbulent. I suppose the resulting ride reminded me of sliding around on a muddy jeep trail which is what makes me think of them in the frame of a four wheel drive. Or, maybe the pilot was just adding a little extra adventure for a cargo load of wide eyed kids but it was like an amusement ride. Once we had reached a certain altitude we were allowed to get up and walk around a bit. everyone rushed towards the windows. For may of us it was first time off the ground. land was also an experience because they reverse the engines to land and its not like a passenger jet. There’s little or no soundproofing in the big green birds and when the propellers start the other direction its quite a racket.

I relive that trip several times a day now when they fly over the office at my day job. They fly really close to this road & if I can ever time it right I should be able to get some good shots of them. Today however, the combination of rain & limited time forced me to climb back into the truck before the C-130 made its appearance. As I rolled the big blue truck back onto the hardtop the large drops of water made contact with the windshield and I knew that today wasn’t the day. That’s okay. It’s an event that occurs on this road every day and I’ll get the shot eventually. It’s just a matter of timing. I do have a decent shot from an earlier flyover to share but I’ll continue to watch the sky for that perfect shot.

psx_20190424_235418-01_1556167837401146147836.jpg
C-130 Hurcules flyover on April 24th 2019

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A Meeting Of The Moments At the Crossroads

Hello Friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “A Meeting At The Crossroads” and is available for purchase by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Quiet country roads, rustic old barns and an empty schedule. That’s what happiness is made of. Big puffy clouds & a day that’s not too hot and not too cold. When it’s not humid and the breeze is soft and gentle. Here at this crossroad light meets shadow & the moment meets eternity. I can smell the hay in the field & hear the the work being done from ages gone by. That kind of work doesn’t really seem like work. It comes natural. It is very satisfying at the end of the day when you can look and see what you accomplished. Even thought you might feel it a little more than you want to. As I stand there daydreaming about the things that might have taken place around the old barn the clouds begin to roll and the shadows creep subtly across the weathered wood. I realize that the time has come to turn the big blue truck towards home and my next adventure.

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Winning The Day Regardless of the Score

Hello friends! tonight’s feature image is titled “Anticipation” and is available for purchase by following the instructions at the bottom of the page.

They Tell me that it’s not really spring until there’s the crack of a bat. According to the MLB the opening day is May 28th 2019 which is actually early for Baseball but late for Spring. I have to be honest. I’m not a big fan of watching sports. What I am a big fan of is the bonding of attending the game. It’s not really something that I do often but When I do go I go for the whole experience. I don’t care about the score or the stats of the players. I like the smell of the popcorn or hotdogs and to listen to banter between the fans. I love to see the excitement in a child’s eyes when his team gets a home run.

I titled tonight’s featured image “Anticipation” because even though I’m not a big fan of watching sports I love to play. other than the occasional picnic i didn’t play much baseball but i did participate in other sports. I know what an athlete thinks about before the game. We work hard and train preparing for the big day. We want the crowd to go wild when we score. We have anticipation. We walk out onto the field on game day long before the crowd gets there & visualize these thing because we know that when the clock starts we will be in the zone. We hope & pray that our best is good enough 7 that when we fail the fans will show grace. Athletes thrive on the admiration of the crowd and losing that admiration is their worst nightmare. That shouldn’t be a big surprise because as humans we all thrive on the admiration of out peer group and we all fail. We hope and pray that those peers will show grace when we fail.

Its going to happen at some point in our lives. We’re all going to “strike out” or “drop the ball” or in the case of a racecar driver “crash and burn”. Failure is inevitable for all of us. we hope to find grace in the eyes of our friends not if but when it happens.

Imagine the ball player out on the field and all eyes are on him or her as the ball is dropped. when the game is a broadcast that error is exposed to everyone as the crowd hurls sneers and jeers. But what if the camera was on the crowd as someone dribbled hotdog sauce onto their shirt only to have the crowd respond with the same distaste?

I think the most awesome moment is sports history went down without the world even noticing. The game was in overtime and the batters were running out of gas. the pitch is given and the batter strikes out losing the game by one run. Amid the crowd’s disapproval I saw a small boy approach the rail. He couldn’t be older than six years. As the batter walked back to the dugout with his head low the boy reaches for him. I couldn’t hear the exchange but I didn’t have to hear it. Look on player face said it all as the child consoles the man. That grace in the eyes of a child told me that the payer won the game regardless of the score.

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Forage Friday 1 Cattail

Hello Friends! Tonight’s feature image is untitled for the moment as are all the photos in the post. However, if you’re interested in purchasing a copy please use the contact instructions at the bottom of the page.

Before I begin I feel the need to explain the concept behind Forage Friday. First and foremost, Forage Friday is not intended to teach you everything you need to know about wild foraging. Many of the plants I’ll be covering do have toxic look-alikes and for an inexperienced person could result in disaster. It’s highly recommended that you seek out further information before trying it yourself. One of the best resources will be those of the older generation from rural areas who have relied on wild foraging to get by in hard times. They’re just full of knowledge and crave interaction. As you’re reading the post please remember that the author is very human and as such is capable of errors so it’s best to double check with other sources. With that said, it’s my hope that you are entertained and inspired learn more.

One of the first wild edible plants that I learned is also one of the easiest to identify, I’m speaking of course of the common cattail. I remember that when we were kids we’d pretend that the distinctive flowerhead was a corndog. After all, it’s a hotdog shape on a stick. It even looks like it’s breaded. The “hotdog” is not really edible. It’s densely packed fluff would be like trying to eat a down jacket. This is actually the seeds. However, in its season the male flowers are loaded with bright yellow pollen. The pollen is collected by sticking the spike in a bag and shaking it gently. Soon you’ll have a protein rich powder that is generally mixed 50/50 with wheat flour. I have not actually tried it myself but I’m told that it makes awesome pancakes!

What I have tried is the cucumber flavored rhizome and stem base. They are carbohydrate rich and as a type 2 diabetic I tend to avoid carbs these days. But they are tasteful! The big thing to avoid here is contamination. Cattail is capable of absorbing both chemical and biological toxins. Because of this they are quite useful as biological filters in septic systems and in areas where the capture of chemical run off needs to be dealt with. That’s not to say that you can’t ever give them a try but be selective about where you find them. Open ditches in urban and suburban areas are most likely to be full of lawn chemicals or sewage. That pond out in country is a better choice but there’s still agricultural chemicals. Basically, if you wouldn’t eat the fish out of that water source then avoid the water plants as well. As I’ve matured and learned more about things like cryptosporidium I would no longer recommend raw cattail. Instead, scraping the starch out of the stems and leaf base to thicken soups.

Other than the food value of cattail it’s got some tool and craft uses. The fluff from the “hotdog” is a great tinder for your campfire. When I was a kid in Civil Air Patrol we learned that fluffing the down and stuffing it under your jacket makes a great insulation. The leaves are strong enough to be woven into mats or twisted into a string but it’s fairly weak and not suitable for anything that is under stress. But making a sun shelter for an extended stay in the woods is a perfect application.

Cattail is referred to as “Mother Nature’s supermarket. If I tried to list all of the tips and tricks that I’ve learned concerning cattail the post would be so long that reading it would take more time than most people are willing to invest. However, I do know that most of my fellow Appalachians probably have a trick or two to add. The majority of my readers find my posts through groups that I share with on Facebook. I want to encourage you to either comment on the post, or my Facebook page and even my blog is open to the public. I’d love to hear about your experience with cattail. How did you use it? Did you ever fall into the pond when pulling out the stems and leaves?

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Blood,Sweat And Steel

Hello Friends! Tonight’s image is titled “Curves In Repetition” and if you want to purchase a copy please see the instructions at the bottom of the page.

When I think about workers laying down the tracks the image in my mind is of burly men with sledgehammers driving the steel. I can hear the hammer ring and feel the sweat of hard labor in the afternoon sun. The air is humid and thick with the smell of the creosote on the heavy wooden crossties. A civil engineer maintains a careful eye on the transit. Being off by a few inches now would mean missing the mark later. The crew works as single unit. Each takes his turn with the hammer in sequence with perfect timing. Somewhere along the way another team welds the sections together into a perfectly seamless pair of ribbons. Everything they do comes at price of aching muscles and stiff backs. The result is a web of steel, wood and concrete that stretches through mountains and valleys and across rivers in a way that adds romantic beauty to the landscape. They are artists and their medium is blood, sweat and steel.

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