Forage Friday #41 Smartweed

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Smartweed On Panther Mountain” and is available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Smartweed is one of those plants that has negative effects on some people. It’s said that eating large quantities of Smartweed can cause a sensitivity to the sun and some people can get a rash from skin contact with the plant. However, I have enjoyed Pennsylvania Smartweed fresh off the plant without any negative impact.

One of the first forage plants that I decided to try many years ago was Smartweed. It’s a pretty common plant that’s found throughout North America and it’s in almost every state except Utah and Nevada. Polygonum is a large genus of plants in the Buckwheat family and the different types of Smartweed can vary in spiciness. Think of different types of peppers ranging from a very mild bell pepper to the dreaded Carolina Reaper and you’ll get the idea. So with that in mind I should be clear that I’m speaking of Lady’s Thumb and Pennsylvania Smartweed. Both plants have a characteristic dark spot on the leaves ( I’ll try to do a follow-up this spring when they’re nice and fresh and get a good shot of the leaves) but the spot on Lady’s Thumb is more like a smudge where Pennsylvania Smartweed’s spot tends to be a chevron. The plant I have the most of is the Pennsylvania Smartweed. The peppery flavor tends to be stronger in Pennsylvania Smartweed but my experience with it is that the leaf is relatively mild when compared to other spices. If you’ve never tried Smartweed before then I do recommend starting with a very small piece ( about the size of the tip of your pinky finger) until you’re sure that the plant agrees with your palette. The stronger tasting Pennsylvania Smartweed leaves are mostly used as a spice.

Lady’s Thumb leaves are so mild that they can be used as a substitute for spinach in salads. Or, even cooked and served as a pot herb. The pink flowers of both plants are used as an edible garnishment.

At some point those pretty pink flowers turn white. When they do the seeds are ripe and can be collected in a paper bag and dried to be ground as a substitute for black pepper. From what I’ve read that’s the traditional European use for Smartweed. Again, remember that some varieties are more potent than others and the seeds of both Lady’s Thumb and Pennsylvania Smartweed are more spicy than the leaves. To use the seed they’ll need to be freed from the papery husk and rubbing them in your hands works just fine. Allow the seeds and husks to fall on a plate and then gently blow the paper away. Carefully tossing them up while blowing will also help.

The plant is Native to Europe but was brought here by the colonists and quickly became a Native American favorite. It was used medically to treat a variety of issues including arthritis and poison oak rash. ( Again, some people get rash from it so I would test myself before treating poison oak with Smartweed. )

As I mentioned above my plan is do a follow-up this spring when I can get some more images that includes the leaves. Tonight’s feature image was actually a calibration shot from an earlier project and since foraging can be a little bit of a challenge this time of year I decided to use it.

Before I close I’m going to toss out a reminder that if you forage please remember to either forage your own land or gain permission from the landowner and always respect private property.

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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 #39 Virginia Creeper ( by special request)

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

Before we dig into tonight’s Forage Friday post I have to address an issue that was raised by a comment on one of the Facebook groups I share with. The commenter said that she had trouble with trespassers “foraging” on her property. And that she had to involve the police because of the damage done to the plants she had reserved for her own use. So, in no way, shape or form should anyone enter private property without permission from the landowner.

Today I received an email from Annette who wanted to ask about Virginia Creeper. Specifically, if it could be used to make rope. The answer is yes. But, there are better options. Virginia Creeper is a strong flexible vine native to the Appalachian Mountains. It’s often mistaken for poison ivy but Virginia Creeper has five leaves per cluster where poison ivy only has three leaves per cluster. Both vines can have what’s called prop roots that hold them to the sides of structures and trees so without the leaves it can be hard to tell the difference. Especially with young vines that are the size one might use to lash poles together for a shelter. One of the identification factors for Virginia Creeper is that it’s tendrils branch out and end in little disks.

I have never had an allergic reaction to Virginia Creeper but in research for this article I learned that some people do get a rash but it’s mild.

As cordage the use of Virginia Creeper seems to be in baskets. The supple vine is woven between limber twigs and is strong enough to hold a moderate amount of weight.

A better option for cordage might be spruce roots which are both stronger and more flexible but in a lot West Virginia spruce is not as available as Virginia Creeper. Another good option would be young grape vines.

Virginia Creeper is not a type of grape but is a “cousin” of grape. However Virginia Creeper berries are listed as toxic with a list of nasty symptoms of poisoning.

In spite of the warnings of a possible rash Peterson’s Field Guide says that Native Americans used the leaves of Virginia Creeper to treat the rash of poison sumac and that the leaves are used in combination with vinegar to wash wounds. But, this is something that I do not have firsthand knowledge of and therefore I can’t really say if it works.

The most common use for Virginia Creeper is in landscaping. The vine can be planted as a way to provide shade and turns a beautiful velvety red in Fall.

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Forage Friday #38 Mistletoe

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image was taken just for Forage Friday. All of the photos are my original work and are available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article.

While mistletoe is not known to have ever caused human death it is toxic and is likely to make you very sick. I normally wouldn’t include such a plant in a Forage Friday post however it does have a market value as a Christmas decoration could feed you indirectly if you’re crafty enough to collect it and transform it into decor to be sold as such for a profit.

Throughout the Appalachian Mountains the bare branches stand out in contrast to the sky. However, along the Kanawha River some of the trees still have thick green clusters of leaves that seem to form lose spherical shapes in random locations in the trees. In winter this is the tell tale sign of mistletoe.

As stated in the warning above mistletoe has no food value. It is a parasite to the tree that hosts it and often causes deformation of wood. It’s peg like root grows into the cambium layer and diverts nutrients from the branches. The white sticky seeds are toxic except to birds. In fact, the only thing that mistletoe has going for it the culture that’s provided a niche for it to fill.

I have done a little research on the origin of mistletoe as a Christmas tradition and following is a very abbreviated layman’s version of the tradition of kisses under the mistletoe.

Well before that famous kiss between mommy and Santa Claus the mistletoe plant was a symbol of love and benevolence in the Norse cultures. I know that Thor gets all the Press because of Marvel’s Avengers and Stan Lee’s wonderful imagination but back the Baldr ( Sometimes spelled Balder) was the big hero. In the Norse mythology Baldr was a god with a pretty impressive talent. He was invulnerable. So much so that the other gods made a game of testing their weapons on him. However, Loki managed to learn that Baldr’s one weakness was mistletoe and depending on the version of the story struck him with either a dart or an arrow made from mistletoe. Which of course lead to Loki being asked to leave the party in an unceremonious manner. Everyone was bummed out over the death of Baldr including the mistletoe. So the Norse gods struck a deal with mistletoe. ( everything in Norse mythology has a personality) Mistletoe would promise never allow itself to be used as a weapon again ( in spite of the fact that it is a poison) and in return the gods would make it a symbol of love.

Then in 18th century England (and presumably because the myth had gained some resurgence ) a “game” was created where merrymakers were allowed to steal a kiss from any girl caught under the mistletoe. There also seemed to be a rule that for each kiss a white berry was removed from the sprig and once the berries were all gone the kissing game was over.

I have tried to learn how the mistletoe tradition made it into the Christian traditions of Christmas. As the church began to adapt it’s own versions of the pagan holidays many the elements were converted and assigned an alternative myth. However, mistletoe seems to have been more tolerated than adapted and therefore I could no alternate myth.

I did mention that if you’re crafty enough to make a kissing ball that mistletoe might provide a little extra holiday income. I couldn’t find any special instructions for preserving mistletoe however Southern Living magazine recommends harvesting the sprigs with a shotgun. Now I like to shoot guns but I’m going to recommend that you use a pole pruner so as not to have little holes in your decorations. 😉

I did a quick check on Amazon for a mistletoe kissing ball and an 8 inch diameter plastic kissing ball was priced at $12-$15. My gut feeling is that a well made natural mistletoe ornament should be worth at least $25 and there’s plenty of craft shows and farmer’s markets to sell them in.

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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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Clicking on the photo takes you tohttps://www.zazzle.com/lloydslensphotos?rf=238248269630914251Lastly, 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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Forage Friday #36 Basswood

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image was taken just for Forage Friday.  All of the photos are my original work and are available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article. 

It’s said that only God can count the number of trees there are in a seed. And one of most unique seeds on my mountain is the Basswood. (Known as lime it linden by my European readers. ) Basswood gets it’s name from the fibrous inner bark that comes in interwoven strands that was called bass in the old days. The bass is best collected from wood that’s been dead for the few days but once you have it it’s made into cordage by twisting and coiling. The resulting cords can me made into fairly strong rope or baskets.

The wood from Basswood is best known for carving. It’s fairly soft and easy to shape by beginners. But it’s also the secret behind Viking shields. The wood is relatively easy to peel into sheets. These sheets were then layered in a way that is similar to the way plywood is made today. The trick is to make the grain of the wood criss cross on a 90 degree angle so that the layers support each other. The Vikings held the layers together with a glue made from milk. Think of how tough it is to scrape melted and dried cheese out of a dish and you’ll get idea of how strong the milk glue is. A final layer of linen was glued on and painted. The whole shield would be reinforced with either an iron ring or laminated linen. This technique lasted well into the Renaissance .

Defense from roving bands of Viking raiders isn’t really a priority today but the Basswood is still a tree with a lot to offer.  The mildly sweet flowers are a favorite food for honey bees and are collected by herbalists. The tea made from linden flowers is used for a wide variety of issues. The properties of the tea are said to be especially useful for colds and flu.  The tree is rich in mucilage ( a slimy type of plant fiber that also found in okra ) which is soothing to sore throats and believed to help congestion of the airways.  The linden flowers are also said to be a mild sedative as well as help fight inflammation. ( as always please remember that I have no medical training and I’m only pointing out interesting tid-bits with the intention of providing a conversation starter. ) 

The food value of Basswood is if particular interest to me. Not only does it provide honey (with help from the bees ) but it can also feed us directly. Several of my primitive serval books talk about the spring buds being used to thicken stews. Or that can be steamed and eaten by themselves. The young leaves if Basswood have been useful in salad. Older leaves are edible but not as tasty. They can also be a little tough if they’re too mature. There’s about thirty species of tilia ( The scientific name of Basswood) and this quality might vary depending on the species and growing conditions. The food potential for Basswood makes it a desirable tree for those who might live in areas with limitations on gardening since it’s mainly grown as landscaping. A single tree planted as landscaping probably won’t feed you all year round but the option of collecting the flowers for a high quality tea could provide a source of enjoyment and give you that sense of accomplishment that all gardeners have.

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.

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Clicking on the photo takes you tohttps://www.zazzle.com/lloydslensphotos?rf=238248269630914251Lastly, 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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Forage Friday #35 Fish

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image was taken just for Forage Friday. All of the photos are my original work and are available for purchase by the instructions at the bottom of the article.

It occurs to me that in 35 #ForageFriday posts that I have yet to put any meat on the table. Also, with the onset of winter finding edible plants is definitely a bit of a challenge. So when I found the fishing photos in my archive I knew that I had to include them in my Forage Friday posts.

Thanks to Jack Spyrco of The Survival Podcast my definition of survival skills has expanded to include things that benefit every day life and not just the worst case scenario. I’ve tried to reflect this take on things in my Forage Friday posts and provide you with things that have a potential to wild foods that can be given space to grow and flourish in off lawn areas or even in a garden setting. With fish it’s a little more of a challenge. Most of us don’t have ponds on our land and for those in an urban environment installing a pound a pond large enough to accommodate a reliable stock if food fish may not be possible. For those folks I’d recommend that you look into something like aquaponics. Otherwise you’ll need to find a body of water where you can drop a line. Pollution is a huge concern with fish. The mercury found in tuna is of particular importance because it accumulates in the fish. While humans have a way of clearing mercy from the body over consumption of contaminated fish can lead to health problems. Freshwater fish can also be contaminated and mercury is just one of the potential substances that you need to avoid. Fortunately, your local fish and wildlife conservation service will have a list of areas where the fish should not be eaten.

A large bass and a carp in the tank of my local Cabelas sporting goods store.

As far as aquaponics and aquaculture goes I really don’t have experience beyond a tank of tropical fish from the pet store. The main concerns of caring for them were keeping the tank clean and the fish healthy. I can only presume that those concerns get larger when you talk about tanks that are in the thousands of gallons. Regular maintenance seems to be key there. Fortunately for me, I practically live in water-world. There’s at least 5 fishable rivers and a multitude of smaller streams as well as a lake with 50 miles of shoreline all within a short drive of my home. Artificial resources like stock tanks would guarantee that I would have something for the grill but I just haven’t made the investment. The economic potential of supplying fresh fish to farmers markets and restaurants might just be worthy of the effort one day and could even be a good cottage industry for someone who’s willing to learn the techniques.

For the rest of us fishing is a form of foraging. It’s a way to connect with nature and enjoy the simple blessing of partaking in God’s creation. We crave the ambiance of the life in wild places and the challenges of the sport side of fishing.

Image Titled “Hang Ups On Muddelty Creek”

It’s easy to lose your situational awareness when you so focused on that perfect casting technique. This power line above one of the more popular fishing holes in my area has a collection of tackle from those who became so lost in the activity that they forgot to look up.

Speaking of those iconic red and white bobers hanging from the cable, I’ve come to believe that in some areas that the fish have learned to avoid them. I’ve tossed them out of my kit in favor of natural cork. Cork is made from tree bark and tree bark is naturally found in the water. The fish are actually attracted to it and don’t associate it with the hook.

In most of the USA game fish like bass, catfish and pearch are regulated and techniques like weirs and spears are strictly prohibited. However, not all fish are considered game fish ( check your local regulations) and can be taken with a bow and arrow.

The tricky part of bow fishing is learning how to aim. Because the water bends the light the fish appear a little higher in the water than they actually are.

Image Titled “Life In Perspective”.

The image here shows the refraction of the light making the fish appear in a place where they are not. Bass and Bluegills are not legal to take with a bow but if it was you’d need to be able to estimate how low to aim.

Once you’ve got the fish out of the water and cleaned there’s as many ways to cook the fish as there are fish in the sea. My favorite way is to simply open the robs and prop it up over a pile of hot coals. A Native American way of cooking fish is to wrap it aromatic leaves and seal it in wild clay from the river bank. The whole package is buried directly in the hot coals and slow roasted. Once it’s done you just crack the clay open and dig in.

I have more to say about fish and fishing but I think I’ll save it for a later date. For now I hope that you have a blessed day!

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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https://youtu.be/FDcrY6w8oY8

Have you checked out the Zazzle Store?

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.

Thank you again for your support of my page!❤