Forage Friday #25 Goldenrod

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Golden Morning In The Mists” and is available for purchase by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Please remember that Forage Friday is only intended to be a conversation starter. I highly recommend that you do further research before trying any wild edible / medicinal plants for the first time.

As the morning mists roll back and allow the mountains to welcome the morning sun my big blue truck rolls to a stop near the defunct strip mine. The goldenrod stands tall in the the thinning fog. This specimen is large. the base of the main stem is about one quarter of an inch thick.

goldenrod is one of those plants that often catches a bad wrap. While its true that some people have an allergy to Goldenrod it’s reputation for causing hay fever is a bit distorted. The truth is that Peterson’s Field guides recommends it for treating hay fever. A lot of folks in Appalachia and in rural America in general say that honey that is made from goldenrod is the best treatment for allergies. I have wondered if it was just the presence of the pollen & nectar in the honey or if the bees somehow enhance the effect during the process of making honey. It’s also said that crushing the flowers and chewing them so that the juice is slowly swallowed can relieve a sore throat. The most common medicinal use is as a diuretic and is indicated for just about anything that increased urine flow might help. The guides also say that Native Americans would use th roots on burns.

The food uses seem to be as a tea. Both leaves and flowers can be used fresh or dried to provide a tea that has a flavor similar to anise. Here’s where we transition into the utilitarian qualities of goldenrod. Anise is not just a flavoring for old time candy. It’s used as fishing lure to enhance bait. I’d miss my guess if golden rod couldn’t be used the same way. And, if you’re a successful fisherman without a match or Bic lighter that Goldenrod stem is there to come to the rescue. The Stem of goldenrod is an almost perfect friction fire tool. I say almost because it’s a bit easy to break. Friction fire in the Eastern Woodlands is a challenge to say the least. I’ve tried several methods and devices such as bow drills and pump drills and I’ve gotten to the point of creating a thin wisp of smoke but I’ve never got the red hot coal that brings flames. However, I’m convinced that the fault was in my technique and the most successful attempts that I have ever had was using the Goldenrod stem as a drill bit.

Image Title “Black And Yellow Locust Borer On Goldenrod” available for purchase by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

On the right side of the page we have a familiar sight. The “W” pattern on the back of the beetle tells me that it’s a Black and Yellow Locust Borer. While they are pretty hard on the locust trees they’re harmless to people. After they emerge from the locust tree they feed of goldenrod. In fact the sweetness of goldenrod is so attractive to insects that you’ll need to make sure that only the leaves & flowers are going into your tea.

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Forage Friday #23 Willow

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “The Builder” and is available for purchase by following the instructions at the bottom of the article. I have chosen the image of a red-winged blackbird as the feature image because he’s using the twigs as nesting material and willow is a builder’s tree.

I have returned to the marsh on Muddelty Creek off and on throughout the season to look for interesting photos and to check up on the red-winged blackbirds that seem to thrive there. When I noticed the amount of willow trees in the area I knew that I would be doing a Forage Friday post featuring willow. But I also wanted to expand the concept of foraging for my readers a bit.

Typically when we speak about willow trees in the foraging realm we are referring to the traditional uses for aspirin. Aspirin was originally madr from the inner bark of black willow. Small twigs were gathered and stripped out. Once the inner bark was free from wood and cork it is steeped in hot water and sipped slowly. (Please remember that I make no claims of being an expert on herbalism or medicine. Forage Friday is only intended to be a conversation starter. ) Back in the old days you couldn’t just run down to the corner store and grab a bottle of pills. In fact most people who lived in Appalachia just getting out of the “holler” was a major feat. Families needed to be able to fabricate the necessities of life.

Aside from pain killer and fever medicines willow was one of those trees that came with a variety of uses.

The small twigs can be baked in a low oxygen environment and converted into charcoal. Those charcoal sticks are still highly prized by artists today. At the time of this writing the top result on Google was selling a canister of 144 willow sticks for over $50.00. However the next supplier was less than $10.00.

Willow was also popular for construction. The long flexible branches were used in a technique called “Wattle and Daub. In the wattle and daub the willow branches are woven through the framework of the sstructure and a mixture of “cob” is uesed as plaster coating for the wall.

Willow is found worldwide and at one time it was actually farmed by a practice known as coppicing. The branches would be cut back every year or so leaving a bare stump. The new shoots that grew from the stumps were straiter and more flexible. The harvested shoots were used for baskets and fish traps. The Welsh used them to make a shield shaped boat called a Coracle. While a Coracle was a flatwater boat it was capable of supporting a tremendous load. Native Americans in Alaska used willow to make kayaks and bows.

In the Spring willow produces a downy seed that is carried on the wind.

Willow is also both a pioneer species and a stabilizing force on streams. The tree grows on the edge of the water and acts as a buffer to slow down flood waters and it’s roots help hold the soil in place. In 2016 my area was hit by what was said to be the worst flooding in 1000 years. I credit the willows and other trees that grow on my property with preventing my yard from being washed out during the flood.

I’m certain that I’ve left a few tidbits out but if you happen to have access to willow trees then you might want to try making a basket or charcoal stick as a small project.

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Forage Friday #22 Virginia Pine

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Virginia Pine 43019”. Tonight’s image was taken specifically for this article. All of the photos found on this blog are my original work and are available as prints by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Somewhere in the echoes of my mind is the voice of Euell Gibbons asking if you have “ever eaten a pine tree?” I was a very small child and the old breakfast cereal commercial produced the mental image of a giant munching down on a tree as if was a celery stick. Euell was a master foraging expert but I was a kid and saw the whole world as one big cartoon. Such is youth.

By the time I truly interested in being able to live off the land I still had that cartoon picture of what would be like to eat a tree. I finally got curious about the concept and began to read up on it. In my reading I came across a story about settlers suffering from scurvy. They looked to the native guides for advice and the scouts would point to the sky. The settlers would pray for healing. After this happened a few times one of scouts finally decided to intervene and brought the settlers pine needles. It was then that the settlers realized that the natives weren’t pointing to the sky but to the pine trees to cure scurvy.

While the story was probably made up ( I’ve forgotten where I read it. ) it does contain an element of truth. Scurvy is caused by the lack of vitamin C and pine needles contain an average of a whopping eight times the amount of vitamin C as an orange. ( ounce per ounce). This much is common knowledge among survivalists and foragers. The young light green needles make the best tea and the older needles have a stronger pine flavor.

Here’s where I have to admit that edible doesn’t always mean tastes awesome. And when you avoid sweetener like I do you might have to adjust your expectations a bit or mix the pine needles with something that will help cover the flavor. The tea is something that I only tried once just to say that I’ve done it. Maybe I messed up with preparation or maybe I just couldn’t get over the idea that it would taste like pine scented cleaning products but I wasn’t really a fan.

The uses below are from Peterson’s Field Guide and after the tea I opted to not bother with them but here they are.

In the feature image you can see young male cones which are considered to be an emergency food when boiled until tender.

The shoots are stripped clean and peeled to make a cooked green.

The inner bark is put through a process of being pounded under water and the resulting pulp is washed and dried into flower.

Aside from the scurvy treatment the resin was used by primitive culture as an antiseptic for minor skin injuries and is a folk treatment for poison ivy rash.

Normally when we talk about foraging we’re talking about food and medicine but sometimes you have a need for something more utilitarian. The resins do make a good glue. The process is to collect the crystallized resin from wounds and melt them under low heat. ( ⚠️too much heat and it can burst into flames!⚠️) once it’s liquid its mixed with charcoal and herbivore dung and sets into a waterproof glue. This is mixture that Native Americans used to seal birch bark canoes.

I have noticed a tendency for people to look at all evergreen trees as a “pine”. Mistakes happen and can be deadly if you mistakenly collect an ornamental yew instead of a white pine. The long twisted needles of Virginia Pine is a pretty good indicator that you’ve got the ID but if you’re not sure consult a good guide book like Peterson’s Field Guide.

On a final note, please remember that my Forage Friday posts are just a starting point for those who are interested in foraging. It’s recommend that you do further research before trying any wild edible plants the first time.

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Forage Friday #21 Water Hemlock

Hello friends!Tonight’s feature image is titled Water Hemlock 7319″. Although this particular image was taken specifically for this article all of the photos are my original work and are available as prints by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

⚠️Water Hemlock is a toxic look-alike of several wild edible plants and can kill you.

I have to admit that I only have a trivial knowledge of Socrates. I know that he wrote several plays and was a philosopher in ancient Greece. I know that he bucked the system and was ultimately executed for political Discord under the guise of religious heresy. And, a I know that his method of execution was the famous hemlock tea.

Throughout my Forage Friday posts I’ve made references to Hemlock. It’sa dangerous look-alike of Yarrow, Parsnip, Angelica, Queen Anne’s Lace and several others. So when I happened to spot Water Hemlock growing in a ditch I felt like it was the perfect opportunity to show the face of why I’m so cautious about certain plants. The active component of the poison is Cicutoxin and the Wikipedia entry says it all. It’s a neurotoxin that shuts down the respiratory system. The description of the effects are brutal and even with the aid of modern medicine the odds of survival are low. Wikipedia also states that it’s used to treat certain types of cancer but is quick to point out that there’s no citation for those entries.

I probably should have included photos of the chambered roots. The hollow tubers contain a yellow liquid that soon turns red when exposed to the air.

Zooming in on the stems (which are also hollow) shows another tell tale sign of purple splotches. Especially where the leaf connects to the stem.

Foraging for food is a rewarding experience and the skills gained not only makes us more independent but also gives us a closer connection to history. However, there are hazards to prepare for and if there’s any doubt about what you’ve found it’s best error on the side of caution and toss it out.

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Forage Friday #20 Joe Pye Weed

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Joe Pye Weed And Butterflies 1” and is available for purchase by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

There was a knock at door of the little cabin. The young father raised his head from his prayer position near his daughter’s bed. His own body ached all over which caused him to move slowly. His calloused hand slid back the wrought iron bolt on the door. His wife was stifling a coughing fit herself as the door creaked open. If not for the long braids and dark complexion he wouldn’t have guessed that tall man in the doorway was the Sachem. The Sachem held up a leather pouch and with a nod of his head acknowledged that it was a gift for the family in their time of need. The young father was concerned about allowing the allowing the medicine man into his home. The church elders had warned people that a heathen out of the wild shouldn’t be trusted but he was desperate. If his daughter’s fever wasn’t broken soon he feared that she wouldn’t survive the typhus. The Sachem spoke very little but went straight to work preparing the medicine. He gave some to the daughter first. Then her mother and finally the father. The yellow liquid was hard to swallow but by the next day the family was on the road to recovery. The Sachem gathered his things and was ready to move on to the next house and family that was suffering from the sickness that was filling the land. He left the leather pouch full of roots on the table for the family to follow up with. As he was opening the door to leave the young father stopped him to thank him for his kindness. The Sachem extended a tattooed hand in acceptance of the gratitude and gave his name as Joe Pye.

The story above of how Joe Pye Weed got it’s name varies a little depending on the source. Some variations say that Joe Pye wasn’t even Native American himself but a Caucasian who simply created the persona of a Sachem for marketing purposes. However, all of versions say that an herbal healer used the plant in tonight’s feature image to stop an outbreak of typhus. A few versions say that the word Jopi was Algonquin for “fever” and therefore the plant was “fever weed” and that the spelling was anglicized into Joe Pye.

However it happened Joe Pye Weed is traditionally considered to be a powerful medicine for a multitude of health issues. Since I’m not a certified expert I won’t be able to give advice beyond saying that it’s an interesting topic and that seeking out further information is probably going to be worth the effort. Some of the topics covered in the reference materials include flu like symptoms, broken bones and urinary tract infections. You should also know that there seems to be multiple varieties and therefore any medical potential could depend on the variety and growth conditions.

I have a multitude of these surrounding my property. The biggest advantage of having it around is the number of butterflies it attracts. The variety in the feature image is Sweet Joe Pye Weed. I presume it’s a little sweeter than the others. The plant is also tall. The ones close to my home are about ten feet tall. This shouldn’t be a surprise because they are members of the Sunflower family.

The last little tid-bit that I have this Friday is that my brother and I would use dead stems as makeshift swords. The brittle flower stalk seldom stood up to smacked together in wild fantasies of fighting a duel. Today I would be concerned about putting an eye out though.

That’s about all I have for Forage Friday this week but I’m curious to hear if you’ve ever used this one yourself. The comments are open to the public.

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Forage Friday #19 Sumac

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled “Staghorn Sumac 61319” and is available for purchase by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Safety Note ⚠️ This article is about Rhus Typhina or Staghorn Sumac which has a toxic look-alike Toxicodendron Vernix. Staghorn Sumac is a member of the Cashew family and to the best of my knowledge it should be avoided by anyone who is allergic to Cashew nuts and probably people who are allergic to nuts in general.

I suppose that my first experience with Staghorn Sumac was due to a sore throat. I’d been told by several people about how awesome a medicinal tea made from the Sumac berries was. I had a fever and didn’t really feel like doing anything at all. However, I mustered up enough strength to ease my truck up to a sumac tree and snap off a few of the berry clusters by reaching out of the window and collecting what was at hand. Once I had a plastic bag full of cluster I put a pot of water on to boil and simmered a single cluster until I felt like it was ready. I had prepared a cup ahead of time by guessing at the right amount of honey to sweeten the concoction. I was smart enough to remember that the little bristles that coat each berry would make me gag and so I filtered the pink liquid multiple times. I was told that the tea had a very pleasant lemon flavor and that it would be like drinking hot lemonade. My first impression was somewhat disappointing to say the least. In fact it was downright awful. The lemon was overpowered by the astringency of the tannic acids in the mix. In those days there was no internet so I began to pour over the books as I poured out my failed attempt. My mouth was so puckered that I was locked into what seemed to be a permanent whistle. After double checking the resources I figured out that I had made two rookie mistakes. I had failed to remove the berries from the stem and I had been way to aggressive with my heat. After correcting those issues the second batch turned out spectacular! While I can’t comment on the effectiveness of the tea as a medicinal tea I can say that hot, pink lemonade was a great description of the flavor. In fact it was good enough to just to enjoy on a cool fall day.

Aside from an awesome tea made from the berries the leaves have an interesting history. We all know that tobacco was an important part of pre-columbian culture in North America but the tobacco plant itself was seldom used alone. It was part of a mix called “Kinnikinnick” which included a variety of leaves including Staghorn Sumac. In the Fall Staghorn Sumac leaves turn a blood red. And that was the only time that they were collected. They were mixed with the tobacco to mellow the flavor of the smoke. But there was something else. The deep red Sumac leaves are said to cause vivid dreams. I have not tried this myself so I can’t really confirm the dreams.

The flowers are actually what is pictured above. Honeybees absolutely love the Sumac flowers! The one pictured is close to my day job and there’s times when I hear the bees from across the parking lot.

I think that the last little tid-bit that I have tonight is that the branches have a very soft pith and is traditionally used to make taps for maple syrup production.

Have you ever tried Sumac? Let me know in the comments. 😊

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Forage Friday #18. Autumn Olive, The Forbidden Fruit

Hello friends! Tonight’s feature image was taken specifically for Forage Friday and has been given the title “Autumn Olive 7319”. All of the photos are my original work and are available for purchase by following the instructions at the bottom of the article.

Autumn Olive was first brought into North America in 1830 as an ornamental plant and in the 1950s when wildlife habitat was a concern Autumn Olive was recommended by the government as a choice plant to fill that need. And for a good reason too. This shrub prefers soil that is low quality and actually helps to revitalize fertility. The berries are favored by game birds like quail. And they spread the seeds.

The fruit is also edible for humans. It’s tart but sweet and used to make jams. I have eaten them raw as a trail snack but in researching for this article I learned that they are used by some people as a tomato substitute. I even noticed that the internet provides an Autumn Olive ketchup recipe. The fruit is known to be rich in lycopene as is tomatoes. I’ll leave the thrill of discovery up to reader. It won’t be hard because those who are Autumn Olive advocates are eager to share knowledge.

I have stated in the title that Autumn Olive was a forbidden fruit. The plant it highly competitive and shortly after recommending it as a good conservation shrub the government jerked away it’s endorsement and denounced Autumn Olive as an invader. I suppose that it’s true. Autumn Olive is very disease and pest resistant as well as a prolific reproducer. Many of native shrubs that compete for its niche are just squeezed out. It’s even illegal to buy or sell in some places. However, if it’s already wild in your area then don’t let it go to waste. And don’t be fooled by the name Autumn Olive. Tonight’s feature image was taken on July 3rd and the berries are already turning red.

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