foraging, The Great Outdoors

More Spring Foraging Fun: Dandelion, Violet and Skunk Cabbage

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Dandelions

There are a ton of things that can be done with this common “weed”. You can use all parts of this plant. Blossoms, leaves, roots.

I’ve blogged about my experiences with roasted dandelion root tea. And as I’ve been expanding my garden this year, I’ve saved all the roots I’ve found for tea making.

I’ve also added some greens to my salads. They are best (I feel) when they are very tiny. Otherwise they are a bit too bitter for my liking.

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This time of year, I’m concentrating more on the blossoms. A few days ago I (with help) picked a ton of flowers. Why so many, you ask?

Here’s a few reasons:

  1. Dandelion wine
  2. Dandelion salve
  3. Dandelion bath blend
  4. Baked goods with dandelion
  5. Dandelion jelly

I (again, with help!) picked the petals from enough flowers to get 3 quarts needed for wine-making. Then I filled up my dehydrator and dried as much of the rest as I could. (5 hours @ 135ºF.)

I picked the petals from those flowers and stored them away for later use in salve and bath blends.

 

Violets

Aside from their obvious beauty, here’s another reason, nutrition-wise, why violets are so awesome….

According to Euell Gibbons in his book Stalking the Healthful Herbs, just one half-cup of violet blossoms have as much vitamin C as 4 oranges!

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I haven’t done a lot with violets thus far aside from eat them in salads. But I would like to try to make a violet syrup, as well as dry some for bath blends and tea.

 

Skunk Cabbage

For the record, I did not eat any. Just want to get that out there haha.

Story time. There is a creek bed not far from my home that has these absolutely gigantic plants that fill the area, beginning in early spring.

I have been dying to know what they were. I knew they looked like cabbage. I asked everybody. I asked google. I asked my grandma. Could not find out…what it was.

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And then I read a very entertaining chapter (again from Stalking the Healthful Herbs, by Euell Gibbons) all about skunk cabbage.

I smelled a fresh cut leaf. It did have a bit of an odor, but not as intense as I thought. It did smell a bit like actual cabbage and a bit skunky. My husband agreed with the verdict.

How about you? Have you seen any interesting looking plants about?

Happy Spring everyone!

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Natural Living, Nature, The Great Outdoors

What’s That Plant? (Symphyotrichum pilosum or Aster pilosus)

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“They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere

When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here…

But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze

Of a crisp and sunny morning of the early autumn days”

-From When the Frost is on the Punkin, by James Whitcomb Riley.

The beautiful month of October is here. In my corner of the globe in the Midwestern US, this means that fall is in full swing.

It is a time of harvest. Of slowing down. Of bidding summer goodbye. Of bonfires and cozy sweaters. Crunchy leaves.

In my mind, I see the green landscape slowly fading from green to autumn hues. Some plants, like my basil, are fading fast as the days and nights grow cool.

And others, like a plant I’ve recently learned about, are still in their prime.

It is a goal of mine to learn more about plant life. I want to know the names of everything. What they look like, where they are found, if they are edible. I want to learn as much as possible about the green world around me.

And so I wanted to share a plant I found that has a few interesting qualities.

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Name

This is frost aster. It’s Latin name is Symphyotrichum pilosum or Aster pilosus. Why 2 names?

Well, Urban Ecology Center explains that:

“As if to keep things fun and interesting botanists have decided to split up the genus Aster and there is now another genus, Symphyotricum. Consequently a newer name for A. pilosus is Symphyotricum pilosum.”

Appearance

Frost aster has alternate, smooth edged leaves that are long, thin and pointed.

It has composite flowers, with yellow disk florets (center) that change to redish-purple or redish-brown and 15-35 white ray florets that surround the disk florets.

This plant is quite tall, at least 4′ before the stems began to lean over. This is a bit taller than what most sources say this plant’s height range is but it’s likely so tall because it is a more mature plant.

Edible?

As far as I can see the answer is no. However, according to sources listed on Common Sense Homesteading, in the past the heath aster (not frost aster, see below) was used by Native Americans in teas, lotions and to “create a herbal steam” in a sweat lodge. Kinda like a herbal sauna. Sounds cool. Always secretly wanted to try the whole sweat lodge experience.

Unique Qualities

Two facts of interest:

  1. Frost aster is aptly named because it continues to bloom into the frosty days and weeks of autumn long after other plants and flowers are spent.
  2. For this reason, many insects rely on this plant for nourishment. I saw quite a few honeybees and bumblebees browsing busily amongst the flowers.

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Same plant, different location.

 

Also Frost Aster?

I found another plant that seemed to be similar to the frost aster. But it was much smaller and looked a bit different.

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I did a bit of research and narrowed it down to 2 kinds of aster.

Was it

Symphyotrichum lateriflorum (also called Aster lateriflorus) or calico aster?

or

Symphyotrichum ericoides, (also called Aster ericoides) or heath aster?

I decided it was heath aster because it had:

  • very short, narrow leaves
  • a bushy appearance, very short. It reminded me of rosemary somewhat.
  • no colorful flowers like described for the calico aster.

 

I enjoyed learning more about this unique plant. Isn’t it amazing how much variety and beauty there is in the world?

~Rachel

All photos are my own.