Wild Ginger (Hexastylis arifolia) - January 29, 2019
Birthwort Family – Aristolochiaceae
Growing close to the ground with leaves that are evergreen, wild ginger is easy to spot during the winter months in mature, hardwood forests. The heart-shaped leaves are pale, whitish-green with dark green veins and margins. At the base of the plant, the flower bud is forming that will open early in the spring into a small, maroon to brown cup-shaped flower with three petals, coming together at the base. The flowers are often described as resembling little brown jugs, another common name. To see the flowers, lift the leaves carefully from around the plant. Because the flowers are on the ground, they rely on ants or beetles to pollinate them.
The plants spread underground by horizontal stems just beneath the surface, and are fairly easy to dig. Use kitchen scissors to snip off small sections of the root and then replant. This way it continues to spread and you haven’t hurt the plant.
Leaves and roots have an aromatic smell similar to sassafras due to the safrole contained in them. An extract from the leaves and roots has been used as a flavoring. The roots can be made into a syrup. Traditionally, root and leaf infusions were used to treat heart and lung conditions (Plant Database, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center).
Wild ginger is in the Birthwort family (Aristolochiaceae) and has been associated with childbirth by mountain women who used the root during pregnancy to ease the aches and pains (Martin, 1984). It has also been used medicinally to treat coughs, asthma and other ailments and by women during childbirth to ease the aches and pains. The Menominee and Chippewa would eat the roots or boil them to make a tea to help digestion (Moerman, 1981). The tea was also used to treat coughs, colds, sore throats, promote sweating and as an expectorant (Foster and Duke, 2000). The Catawbas used Hexastylis arifolia for heart pains (Vogel, 1970). The Canadian Indians drank an infusion of Asarum canadense for heart palpitations (Weiner, 1972). Edgar Cayce recommended ginger for intestinal disorders, poor digestion and lymph circulation, often in a formula with other herbs, including wild ginseng (The Cayce Herbal, Meridian Institute).
Wild Ginger Syrup
3 oz. (90g) wild ginger roots, chopped
1/4 c. sugar
3/4 cup water
Combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add chopped ginger roots and reduce heat Simmer 20-30 minutes.
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Passionvine (Passiflora incarnata) - November, 2018
The last of the fall fruits have been ripening and are ready
to pick. They are a common sight at the edges of forests, especially on the
southern side where sunlight is plentiful, in late summer and into the fall. The
vines have been growing all summer, producing large, colorful flowers followed
by the green fruit, which looks like a small watermelon. When the fruits get
soft and start turning yellow and wrinkly, they are ready to pick. If you
squeeze them, they may pop – hence the common name, Maypop.
Passionflower is a
native herbaceous vine that is common in the southern states. It is a fast
growing plant that climbs over fences, trees, shrubs or anything that will
support it. It has large, deeply lobed leaves with tendrils in the leaf axils.
The large, whitish-purple flowers are the most distinctive characteristic and
appear during the summer months. A fringe of thread-like filaments grows out
from the base of the petals and rests on them. Following the flowers are the
fruits that are initially green and then turn yellow as they ripen.
Parts Used and Preparation
aerial parts – leaves, stems, flowers; leaves, stems, and
flowers, fresh or dried, can be used as a tea or tincture
fruits, fresh – eaten raw, including the seeds, or juiced
Traditionally, the leaves, stems,
and flowers of passionvine have been used as a sedative and nervine to treat
nervous tension, anxiety and insomnia (Duke, 1997). It is currently used to
treat symptoms associated with stress, including sleeplessness, GI disturbance
caused by stress, anxiety disorder, and to reduce menopausal anxiety (Kuhn and
The fruits are nutritive and can be eaten raw when ripe or made
into juice. They, have a sweet and sour taste, almost like a sweet grapefruit.
The sedative activity may be attributed to flavonoids that have
anxiolytic actions that relieve anxiety. Alkaloids, including harmine, may help
in decreasing depression (Skidmore-Roth, 2010).
Flowers are a
nectar source for numerous pollinators while the plant is the host plant for the
fritillary butterfly. Fruits are eaten, by raccoons, deer, and other mammals.
Duke, J. (1997). The Green pharmacy. Rodale Press: Emmaus, PA.
Kuhn and Winston. (2008). Herbal therapy & supplements: A scientific and
traditional approach. Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins:
Skidmore- Roth, L. (2010). Herbs and natural supplements (4 th
Ed.). Mosby Elsevier: St. Louis, MO. erol.
Nut Pickin’ - October, 2018
The cooler autumn air brings with it a change in leaf color accompanied by nuts maturing and dropping to the ground. Most nuts are sweet, high in protein, and can be used as a substitute for meat in the diet. They are also rich in unsat- urated fats that give them a high caloric value but no cholesterol.
True nuts are characterized by a single seed, a hard shell, and a protective husk that can take different shapes. Common nuts in the eastern U.S. include hazelnuts, beechnuts, walnuts, hickory, and chestnuts. Hazelnuts have a leafy outer husk while chestnuts have needle-sharp spines surrounding the shell.
Acorns have a cap and a beechnut has a triangular husk with weak spines. The
outer husk of a black walnut looks like a smooth, green ball whereas the hickory nut is ribbed. The ribs split open when the hickory nut matures to release the shell. Walnuts drop to the ground with the outer husk intact.
Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra)
Nuts have been referred to as “brain food” due to their serotonin content. According to Jim Duke, the black walnut, which looks like a brain, is the best source of serotonin. This is befitting of the “Doctrine of Signatures” which is based on “like cures like” and that the shape or color of a plant indicates its use. In this case, the brain-shaped nut is the best source of brain food.
Black walnuts are found in the eastern half of the United States except for the northern border. They are large trees with compound leaves consisting of 7-19 toothed leaflets that turn yellow in autumn. The fruit is a thick-shelled nut with ridges enclosed in a green husk that does not split open at maturity.
Walnuts begin dropping to the ground in mid-September and should be gathered soon after falling. If they remain on the ground for more than a few days, they become infested with maggots and turn black. The green outer hull can be tinctured and used to treat parasites and ringworm.
Removing the husk without getting stained can be tricky. Wearing gloves is a must unless you don’t mind sporting around hands stained yellow-brown for several weeks. This stain can be used as a dye or to stain wood.
The easiest way to remove the husks is to place the walnuts in the driveway and run over them in your car. Break away the hulls and rinse the nuts in a bucket of water, removing any that float. Spread in a single layer on mats to dry. Once dry, they can be stored in a cool, dry place until needed.
The shells of black walnuts are thick and hard with deep ridges. The best way to remove the nutmeat is with a hammer or a hard rock and a concrete block. Position the walnut on its side and give it a good firm whack. You may have to practice a bit to develop the right technique for removing the nutmeat in large pieces.
A pound of walnuts will yield about a cup of shelled nutmeats. Place the nutmeats in a food chopper or blender for use in cookies or cakes. Due to their high caloric value and the strong flavor, they should be used in small quantities.
USDA Forest Service. Retrieved from https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethnobotany/food/nuts.shtml.
Nut-Berry Oatmeal Cookies
1/2 cup butter
1 cup flour
1 cup organic cane sugar
2 cups rolled oats
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup wild blueberries
Cream together butter and cane sugar until fluffy. Stir in vanilla and add eggs, beating after adding.
Add flour, stir in oats, nuts, and blueberries.
Drop by teaspoonfuls on greased baking sheet and bake at 350 for 10- 15 minutes.
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Sumac - September, 2018
Sumac – Rhus copallinum, R. glabra, R. typhina
Sumac Family – Anacardiaceae
Description and Habitat:
Sumac is a deciduous shrub that grows on the sides of
roads, interstates, fields, anyplace where there is an
opening of light or disturbed soil. It sends out
horizontal underground stems that sprout and form
colonies. Although it is a native, it can sometimes be
invasive, especially in a yard or garden.
Sumacs can be
divided into two groups: poison sumac and non-poison
sumac. The poison sumac (Toxidendron vernix) has white
berries that hang in loose clusters while the non-poison
sumac (Rhus spp.) has red, tightly clustered berries.
The poison sumac, which fortunately is a lot less common
than the others, can cause a contact dermatitis
reaction, similar to poison ivy, in some people. Large,
compound leaves that turn flaming red in the fall, are
characteristic of both groups.
All species that bear red fruits can be used to make a tart, lemonade-like beverage. Fruits are covered
with bright red hairs that are tart with malic acid. They also contain ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
and tannic acid. They can be dried and ground into a reddish powder by placing them in a blender or
coffee grinder. Strain out the seed and keep the powder. The dried berries are a traditional Middle
Eastern seasoning used primarily on chicken and fish. The powder can also be used to add a tart flavor
to any recipe.
The secret to a good tasting sumac drink, or sumac ade as some call it, is in the fruit. Quality
fruits produce quality results. With sumac, it’s watching for the right moment, when the fruits turn
glowing, bright red, ideally, before a rain. After a few days, they will lose that glow and start dulling
in color. Breaking open a cluster will reveal hundreds of tiny insect eggs around the stems, maybe
even a few caterpillars. It’s best to get the fruits before they reach this stage. When ripe, the end
branches snap off easily.
Sumac ade can be made by infusing the berries in either hot or cold water. A cold water infusion has a fruitier taste but has
to steep for a longer period of time. It has a lemonade-like flavor and is a refreshing drink to have on a hot, summer afternoon.
The juice can also be used to make jelly, pies or as a substitute for lemon juice.
Sumac was known and used by the American Indians before the settlers arrived. Roots, bark, leaves and berries were all used by
various tribes for a multitude of purposes. Berries were soaked in water to make a beverage, and the dried berries were ground
into flour for a mush or to add to soup. Among the Delaware, sumac was mixed with tobacco and smoked. The Iroquois peeled
the young shoots and ate them raw. Among the Potawatomi, the leaves were steeped to make a tea that was used as a gargle for
sore throats. Berries were also used by other tribes to make a tea for sore throats and colds (Erichsen-Brown, 1979).
Sumac is also a source for dyes. Black, brown, green and yellow can be obtained from the
roots, leaves, bark and berries. Ink was made from the bark and berries.
The fruits of sumac remain on the plants well into the winter, offering a source of food for
wildlife when other foods are scarce. Several gamebirds rely on sumac as a winter food source
as do some of the songbirds which winter in the north. Dense thickets provide cover for small
mammals, deer, and birds. Deer and rabbits browse on the bark and twigs.
Erichsen-Brown, C. (1979). Medicinal and other uses of North American plants. New York,
NY: Dover Publications, Inc.
Foster, S. and Duke, J. A. (2000). Medicinal plants and herbs of eastern and central North
America. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Co.
Martin, A.m Zim, H. S., Nelson, A. L. (1951). American wildlife and plants: A guide to wildlife
food habits. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.
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