"In wildness is the preservation of the world." -H.D. Thoreau

Why eat from the wild? The answer is obvious to anyone who has felt the emotional uplift from the weight of a basket brimming with morel mushrooms, the earthy-sweet scent of digging Sassafras roots, or the heavy pulsing of a fish testing the limits of your fly rod.
There are a million reasons to eat wild, to get dirty, to taste fresh food. It is here where we connect to the Earth, our Ancestral past, immediate present and hope for a healthy future...

"Nothing else can build such awareness as surely and powerfully as practicing the ancient ecological art of humankind - foraging. It is not observation of, but rather participation in the phenomena of Nature that brings us to our greatest understanding of our place in the mosaic of life."
-Samuel Thayer The Forager's Harvest

Foraging in the Tip of the Mitten!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Full Moon Feasts: The Flower Moon

April 21st - May 20th 2012

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canidensis)
Foraging has always been something more than just gathering food. It is a complete immersion into the ebb and flow of the seasons. Just being out there and being open and receptive to the moods of the landscape can we learn so much about our place in the world. And few moments in nature are as dramatic as Springtime. The first flush of wildflowers can fill us with so much hope for warmth and growth - both personal growth and the lush vegetation of summer - and indigenous festivals the world over echo this sentiment. In the Atlantic Isles my ancestors would extinguish all hearth fires in a final farewell to winter and kindle a ceremonial "need-fire" on May Day to welcome the new season. In other Northern European villages "Winter," which was portrayed by a man on horseback dressed in furs and twigs, would be chased out of town by "Summer," a man dressed in lush vegetation and garlanded with wildflowers. Then villagers would go around town singing songs and collecting gifts of eggs and bacon from cottagers, all the while collecting wildflowers for their homes. These festivals served not only to preserve community resilience but they were believed to physically aid the triumph of the coming season of life over the season of death.

"The sight of the fresh green in brake and thicket, of vernal flowers blowing 
on mossy banks, of swallows arriving from the south, and of the sun mounting daily higher
in the sky, would be welcomed by them as so many visible signs that their enchantments
were indeed taking effect..."
                                                                                  -J.G. Frazer The Golden Bough

For this Moon, known to many cultures as the Flower Moon, we are going to introduce our readers to just a few of the wildflowers that share our foraging grounds. Sure we may know their names, but what is so intriguing about these delicate gems that speckle the spring forest with color? Its time to stop and smell the wildflowers...

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)
Known by many folk-names such as Adder's Tongue, Dogtooth Violet and Fawn Lily, I prefer the name Trout Lily because of my love of Brook Trout and I always think of the approaching trout season when I see it's speckled leaves unfurl. Although it appears fragile, the Trout Lily establishes very dense and hearty colonies spreading itself underground over the years. Groves of this, one of our most stable wild plants, are known to exist for more than a century and perhaps much longer. They hold in the soil of the forest and aid in preventing erosion. Queen bumblebees are dependent on the Trout Lily as they emerge in early spring, feeding the first growth of worker bees with the nectar and the pollen.
         "The bumblebee larvae fed on trout lily pollen during the spring mature to pollinate clover, alfalfa and other early crops... The trout lilies form an early but essential link in a chain of different flowers, separated in time, that use the same pollinator."
                                                                -Peter Bernhardt
                                      Wily Violets and Underground Orchids: Revelations of a Botanist
Trillium erectum
 Almost everyone is familiar with Trillium which is also called Wake-Robin because of its association with the return of the migrating Robins. They take several years before they flower and the seeds are aided by help from their ant friends. In a fascinating relationship known as "myrmecochory," or ant-farming, the ants carry the seeds underground to suitable soil. In turn the ants get to eat a small tasty protuberance and leave the seed to grow into a new Trillium flower.

A white-faced maid, Wake Robin,
In a tiny, three-leaved hood,
Knows many of earth's secrets
While nodding in the wood.
-Ray Laurance

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)
This flower bears one of my favorite colloquial names: Fairy Spud, alluding to its tiny-but-edible underground corm. If you find enough growing in a spot, go ahead and dig up some tubers. They are small and it takes some serious time to gather enough, but many believe its worth it, especially bears. They can be eaten raw or cooked and have a starchy flavor similar to potatoes but more nutty tasting. How such a small and seemingly delicate flower survives these harsh frosts and punishing winds is beyond me. But it's pretty inspiring...

Hepatica nobilis

Hepatica, also called Liverwort or (my favorite) Squirrel Cup, is possibly our earliest bloomer. Bearing flowers that are anywhere from white to blue to purple, the buds and leaves are fuzzy - a protection against the last harsh surges of winter. In the 19th century the plant was used for many ailments, from jaundice to inflammations, liver problems to lung afflictions. It was so popular to "snake-oil salesmen" who were making syrup with it, that over 450,000 pounds were collected in a 50 year period. A lot of claims were made of Hepatica, including some Appalachian Lore that states a girl can sprinkle dried flowers over a suitors clothing to make him fall in love.

by John Burroughs

When April's in her genial mood,
And leafy smells are in the wood,
In sunny nook, by bank or brook,
Behold this lovely sisterhood.

A spirit sleeping in the mold,
And tucked about by leafage old,
Opens an eye blue as the sky,
And trusting takes the sun or cold.

Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
 Dutchman's Breeches are unique indeed. Few insects can pollinate it and certain species of bees are adapted perfectly to do so. According to Jack Sanders' book The Secrets of Wildflowers, Victorian people considered the name an abomination. To think that a wildflower is named after something that covers the nether regions, our unmentionables, is gratuitously inappropriate and downright perverted. Times have changed and the Britches won out. I like the nature writer Mabel Osgood Wright's description of "flower-sprays of two-pointed white and yellow bloom that might be pairs of elfin trousers hung out to bleach."

Flowers are a major part of human culture. They have been cultivated for thousands of years because of their beauty alone. As kids we all loved to pick flowers for mom to set on the dinner table and would watch their brilliancy slowly fade in a jelly jar of water. Some are eaten, some are even loathed, while others are used specifically for courtship. Fortunes are told on their petals and wishes made on blowing seed heads. The Flower Moon is a moon of hope, and right now I'm hoping that the fish will start running! Out to the streams I go...

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