Newsletter 14 June 2016
NOTE: Hostgator lost six weeks of EatTheWeeds’ website use including the last seven newsletters, all postings, pictures, and memberships. If a restoration process goes as planned this newsletter and all material from June 9th to today will be destroyed but those six weeks and seven newsletters will be back. That is why this newsletter is short. It will probably disappear in a day or so. My teaching schedule is also posted on the EatTheWeeds’ Facebook page. Hopefully by this time next week this Hosgator nightmare will reduced to just a continuing irritation.
This week’s foraging class is in Jacksonville, always an interesting location. We get a chance to see two different kinds of yams, some waterside edibles, and the most toxic plant in North America, Water Hemlock.
Saturday, June 18th, Florida State College, south campus, 11901 Beach Blvd., Jacksonville, 32246. We meet at building “D” next to the administration parking lot. 9 a.m.
Sunday June 26th, John Chestnut County Park: 2200 East Lake Road, Palm Harbor, FL 34685. Meet at the trail head of the Peggy Park Nature Walk, pavilion 1 parking lot. 9 a.m.
For class information, go here.
Maypops are not named for the month of May. Nor are they called “pops” because of the sound they make if you stomp on them. “Maypop” is a “cognate” for a Native American name for the edible plant. In Gainesville recently a lot of them were getting ready to ripen. The odd thing was we could not find any ripe ones. There were plenty of plump green fruit many with sweet and tart seeds and pulp inside. None, however, had ripened to yellow. Another possibility is the denizens of the forest are gobbling up every ripe one they can find. It is after all their grocery store. Taking our lead from them now is the time to be looking for Maypops and learn about their many uses. You can read about them here.
Every August for many years I have hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. What I find amazing, or depressing, is how many people hike the trail with virtually no idea about the food that’s around them.
I am not an expert on “The Trail” per se but I am fascinated when I notice blueberries out of season at the base of a mountain, in season half way up, and still unripe at the top. When you go up in elevation you are also going north. For every 1,000 feet you go up you go roughly 700 miles north in flora and fauna. It is so interesting to find plants just starting their seasonal run on the tops of mountains in the middle of summer. The common weed purslane comes to mind. I often nibble on young branched while hiking. In the Boone, North Carolina area, I could gain weight just eating wild apples on the trail.
Admittedly the northern end of The Trail in Maine in July and August is not quite as productive as productive the Carolinas but there is plenty of food there if you have the knowledge. One reason to study wild plants is to simply own the information inside your head (rather then renting it in your hand.) You don’t have to use it but knowing it is part of being prepared and it doesn’t take up much cerebral space. More to the point you never know when you might need it.
Geraldine Largay, 66, from Brentwood, Tennessee, left the trail in late July, 2013, in Maine, which is literally the best time of the year and the best weather. Mrs. Largay, who had to go to the bathroom, was known for having a bad sense of direction. She got lost but still had all of her hiking equipment. She also could not get a cell phone signal. She survived for 26 days until late August but died of starvation and exposure. Her body was found in her sleeping bag in her tent about four miles from the trail. Did she know about edible plants? Not that we know of. Did she have a fishing line and hooks in her pack? I have those in my pocket every time I am on The Trail, and several different ways to make fire. Mrs. Largay kept a journal during her demise. She thought she was a few miles from the trail but a massive hunt failed to find her. Not only that but consider how many people hiked past her during that month.
This tragedy highlights two things: First, know how to hike and handle emergencies. But the other is that the vast majority of people who hike the trail and consider themselves back-to-nature wilderness lovers know nearly nothing about the trail or the food it can provide. No one should starve in the summer in the wilderness full of plants and crossed by waterways full of fish. If I died under such circumstances I would be embarrassed to admit it… so to speak. There are dangers in hiking but they can be managed. And as in past years I am hoping to spend two weeks or more hiking the trail again this summer which reminds me. If anyone knows or can recommend a small rental in the Boone area in August please let me know as my usual place to stay is not available this year. I’ve gotten in the habit of enjoying that cool area of the mountains during the hot Florida August. You can email me through the site or visit the EattheWeeds on Facebook.
When is a salad not a salad? When it’s poke sallet. Though they sound the same (both pronounced “salad” and spelling can vary) the one in English means raw greens. The other in French means cooked greens. Unfortunately a popular song in 1968 spelled it the wrong way on the record label and people have been getting sick ever since. (In fairness in the song the lyrics say Annie cooked the greens. She was so poor that was all she had to eat.) Pokeweed has to be cooked, preferably boiled at least twice in two changes of water. In fact I got a message this week from a writer who thought poke sallet meant salad and got ill from eating a salad of raw poke leaves. Don’t do it.
This brings up another aspect of pokeweed. People ask me if boiling it twice reduces the nutrition. The answer is hardly at all. The only vitamin pokeweed has is vitamin A. That is a fat soluble vitamin. Boiling it doesn’t have much effect on the vitamin A content. Also, boiling the poke weed carries away the toxins and makes the magnesium in the green chlorophyl more available. Cook your poke! To read more about pokeweed, go here.