Perhaps only Californians and Texans can appreciate the issues of living in a state more than 400 miles long. The changes in climate and plant life can be significant. Florida goes from temperate to tropical. Mid-state and north this time of year Wax Myrtles are berry-less. Go south two or three hundred miles and you have a tree happily fruiting like the one above in Port Charlotte.
Wax myrtle berries are hard, bitter and waxy. Despite that they do have a couple of uses. One is as a spice. They can be dried, put in a pepper mill, and used on strong-flavored meats such as game. The berries’ wax can also be used to make a smokeless candle that keeps away insects, the original Bayberry Candle. Harvesting the wax however is a messy chore and I suspect only done out of necessity which means only when the insects were really bad did you try to make the candle. I’ve also heard of people making wine out of the berries but I suspect that was desperate prisoners. The shrub’s leaves are also useful. To read more about the Wax Myrtle go here.
Locally the tallish yellow bloom you see roadside this time of year will probably be Wild Radish or Wild Mustard. You will usually find one or the other, not both in the same patch though they can hybridized. Mid-state I see a lot of Wild Radish, along the west coast and southern part of the state it is usually Wild Mustard but those locations are not exclusionary. They are used the same way, resemble each other well, and have the same season. But there are several small differences including growth pattern, blossom placement, veins on blossom petals and position of seeds in their tooth-pick like pods. Each of the articles highlighted above mentions the ways to tell them apart.
Another plant with a yellow blossom starting to be seen again this year is the Hairy Cowpea. Related to Mung Beans and the Black-eye Pea, the Hairy Cowpea is unusual in that it likes to be near water. It doesn’t grow in water but it is rare to find it more than 100 feet or so way from water. Perhaps it likes a certain level or humidity. While the peas are edible cooked they are not great. However, the yellow blossom is edible raw or cooked and tastes like raw peas or green beans. To read more about the Hairy Cowpea go here.
In nearly every class and daily on line I am asked if I can identify a plant if a picture is sent to me. I say I will try and also suggest the sender join the Green Deane Forum. There’s a UFO page there, Unidentified Flowering Objects. On the forum we chat about foraging — and other topics — every day along with techniques to harvest and use the bounty you have found. And it’s not just about Florida or the southeast. There are members from all around North America and the world. The link to join is on this page just to the right of this article. You do have to pick a screen name and the forum let members private message each other. There are only three rules: Keep it civil, keep it clean, and try to avoid mentioning Wikipedia (which Green Deane has a significant dislike for.) Recent topics include Wild Possum Grape Jelly, Young People Want Healthier Food, Leather Root? Horsemint, Blueberries in January? UFO Weed, Darryl Patton Herbalist, Duckweed, Shaggy Mushy, Mystery Tree, Gnarly Mushroom, Brain Tan, and Linguist Overdrive.
We’re a little less than two weeks away from the Florida Earthskills gathering in Hawthorn Florida, Feb 5-8. It’s an opportunity to learn, share and experience sustainable living skills. I have taught there for the last two years and will be there again this year, teaching on Friday morning and Saturday morning. That’s intentional so I can attend two mushroom classes in the afternoon. There are virtually dozens of classes to sign up. Other classes include wild medicine, wild foods, didgeridoo making and playing, buckskin sewing, fire making, yoga, insect study, cabbage palm basketry, bow making, bird songs, atlati throwing, permaculture, mushrooms and a whole lot more, several somethings for everyone. To learn more about this Florida Earthskills gathering and sign up go here.
Later in February is the Florida Herbal Conference, Feb 27 to March 1st, I’ve taught edible plants there for the last three years and will be there again this year with three classes. I wake folks up with a 7 a.m. class on Saturday and Sunday and a second class on Saturday a 9 a.m. The conference is a must for all southern herbalists and well as those northern ones who want to escape the cold and study their craft in the dead of winter. It always has interesting speakers and great classes. While there is some cross over between Earthskills and Herbalism the conferences are sufficiently different to justify attending both. For more information and to register go here.
Foraging Classes: Most of the next six weeks I am attending conferences and the like so my class schedule between now and March will be light. Sunday, February 8th, Boulware Springs Park, 3420 SE 15th St., Gainesville, FL 32641. 9 a.m. Meet at the picnic tables next to the pump house. Bring tick spray. Sunday, February 22nd, Mead Garden: 1500 S. Denning Dr., Winter Park, FL 32789. 9 a.m. Meet to the right (east) of the Bartram sign. For more information or to sign up for a class go here.
I’m past retirement age. I’m also past the point of being tired of being told how green we are today and how ungreen we were in the past. Oh? When I was a kid:
We didn’t all drive en mass to the store to buy milk. Milk was delivered, by one man in a milk truck. And milk came in reusable, recyclable bottles that you could also use for other things. Baked goods were delivered the same way. And vacuum cleaners! How ungreen of us.
Our neighbor, who raised seven kids, washed cloth diapers because there weren’t disposables then. I wonder why no one champions recycling disposable diapers? We just toss them in land fills, vertical septic systems. And those cloth diapers were dried on a clothes line, an artifact found only in museums and my backyard. We did not use a 220 volt soon-to-wear out machine to dry clothes or start house fires. And kids got hand-me-down clothes, not the latest designed-for-them fashion seasonally. I got new clothes once a year, ordered out of a catalog for school. Rummage sales were community recycling. How ungreen of us.
We didn’t get a TV until I was nine, a small black and white set we put on the window sill. It got three channels if the weather was good and you held the antenna just right. A PSB channel would not be added for a decade. Programming was wholesome and no censoring was needed for kids or grandma. We actually watched it as a family. One TV, not one in every room. It did not have a digital color screen twice the size of the window. How ungreen of us.
In the kitchen stuff was mixed, blended, chopped and beaten into submission by hand. No blenders, no food processors, no mixers. How many folks are willing to blend their environmentally healthy nutritious smoothies by hand? What’s the collective carbon footprint of all those blender macerating food from halfway around the world? We prepared our food by hand rather than buying it prepared. We never bought vegetables in a package, or hardly anything else. We put up food in reusable glass containers. It was called canning, a verb I don’t hear too often these days. Nearly everyone cooked their own food, at at home and ate together. Today most people do not cook, do not eat at home and do not eat together. We also packaged fragile items for mailing with old newspaper not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. We didn’t own plastic or paper cups or “sporks.” Anything beyond use that could burn was put in the kitchen stove, broken chairs to chicken bones. It cooked our food and warmed the house. How ungreen of us.
The only stuff we threw away was stuff that would grow fungus and smell. And before that happened it was put outside for the animals. Dead motors were kept for parts, old appliances were cannibalized for cords and wire. All manner of things were taken apart and the nuts and bolts saved. We actually took down a three-car garage and used the boards and timber to build our barn. We pulled nails out of boards, pounded them straight, and reused them at a time when nails were a couple of dollars for a 50-pound keg. My mother made rugs out of rags and had a huge button box filled with buttons off every piece of clothing destined to be a rug. How ungreen of us.
Pens and cigarette lighters were refilled. We put new blades in razors, put tape on the old blades and used them around the house. The whole razor was not thrown away just because the blade was too dull to shave with. I still own and use two straight razors. Typewriter ribbons were re-inked, and typewriter technology barely changed every half century rather than computer seasonally. How ungreen of us.
We walked up stairs because stores did not have elevators or escalators. We mowed the lawn by hand with a push mower. We bought local because it was what we had. Every home had a summer garden and us kids collected return bottles for pocket change. We rolled pennies by hand. Now a machine charges you 8% to do that. I walked or rode my bike several miles to school even the in winter, and shoveled the driveway by hand. We played board game with real humans during those long winters rather than buying a new game when we got bored. How ungreen of us.
And we didn’t get a phone until I was 20 and in the Army. Overseas I got to call home once a year. Once. We wrote letters, now a dead art. Not every one had a cell phone or a personal computer in every pocket. We were not throwing away billions of hand-held personal devices annually. How ungreen of us.
And we didn’t need two or more devices bouncing and triangulating signals over thousands of miles to find the nearest pizza place. We used our nose. How ungreen of us.