Amongst Turpentine Pines the 2015 annual Florida Herbal Conference made educational history. Well over 500 students — a sold out attendance with a waiting list — studied a wide variety of topics from some two dozen teachers. The weather cooperated reasonably being neither too cold nor too wet. Last year it was chilly, more on that in a moment. Every year the conference had grown in attendance and variety and this year was no exceptions with dozens of topics for the herbalism student to choose from. As in previous years I led three early-morning plant walks. Some seasonal difference were interesting.
Last year at the same location the Western Tansy Mustard was sparse. The conference was a few days earlier and it was a little colder then. This year the Western Tansy Mustard was in profusion. Last year there was plenty of Pellitory, this year it was limited. I don’t recall many Smilax tips last year but this year they were easy to find. Also last year the tart Heartleaf Sorrel was few and far, this year many were at the peak of harvesting. Rain had brought out many mushrooms. There was also well-developed stinging nettles nearby — the best I’ve seen locally — and late-season henbit was a hit. It goes to show a few days, a few degrees either way, and a bit of rain can make a big difference in plant appearance and numbers.
We also learned that next year one of the world’s leading experts in mushrooms, if not the leading expert in that particular field, will be the guest speaker, Paul Stamets. That will firmly put the Florida Herbal Conference on the attendance map of conferences not to miss, not only in the south and United States but the world. The conference will sell-out quickly. It would be difficult to find anyone more involved than Stamets in exploring the use of fungi from medicine to food to industry, definitely cutting edge. The point is put the conference on your calendar for next year, plan to attend, and sign up as soon as possible. I enjoy the conferences because even though I am teaching there I always learn several somethings interesting and useful.
About the Turpentine Pines…. At the camp ground there are many pines that were tapped for pitch to make turpentine. Most of this was done before WWII. It’s not unusual in Florida to find an old-style turpentine pine now and then but there are many at the camp. Usually Slash Pine, Pinus elliotti, you can identify pines used for turpentine by a long vertical breach in the bark starting near ground level. That’s where buckets were fixed to collect pine pitch. The tree tries to heal the wound with pitch thus on most of the trees you can also see dead wood. This is one reason why that method of collecting pitch was discontinued for less invasive techniques… is this a good time to mention that during the Depression and Prohibition pine pitch was used to flavor gin because customary botanicals were either too expensive or unavailable? Go to the conference next year and see the Turpentine Pines in person.
Anyone who has owned a mulberry tree knows they have a heavy fruiting season. The soft mast can be hard to keep up with for a week or two but you end up with pounds of delicious fruit. If that mulberry happens to overhang a driveway or sidewalk that passageway will be temporarily purple from that fallen fruit, depending on the species. Seasonal rains usually take care of such stains. Mulberries were welcomed in the southwest United States particularly right after WWII because they are well-adapted to the arid environment and expanding cities needed landscaping. But the fruit stain did not wash off well in dry areas. What to do? Don’t worry: Government came to the rescue. Local governments banned low-pollinating fruiting mulberries in favor of non-fruiting ones such as the varieties used to feed silk worms. Those, however, are heavily pollinators, far more so than the fruiting varieties. The result of that was a dramatic increase in allergens in the southwest. What to do? Don’t worry: Government came to the rescue again:
They banned all mulberries outright, fruiting and pollinating. The solution to the non-problem — left over mulberries — lead to the problem of allergies leading to bans of all trees in many cities such as El Paso, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Tucson, Las Cruces and Alburquerque. It’s difficult to think a government finds banning food a solution. That’s a complex and expensive non-solution to a pseudo-problem that could have been solved by simpler means …. eating the weeds, or in this case the fruit. This is also an excellent example why government should be as small and powerless as possible. What next? Ban peanuts? Don’t laugh because there’s more to the story.
In the southwest three species get the brunt of the blame for allergies, Mulberries, Olives and Bermuda Grass. The latter is impossible to get rid of. Mulberries live a few decades so their numbers can decrease. Olive trees can live 500 years or more. But it is rare for someone with allergies to be allergic to only three things. The menu that makes people sniffle is usually much larger. And there is a genetic component in that allergies can run in the family. For sixty years doctors have been telling patients with allergies to move to the southwest because prior to WWII it was not a high allergen area. But now some of the cities mentioned above have allergy counts higher than eastern cities and here’s the kicker: People with allergies have been having children with allergies. The southwest is the region of the United States in which the percentage of the population with allergies is growing … and if they all vote government could come to the rescue a third time making things like peanuts illegal. The afflicted could create a political action committee. ACHOO would be a good name… hmmm… the Allergy Coalition Heading Ordinance Objectives.
Foraging classes: Please note the class at Wickham Park needs to be changed. Saturday March 7th, Wekiva State Park, 1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka, Florida 32712. 9 a.m. Sunday, March 8th, John Chestnut State Park: 2200 East Lake Road, Palm Harbor, FL 34685, 9 a.m. Saturday, March 21st TBA Because of an event at Wickham Park this class will either have to be move or rescheduled.TBA. Sunday, March 22nd, Dreher Park, 1200 Southern Blvd., West Palm Beach, 33405. 9 a.m. Sunday, April 5th, Bayshore Live Oak Park, 23000 Bayshore Rd., Port Charlotte, FL 33980, 9 a.m. Also note on April 4th I will be teaching at an annual event at Bamboo Grove in Arcadia Florida.
Depending on where you live foraging can be slow this time of year. But the off-season can also be a time to study up on various plants and share experiences. On the Green Deane Forum we chat about foraging all year long. And it’s not just about warm-weather plants or just North American flora. Many nations share common weeds so there’s a lot to talk about. Recent topics include Armadillos and Leprosy, My Relatives, Tofu Intake and Cognition, Sprouting Palm Seeds, Snowfall In Florida, Plant Sources for Camphor, How California Got to Where It Is, Fire Roll, Earth A New Wild Water, Lightroom 5, Yellowhorn (Xanthoceras sorbifolium) and What Do You See #17.
Florida natives used the ending -sasse or -sassa a lot. It means a place or a location. Thonotosassa, a city northeast of Tampa, means a place to find good flint. Homosassa, a town and spring north of Tampa, can mean two things: River of Fishes, or, Pepper Ridge. Springs are not known for their fishes — at least near them — because of the low oxygen content of the water so we’ll go with Pepper Ridge. Wild Peppers, or Bird Peppers, are naive to much of North America and then southward into Central American and beyond. Usually trending towards spicy they are a delightful find as you rummage about the forest and field. Where I first noticed them was years ago at Turtle Mound, which is an ancient garbage heap a few miles south of Daytona Beach. When the path splits near the top look ahead and down you should see a lot of Bird Peppers (in season which is a few months from now though dried ones are available now.) Turtle Mound, about 80 feet high, also manages to keep a year-round crop of papaya growing on it. They also don’t seem to be bothered much by insects there either.
What Do You See? Last week the major species in WDYS #17 was Poor Man’s Peppergrass, Spanish Needles and the cactus against the fence, Nopales. You can revisit the picture on the Green Deane Forum on the board What Do You See. All three can be eaten cooked and raw. In this week’s picture, What Do You See #18 there are seven edible species, four are easy to find. The answer is on the Green Deane Forum and will be published here next week.