Friday, May 22, 2015

The Finger Lakes Trail

A portion of the Appalachian Trail through New York's Harriman State Park 

I am excited to announce that in less than two weeks I will be beginning my next long distance hike. This time along the Finger Lakes Trail in New York state. As many of my readers know, I was born and raised in northeastern Pennsylvania, minutes from the border of New York and New Jersey, with the Delaware River creating a natural division. I also lived for some time in the tiny town of Port Jervis, New York which rests along the banks of this same river. This area will always be my home and my first love. It was here that I came to know the woods and mountains, rivers and streams, and the allure of the trails that leads one into these places, and when I followed, the magic that it was to travel there.

I have not done a long distance hike in this region since the Appalachian Trail in 2008. Even then, it was just a tiny portion region that I traversed, although when asked, I still tell folks it was one of my favorite portions of the AT. New York, at least from what I've seen in the southeastern portion is a land of rocks- from giant boulders the size of houses to random razor-sharp rocks that litter the forest floor. It is lined with water, streams, rivers, waterfalls, and natural springs (even if NY is presently in a drought). Pine of all kinds are plenty here as are the black bear.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
It is also filled with edible and medicinal plants a-plenty. And so, as you may have guessed...I will again be hiking this trail to chronicle the edible and medicinal plants that can be found along the Finger Lakes Trail. I'll be keeping a daily list of plants I encounter, making a record of them in the evening and whenever possible incorporating them into my backcountry meals and wilderness first aid needs. I'll be blogging as I go, now upgrading to a lightweight tablet and keyboard that connects through bluetooth. So stay tuned northeasterners for a first-hand look at your local useful plants. For my southern readers, many of these plants can also be found in your region, although the new ones you meet may entice you to come check out the trail up here! Once I've completed my trek, I will get to work on writing a backpacker's guide to the edible and medicinal plants of the Finger Lakes Trail.

Allow me to tell you a little about where the journey will take me...

A bridge along the Appalachian Trail in Harriman State Park in New York close to an intersection with the Long Path
The Finger Lakes Trail begins at its western terminus in Allegany State Forest on the border of Pennsylvania and New York and travels 558 miles to its eastern terminus in the Catskill Forest Preserve where it intersects with the Long Path, and lands me just a little over sixty miles from my hometown of Milford, PA. Branching off of the main Finger Lakes Trail are an additional 6 trails: the Conservation Trail, Letchworth Trail, Bristol Hills Trail, Crystal Hills Trail, Interloken Trail, and Onandaga Trail, which tack on roughly 300 additional miles. I will be hiking these trails as well, bringing the entire trek to a total of 860 miles.

Comparing it to my other long distance treks, this trail includes more conventional trail and time in the backcountry with longer resupply times like the Appalachian Trail however without the AT's dramatic ascents and descents. The FLT's highest point is at 3600 feet in the Catskills and its lowest point at 430 feet near Ithaca. It is also outfitted with lean-to's along the trail as the AT is, however nowhere near as many. Like the Mountains to Sea Trail, it possesses portions of roadwalk along country roads as well directly through the center of numerous towns and what I am most looking forward to of this civilized walking...down abandoned railroad beds. It is also a patchwork of state, national, and private lands, regularly changing due to the permission of landowners. Also similar to the MST, it has only seen a handful of thru-hikers. 379 people have completed (by thru-hike or section-hike) the main FLT since 1962, whereas the AT sees at least this many successful thru-hikers every year.

A rock cairn marking a continuation of trail, these will often times be built where blazes are few to assist hikers in finding their way

My predictions about terrain and difficulty are in all reality though, just that. From what I understand the blazing is pretty good, with its more difficult areas through some private lands that are ever-changing, as well as areas where the blazes are a different color due to running along with other trails such as in the Catskill Forest Preserve. And as for maps.... I have downloaded 53 covering the entirety of the main FLT and branch trails. And I thought the MST had a plethora with about 10 of which to keep track. But these maps are thorough, complete with info on water sources and camping, as well as accompanying text regarding mileage markers. There is one guidebook to the trail but it has unfortunately not been updated since 2011. I have had this guidebook in my possession since this time, as I was toying with this trail even when I set out for my first hike on the MST. I plan to still carry this guide as it looks like it provides a wealth of information about lodging, restaurants, and resupply points...I will just have to bear in mind not to count to much on reaching that road crossing with the little family diner as it may be nothing more than a boarded up shack leaving my hiker belly growling grumpily.

Acorn - the well known fruit of the Oak tree (Quercus spp.)
I plan on making some stops along the way to share my journey and plant findings with some communities located along the trail. If you live along any portion of this trail and would like to join me for a few miles or have a group that you'd like to gather to learn more about either the flora of the trail or simply long-distance hiking, please drop me a line here in the comments section. Also, if you'd like to offer any accommodations or assistance along the trail, as I will need help with lodging in some areas where it is illegal to camp, as well as shuttling back to the main trail from end of a branch trail (right now I definitely need a shuttle from the end of the Interloken Trail back to the main FLT), please let me know.

Check out this link to the FLT conference website to learn more about this beautiful trail!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Trail Days 2015

The champion Chewbacca winning first place in the Hiker's Eating Contest at Trail Days 2008 
This too could be you. Well at least if you are an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker this year. If too could witness this level of not only hiker commitment but food induced intoxication and unrivaled elation.

Trail Days is happening this coming weekend in the tiny town of Damascus, Virginia. The first town that one walks through on the AT is Hot Springs in North Carolina (home of Trail Fest), but the second town that the hiker literally treks into is here, crossing a state line and marking the passing of a major mile marker. In Damascus, the thru-hiker is now nearly one quarter of the way to Katahdin. If you make it past Damascus, you're damn likely to make it to Harper's Ferry, West Virginia which is nearly half way....and if you don't quit there the odds are you'll to make it Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

Summitting Katahdin
I remember very well, trekking into Damascus. My feet were sore and swollen and it was hot and buggy. I had never been more happy to see a wooden bunk bed (sans a mattress) at The Place where I could shower, sleep, and put my feet up for the price of a minimal donation. However if this were exciting enough, I also happened to be hiking into town during the most important weekend on the Trail. Other hikers who were not as lucky hitched forward or even backward to make it here for this event. You see not only does Damascus have everything a  hiker could possibly need: cheap bare-bones hostels, diners, an outfitters, a barber, and beer but one a year this town welcomes its hikers with open arms by throwing them a festival all their own...complete with a free thru-hiker feed at the church, free hair-cuts from the ministries, free gear repair, an Alumni Thru-hiker Parade, a Thru-hiker eating contest, a Thru-hiker talent show, a Thru-hiker Prom, and a spot to throw your tent in town for ($5 for 3 days) in Tent City when you need to collapse.

Trail Days has grown since I last attended while thru-hiking the trail in 2008 and is now also chock full of live music and speakers as well. You can find me at the Town Hall on Friday giving a slideshow presentation about the edible and medicinal plants you can find along the Appalachian Trail, followed by a plant walk on the AT where you can meet the plants in person. Jennifer Pharr Davis - a record holder for fastest AT thru-hike and Warren Doyle who has hiked the trail over 15 times (when I met him on the trail in 2008 with just a daypack and wooden staff, this is what number he was at, so I imagine he's knocked it out a couple of times since). Scot Ward will also be doing a presentation on the Lakes to Ocean trail that he spent over 18 months mapping and hiking. As for the music, you can stomp your hiker feet to Fat Katz and Scratch River Telegraph Company. Outdoor gear vendors will also abound peddling their goods and offering fitting assistance.

At this point though, I must confess... when I happened into town on Trail Days weekend as a thru-hiker I wanted to party and did for all of one night but was really too exhausted to enjoy all the festivities and overwhelmed by the masses of people. I did my best, staying a full 24 hours and then hoofing it out of town as fast as I could to get back on the trail before the rest of the hiker mob departed the following day, descending upon the next so many miles of good camping spots and lean-tos. I'm convinced experiencing Trail Days as a non-thru-hiker is really where its at. The weekend will be far more fun without having to think about resupply and hauling a 30 pound pack  20 miles down the trail the next day!

Half Elvis, Micro Manfeet (me), FreeWil, and Banjo in the 100 mile Wilderness, just two days from Mt. Katahdin

If you are a thru-hiker alum looking for a little taste of that camaraderie you remember so well from the trail, this is the event to attend. If you've dreamed of hiking the AT and want to learn from all those who have done it or are in the painstaking and breathtakingly beautiful process of doing so, come hear their stories. If you just want to get your party on with some  hella inspired and impassioned people, then get your bootie to Trail Days!

Friday 5/15, 2:30 pm (no cost)
Identifying the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Appalachian Trail
Town Hall, Damascus VA
Friday 5/15, 3:45 pm (no cost)
Plant Walk Along the Appalachian Trail
Meeting at In the Country. 1-2 miles roundtrip or 90 minutes. Difficulty level: easy
Vending All Day 5/16 and 5/17

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Weekend Workshops (5/9-5/10)

Spring Quiche with Violet, Dandelion, and Plantain
So you've been learning all about how to identify your local edibles and how to harvest them, now it's time to put that knowledge to use!
Join me at Trout Lily Market in Fairview, NC for a hands-on workshop in preparing a meal incorporating some of our well known backyard wild edibles: aka the weeds.
The meal will be vegetarian (all but the main dish will be vegan) and gluten-free. After we create, we will then devour. Tea, coffee, and wine will be provided by Trout Lily.  
Cooking with Backyard Wild Edibles
May 9th, 1-3
Cost: $20
(class size limited to 12)
Getting to know the plants up close and personal
If you feel like you want to get to know the plants in their natural environment before dicing, sautéing, and steaming...then join me at
The Villagers, a darling lil homesteading shop in West Asheville. The workshop will open with a slideshow presentation and discussion of 10 of our urban wild edible and medicinal plants, and then will hit the streets for an urban plant walk.
 Herbal tea and wild edible snacks will be provided during the presentation.
May 10th 5-7 pm
$15-25 sliding scale (children under 13 are free)
Hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Asheville Spring Herb Festival

Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum)
As I'm sure this audience well knows, foraging is fantastic, but let's not forget how good it feels to garden! Many of our foraged plants can also do well in your home gardens. This way you need not travel far and wide for your wild edibles and medicinals but rather just reach into your planters or raised beds. Now sure, you could wander out to your woods and track down these wild plants, dig them up and carefully transport them to home soil or you could simply come to
Asheville's 26th Annual Spring Herb Fest at the WNC Farmer's Market this weekend!
Not only will there be starts and seeds of just about every herb you could desire from the common culinary herbs to practical medicinal plants to simply intoxicating aromatic lovelies, but you can also count on prepared herbal products such herbal soaps, oils, lotions, and elixirs.
And of course I will be there with my book, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail. Drop by the Master Gardener's Table where I'll be set up to grab a copy or simply talk plants or trail!
WNC Farmer's Market (Exit 47 on I-40)
(5/1 - 5/2) Friday and Saturday 8:30 - 5:00
(5/3) Sunday 10 - 3:00

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Eating Wild: Identifying the Wild Edible Plants in Your Own Backyard

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of plant and people faces! Mother Earth News Fair had an incredible turn-out of 18,000 people, welcoming folks from throughout the Southeast as well as a good number from up North who traveled all the way down to Asheville for the event. In Hot Springs, I had the pleasure of greeting a good smattering of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers who had journeyed 275 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia and walked into their first town sitting literally on the trail.

Since the Mother Earth News Fair, I've had some requests for a recap of my presentation, Eating Wild: Identifying the Wild Edible Plants in Your Own Backyard. Here is that to follow. Please know that this summary is not complete with edible, inedible, and poisonous look-a-like information. Therefore, do not rely upon this summary alone before you go out picking in your yard. This is meant only as a recap. Thank you to all who attended!

Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) - This species now includes several species once thought to be distinct. As a result, the flower color can range from purple to purple and white to pure white. Leaves will be long-stalked and basal.
The Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) with a purple and white coloration
Violets can be identified by their irregular, spurred flowers and can range in color from purple, purple and white, white, cream, to yellow. Many Violets will bear only long-stalked basal leaves, although some will have alternate. Leaves are almost always heart-shaped, with a few of our mountain species possessing rounded bases, and palmately veined. Leaves will most often be toothed, although some species will be lobed.

Typical heart shaped leaves of the Violet
The lobed leaves of the Early Blue Violet (Viola palmata)
There are nearly 600 species of Violet in the world, with as many as 30 in our North Carolina mountains and piedmont regions.

Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucllata) - look for this species beside streams, rivers, and seepage areas. The flower perches atop a particularly long stalk reaching above its still long-stalked basal leaves.
Canadian Violet (Viola Canadensis) - Look for this species at higher elevation, in woods, oftentimes amidst thick vegetation. This Violet will bear alternate leaves and can grow particularly tall, reaching 8" in height
Look for Violets in grassy areas such as on lawns or trailside, residing in partial sun to full sun.

All species of Violet (Viola spp.), except for those that bear yellow flowers, are edible. Even these may sometimes be consumed, but they cause some folks nausea and I find them to be more rare, so simply better to be left alone.

Viola sororia adorning deviled eggs with paprika and dill

Violet flowers can range in flavor from sweet to spicy to minty and are best eaten raw. They make a  fresh decoration to cakes, pasta dishes, salads, or as you can see here, deviled eggs. You may coat them in egg wash and sugar them for candied Violet. They look lovely frozen in ice cubes and added to lemon water or an herbal iced tea.

Leaves may be eaten raw or cooked (this is preferable later in the season when they become more fibrous), and have a spinach-like quality. Steam or sauté and add them to pasta, eggs, stir-frys, or bake in lasagna, quiche, or croissants. If you are picking leaves without the presence of a flower, worry not about discerning the yellow Violets from the other species. The 3 species in our region have very distinct leaves that look less desirable anyway, being hairy, rounded, or mottled, and simply tough.

The basal rosette of Garlic Mustard (Alliara officinalis)
Garlic Mustard (Alliara officinalis) will begin in its first year as a basal rosette sitting close to the ground. However in its second year it can grow up to 3 feet tall with leaves alternate on the stem. Leaves are heart-shaped, long-stalked with spidery looking palmate veins, and scalloped margins.

Flower buds of Garlic Mustard (Alliara officinalis)
 Being that Garlic Mustard is a member of the Mustard Family (Brassicaceae), the same family as say, Broccoli, its parts bear a certain resemblance to its relatives. The flowering buds can look like little broccoli florets before opening up into small 4-petaled white flowers.

As many of the gardeners probably already know all too well, Garlic Mustard is highly invasive, taking over the edges of lawns, lining hedges or fence-lines, and lining roadsides. Originally from Europe, there are no insects here that naturally feed on it. It also produces a chemical that suppresses the mycorrhizal fungi that other plants require for health. This chemical of course does not affect native fungi. Deer also have no interest in this plant and do a good job of trampling the soil while eating all the plants surrounding it, and planting the seeds that the plant has flung.

Orzo pasta salad with Garlic Mustard pesto, cherry tomatoes, and black olives
The good news is that all parts of this plant are edible! The flowers, flowerbuds (which I find to be tastiest), and leaves all impart a flavor you would expect, that of garlic with a hint of mustard. Add the leaves, flowers and buds raw or cooked leaves to anything you wish to impart that flavor to such as eggs, chili, veggie stews,  salads and wraps. They also make any excellent pesto when pureed raw with your typical pesto ingredients (see my post: for a recipe). The roots have a strong horseradish-like flavor and may be used to impart heat to any dish.

Creeping Bluets (Houstonia serpyllifolia)
Bluets (Houstonia) are weak-stemmed tiny plants with proportionately tiny opposite leaves. Flowers are 4-petaled, white to blue, and only 1/4 - 1/2" wide. There are two species in our region, Creeping Bluets (Houstonia serpyllifolia) and simply the Bluet ( Houstonia caerulea) that are very difficult to discern from one another, however it matters not as far as edibility.

Look for Bluets amongst grassy areas, such as meadows, lawns, grassy trails, or amongst tufts of grass at the bases of trees. I tend to use these like sprouts, and it is easy to harvest a clump of them, given that they will often grow in mats or at least abundance. All above grounds parts are edible. Simply grab a handful and with a sharp knife, slice at base of stems. They are best added raw to salads or sandwiches, as they will not hold up to cooking.

Common Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweeds consist of 2 genus, Stellaria and Cerastium, with Stellaria being the tastiest of the two. Flowers can grow from 3" to a couple feet tall. Leaves are opposite, stems are succulent with a clear juice when broken. Flowers are 5-petaled and so deeply cleft that they appear to be 10-petaled. Stamen are conspicuous, being brown-tipped, numbering 5-10. These are one of the first plants to flower in spring.

Great Chickweed (Stellaria pubera) - found in woods, oftentimes at higher elevations.
Mouse-ear Chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum) - this species is best consumed cooked unless you don't mind a mouthful of fine fur, which covers the plant.
All of the above ground parts of Chickweed are edible and are best raw before the plant has gone to seed, and better cooked afterwards. The entire plant is sweet and crisp. Chickweed is a nutritional powerhouse containing Vit. C, B6, D, A, rutin, biotin, choline, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, phosphate, and manganese. It is also considered a traditional spring cleanser, increasing the efficiency of the entire glandular system. Add to salads, sandwiches, wraps, or stir-frys, or simply make a tea using 1 large handful of plant to 12 oz of water for nutritional benefits.

Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Cleavers (Galium aparine) is an all-over prickly plant due to its tiny rough hairs. Its stem is square and leaves are whorled, 6-8, and evenly spaced along stem. Two flowering stalks arise from each leaf axil, 2-3 flowers to a stalk. Flowers are white, 4-petaled, and less than 1/8" wide, and turn to bristly seeds come summer and fall.

Find this plant along the edges of your lawn or garden, and in thickets of weeds. Cleavers will create tall-standing carpets.

All above ground parts of edible and should be cooked so as to not irritate the throat. However, they may be eaten raw if rolled into a tight pill-ball first and then eaten. Otherwise, sauté or steam and add to eggs, stir-frys, oats or grits. Ol' timers considered it a spring cleanser as well and would stew it in oats to "increase lankness."

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion, the common sunny flower of our lawns and roadsides. Flowers are made up of a collection ray florets cupped by green bracts. Each plant produces just one non-branching hollow stem with one flower. The stem arises from a basal rosette of deeply lobed leaves, lobes downward pointing.

Dandelion leaves
Although this may be another loathsome weed, the good news again is that all parts are edible! As well as highly medicinal, however I will save that for another blog post.

Roots may be sautéed, boiled, or roasted and served with sweet veggies to balance their inherent bitterness. They possess inulin, a pre-biotic, when harvested in the fall.

Leaves may be eaten raw in salads or sandwiches when young or sautéed, steamed, or boiled as they age and become a bit tougher. They will become more bitter after the plant has flowered, however boiling in a couple changes of water will decrease this flavor, although you will also sacrifice its nutritional value. Dandelion leaves possesses Vit. C, B, E, D, biotin, inositol, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.

Veggie quiche with Dandelion leaves, florets, and Violet leaves
The flowers may be battered and deep-fried or used to adorn salads or baked goods raw. The florets pulled from the bracts are a nice addition to baked goods as well such as breads, cookies, and pancakes.

Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis)
Last but not least, there is Wood Nettle (Laportea Canadensis), not to be confused with the also edible, but also medicinal and non-native, Stinging Nettle (Urtica diocia). Although not at part of its common name, Wood Nettle is still distinguished by its many needle-like translucent stinging hairs. Leaves are alternate and egg-shaped, with toothed margins. Male and female flowers are on separate plants and gathered along racemes.

Fine needle-like hairs of Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis) 
Look for this plant in your wooded yards or along the edges of woods, as well as streamside and trailside.

The leaves of this plant are incredibly edible once cooked rendering them harmless. Sautee, steam, or boil the leaves adding them to stews, stir-frys, eggs, casseroles, or croissants. Use as you would cooked spinach. They have a very mild green pleasant taste. They possess calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, silica, iodine, sodium, sulfur, Vit. C, A, and B.

The trick to harvesting Wood Nettle is to pluck with confidence! Or wear gloves. Check out my post: for more information on Wood Nettle.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Hot Springs Trail Fest

The Appalachian Trail along the French Broad River and a portion of the plant walk I'll be leading on Sunday.
What's better than springtime in the mountains? Why, it's springtime along the Appalachian Trail in the mountains ... complete with a hot springs spa, delicious food, foot stomping music, and a thru-hiker parade!

Come join me this weekend, April 18th and 19th, beginning at 10 am, for the Hot Springs Trailfest!

This festival has been created to celebrate the Appalachian Trail that runs literally though the center of town. The town will most certainly be filled with thru-hikers making their journey to Maine and having a rip-roaring good time as they stop and rest for a spell. Besides the hiker talent show, parade, and camp-stove cook-off, you can expect yoga, hula hooping, live music, local food, an evening bonfire, oh and a duck race...I'm not sure if this literally involving waterfowl competing for a finish line but I do hope so!

On Sunday at 10 am, I'll be leading a plant walk along the Appalachian Trail, identifying our edible and medicinal plants located along the trail, and providing plenty of information on how to identify, harvest, and utilize them while out on your own hike or meanderings. The hike will begin at the Silvermine Trailhead parking area, travel 1 mile up to Lover's Leap (there is a 500ft elevation gain here as we climb from the river to the overlook at 1800 feet, however there are lots of switchbacks and we will be stopping frequently to examine the plants), and descend the mountain for about 1/2 a mile on the Lover's Leap Loop Trail, ending up back to the parking area. Duration is expected to be about 2 hours. All ages are welcome!

If a plant walk is more than you can muster and you'd rather spend your day eating, dancing, and soaking in the hot springs, then by all means, do! But come on by anytime Saturday or Sunday (except the hours of the plant walk of course), talk trail, talk plants, and grab a signed copy of my book, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail.

Me and Harvey atop Lover's Leap - this handsome fella may be joining us as well!
For a full schedule of weekend events, directions, and more info, please visit:
See y'all there!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Mother Earth News Fair Comes to Asheville

 Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)
This week has been packed full of wild plant goodness. On Wednesday I filmed a clip on WLOS Asheville offering a demonstration on how to make Purple Dead Nettle Pesto and on Thursday I had the pleasure of leading an enthusiastic group of ladies Diamond Brand's Diva Day for a midday plant walk and book signing in the evening.

Now I would like to invite you all to join me at the Mother Earth News Fair Saturday and Sunday here in Asheville. You can find more info on speakers, workshops, and vendors at this link It will be a full weekend offering rain barrels, truck loads, and wheel barrels of information on homesteading, herbal medicine, livestock, and all things to do with natural living.

On Saturday, 4/11, at 2:30 you can find me in at the Ingles Real Food Stage giving a talk titled, Eating Wild: Identifying the Wild Edible Plants in your own Backyard. Then from 3:30 - 4:30 I will be conducting a book signing at the Mother Earth News Bookstore. If you can't make it for the talk, I'll be in the bookstore all day Saturday and Sunday (except for when I am presenting of course) as well.

Hope to see you there!