Thursday, August 11, 2011

Plant Walkin' in the Pocono Mountains

Yours truly was again featured in the Mountain Xpress - be sure to check it out!

It has been good to be least somewhat stationary...for the last few weeks. I spent a relaxing week with friends in Asheville and am now up in Milford, PA with family preparing for the venture out west.

The temps up here in northeastern PA are markedly cooler and less humid than those of the Outer Banks and even good ol' Asheville. The locals complain of the heat and the stickiness while I marvel at the non-hazy horizon and sigh at the cool breeze upon my skin. I find myself wondering what kind of temperatures and weather I will encounter out west and am already beginning to root through my gear for my thermals and hat. I have purchased an ID book to the plants of the Rocky Mountains by Lone Pine Publications and intend to purchase a guide for the Sierra Nevada as I near California. My father and I will be leaving in the early morning hours on Monday, headed for Ohio on the first night.

In the meantime, I've been getting to know the plants in this special little place, nestled in the Appalachian mountains, more specifically, the Poconos. Surrounding my parents property is 1000 acres of preserved forest land called the Milford Experimental Forest, thanks to Peter Pinchot, family to Gifford Pinchot whom is often called the Father of Conservation. Herein, the pristine Sawkill Stream bubbles over flat slate rock, along embankments thick with fern, and meanders through a mix of young hardwoods, Hemlock and White pine. There are few to no trails, but between this stream, the road, and the gas pipeline, it's fairly easy to keep my bearings. With few trails and a host of “No Trespassing Signs” these woods see little to no foot traffic from townspeople, and so are splendid to wander...just me, the plants, the trees, the birds, and the critters big and small.

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa): a member of the Mint family with irregular flowers, opposite toothed leaves and square stem. The flowers are edible, tasting sweet and fragrant. I like them on cheese sandwiches, salads, or baked into quiche. An infusion of the leaves can be made that is both carminative (relieves excess gas) and antiseptic, awakening the senses while at the same time soothing the nerves.

Heal-All (Prunella vulgaris):Another member of the Mint Family, with irregular flowers, opposite, and entire leaves. The leaves are edible and can make a nice addition to salads. An infusion can be made of the above ground parts (leaves, stem, flowers) that is antibacterial, astringent, tonic, diuretic, and soothing to the stomach. As the name implies, this naturalized but non-native plant has a long history of use in many different conditions. 
Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis): This somewhat succulent plant is known for it's action against poison ivy. I am not one who easily reacts to poison ivy (knock on wood!) but when I accidentally grabbed a vine a couple of days ago and upon realizing, reached for this plant growing practically right beside it next to a shaded rock wall, I have still seen no sign of a rash. I broke the stem and applied the juices therein, as well as rubbed several smooshed up leaves directly on the skin that had been exposed. The young shoots of this plant are also edible-boil for 20 minutes and eat like greens (do not ingest cooking water as this plant can concentrate selenium). The seeds which burst from their pods in late summer/early fall are also edible. I have yet to try this plant as food-but it's on the list!
White Wood Aster (Aster divaricatus): As far as I know this plant is neither edible nor medicinal. But it sure is pretty, livening up the country roadsides around here.
Unknown species of Goldenrod (Solidago sp.): Newcombs alone lists 40 different species of Goldenrod, many of them closely resembling each other. However, the good news is that all Goldenrod can be used medicinally - though some will be stronger than others (nibble the leaves to test degree of astringency and/or bitterness). The above ground parts can make a tincture or tea that is excellent for remedying sinusitis and allergies, clearing the sinuses and decreasing inflammation. It is also used for it diuretic properties.
Butter-and-Eggs (Linaria vulgaris): This is a plant I have met for the first time just recently, although Newcombs lists it as "common". According to some online sources, the above ground parts can be made into a poultice and used to cool and reduce the severity of skin ulcers and sores. It is also described as a powerful purgative and diuretic when ingested.

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