Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spring Amblings

Milford has been experiencing unusually warm temps for this time of year, and so for once, the spring time blossoms have actually correlated with the Spring Solstice. As strange as it's been to roam the woods in shirt sleeves and shorts and still break a bit of a sweat in March and April, it's been absolutely blissful to again experience the warm evening breezes, morning birdsong, and falling of confetti like petals from the tree-tops above. In addition to the moderate temps, it's been a dry season with little snowfall to saturate the soil, but the woodland plants seem not to mind, sprouting and shooting and popping from the forest leaf litter.


With the longer days, most of my hikes have been late in the day, after work with dusk quickly approaching or on a lazy afternoon in golden slanted rays of sun. What a trip it is to again be walking these woods on a regular basis. To look to the horizon and see the familiar flat-across-the-top Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey Appalachian Mountains, the thickets of barberry and piles of shale deep in the woods, and nature persevering side-by-side with man's footprint of pavement, construction, and junk...I know these are my woods. These woods are home.

But enough with the musing...I'm just putting off the difficult task of choosing just which plants to feature in this post!

Stellaria media (Common Chickweed)
These two beauties were part of a thick community of Chickweed and Cleavers (Galium aparine) carpeting an embankment along the Neversink River Park walkway in Deerpark, NY. Using a pocketknife, I quickly harvested two handfuls - the plants being about 6" tall, it was easy to grab the above ground parts and simply slice across at soil level. I stewed them up that evening in sweet potato stew, and keeping them refrigerated, enjoyed them for several more days on cheese and veggie sandwiches. Chickweed is one of the first edibles flower in the spring and likes moist soil and partial shade.  Not only can humans enjoy nibbling this super yummy green, but  cotton-tailed critters like 'em too!

Rabbit in chickweed thicket - notice white topped flowers in background
 Along the edge of the sandy gravel walkway, basal rosettes of Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) sat like giant velvet green flowers, not yet bearing their flowering stalks, which will appear the second year of Mullein's life. The yellow 5-petaled flowers of this plant are excellent soothing expectorant for the lungs -try drinking as tea or taking as a tincture - as well as helpful in breaking up wax in the ears. Common practice is to make an oil infusion of the flowers, however, I have found a simple tincture, using just a few drops, works just as well if not better.

Verbascum thapsus (Mullein)

Speaking of plants in poor soil, it often seems some of the most thriving edible plant communities exist in, unfortunately, the most polluted of places. Below is Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum). This cluster was growing amongst Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea), Cleavers, Dandelion (Taraxcum officinale), and Garlic Mustard (Alliara officinalis) upon a rocky riverside embankment on the Delaware River. Being close to residences, a neighborhood park, and the bridge which links Matamoras, PA and Port Jervis, NY, this strip of land had collected much trash that had both washed ashore as well as been swept downhill with run-off. Broken bottles shone admist the smooth river rock and plastic bags shook in the breeze from their tangled perches in the cherry tree saplings and yellow grasses. Sad to see such a beautiful area marred with garbage, but good to see the beauty that can coexist. Perhaps this is the mere nature of vitality, to thrive even amidst the muck.

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)     

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