Monday, June 16, 2014

Piedmont Finds

Meet Sprout - the first fellow hiker I have run into yet, that includes both long-distance treks, on the MST. She is sectioning for the next two weeks. Of course I have seen many a day-hiker on the trails, but what a shock to find her sitting alongside the road!
That's right! The first to be showcased of the Piedmont finds...a fellow hiker! This is Sprout, presently from Austin, Texas, but has also called such mountainous places as Catawba, VA and Ithaca, NY home. Here I was walking down Oak Ridge Rd headed toward Stokesdale, when I saw her sitting beside a tree in the shade. We walked the last few miles into town together, gabbing so much we completely bypassed where she was staying for the night- oops. So awesome to have run into you, Sprout, have a great rest of your hike wherever it may take you!

Blackberries (Rubus spp.) - notice the receptacle still remaining in the cluster of tiny one-seeded fruits that make up what we consider one blackberry. 
Not only was it about time I ran into another hiker, but it was about time I found some ripe blackberries! I've been passing so many blackberry thickets, however the berries are either not yet ripe or have been plucked clean. Those woodland critters are just a wee bit quicker than this thru-hiker when it comes to gettin' the freshies. I found these growing in the bright sun on overgrown trail along the powerlines. Ah, the advantages of some modernity on the trail. Another great place to find them is along the roadways.

Blackberries ripening - this plant had leaves possessing just 3 small leaflets each.
Blackberries and Raspberries share the same family (the Rose family - Rosaceae) and the same genus (Rubus). Both Blackberries and Raspberries will have 3-7 leaflets, growing from tall arching canes. Leaflets will be palmately arranged, toothed and often finely furry on undersides. Canes will usually be covered in prickles or thorns, however some species may have smooth or waxy canes. The best way to tell a Blackberry from a Raspberry other than color (there is a black Raspberry!) is whether the ripe fruit remains on the receptacle when plucked. The receptacle is the white fleshy core to which all the seeds/berries attach. Blackberries will take the receptacle with them, whereas Raspberries will leave it behind on the plant, in turn making the Raspberry hollow like a thimble.

Kudzu (Pueraria spp)
Well not necessarily the best find, as I'm sure you already know, Kudzu grows a mile minute and will engulf trees, smaller forest vegetation, entire hillsides, fences, houses, and well, anything in its path. When I saw my first leaf somewhere back by Falls Lake I knew there was more to come. However, the good news is that it's edible. Good for the goats, good for us. Quick! Get out there and get eatin'!

All this...Kudzu.
The leaves and the roots are edible, however, for the backpackers it's easier to harvest simply the leaves. The roots quickly grow massive and woody...just to give you an idea, the largest Kudzu root ever harvested weighed in at 400 lbs. The leaves are best as a cooked green, therefore sauté 'em, boil 'em, steam 'em, throw 'em in a soup! Make sure you harvest only the younger ones, as they become thick and fibrous with age. Also make sure you harvest only from areas that you are certain have not been sprayed with harsh chemicals in an effort to eradicate it. In that case, let the weed-killer take care of it.

Giant unknown mushrooms
Okay Mushroom Experts, what on earth am I looking at here? These were so enormous, they caught not only my attention but that of a trail runner zipping by who stopped dead in his tracks. We wondered just where the resident gnome may be. I believe I need to take a thru-hike and study the mushrooms so that I can get to know them better!

The largest mushroom up close - check out that lacy cap! That lace is the torn fragments of a universal veil. This is the membrane that encloses the mushroom and tears as the stalk begins to grow. The underside was ivory colored as well and gilled.
And then we have this easily identified most fragrant shrub or small tree...

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
This greenie may look hard to distinguish at first glance, but a couple of key pointers and you can't miss it! Notice how the leaves are alternate and gradually decrease in size as they go down the twig? This very regular shrinking of the leaves is the first clue. The second clue is in it's smell. Grab a leaf, crush it between your fingers, and a spicy-lemony scent should immediately release. This was one of the first trees I learned...that smell is remarkable!

A fragrant tea can be made of those leaves. Steep a half cup of fresh leaves to one cup of hot water for 10 minutes. If you can, cover your cup with a plate or lid to intensify the aroma. The bark has traditionally be used medicinally as well. I have yet to use it this way so I cannot speak to it. But making a decoction (simmering the bark for 20 minutes) reportedly brings heat to the body and can aid in breaking a fever and detoxifying the body. The red berries can be ground up and used as a spice that pairs well with cinnamon and ginger.

A view of Lake Brandt at sundown
Lastly, I leave you with this Piedmont find...a lovely stealth camp on the edge of the Nat Green Trail that runs along Lake Brandt. I'll take this any day over a crowded campground or the glow of a Dollar General whilst camped in a thicket somewhere. All I can say for this one is, thank you.

And can find ME in the Piedmont at Great Outdoor Provisions Company in Greensboro giving a talk about my book, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail. Hope to see you there!


  1. The giant sroom may well be Amanita ravenelii (up to ten inches high, SE USA & white) but this is such a potentially dangerous (deadly) and huge family I'd stick to photos!

    The Asheville NC Mushroom Club website kinda sums up the whole issue, ya know? They feature a cookbook & a list of poison control numbers on the home page!!

    Muggy here today 90 degrees w/ 45% humidity!

    xoxo Jane

    1. I thought you might have an answer for me! Yes, I think I'll leave the eating of the Amanitas to the mushroom experts...I like hiking too much to have to end my trip so abruptly ;)

  2. Re - Spice bush Lindera benzoin: After happening upon a bogful in flower just south of Adams Creek I did a little research. The USDA says: "Most spicebush patches and thickets are probably clonal, reproducing by root sprouting. ...Because of its habitat in rich woods, early land surveyors and settlers used spicebush as an indicator species for good agricultural land."

    1. That's awesome - I'll think of that now when I pass these, and I'm passing so many lately!

      BTW - the temps here have been around 100 and the humidity stifling! Got caught in a good rainstorm today though and that cooled me off!