Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Eating Local at the Milford Library

The furry red "berries" of Sumac (Rhus spp.) With three different species in our area: R.copalina, R.glabra, and Rhus typhina there are plenty from which to harvest. Mash the berries and submerge in a pitcher of cold water for an afternoon, strain off hairs through a cheesecloth and enjoy!
I would like to thank all who attended my virtual plantwalk at the Milford Library last night. What a thrill to see so many plant enthusiasts in one spot and even more fun to chat with you and share knowledge. Because of the excellent turn-out I am happy to say that I will most certainly be returning to the library in the late winter/early spring to prepare you for all the greens that will be popping up. I'll also be leading private plant walks in the area once our warm weather returns rather than forcing us to sit inside. Even if the subject is plants, why find yet another reason to stare at a screen when there'll be real live ones outside?

For now, I thought I would offer a lil recap on some of the plants we covered last night for those who could not attend or for those who attended but maybe had a hard time scribbling down all their notes during the presentation.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
We talked about this infamous weed....infamous because everyone knows it, and love it or hate it, it is indestructable. Taraxacum officinale, aka Dandelion. It is well known that its leaves are edible, and perhaps even its flowers when battered and deep-fried, but lesser known is that its roots are edible as well! You can boil them, saute them, or roast them in a pan....preferably with some sweet root veggies to cut their inherent bitterness.

Dandelion roots showing off their "Dent de lion" or "tooth of the lion" leaves bearing sharp downward pointing lobes 
The roots are hepatic, meaning that they aid in the cleansing and strengthening of the liver. If you must boil your roots before consuming, at least save the water for your medicinal tea. Imbalances in the liver are often displayed as heat, from skin eruptions to angry outbursts. The root is also a digestive aid containing inulin, a fructo-oligosaccharide, good food for your healthy intestinal flora. Its bitter properties also lend itself to preparing the body for digestion and aiding in the assimilation of nutrients.

Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniesis) showcasing its bronze-colored peeling bark
We discussed the tasty and distinctive flavor of Yellow and Black Birch, Betula alleghaniensis and Betula lenta respectively. Harvest a small twiggy branch and get to widdling until you reach its woody core which can then be discarded. Dice up the twig never minding to peel the bark. Simmer these along with the shredded bark for 20 minutes for a tea that is not only yummy but more importantly, pain relieving, due to its methyl-salicylic acid. It is particularly good for muscualar aches and pains.

Acorns shelled and raw
Many of you were surprised to learn that acorns are not just for the squirrels. We identified the rounded lobes of a White Oak (Quercus alba) leaf and the sharp lobes of a Red Oak (Quercus rubra)leaf. We discussed the tasty advantage of a Red Oak acorn but the disadvantage of its high tannin content, and decided that although White Oak acorns many be less sweet they are more beginner friendly. I am imagining a number of you heading out to your nearest stream with a plump bag to plunk down in its waters for the next couple of days to leech those tannins. Who has time or the desire to do all those changes of water in the kitchen? Not this hiker.
A close-up of Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) with its five-petaled flowers, all white except for just one that stands boldly out in purple.
We sampled the fennel flavored seeds of Wild Carrot, Daucus carota, and discussed how that purple floret and hairy flowering stalk and leaves are of the utmost importance when identifying Wild Carrot given its deadly lookalikes, Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) and Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata). Identify communities of mature Wild Carrot gone to seed by their dried seed stalks and then head back to that spot in the spring for the fresh shoots and roots which will be less woody on a plant that has not yet flowered.

The astringent yet sweet berries of Autumn Olive (Eleagnus umbellata)
This non-native invasive gone wild and naturalized in our meadows and roadsides was perhaps the most well received. Many of you were pleased to learn that there was a wild berry that you did not yet know that was sweet and delicious and easy to identify. A shrub speckled all over in silver is easy to recognize in the late afternoon sun when the Autumn winds kick up revealing the silver undersides of its green leaves. Grab a tarp lay it underneath its many branches and get to shaking! As long as you have reached that shrub before the neighborhood deer, it'll rain tiny two-seeded berries perfect for topping granola, adding to pancakes and muffins, or pressing into a fruit leather.

We discussed a good deal more, but unfortunately this blog only affords me so much room! The good news is that nearly all of the plants we discussed (and many more) can be found in my book, A Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Mountains to Sea Trail, available for purchase here at the blog. In the book you'll also find detailed recipes for transforming these plants from merely edible to delectable as well as how to craft your own medicinal brews, tinctures and oils.

If you're interested in my teaching a class on identifying and utilizing your local wild edible and medicinal plants to a group of yours or in my leading a plantwalk on your property or in the area, please do contact me via email, Facebook under The Botanical Hiker, or through this blog and we can get to planning!

I hope you've read this late in the day after a full day of digging, shredding, cracking, and roasting!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The 34th Annual ALDHA Gathering

The 34th Annual Gathering family photo (photo courtesy of Dean "Crooked Sticks" Clark)

What an incredible time it was visiting with fellow long distance hikers and trail enthusiasts during this past weekend's 34th Annual Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association Gathering. This year's Gathering took place on the pristine grounds of Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, PA. Camping was on site on one of the recreational fields, although I must admit I took myself to the Rodeway Inn for both nights. Each day was so jam-packed full of entertaining speakers, delicious meals in the student cafeteria (everything from made-to-order sushi to pizza to salads), dancing, and general good vibes, that when I laid my head down in the evening - mind you many hikers were still going at 10 pm - I drifted off into deep sleep I hadn't experienced since I'd been on the trail.

Marilyn Beckley of the Finger Lakes Trail (photo courtesy of Dean "Crooked Sticks" Clark)
I had the chance to meet another Finger Lakes Trail End-to-Ender Marilyn Beckley, aka Amoeba, who was there sharing some stories about the FLT's very own Ed Sidote, to whom this year's Gathering was dedicated. Ed Sidote was not only an ALDHA volunteer and member but a long-time volunteer and member of the Finger Lakes Trail, an invaluable asset to FLT hikers, and a passionate supporter of the trail in every way possible.

The Ed Sidote bench on the Finger Lakes Trail near Pharsalia Woods Lean-to 
I never did get to meet Ed Sidote, but I heard numerous stories about him while I journeyed across the state. His book, written with Joe Dabes, was also the first guide I purchased for the FLT back in 2011. The owner of the Susquehanna Motel, which is located near the eastern terminus of the FLT told me that once Ed got word that a long distance hiker was heading into town that day, he would show up and sit on his front porch waiting to greet and offer assistance as they crossed the bridge into town. On the day I reached the eastern terminus of the FLT, I had to share the sad news with a local man, who lived along its final miles in the tiny town of Claryville and hadn't yet received word, that Ed had passed away. The man lived simply and with little more amenities than his pick-up truck and had helped Ed shuttle hikers to and from the end. In Ed's honor, the FLT dedicated a portion of the trail and a bench to him this past summer bearing his trail name.

Bill Cooke at his booth in true hiker form- ice cream in hand- with his book, Shades of Gray, Splashes of Color: A Thru-hike of the Colorado Trail 
I also had fun visiting with familiar trail faces, such as Bill Cooke and Pam Masterson. I had first met Bill at Trail Days this past spring where we were both selling our books. Bill's book is titled Shades of Gray, Splashes of Color: A Thru-hike of the Colorado Trail and describes his 486 mile journey along the Colorado Trail. To read more about Bill's book visit: When Bill and I had first chatted I shared with him my plans of hiking the Finger Lakes Trail that coming season. It just so happened that his partner, Pam, lived in the Finger Lakes region. As I made my way through this area, Pam had reached out to me via email offering her help. We never did manage to connect while I was hiking but how cool it was to put a face to the name when I met her here. Pam has also published a book highlighting 22 trails in the Little Finger Lakes, complete with maps. She has been making her own jams and maple syrup goodies for some time now through her business Canadice Kitchens and is presently experimenting with putting together hiker maildrops complete with healthy dehydrated foods. I'm looking forward to this business for my next thru-hike!

Cam Honan, trail name Swami, describing his "12 Long Walks"
(photo courtesy of Dean "Crooked Sticks" Clark)
This year's keynote speaker was, Cam Honan, aka Swami, an Aussie who has hiked nearly 50,000 miles in his 42 years. In 2012, he completed a thru-hike of a lifetime, hiking 14,000 miles over 18 months, combining multiple long-distance trails throughout the United States, including the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and the Appalachian Trail. He took only a handful of zero days and averaged 30+ miles a day. His slideshow was an array of breathtaking landscapes and mountain vistas, and his stories spanned from heart-warming, such as meeting a familiar face atop a remote mountain to humorous, citing a special evening in Georgia that involved a taser and copious quantities of cheap beer. When asked why he chose to do a hike of this magnitude, he stated, "I thought it'd be a nice way to see the states." Well, Swami, that's one way to do it.

I too enjoyed giving two talks at the Gathering, one detailing my experience hiking the Finger Lakes Trail this past spring/summer, and another describing my two thru-hikes on the Mountains to Sea Trail in 2011 and 2014. I was thrilled to have so many attend and to share in your enthusiasm for your upcoming adventures. It was also a treat to chat with not only familiar faces who have attended previous talks of mine, but to run into folks I had hiked with on the Appalachian Trail back in 2008. And as I sat at my booth throughout the weekend I had the pleasure of hearing about so many of your thru-hiking and section-hiking plans and to pick your brains as well about various trails. My ideas continue to steep on what trail to do next and how and when, but it is events like this that contribute to my inspiration. Thank you to all for that!