Saturday, July 2, 2016

Lackawaxen Foraging

It has been a busy Spring to say the least. I've done a good job of filling my days with plant walks, vending at various herbal and trail fests, and sharing in your love for the plants and your enthusiasm for our long distance trails. In my downtime, I have been galavanting through the woods, along the rivers, and over the mountains with my love's hand in mine. This is all such good good that I give my gratitude daily for the joy that is my life these days. does leave little time for blogging...but there is so much to blog about...where do I begin?

The Delaware River along the Finger Lakes Trail - if you were to follow this river south, you would eventually reach where the Lackawaxen River joins with the Delaware and where the tiny town of Lackawaxen sits.
Let's begin with Lackawaxen. 

This is where you say..."Lacka-what?" Lackawaxen is as little known as it is small. It's a friggin' speck of sand on a map, or rather a cluster of civilization in the northeastern mountains of Pennsylvania. We have three businesses on the main drag and they are all owned by the same person, these consist of a sports shop (and I don't mean tennis rackets and basketballs) with lots of stuffed heads mounted on the walls, a cafe with a beautiful view of the river, and a convenience store providing bread, eggs, milk, and well what else do you need? I didn't let my cat outside for the first month we lived here because I was scared she would get picked off by the bald eagle that nested on the cliffside outside our front door. I got over that when the trees leafed out but she still doesn't go out at night due to the pack of coyotes we opened the door to one evening. 

So we don't have much of the sophisticated here in Lackawaxen...but what Lackawaxen does have besides bald eagles and coyotes, is...plants. Okay, that's an understatement...a botanical wonderland divided only by the confluence of the Delalaware and Lackawaxen rivers and the occasional winding road.

Gooseberries (Ribes spp.)
Just two weeks ago, the Gooseberries (Ribes spp.) appeared, which mind you, if you don't know just where a bush is and when it's going to fruit, it's likely you may never spot an actual Gooseberry bush bearing gooseberries. The woodland creatures enjoy them so much that they are gone long before they are ripe enough for our picking. There are numerous species, some native and some non-native, and are quick to hybridize, therefore offering a wide spectrum of flavor, from disgusting to delicious. These here were sweet and flavorful but with high astringency. 

Mayapple leaf (Podophyllum peltatum)
The Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) with their large umbrella-like leaves have already put out their waxy white flowers and are on their way to sporting small egg-sized fruits. Mayapple has two forms. The first is that with a single leaf atop a single tall stalk, the other is that with two leaves atop a forked stalk. Look for those with forked stalks to find a juicy fruit that is edible when ripe. Be certain the fruit is yellow, then slice in half, scoop out the seeds and discard, then scoop out the edible flesh of the fruit from the inedible skin. Eat only the seedless flesh of the Mayapple fruit, as other parts are mildly cathartic to potentially deadly.

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) fruits

In this sunny, dry spot against the rockface, Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) is already beginning to fruit, relatively early for this small tree. Staghorn begins with cones of yellowish-green flowers that give way to these fuzzy fruits that taste sour as lemons. Harvest a single cone and submerge in a pitcher of cold water, mashing the fruits with a large spoon or spatula once in water. Allow the cone to steep for 2-4 hours and remove. Strain the pink liquid through a clean bandana (that you don't mind dying) to remove the tiny hairs, sweeten to your taste, and sip. Sumac is loaded with Vitamin C, an important vitamin to replenish during the hot summer months.

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) underside of leaf
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), as a non-native invasive often gets a bad rap, but we should remember that it is a highly medicinal plant with a lesser known spiritual side. This plant begins small, bearing just a leaf or two, but by summer's end, will be a tall arching cane over four feet tall bearing these alternately arranged, deeply lobed leaves with silvery undersides. The aromatic leaves are highly effective in aiding digestion when steeped in a tea and consumed before or after dinner. Pagan practitioners also enjoy a cup before ritual to encourage astral projection. Why not try a cup before bed to enliven your dreams? Use just a few leaves to one cup.

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

These Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) leaves quickly landed in a pot, going to feed a host of plant people, perhaps a few of you reading this blog! This particular community of Stinging Nettle resides along the Lackawaxen River and was so prolific that it may as well have been a forest unto itself. Stinging Nettle is actually a non-native nettle that has naturalized here in the states. This Nettle has opposite leaves as opposed to our native nettle (Laportea Canadensis) which has alternate leaves. However it matters not which nettle you have as both of these are edible. Harvest the leaves before the plant has flowered then steam, simmer, or saute to eat as you would a green vegetable or puree into a hummus or pesto. 

Besides the plants found throughout the area, I have been enjoying discovering a host of nearby trails such as the Tusten Mountain Trail, Indian Lookout, and various trails with names unknown to me. I will save tales of these treks for another blog post as I don't want to keep you gazing at this computer screen any longer. Get outside and breathe it in, soak it up, feel it through and the through, and give thanks for these long days of Summer while they are here. Also, be sure to check back for details on my guided hikes that I'll be leading on some of these area trails!

Atop the cliff behind my house (yes, the one with the bald eagles and coyotes...and of course many, many plants!)


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