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Sunday – where we hit the books . . .and the wetlands

Sunday May 21, 2017

After a beautiful spring night complete with chatty spring peepers and booming thunderclaps, we met Sunday morning in the Rebel Roots greenhouse. Building on some of our conversations from the harvest yesterday, Alexis spent some time talking about stewardship and harvesting ethics – ev

Study Sunday! Hanging out in the greenhouse making plant journals

erything from knowing the local by-laws on land to which plant parts that when harvested have the biggest impact (roots and barks).

We had a great discussion on some of the big 4 edibles to know about while in North America – because they are abundant across most of the continent and have edible parts in each season! Cat tails, pines, oaks and Grasses. With everything from edible seeds or flowers to edible roots or inner barks – these plants alone could be quite the culinary adventure!

Dressing our plantain and nettle chips before dehydrating!

Taking a minute to stretch our legs and harvest some Stinging Nettle (grasp the nettle!) – we mixed up a tamari and nutritional yeast dressing to coat those tasty greens. After laying the seasoned leaves on baking trays – we dehydrated them in a conventional oven at 170F for about 2 hours – checking every 15 min. The oven door was propped slightly open during cooking to allow steam to escape – this process is also an easy breeze for those that own dehydrators ūüôā

After putting our snack in the oven – we headed back to the impromptu greenhouse library to get down to some plant journal business!

Flower fritters frying away before being dipped in maple syrup and eaten happily!

From colourful drawings to black and white itemized lists, everyone had their own unique journals on the go – using mind`s eye imaging and great published resources – we all got a little Sunday down time.

Breaking for a late lunch, we munched on our crispy nettle and plantain chips, and even fried up some tasty Dandelion fritters! Coated in a light tempura style batter – fresh dandelion flowers and some maple syrup garnish – the tastiest desserts!

Talking wild leek stewardship ethics

Headed to the wetland and mixed hardwood forest for the afternoon, we had a great lesson in stewardship as we transplanted and propagated Wild Leeks before harvesting a few leaves (only one each from two-leaved plants). Past beautiful Maidenhair ferns and the shape shifter Blue Cohosh, we headed to the wetland where the abundant and delicious Cattails were. From their starchy rhizomes to sweet tender shoots and novocaine like jelly – they truly are as Euell Gibbons stated `The Supermarket of the Swamps`.

`Til next time!

Wetland – home of the Cat tail – Typha “Supermarket of the Swamps“

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From Forest Forage to Potluck Feast

Saturday May 20, Grey County

It was a beautiful sunny Spring day when the Wild Plants Apprentices met up to have their first wild edible themed day! As soon as we exited the cars, it was only a few feet

before we were down on the ground looking at some of the many, many edible and medicinal greens we would find throughout the day!

Never eat a plant you don’t know 100% !

Alexis started us off with some great principles to keep in mind as we enter the realm of foraging wild plants

1) Always have a 100% ID on any plant that you might want to eat. As mentioned “Poisonous plants don’t just jump out and make you eat them!”

 

2) Keep in mind the 3 Rights – Right Season, Right Part, Right Preparation

Armed with that knowledge, we set out to explore the understory – with everything from Wild Ginger to different type of Solomon’s seals we look at flowers, and talked about the coming of some toxic and edible berries!

An understory remnant from when this was an old growth hardwood forest!

Young translucent leaves are delicious raw – watch out for amazing flowers coming late June!

As there were a few mosquitoes out, we even discussed different plants for healing rinses and poultices – Burdock root wash to help heal and bring down swelling and Plantain as a spit poultice in the field!
As we looked up from the ground dwellers, we also harvested some basswood leaves for our salad and talked about tasty apple flowers (some of which folks often pinch back anyway to ensure bigger and juicier fruits for the fall).

We also found Daylily (an escaped garden plant from an old homestead site) – the shoots of which are tasty and succulent this time of year – another score for our wild potluck!

Bloodroot – An incredible native spring ephemeral – and amazingly strong medicine!

Keeping in mind our stewardship ethics, we came across some beautiful Bloodroot that Alexis was able to transplant out of the path of horse hooves and we checked on some transplant patches from previous years that continue to thrive – away from the crushing feet of humans and dogs!

It was the perfect time of day for a wee rest and sit spot – relaxing in the afternoon understory – we could settle in to this complex habitat before our closing harvest.

All in all, everything was delicious from the violet leaves and flowers to the daylily shoots – we even scored some delicious burdock root from our patient and strong diggers! Bon Appetit!

Our feast of foraged plants!

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Stalking the Wild Toothwort

Written by 2nd year apprentice, Tamara Anderson 

 

The 2017 plants apprenticeship group met for the first time on Saturday, April 29th for a wander southwest, along a section of the Bruce Trail off Dunby Road, near Orangeville.

 After a discussion on plant foraging ethics and good pruning techniques, Alexis trimmed a branch of a nearby Black Cherry Tree so that everyone could make some cough syrup.  We scored the branch, peeled off the bark and harvested the cambium layer in preparation for making a medicinal syrup at home.

 

 What are the differences between a young Black Cherry, Pin Cherry and Chokecherry?  Does the Black Knot fungus only grow on Choke Cherry?

¬†The Black Cherry branch was adorned with a bluish green lichen.¬† Tamara shared a story to help remember that lichens are a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae: ‚ÄúAnne algae met Freddy fungus.¬† They took a lichen to one another.¬† Annie fixes the food and Freddy gives moisture and support. Now their relationship is on the rocks.‚ÄĚ (story originally shared by Elise, a naturalist and guide in Churchill, Manitoba).

 What species of lichen was growing on the Cherry Tree?

 Next, we visited a Manitoba Maple and compared its drooping flowers to the nearby Sugar Maple.  Lee pointed out that the wind-pollinated flowers take advantage of the leafless branches in the springtime so that the pollen can be carried further. We admired the tiny maple keys of the Manitoba Maple.

 Alexis brought everyone’s attention to the neighboring White Pine tree.  He shared a cool fact that pine trees have 5x more Vitamin C than the same amount of orange juice.  Wow!  He also reminded everyone to steep the pine needles in already-boiled water to keep the vitamins intact.  Alexis also recommended eating pine seeds raw or adding them to oatmeal and/or cookie recipes. 

Checking out the new growth on this Tamarack tree

 What is Alexis’s recipe for dandelion cookies sprinkled with pine seeds?

 We practiced using Newcomb’s Wildflower Identification guide to key out dandelion and learned that the seeds are antibacterial.

 Are children at risk of an allergic reaction to the latex in dandelion and other similar plants?

 What does Cat’s Ear look like?  Where does it grow?  Is it a poisonous look-a-like to dandelion?

 After identifying Coltsfoot with the Newcomb’s key, we observed and sampled some wild mint.

 Was it spearmint, water mint or peppermint?

¬†The afternoon wrapped up with a viewing of a Trout Lily corm, a sampling of wild leek leaves, a taste of garlic mustard roots and toothwort root.¬† The toothwort root tasted like horseradish.¬† During a sit-spot on an ephemeral-covered hillside, we heard the ‚Äúkek, kek, kek‚ÄĚ of a bird of prey (a Cooper‚Äôs hawk or maybe a Goshawk).¬† The chickadees alarmed.¬† Shortly afterward, a Broad-winged Hawk gave a higher pitched sound which did not cause a bird alarm.

 Do Broad-winged hawks only eat small mammals?  If yes, does this mean that they do not cause bird alarms?

Harvesting Toothwort. There is a way to take only a piece of the root so that the plant lives on.

 We followed the creek up to a spring and wandered up through a cedar forest to the trailhead.  It was a tree-mendous day.

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Scaling the Mono Cliffs

Story of the Day ‚Äď Sunday April 30th, 2017

Mono Cliffs

 

We started our day in the rain.  It was pouring but it was exactly what the plants needed.  We all huddled up underneath some old spruce trees and began our day together.  The rain started to calm down as we began our day with gratitude.  We started off towards the Mono Cliffs, when we came up to the tree line we put our bags down and Alexis taught us the importance of Fox walk and Owl eyes.  We all found some space and practiced our wide angle vision, we learned how to walk like a fox, keeping our weight in our quads as we felt around with the balls of our feet before committing to putting all of our weight down.  We used what we learned to take a wander into the forest, we gathered all of our things and headed individually to walk as quietly as possible through the plants.  

When we got to our meeting spot, we observed the forest, discussing what had previously been in that location. ¬†Some areas were covered in Blue Cohosh, a ¬†‘sensitive’ native plant, and we were pondering why this could be. ¬†What was the difference in the soil that made it a great place¬†for this plant to live? ¬†We also noticed that there were a lot of two leaved sprouts all over the forest floor that were in clumps. ¬†This started off as a mystery plant¬†but after some great questions we ended up figuring out that they were Jewelweed sprouts!

We slowly made our way over to the cliffs and as we did, two groups developed, the group that wanted to scale a rock face and those that would prefer not to.  The groups divided and made their way down to the bottom of the cliffs.  I was a part of the group who avoided the heights and as we headed down a meandering trail, we scared a Grouse out from her nest under a rocky area, we went to go check it out and saw that she was sitting on an egg!  Amazing!  

When we made it down to the bottom of the cliffs we all met up and decided that it was a good time for lunch.  We shared stories as we continued to get to know each other.

When lunch was over the Ring 2 apprentices gathered a number of ‘pieces’ of nature to use for a game that the Ring 1 apprentices would be participating in. ¬†The Ring 1‚Äôs had to close their eyes and they were given a nature mystery and their goal was to use their senses (other than sight) to try and figure out what it was. At the end all was revealed and it turned out that they knew what most of the mysteries were!

As the cold set into our bones we decided that moving was the best thing to do! We moved carefully through the forest stepping over logs and avoiding blue cohosh and wild ginger.  We spotted so many amazing plants and fungi, many of us stopping to take a second or third look at things.  We took a minute to look at some Virginia waterleaf and to look through our field guides to see what it was all about. We also discussed the different books that are out there and the differing information we can get from a book researched by a number of authors verses books written from the personal experience of a specific herbalist.  

At the end of our day we hiked back up the cliff onto an old road from a long gone homestead; we checked out some Dutchman’s Breeches and some Squirrel Corn, we picked apart some canine scat (to learn what it had been eating) and we made our way back to where we started.  When we got to the top and had a few hundred meters to go to our destination, we spotted a porcupine climbing up an old sugar maple.  So beautiful and endearing. Tamara also spotted a nest that had been predated upon, all that was left was some shattered egg shells, another nature mystery!

We ended the day where we started. We formed our circle and shared gratitude.  Goodbyes said and well wishes wished, we all headed out to our cars where the rain started again and we all headed home.  

– Kelly

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On the Wolf Trail

                                                                  Wolf Trail through a bog

Tales from the Tracking Trail

This past weekend our Wildlife Tracking Apprentices and I¬†were on the trail of a pair of Algonquin wolves. ¬†One of my favorite places to be during the winter season! ¬†I had first picked up the trail of these two wolves as they crossed the highway. ¬† They had come from the east and ¬†turned to the north as they scent marked a snowbank on the side of the road. ¬† The tracks told me that one of these animals was a little larger than the other and from the blood in the urine (estrus) of one of them, ¬†I was fairly confident that this was a breeding pair of Algonquin Wolves. ‚Ä謆 Were there others from the pack nearby or were these two off on their own during this time in the February¬†mating season?

As these animals moved north along the upper section of the Madawaska river they quickly spread apart as one animal followed the river and the other chose to move in a parallel fashion up the small forestry access road.   Soon both trails came together as these two animals met up and paused for a moment on top of the snowbank overlooking the river where a small creek joined the main section of this waterway.

 There were signs of beaver activity in this area as well as a spot that both mink and otter can easily access the water below the ice.   It was in this location that the wolves had chosen to scent mark both the snowbank again as well as a stump on the far side of the river.  If you have spent time on a wolf trail you will know that they are always quite curious around beaver lodges and dams and quick to check out these locations to potentially catch and eat a fatty and nutritious meal of Castor canadensis.  The beaver makes up a fairly large percentage of the diet of Algonquin wolves along with both deer and moose.

From here the trail led up into a mature white and red pine forest moving in an eastward direction. ¬†At the time I wondered what had caused ¬†these animals to turn 90 degrees to the east and move up through a rocky cliff area into this forest. ¬† Knowing that the tracks were less than 12 hours old and the wind was also coming from that direction it was a good guess that they had caught the scent of something up on that hill. ¬†With the river ice not being safe to cross we went back to the highway and crossed over¬†the river ¬†so that we could pick up this trail again and continue to follow it. ¬†On the way, we came across the ‘boxy’ hopping tracks of a southern flying squirrel. ¬†By the pattern of this trail as well as a trail width of 2″ we were quite sure that it was not the Northern flying squirrel, who also ¬†inhabit this area. ¬† We spent some time investigating this site and saw where this particular squirrel had fed on some cedar seeds and then disappeared into a hole in the snow down into the subnivean. ¬†¬†

It wasn’t long before we picked up the wolf trail again and quickly learned what may have been the cause in their change of direction. ¬†Moose. ¬† In this location we found two moose beds and fairly fresh (1-2 day old) tracks. ¬† These wolves were definitely interested in these animals and appeared to be following their trails as they ¬†moved up to the top of a plateau. ¬† Judging by the size of the beds, scat and urine marks in the snow we could tell that the moose tracks were from a cow and a male calf. ¬† There were also tracks of snowshoe hare in this area. ¬†When tracking single or pairs of wolves in the past, I have often seen them pursuing hares in the dense patches of balsam fir like we were in at this point. ¬†But these wolves seemed much more interested in the moose that had been hanging out in this area. ¬†

This forest and especially the top of this hill was thick with moose sign. ¬†There were dozens of beds in this area along with a lot of browsing (feeding) sign on red maple, hobblebush and balsam fir. ¬† It is hard to tell exactly how many moose had been using this area. ¬†Especially knowing that these animals may get up to feed and then bed down 8-10 times over the course of a day. ¬† Moose are known to eat upwards of 40 lbs of twigs and buds per day in the winter months and generally do not move long distances when there is ample food in a given area. ¬† One thing that we did know, was that this area was thick with sign and scent of moose. ¬† To a wolf, this must have been an ‘olfactory-overload’ to their sense of smell. ¬†I am quite sure that this is what they had originally smelled from about a km away at the river. ¬†

As the wolves moved through this area they moved mostly in a trot while separating and then coming back together for short distances.   After years of tracking wolves I have seen this many times when they are moving across a landscape.  A wolf pack will spread out across a hillside or valley and move through an area trying to push prey towards their kin in hopes of taking one down and feeding the entire pack with the carcass of a large animal such as a deer or moose.  We continued to wonder if there were other members of the pack nearby?  

As with every tracking experience, we ask many questions and make our hypothesis as to what may have happened. ¬†And then we look for evidence that will either substantiate or refute our hypothesis. ¬† Being humble and open to being wrong is crucial in this whole process. ¬†On more than one occasion I have been quite sure of something and made a ‘definite’ statement only to follow the trail a little further to learn that what I had said was not the case and sometimes even completely inaccurate.

Anyways, no, we did not find a spot on this wolf trail where they had taken down a moose or even a snowshoe hare for that matter.   But we did get a chance to peer into and learn a little about these wild animals and experience what it is like to be on their trail.  I am constantly feeling grateful for the lessons that tracking continues to teach me.   It not only helps me to understand more about the biology and behavior of animals and nature.   But it also teaches me a lot about myself and my relationship to the natural world.  Tracking and following the trails of animals  gets me out of my head and into my body and heart.   My thoughts fade away to being fully engaged in the experience of the present moment.  And to me, this is where the beauty and magic lies.   As I said before, following the trails of wolves (or any animal for that matter), is truly one of my favorite places to be.  

Until next time………Happy Tracking

 Alexis

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