On Saturday, November 3rd, 2018, the Earth Tracks plant apprentices met at the Mono Forest Tract – one of fourteen Dufferin County Forest tracts located across Dufferin County. Alexis recommended using all of our senses when harvesting roots. He reminded everyone that we are often taking the life of the plants when we harvest the roots. We shared gratitude for the plants to start our day.
To start, we headed over to a patch of Sarsaparilla and learned from Alexis that this plant is also called “rabbit root” because the rabbits munch on it. We looked at the growth rings (or cups) on the plant roots. When I harvested some sarsaparilla root from under an elderberry plant, I counted nine cups or nine years of growth. This plant was used as a source of energy for First Nations’ runners. The root can also be used to make root beer.
Next, it was time to harvest Burdock root. Burdock is known as a blood purifier because it stimulates the liver to function more efficiently. It contains iron, minerals and vitamins A, C, D and E. It may also have antioxidant properties. Burdock is a biennial plant with a deep tap root. Alexis shared that when the root dies back, it creates a water channel, insect channel and air channel into the earth. These channels are beneficial to the health of the soil and the creatures/plants that live there. The roots bring macro and micronutrients up from the deeper soil layers. When burdock leaves die back, they return the nutrients to the soil.
Note: A few days later, I harvested some burdock roots to share at a potluck and had a feeling to put the leaves from the harvested plants back on the surface of the soil where I took the roots. I did not think more on this until writing up the notes from the weekend. Maybe the burdock was communicating with me about the necessity of returning those nutrients to the soil and nearby plants that need it. The natural world is amazing!
A few people harvested some mullein roots next. Mullein is one of the earth-regenerators. It has a long taproot that helps control soil erosion and break up compacted soil. A tincture made with the fresh roots can be used for urinary incontinence. We continued to wander along deer trails and mountain bike trails in a mixed forest of beeches, maples and conifers. The undergrowth revealed bright red Canada Mayflower berries and some delicious Common Sorrel leaves which looked like green goldfish crackers. Michelle and Tim recommend this yummy edible.
Deer tracks and scrapes were observed on the trail. Within moments, some of the group spotted deer moving through the deciduous forest ahead. We took a break for lunch, sheltered from the wind by the trees. Tanya shared some yummy horehound candies from Britain. Horehound is an expectorant, useful for relieving dry coughs. It is also a bitter, to help with digestion.
A ruby crowned kinglet made an appearance as the group headed towards the edge of the forest bordering Mono Cliffs Provincial Park. We harvested some hemlock needles and Alexis prepared nutritious Hemlock tea. He shared that Hemlock helps bind to heavy metals and remove them from the body.
We talked about reciprocity and how humans can help disperse plant seeds. We collected some Blue Cohosh seeds to plant in other areas of the forest. Alexis talked about how heavier seeds, like Blue Cohosh (that are not wind dispersed) need help taking root in new places. Seed dispersal is one form of caretaking that humans have traditionally helped with in the natural world.
Fungi were aplenty in the forest. We observed some puffballs with the genus name Lycoperdon which roughly translates to “wolf fart” referring to the brown puff of spores that these mushrooms release when rain falls on the spore sac. Daniella touched the spores and commented that her finger felt warm afterwards – possibly an intriguing affirmation of the name “wolf fart”?
Alexis pointed out a carrion flower plant and shared a story about an encounter with the plant’s stinky, “smells like dog scat” flowers. In the afternoon, Sammy showed some of the apprentices the extrafloral nectaries on cherry leaves (red floral glands at the base of the leaves). This part of the plant attracts pollinators. So cool! Alexis pointed out a spikenard plant and a little patch of violets. We looked closely at the “blind flowers” or “underground flowers” of the violet and saw little seed pods. There was a whole ecosystem in the violet patch – camouflaged beige millipedes (matched the colour of the seed pods) and snails hiding among the plant stems.
To wrap up this blog post, “What type of plant do you get when you plant kisses?” Tulips!