Saturday April 18 – Trees, Owl Eyes and Cold Water
As we sat in our first circle of the 2015 Wild Plants Apprenticeship – the sun was out and so were the birds. In our spot along the Bruce Trail, many hikers passed us quickly as we sat and learned each others names in the cool grass dotted with raspberry canes.
Soon, we stepped a few feet further along the path to discover a tall, flaky barked tree. I scraped a young branch with my fingernail to release the smell of almonds that the black cherry has hidden under its bark. We spent many moments by this tree, harvesting some of its inner bark to make medicine with. Using knives and fingers, we were each able to take some bark with us, while stashing some branches to return to later.
Hiking past the first meadow, we found ourselves in a stand of pines, planted perhaps to break the wind across these fields. “All pines are evergreens, but not all evergreens are pines” was a lesson to remember. With five pine species in this region, we spent some time teasing out which one we were looking, and with five needles in each bundle, this first tree was in fact the official tree of OntarioJ
In a survival situation, pines are a reliable source of safe foods – but we were reminded “Don’t ever ingest anything that you don’t have 100% ID on”. Seems like some words to live by!
Further down the trail, we came upon a velvety-leaved rosette coming through the grasses. This biennial plant is a great medicine to support the lungs and airways, and when the flowers are steeped in oil, can also be a remedy for the common earache.
As we passed another stand of pines and some feeding sign from a porcupine friend, we came out to a south facing hill where some tiny lobed leaves were making an appearance. This new growth of the Ox-eye Daisy is uniquely flavoured and quite lovely in a salad.
Looking at pine cones and pulling needles, we spent much of our day absorbing the details of the conifers that allows us to differentiate them and begin to build relationships with these tall towers of food and medicine that once dominated this landscape.
Through a low cedar wetland, we found yellow birch, and even a wild spring where water can be drunk from the ground! The cool liquid was a great addition to our warm sunny day, and I loved the opportunity to have water that was known to be safe coming directly from the earth to me.
After crossing a precarious creek or two, many of us had removed our shoes and were varying levels of muddy. Walking into a hardwood stand, there were some stunning baby blue cohosh plants, and the young leaves of a Garlic Mustard. With the Garlic Mustard sparking some interesting conversations around native and invasive plants, and sustainable harvesting, there was some excitement building for using and eating some of our more bountiful plants!
After sitting in silence in the late afternoon, we slowly came back together as a group again by the cold creek. With our bare feet on the earth, we were encouraged to spend a little time learning how to feel through our footsteps, and soften our gaze to use all of our peripheral vision. In “owl eyes” we walked slowly around the grasses and saplings, and I was so excited to see some moths and small flies pop into vision. I can’t wait for what I see next!
Written By: Lee Earl – 2nd Year Plants Apprentice