A sign I put up to protect the Virginia snakeroot plants.

Oh no! The Virginia Snakeroot babies are all gone!

Virginia snakeroot at the Wild Ozark Ginseng Habitat Demonstration Garden.
Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia serpentaria)

I went out to check on the Virginia snakeroot nursery the other day and was mortified to find nothing. Not. One. Plant.

Virginia Snakeroot … What’s That?

Now, you might be wondering just what’s so important about a plant that really looks like nothing much more than a weed in the woods. It’s a plant of interest to me for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a medicinal plant with a history of being used to treat snakebites and mad dog (rabies). I’m not likely to use it for either of these, but I do have an affinity for medicinal plants.

Second, it’s harder and harder to find because there’s actually a market for the roots. People dig them and then sell them to botanical purveyors who then sell them to pharmaceutical or herbal companies.

It Even Has Look-Alikes

There’s another plant that has very similar leaf shape, but it isn’t snakeroot.

Not Virginia snakeroot. Not sure what it is, though I know what it isn't.
Not Virginia snakeroot. Not sure what it is, but I know what it isn’t.

There’s a long article on the plant and how it was once used at the Herbs2000.com website.

For the past several years I’ve searched our property for this plant and never could find any. In 2015 I found the first plant, but then a major flash flood erased it from the site. Then last year while I was making trails in the Ginseng Habitat Demonstration Garden, I noticed a whole mess of the plants on a little knoll under the cedar trees.

I was so excited. I’d even placed a sign at the entrance to warn visitors not to enter that part because there were so many it would be hard to walk around them without stepping on some. I wanted to collect seeds and propagate more of them.

Poof!

And now they are gone. Completely disappeared. The ground had been disturbed by an armadillo, but I don’t think an armadillo would eat snakeroots. I didn’t see any footprints that might indicate some roaming root digger had come by. Virginia snakeroot is one of the wild plants that botanical buyers purchase, but these plants were so small it would take a ton of the little roots to earn the $30 or so per pound that they can fetch.

Besides that, there were ginseng plants in the vicinity and I can’t see a poacher taking the snakeroot without also taking the ginseng.

So what happened to them?

I think I figured out the answer.

Butterflies.

Or more specifically, caterpillars of the Pipevine Swallowtail. These butterflies are not the pollinators for Virginia snakeroot, but the pipevine plants are the host plants for their larvae. Virginia snakeroot is one of the pipevines, as is wild ginger and Dutchmen’s pipe vine.

While we have lots of wild ginger around, we don’t have many of the Dutchmen’s pipe and I’ll bet what happened to my plants is that they were eaten by the larvae of butterflies. Actually, they weren’t ‘my’ plants. I’m sure the butterflies were excited to see them and call them theirs, too.

It’s the explanation that makes the most sense. If that’s the case, they’ll be back next year. I can find a way to protect a few plants and share the rest with the butterflies. Keep your fingers crossed!

The flower isn't mature yet in this photo. It was when I went back out there to get another photo of the flower that I noticed they were all gone.
The flower isn’t mature yet in this photo. It was when I went back out there to get another photo of the flower that I noticed they were all gone.

 

Lousewort, Bumblebee Food and Medicinal Herb

Lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis) is an interesting plant. It’s a medicinal herb said to be effective at muscular pain relief. The bumblebees love it!

Rosy colored variety of Pedicularis
Rosy colored variety of Pedicularis, with a bumble bee visiting.
A pale yellow-colored lousewort.
A pale yellow-colored lousewort.
Some lousewort, showing whole plant. It gets larger and taller as the season progresses.
Some lousewort, showing whole plant. It gets larger and taller as the season progresses.

An interesting find

In May of 2014, I noticed an interesting plant. Well, I’m *always* noticing interesting plants, so it wasn’t the first time to notice an interesting plant, but the first time to notice lousewort.

It was growing in the cedar grove below the pond, in the same area as the rattlesnake plantain and twayblade orchids. Although I’ve walked around in there before I had never noticed the the greenish-gray ferny fronds.

At the time it wasn’t blooming, but I immediately recognized it from long ago when I studied with a Master Herbalist in Bay St. Louis, MS. It’s hard to believe that was nearly 25 years ago now. Her name was Amelia Plant and we’ve long since lost touch, but I often wonder what she’s been up to. She had brought me and a few of her other students on a gathering trip in MS and that was one we collected.

Lousewort is semi-parasitic

Its roots feed off of the roots of neighboring plants, but it doesn’t require a host to live. Because of the possibility that it’s feeding from neighboring plants, if you plan to use it as medicine, it’s important to make sure the neighbors aren’t poisonous plants. The variety of lousewort that grows at Wild Ozark is Pedicularis canadensis.

Some of them bloom with a bicolor rosy/white tubular flower and some have pale yellow, nearly white flowers. Medicinally, the above-ground parts are used for skeletal muscle pain. I haven’t tried it yet, but I did just harvest some yesterday to put up for later use. It’s not a narcotic, so the pain relief isn’t likely to be as effective as narcotic drugs.

This herb is reported to combine well with skullcap and black cohosh to make a pretty good muscle relaxer. Black cohosh affects female hormones, though, so be aware of that and perhaps use a different herb, like black haw or skunk cabbage as a substitute if you have a hormone-influenced issue.

  • Always consult your physician and do your own research before using herbs – the information I provide through my newsletters and website is only meant to be a starting point and is NOT intended to be taken as medical advice. I’m not a doctor, have no medical training, and am not offering medical advice.

Lobelia inflata is another local medicinal herb that would go well with this combination, but the seeds (the part most medicinal) are potent. Use caution in dosage.

Where to Find Lousewort

The lousewort plants I found are growing in a moist cedar grove under plenty of shade. I’ve also seen them growing in partly shady areas alongside our county road. This spring I’ll be trying to propagate some of the ones here. If I’m successful with that and you want to get some, let me know. If I’m able to get in, I’ll be at the Fayetteville Farmer’s Market this year. Otherwise you’ll have to make trip out to the Wild Ozark Nature Farm 🙂

References for my information and more on using lousewort at these sites:

  • http://7song.com/pedicularis-lousewort-monograph-pedicularis-as-a-skeletal-muscle-relaxant/ (sorry, can’t link directly because it’s not a secure website, but it is safe if you want to copy and paste the URL)
  • https://www.altnature.com/gallery/woodbetony.htm
The hazelnut and husk, straight from the tree.

Vernal Witch Hazel Flowers and Hazelnut too!

Today I went out to take cuttings from the Ozark Witch Hazel in the hopes of rooting them. I wasn’t looking for an American Hazelnut, but that’s what I found! I found the Witch Hazels, too. But I already knew those were there. New finds are always so exciting to me, but I think most people probably think I’m a little strange to be so thrilled over finding a  plant.

While I was scanning the creeksides for the witch hazel blooms, I happened to notice a small tree/large shrub on the uphill side of the road. On the opposite side of where I knew the witch hazels to be. From a distance, it looked a lot like it was covered with the American hazelnut male flowers that I saw on Steven Foster’s FB post the other day. My heart beat a little faster and I got out to take a closer look.

American Hazelnut (Corylus americana)

Sure enough, there were the ‘catkin’ male flowers.

Male flowers of the American hazelnut (Corylus americana)
Male flowers of the American hazelnut (Corylus americana)

And teeny tiny little fushia colored flowers at the ends of some of the branches. The flowers are very similar in appearance to the witch hazel, just a different color and a LOT smaller. I couldn’t get a good photo of them, but here’s what I have:

Male and female flower of the American hazelnut. The female is that tiny little frilly thing at the tip end of the branch.
Male and female flower of the American hazelnut. The female is that tiny little frilly thing at the tip end of the branch.

Now, to see MUCH better photos, take a look at Foster’s.

I poked around in the bushes for a bit and found one of the hazelnut shrubs that still had a leftover nut on it. The nut was tremendous in comparison to the small ones produced by the witch hazels, but it is still a fairly small nut compared to the ones you’d buy in the stores around Christmastime.

Smallish or not, I’d be willing to crack and shell them if I could gather enough. In fall, the new crop of nuts will be on the tree and you can bet I’ll be there trying to get them before the wildlife.

The hazelnut and husk, straight from the tree.
The hazelnut and husk, straight from the tree.

 

Surprise, Surprise

I’ve lived here 13 years now and never noticed this small tree. I know it’s been there longer than I’ve lived here.

It always surprises me when that happens. I just this year saw the biggest beech tree I’ve ever seen out here and it obviously has been there fifty years or more. Same thing happened with a deciduous magnolia. Found it, for the first time, last year right on the side of a trail I commonly use, and it too has been there probably fifty years.

Who knows how many more as-yet undiscovered plants are out there waiting on me?

Vernal Witch Hazel

The Vernal Witch Hazels are also known as Ozark Witch Hazels (Hamamelis vernalis). They bloom in late winter or very early spring (hence, the ‘vernal’ part of their common name). We have another variety called simply ‘Witch Hazel’ (H. virginiana) that blooms around October. Those have yellow flowers. The vernal ones have maroon and yellow flowers.

I think I almost missed the blooms on these this year. Or maybe they’re just getting started. I’ll have to check again in a day or two and see if the flowers are more developed, or completely withered.

Vernal Witch Hazel flowers
Vernal Witch Hazel flowers

I don’t really do anything with the Witch Hazel medicinally. They’re good for making an astringent wash to treat hemorrhoids and they make a good facial tonic. I just like the flowers and it’s one of my annual ritual photos I like to take to mark the passing of time. If in the future I need to use them for a remedy, I know where to find them.

When I finished getting my pictures, I took some cuttings and will try rooting them to see if I can make new plants from them. I tried this last year, but it didn’t work. Ever the optimist – that’s me. I’ll keep trying.

Have you ever tried eating the American Hazelnuts or using the Witch Hazel? Let me know how it went. When I was a teenager I used to use the Witch Hazel tonic for acne, but I’m not even sure they still sell it on the shelf like they used to do way back when.

More Information

Hazelnut: https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/american-hazelnut

 

Elderberry blossom

Build your Herbal Armory!

Useful plants grow all around us. It’s time to start building your herbal armory of plant allies now.

My book, 10 Common Plants worth Knowing in a Long-term Survival Situation, will introduce you to ten at a time. I’ll help you make allies of them, enabling you to build your herbal armory.

  1. All-Heal
  2. Beebalm
  3. Echinacea
  4. Elderberry
  5. Red clover
  6. Red Raspberry
  7. Red Mulberry
  8. Persimmon
  9. Spicebush
  10. Witch Hazel

An Heirloom

This book is meant to be written in. I’ve given space to record your harvest locations, identification notes, place to write things that you think will be important for anyone trying to follow in your footsteps in the next generations.

Read More

Ginseng Jelly – A Delicious Wild Ozark Luxury Product

Oh, my … GINSENG JELLY!

I love medicinal herbs, especially those that grow right here at home, and most especially ginseng. This year’s ginseng jelly comes in two varieties:

  • Ginseng Gold (4-oz, $25)
  • Ginseng/Apple (8-oz, $25) Soft-set: thicker than syrup, thinner than jelly

Both are delicious, but you’ll get more of the ginseng active ingredients from the Gold. Prices do not include shipping.

Email me for a PayPal invoice and let me know your address so I can give you the quote on shipping: [email protected]

Ginseng is a Medicinal Herb

This jelly is intended for adults only. A teaspoon a day is plenty enough to experience the benefit.

 

UPDATE 2017, made a fresh batch of jelly for this year: it is delicious and potent!!

Email me if you’d like to try it.  [email protected]

Making ginseng jelly- Getting ready to chop the ginseng roots after soaking them for a couple of hours.
Getting ready to chop the ginseng roots after soaking them for a couple of hours.

The taste

I tasted the decoction (broth) this morning after it soaked overnight and the flavor is bitter with a sweet follow. This is exactly how the roots taste when chewed.

The jelly is sweet, lightly flavored with a very slight bitter finish. Some people don’t taste the bitter at all, but I do. The point with this product isn’t so much to use it as a confection, but as a tonic.

My favorite way to use it is on my morning slice of toast. That’s all you need – a teaspoon a day. If you take it daily, then the little jar won’t last very long. This is a good thing, as ginseng shouldn’t be used on a daily basis for more than a month or two at a time.

Medicinal Virtues

Ginseng has been in use as a medicinal plant for thousands of years. American ginseng was first used by the Native Americans but became popular in China during the 1700’s.

In recent years scientists have become more interested in the ways ginseng works and have produced several studies.

Here’s an article about the effects of ginseng.

This one offers a handy chart: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3103855/figure/F3/

And, here’s an article about some of the side effects of ginseng and possible drug interactions. You should always do research before using herbal remedies, and do more than just read the links on mine or any other one site.

This jelly contains a broth made with American ginseng root. A large portion, if not most, of the medicinal  part of ginseng is water soluble, so it will be in this jelly.

Don’t Wait too Long!

Look for Wild Ozark American Ginseng Jelly at the Nature Shop and at our market booth this year!

It’s pretty and tastes wonderful!

Ginseng and Blackberry Jelly, the test batch. I'm out of this one. Right now I have "Ginseng Gold", which is just ginseng, and "Ginseng/Apple". Both are $25, but with the Ginseng/Apple you get twice the volume.
“Ginseng Gold”, which is just ginseng, and “Ginseng/Apple”. Both are $25, but with the Ginseng/Apple you get twice the volume.

Email me at madison(at)wildozark(dot)com if you want some.

Elderberry Flowers Oil Infusion

Elderberry at Wild Ozark
American elderberry, Sambucus canadensis

Elderberry flowers have a light, sweet fragrance and all manners of pollinators love them.

Which Elderberry Flowers?

The variety I’m using for this is Sambucus canadensis, which is the native elderberry in our area.  Black elderberry (S. nigra) is the european comparative variety. Don’t use red elderberry if it grows in your area because that one is toxic.

Step by Step

  • Pick the elderberry flowers. But don’t pick ALL of the flowers. Save some for the pollinators and some to make berries for you and the birds.
Fresh elderberry flowers.
Fresh elderberry flowers.

Choose only the fresh flowers, just opened and not turning brown yet. You’ll have to pull the branches down where you can reach them if the flowers are too high.

  • Cut them and let them drop into your bowl.

Don’t cut all of the flowers so there will be some left for the pollinators and for berries.

Be forewarned. You’ll get showered with bugs and old petals while you’re doing this.

  • Separate the petals from the stems.
  • Spread them out on a pan and let them sit for a few minutes outside so the bugs can vacate the premises. I put them on a sheet of kraft or parchment paper, on the pan.

When you’re ready to transfer them into the jar, you can use the paper like a funnel.

Spread them outside on a pan to let the bugs escape.
Spread them outside on a pan to let the bugs escape.

 

  • Add the flowers to a jar.
  • Cover with the oil of your choice and put a cap on the jar. I used macadamia nut because I had it on hand, and coconut oil because I didn’t have enough of the macadamia alone.
Elderflowers infusing in the sun.
Elderberry flowers infusing in the sun.
  • Let it sit in the sun to infuse all day. Every once in a while turn the jar to move the oil around.
  • Strain the next day into a fresh jar. Use a wooden spoon to press the flowers to get every last drop. I had more than would fit in the pint, so grabbed another smaller jar to capture the rest.
Straining the infusion.
Straining the infusion.
  • Label your treasure! This is something I am trying to do better at.

It’s one thing for me to know what’s in a jar or bag by smell, it’s another when I have to ask someone else to retrieve something for me, based upon my description of that smell or taste. If I’m not able to physically retrieve it myself because of injury or any other reason, I need to have them labeled so someone else can do it.

Case in point is when I wanted to slather on some healing balms after my ACL/meniscus tear and couldn’t walk down the stairs to get it myself. With nothing labeled, it would have been hard to ask Rob to bring what I needed.

Labeled infusion.
Labeled infusion.
  • Strain it again the next day. Use a fresh jar and transfer the label to it. After the tiny bit of moisture from the flowers has had time to gather itself together and form little bubbles or globs beneath the oil, you need to strain it again.

This time use a piece of paper towel and pull it through the funnel until you have most of it out of the bottom. Then cut off the paper towel so only an inch or so hangs beneath the funnel.

  • Then put two coffee filters opened in the funnel and pour the oil through the coffee filters first. it’ll be slow to go through so you might have to wait a bit before pouring again. Between the coffee filter and the paper towel, the little bit of moisture should get captured.

Your resulting oil should be crystal clear with a yellow tint and the scent should be lovely and light.

  • Let me know if you make this and how you used it. I’ll be using it in lip balms this time. When the tubes arrive next week, I’ll document the process and share that here in a blog post too, so stay tuned.

Happy Harvesting!

Email me if you’d like this post in PDF format. [email protected]

Wild Ozark’s Plant ID Challenge: May’s Mystery

This month’s Star Plant Guesser is Janet Webb, who correctly identified May’s Mystery plant as Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum).


Each month, around the middle of the month, I’ll post a plant ID challenge for readers to test their identification skills.

Every day until someone correctly guesses the true name of the mystery plant, I’ll post a new clue.


May’s Mystery Plant: First Clue for the Plant ID Challenge

First clue is just the photo. The first clue will always be just the photo 😉

May's Mystery - Wild Ozark's Plant ID Challenge
Can you guess the true name of this plant? Common names are often given to many plants, so comment the scientific name. If you know the common name it’s easy to find the other on the internet 😉

Check back tomorrow to see if anyone guessed it, or to get the next clue!

Already a Winner!

Gosh, I didn’t even get to sleep yet when Janet Webb guessed correctly that this is Conium maculata, or poison hemlock.

But wait!

Another contestant from the FB page commented that it might be “Water Hemlock”. Well, are these two the same, or not? Without a scientific name, it’s hard to say.

So I started doing the research. Turns out they are NOT the same, and that this plant I thought is plain old poison hemlock might actually be water hemlock, or Cicuta douglasii.

More Hemlock Clues and Pictures Anyway

Poison Hemlock leaves
Leaves
Poison Hemlock Stem Junction
Stem junction

Death by Different Mechanisms

Both poison hemlock and water hemlock are often fatal if eaten by humans. It’s probably more often fatal than not, especially if the person isn’t somewhere that knowledgeable help is nearby.

The toxin in water hemlock (Cicuta douglasii) causes seizures, foaming at the mouth, anxiety, and death after a while. It’s the root that’s the culprit in this one, which is the part most likely mistaken for the wild carrot. Horses sometimes accidentally pull up the plant when grazing near water. The toxins are less concentrated in other parts of the plant.

Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is the herb used by Socrates to kill himself. The death is not pleasant, as it paralyzes from the lower extremities and creeps higher until the diaphragm loses the ability to cause the lungs to take in a breath. The victim is still conscious and alert at this point. The whole plant is toxic, but the seeds contain the highest concentrations.

Sometimes animals only eat a little and do survive afterwards. The ones who survive at least 8 hours after are more likely to live. Pregnant animals who survive often deliver deformed offspring.

My short story Ozark Pixies features the poison hemlock in place of wild carrot. It’s a free read everywhere except Amazon.

Why would anyone eat it?

Wild carrot looks a lot like both of these plants, and it’s a wild edible (and medicinal). The scientific name for that one is Daucus carota. It’s also known as Queen Anne’s Lace.

Here’s a pic of that flower.

Queen Annes Lace
Queen Annes Lace, also called wild carrot. The scientific name is Daucus carota.

They’re all three in the same family, the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family, also sometimes called the ‘carrot’ family.

While the poison hemlock is also medicinal in tiny doses, the danger of death is so great that I wouldn’t use this one at all. There are safer alternatives.

Black Cohosh or Doll’s Eyes? Companion Look A-Likes

Black Cohosh or Doll’s Eyes?

Trying to differentiate between black cohosh and doll’s eyes before they come into bloom, has been frustrating. It’s very easy to tell once they begin the blooming process as the flower stems originate in different places and the flowers themselves are very different.

Both of these woodland herbs grow in the same environment, and both are ginseng companion plants.

But when only greenery exists, they both look so much alike, it’s uncanny. This is the first year I’ve had two colonies of both to watch as they mature.  My “intuition” tells me which is which so I want see if I can confirm my psychic inference, lol. In the meantime, I’ve been doing research online to see if anyone else can offer definitive proving methods.

I thought I’d found one way in a study posted online at the Canadian Universe’ Laval site – but in the end it proved inconclusive. The study, while not about differentiating the plants, is quite interesting if you would like to know the metal/mineral composition of various woodland herbs grown under different conditions.

It was the picture that caught my eye- an image of the symmetrical vs. asymmetrical leaf patterns on the cohosh. I’d never noticed that before about them, and though “ah-ha! That might be the difference.” But of course it wasn’t that easy. Both the plants I suspect to be black cohosh and the ones I suspect to be doll’s eyes have this same leaf pattern. It’s probably common to the Actaea genus.

Going to the Woods for Research

So it was time to go out for a little hands-on research. I took the 4-wheeler out to an area where I know both of the plants live. Along with the black cohosh and doll’s eyes, there’s also a bunch of other woodland herbs that enjoy this little ginseng habitat. I was glad to have on long sleeves and pants because the nettles are up a ready to sting right about now.

stinging nettle
Sting-filled hairs of a nettle plant.

I moseyed around in the ginseng habitat (this particular habitat doesn’t have any ginseng residents, however), looking at the two that are puzzling me. None of what I think are black cohosh have any signs of a flower stem yet. None of the ones I think are doll’s eyes did either – except one. I did finally find one of those with a small flower stem and bud cluster.

Obviously not Black Cohosh. Doll's Eyes with flower buds.
Doll’s Eyes with flower buds.

Now I am going to be curious to see if the ones I think are black cohosh turn out to really be the cohosh.

Going to Ground

When I’m in the woods inspecting and photographing plants like this, I am often right down on the ground at eye level with stem bases. It’s hard to get good photos of short plants if you don’t do that, and besides, the bases of stems often have clues like leaf buds and such. And besides all that, I just love being in close contact with the forest floor. The smells are wonderful and it’s usually cooler closer to the ground level on hot days.

Most importantly, though, is that if you’re not close to the ground you’ll miss things like this wild ginger bloom, which only happens at or just below ground/leaf debris level.

Wild ginger flower
Wild ginger flower

The sun slipped over the mountains while I was still crawling around uphill and lying prone among the nettles, black and blue cohosh, and doll’s eyes. The woods were so dark now I needed a flash to get a good photo of this pretty fern on my way out.

 fern

Conclusion

I’ll have to wait for the black cohosh to flower, but I think I can see, or rather, sense, the differences early on. The plants *told* me, in that way non-human things “talk” (some of you will understand this, some of you will just think I’m nuts, I know…and some will call it “intuition”), who was who from the beginning, but my skepticism persists. I still do not entirely trust that little voice and the logical part of me wants evidence. It’ll come in a month or two when the black cohosh blooms. When it comes to using herbs medicinally or as food, where a look-alike is deadly, I’ll never rely on intuition alone.

Satisfied enough for now, I got up and brushed off the humusy forest soil and leaves from my clothes and headed home to see how many ticks I’d managed to gather this time.

A Photogenic Anemone

Saw this on my way back and knew it would make a good photo with the creek behind it.

Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)
Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)

 

 Huntsville Farmer’s Market 2017

I’m out at the market on Tuesdays for now, and beginning in a few weeks it’ll be the Saturdays from 0700-1200. If you’re local or within a decent driving distance, come out! I’ll have a selection of our native woodland plants. I’ll have ginseng seedlings and companion plants, books, art and ginseng jams (while supplies last).

While I started out the season going only on Tuesdays but will begin only going on Saturdays after mid-May.

Ginseng Habitat Garden

If you want to drive out to the nursery, I have a ginseng habitat garden where you can see the plants growing in the woods. This will help you learn to identify them in their natural habitats.

While the garden is a restored habitat and I have trails and will have signs posted, it’s designed in a way to truly mimic what you’d see in the wild (except for the trails and signs, lol).

It’s open to the public, but since there is no cell signal or phone/electricity at the nursery you’ll need to set up an appointment until I can get a regular schedule to be out there. Just email me to let me know when you’d like to come on any day except Tuesdays or Saturdays.

[email protected]

 

Early Spring Plants of the Woodlands in Madison County Arkansas

I got a late start photographing the early spring plants this year (2017). They started without me and I’ve already missed some of them.

These are some of the plants unfurling and blooming on April 1 in the woodland habitats here at Wild Ozark.

Early Spring Plants

Large Bellwort <i>(Uvularia grandiflora)</i>
Large Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora)

This late afternoon shot of fern fiddleheads is my favorite photo (so far) of this year’s plant-looking expeditions.

My favorite photo of the early spring plants of the ginseng habitat this year.
Christmas fern new fronds unfurling. (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Every year I try to capture Dutchman’s Breeches in a good light and in good focus. Every year the photo falls short, but this one is close. With all the ghostly little pantaloons hanging on the stem at different angles and heights, it’s hard to get them all to look crisp and sharp.

Dutchman's Breeches <i>Dicentra cucullaria</i>
Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

Phlox is another one that’s hard to get a good photo of. Luckily, this time, the day was overcast and the purple didn’t wash out as it usually does.

Phlox, not sure which variety or species.
Phlox, not sure which variety or species.

I’m pretty sure the plant in the following photo is black cohosh (Actaea racemosa). Doll’s eyes are a smaller plant but the leaf and stem structure is very similar. I’ll know for sure in late summer when it starts to bloom.

Black cohosh or Doll's eyes? When it blooms I'll know for sure.
Black cohosh or Doll’s eyes? When it blooms I’ll know for sure.

The purple violets bloomed earlier and are still blooming, but it’s the unusual that catches my eye with violets. I don’t see many smooth yellow violets, though I see a few more of the downy yellow ones.

Smooth Yellow Violet <i>Viola pubescens</i>
Smooth Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens)

Here’s a violet that has me stumped. I can’t find a description for it so I can give it a proper name. If you know it, please let me know too!

Unidentified violet.
Unidentified violet.

That’s All for Today!

Here’s a post featuring photos of the hazelnut and witch hazel flowers in March (2018).  Hope you enjoyed the wildflower woodland plant virtual walkabout. What’s blooming in the woods in your neck of the woods?

Watching for Witch Hazel Flowers

Witch Hazel Flowers

Witch hazel flowers are an interesting sight to behold. The petals on the small flowers are thin and wild. The shrub blooms during the most unlikeliest time of the year.

It is one of my favorite plants in the Ozarks. She is an untamed rebel, even if she or her hybridized cousins do grow well in urban gardens or hedgerows.

Two Wild Species

We have two varieties of witch hazel here in the Ozarks. One blooms in late fall and the other blooms in late winter.

H. virginiana

Hamamelis virginiana is by far the most abundant here on our land. This witch hazel blooms in late fall with spidery yellow flowers. Sometimes you’ll even see it blooming after the leaves have dropped off.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) flowers and autumn color.
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) flowers and autumn color.

H. virginiana grows in many areas east of the Rockies in the United States, usually around water’s edge or in rich, moist woodlands.

Witch hazel leaves in summer. (H. virginiana)
Witch hazel leaves in summer. (H. virginiana)

H. vernalis

The other species is called Ozark Witch Hazel, or Vernal Witch Hazel. This one is endemic only to the Ozarks and blooms in late winter or very early spring. These witch hazel flowers are more of a reddish, orange color. I’ve heard they have a delightful fragrance, too, but I haven’t caught them in full bloom to get a firsthand experience.

Ozark witch hazel flowers, just before the petals opened or right after they fell off. This photo was taken in Feb. 2015.
Ozark witch hazel flowers, just before the petals opened or right after they fell off. This photo was taken in Feb. 2015.

I know where some are, though, and am going to go check on them today or tomorrow. If I’m lucky, I’ll add the pics to this post. And let you know if, indeed, they do smell nice.

Update Feb. 6, 2017: Found some!
Vernal witch hazel blooming on Feb. 6, 2017
Vernal witch hazel blooming on Feb. 6, 2017

Rob and I went out to do a little exploring along the upper Felkins creek and we found some blooming! And YES, they do smell nice. The scent isn’t powerful but it is sweet.

During early spring of 2015 I took cuttings and was having some success with them, but an unusual landslide-producing epic flood wiped out the nursery that summer.

When I do find them, I plan to take some cuttings. If they root, I’ll have some to offer in the Nature Boutique nursery this year.

You can read more about the Ozark Witch Hazel in this article at the Springfield News-Leader.

Witch Hazel in my Fiction

In the first book of the Bounty Hunter series, Treya tries chewing on a witch hazel twig. I’m going to cut a twig tomorrow and see if it’s as nasty as she thinks it is. If it’s not so bad, I’ll have to rewrite this scene.

Update: When we found the flowers blooming, I did taste a twig and it was NOT unpleasant and it did not pucker my mouth. I’ll have to update that passage.

 

An Herbal Remedy for Winter Crud featuring Mullein, Ginseng, Beebalm, and Echinacea

Here’s my recipe for an herbal remedy I use every year to combat what we’ve come to call “Winter Crud”. We also take it at the first sign of anything that feels like trouble coming on. This year’s formula uses mullein, echinacea, ginseng, and beebalm. I’ll update and repost this every year to tell you which herb’s I’m using and whether I’ve changed anything about how I’m making it.

My recipe for this year's Winter Crud syrup.
click to enlarge or print

Ugh. Winter Crud

I’m sure there’s a real name for it, but I don’t know what it is. We just call it the “winter crud” or “creeping crud” or “that *bleeping* cough that lingers forever”. I don’t usually go to the doctor because I’m worried that there might be even more serious ailments lurking inside the office waiting room than the one currently plaguing me. So I generally rely on my trusty herbal allies unless it’s acute or serious.

The symptoms are always the same: deep congestion that’s hard to cough up, sometimes a low fever for a day or two at the beginning, and a few weeks of long-lingering congested cough.

Inevitably someone in the family gets it. Usually the whole household gets it. And so I like to have it ready to go. Most years I make extra for Christmas gifts, but this year I procrastinated too long.

My reservations

Generally I don’t blog much about my herbal remedies because it feels like slippery ground when it comes to sharing that information outside my own little network of like-minded family and friends. But I’ve really had great results with this one and thought I’d share.

Please make sure you research these herbs to find out if they’re suitable for you and your conditions. Just the sugar alone is enough to send a diabetic into crisis.

I am not a doctor and am not prescribing or advising you to try this remedy. I’m just sharing how I make it and what I use it for. If you want me to make some for you, though, I will do that. See the link at the bottom of this post.

Dried mullein and echinacea root getting ready to decoct.
Took the photo before adding the ginseng. Dried mullein and echinacea root getting ready to decoct.

The Ingredients

The precise list of ingredients I use for anything at all changes according to what I managed to gather the summer and fall before.

Today’s ingredient list for this year’s Winter Crud syrup features wild American ginseng root (Panax quinquefolius), mullein leaves (Verbascum thapsus), beebalm flower, stem, and leaf (Monarda fistulosa), and echinacea root, leaf stem, and flower (Echinacea purpurea).

Wildcrafting

All of the herbs except the cinnamon were responsibly foraged from right here at Wild Ozark. I never take more than a small percentage of ginseng (or any other roots) from a colony. When taking flowers, I always leave half behind for the pollinators. There is no shortage of mullein anywhere so I am less concerned with conservation of that herb.

I had blackberry syrup on hand from a failed batch of jelly this past summer, so I’m using it for the sugar content and for flavor. You can skip that ingredient and add back a cup of sugar to the recipe.

The Most Important Ingredient

The syrup must have mullein for it to be useful for this remedy at all, and thankfully mullein is easily found almost all year long here. I think the beebalm and ginseng also add a lot to the effectiveness. But if all I had was mullein, I’d go with it. And if sugar is an issue for you, it works just as well as a decoction alone. You’ll have to use it within a few days because the sugar is a preservative. It just won’t taste as good, but it’s a tolerable flavor.

I give instructions on how to make a decoction in my book 10 Common Plants Worth Knowing, but that one is for witch hazel tonic.  Here’s a procedure for the mullein decoction recipe  you can download. It’s in PDF format. Just save it to your hard-drive or print it out.

I’d love it if you’d “pin” it to Pinterest for me:

Wild Ozark's Mullein/Beebalm decoction procedure

Mullein needs to be strained more thoroughly than most other herbs because of the hairs on the leaves. Make the decoction with the mullein, ginseng, and echinacea roots. Then add the leafy parts of herbs in the last phase of making the decoction, just before the final reduction.

DIY?

You could make it yourself and it’s a great project to do so. If you try it and need to ask questions just email me. If you don’t have the ingredients or don’t want to spend a day stirring the cauldron, you can buy a pint from me.

Join me at the 8th Annual Agroforestry Symposium in Columbia, MO

January 26, 2017

We’ll be there representing Wild Ozark and I’ll be participating in the discussion panel for medicinal plant growers and entrepreneurs. Come out and meet us, talk about ginseng and the new habitat garden, or just say hello.

8th Annual UMCA Agroforestry Symposium Agenda Jan. 26 2017

8th Annual UMCA Agroforestry Symposium Agenda Jan. 26 2017

Wild Mountain Mint – Whiteleaf Mountain Mint

Wild mountain mint grows in abundance here at Wild Ozark. This particular variety is called White-leaf Mountain Mint.

White-leaf Wild Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum albescens)

I love this wild mountain mint. It adds a nice flavor to my cold/flu/crud herbal syrup when I remember to gather it during late summer. This year I did 🙂

Recently I discovered, quite by accident and out of desperation that it works extremely well against the biting flies – you know those ones that chase the deer around and love to bite the tender skin of humans as soon as they hit you? Those demons fly faster than I can drive on the 4-wheeler, too, so there’s no outrunning them.

Deer Fly Repellent

Not long ago I went up on the mountain to get some photos of the goldenseal. Once I got up there the flies attacked. Usually there’s a can of OFF in the basket, but not this time.

I tried to get ahead of them, but it did no good. Their little triangle wings must give them super powers. In a frenzied craze I saw the stand of mountain mint and grabbed a handful of tops. I just crushed them into my skin, rubbing myself down.

And all of a sudden, poof! The flies were gone.

Wild mountain mint is good stuff.
Wild mountain mint is good stuff.

 

Wild Mountain Mint Species of northwest Arkansas

There are a few different species of wild mountain mint. The Pycanthemum species in northwest Arkansas, according to the “Atlas of the Vascular Plants of Arkansas” are P. muticum, P. pilosum, and P. albescens. Only the muticum and albescens are listed for Madison county, which is where we are.

Those two look similar, but the P. muticum has broader leaves and I am pretty sure the variety we have is the albescens.

Uses

Aside from just smelling nice, mint has useful properties. Probably the most well-known medicinal use is in tea to help settle stomachs. That quality works well with the herbal syrup I make, but mostly I’m using it for flavor. Peppermint (or any other mint) tea has never been something I enjoy.

According to Altnature.com, “Crushed flowers are placed on tooth ache and almost instantly kills pain. “ This is one of many attributes listed for this plant, but it’s one I think I’ll keep in mind for the future. Other medicinal uses include treatment of menstrual disorders, indigestion, mouth sores and gum disease, colic, coughs, colds, chills and fevers. A decoction of the herb can be used as a wound-wash.

Smell the Mint

The next time you see those white tops nodding along your path, forget about the roses. Stop and smell the mint!

Mailbox and Back in Under an Hour

Yesterday I brought my camera with me when I went to the mailbox. If I had walked, I know it would have taken more than an hour because I would have seen so many more opportunities to stop and take a picture.

There’s Never a “Quick Trip” Anywhere Out Here

My intention was to make  *quick* trip to check the mail because I was waiting on a delivery of something in particular. But before I started the mailbox run, there was a mushroom that Rob had spotted near where he parks the tractor.

He’d told me about it the day before so I needed to get pictures of it first thing.

A bolete of some sort. This mushroom looks like a pancake when you're looking down from above, though.

Just as I took its picture, I saw there were more of them, just a little up the hill.

Another of the mushrooms that look like pancakes.
Saw this one just a little farther up the hill.
And there was this one peeping out from behind the leaves. Same type of shroom but the shape is a bit irregular.
And there was this one peeping out from behind the leaves. Same type of shroom but the shape is a bit irregular.
Don't they look just like pancakes?
Don’t they look just like pancakes?
But from this angle you can see they do have stems.
But from this angle you can see they do have stems.

The day before that he’d seen a different one, so of course I got some pictures of it, too:

mushroom from above
A humongous mushroom growing at the base of Gloria, the old white oak tree out front.
This perfect mushroom looked like it should have had a fairy sitting on the edge, with her legs dangling from it.
This perfect mushroom looked like it should have had a fairy sitting on the edge, with her legs dangling from it.

But I digress. After I finished taking the pictures of the pancake mushrooms I took the 4-wheeler to get on with the mail-checking task.

But the 4-wheeler was having issues and died on me a few times. This, of course, is where having the camera on hand came in handy indeed. I had ample time to walk around a bit and take some pictures while I waited for it to start again.

Dinner Leavings along the Mailbox Route

I know it was a squirrel who left this mess on the flat rock by the first creek crossing. The day before we’d seen a squirrel running across the driveway with a mouth full of mushroom.

Leftovers from a squirrel. Mushroom stem and nut shells.
Leftovers from a squirrel. Mushroom stem and nut shells.
Mushroom stem leftover from a squirrel.
Mushroom stem leftover from a squirrel.

Good thing I wasn’t watching which mushrooms the squirrels were eating so we could try them too! Squirrels have some interesting digestive abilities. They can even eat the deadly mushrooms without it hurting them. There’s more information about that here: http://www.mushroomthejournal.com/greatlakesdata/Terms/squir27.html#Squirrelsa

Leaves to Notice

It’s only July but already the leaves of the sourwood are beginning to color and drop. They always do this a little in late summer. And I always notice them. I love the leaves of autumn and the teasers of late summer.

Black gum leaf on a rock.
Black gum leaf on a rock.

My favorite leaf picture from yesterday is a rock and leaf composition with understated colors. I love the paleness of the rock and the light colored leaf:

Yellow leaf on pale rock in July 2016.

Herbs to Notice

I’ve been watching for a particular herb favorite of mine. It’s about the time for Lobelia inflata to bloom. I use the seeds of this plant to make a tremendously appreciated anti-spasm formula.

A mature Lobelia inflata plant with blooms and swollen pods.
A mature Lobelia inflata plant with blooms and swollen pods.
Swollen seed pods of Lobelia inflata.
Swollen seed pods of Lobelia inflata.

When the seed pods are brown and dry I’ll snip the stem and put the whole thing in a paper bag. Then I can smash the bag a bit and the pods will burst, releasing all the seeds inside the bag. After that, I’ll use a portion of them for my herbals and spread a portion of them outside so I’ll have more to gather next summer.

Frogs and Feathers

I love finding wild bird feathers. It seems that I encounter a lot of crow feathers during my walkabouts. Yesterday morning was no exception. We have free-range chickens, so chicken feathers are easy to find. And I’m always finding feathers as evidence the cats have killed a bird, too. But those feathers don’t catch my attention the way randomly placed ones on rocks in creeks do.

A small crow feather I spotted on the way to the mailbox yesterday on a rock in the creek.

Just as I was getting ready to try the 4-wheeler again I saw this small frog in the creek.

A little frog after he thought he'd jumped away and hidden from me again.

A little frog that was in the creek on the way to the mailbox.

He’s only about an inch or two long and thought he was well-hidden, which he was. But not so well-hidden that he could escape my notice, ha.

Other Posts Like This One

If you enjoyed this, this post reminds me of Why it Takes Me an Hour to Go to the Post Office and Back  so you might like it too. Both demonstrate how I shouldn’t leave home with the camera or a notebook or a sketchpad if the trip is intended to be a quick one.

 

Top Questions from Readers: Healing Herbs

Healing Herbs: the first of the Top Questions and Topics of Interest from Readers


Healing herbs and using the wild plants for medicine was one of the most often mentioned topics in the recent survey results.

In case you’re just joining me here and aren’t yet a Wild Ozark Musings newsletter subscriber, I recently sent a survey to subscribers. I wanted to find out what sort of things they’d be interested in hearing me talk or write about in the newsletter.

I got so many good responses! Thank you!

So it took me a while to get around to it, but now I’m going to start addressing those questions and topics. I’ll do one each newsletter and later post it to this blog. Eventually I’ll probably compile them all into a book, but for now, they’ll just be newsletter topics and blog posts. The first question on the list is actually several questions and topics, so I’ll take each one separately. Here’s the first one.

I would like to know more on healing herbs.

This is a huge topic! I’ll address what I’m personally doing with herbs at this time of year. I just made a harvest from the garden of echinacea, thyme, oregano, and sage. From the mountain I gathered wild mountain mint.
My recent harvest of some healing herbs.

Not only are the oregano, thyme, and sage great culinary herbs but they’re also medicinal. None of those three taste very good as a tea to me, but they make a killer gargle for sore throat and an excellent tea for washing wounds or burns. I like using the mint to flavor any of the syrups and it has stomach settling qualities to add. There may be a lot more use for mint than that, but that’s how I use it.

Usually I also harvest beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) at this time of year, but all of it has powdery mildew this year. It doesn’t kill the plant but it gives a bad smell to the dried herb and may not be good for you to use that way, so I don’t. Beebalm has a propensity for powdery mildew, especially if it’s not growing in full sun with lots of air flow around it.

A great combination

I use the beebalm in combination with the echinacea and marshmallow root to make a tea once a week. This tea has helped my bladder issues more than the surgery I had to correct the problem over a decade ago did. Had I known then what I know now, I would never have had the surgery. Why? Because I almost died from blood loss from it, and the effect to cure the ailment wasn’t very long lasting anyway. This tea combination works for me. It has worked for others for cystitis, too. I, and my daughter’s family, also use it when we feel any sort of illness coming on and it shoos that right out the door. Elderberries would be great to add to the combination to combat viruses, too.

red raspberries

Wild raspberries are ripe right now, as are blackberries. I pick those whenever I can. Raspberries might be a delicious treat but they are also very beneficial as a healing herb. The leaves of red raspberries are good in teas to help tone pelvic floor muscles which will help prevent things like prolapse of the bladder and uterus. The berries themselves are healing. They’re very high in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties, too. Blackberry fruits have similar properties.

The elderberries aren’t ripe here yet, but the flowers are blooming and the bushes are loaded with green berries. Here’s a photo from last year’s crop:
ripe elderberries

Another way I use elderberries and beebalm is in a syrup made with mullein. This syrup is my grand-daughter’s favorite remedy and she’s always wanting it even when she isn’t really sick. I have the recipe for that syrup here on my website. It’s great for that pesky, lingering winter “crud” and cough.

The pic below is of the beebalm harvest from last year. After it is the mullein. I use the fresh velvety leaves in spring, not the ones nearest the ground but the next layers up.

The front side of the Beebalm card in Wild Ozark's Plant Identification Card set

Mullein, First Year

I harvest mullein during its first year, when it looks like the picture. In the second year it develops a flower stalk and the leaves aren’t as luscious. Mullein decoction alone, without the beebalm or elderberry is very effective for thinning mucus and making it easier to cough up, and it quiets the cough which makes it easier to sleep.

I hope you found the response to this topic useful. Feel free to email with questions or leave a comment to share your own stories.

Here’s a link where you can read all the back issues of the Wild Ozark Musings newsletters if you want.

Photos of Plants – Medicinal & Useful plants down the Wild Ozark Driveway

I’m still mostly stuck in the house because of my knee (dislocated it a little over a week ago) but I took the four-wheeler and camera down the driveway to get a few photos of plants unfurling or coming into bloom.

Doll’s Eyes versus Black Cohosh

Late last year, after the flood in summer, I divided and planted what I was pretty sure was black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) on one side of a rock and what I was pretty sure was Doll’s Eyes (Actaea pachypoda) on the other side of the same rock.

Photos of plants : black cohosh
Black cohosh, not sure if they’ll make flowers this year or not, but I hope so. That way I’ll have an absolute positive ID on them.
Photos of plants: Doll's Eyes (White Baneberry).
On the other side of the rock is Doll’s Eyes (White Baneberry).

I planted them near each other so I could watch them side by side as they grew. These two plants are the hardest two plants for me to tell apart. But I’m beginning to see the differences between the two and today one of them bloomed which gives me a positive identification at least on the one. I’ll make a blog post about the differences I’m seeing later on this week. I made a post last year about my difficulty telling them apart.

The reason learning the difference is so important to me is because I want to harvest the roots of black cohosh to have on hand for medicinal uses. The roots are antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and are useful for menopausal or PMS symptoms. The best time to harvest a plant for the roots is after they’ve finished flowering and the leaves are beginning to die back. Mistaking the doll’s eyes for cohosh would be a bad mistake, possibly deadly. To make certain I’m digging the right plant once there isn’t a flower to judge by, I’m going to tie a ribbon around the base of the cohosh plants.

More Photos of Plants

The mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) are blooming in profusion. Maybe this year I’ll get to try the fruit. I always miss them when it’s time to harvest. Mayapple roots and the whole plant except for the ripe fruit are poisonous, but were used medicinally by native Americans. The roots are used to make cancer medicines.

A plant medicinal in very small quantities can be very toxic in too large a quantity. I read a story somewhere a while back about campers who had confused this plant with goldenseal. They thought that they’d make a tea with “goldenseal” to improve their odds of passing a drug screening (apparently they had smoked some weed while camping). The mistake was fatal for one of them because the mayapple tea caused liver failure.

photos of plants-Mayapple in bloom
Mayapple in bloom
Mayapple flower
Mayapple flower

The red honeysuckle was blooming. This is one of our native honeysuckles and isn’t invasive like the sweetly scented Japanese honeysuckle that chokes out everything it grows on. The red one is a valued nectar source for hummingbirds and certain bumble bees with long tongues. Not all bumbles have long tongues.

Native red honeysuckle.
Native red honeysuckle.

The Ohio buckeyes are blooming. When this tree is very young and only about a foot tall, it looks very much like ginseng. Aside from Virginia creeper, t’s one of the look-alikes most often mistaken for more valuable plant. I don’t use the buckeyes for anything. They’re a relative to horse chestnut which is useful for strengthening capillaries, but I don’t think our native variety has the same properties. Butterflies seem to enjoy the flowers, though.

Ohio Buckeye
Ohio Buckeye

I usually take photos of plants, not so often of animals. The main reason why is because the animals move too quickly or are too far away for my lens. But I got a decent one of a hawk in a tree. Rob is the raptor expert in our household. So I’m always trying to get pictures of the hawks so he can tell me what kind they are.

Broad-winged Hawk against a very blue sky.
Broad-winged Hawk against a very blue sky.

The southern black haw is blooming, too. Viburnum root is a component in one of my favorite antispasmodic recipes. The variety that grows here is V. rufidulum and may have similar properties. I haven’t tried it yet to see if it is as effective as V. prunifolium. The berries on our native are edible and I’ve tasted one before but haven’t tried using them to make anything yet. The flavor was sweet but the fruits weren’t real juicy or as pleasant to eat as wild raspberries.

Southern Black Haw in flower.
Southern Black Haw in flower.

Rob has been working on the landslide since he’s been home. There’s a lot to do on this particular project, and I have a feeling it’s going to be one of those never-ending sort of jobs. But he has to get it opened up so concrete trucks can get up to the house where he wants to build his shop, so it’s the top priority in our list of homestead chores right now. We need the shop to make working on all of the other things easier.

Getting started on clearing the driveway after the landslide last year.
Getting started on clearing the driveway after the landslide last year.
After day one of working on clearing the landslide.
After day one of working on clearing the landslide.
And by the end of day 2, new earth moved into the work area.
And by the end of day 2, new earth moved into the work area.

 

It felt good to get out and look at plants again and to get over to the driveway worksite. The four-wheeler had been in the shop for repairs so until we got it back the other day I was limited to walking inside the house or to and from the truck. While stuck in bed for the first few days after hurting my knee, I worked on a drawing of ginseng.

 

Update from Wild Ozark

Lots of things going on – or rather, NOT going on lately.

If you’re a subscriber to my monthly newsletter, you’ve probably already seen the update that I won’t be doing the farmer’s market this year. I forgot to add some of the items below to the newsletter, so this post is not a complete repeat of the email.

I dislocated my knee on Thursday this past week, the day after we got home from our Texas – Louisiana trip. Although nothing is broken, that was a pretty traumatic event to my knee and I’m not sure it’s going to be good for much for a while yet. I can’t work on potting my plants, or work in the garden, or roast coffee. All activities vital to the market so I’ll have something to sell. Then there’s the work of setting up and taking down the booth, which is asking a lot of the knee. So I won’t be doing it this year. I’d rather put it off than risk further injury which would increase the odds of needing surgery on the thing.

I’ve been using my ointments on my knee and they seem to be helping. Today I’m almost able to walk normally, but there is still some pain on the top of my kneecap and I can tell it’s not strong enough yet to go without the brace. The ointments were the Ginseng & Lobelia (out of it now), Ginseng, Chilpetine, Coffee & Wild Comfrey Balm, and Sesame & Arnica balm. When I get a chance I’m going to make a profile page of what I used and how it’s helped to add under my “Herbalism” category. It’s hard to say whether what I’m doing helps or not because I’ve never had this happen before, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. All I know is that on day 3, the swelling is down, stiffness down, very little bruising or pain. To me, that’s terrific after what seems like should have been a pretty bad thing for my knee.

There are things still on the list that I DO intend to do:

nature journal workshop flier

Spring Unfurling Update

update on blue cohosh
One of the blue cohosh transplants that miraculously survived last year’s flood.

The only ginseng unfurling are the ones that were already there or seedlings from the mature plants. Very few of the seedlings are showing up from the from the seeds we planted. I’ve heard feedback from a few others on the list who are seeing the same thing.

I was very happy to see the blue cohosh, black cohosh, and doll’s eyes that I’d transplanted last year have all come up! Send me your ginseng habitat updates, particularly your ginseng seed germination if you planted any last fall.

 

 

Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) Unfurling

The blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) is awake early this spring. I found some the other day, in three different stages of unfurl.

The one completely unfurled is in a pot in the nursery area, the other two are in the ground in the same area. I missed the initial unfurling of the stem this year. I’m excited to see this plant because it is a native with “threatened” status in the state of AR and I only find it, like the ginseng, in certain little spots out here.

The one in the pot came up from a berry (I didn’t separate out the seed), so that’s exciting too. I’ll gather more and spread them to some of the other areas that look right for it this year.

Blue Cohosh

 

Blue cohosh in early spring with leaves just beginning to unfurl.
Blue cohosh in early spring with leaves just beginning to unfurl.
Blue cohosh in early spring with leaves still unfurling.
Blue cohosh in early spring with leaves still unfurling.
Blue cohosh in early spring with leaves finished unfurling.
Blue cohosh in early spring with leaves finished unfurling.

Where does it grow?

It is an American ginseng companion plant and enjoys the same kind of habitat ginseng prefers – mixed hardwood forests in eastern/southeastern North America with deep, cool shade, loamy soil, and good leaf-litter/ ground cover to keep the soil moist and cool.

What is it good for?

I don’t think anyone uses this herb medicinally often anymore, but it was part of the pharmacy for Native Americans. Parts used are roots and rhizomes.

This is an herb that shouldn’t be used as an ordinary part of self-care. It is useful in very specific circumstances.

I’ve used it in conjunction with black cohosh by alternating between tinctures of the two every three hours to bring on labor when my middle child was due. Not only did this regimen bring on the labor by the appointed hour when I would have undergone induction at the hospital, but it made the labor easier.

Other uses include easing the cramps of menstruation or to bring on menstruation. Keep in mind that anything useful for starting a period or to bring on labor is likely also to be an abortifacient. Blue cohosh as a medicinal plant comes with some very serious warnings attached (see link below).

Links for more information

Comprehensive: http://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/dmna/caulophyllum.html

Warnings: http://www.drugs.com/npp/blue-cohosh.html

What’s the Big Deal About Ginseng?

This is the topic of my 10-minute speech for the Meet the Author’s Event on Saturday, Feb. 6,  at the Kimberling City Library. My talk, “What’s the Big Deal about Ginseng” is at 11:10 but there will be lots of other authors there giving their 10 minutes of engaging content, too. The allotted time may not be enough to cover all of the details in the article below, but I’ll be there most of the day to answer questions if you have any.

Here’s a PDF with the schedule. I hope you’ll come out to meet and greet your favorite local authors. I’ll have a bit of table space and all of my books, so if you want one autographed, it’s a perfect opportunity.

What is Ginseng?

Wondering what's the big deal about ginseng?
A ginseng plant with ripe berries.

Ginseng is a small understory woodland perennial plant that can live a long time. The oldest one I’ve seen from the Ozarks was about 45 years, but it can live to be 100 or more. It’s not a very large plant and the root, the part most often bought and sold, isn’t very large either.

The leaves and ripe berries have a market too, but those parts are not as much in demand as the roots.

Ginseng grows in China, Korea, Vietnam, and Siberia as well. Our north American species is called Panax quinquefolius. The other ginseng varieties in other countries have other species names, but they all belong to the genus Panax.

Here’s a post with photos if you’d like to see what ginseng looks like at various stages of growth.

 

 

Yellow dock (Rumex crispus), one of the useful “weeds” to know

I saw a young Yellow dock (Rumex crispus) the other day when I walked down the driveway. Usually, unless I’m specifically looking for younger plants, when I notice this plant it’s already matured and ready to produce seeds.

Yellow dock, while not native to our soil, is one that will make its way into the next volume of “10 Useful Plants Worth Knowing” because it grows everywhere I’ve ever been (with maybe the exception of the Middle East). It is both edible and medicinal.

It’s not a plant I use often, but I like knowing it’s there and how to use it if desired. Other than being unsightly in otherwise groomed lawns and fields, I don’t know of any harmful effects from this invasive immigrant “weed”.

(Happy New Year’s Day, by the way! I hope you enjoy a year full of wonder and awe, with many hours spent in Nature’s outdoor classrooms!) See my New Year’s newsletter greeting card

Yellow Dock is edible and medicinal

This is a seedling growing next to the waterfall along our driveway. Anytime I find a seedling of a plant I’m pretty sure I know, but haven’t actually seen as a seedling before,  I’ll watch it through the seasons next year to confirm its identity. I’m pretty sure this is yellow dock.

yellow dock seedling at Wild Ozark
yellow dock seedling

Yellow dock is an introduced species from Europe, a “weed”, and undesired by most people. It grows along roadsides, in disturbed places and usually in full sun. It’s an edible plant (young leaves, in small quantities, properly prepared) and the root is a “blood-building” tonic herb useful for anemia because it’s high in iron. It is a perennial, but the tops don’t die back unless winter is cold enough.

Given that our soil is high in iron, too, I would imagine that the yellow dock that grows here ought to be super-charged in that respect. Ha. It doesn’t always work that way, but if I were still working with access to laboratory instruments, that would be an easy enough thing to check. Sometimes more availability of a mineral (or metal, as is the case with iron) in the soil does lead to more uptake by the plant.

first year yellow dock
first year yellow dock

This summer I’ll try to remember to get a picture of the plant with seeds on it. They make a russet dried stalk of seeds and once you’ve had it pointed out to you, if you don’t already know the plant, you’ll see it everywhere after that.

How to eat yellow dock

To properly prepare the leaves for eating, treat them like mustard greens with a lot of bite. Use young leaves, boil a few minutes, pour off the water and boil again in fresh water. A few boil and water changes ought to be enough. This is also the way to prepare poke (also sometimes called poke sallet). After the boil/rinse process, some people like to lightly saute the herb with bacon and onions. I find it hard to believe there’d be much vitamin content left in anything after this kind of treatment, though it still said that mustard greens are good for us and they’re usually cooked to death, too.

In a survival type of situation, this is a plant you will not want to eat in large quantities. The oxalic acid in the leaves that give it the sour flavor can cause kidney stones and urinary system irritation. This same oxalic acid is present in many of the usual leafy green things people eat, like spinach, mustard and turnip greens and kale. These greens normally do take up small places on the plate anyway.

To use medicinally

The roots can be dried and chopped up to use for making a “spring tonic” broth with other herbs, or ground into a powder and put in capsules. It can also be tinctured. If I were using it to fortify blood iron levels, I would chop and make a strong tea or decoction of the fresh root. If I wanted to use it as a liver tonic, which would mean longer term use, I’d probably use the capsules. The root is bitter and because of that it will increase bile production, which will in turn promote bowel movements. In some people it might cause stomach distress and diarrhea.

In my distant past I lost a lot of blood during a surgery and was very weak and “shocky” afterwards. The doctor said if I didn’t get a transfusion it could take a week or more to “build my blood” enough for me to regain enough strength to even stand. If I would have had the roots of yellow dock on hand, and if I didn’t have children at home that needed me back on my feet quickly, I might have tried that to see if yellow dock root broth would help. Instead, I opted for the transfusion. In a survival-type of situation, that might not be an available option, so I am glad to know about yellow dock and the blood-building properties it possesses.

Here’s an excellent website to learn more about the various ways plants can be used. I visit this site often, so if this yellow dock post of mine interested you, bookmark this link as well: http://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/cook/RUMEX_CRISPUS.htm

What are your favorite wild edible plants?

Exercising in Nature – or – Why it takes me an hour to walk to the mailbox and back

Exercising in nature is as easy as taking a walk to check the mail. It helps if you have a long driveway.

One of my resolutions for the new year and the rest of my life is to get into better shape. So I figured I’d use our natural resources here at Wild Ozark to help me. It’s roughly a mile round trip from the house to the mailbox.  On the way to the mailbox is a lot of downhill. Which of course means on the way back is a lot of uphill.

My original plans for doing this was to get exercise and I intended to walk straight there and back.

But I brought the camera with me. Just in case, you know. And so it became a multi-media expedition.

Down the hill and through the creek

Along the way I have to cross the creek twice.  Twice on the way to the mailbox and twice on the way back. So there’s the exercise of balance so I can get across the stones I put down to step on without getting my feet wet. Oh, I guess, at least on the first crossing, I can count the exercise of picking up and tossing in 10 lb rocks to make a way across.

Observing and learning while exercising in nature

1. chickweed
Chickweed (Stellaria media)

While exercising in nature, there are lots of opportunities to observe and learn about plants. This study is compulsion with me, and I can’t help it.

Foraging for edible and medicinal plants in winter

In the middle of the creek, growing in a small gravel bed was some chickweed. I had to get photos of

these. Chickweed is edible and medicinal. I’ve used it more than once for pink-eye when the kids were young and on the grandkids recently. Use it by making a strong tea for an eyewash and apply it in the eye with an eyedropper several times each day. It works quickly and for us solved the problem without a hitch. It’s anti-inflammatory properties make it good for burns, exzema and skin irritations. This little

2. mouse-eared chickweed
Mouse-eared chickweed (Cerastium vulgatum)

plant is high in many trace minerals and vitamins. The smooth kind, Stellaria media, is good raw on salads and can be cooked, too, though cooking destroys much of the nutrition. The downy ones are not so good raw but can also be cooked.

 

There was a dandelion blooming – in December! These are both edible and medicinal, as well. The greens, roots, and flowers can all be added to salads.  Wildman Steve Brill has a great write-up on his page about them (and many other plants).

Dandelion blooming in December
Dandelion blooming in December

We have a lot of rocks around here, mostly sandstone. Bits and pieces of shale in the creek always shalecatch my eye because their composition is so different than all the surrounding rocks. When I find larger slabs of this, I bring it to the garden for pathways. It always crumbles to tiny pieces but makes a good path (though not for bare feet).

more shale at Wild Ozark

I didn’t have to walk much farther to find another supposedly green edible, a bittercress or rocket of some sort. This plant is

bittercress
A bitter cress – I won’t be adding this one to my salads. It is pretty bitter. It’s a larger plant, about 12″ in diameter.

bitter and I probably wouldn’t opt for this one ever, unless I wanted the bitter principles (to help with cholesterol levels by promoting more bile secretion and bowel movements). Sometimes the flower buds while still tight and unopened are tasty and a bit reminiscent of broccoli, but some of those are vile bitter, too. If I had to survive in winter without access to grocery stores or pantries, I’m hoping I could get by on salads for a while. There seems to be a lot of plants good to eat, but none of them have a whole lot of substance to them.

Watercress
A different bittercress – this one tastes nutty and good. It’s a small plant, about 5″ in diameter.

This smaller cress (Hairy bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta) would be tasty in salads. The name is a bit odd. It’s neither hairy nor bitter. In the photos I’ve seen, the flower stalks look hairy, so I’ll have to check on that next year when it blooms. It has a good flavor, no bitterness with a little nutty flavor similar to arugula.

There are lots of wild onions (Allium canadense) and garlic (Allium sativum) growing wild here. The garlic isn’t easy to find during winter because the leaves die back, but the wild onions are everywhere. The tiny little bulbs and greens will add flavor to salads and other wild meats if we are resorting to home foraged flavors.

Wild onion (Allium canadense)
Wild onion (Allium canadense)

I don’t only stop for the edible or medicinal. The pretty, unusual, or interesting things give me pause, too.

Was it exercise or leisure?

Don’t discount the benefits of this sort of exercise right off the bat. In between the walking, which, admittedly didn’t stretch long before I found a new photo subject I just couldn’t pass up, there occurred a lot of stooping and bending and even getting downright onto the ground. So I think that counts. I definitely feel as if I’ve had a workout.

However, when Rob comes home from his contract we’ll be doing “real” exercise. He defines that as by at least 30 minutes of elevated heart rate…  so I’ll be working on leaving the camera at home and working up to a fast-paced mile so I can be ready to join him when he gets here. Just the thought of “real” exercise is causing my heart rate to elevate already, ha. I have a lot of work to do to prepare for that.

  • Update:  I wrote this post on Christmas Eve. Today is Christmas day. So in light of that more strenuous workout on the horizon, I began taking the walk without the camera today. It took me 20 minutes to make the same mile and I guarantee my heart rate was elevated the entire time. I even tried jogging a little from the mailbox to the gate, which is an embarrassingly short distance. I have a lot of work to do. And I don’t even want to think at this point about the fact that to get the “30 minutes” means I’ll either have to turn around at the house and go back down the hills or go past the mailboxes on the first lap. I’ll update you with my progress in a few weeks. Hopefully you’ll be working on your exercise resolutions too and will keep me posted on your progress. Let’s motivate each other.

At any rate, we’ll still be exercising in nature, whether it’s down the driveway jogging (him) or gasping for breath (me).

If you liked this post, you might like the one about how long it takes me to go the twelve miles to the post office and back 🙂

  • Update: On Jan 2 I made the walk in less than 20 minutes and I even jogged for some of it. I wrote a post about it, too – check out Exercising Outside on a Crisp Ozark Morning.

Ginseng in November and a Witch Hazel, too

On a whim, I went out to see how the ginseng looked now. I knew it would be dead and wasn’t sure I’d find any. But the four-prong that grows in the nursery plot was still identifiable, at least.

Only three prongs left and falling apart, this is how ginseng looks in November in the Ozarks.
Only three prongs left (it was a four prong) and falling apart, this is how ginseng looks in November in the Ozarks.
A closer view of the curled and dead leaves on the ginseng in November.
A closer view of the curled and dead leaves on the ginseng in November.

You can see more photos of that plant throughout the growing season at the page Ginseng Through the Seasons.

Witch Hazel

I had gone out initially to look for witch hazel blooming and to see if I could gather a few of the nuts before they dispersed. Last year’s nuts are ready to gather when this year’s flowers bloom.

But I missed it, I think. Either that or the rain beat most of the flowers off the trees. I did find a few, but they were pathetic. Here’s one of the flowers that were left. They already look bedraggled by nature, but this one seems a little more so worse for wear.

One of the bedraggled witch hazel blooms left.
One of the bedraggled witch hazel blooms left.

The Wild Ozark Newsletter

I started working on my monthly newsletter last week and found I had a lot more to write about that I at first thought. It got a little out of hand and I ended up with enough to make a mini book of information on mullein. So that’s what I did. The newsletter will still go out as usual, and it is a little longer than usual, but I’ve also turned it into an ebook and added all of what I’d gathered about mullein.

In the newsletter I do my usual musing/rambling and gave a recipe and procedure for mullein decoction. In the ebook, it’s the same as the newsletter but with more mullein info. Subscribers can get the PDF free. Sign up for that at the bottom of this email. If you want it on your Kindle, it’ll be at Amazon soon.

I won’t be sending a December newsletter. I have too many things on the back burners that need to be moved to the fore and so December is just going to be too hectic already. Perhaps I’ll get to make a few more blog posts than lately, and I hope to make some sketches. I’m working on one today, in fact.

Now called Wild Ozark Musings

The Wild Ozark Newsletters will be called Wild Ozark Musings in the future, and I’ll post the November one here at the blog after the subscribers get it. It’ll probably be next week before I post it here. Hopefully it’ll go out to subscribers in the next day or two. Only the four seasonal issues will become ebooks (I think)… or I might be in the mood to do this every month, sort of like a magazine. We’ll see how this one is received. It’s too much work if it doesn’t gain an audience.

Here’s the cover for the November ebook issue:

The cover for the Autumn 2015 issue of Wild Ozark Musings where mullein is featured.
The cover for the Autumn 2015 issue of Wild Ozark Musings where mullein is featured.

Busy Days at Wild Ozark

I’ve been busy lately, but you wouldn’t know it from my lack of posts to the blog. New projects started (Wild Ozark Nature Journal) and a new website to go with it, new products, and new adventures. Last Friday I spoke at Compton Gardens in Bentonville about the habitat of American ginseng. Afterwards I talked with people, sold and autographed books. That was a new thing for me, and it was lots of fun! I think I’m almost over my fear of public speaking 🙂

Back to Market

I’m finally able to get back to the Huntsville Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The one today was disappointing. I thought with Bikes Blues & BBQ there would be more browsers at least. But there was hardly any traffic stopping at our little market. Lots of traffic passing us by, though.

I did get a very nice visit in with my friends Duke and Kim Pennell from Pen-L publishing, though. We had a great lunch at the Madison County Coffee Shop and lots of “shop” talk about publishing, authoring, and marketing.

Since the flood, my booth features a different selection of items than it did before. I lost most of the plants so now you’ll find herbal balms (featuring our local American ginseng), books, ginseng information, and nature journal crafts.

I’m usually there on Tuesdays and Fridays from 7-12, but this coming Saturday there won’t be a market because instead there’s a car show. To keep up with the most current info on where I’ll be and when, follow my FB page. If I haven’t posted about it, feel free to email or message me or post on my timeline to ask.

Nature Journal

  • Daily entries featuring a sketch and a bit of musing about my choice of subject or setting.

Here’s an excerpt from the post part of today’s entry:

I love rocks. I love collecting them, especially the ones with fossils embedded. I also like sitting on them. When I find a rock to sit on, I like to just listen. When you sit alone in nature you’ll hear a lot of sounds. At first you’ll hear the loudest, closest, or most prevalent sounds. But then you’ll start to notice the other more subtle ones that are usually overlooked by people in a hurry on on a mission to get from point a to point b. – excerpt from the new Wild Ozark Nature Journal (Day 6)

New Products

  • Balms with American Ginseng
  • Post and Note Cards and Prints using my Nature Journal Entries

 

The Business ‘Circle of Life’ at Wild Ozark

An older post, but still representative. Eventually I’ll update it but for now, I’ll leave it alone:


This is the second year since making Wild Ozark my full-time endeavor. Over the past year, I’ve noticed a life-cycle of sorts. It’s risen organically, and next year I hope to be more efficient at taking advantage of this circle of life, working with the flow of the seasons to bring products to life.

Winter is coming

It was a chilly 49* when I got up this morning and so I started the first fire of the season in our woodstove.

I love the cooler temps, but mostly I think it’s the more saturated colors caused by shadow and shifting light angles that I love most of all. And then there are the sounds. Those change with the seasons too. Crows and Jays often are the first sounds I hear at this time of year, aside from the roosters crowing at dawn.

The other thing I love about this time of year is the harvest. I went out gathering lobelia seeds, black cohosh and black snakeroot, and spicebush berries last week. This weekend I’m making ointments. Aside from writing, this activity is my favorite thing to do.

Wild Ozark Circle of Life: My fall root and berry harvest. I didn't gather much of any one thing, just took what I needed for a few of my recipes.
My fall root and berry harvest. I didn’t gather much of any one thing, just took what I needed for a few of my recipes. That’s why quantities will always be limited when I sell them.
Wild Ozark Circle of Life: Black snakeroot (Sanicula canadensis) are astringent and vulnerary. And they dry to become very stiff and pokey! I'll use these in a general purpose scratch & scrape balm.
Black snakeroot (Sanicula canadensis) are astringent and vulnerary. And they dry to become very stiff and pokey! I’ll use these in a general purpose scratch & scrape balm.
Wild Ozark Circle of Life: Ripe spicebush (Lindera benzoin) berries. We didn't have very many of these this year, so I only gathered a handful. I use these in the muscle & sore joint rub.
Ripe spicebush (Lindera benzoin) berries. We didn’t have very many of these this year, so I only gathered a handful. I use these in the muscle & sore joint rub.
Wild Ozark Circle of Life: Roots of wild comfrey (Cynogolossum virginianum). I'll use this in a burn salve.
Roots of wild comfrey (Cynogolossum virginianum). I’ll use this in a burn salve.
Wild Ozark Circle of Life: Possibly black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) but I'm holding this for positive i.d. when the plants flower again. I replanted several parts of this root mass.
Possibly black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) but I’m holding this for positive i.d. when the plants flower again. I replanted several parts of this root mass.

The Wild Ozark Circle of Life

Early Fall

This is when the berries are ripe on spicebush, which I use in one of my herbal formulas for muscle and joint pain. It’s also when it’s time to gather berries for propagation of doll’s eyes and spikenard. It’s also when I gather the ginseng berries to reseed them in places where I want more to grow if I don’t want to let them naturally fall from the plant.

It’s illegal to do this with the wild ginseng, by the way. Most of what we have here are wild-simulated. I began planting seeds here in 2005 but avoided planting in the areas I knew already had native colonies growing. With wild ginseng, you have to replant the seeds of any plants you dig in the same location as the mother.

When the tops of plants begin to die back, it’s the time to gather roots. Black cohosh, black snakeroot, bloodroot, goldenseal, and wild comfrey fall into this category along with ginseng. Many of these roots will be put to stores for herbal remedies but many are also divided and replanted to propagate plants for the nursery.

This time of year is a good time to begin making ointments and tinctures from the herbs I’ve gathered.

It’s also a good time of year for our homestead projects. Our “To-Do” list is a mile longer and grows by the minute, it seems. Firewood is something we never seem to have enough of, so we will cut and stack now and throughout the winter, too.

Herbal Remedies

We make a few things at home that we use often and I’ve started bringing these to the market with me. The most popular one is the Amazing Sting oil. I also make lip balms and ointments, and a medicinal tea blend. Then there’s the cold/flu syrup using various wildcrafted herbs as they come into season.

I’m working on making hard candies with the herbs, too. And there’s the Three Kings tincture we use for nail fungus, spider bites, and other difficult topical things.

Most of these are not listed on the shop, but I’ll add them as I can.

Later Fall

We order ginseng seeds with a delivery date somewhere around the beginning of October. For the weeks following the arrival of the seeds, my main task is to get them planted. I don’t want to leave them in the refrigerator too long because that’ll cause them to go dormant and then they won’t sprout the following spring. Did that last year, don’t want to do it again.

I’m still writing now, and we are still working on homestead projects during this time of year, too. And it’s a good time to stack more firewood.

Winter

This is the best time of year for making herbal remedies, writing my books and stories, taking photographs, and planning next year’s gardens.

We can’t do many outdoor projects, but once Rob has his shop built he’ll be able to work on his beautiful woodworking projects now.

It seems like we’re always needing more firewood, so cutting and stacking goes on even during snow and ice weather.

Spring

Photography is always on my mind in spring. I’m watching now for the ginseng to unfurl and delighting in the awakening of the land. The outdoor homestead projects will begin again.

In spring I sow seeds for both the garden and the nursery. The seeds that were gathered and sown from fall, like the spikenard, green dragons and jack-in-the-pulpit will be coming up along with the ginseng. All the goldenseal, and bloodroot that were divided in fall will now begin unfurling too.

The market begins in late April and I’ll start bringing plants and books and herbal remedies. My plant offerings start out with ginseng and ginseng habitat plants. Then as the weather becomes too warm for those I bring the medicinal and edible wild plants. Books and remedies are available throughout the market season.

Summer

I’ll still be at market with plants, books, and herbal remedies. When it’s not market days I’ll be helping Rob with homestead projects and in between it all I write and take photographs.

Full Circle

With early fall it all begins again. Throughout the entire year I write, photograph and create products. I try to keep the blog current with at least one post a week. I also write our monthly newsletter and in those I try to give my subscribers something they’re not getting at the blog -or at least give it to them before it goes to the blog.

I’m honored and pleased to get emails and comments from readers throughout the year. I don’t get many comments; more often it’s emails from readers with questions. Many have come here to learn about the habits of ginseng, want to know how to identify it or grow it, and I love the updates when you let me know how your efforts are going.

Thank you!