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Flora Field Guide

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If your spirit guide, route planner and exercise midwife is a modern-day vagabond by the name of Poppi Wheeler, and you’re traveling—nay, “touring”— the Appalachian outback for weeks on end, you’re going to come in contact with A LOT of plants. Because:

  1. They are everywhere. The humid hills and muggy mountains of the East Coast are literally covered in vegetation. Some of it thick. Almost all of it green AF.
  2. Even though your Poppi is the recent recipient of an Amateur Professional Adventure Contract he still only eats from the three major food groups: 1) wild edible plants 2) Builder Bars 3) a small selection of handpicked, small batch foods purchased from locally owned Co-Ops 4) Artisanal Yogurt 5) Pizza.

So please, if you will, consider this a Public Service Announcement, or Guide, to some notable plants you’re likely to come in contact while traveling the East Coast and that you might want to eat, avoid, or use in the creation of a powerful and effective poultice.

About Mara Menahan: Mara was first recognized for her botanical art in the 4th grade when she won second place in an art contest for the Prickly Pear Land Trust in Helena, Montana where she grew up. She didn’t get first place though because she drew a saguaro cactus instead of a prickly pear cactus. Her scientific accuracy has greatly improved and today Mara draws plants all day every day as botanical illustrator at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. Instagram: @maramenahan

Common Name Serviceberry Scientific Name Amelanchier canadensis Uses In addition to food, parts of the serviceberry fruits and/or shrubs have been used by indigenous peoples as an ear medicine, eye medicine, cathartic, gastronomical aid, laxative, cold remedy, cough medicine, diaphoretic, flu medicine, fever reducer, pulmonary aid, toothache remedy, tonic, contraceptive, pediatric aid, gynecological aid, venereal aid, antidiarrheal, anthelmintic (treatment against worms), blood medicine, disinfectant, and as an emetic. Young serviceberry stems, branches, and wood have been used in basketry, furniture making, rope making, arrow and harpoon making, tool making, and in the construction of popgun pistons. The Blackfoot used the berries in a harvest game. Description Serviceberry shrubs look similar to small trees growing between 1 to 3 m (3 to 10 ft) tall. The branches are brown and without thorns, though young branches exhibit hairiness. The broad elliptic 2.5 to 5 cm (1 to 2 in) long leaves alternate and have toothed edges. The whites or pink flowers bloom from late April to May in elongated groups of 3 to 20. Each flower has 5 petals that are about 6 to 8 mm (1/4 to 5/16 in) long. Serviceberry fruits are fleshy and round with a diameter of 8 to 11 mm (5/16 -7/16 in). The ripe dark purple, sweet, and juicy berries are ready to be picked sometime in June or August.
Common Name Milkweed Scientific Name Asclepias syriaca Uses Externally, Milkweed has been used in traditional medicine to treat warts. It has also been employed topically by renowned American health practitioner Jethro Kloss to help soften and remove gall and kidney stones. The boiled young shoots, leaves, unopened flowerbuds, flowers, and young pods are said to be good as asparagus, cooked greens, cooked vegetables, and fritters. Description Milkweed is a moderately tall plant, averaging approximately 60-180 cm in height. The broad leaves and thick stem of this wildflower are very robust and are covered with a thin, light-gray down. The plant is light green with purplish-pink flowers arranged in a rounded cluster. When not in bloom, Milkweed is most easily identified by its distinctive, pod-like fruit arranged laterally around the terminal shoot. These large fruits are light green and contain numerous densely packed, bearded seeds.

Milkweed, According to Poppi

“I like to boil the young flowers in spring for about 20 minutes. This is needed to get the milky sap out of them so that you don’t poison yerself. Don’t let that scare you tho, it’s pretty easy. Really. The sap from the stems when you break them is also a good remedy for warts, hope you don’t have to use it for that tho… Tastes like broccoli, requires a bit of boiling.”

Common Name Mulberry Scientific Name Morus rubra Uses Aside from food, mulberry trees are used to grow silkworms. Description The Common Mulberry is a handsome tree, 20 to 30 feet high, of rugged, picturesque appearance, forming a dense, spreading head of branches usually wider than the height of the tree, springing from a short, rough trunk. It bears unisexual flowers, the sexes in separate spikes, or catkins, which are small, more or less cylindrical and in no way beautiful. The oblong, short-stalked 'fruit,' which when ripe is about an inch long and of an intense purple, is really a fruit-cluster, composed of little, closely-packed drupes, each containing one seed and enclosed by the four enlarged sepals, which have become succulent, thus forming the spurious berry. By detaching a single fruit from the cluster, the overlapping lobes of the former perianth may be still discerned.

Mulberry, According to Poppi

“A mature mulberry tree produces enough berries to make you a small fortune if you were to dry them and sell them to a Whole Foods bulk bin. $20/lb for those things if you don’t use the PLU for flame raisins! I find the best way to eat them is right off the tree. They are too tasty and good to collect for later. If you find a mulberry tree at the right time of year, you will be fed for a month.”

Common Name Catnip Scientific Name Napeta cataria Uses Medicinally, the plant has been used to treat intestinal cramps, for indigestion, to cause sweating, to induce menstruation, as a sedative, and to increase appetite. With domestic cats, N. cataria is used as a recreational substance for pet cats' enjoyment, and catnip and catnip-laced products designed for use with domesticated cats are available to consumers. Description 50–100 cm (20–39 in) tall and wide. It resembles a typical mint family member in appearance by having the characteristic square stem that members of the Lamiaceae plant family have, but with brown-green foliage. The coarse-toothed leaves are triangular to ovate. The small bilabiate flowers can be white and finely spotted with pale purple or pink. They are showy and fragrant. The plant blooms from late spring through autumn.

Catnip, According to Poppi

“Not just for getting yer cat in the mood, catnip is a powerful breath freshener and alleviator of gas and diarrhea. Had nothing to eat all day but Clif Builder MAX bars? Catnip.”

Common Name Norway Spruce Scientific Name Picea abies Uses Commonly used as Christmas trees. Also commonly used in timber and paper production, as well as in the production of stringed instruments. Spruce tips are commonly used in beer and tea, and applied for treatment of disorders of the respiratory tract, skin, locomotor system, gastrointestinal tract and infections Description Picea abies is a large, fast-growing evergreen coniferous tree growing 35–55 m (115–180 ft) tall and with a trunk diameter of 1 to 1.5 m. It can grow fast when young, up to 1 m (3 ft) per year for the first 25 years under good conditions, but becomes slower once over 20 m (66 ft) tall. The shoots are orange-brown and glabrous (hairless). The leaves are needle-like, 12–24 mm long, quadrangular in cross-section (not flattened), and dark green on all four sides with inconspicuous stomatal lines. The cones are 9–17 cm long (the longest of any spruce), and have bluntly to sharply triangular-pointed scale tips. They are green or reddish, maturing brown 5–7 months after pollination. The seeds are black, 4–5 mm long, with a pale brown 15 mm wing.

Spruce Tips, According to Poppi

“Very easy to find and identify. Do you know what a pine tree looks like? Look for the lighter, brighter green new growth at the ends of the branches. The earlier in the spring, the more tender the tip. They make a great trail snack, and are wikkid high in vitamin C. Gourmets will notice they even have a citrus note to them. They also make a great tea around the campfire/microwave at night.”

Common Name Purple Pitcher Plant Scientific Name Sarracenia purpurea Uses Tonic, laxative, stomachic, diuretic. Used in the southern United States in dyspepsia. The drug was unknown in Europe until a few years ago, when Mr. Herbert Miles introduced it as a specific for smallpox, as used by the North American Indians with great success, saving life and even the unsightly pitting. Some homoeopaths confirm the value of the remedy, but allopaths do not appear to have been successful in its use, either in America, England or France. Description Up to 30 cm long. They are squat and have a large lip. The pitcher lid, unlike in erect pitcher plants, does not shield the pitcher opening. Instead, the lid is erect, with a pair of lateral ear-like wings on each side of the pitcher lip. Instead of being called a lid, it is usually called the hood. This hood is usually beautifully veined with treelike patterns, and is covered with stiff hairs pointing towards the pitcher opening.
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