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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 Greater Burdock Scientific Name Arctium lappa Uses Common in Chinese and Japanese food, as well as in macrobiotic diets. In traditional medicine, the fruits, seeds, roots, and leaves of burdock have been used as decoctions or teas for a wide range of ailments including colds, catarrh, gout, rheumatism, stomach ailments, cancers, and as a diuretic, diaphoretic and laxative. It has even been promoted as an aphrodisiac. Description A Biennial, as tall as as 3 m (10 ft). It has large, alternating, cordiform leaves that have a long petiole and are pubescent on the underside. The flowers are purple and grouped in globular capitula, united in clusters. They appear in mid-summer, from July to September. The capitula are surrounded by an involucre made out of many bracts, each curving to form a hook, allowing them to be carried long distances on the fur of animals. The fruits are achenes; they are long, compressed, with short pappuses. The fleshy tap-root can grow up to 1 m (3 ft 3 in) deep.

Burdock Root, According to Poppi

“If you look around at roadsides and the edges of fields instead of your power meter (yes, I use a power meter all the time), you’ll often see this very common and large plant. I’ve noticed it’s perhaps the largest of the common weeds you see on the field edges and roadsides of the east. The root of this plant is a really nice addition to your goulash. Mid to late spring is the best time to harvest, while the root is still tender and affectionate. Takes a bit of digging to get the whole hing out, but the result is a potato/carrot concept album, and quite a large one at that. Burdock is also prized for its alleged intimate tent-pitching properties.”

Common Name Paw Paw Scientific Name Asimina triloba 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 Grows to a height of 35 feet (11 m) (rarely to 45 feet or 14 m) with a trunks 8-12 inches (20–30 cm) or more in diameter. The large leaves of pawpaw trees are clustered symmetrically at the ends of the branches, giving a distinctive imbricated appearance to the tree's foliage. The fruit of the pawpaw is a large, yellowish-green to brown berry, 2–6 in (5–16 cm) long and 1–3 in (3–7 cm) broad, weighing from 0.7–18 oz (20–500 g), containing several brown/black seeds 1/2 to 1 in (15–25 mm) in diameter embedded in the soft, edible fruit pulp.
Common Name Lamb's Quarters Scientific Name Chenopodium album Uses Leave can be used as a wild spinach substitute, salads, stir fry, soups, casseroles; seeds can be ground into flour for gruel or bread. Native Americans ate the leaves to treat stomachaches and prevent scurvy. Description Tends to grow upright at first, reaching heights of 10–150 cm (rarely to 3 m), but typically becomes recumbent after flowering (due to the weight of the foliage and seeds) unless supported by other plants. The leaves are alternate and can be varied in appearance. The first leaves, near the base of the plant, are toothed and roughly diamond-shaped, 3–7 cm long and 3–6 cm broad. The leaves on the upper part of the flowering stems are entire and lanceolate-rhomboid, 1–5 cm long and 0.4–2 cm broad; they are waxy-coated, unwettable and mealy in appearance, with a whitish coat on the underside. The small flowers are radially symmetrical and grow in small cymes on a dense branched inflorescence 10–40 cm long.

Lamb’s Quarters, According to Poppi

“It tastes like spinach, but better, and even better for you. If Popeye ate lamb’s quarters instead of spinach his abs would be as big as his forearms. They grow on roadsides and have a distinct white talcum powdery underside. Cook it like you would its inferior brother, spinach.”

“This is the king of vegetables.”

Common Name Showy Lady's Slipper Scientific Name Cypripedium reginae Uses The Cypripedium species has been used in native remedies for dermatitis, tooth aches, anxiety, headaches, as an antispasmodic, stimulant and sedative, depression. However the preferred species for use are Cyp. parviflorum and Cyp. acaule, used as topical applications or tea. Description Plants consist of a stout, hairy, leafy stalk usually bearing one large flower (or up to three). The flower is six-parted, with a pouch, or labellum, that’s one to two inches long, spherical, or nearly so, with in-rolled edges, white suffused with deep rose to magenta. Petals and sepals are white, flat, and oblong. Leaves are large, elliptical, clasping, heavily ribbed, and hairy.
Common Name The Virginia Slice Scientific Name Pizza virginia Uses Commonly used as a photographic prop and as food. Description Largely looks like pizza, notable for its 14 inch length.

The Virginia Slice, According to Poppi

“Long days in the sun tubing with nothing to hydrate yourself but a leather bota bag of wine can be depleting in many ways. There is a pizza place in Virginia that serves novelty-sized pizzas to misinformed customers on the phone. Pickup can generally be arranged via Uber, although leftovers can be transported back to camp on the Specialized Pizza Rack as demonstrated.”

Common Name Black Raspberry Scientific Name Rubus occidentalis Uses The berries are typically dried or frozen, made into purées and juices, or processed as colorants. Fresh berries are also marketed in season. Two well-known liqueurs based predominantly on black raspberry fruit include France's Chambord Liqueur Royale de France and South Korea's various kinds of Bokbunja. Description Rubus occidentalis is a deciduous shrub growing to 2–3 m (7–10 feet) tall, with prickly shoots. The leaves are pinnate, with five leaflets on leaves, strong-growing stems in their first year, and three leaflets on leaves on flowering branchlets. The flowers are distinct in having long, slender sepals 6–8 mm long, more than twice as long as the petals. The round-shaped fruit is a 12–15 mm diameter aggregation of drupelets; it is edible, and has a high content of anthocyanins and ellagic acid.

Black Raspberry, According to Poppi

“Another easily identified wild food. Looks like a raspberry, cuz it is, only much better cuz it’s wild. Thorns are worth picking through. Something this tasty and nutritious should not be earned without self-sacrifice.”

Common Name Corn Dog Grass Scientific Name Typha latifolia Uses Chairmaking, construction (rafts, roofs, etc.), paper, textiles, biofuel, tinder, candlemaking, flour. Description Typha leaves are alternate and mostly basal on a simple, jointless stem that bears the flowering spikes. The plants are monoecious, with unisexual flowers that develop in dense racemes. The numerous male flowers form a narrow spike at the top of the vertical stem. Each male (staminate) flower is reduced to a pair of stamens and hairs, and withers once the pollen is shed. Large numbers of tiny female flowers form a dense, sausage-shaped spike on the stem below the male spike. In larger species this can be up to 30 centimetres (12 in) long and 1 to 4 centimetres (0.4 to 2 in) thick. The seeds are minute, 0.2 millimetres (0.008 in) long, and attached to fine hairs. When ripe, the heads disintegrate into a cottony fluff from which the seeds disperse by wind.
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