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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 Jack in the Pulpit Scientific Name Arisaema triphyllum Uses A starch obtained from the roots is used as a stiffener for clothes. Jack in the Pulpit root is acrid, antiseptic, diaphoretic, expectorant, irritant and stimulant. A medicinal poultice of root used for headaches and various skin diseases. Ointment used for ringworm, tetterworm and abscesses treatments. Jack in the Pulpit also contains oxalic acid, which is poisonous! Description 12 to 26 in tall. Name comes from the large, green (with brown stripes) spathe that wraps around the spadix. Leaves: trifolate on long stems, 8-15 cm long and 3-7 cm across. Flowers: unixseual (small plants mostly male, larger plants mostly female). Fruit: smooth, green berries 1 cm in size.
Common Name Wood/Canada Nettle Scientific Name Laportea canadensis Uses The leaves are rich in vitamins A and C, iron and protein. The young shoots can be simmered and a tea can be made out of the shoots and leaves. Medicinally it has been used to reduce fever, facilitate childbirth and induce urination. The fibers have been used to make cordage, clothing, baskets, netting and a lot more. Descriptions 12 to 60 in tall. Grows from unbranched taproots, produces 1-10+ stems. Flowers at least as tall as foliage, which can be either upright or horizontally spreading. Does sting (like the stinging nettle) Leaves: Basal only, pinnately lobed. 2-18 in. long, .4-4 in. wide. Oblanceolate, oblong, or obovate in shape and narrow to the petiole. Flowers: Unisexual, light green.

Nettles, According to Poppi

“Nettles are perhaps one of my favorite vegetables. Something about plants with defense mechanisms on the outside that make for a very palatable flavor. The nettle is no exception, covered in stinging hairs, but when cooked down, no more stinging—just a chewy, nutty, highly nutritious slop. This plant is especially useful for vegetarians, as it’s wicked high in iron and protein. There are folk tales in many folksy folklores that spin yarns of wise hermits living off nothing but.

“There is an arguably famous hermit, Dug Out Dick, who lived ’til he was 90 in a hand-dug cave in Idaho off nothing more than sheep milk Yogürt and nettles. Two of my favorite foods. What a life. But he didn’t have Instagram…”

Common Name Eastern White Pine Scientific Name Pinus strobus Uses Eastern White Pine is used as lumber for construction, pulp (paper), cabinets, furniture, door frames, boats, coffins, matches, paneling, boxes, and crates. It is also used for ships' masts, because they have a large, straight trunk. Eastern White Pines are also used as Christmas trees. Description Up to 190 ft tall. Flexible, 5-13cm finely serrated needles come in fascicles of five and in deciduous sheaths.Slender cones, 8-16 cm long and 4-5cm across when open. Rounded scales. 4-5 mm seeds with 15-20 mm wings (seeds are wind-dispersed).

Pine Pollen, According to Poppi

“In mid to late spring, you may have noticed that there are a lot of things that make the genetically weak sneeze and get all puffy eyed. Well that’s pollen. What we are looking for is pine pollen though. It’s the yellow stuff you see on the tips of pine trees, released from the male part of the tree in order to pollinate the cone, or female part of the tree. The pine pollen, when consumed fresh off the tree, is wicked high in B vitamins and vitamin C. It’s got a citrusy flavor, and is a great yogürt topping. When tinctured, this yellow pollen has androgens that mimic very closely the testosterone your body naturally produces.”

“Slabs of muscle.”

Common Name Dandelion Scientific Name Taraxacum officinale Uses Dandelion is used for loss of appetite, upset stomach, intestinal gas, gallstones, joint pain, muscle aches, eczema, and bruises. Dandelion is also used to increase urine production and as a laxative to increase bowel movements. It is also used as skin toner, blood tonic, and digestive tonic. Description 2 to 16 in (typical), 28 in (max) tall. Grows from unbranched taproots, produces 1-10+ hollow, milky stems. Flowers at least as tall as foliage, which can be either upright or horizontally spreading. Leaves: Basal only, pinnately lobed. 2-18 in. long, .4-4 in. wide. Oblanceolate, oblong, or obovate in shape and narrow to the petiole. Flowers: Head, flowers are all ray-like. Matures into a fluffy seed head called a blowball, which enables wind-aided dispersal.

Dandelion, According to Poppi

“Dandelion greens and flowers: perhaps the most easily identifiable wild edible of all, you most likely have these growing through the sidewalk in front of your condo. What Monsanto and their henchman of Hades don’t want you to know is that dandelions are more nutrient-dense than just about anything you can grow in yer garden or buy at the store. En vogue for their pleasantly bitter flavor, and perhaps for the novelty of eating weeds, your gourmet grocer might even sell dandelion greens at $7 a pound. Big money for something you can just pick off the side of the road, fertilized with dog urine! Yah! So wash em off before eating I guess, and be sure they haven’t been sprayed.

“Prep: the greens are bitter, but bitter means they’re good for you. This is a wiiiiikked healthy food, so don’t expect it to taste mild. Yer not a mild person. You’re better than that. Ok, so I eat ’em raw on the go, but they’re best cooked down into yer evening goulash after about 10 min on a simmer. The flowers are quite nutty in flavor, and are a great trail snack. You can also gather a bunch in early spring and ferment em into wine. I’ve got a batch going right now, actually. The tap root can be roasted like a carrot, or chopped and roasted until dried. This makes a great coffee alternative! It’s actually really good. So the lowly dandelion… such a readily available and useful plant!”

“Next time you see some jerk spraying them with RoundUp, go back at night and take a dump on their precious lawn. It’s good karma!”

Common Name Red Clover Scientific Name Trifolium pratense Uses Red clover is used for cancer prevention, indigestion, high cholesterol, whooping cough, cough, asthma, bronchitis, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Some women use red clover for symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes; for breast pain or tenderness (mastalgia); and for premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Description 20-80 cm tall. Herbaceous and short lived. 1-4 cm petiole with two basal stipules. Leaves: green, trifoliate, 15-30 mm (8-15 mm across) with a pale chevron. Flowers: Dark pink with a pale base in a head, 12-15 mm long.

Red Clover, According to Poppi

“The Vermont state flower. It grows all over the place, about as common as dandelions. I love eating the flowers as trail snacks. They’re delish, and reminiscent of the sweetness you find in sugar snap pees. The clover leaves are also not bad raw, featuring a liiiiiitle bit of sweetness. Look for the purple flowers and clover leaves. It’s a clover, obvs.”

Common Name Stinging Nettle Scientific Name Urtica dioica Uses Stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. Today, many people use it to treat urinary problems during the early stages of an enlarged prostate (called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH). Description 2 to 7 ft tall (in summer; dies down to the ground in winter).Hairy with nonstinging hairs, plus stinging hairs in most subspecies. Bright yellow rhizomes, stolons and roots. Leaves: Soft, green, serrated and heart-shaped, 1 to 6 inches long. Flowers: Unisexual, but male and female flowers are found on separate plants.
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