Sunday, June 23, 2013

Wild Edible Cub Scout Hike at Ox Bow

I dropped my oldest off earlier this week for Cub Scout Day Camp at Ox Bow County Park. This is his second year attending. It has been well run and a good experience for the children and adult leaders. One requirement is to take a hike and learn about poisonous plants. Andy took us on a walk to also learn about a few wild edibles.

The camp leadership put together details on hiking safety and such. They organized the whole camp well. 

We tried sweet anise first. It tastes very much like black licorice, which isn't one of  my favorite flavors. However, I didn't mind the flavor of the plant as much. Looking for this plant on the Internet, I'm not sure if it was wild fennel, wild anise, sweet cicely, or just sweet anise, as I couldn't find much information on it with this name. I'll need to look at the plant better next time. 

We also tried wild garlic. I loved how the boys lined themselves up along the log! If there is a log, someone must walk the plank! Secretly, I was thinking of all the nearby poison ivy!

We headed into the marshier area. 

We stopped by the black willow, but didn't try it. Andy explained this was chewed on by pioneers for its aspirin like qualities. I also read the roots were used by the Potawatomi as a scarlet dye.

Cattails have many edible purposes. Andy talked about the "boyfriend and girlfriend" parts. The boys giggled. He showed us the pollen as he tapped the top part and explained the pollen should be cooked first before eating. I've tried trail mix cookies with it and also hear they are good in pancakes.

We also tried the inside stalk of the cattail. Andy cut a piece off and peeled it like a banana. It also needs to be peeled down to the white part. It also tastes like cucumber. 

It was fun to see a trail through the cattails. They weave together to provide a mat over the water. Last week, we were able to go on a cattail walk, stepping between the cattails and bouncing on top of the mat as part of Junior indiana Master Naturalists. To the left is the path we made, to the right is the flow of water. It sounded like this area is spring fed, so will always have some water flowing through. 

Later, we munched on mint leaves. Andy mentioned making tea with the leaves. A tea can be made with these with 1 c. leaves, 1 c. sugar, and 1 gallon water. Let this steep (not boiled) in the sun until it turns into a refreshing drink, straining the leaves. I always remember the square stalks for plants related to mint.

Andy picked off a huge branch off a "tree" using a leaf. We have branches like this on our property--poison ivy! They vines grow up the sides of the tree (look for the fine hairs on the vine helping it hold onto the tree) and send long "branches" out with these three leaves. I get poison ivy reactions when exposed to it, so I was grateful when my husband clipped the vines in the areas I frequent at home. They were reaching far into the road, yet quickly withered. The berries are used by animals. Urushiol is the potent oil that many of us are allergic to--if we get in contact with it, we wash in cold water (not hot) with soap within 15 minutes or so and are often spared the consequences. Many often mention they've never had a reaction, but it does take multiple exposures for many people to develop a rash.

To identify, the first leaf in the middle is almost symmetrical, while the two other leaves are asymmetrical. The top half of these leaves are skinny, with the lower leaves being fatter and sometimes slightly wavy. It is frequently found along the "edges", especially on the trails at Ox Bow. If you are concerned about a reaction stay in the center of the trails there rather than brushing with the sides of the trail. I took one trail last week that is not used as frequently. I made it pretty far, but the trail narrowed and was covered with poison ivy, so I turned around. While I was excited to see the amphibians in the area, I preferred not to have poison ivy! In fact, I found this website with a "hall of fame" of rashes. Look if you dare! While there are other plants, such as poison sumac and poison oak that can cause reactions, poison ivy is really the main threat in our area. Note we did NOT try eating the poison ivy or its berries.

We did try fox grape tendrils, however. These are creeping out near the road at our house. It is a vine and wants sunlight, so creeps toward the sunlight.

We looked at mullein and touched its soft leaves. This is easy to identify with the soft, fuzzy leaves, almost like velvet. It is used for various purposes--read about it here. American Indians put it in shoes to insulate. They also dipped the stalk/flower that grows on top in bear oil and burned as a torch, according to Andy. 

Of course, we needed to try mulberries! I love these, though some find them a nuisance to get rid of in their yards as they are rather persistent. They can be used as other berries in most recipes. I used to stop at the mulberry tree between my aunt's and grandma's houses as I went back and forth. Now I stop at the ones in my backyard, others at my parent's house, at the park, on the trails, anywhere I find ripe berries. It took my 4-year-old a little training to get the best ones--look for plump and shiny black ones. I put my hand under them and touch with another finger. If it falls into my hand it is ready!

We looked at the duckweed in the ox bow and talked about the beaver that swim in this area. Duckweed is actually edible, too, but we didn't try it. 

We also tried tiny apples as a section of Ox Bow County park used to be an orchard long ago. He called them "wild apple". It's still early to be ripe. They are a yellowish red when ripe. 

Thanks for another great hike!