About Me

My photo
I am a mother, a teacher, and a nature lover. I grew up on a mountain we called Owls' Knob in the Ozarks of Arkansas. The first seven years of my life were spent living in a log cabin, far from a store or streetlight, without electricity or running water and after twenty years of travel, I returned to the abondoned homestead. Now I live on a hill by a small lake and work at a public garden. These are stories about nature written from a women deeply influenced by place.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

From April Showers to May Flowers

Fire Pink (Silene virginica)

After a week of rain, children gather at the Ozark Natural Science Center ready to enjoy the great outdoors. We walk along Bear Hallow Creek where wildflowers dot the grass like stars in the sky on a moonless night. They are familiar with many of them, such as the common violet and dandelion but these flowers represent mere weeds.
Violet flowers are edible and have a sour flavor. The leaves are less tasty raw but can be cook and are very nutritious. If you cook just a half cup of violet leaves into a stir-fry dish, then you are eating more than your daily requirements of vitamin A and C. Dandelion greens are sold in the produce department of many health food stores as a salad green. The root is good for the just about every organ and cleanses the liver when made into a tea that resembles coffee in flavor. Perhaps it is time to rethink these so called weeds.
Along the riverside we discover rue anemone and spring beauty. A girl asks me if these woodland blooms are edible or medicinal. I honestly don’t know. I look it up in my field guide book and find that the tuberous roots of both plants are edible. Natives cooked spring beauty roots (their flavor is bland like a chestnut) and used the roots of rue (also called windflower) to treat diarrhea and vomiting. There is always more for all of us to learn.  
The following day we hike along the river and review the flowers we’ve seen. We also find the three leafed and pedaled trilliums, nodding yellow bellwort, a globe of shinning blue stars, and white trout lilies near the water’s edge. Then we trek up to the bluffs along the ridge where we come upon new and unique flowers that love this moist shady habitat. I show them may apple flowers but we don’t find any edible may apples this early in the year. I crush a leaf of a mountain mint plant so they can smell its distinct flavor. We also smell the leaves of a sassafras shrub and I tell them that this plant’s roots are used to make root beer.
Suddenly, all ten children halt at the sight of a delicate nodding flower growing in the crack between of two moss covered rocks edged with ferns along the bluff’s face. We take a moment to examine its feathery leaves, cupped petals, and red spurs before identifying its name: wild columbine (Aquilegia_canadensis).  Such a lovely specimen need not be medicinal but in fact crushed wild columbine seeds were used by Native Americans to control head lice and cure headaches.
Before diving into any lesson on edibles or medicinal plants I always warn my students not to eat plants in their yards where pesticides and other poisons could reside. Then I point out that some edible plants closely resemble poisonous ones, like wild carrot and poison hemlock. Knowing plants is not about using them, but for appreciation.
The appreciation of flowers goes beyond their beauty and their uses into their place in the ecosystem. The symbiotic relationship between flowers and nectar feeding insects is a mutual one, like that of fungus and algae which forms lichen. Nature is full of relationships and it is important to recognize that something as simplistic as picking a flower has an ecological impact.
Just before they load onto the bus and return to their busy city lives, I ask my students what their favorite part of their trip to the wilderness. On this spring day, many of them remark on the beauty of the wild columbine and the lovely smells of sassafras and mountain mint. A few girls sing a song that another staff member shared around the campfire about not picking a rose but instead leaving it on the vine to grow. On this spring day, the flowers spoke to the hearts and minds of these children. Perhaps the next time they find a dandelion growing in a crack in the cement, they will remember all that they have learned.

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

No comments:

Post a Comment