Did you know that there is free, over-the-counter medicine waiting just outside your doorstep? Plants!
We all probably learned that medicinal plants were used by people all over the world before modern medicine? Many of these herbs have fewer side affects than prescription pills and will save you a ton of money, plus help get you through a hard time if your insurance ever lapses.
One medicinal plant that’s local is jewelweed (in the photo above). This gem will speed up the healing of a poison ivy rash and even reduce its size and swelling if used early enough. Just collect the plant, simmer it for 10 minutes, and pour the liquid into ice cube trays. Once it is frozen, you can put it in a ziplock bag and save if for when you need it. If you think you may have touched poison ivy, put several jewelweed cubes into a bath and rub a few over you skin where you may have touched it. You can also make jewelweed soaps or salves.
Another example of a great medicinal plant is peppermint, which is a mainstay of gardens and often found straying into wooded lots. Peppermint cools your skin, so if you put it on your forehead, it will help relieve a fever and a headache. It inhibits the growth of bacteria, so it’s also great in a salve for cuts. If you have a sprain or a backache, it will help reduce the swelling and speed up your recovery.
To make peppermint oil, just soak fresh mint in olive or for 1 week in a window that faces the sun. Peppermint is used for the common cold, coughs, sinus infections, and respiratory infections. It is also helpful for most digestive problems, such as heartburn, nausea, vomiting, morning sickness, and stomach aches.
The squeal of excitement as my child finds a slug. The exhilaration on her face as she splashes through a stream. The exuberance as she climbs a steep mountain at a sprint, loaded down with two backpacks.
These are the memories I will hold dear when my kids grow up. And I have no doubt, they will remember them too.
To me, these memories have connected me not just to my own childhood but has reminded me, time and time again, to what is most important in life. Our connections to people, nature, and ourselves.
In the hustle and bustle of every day life, it’s easy to forget that.
But nature has a way of slowing your heart rate down and helping you connect with other people, nature, and yourself.
I hope all kids have a chance to connect to nature in a meaningful way because it will serve as a sanctuary for the remainder of their lives and remind them to care about the fragile world we live in.
The best time to encourage kids to fall in love with nature is before age six because after that age, they often never put up with the occasional discomfort in order to connect to nature on a deep level.
Violet (Violaceae Viola spp.) is a mild tasting and common plant in Central Virginia. You can collect the flowers and eat them raw or if you can collect 5 – 6 cups of them, you may want to try making violet jelly by following the mint jelly instructions in your pectin packet.
They also make a lovely, edible topping for a cake or salad.
Identification: The flowers have 5 purple, white, or blue petals. In our area, I only see the purple one, common blue violet, or Viola sororia. The leaves are heart-shaped with slightly serrated edges and have obvious veins on them. You can eat the leaves raw or cooked as well.
I hope you take the time to hunt for these easy to identify plants in your yard or a nearby park. The best time to find them is while they’re in bloom since the purple flowers are easy to spot.
If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to my free e-book, 10 Easy and Delicious Wild Edible Plants in Central VA or look for an upcoming Wild Edible Plant Course in Richmond, Virginia.
Have you ever had a persimmon? What about a North American persimmon, Diospyros virginia?
These persimmons are similar to the Asian persimmons, but much smaller – only about an inch in diameter.
This misunderstood Virginia-native fruit can turn even the most adventurous eater away, and yet, they are also well-loved by those who understand them. They weren’t named the fruit of the gods for nothing, after all. The trick is knowing how to harvest and prepare them!
First, you’ll need to find a persimmon tree. It can be a tricky endeavor because they are rare in most Virginia forests today. But, luckily, it’s easy to recognize even at a distance.
Its bark is slate gray, almost black – which alone is unusual among trees in Virginia. It also has blocky, imperfect squares in the bark. The closest bark to it in Virginia are dogwood and loblolly pine, but dogwood has opposite branching and pine trees are, well, evergreen, with easily distinguished needles!
Persimmon Pudding Recipe
If anyone wants persimmons and wants to try this, please let me know! We collected a lot this year! If you do try this recipe, please comment on your results below . . .
This video from The Wilderness School says it best:
One of my favorite activities that can be done year-round is tracking. Tracks are EVERYWHERE. However, it’s easiest to track in mud, sand, or snow.
Kids love learning to read the earth and it’s also a great stepping stone to reading. Tracking, after all, is the original form of reading and many believe it led to written language in the first place. People used to read the earth like a book – the weather, the movement of animals, how long ago did they pass, and much, much more. This meant survival to many groups of people across the world.
For a snapshot into what tracking was and meant to our ancestors, I highly recommend watching this video:
All a beginner really needs to start tracking is to find a muddy or sandy surface. Along streams, rivers, beaches, and roads are perfect. It’s also beneficial to wait about 24 hours after a rainstorm to head out. The rain acts like an eraser on the ground, clearing the previous tracks, making it easier to read new ones. With lots of dirt time and study, you can learn to read tracks in leaves, on hard surfaces, and on chaotic patches of earth. But when starting out, I recommend sticking to mud and sand the day after a rainstorm. You can then go out each day to watch what happens to those tracks you saw on day one – how they age and how weather changes eventually wipe them away.
If you’re ready to jump into tracking, you’ll want to put together a Tracking Toolkit with the following items:
If you find a perfect track while you’re in the field, I recommend taking a photo of it, drawing it, then adding the dimensions of each front and hind footprint. You’ll also want to add the stride length and the width from the outside of the outermost tracks. If you don’t know what species it is, record as much as you can. The following questions are helpful:
If you don’t know what it is right away, which is expected in the beginning, you can try knocking off families from your list of possibilities. Such as, if one footprint has five toes, you know it can’t be a canine or a feline.
After drawing the track and taking notes, you can make a caste of it by mixing your plaster powder with water. I use Plaster of Paris from the hardware store. Don’t make the mix too liquidy or your caste will be too thin and may break. Too thick will mean you’ll miss details in the track. Use 4 small sticks to form the frame of you caste and keep the plaster in place. Wait about an hour for the caste to dry, then use a stick to pry it out.
It’s especially fun for kids to have something they can bring home and put in their room on a shelf to help them remember and show off to their friends.
Can you make a caste of every mammal species in your state?
Before you move on to the next post, what is the track in the header photo? What about in the photo of the caste? Please put your guesses into the comment section below.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is a common weed in Central Virginia that I have eaten since I was young. It’s pink, roundish flowers are so tempting and pretty and conjure images of Thumper in Bambi and his desire only to eat the blossoms. I used to take a pinch of the flower petals and bit the white, sweet tips off, wasting the rest. I had no idea what I was missing!
I didn’t think to eat the leaves as a kid, but they are bursting with nutrition, just as Thumper’s mother told him. They contain vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, and C, plus calcium, chromium, cobalt, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, silicon, sodium, and zinc. They even contain protein, since it is a legume. How’s that for a free, local vitamin pill?
But, wait! There’s more! The flowers can be dried and used as a tea that helps prepare women for pregnancy. There are a few precautions. Eating a lot of it may cause bloating and there are discrepancies about whether pregnant and nursing mothers should consume it. Some say it’s extremely healthy and others say to avoid it completely.
Nonetheless, it’s a great, local, easy source of vitamins worthy of our attention and deserves a place in our diet.
If you like this post, please sign up for our free e-book, “10 Delicious and Easy Wild Edible Plants in Central VA.” Also, check out the Adult Courses and Kids’ Courses for upcoming courses in the Greater Richmond Area!
Wood sorrel (Oxalis spp.) is a common weed in central VA. It has 5-petaled yellow flowers and a delicious, lemony flavor that even kids love and can work as a lemon replacement in recipes. It’s best raw and works as a great addition to salads that might just eliminate your desire to include a high-calorie salad dressing!
Although eating a lot of it may interfere with calcium absorption, it is rich in vitamin C. It also is mildly antibiotic!
To learn more wild edible plants, please sign up for our next Wild Edible Plants 101 course!
Chicory is a neat plant for coffee and tea lovers. It doesn’t contain any caffeine, but it tastes similar. To make a tea/coffee substitute, collect the roots. After washing them thoroughly, roast them on a low temperature in the oven. Then, grind the roasted root into a powder. Finally, use it like you would tea leaves. You can buy cheesecloth so you don’t have to drink chunks of powder.
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