Tracks and Roots has been many years in the making. The seed was planted when I was 17 years old and knew simply that I wanted to spend my life in the woods, studying nature, writing, and practicing survival skills.
Perhaps my dream wasn’t concrete enough since my parents insisted I give college a try. They couldn’t imagine me hiding away in the woods rather than solving pressing environmental problems.
At 17, I knew enough to know I didn’t know enough, so I went to Virginia Tech . . . but I did it my way.
My first week, I searched and found two amazing mentors, Bill Sydor and Michael Blackwell, plus a group of college students to practice skills with. They taught me nature awareness exercises and ways to learn more efficiently. Bill had an extensive library for me to peruse.
And they helped keep me accountable. “Did you go to your sit spot this week? What did you see? Have you found any tracks lately? Do you know this plant?”
I studied hard until I could identify all the trees in Virginia, then all the birds by sight and all animal tracks in sand or mud. The wildflowers took longer since most are seasonal, but I kept a journal and drew every new plant I saw.
By the end of those 4 years, I knew most of the wildlife in Virginia and also something even more valuable – how to learn quickly.
After college, I found a job in environmental policy with the idea to save up money and pursue my passion more. I spent several years feeling depressed and unfulfilled, lacking the time and energy to study nature. I loved my job, but it wasn’t my passion and it didn’t energize me.
After the birth of my first daughter, I panicked. I became terrified I’d never actually follow my dream. I went back to work and she went to a well-run daycare, but it felt like a prison to me. I hated that my daughter was stuck inside day after day, not even seeing the light of day some days of the week.
I wanted my kids to have a deep connection to nature, which experts say should start in the first few years of life.
I saved up money and finally took that first leap into pursuing my passion. The idea of Tracks and Roots was formed.
Reconnecting people to nature is a vital part of healing ourselves, our community, and the world. The reality is we cannot save what we do not care about and many of our problems today are due to apathy and ignorance.
I’m hoping to help turn the tide towards more widespread knowledge of the natural world and greater compassion.
Have you ever been walking through the woods and smelled the strong scent of onion? Well, I have!
We have several species of wild onion in Virginia. The most important question is: does it smell strongly like onion or garlic? If so, you mostly likely have an Allium species. Wild garlic and wild onion look quite similar, though you can tell them apart. Be aware that some flowering plants may look similar, such as the Star of Bethlehem. If there is no onion or garlic smell, please leave it alone.
We have some field garlic in our yard that we use in place of garlic or chives. Here’s a tasty and easy dish you can whip up quickly to amaze your friends at your next gathering.
Please leave a comment below!
Chickweed (Stellaria media) is an amazing plant that grows all over central Virginia in yards, parks, under trees, etc. It can be tricky to find because it’s seasonal, coming up early winter and then dying back when it gets too hot. So now’s the time to head out to your yard to look for it – you may be surprised by what you find!
Leaves: Round, opposite leaves that smooth (mouse eared chickweed looks similar, but is fuzzy). The stalks are hairy.
Flowers: 10-petaled, white flowers, about 5 cm across. Ten stamens with light yellow, greenish, or reddish anthers. Flower stalks are hairy.
Height: Five to 50 cm tall, usually sprawling out on the grown like a mat.
Habitat: Chickweed is a common lawn and garden weed, can grow in waste soils, and forests. It also grows in Europe.
This tiny plant has many amazing benefits – it has nearly every vitamin and mineral your body needs to thrive. Vitamins A, C, D, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin and thiamine plus the minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, iron, phosphorus, sodium, copper and silica. It has 83 times more iron than spinach and has many medicinal uses.
All of this is great, you may be asking yourself, but what about taste?
Well, an important perk is is that it is also delicious! Chefs in New York City and Vegas are getting hooked on it . . . it has a leafy almost grassy flavor most people find pleasant. Not spicy or sweet, but an excellent addition to salads, burgers, and side dishes.
Other than straight from the ground, my second favorite way to eat this plant is to make pesto. All you need to do is follow a generic basil pesto recipe, but add chickweed rather than basil.Print Recipe
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.
Next time you host a party, try out these delicious, Mini Violet Quiches! These are super easy to make, very inexpensive, and look great.
Common Blue Violet (Violaceae Viola sororia)
– 1 Cup Fresh violet leaves from Common Blue Violet or another edible violet species
– 2 Eggs, Whipped
– 1/2 cup milk or substitute (not vanilla-flavored)
– Pepper to taste (Can use wild pepperweed)
– Salt to taste
-Gather and wash violet leaves from a pesticide and chemical-free location
– Chop and saute the violet leaves lightly.
– Lightly beat the eggs. Add the milk and combine.
– Add the sauteed violet leaves to the egg mixture. Then add the salt and pepper and mix.
– Spoon the mixture into your phyllo-dough quiche cups.
– Bake for 8 – 12 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheight or until the eggs are solid.
I hope you enjoy this recipe. Please leave a comment below and let me know how it turns out!
Spicebush Ice Cream has a flavor unlike anything else you’ve had before. You can make the flavor strong or mild. Some people say it’s a little bit like nutmeg . . . I think it’s a bit sweet and could possibly replace your need for sugar in your favorite dishes.
I recommend trying this recipe out ASAP while the red, spicebush berries are still available.
You will need an ice cream maker.
1 cup whole milk
2 cups cream
1/2 cup sugar
A pinch of salt
8 spicebush berries
First, gather the red, spiceberries. Don’t eat them plain! They are used as a spice . . . which means they are spicy. Okay, fine. You can nibble a teensy bit to test it out. But, bring the rest home. Eight berries will do for this recipe, but any extras you can lay out on a tray to dry.
Once gathered, you have three options.
a. Use immediately.
b. Dry and use.
c. Dry and use in an extract.
For this, I used 8 berries immediately, without drying.
Slice each berry in half.
Simmer berries in 1 cup of whole milk for 30 minutes.
Strain milk and berries through a sieve.
Mix with 2 cups of cream (whipping cream) with the spicebush milk. Add 1/2 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix until the sugar dissolves.
Put in your fridge for 1 hour.
Put in your ice cream maker and follow the directions that came with it.
If you give this recipe a try or have any questions, please leave a comment below!
I love weeds! There’s nothing like pulling weeds in your herb or vegetable garden and bringing them in to eat! If you eat your weeds, you can produce so much more food for your family and weeds tend to be chock full of vitamins and minerals.
This is an easy and tasty weed salad far tastier and more nutritious than your traditional lettuce salad.
1. Gather. Gathering is easiest with scissors.
2. Wash. At least three changes of water is best.
3. Chop finely.
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.
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.
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 . . .