About the Founder

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.

 

Redbud Salad

Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis, is a gorgeous tree that brightens up early Spring all along Virginia roadsides with pink flowers. It blooms between March and April.

You can find them right now if you look. In addition to their beauty they are very tasty, slightly sweet even. They are easy to gather quickly in large paper bags by the handful. I usually hold my bag under a branch and brush the flowers quickly into the bag.

There are many things you can do with flowers, but my favorite is either to each plain or sprinkle on top of a salad.

Identification:

Flowers: Irregular, small, pink, growing all along the twigs and branches of the tree.

Bark: Young bark is smooth but as it ages, it becomes rough.

Leaves: Heart-shaped.

Redbud Salad

Redbud Salad
Prep Time10 mins
Servings: 4 people

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup Redbud Flowers
  • 1/2 Cup Violet Flowers
  • 1/4 Cup Blackberries
  • 2 Cups Greenleaf Lettuce Chopped

Instructions

  • Gather your flowers, blackberries, and lettuce. Wash and dry.
  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

Knotweed Cake

For several years, I’ve attempted to use knotweed in savory dishes, but it is simply not best for that. It tastes a bit like rhubarb. Sour and tasty, especially with sugar.

Knotweed is an excellent plant to know because it is highly invasive and the more people who are out harvesting it, the better!

  • Identification:
  • Leaves: Alternate, ovate.
  • Stem: Separated with green-reddish canes, like bamboo.
  • Flowers: Tiny, white flowers growing off stem.
  • Height: 4 – 13 feet tall.
  • Roots: Many rhizomes and roots spreading under the ground.

Health Benefits:

  • Reduces inflammation.
  • Treats digestive irregularities.
  • Eases menstrual flow.
  • Supports respiratory function.

For this recipe, you’ll need a grocery bag full of knotweed stalks, about knee high.

You’ll need to remove the leaves and tips, then chop the knotweed coarsely.

Put in a large pot and add 2 tablespoons of water. Bring to a low boil and simmer until everything is broken down and looks slimy.

Pour the knotweed into a food-mill or colander and process or stir to push out the pulp. You’ll be left with the stringy and large, tough pieces that you don’t want. You need 1 cup of pulp for this cake.

Knotweed Cake

Knotweed Cake
Prep Time1 hr
Cook Time45 mins
Course: Dessert
Keyword: Knotweed
Servings: 18 people

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Sugar
  • 2 Cups Gluten Free or Regular All Purpose Flour
  • 1 Cup Knotweed Pulp
  • 1 Cup Canola Oil
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp Nutmeg
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp Salt

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees Farenheit
  • Add eggs to a small bowl. Stir with a whisk. Add oil, spices, sugar, and pulp. Combine.
  • Add flour and stir.
  • Pour mixture into a greased pan of choice (I use two 8 x 8 x 2 square pans).
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Add icing if you wish and decorate with edible flowers, but definitely does not need icing!
  • Enjoy!

Please leave a comment below!

Dandelion fritters

Dandelions are everywhere and most people at least vaguely know how to identify them. The most common look-alike in our area is Cat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata), but it is also edible. Chicory (Cichorium intybus) is frequently confused as well, but the flowers are a blue-purple, not yellow, and it is also edible.

Identification:

Flowers: The common dandelion flowerhead over 100 yellow ray florets and no disk florets; the ray florets spread outward from the center. Inner and outer green bracts are below the flowerhead. Flowers appear during warm spells in the winter in Central VA as well as throughout the warm season.

Leaves: Jagged deeply-notched, basal, hairless leaves.

Note: Any batter will work for this, so use what you have, but this recipe is especially tasty.

Dandelion Fritters

Dandelion Fritters

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Dandelion Buds and Blossoms washed
  • 1 1/4 tsp Salt to taste
  • 1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 1 Cup All-Purpose Flower
  • 1 Cup Cornmeal
  • 1/4 tsp Pepper or Pepperweed Seeds
  • 1/2 tsp Chile Powder
  • 1 Tbsp Fresh Thyme or 1 tsp Dried Thyme
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/4 Cup Milk
  • 2 Cups Canola Oil

Instructions

  • Collect dandelion buds and blossoms from a clean location (no pesticides and at least 15 feet from a road!) Pit them in a bowl with several cups of water, lemon juice, and 1 Tbsp salt, dissolved.
  • In a bowl, sift together flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, and chile powder.
  • Add thyme, and mix well.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together egg and milk.
  • Pour egg mixture into flour and stir until well combined to form a batter.
  • Pour 1 inch of oil into a skillet, cast iron preferred. Heat oil to 375 degrees.
  • Gently dip each flower into batter.
  • Carefully place in hot oil; do not crowd.
  • Fry until golden, about 2 minutes, turn, and fry 1 more minute if necessary.
  • Drain on paper towels. Salt lightly.
  • Serve hot and enjoy!

Roasted Dandelion Roots

For dandelion identification tips, please refer to this blog post: https://tracksandroots.com/2020/03/11/dandelion-chips/

Roasted Dandelion Roots

Roasted Dandelion Roots
Servings: 2 people

Ingredients

  • 6 Dandelion Roots peeled
  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1/4 tsp Salt

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.
  • Dig up and wash dandelion roots thoroughly. Peel and slice.
  • Put on a tray with oilve oil. Sprinkle with salt. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes.

Notes

Dandelion roots will be bitter. You can mix them with rice or other roasted veggies that are sweet, such as carrots, beets, and onions, to help make them more palatable. Bitter flavors have become increasingly less common in the United States, but is still common in many other countries. You can become more tolerant to bitter flavors over time!

Please comment below!

Pine Needle Tea

Pine needles are bursting with Vitamin C all winter long and can help keep your immune system up and prevent scurvy even in the worst of winters (not that we have those in Virginia!)

Please do not use loblolly pine needles (3 needles), as they contain a chemical that can cause long-term health effects. Also do not confuse spruce or fir trees for pine! Try to find either Virginia Pine (2 needles in each bundle) or White Pine (5 needles in each bundle). In Central Virginia, especially in the greater Richmond area, you’ll mostly fine loblolly pine, so be careful!

Pine Needle Tea

Immune System Booster
Servings: 4 people
Cost: Free!

Ingredients

  • 1 Handful Pine Needles chopped
  • 4 Cups Water boiled

Instructions

  • Bring water to a boil.
  • Simmer the pine needles in the tea for 3 minutes to taste.
  • Enjoy!

Please leave a comment below!

Dandelion Chips

Have you every heard that dandelion greens are edible? Well, they are, but they are quite bitter so it’s best to come prepared for how to deal with that.

Identification:

Flowers: The common dandelion flowerhead over 100 yellow ray florets and no disk florets; the ray florets spread outward from the center. Inner and outer green bracts are below the flowerhead. Flowers appear during warm spells in the winter in Central VA as well as throughout the warm season.

Leaves: Jagged deeply-notched, basal, hairless leaves.

Dandelion Greens

Cost: Free!

Ingredients

  • Young Dandelion Greens washed thoroughly

Instructions

  • Collect your dandlion greens.
  • Wash in 3 changes of water.
  • Space evenly on a tray.
  • Bake in over for 10 minutes at 350 degrees Farenheit.
  • Enjoy!

Please comment below!

Chickweed Salad

Chickweed is a sprawling plant with opposite, roundish leaves that can cover the ground like a carpet if allowed. And it’s all edible!

Chickweed and Violet Flowers Salad

Prep Time10 mins
Servings: 4
Cost: Free!

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Chickweed chopped
  • 1/2 Cup Violet Flowers

Instructions

  • Collect only the plant parts you plan to use.
  • Wash in 2 changes of water.
  • Chop chickweed and add to a bowl.
  • Sprinkle violet flowers on top!

Please leave a comment below!

Field Garlic Hash Browns

I’m hooked on these delicious Field Garlic Hash Browns.

So easy to make, be sure to make this crowd-pleaser before the heat of the spring and summer dries out all of the field garlic leaves!

Also, be sure all leaves you collect smell strongly of garlic or onion!

Field Garlic Hash Browns

Delicious, Mildly Garlic-flavored, Hash Browns
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time30 mins
Course: Side Dish
Servings: 4 people
Cost: 1

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp Butter or Canola Oil
  • 1/4 cup Field Garlic Leaves diced finely
  • 4 Gold Potatoes peeled and shredded
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepperweed Seeds or Regular Pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Mix the field garlic leaves with the shredded gold potatoes.
  • Cook in a heated pan for 5 minutes on each side until cooked through.
  • Add salt to taste.

Wild Garlic Butter

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.

Field Garlic, Allium Vineale

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.

Wild Garlic Butter

Wild Garlic Butter can be a great on garlic bread for your next Italian dinner night or party.
Prep Time10 mins
Servings: 12 people
Author: Tracks and Roots
Cost: 1

Equipment

  • Mixer

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Butter salted
  • 1/2 cup Wild Onion or Wild Garlic

Instructions

  • Combine ingredients in mix and mix for 2 minutes until evenly combined.
  • Spread butter mix in a container and put in fridge until use.

Notes

Please leave a comment below!

Chickweed pesto

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!

Identification:

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.

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Chickweed Pesto

Chickweed 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!
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.
Prep Time10 mins
Servings: 8 people
Author: Alison Meehan
Cost: <$3

Equipment

  • Food Processor

Ingredients

  • 3 Cups Chickweed
  • 1/2 Cups Walnuts, Almonds, or Pine Nuts
  • 3 Cloves Garlic Minced
  • 1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Cup Salt
  • 1/4 Cup Parmesan or Asiago Cheese Shredded

Instructions

  • Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Check thickness. If too thick, add more olive oil.
  • Enjoy with pasta, crackers, or veggies!
  • Please leave a comment if you try this recipe out yourself.
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