Red Clover

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!

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Milkweed

Milkweed (Family Asclepiadaceaeis) another plant native to central Virginia. It’s POISONOUS and edible. How does that work? Well, you have to cook them enough to remove the toxins. WARNING: DO NOT EAT IT RAW!!!
The sap of milkweed is white and milky, hence the name milkweed and has cardenolides that make it poisonous to humans and cause the insects that eat it to be poisonous too! It has broad, smooth, rubbery leaves and forms broccoli-like flower buds that turn into whitish-pinkish flowers.
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The boiled young shoots, leaves, unopened flower buds, flowers, and young pods are delicious, but don’t harvest too much because it’s also an essential habitat for four insects (they would go extinct without it) – Monarch butterflies, milkweed leaf beetles, milkweed bugs, and milkweed tiger moths.
 
However, I highly recommend planting it in your yard to help these animals along and have a food source at the same time for yourself.
To learn more from your central Virginia, wild edible plant experts, attend our next Wild Edible Plants 101 course in September 2017!

Wood Sorrel

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

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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Alternate branching with multiple flowers on one stem
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Narrow, lancelet leaves.

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10 Reasons You Should Teach Your Kids to Track Mammals

Yes, that’s right! I’m a firm believer in teaching kids how to observe and track mammals before even teaching them to read. Here’s why . . .

  1. Easier Than Letters! – They are easier than letters and teach kids to remember the shape of an object, jump-starting them on much more challenging letter-recognition.
  2. Cool! – The are engaging and cool to kids!
  3. Place-Based Learning –They allow kids to learn first-hand about the animals in their backyard. Connecting kids to their own local environment is essential to connecting to nature and opening up a cornucopia of benefits. Reading books about distant lions, zebras, and elephants is all very interesting, but without a knowledge of place, their curiosity and passion for nature and science probably won’t be ignited – or will fizzle and die only to be replaced by fast-paced computer games.                                                                                                                                 Without studying tracking, I’d bet many preschoolers living in my own city don’t realize there are coyotes, bears, mink, and long-tailed weasels living in this part of Virginia. Heck, I didn’t even know they lived here until I began to study nature awareness and tracking under the guidance of a mentor in college! Teaching kids to spot and recognize tracks teaches them which mammals live near their home first-hand – and they MUST know which mammals live in their community in order to be a good tracker, pushing them to build memorization skills early, which will make learning and memorization easier in school. How cool is that!
  4. Grows a Love of the Outdoors! – It fosters enthusiasm for the outdoors and builds memories of family fun in nature, keeping them off the couch more often for the remainder of their lives.
  5. Science! – It fosters a love of science. Kids often fall in love with dinosaurs in the preschool years. Paleontology is a form of tracking. Strike that iron when it’s hot and teach them tracking in your backyard!
  6. Builds Observation Skills – They teach kids to be observant – an important critical thinking skill that will help with reading comprehension.
  7. Builds Empathy – They teach kids empathy because pretending to be an animal is an essential part of tracking in order to understand what the animal is doing and why.
  8. Grows Imagination –They help grow a great imagination since you must picture the animal that passed through in order to be a great tracker.
  9. The Art of Questioning – They teach kids to ask questions, growing their interest in learning about the world around them.
  10. Fun for the Whole Family! – It’s a great activity the whole family can do close to home, solidifying family bonds in a deep way where no one is the “teacher” since you’re all on an adventure of discovery and clue-hunting together.

 

I hope your excited about tracking! I sure am! I LOVE tracking . . . it’s one of those things that just makes me smile for no reason.

And, I want you to know that regardless of your current tracking skills, you can help your kids learn. Grab a field guide from your library and head out to a muddy or sandy area. You can do this! It’s our birthright to track mammals – something that has allowed us to survive and thrive throughout the world as early humans.

And, kids can learn animal tracks with surprising ease. My rising Kindergartener can already recognize, or at least guess the right family of, most perfect tracks in mud with ease, so teaching preschoolers tracking is doable, kids love it, and it’s SO MUCH FUN for grown-ups too!!! It’s much more fun than pushing your kid on a swing at the playground! So get outside and find some tracks!

 

5 Reasons to Teach Your Kids Wild Edible Plants

    1. My kids started learning what to eat from the forest as soon as they could walk. At the same time, I taught them what NOT to eat.
    2. Luckily, in our yard, there was only one poisonous plant – pokeweed. You can eat pokeweed only if you boil the shoots in 3 changes of water, which we would do in the spring. I told my kids not to eat the pokeberries – they were yucky. I also took out my field guide, pointed to mushrooms, and mimicked being unable to breathe and falling over dead to get my point across to stay away from all mushrooms. I told them not to touch mushrooms either. I was cautious and kept my eye on them, but not overly paranoid.
    3. The surprising thing was, they never made a mistake! They would always ask me if they weren’t sure if they could eat a plant I hadn’t taught them. My older daughter then helped teach and watch my younger one!
    4. Why did I teach them what could be eaten outside so young, you may ask? Wasn’t I afraid they’d eat the wrong plant? Well, here are the 5 perks to teaching toddlers wild edible plants that made it worth the inherent risks to me:
          1. It Encourages Kids to Eat Their Veggies

      All toddlers will have food riots from time to time. If my kids are rebelling against their veggies, all I have to do is get them back outside, eating delicious wild greens such as greenbrier, sassafras, violets (in photo above), shepherd’s purse, or sheep sorrel. Most of these veggies are available year yard in our yards and particularly palatable to young kids as well as grown-ups.

          1. It’s Free!    

      Gardening takes work. Buying organic greens also takes time and money. Wild edible plants, on the other hand, often can be eaten raw on the spot, or simply washed and eaten in a salad.

          1. It Motivates More Outside Time

      Kids love running around, gathering plants. It’s something humans are wired to do as a carry-over from our ancestors. Putting a handful of wild greens or flowers in their mouths to eat just makes sense to kids – much more fun than trying to force them to sit and eat a salad at a table.

          1. It’s Easy!

      Buying, washing, cooking, or munching on a salad takes time. Why not forage outside while you’re on a walk, playing, or reading a book outside?

          1. A Varied Diet is a Healthy Diet

      Hunter-gatherer diets used to be incredibly varied with hundreds of plants eaten each year. Although hunter-gatherer people had to experience many hardships, such as war, weather pattern changes, and disease, most agree their diet was healthier and studies suggest they had fewer rates of colds and allergies, were physically stronger and faster and had better vision. Striving to move closer (although, without the hardships) to a natural, human diet and lifestyle is better for everyone and grows stronger kids!

       

    5. Obviously, you might be wondering HOW you can teach them wild edible plants when you don’t know them yourself! Well, please check out my free guide to wild edible plants in Central Virginia or attend my next Wild Edible Plant Course in Forest Hill Park in Richmond, Virginia. 

TV Characters and Nature

Sometimes, kids who are obsessed with a movie, tv show, or video game might just need an adult mentor to help them take their favorite characters outside.

My younger daughter loves Dora The Explorer, which we normally read in books, but she has seen a few of the TV shows. If I repeat some of the silly, Spanish phrases from the shows, it helps get her running around and talking (in Spanish!) outside.

My older daughter loves the Lion King. Sometimes, she’ll play games based on the movie. Rather than steer her away from TV-themed imaginative play entirely, I play along with her, pretending to be one of the characters on TV, which in my case is normally the bad guy, Scar, or a hyena. They quickly squeal with excitement and laughter, running and hiding until I catch them.

This imaginative play helps bridge a gap between indoor, digital technology and the actual world outside, which will help her make that mental and physical leap continuing on into the future, encouraging enough off-the-couch-time.

Also, for a parent or adult mentor to kids, it’s helpful to play along and talk about the things kids love, even if it is on the screen. Avoiding it, disparaging it, or ignoring it in order to spend quality time in nature may actually create a disconnect between kids and their adult mentors.

Encouraging reenactment play based on their beloved characters outside shows them that I love them and support their interests.

When I was a kid, I LOVED Tarzan more than anything else on TV and it was one of my dad’s favorites too. In many ways, I was destined to love nature as this preference suggests, but I know watching something neat on TV and then reenacting it outside was one of the early activities that helped get me off the couch and into nature and loving it!

Parents also can steer kids into watching and liking movies and shows that motivate outside time, teach morals, or are educational by restricting or avoiding ones that don’t fall into those categories.

 

The Window Bird Feeder

A great, yet very simple way to connect your kids deeply to nature is setting up a small, window bird feeder. Someone who’s handy with a hammer could make one cheaply. Being too impatient, I bought mine for less than $30. I set it up in the window that we spend the most time near – in the dining room.

It usually takes a couple of days for the birds to find your feeder for the first time, so don’t worry! First come the chickadees, then a tufted titmouse or two. Soon, your feeder will be well-used and loved by the birds in your yard. If your kids can sit still and quiet for a few minutes, they will be able to see one up close, which is an awesome way to learn stillness, quieting mind, and living in the moment.

Have fun and buy or make your kids a window bird feeder for their next birthday!

10 Reasons Why Kids Need Recess

Recess is about more than just exercise. It’s time to calm down and process the learning they just had in class. It’s time to bond with classmates and play imaginative games. It’s time to run, play, and relax.

The other day, I was surprised to find out recess in my own school district for Kindergarten is only 30 minutes a day. They have a full school day too, 6 hours long. Here, I though Kindergarten would be all fun and games and a gradual transition to school.

Here are the top 10 reasons why kids need more recess:

  1. Kid/Teacher Burn Out
  2. Improves Class Behavior
  3. Improves Kids Attitudes
  4. Recess Increases Focus
  5. Kids Need Sunlight
  6. Reduces Stress
  7. Improves Social Growth
  8. Reduces Obesity
  9. Excercise Activates the Brain
  10. Reduces ADD/ADHD Symptoms

The Sit Spot

One of core routines of connecting to nature is The Sit Spot. You may do this alone or with a willing child at any age. I started taking my first daughter out to my sit spot when she was a newborn. This helped me overcome the stress that comes with being a new mother. I still take my second child and sometimes both of my kids, but normally I try to go without them at this point.

The basics of it are this: Find a spot in nature and sit!

A spot you can go to every day or several times a week is best, so make it close to your home. Even a porch can work. Near water or at the edge area is good if you have it nearby. Otherwise, just something that’s close to home.

Try to sit for at least 30 minutes each time and listen to the world around you.

What Do You Do While You’re At Your Sit Spot? 

There are many things you can do at your sit spot, but I’ve written 5 that you should do regularly:

  1. Bring a journal and write down all observations about the trees, plants, birds, and other animals. What sounds do the birds make? What are they doing? Can you identify them? Are the trees deciduous or evergreen?
  2. Offer thanks for the things you have in your life.
  3. Meditate to calm your mind. A calm mind and still body is less scary to wild animals and you will be more observant.
  4. Sit blindfolded for 10 minutes. When you take the blindfold off, notice how still your eyes are and how the world looks more beautiful than ever.
  5. Set up a bird feeder and hold some bird seed in your hand. How many days does it take for the birds to eat from your hand?

 

 

Get Dirty!

To me, being a kid is about getting dirty, playing games, and having no worries.

So often today, kids must follow a laundry list of rules. “Don’t play in the mud, you’ll get dirty.” “Don’t go in the grass. It’s wet.” “Don’t climb that tree. You’ll fall.” I’ve heard all of these phrases and sometimes, I’m tempted to say them myself. But I try to stop myself and let them take off their shoes and run around in puddles and mud. I’m always rewarded by seeing their delight and hearing their squeals and giggles.

Let your kids experience nature first hand. If you don’t want their clothes stained, have at least some cheap, second-hand outfits you don’t mind them getting dirty. Or, let them wear their swimsuits outside during a rain storm if it’s warm enough.

The feeling of wet grass squishing under your feet is unique and kids crave it. Splashing in puddles and getting all wet always makes my kids giggle for the rest of the day and play well together.

My kids and I have many great memories of playing in the rain, which is probably why we usually run outside, not inside, when the rain begins. Rain boots, umbrellas, and rain coats all make it fun even when it’s chilly.

The other day, this allowed up to catch sight of a perfect rainbow, which delighted my girls tremendously.

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The Backyard Camp Out

I’m amazed time and time again by how much my kids LOVE backyard camp outs. To kids who are 2 and 5, simply setting up a tent in the backyard and sleeping in it is a great adventure. If you have a backyard that isn’t quite suitable for overnight camping, you might want to consider setting up a small tent and pretending to camp out for the night.

My older daughter was beyond herself with excitement when we camped out the last time, which was surprising to me since we go into our forest almost every day. To kids and adults, there is something special about sleeping under the trees to the sound of frogs singing and coyotes yipping that helps connect you to the earth and embrace your true self.

Another benefit that surprises me is how much exercise I get every time I do this. It’s a small hike from our house to our designated fire circle and campsite, but I need to carry down a lot of gear for a proper, two night camp out. So, the last time I did this, I walked back and forth probably 10 times carrying a cooler of food, cooking pots, sleeping bags, tent, and water. Then, I carried 2 dozen rocks to build up our fire circle, logs to sit on, and firewood to start our fire. I realized this was more fun and just as much exercise as I normally get from going to the gym. Plus, I was spending time with my kids!

After eating a dinner the kids loved helping to prepare, I quickly made up a story about an owl who was waking up that very moment in the forest and would soon be hunting for food. My older daughter’s eyes grew big and she excitedly asked me what the owl would do next.

I couldn’t believe it! Telling a simple story in the woods over a camp fire also made her enjoy my stories more. Normally, she barely reacts to my real-life stories of near-death experiences or where I was close enough to touch wild beaver kits or deer.

Immediately after the story, my older daughter said, “I’m tired. I want to go to bed now.” This too is unusual for her. We hadn’t adjusted well to daylight savings time and camping out corrected our circadian rhythm. The next morning, by the time we cooked pancakes over the fire and headed back up to the house, it was only 8:30! I realized it might be easier to camp out there every night and make it to preschool on time.

 

 

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