Wild Arkansas

September 14, 2010

Scouting Siloam

I made it back to  Siloam Springs yesterday and began scouting the area to see what has changed in the past month. I’ve found quite a few edible weeds.

If you use pokeberry to dye with, the season is getting short. The berries are more than ready and beautiful as ever, but you need to pick them soon.

Epazote is going to seed. There are still a few hangers-on, but the next two weeks you may want to start checking plants daily to see if they have turned brown yet, to plant for next year or trading online.

The field amaranth here is almost completely seed. If you have the patience to grind flour, now is the time to collect.

The wide leaf dock is looking beautiful. We just got a new growing spurt, so it’s time for fresh greens.

New mullein – meaning just the new leaf is sprouting. If you’re just collecting leaf, there’s quite a bit of on the edges of wooded areas and along fences.

Last, but not least, the lambsquarters are still leafy. I’ve been collecting quite a bit of it for freezing so if you run across large patches in the area that look a bit thin on leaf, you may have come behind me.

September 19, 2008

Wild Arkansas: Lowell and its gifts

Filed under: dandelion, Edible plants, Epazote, foraging, herbs, Lowell, passionflower — Tags: , , , , — WildArkansas @ 9:04 pm

Though foraging for edibles isn’t done as often as it once was, many Ozark families still retain knowledge and skills used by older generations and regularly collect wild greens, poke root or maypops.

Today, most people drive to the local market rather than grow or forage their own food, though the benefits go beyond the feeling of accomplishment and nutrition.

There is something transferred from plant and earth to the harvester. An acknowledgement that we depend upon one another or perhaps that connection lost when walking through the produce section of Wal-mart and stuffing the plastic bags with waxed greens.

Few realize how many wild edible greens are growing so close. On a recent forage in Lowell, I managed to discover garlic mustard, wild spinach and several varieties of Rumex or sorrel.

Many medicinal and culinary herbs are also found locally. Goldenrod is plentiful, as is, hedge woundwort, Japanese honeysuckle, passionflower, Asiatic dayflower, red clover, dandelion, yellow woodnettle and wild lettuce to name just a few.

Walking down dirt roads and along rows of a grape vineyard, I found the common mallow that is a regular diet staple in Israel, or once was.

Epazote is a culinary and medicinal herb used extensively in Mexico and has been naturalized to the U.S. In Arkansas it grows as a noxious weed despite its medicinal value. And the Cutleaf Coneflower, shines it’s mighty yellow head above all the other “weeds” in the vicinity.

The Coneflower was commonly used as a burn dressing by the Chippewa and a dietary aid by the Cherokee, by using it in cooked spring salad.

…And all of this is a reminder to me that Arkansas is abundant in natural resources. Maybe not the resources we typically look for, but those kind that are good for the body and soul.

I may not always be as grateful as I should be, but today I thank this land we live on for giving us so much.

September 6, 2008

Wild Arkansas: Miracle “Skunk Weed” finds a home in Arkansas

Filed under: Edible plants, Epazote, foraging, health, herbs — Tags: , , , , , , , — WildArkansas @ 5:12 pm

While weeding this past week, I found a plant native to South America and Mexico. The herb, Epazote or Dysphania (formerly Chenopodium) ambrosioides is commonly used in Mexican cooking and has been used for centuries in the Yucatan as a medicine.

The common name Epazote is derived from the Nahuatl, epazōtl, meaning “skunk smell.”

Besides cooking, the herb’s primary use as a medicine is for intestinal parasites and a mild laxative. While some indigenous people, like the Cofan of the Amazon use epazote tied around their arm as an aromatic, most Americans consider the smell of the plant objectionable, calling it skunk weed.

While harvesting the plant, I found the smell pleasant, but very strong when fresh. The smell and taste mellows as it dries. Cooking with the herb has produced some of the best chili I’ve tasted. Though I’ve tried reproducing my grandmother’s recipe over time, it was never quite right, until I added epazote (while experimenting).

The whole leaf when cooked with beans, is supposed to eliminate flatulence and the tea can be used to reduce fever and help with nervous disorders. Most natives using the plant have also found it to be a good insecticide against mosquitoes and flies.

One of the primary chemical constituents of epazote is ascaridol, which is found to have sedative, pain relief and anti-fungal properties. Most recent studies have found the chemical constituents also have strong anti-malarial properties and insecticidal actions.

Despite its benefits the herb has become an invasive weed in Northwest Arkansas. It sprouts readily and is not a cash crop.

Dosages

“For intestinal parasites: one-half cup of a leaf decoction once daily on an empty stomach for three days. A decoction of the leaves is employed (in ½ cup dosages) for menstrual, respiratory, and digestive problems on an as-needed basis.”

Leslie Taylor, The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs (2005).

For more information about epazote, visit the Wikipedia article and the Tropical Plant Database article.

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