Wild Arkansas

July 1, 2010

Forager’s herbarium

Though I’ve been around Lake Fayetteville several times, last night I participated in my first field class with a tracker and former Alaskan ethnobotany teacher, Patrick Monroney.

The lesson included learning how to build an herbarium.

This particular preservation method is not the same used by botanists who collect, label, dry and press the plant material before mounting.
[read Wikipedia article about how to build a formal herbarium http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbarium]

It is meant to build identification and collecting skills in the field.

For newbies to plant identification techniques, the herbarium consists of collected samples placed on plain index or card stock and held in place with clear contact paper. Once mounted, the plant data is entered on the card.

Despite fading daylight, we managed to put a couple of hours into collecting.

Lake Fayetteville is one of the best botanical classrooms in the area, because of the diversity available. In the two hours collecting, I came away with ten mounted samples.

Following is a project on how to start your first herbarium for identification purposes.

If you are going to mount in the field, you may want to prepare your contact paper beforehand, cutting pieces down to size.

What you need:

Scissors or an exacto knife
5×8 index cards (preferably white, unless you collect white flowers. In that case, Patrick uses colored stock.)
Contact paper cut into 4×7 pieces. (Comes in rolls that can be found in the housewares section at Wal-Mart.)


1. Cut your collected sample/parts down to size. Make sure all parts are clean and dry. (If moist, pat with paper towel).

2. Peel contact paper from backing, place sticky side UP on an index card and center it.

3. Lay plant (parts) as flat as possible on contact paper. Some are impossible to flatten, just do your best to flatten enough to mount.

4. Place another index card, white side down (white side facing plant)

6. Turn it around to inspect. You may have to clip or cut, but now you can label the card. 


If you need additional help putting together your herbarium, shoot me an email. I can send photos. The photos I tried to use in the post didn’t work very well. 🙂


June 28, 2010

Filed under: kayaking, relaxation — Tags: , , , , , — WildArkansas @ 4:13 am

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted here, but I’ll be posting regularly now.

One of the latest explorations has led me to the Red Neck Yacht Club in Watts, Oklahoma.

The beautiful Oklahoma territory, bordering the natural state is much the same in geology. Large rock walls bordered one side of the Illinois River, while large deposits of river rock, sycamore, elm, wild grape, berries and honeysuckle spotted the landscape.

For those interested in visiting the area for a day of rafting, canoing or kayaking, the cost is $20 per adult with children under 12 at half price.

Camping for an entire week: $30. for an individual/$50. for a couple.

For day use and a picnic and swimming, the cost is $5.00 per car/van load.

We enjoyed several hours floating around the river, but if you have small children, the place is not child friendly without constant supervision.

  Though the current is slow, it’s quite strong. Take life jackets or floaties for children.

Watch out for: snapping turtles, snakes.

Check out the Club’s website for updated information on events.


January 30, 2009

Icy Days in NW Arkansas

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — WildArkansas @ 6:07 am
One driver braved the roads

One driver braved the roads

Monday afternoon the weather hailed ice upon NW Arkansas. Roads froze and customers visiting our little store reported three wrecks along I-540 by 3pm. By 5pm some roads were impassable and cars slid rather than drove along.

In Lowell several drivers turning north on to Honeysuckle and nearby subdivisions found themselves skating rather than driving along the street and at least one driver skated into a curb, stuck for some time.

Highland St. - Frozen

Highland St. - Frozen

Tuesday the world was covered in ice again with local reports threatening more. By noon sounds of snapping limbs and falling branches resounded through the neighborhood. One limb caught against a powerline and began smoking at the corner of Highland and Barker and a neighbor called the fire department. By 1pm the power had been cut off to the whole neighborhood.


Tree snapped in half

Wednesday greeted us with a bright white world. Icicles formed on eves and whatlimbs were left on trees hung low from the weight of the ice.  Some were covered with ice an inch thick.  Still the power remained off with no sign of utility workers. One neighbor said the utility company promised power by Saturday.

Thursday (Today) we finally have power (and internet!). The damage to some places throughout Washington and Benton counties is extensive. I took a drive through Springdale and into Fayetteville today and found some roads completely impassable from tree limbs. As the ice melts large chunks continue to fall from overhead lines and ice. Be careful while outdoors and please watch for overhead ice.

January 27, 2009

Ice Storm 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — WildArkansas @ 6:49 pm

I’ll be taking photos all day and posting them. These are all taken in Lowell.

If you are going to be getting out be extra careful. There have been several car accidents and the trees are overburdened with ice. We’ve had several fallen branches in the neighborhood.

Part of our driveway. Loblolly is breaking apart a bit at a time.

Part of our driveway. Loblolly is breaking apart a bit at a time.

The vines are coated with at least 1/8" of ice.

Grape vineyard: The vines are coated with at least 1/8" of ice.

A closer look

Grapes: A closer look

January 8, 2009

Wild Arkansas: Common Mullein

Filed under: mullein, Verbascum, Wildcrafting — Tags: , , — WildArkansas @ 11:03 pm


Verbascum thapsus or common wild mullein is growing everywhere right now. The plant can be found in most pasture land and along dirt roads.

The velvety leaves, though beautiful are considered an invasive, because it is so prolific.

I’ve found several plants in my yard and intend to let them stay, not only because of their ornamental characteristics, but they also tend to have medicinal benefits.

Common mullein was introduced to North America in the early 18th century for its medicinal properties and has since spread to every part of the continent.

Common names of the plant include candlewick, great mullein, and old man’s blanket, though here in the states it is most often referred to as common mullein.

The Verbascum genus includes approximately 250 different species of mullein that range from extremely pilose (hairy) to glabrous (bald).

The mullein growing in NW Arkansas that I’ve found is a pilose specimen with light green velvety leaves arranged in a rosette. During the second year the rosette will shoot up a large stem topped with several small yellow flowers and tiny seeds that are dispersed by the local birds and wind.

The whole plant has narcotic and slightly sedative properties and has been used for centuries to relieve respiratory and lung ailments.

An infusion of the herb can also be used for inflammation.

Drying mullein leaves

To dry mullein leaves, pick from the base, but do not take the whole crown if you want the plant to continue its growth. Wash thoroughly and damp dry with a cloth or paper towel, then set on a screen and cover with newsprint or bind with string and hang in a cool dark place. If screen drying, turn about twice a week.

The leaves should be completely dry in three weeks time and can be smoked for respiratory ailments.

The fresh leaves can be used as an emollient or an astringent after being seeped in olive oil for approximately four weeks. Shake daily and leave on a shady counter or out of direct sunlight.

For more information on how to use mullein:

At Botanica.com

Article at Natural Standard


December 5, 2008

Wild Arkansas: How to Eat A Tree

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — WildArkansas @ 3:24 am

P. Occidentalis/American Sycamore

P. Occidentalis/American Sycamore

We know about the edibility of nut and fruit trees. Most of us are familiar with plucking the ripe fruit from the branch or harvesting the nuts fallen from the tree, but what if we could eat the tree?

Yes, I do mean (literally) the tree bark, branch and other aerial parts that are usually overlooked when considering the tree for food.

“The name “Adirondacks” is an Anglicized version of the Mohawk ratirontaks, meaning “they eat trees”, a derogatory name which the Mohawk historically applied to neighboring Algonquian-speaking tribes; when food was scarce, the Algonquians would eat the buds and bark of trees.” Wikipedia, [Donaldson, Alfred, L., History of the Adirondacks].

The Algonquin recognized the value of tree bark during hard times; stripping, drying and preparing different species of tree for the winter months. According to the literature, balsam fir was used and pounded into flour to make bread and the White Pine was used in dried sheets that would be stored for winter months as a famine food. If not needed, the dried sheets would be given to the dogs for chewing.

Euell Gibbons wrote about his experience with the Eastern White Pine (P. strobus), and though he didn’t find that species palatable, he noted the tree had nutritional value. He dried, boiled, roasted and baked the pine bark (after grinding) into bread and still found the taste unpleasant. There are some things that may be edible, but better left uneaten.

It turns out there are other trees that can be eaten and are a bit more savory than pine. The new shoots, inner bark, leaves and buds are edible in several trees, but the American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is not one of them. I assumed that because it is closely related to the Maple (Acer) it would taste similar.

The inner bark of the sycamore is stringy, tough and bland. I also tasted the buds from one of the twigs and at first there is a hint of spice, similar to pepper, but it soon left an aftertaste in my mouth that was difficult to get rid of. The burning sensation on my lips and tongue lingered for approximately twenty minutes and I did have a bit of fear that this could lead to more dire consequences, but alas, I am here and no worse for the wear.

Like Pinus, there are many trees that have edible inner bark, but few palatable enough that you would want to cut a piece off and munch on.

With the exception of Cherry Birch, Birch (Betula) twigs can be chewed for a taste of wintergreen. The twigs and leaves of yellow birch are preferred for a sweet minty tea and the inner bark of the Sugar Maple can be dried and mixed with flour for bread or used in soups as a thickening agent. Because of the high sugar content of the Maple, more likely than not, chewing the inner bark would be more preferable than to that of the sycamore or pine.

The American Basswood can also be chewed on, though this is more often done not for taste, but for its medicinal properties. Tilia americana has been used for several different ailments, but the raw wood (inner bark) is consumed for liver and gallbladder ailments.

Sassafras. Edible and palatable.

Sassafras. Edible and palatable.

Sassafras (S. albidum) leaves, twigs, new shoots and buds can be chewed for the pleasant root-beer like taste. There have been some warnings about the use of safrole oil, but unless you’re allergic or consuming the root, the amount of oil contained in aerial parts is not of any real consequence.

The leaves and inner bark of the Slippery Elm can be eaten raw or cooked. The bark contains a high amount of water so twigs and bark can be chewed as a thirst quencher.

The Chinese Mahogany (Toona sinensis), is not native to the area. In China the young leaves and shoots of the tree are common as a vegetable and highly esteemed imparting the taste of onion. The Toona, used primarily as an ornamental in the states is not typically harvested for its edibility as a vegetable.

How do you skin a tree?

I’m not sure how others do it, but I broke off a small, lower (secondary) branch from the sycamore I wanted to try, then used a sharp knife and began peeling until I got to the cadmium (of which there was very little).

On larger branches, I’ve been told that you must use a larger knife and try to peel in long, strokes rather than scraping small pieces at a time.

For other uses of tree bark, you may want to also check these articles:

The African chewing stick (for dental purposes)

The Khat (Qat) tree (as stimulant)

For more information about the edibility rating of trees and inner bark, the Plants For A Future database has a great reference area.

November 29, 2008

Wild Arkansas: Season End?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — WildArkansas @ 12:01 am

Now that we’ve settled into late fall the foraging season is nearly over. Despite this, the Wild Arkansas column will continue with information about trees, weeds and other useful botanic life in Arkansas during the winter months.

In January, I also hope to incorporate a weekly podcast that will supplement each article.

The next couple of weeks I’ll be posting about local trees, whether they’re edible and if so, how to prepare them.

Ever eat a tree?  We’ll be attempting this over the next few weeks, providing we can find edible bark.

Also, take a look at University of Arkansas professor, Tamara Walkingstick’s paper on trees and other wild edibles. A very informative paper that discusses oaks/acorns, the walnut family of trees, sumac and other species.

November 24, 2008

Wild Arkansas: Wild Allium

Filed under: allium — Tags: , — WildArkansas @ 10:57 pm
A. vineale

A. vineale

The cultivated market garlic and onion most familiar to us range in color and size and come by different names: Shallot, scallion, leek, red, yellow and white onion. Garlic we know and love includes the elephant and common white garlic.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could find onion, garlic and chives in our backyards?

Well… Wild allium does not share the same diversity as cultivated varieties, but there are at least two varieties of uncultivated allium that can be found growing in Arkansas and Missouri.

Crow Garlic or wild onion (Allium vineale) is found in pastures and on disturbed ground throughout the states and is on the USDA invasive weed list. All parts of the plant have a strong garlic odor. At full size, vineale’s aerial parts look like many other allium with a tall stalk topped with an inflorescence of white, reddish or pink color that are replaced by bulblets or corms. The root bulb usually forms several smaller bulbs and is enclosed in a thin, papery covering.

Unlike many alliums the Canadense is native to the states and common in wooded areas or near waterways of NW Arkansas. The Canadense can grow to more than a foot tall, topped with a white or pink inflorescence that is replaced by small bulbs.

Crow galic bulbs and roots

Crow garlic bulbs and roots

All parts of these plants are edible and contain the same chemical constituents of other members of the allium genus and can be used as substitutes for market onion and garlic in most recipes.

Harvesting wild allium is fairly easy; the species I found for this article is A. vineale. The plant grows in small patches of lawn in NW Arkansas and if it survives the mower the whole bunch can be taken at once. The young ones I dug for this article are small, but tasty. They are sweet and a little more pungent than the common green onion (Allium fistulosum) found in stores.

Chive seed bulb

Chive seed bulb

Crow garlic also contain small seed bulbs within bunches. The bulbs look like any other bulb, but are not attached to a stalk or leaf and have a thin brown covering that can be wiped off fairly easy and used as the rest of the allium.

Other info:

· The allium genus of plants is one of the largest plant genera in the world and one of the oldest cultivated vegetables with earliest uses of the plant recorded from Mesopotamia and the Chinese Steppes more than five-thousand years ago.

· The first known use of the word we know for onion today comes from the 12th century use of the French word, “union” and goes through several changes including the Latin, “unionem” and old French “oignon.”

· According to the USDA annual consumption of allium has been on the rise over the past three decades. Onion consumption in 2000 was approximately 20.7 pounds per person and 2.6 lbs of garlic per person in 2004.

November 14, 2008

Wild Arkansas: Pine Needle Tea

Filed under: herbs, nutrition, Pinus — Tags: , , , — WildArkansas @ 6:21 pm

T. occidentalis. The leaf used by Cartier.

T. occidentalis. The leaf used by Cartier.

During the winter of 1536, Jacque Cartier and his men were stranded in a make-shift fort at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in Canada. All were sick with scurvy and twenty-five had already perished from the illness when Domagaya, a friendly Iroquois man told the explorer about Anneda, a local cure for the disease.

The Cypress or Northern White Cedar tree (Thuja occidentalis) leaf was used as a tea and provided enough vitamin C to knock out the illness.

Though the Cypress is not endemic or native to Arkansas, it does grow here, as do several variety of conifer. The conifers that are dominant in this area of the country are of the Pinus genus.

The Loblolly and Long leaf pine are found more often than their bretheren, the Slash pine and the Pinyon trees.

The difference between the Thuja and Pinus conifers is obvious once you start looking at the morphology, but prior to study, I think one just lumps them all together as pine trees of some sort.

The cypress (Thuja) do not have needles as the Pinus do. The pine needle tea that is predominant on the web is most likely not the pine needle tea that Cartier and his men used.

I made some pine needle tea recently, but wasn’t sure the tea was safe to drink. After washing and brewing the needles clipped from one of the P. taeda (Loblolly) there was a light colored film along the inside of the pan and floating atop the brew.

P. taeda needle and cone

P. taeda needle and cone

I skimmed the film off the top, tasted a bit of the clear liquid and felt no ill effects afterward, but didn’t feel secure enough with the brew to drink a full cup. I did have a few tablespoons full and the tea is bland to my taste.

There is so much written about pine needle tea with not much background information available. I didn’t find much anecdotal evidence in which authors actually drank the tea, however, Euell Gibbons experimented with the white pine (P. strobus) extensively and documents the experience in his book, Stalking the Healthful Herbs (1974).

Here’s an excerpt from the book that includes a recipe for Pine Needle Tea.

So though I may not find the pine needle all that palatable, it seems it is safe for consumption and quite healthy.

There is evidence that pine does contain constituents that boosts immunity. In one article written by Marsha Walton for CNN in 2006 shikimic acid, a main ingredient in Tamiflu was found in high concentrations in pine, spruce and fir needles.

If you do want to try the pine needle tea, be sure to collect from trees that have not been sprayed and are not in a high traffic area.

There are many variety of pine available in Arkansas, make sure you have identified your specimen correctly.

The Thuja genus of conifer is contraindicated as containing thujone and may be harmful to some people.

November 4, 2008

Wild Arkansas: Wapato Stomping

Filed under: Edible plants, foraging, Sagittaria latifolia — Tags: , , — WildArkansas @ 12:48 am

As a traditional native food and a choice tuber among foragers the wapato held a special place in my imagination.

The Sagittaria latifolia a.k.a. duck or Indian potato is an aqueous plant growing in water or very wet soil throughout North America. According to literature the plant was a primary food source for natives, before the coming of the more popular tuber, Solanum tuberosum, or the common potato.

After spotting a stand of the arrow-shaped foilage in a nearby pond, I attempted a bit of online research. There is very little in the way of telling one how to harvest the tuber, but I was guided to one article by a fellow forager written by John Kallas in which he tells of a wapato gathering experience on Wapato Island in Oregon.

The article is an excellent reference, because it tells how the tuber was gathered traditionally and how the author managed to uproot it.

I envisioned native women stomping around in small circular motions, smiling, conversing about family while little tubers popped up everywhere around them. With barely a wink, they would pop the tubers into backpacks while tending to small children and making stamping motions in the wet clay beneath their feet.

Traditionally the tuber was gathered by wading into shallow water and displaced by stomping. Kallas explains that the continual stomping loosens the root (which is naturally buoyant) and once it becomes loosened, the continual stomping breaks it free from whatever else is holding it down.

The first day Jack and I went out, I mistakenly held the notion that a little stomping would pay off with great bounty. I could stomp, maybe wiggle my feet a bit and tubers would begin to rise and I would have a tasty side-dish for the evening meal.

Instead, the water was freezing and it took some time and courage wondering if there were water snakes (possibly cottonmouths) in this particular pond. I used a broken limb to poke around in the water a bit and thought that maybe I could get something that way, but quickly realized if the tubers floated upward, I would still have to wade in to obtain them.

Finally I did wade in just barely above my ankle and Jack reacted immediately. I’m not sure what he thought I was doing, but he began barking in a high screeched tone that made me think (initially) that he knew something I didn’t. I came back out of the water and sharpened my eye, looking for the cottonmouth.

After I assured myself there were no such creatures in the muck, I went back in again. I was not barefoot. I didn’t know what was in the pond, so decided to keep the shoes. It didn’t take long for the shoes to accumulate gravel and in combination with my stomping activity, there was an uncomfortable feeling of small pebbles nicking at my tender feet.

I first stomped about a foot away from where the plant was emerging from the water in a circular motion for approximately twenty minutes with no results. I then decided to expand the area I was working in and started depth testing with a fallen stick I had found.

In an area approximately three feet wide and three feet in length I stomped. An hour passed and resulted in nothing but pressed clay under my feet.

I quit for the day, resolving to find another way.

The second day was much of the same, but I didn’t stay quite as long. And since then, I’ve read that an easier harvesting method, and one probably much preferred, is to dig the darn things out.

I will get the wapato. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but soon.

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