Wild Arkansas

August 1, 2010

So many plants, so little time

Patrick investigating

Lactuca nine feet tall. The vibrant lavendar of the bull thistle, smart weed, jewel weed, flea bane, dog bane, sumac and few delights for the wildcrafters among us: chamomile, evening primrose and vervain among them.

Roaming the perimeter of Lake Fayetteville with Mr. Ethnobotany we only managed to traverse half a mile per hour–stopping every few feet to take photos and investigate our finds.

Though quite a few of the specimen we stopped for had already went to seed, there were just as many in full bloom or headed that way.

Patrick dug the root of a first year bull thistle as I looked on. It took a bit of work, because the thistle has a tap root much like the dandelion. This one happened to be a youngster, but I imagine if it had been older, it would have been next to impossible to uproot completely.

Bull thistle

The taste and smell of the raw root is quite distinct and brings to mind a time when we grew our own artichokes. The thistle is a relative of the artichoke, afterall.

The chamomile (Matricaria) we found grew close to the marina. Though I’ve seen plenty of photos of the plant, it was my first up close and personal encounter. You can tell a nerd by how excited they get over their first encounter with a much loved plant.

[Yes the heart leaps into the throat and there is a brief moment of wide-eyed wonder, corresponding to a sharp intake of breath.]

Toward the end of our walk, I realized I had stepped into a patch of Rhus radicans (poison ivy) and felt the stinging sensation creeping up my ankle. Patrick spotted some jewel weed, grabbed a handful and instructed me to crush it and use the juice on the infected area.

Voila! It worked. The pain immediately subsided, as did the itching and two hours later I had no rash.

Alas, the quick rise of temperature into the nineties dictated we stop early, though with the promise of another visit soon.


October 12, 2008

Plant Profiles

Filed under: foraging, Wildcrafting — Tags: , — WildArkansas @ 7:20 am

I can’t remember what site I downloaded this plant-profile-sheet from, but I do believe it was from a university horticulture department. If you happen to recognize it, please email me so proper credit can be given to the author.

For beginning wildcrafters, this is a good starter sheet, but you may also want to make additional notes and take a look at the leaf morphology chart (above)  while filling out the sheet. Any and all information you record will help identify the plant later if identification cannot be made on site.

To download the leaf morphology chart, if you are using a PC, right click and select ‘save image as’. Print it out and take it into the field with you.

October 10, 2008

Wild Arkansas: Mushroom Season

Filed under: Edible plants, foraging, mushrooms, Wildcrafting — Tags: , , , — WildArkansas @ 3:24 pm

Mushroom hunting lately?

It’s an exciting season in Arkansas and the Arkansas Mycological Society is almost always active during this season.

Here are a couple forays below:
Arkansas Mycological Society’s Jay Justice is leading a mushroom hunt at Woolly Hollow State Park, tomorrow (October 11 and again on Nov. 22), 10 am to 3 pm.

In the newsletter I receive the event will be cancelled if it rains.

Another foray will be at Lake Sylvia Rec area, Perry County on November 1st, 10 am to 3 pm. Weather permitting.

For all forays it is suggested that you bring a sack lunch.

If you choose to go mushroom hunting without an expert, remember that there are at least 100,000 species of fungi out there and approximately one percent are poisonous. Arkansas happens to have species from nearly every poisonous class.

Know without question the type of mushroom you have before taking a bite. Your first nibble could be your last.

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.


“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.

August 25, 2008

Wild Arkansas: Lake Atlanta

Filed under: herbs, Wildcrafting — Tags: , , , , — WildArkansas @ 3:10 pm

As a novice wild crafter, I still have problems identifying some plants I run across. Even with book in hand, more often than not I ask for a second opinion or jump online and make comparisons.

I believe until I become familiar with (identifying in the wild, correctly) a particular plant, there may be doubt to its identity. Blooms make identification easier unless the blooms are similar in appearance, such as fennel and dill, or coriander, caraway and chervil. Both sets of these plants have blooms and foliage that are similar in appearance, but they are structurally different and contain different constituents that may be apparent in the aroma.

A recent trip to Lake Atlanta in Rogers, sans identification materials, I attempted to name a few of the many herbs available and failed miserably. The area is lush with vegetation and many of the plants appear to be medicinal or culinary herbs.

After collecting several samples and a wildflower bouquet, I took the plants home and attempted to identify them. There are a few still sitting on my table.

The second trip was more fruitful. After identifying a few trees, with identification materials, notebook and camera in hand I felt confident I would be able to label every plant I ran across. That was a bad assumption.

Though I did succeed in getting a few into my notebook, there are literally thousands of species of different plants that will probably forever remain nameless.

Despite this, the vegetation that is readily identifiable is abundant and the lake is beautiful at this time of the year. Runners enjoy the dense canopy at various spots and I know more than a few plant enthusiasts have come out to take a look at the varieties of rare flora that are available.

A short list of herbs (this includes some trees) that are open for novice wildcrafters to practice identification skills:

Acacia, agrimony, black cohosh, black-eyed susan, goldenrod, pale purple coneflower, sumac, walnut, wild comfrey and willow.

Pale Purple Coneflower aka Echinacea pallida

The photos aren’t very good because I’m using a cheap digital camera that has no zoom. I’ll borrow one in the future and get some better shots.

There is so much more and I’ll list them as I learn about them.

This is an unknown for now. Very aromatic.

Another great website to help identify plants in Arkansas is ID Arkansas, produced by Kirk Jordan.

Wild Arkansas is a weekly column by Carla R. Herrera.

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