Monday, April 2, 2012

Tasty Snacks and Healing Medicines from the Forest

I've always loved showing kids the many snacks that are available out in the forest.  But sometimes, for one reason or another, I don't have time.

NOTE:  Please be safe and make SURE you know what you are eating.  Some plants and fungi in the forest are POISONOUS.

One yummy forest edible is Miner's Lettuce.  Look for a leaf that makes a complete circle around the stalk; the stalk is round and soft.

One student a few years ago collected a whole bag of miner's lettuce on a hike, and then she asked me if I happened to have any ranch dressing on me.  Nope, I don't usually hike with it!  But maybe I should!  :)   

Miner's lettuce - The round leaves can be 1-4" in diameter.

Miner's Lettuce

Miner's Lettuce

Another yummy and nutritious snack is Douglas fir needles.  Look for 2-3" needles coming off a central stalk in a bottle-brush shape. The cones could point upward or downward, and each one has 10-30 little "tongues" coming out that look like a flame shape.  (There is a Native American myth about a mouse that jumps headfirst into the cone, with his hind legs and tail protruding; it does look like that shape!)

Douglas fir needles are edible and have a lot of vitamin C in them.  Be careful not to eat a large amount, though, because I hear that the tannic acid can give you a stomach ache if you overdo it. Here is a picture of what they look like.  The cone is unique among the Fir family:
Douglas Fir - the needles have a nice flavor and lots of vitamin C!

Finally, we come to a nice medicinal fungus found growing all over the woods around Walden West.  It doesn't fit into the "tasty" category, but it is reputed to fight cancer and help boost the immune system, helping you fight off colds and flus and worse things.  It's called Turkey Tail Fungus (Trametes versicolor).  Look for tough, rubbery shelves growing horizontally, with brown, white, or dark red stripes that go "azimuthally" or in a circle around the mushroom:

Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor)

Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor)

More information about the health benefits here:

Note that Turkey Tail tastes a little rubbery, and its texture is rubbery, too.  You can chew on it while hiking, sort of like chewing gum, and get the health benefits that way.  Or you can boil it and make a healing medicinal tea, and then drink the tea.  In the United States, this medicine is not very well known, but in Japan, it's one of the top cancer-fighting medicines.  Turkey Tail compounds account for 25% of all the money spent on anti-cancer medicine in Japan!!!! 

Have fun, kids, and be safe.

NOTE:  Please be safe and make SURE you know what you are eating.  Some plants and fungi in the forest are POISONOUS.

The three things I mentioned here do not look like anything else in the forest, but even so, you need to make sure you have adult supervision and expertise before you taste anything.  If you are sure you know what it is, and that it is safe, then it's okay to eat it.

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