- August 5, 2020
A hike through forests and fields this time of year can produce some interesting results. Not only does one have the opportunity to observe the antics and activities of young birds and mammals, but many other interesting sights and sounds abound. A frequent sight during the early light of a new day is the presence
A hike through forests and fields this time of year can produce some interesting results. Not only does one have the opportunity to observe the antics and activities of young birds and mammals, but many other interesting sights and sounds abound. A frequent sight during the early light of a new day is the presence of a doe and her fawn, and sometimes a pair of fawns. Often, a fawn can be seen racing back and forth, doing “sprints” and stops and turns as it builds its stamina and agility for the time it may be pursued by a predator. Throughout the day, you just never know what you will come across if you are quiet and watchful as you hike along a mountain stream or old logging road.
It is not just the birds and animals that can provide interesting sights, but the plant life as well. I challenge you to become more proficient in the proper identification of the hardwood and softwood trees that grow in the areas that you travel as you scout and hunt in Northcentral Pennsylvania. By learning more about which trees provide food for wildlife, you will increase your chances of success when hunting for tasty wild game for the dinner table. Take along a tree identification book if need be to help with the challenge and perhaps mentor a youth as you do so. Shortly after a warm summer rain, mushrooms of all kinds can be spotted on trees or growing from the forest floor. There are many good books that will aid in identifying the various ones that grow in our area. Some are edible and quite tasty, but many are not, with some being downright deadly if eaten. A book or two to aid in identification is really important if you hope to pick some for the dinner table.
One of the most identifiable plants that you might encounter this time of year as you travel in the woods are the Indian Pipes. The Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora, is a perennial native plant that grows in clumps of 3 or 4 to half of a dozen or more rising up from 4 to 10 inches above the decaying leaves on the forest floor. Frequently found in mature, moist and shaded oak forests, it lacks in chlorophyll, producing a cloudy or translucent appearance, giving rise to its nickname of “ghost plant” and is actually classified as a wildflower. The plant is said to have some medicinal properties, used in treatment of bunions and warts, for aches and pains associated with colds and as a sedative.
Another plant that is found this time of year, primarily in damp, fertile soil in a field setting is the Stinging Nettle, or Urtica dioica. The nettle has sharp hairs on its leaves, and if brushed against the skin can cause a slight rash and will produce a stinging sensation to the area it touches. Also known as common nettle, it grows 2 to 5 feet tall and has leaves that are coarsely toothed, pointed on the ends, and can be several inches long. It imparts the painful sting through tiny hairs on the underside of its leaves and on its stems. This is a plant that is good to identify so that you can avoid casual contact. It does, however, have some medicinal uses. For centuries, common nettle has been a staple for ancient cultures and continues to be an important food source throughout the world. It is arguably one of the most nutritional wild edible plants available, but it needs to be cooked or dried to neutralize its sting.
Prepare nettle leaves as you would spinach leaves – sautéed, stir fried, lightly steamed or used in soups. Stinging nettle tea is perhaps the easiest way to yield the benefits of nettle. Cover a handful of leaves with boiling water, let steep for 10 minutes or so, strain and drink. For a stronger brew, loosely fill a canning jar with nettle leaves, cover with boiling water, place a lid on the jar and allow the tea to steep overnight. Fresh mint will enhance the otherwise earthy flavor. Stinging nettle has medicinal uses as an anti-inflammatory and to alleviate allergy symptoms.
It is said that “Knowledge is Power!” The more you can learn and understand about the natural world around us, the better off you will be. There is much to learn about the benefits of our native plant world, and the above are just two such examples.