A Plant Walk in the Carolinian Forest

Every new foray should bring back new experiences, new knowledge, and new understanding of our place in space, our role in nature. I try to carry this sentiment when I go out into the land, not as a separated observer of wildness, but as a participant in its ecology. This (Sun)day I was joined by a fellow plant sister, to take a slow walk through the woods of my habitation, in the lush and verdant Carolinian forest of the Hamilton escarpment. We started as we did any walk, meandering towards the patches of land which held diversity and abundant plant life, and quickly took a deep dive into the native and visiting wild flora that grow here. The first friend we meet was mallow root, not the domesticated marshmallow plant but the wild strain of which all parts of it’s body, both aerial,. grounded and subterranean are edible and used in delicious concoctions. The red flare of a young sassafras aroused our attention next, as its leaves seemed so contrasting to the still early color shift of the forest. The root of this tree is used in the original root beer, which today, the contemporary carbonated variety bear no use of. It is a lovely an ancient looking tree with mitten shaped leaves, thus it gets the folk name of mitten tree. Pig-weed and garlic mustard also crept up neighboring the stalks of corn, the latter of which I quite enjoy, and though not native to this eco-region, she slyly commented, neither are we humans.

Along a grassy trail leading through 75 acres of primarily hardwoods we lightly swaggered our way past several non assuming plant relatives. Rose hips budded in excess, though not as mushy and sweet as the beach side variety. Nightshades and dolls eyes, also shown that the landscape is not all for us, and these were not the focus of our edible forage. Down near the creek, we found golden birch, and cut to make wintergreen like sticks for oral use, and the spicebush, which is not a common presence here, but one fully embraced. Strange reptilian skin lichens sheathed the logs with their companion mosses on the saturated ground. Next we found the hawthorn apple, a gem of a fruit, though not as succulent as their sometimes domesticated cousins, holds a lore and a pleasure of its own. The perennial fruits were what graced our palette next, as we came to the autumn olive tree, which is not an olive at all, but a berry, and sweet around this time, yet astringent still in the summer.

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Circumnavigating our route, and our eyes less fixated on the branches and stems of trees, we found many good prospects growing betwixt the tall grasses and damp soils as we trampled through the trail almost missing them. The magic mushrooms of the psilocybin species were dotted between blades of grass, and ready for the taking, standing erect in piles of feral apples freshly fallen, perfectly tanned skin, and their supple nipples showing off to the world, their real magic. Sorry for the sexual metaphors but it’s true. These fungal hosts of psychedelic compounds, are light brown in sunlight, and have a kind of button or nipple that is used by mushroom foragers to identify them. Well yes, there are spores too, but we will save that for the mycologists.

We returned with a small bounty and pages full of notes, as soon this weird October heat become almost intolerable to sit out in, and migrated to our porchfront to converse about recipes, superfoods and medicines, while looking forward to the next outing, with more people in tow for the exploration. Until then, new life will grow and others will wither, and we can continue to be humbled by nature’s gifts.

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