by Shirley Pratt

SFNC March 13, 2012 190An enthusiastic group of eight folks scoffed at the threat of April showers dampening their spirits and their fun as they gathered at the Riddle log cabin to begin a morning out on the trails of South Fork Nature Center with herbal enthusiast, Shirley Pratt. They had come for the Third Saturday Walk, Edible and Medicinal Plants of South Fork, and were determined to let nothing stand in their way!

After meeting new friends and catching up with current ones, the group discovered that many interesting plants were as close as the tips of their toes, right at the steps of the cabin! A dandelion snuggled next to one of the rocks, its “puff ball” seed head waiting for the next breeze to catch the fluff on the tiny seeds and carry them to a new destination. Although dandelions are not native to America, they have done exceptionally well at naturalizing! Every part of the dandelion is edible. Roots may be chopped and added to soups, roasted and ground into a coffee substitute. Leaves may be gathered before flowers start to appear and added raw to a fresh salad with other greens or tossed into the pot to cook with other greens. Flowers may be collected while still in the very young bud stage tucked into the middle of the rosette of leaves, eaten on the spot or used to decorate desserts or drinks or salads. Medicinally, dandelions act as a diuretic to cleanse the kidneys and urinary tract of toxins by increasing urination. They are a rich source of calcium, iron and vitamin C.

A few steps away at the edge of the clearing, a sassafras tree with terminal buds just beginning to unfurl was noticed by the group. Most tree leaves are too tough or too bitter to use as food, but the sassafras is an exception. The tender spring leaves, some of them mitten shaped, have a spicy but not quite root beer flavor. Sassafras is full of flavor and has been long used in spring tonics to restore vitamins and minerals to the body after a long winter with very few fresh green foods to maintain a high level of healthy function.

A few steps away at the edge of the clearing, a sassafras tree with terminal buds just beginning to unfurl was noticed by the group. Most tree leaves are too tough or too bitter to use as food, but the sassafras is an exception. The tender spring leaves, some of them mitten shaped, have a spicy but not quite root beer flavor. Sassafras is full of flavor and has been long used in spring tonics to restore vitamins and minerals to the body after a long winter with very few fresh green foods to maintain a high level of healthy function.

Continuing along the glade trail, the group was greeted by the beautiful bird’s foot violet, whose leaves contain high levels of vitamin C. The delicate edible flower is used to decorate salads, cakes or other desserts and the leaves make a healthy addition to a fresh salad. Other wood violets have the same qualities. The violet wood sorrel with its sour tasting heart shaped three-part leaves which have a hint of burgundy markings and lavender color flowers make another tangy addition to the salad bowl. Use these sparingly however, they contain oxalic acid which interferes with calcium absorption.

Many other plants were encountered along the trail, each with its own unique historical value to the survival of the earlier generations who lived in the South Fork region of the Little Red River of Arkansas. Noon came too quickly for the group as they concluded the morning walk back at the cabin for a look at some resources to launch them into identification of the medicinal and edible plants of their own back yards!