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Archive for the ‘Fungi and mushrooms’ Category

cathedral-grove-mossThere are places on the earth where everything is in balance.  Places where the boundaries between humans and nature disappear.  Upon entrance to these natural places the human spirit leaves the cloak of ego, struggle, separateness and the tension of the world falls away.

The Hoh rainforest on the most westerly edge of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State is such a place.

“Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.” John Muir — John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 235.

I entered the Hoh Rainforest twice in 2013. I am only now writing about my experiences because something changed in me and I could not find the words to describe the emotions that welled up in me. Something lost, something found. I had a realization that we may be at a point of desolation in Western Civilization. We are destroying the places where our souls can find rest at an alarming pace. And, I feel helpless in stopping this destruction. And I am a refugee of those killing fields.

In spite of recognizing that the Hoh Rainforest may be all that is left of the rainforests of the west coast, my visits to the Hoh Rainforest helped me reconnect with my life purpose and develop a strong still voice, one with boundaries and courage.

I grew up near the coast range mountains in Western Oregon. At that time the rainforests were intact from British Columbia to Northern California. The habitat of animal and plant life was diverse and interconnected through that area. The ecology of the place provided shelter not only for the millions of species who lived there, but for the land east of the region. You see those precious rainforests created moisture for an area that spanned thousands of miles into the mid-west. Those precious rainforests seeded the clouds that came first from the ocean and passed over the area and dropped moisture on the Cascade Mountains, the Rocky Mountains and then finally fell and fed the great aquifers of the mid-west. Now the water is missing and the forests are burning. The water wars have begun and wildlife is going extinct.

Trail of Mosses

Trail of Mosses

Strong words, yes I know. Maybe you came to this blog for a description of a walk in the woods. Maybe you thought I would teach you about the native plants and fungi I saw. I will. I know. I saw. But for now you need to learn why my heart froze for an entire year.

Like I said, I grew up in Oregon. Millions of acres of Oregon’s forests, both public and private, have been clearcut over the past century. The devastation to wildlife, ecosystems, cloud ecology and snowpack reserves in the region is wide-spread and unrepairable.  I realize I grew up and lived in a war zone.  I am deeply scared by what I have experienced.

When I entered the Hoh Rain Forest I was both renewed and filled with much sorrow.  The place was Eden and I was a guest of the Great Creator who loves us all.  And yet the visits brought home to me what has been lost, and what is being lost.

And now, with that preface let us journey together.

Oh how I wish you and I were actually on the trail through the Hoh.  I am not a good enough writer to use words to describe the musky smell of the deep forest or the phenomenal song of the forest Robin .  All I know is that when I breathe in,  my body, mind and spirit remember something older than civilization.  The merging of flora, fauna, fungi, fresh air, local air currents, wind, rain, caverns of the tangled roots of an ancient Big Leaf Maple, Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock create a wondrous natural world experience.

Wood Sorrel

Wood Sorrel

Receiving 12 to 14 feet of rain per year, the Hoh Rainforest is one of the best examples of temperate rainforest in the world.  The Hoh Rainforest that is intact is located within the Olympic National Park and is protected from devastation.  The Hoh River valley was formed thousands of years ago by glaciers. Between the park boundary and the Pacific Ocean, 48 km (30 mi) of river, much of the forest has been logged within the last century, although many pockets of forest remain.

I choose my hiking partners well.  I expected a long drive and then another long hike.  I wanted someone who could become part of the forest and was somewhat introspective.  I was not interested in timed excursions or a mapped out day hikes.  I wanted to let the forest lead me.

The first time I entered the Hoh Rainforest it was very early April 2013.  The wild flowers had not yet opened.  My friend Elizabeth agreed to initiate me to the Hoh.  She had been in the forest many times and had spent time alone living in a tent near the forest.  Her spiritual orientation to creation is what attracted me also.  She did not see humans and nature as being separate.  She knew the trees, the flowers, the streams, the paths.  She led me to a special place along the Hoh River where warm black sands provided an exceptional meditative place.

Elizabeth taught me how to find nearby lodging so we could enter the forest twice in our visit.  There is very limited camping in the Hoh Rain forest.  It is part of the National Park system and one must possess a seasonal pass as well as a reservation to camp nearby.  Even at the early part of the season, other people were present on the path-but they were few.

On our arrival to the park we entered the Hall of Mosses trail. I took a deep breath of the clean, fresh air.  I looked up and saw the towering canopy of Big Leaf Maple, Sitka spruce,

Hall of Mosses - Hoh Rain forest

Hall of Mosses – Hoh Rain forest

Western Red Cedar and Western Hemlock. Some of the trees were near to 300 feet tall. All along the path the Redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) grew in large communities. We stopped to chew on a leaf. The citrus-like taste refreshed us both. Small nubs of soon-to-be wild flowers shot up through the leaf and winter debris layers.  Although the weather was somewhat cool, the sun was out and the sunbeams shot down through the forest. It was a magical place and I am sure the Fae were present.

The cool moist landscape supported a community of unique lichen, ferns and fungi.  Lettuce lichen (Lobaria oregana), grew on the sides of trees and downed logs and the forest floor. The Spike moss draped itself across the branches of the Big Leaf Maple.

Young Sitka Spruce grew from a downed nurse tree.  These epiphyte flourish in Old Growth forests where generations of life lives and thrives one on top of the other.

Black cottonwood buds

Black cottonwood buds

We came upon a Black Cottonwood (Populus balsamifera) that was dropping it a sticky cone-shaped bud. The buds were fragrant with a balsamy scent.  We realized we had come upon a coffer of the mystical Balm of Gilead. We picked up the sticky orange and gold coverings from the ground and inhaled the spicy scent.  We understood that this bud contained a “salicylate precursors” related to aspirin and it was very healing.  We shared stories about Balm of Gilead and how it is found on several other trees like the Balsam Poplar.  We talked about how the sticky substance was used to line medicine bags of the First Peoples, both to protect healing plants and to keep out bad energy. We considered it a wonderful

find and put some in our pockets to soak at a later time.

We found native Willow growing along the Hoh river. There was both Pacific Willow (Salix lucida)  and Scouler’s Willow (Salix scouleriana)present.  I did not take any cuttings.  This place is sacred and it is actually against the law to remove plants or plant materials from a National Park without permission.  Also the Willow was sparse.  Willow used to flourish in this area.  The First People’s harvested it wisely for thousands of years.  They used it to make baskets and hats and containers.  They used it to patch housing and canoes and to make traps and fishing implements.  Now it is very sparse. It should be left alone and respected or we will lose it.  Such a gift.

I loved the sound of the Red-winged black bird as it sat in the tops of the Willow.  The river current was swift as the spring melt from nearby glaciers filled the river banks. We could hear the Spruce grouse nearby calling for its mate.  We saw an American Dipper in the nearby forest and a Bald Eagle soared overhead.

As we walked back to the Hall of Moss a young Roosevelt male Elk suddenly appeared on the trail some twenty feet away. We stood silently as it meandered along eating smallfungi composit

spring plants and sipping from a nearby stream.  It walked into a nearby clearing and lay down.  We very slowly moved away from the animal.  Showing great respect for such a large wild animal is very prudent behavior. It did not show fear of us at all.  Probably not a good strategy.  Hunting may not be allowed now, but humans have a way of changing their wildlife “management” plans and have been known to slaughter what is beautiful (i.e. the buffalo of Yellowstone Park).

We saw quite an array of beautiful fungi protruding from every tree, rock and moss-covered ground.  Most fungi obtain their food from dead organic matter (saprophytes).  The multi-colored Conk’s and Turkey Tails splashed hues of gold, red, brown and yellow across the trunks of ancient trees. It was a glorious initiation into the deep woods.

My second excursion into the Hoh Rain Forest happened just weeks after the first.  It was a mystical journey.  This second trip was inspired in a most unusual way. In the week after the first,  my dreams were filled with visions of the Hoh.  In one dream I was called to come up a path and visit a teacher.  The teacher was an unusual plant, one that I had not experienced before.  It was tall, very tall with outreached branches.  And it had large thorns.  I was somewhat afraid of the plant that presented itself in my dream.  I saw the thorns and thought “danger”.  But instead it spoke to me about personal power and having good boundaries in this life. It spoke to me about the changes coming and how humans may act toward one another during these times. And, it asked me to go back to the Hoh Rain forest and find it.  It did not tell me to harvest it, only find it and study it well because there was a life lesson to be found in finding it.

I did not even know what its name was so I contacted a herbalist I know who is deeply connected with the wild world.  His name is Sean Donahue and he is a traditional herbalist who teaches in Victoria, British Columbia at Pacific Rim College in the Community herbalist program. He teaches herbal energetics.  I heard him speak about some of the more powerful plants of the Olympic Peninsula and BC.  And I was pretty sure he would know this plant and how to find it and maybe he would teach me about what the dream might mean.  I sent him an email and also called him on the phone asking him about the plant.  He immediately identified the plant as  Oplopanax horridus or “Devils Club”.   Sean told me that Devil’s club calls us to go into the deep murky places within us and to open up to those hidden parts.  It helps shift people’s relationships to their grief, fear, pain, and sorrow, and reclaim their sense of self. Devil’s Club helps people reclaim their power and assert their right to be in the world.

I had gone through a time when I felt powerless.  I had attracted energies into my life that threatened the safety of my very soul.  Those others had been soul stealers and I had escaped only through prayer, energy healing and grace. Now I was scarred and at times so filled with grief that I could not move.  I had become afraid to go into the forest by myself.  My wonderful companion dog of 17 years had died and I had no way to sense my safety in the deep woods.  Without my frequent trips to the deep woods I had lost my way to that which is sacred. I felt frozen.  Sean said that an appearance of Devil’s club in ones dreams was a call to come back in the full power of the self.  To honor one’s gifts and to step up ones spiritual journey.

I told him that the plant called me to go to the Hoh Rain Forest again and find it.  Sean told me that he also wanted to go into the Hoh Rain Forest but had not had time to go since moving from the East Coast a year ago.  So, I asked him if he would like to go with me.  He said yes.  And so we journeyed.

It was beautiful spring time weather. By this time in late April the wild flowers had begun to bloom and the sweet smell of the early blooming catkins of the Big Leaf Maple had been replaced by the heavier smell of Skunk Cabbage flowers, fungi blooms and green leaf. Salmonberry – (Rubus spectabilis) and Huckleberry (Vaccinium sp) were beginning to bloom.  Sword fern unfurled along every trail. The streams were full of tiny young salmon (fry) that were being carried along the currents of the forest streams.  The song of Robins filled the forest canopy.

Sean Donahue with giant Conk fungi

Sean Donahue with giant Conk fungi

There was a light rain that day as we proceeded down the Hall of Mosses.  We walked for several miles.  There was no sign of Devil’s Club.  I wondered about that.  I had expected to come upon it suddenly in a glen. But no, its appearance would be on its own terms.  I asked several hikers if they had seen it.  One man said you had to walk a good ten miles to see it and then it might be too early to see it with leaf.  As we walked we saw many wondrous things.  The Conk and Turkey Tail fungi we there in all their glory.  The forest was a fairy land of fungi.  The spring rains had awakened the fungi forest.  The colors of the fungi ranged from violet to gold and red.  The dark Chaga was tinged with violet and red. Small transparent fungi spread their skirts against the bright green moss.

Sean and I walked slowly through the forest looking at the magic of the place.  We immersed ourselves in the community of nature fully intact. These are the days I live for.  For nature is my true home, my mother and my family.

We had a wonderful day but we did not see Devil’s Club.  I was somewhat let down.  When I have these mini failures I begin to doubt my ability to connect with the higher forces, the angels and the Great Spirit Who Loves us all.  Sean did a teaching for me.  He taught me about the energetics of the Western Red Cedar.  I love this tree.  It is truly the central reason there is a rainforest here.  This tree collects enough rain fall yearly to supply drinking water for a small village.  It is a protector plant for thousands of other plants, animals, fungi and cloud cover.

I video-taped Sean’s teaching and will share it below:

Video of Sean Donahue talking about the medicine of the Western Red Cedar

We left the Hoh Rainforest and headed back toward Port Angeles.  On the outskirts of PA we decided to drive toward Hurricane Ridge and check out the flora.  The ridge itself was still covered with snow.  About a mile up the road Sean called out “stop!  There it is…Devil’s club”.  Sure enough the entire hillside along the road was covered in Devil’s Club.  We drove down a side road exploring the plant life.  The stream bed and bog along the road was covered in large yellow-flowered skunk cabbage.  There were many Red Cedar and then we saw it.  A very large Devil’s Club set back in the forest.

Devil's Club - Oplopanax horridus

Devil’s Club – Oplopanax horridus

We got out and Sean began to teach again about the plant. He taught me about plant “signatures” and ask me look closely at the signature of this plant.  I could see with its armor that indeed there was an air of boundary-making.  Its branches somewhat outreaching and yet protective of the core of the plant. It stood out in its uniqueness and yet it had boundaries.  There too was I.  Always standing up and speaking out against injustice but then experiencing the crush of the status quo. I do believe that I do not have good boundaries with these people.  I need to develop discernment.  This is especially true in these ‘Changing Times”.

How the plant was used for medicine

The First People’s used the bark of this plant as a purgative .  The bark was also used as a poultice for headache and pain.  It was used to draw out rheumatism and aches. But it was also used to draw out toxins in the body via purging. A very powerful medicine on the physical level, and also used to draw out stagnant and stuck energy on the energetic level.

The medicine of this plant is so strong that a poultice was used to knit broken bones.  So, it is…could the energetics of this plant knit back together my faith in humanity?  Will I be assisted in my task of letting go of darkness so that I could continue on a path to self awareness and deep connection with the divine?  Will I be able to help in this transition time?  Can I serve?  That is really all I want from this life?  Is that too much to ask for.  Devil’s Club says “Go deeper”.

References and Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Sean Donahue for letting me link to the video of his Western Red Cedar teaching. And for teaching me about our allies in the plant world.

Gunther, Erna. (1945) (Revised 1973) Ethnobotany of Western Washington. Knowledge and use of Indigenous plants by Native Americans, University of Washington Press.

Moerman, Daniel E.(1998) Native American Ethnobotany, Timber Press, Portland and London

 

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Earth’s the right place for love:

I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Excerpted from Robert Frost – “Birches”

white birch grove

White Birch Grove

Preparing to write about these lovely deciduous trees has been quite a journey.

I have found that what I know is only the tip of the iceberg of what I need to know.  The White or Paper Birch is a tree that I am slowly becoming familiar with. My early relationship was one of taking for granted that this tree would always be here for me to sing to, climb and use as crafting materials.  I did not ever imagine these lovely fast growing groves of trees could be used to heal, attract some of the most powerful healing fungi in the world or that they would one day be imperiled.

My father was a land surveyor and he sometimes took me and my siblings along for the day on his forays into the forested areas of Oregon. On a early summer day many years ago he took us on a walk along a coastal mountain stream.  The White Birch was plentiful and lovely.

We came upon a White Birch which had a broken branch half hanging.   He took some of the sap dripping from the broken tree, spread it over the wound, and then he took the shedding white bark for which it is known and used it to tie the branch back in place.   This is just one of the “signatures” of this tree.  Later I would learn that birch bark was used to set into a cast, the broken bones of humans.  On that day long ago, my father gave me some of the sap to chew and told me that it would be good for my teeth and mouth.  It was sweet and tingled in my mouth. I asked daddy about the bark.  I asked if I could remove some naturally occurring shedding white bark without white birch hanging barkharming the tree.  He told me that in other parts of the country, the bark was used to make canoes and to line baskets and wrap food and that it had probably been used as paper somewhere in the world. He told me there was time of year in the late spring and early summer when the bark was easy to remove without harming the tree.  He told me the tree sap was very healing as was the bark and that is why he used it to repair the broken limb.

Later I used some of the bark to make clothes for my doll and I made a small pouch to hold special things.  I made a small canoe that I could push across our pond.   I found sanctuary in the birch grove and sat in silence to watch the wild birds skip from branch to branch.  In late summer the tiny rounded samara became part of my secret cache of wild seeds.

This was my introduction to White Birch.  It was easy to interact with the community of birch. I can imagine now that it is this easy relationship to the tree and bark that attracted the First People. It is also easy for humans to take this tree for granted, not respect it.  As you will read, the White Birch is a powerful healer for both human and forest communities. It is a tree that welcomes the fungi mat (mycelium) and heals the wounds caused by fire, humans, disease and floods.

Betula papyrifera (Paper Birch, also known as American White Birch and Canoe Birch) is a species of birch native to the northern part of North America and the southern part of Canada.  The species birch is found all over the world.

PREPARING THE WAY – Birch, Alder, Aspen

Some trees are steady and slow in growth reaching to the tops of forests they create an umbrella for the web of life.  And, some trees are pioneers, growing fast, living a short time and creating a birthing platform for many other species. The White Birch is a pioneer species. The stands of White Birch come on fast and can grow only to about 20 meters high (65 feet). A healthy tree can live to be 40 or 50 years old. During their growth the pollen from birch catkins attract a great many pollinators that will bring life to other plants in the forest. The sap and bark attract a great many fungi that live symbiotically on the tree.  The fungi are then dispersed into the disturbed soils to help create the forest mycelium mat.  For a long time scientists and foresters thought the fungi found on the birch were a sign that the tree was dying.  They thought the fungi were killing the tree.  Now we know that the birch is a nurse tree to a great many beneficial fungi. It chooses which fungi will inhabit it and also has a chemical defense method that will trap certain fungi in the heartwood or on the outer barks.   The sap actually has pesticide qualities.  It detracts insects such as termites and certain bacteria that might do the tree harm. According to Grieve in her book A Modern Herbal, Birch tar was used to repel insects (p. 103)

Like the Red Alder and Aspen, the White Birch lives in symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacterium.  This relationship is called mutualism. In mutualism: plants gain nitrogen compounds, the bacterium gains carbohydrate and an environment with reduced oxygen. The plant then changes carbon dioxide to oxygen and releases it for human use.

White birch as a pioneer deciduous species is often found in groves on the edge of newly formed second-growth tree communities or near the edges of changing forests. This tree shows up in ecosystems that have been disturbed by fire, flood or human decimation.  They can be found in open or dense stands of forest usually in an opening. They can be found in lowlands to lower mountain slopes in drained sites or along bogs and other wetlands.  B. papyrifera requires high nutrients and sun exposure.

These trees do not live long. From the time they spring up and then die, can be as little as 20 years or as much as 50 years. It is easy to propagate and the young saplings are often found spouting from a cut stump.  Like the Red Alder, the White Birch is a very important part of establishing the mycological forest community. Without these forerunners of forest health, there would not be a fertile soil and microbiological environment that would support the deep wild forest.

NAME

The name is a very ancient one, probably derived from the Sanskrit bhurga, ‘a tree whose bark is used for writing upon’ (Grieve, p. 103).  The First Peoples of the Cascadian bio-region have names for this tree also:

Salish = âîçêáÛ – birch bark

âîçêálî, îçêá white birch, paper birch, birch bark.

paper birch îçæálî, îçæá birch; paper birch.

The English name is White Birch, Paper Birch or Canoe Birch

The Latin botanical name is: Betula papyrifera

LEAF

white birch leafThe leaf is alternate, deciduous, oval to round and sharp-pointed. The leaf of the White Birch can be longer when on young trees. The color is dull green above and paler and hairy below.  The margins are doubly toothed. (Pojar and Mackinnon p. 47)

Learning the shape of the leaf is important because there are other trees that grow in similar environments that look much the same when young.  For instance bitter cherry has a similar bark and structure but the leaf is oblong to oval, and less pointy.

The FLOWER AND THE SEED

The flowers, and thus the seeds, of white birch are arranged in a pendant cluster about an inch long which is referred to as a catkin. Male white birch leaves-catkins-conesand female flowers are on separate catkins. When pollinated, the female flowers develop seeds, each of which is located on a scale in the catkin.

Male and female flowers grow in separate catkins and flower at the same time.  Sometimes there will be young leaves emerging as the tree flowers. The buds for the male catkins appear in autumn, when it begins getting cold.  During spring, the tassel-like catkin will produce yellowish or grayish green flowers that produce pollen with an aromatic scent.

Over the winter the catkins disintegrate, dispersing both seeds and scales.  You can identify the species of birch from the shape of its scales or nutlets.  Again, the white birch nutlet is round with wings that are broader than the body.

The male catkins will fall away from the tree, while the female catkins will form into cones in the summer. These cones vary from a deep brown to a tan, though they may also have a reddish color to them. During late summer, the cones will open and in autumn, the cones will fall, spreading their nutlets across the ground. The nutlets are then dispersed on the wind.

BARK

The tree is most familiar to us humans because of its bark.  The bark peels in papery strips in late spring and early summer. The bark of this tree is commonly thought of as being white or grayish white, but also comes in yellowish or dark gray.  It is often marked with brown horizontal lines of raised pores. The bark is highly weather-resistant. The wood itself is highly flammable and can be burned as firewood even when damp.

MEDICINE

Birch syrup is a sweetener made from the sap of birch trees, and used in much the same way as maple syrup. It is also used as medicine syrup.  The sap is boiled down to produce birch syrup.

The same sap is fermented to make beer and wine.  Birch beer is very popular in Northern Europe and a few areas of North America.

The oil is astringent, and is mainly employed for its curative effects in skin afflictions, especially eczema, but is also used for some internal maladies. Oil of wintergreen is distilled from its inner bark and twigs (Meyer p. 15)

The inner bark is bitter and astringent, and has been used in intermittent fevers. The bark is ground to a fine power and used to treat diaper rash.  It is also used internally to treat a great many inflammatory and bacterial infections.

The vernal sap is diuretic. The resin contains zylitol, a disinfectant used as a natural tooth cleaner. However, it may also contain terpenes. Used in making turpentine, terpenes and terpenoids are the primary constituents of the essential oils of many types of plants and flowers. Essential oils are used widely as natural flavor additives for food, as fragrances in perfumery, and in traditional and alternative medicines such as aromatherapy. It was also reported that those who chewed the resin could get somewhat of a “buzz” (Pojar and MacKinnon p.47.

One of the chemicals that has been isolated from birch bark is called betulin. Betulinic acid, which is made from betulin, is being studied as a possible cancer treatment. Betulin has also been found in many other plants.

White Birch is used on the skin to treat warts, eczema, and other skin conditions. Promoters say that birch tea can be taken internally as a diuretic or a mild sedative and that it can be used as a treatment for rheumatism, gout, and kidney stones. The leaves are sometimes used on the scalp to help with hair loss and dandruff. Birch tar (oil distilled from birch bark) is used on the skin for skin irritations and parasites. Other claims for birch bark include the treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, and cholera.

WHITE BIRCH AND THE POWERFUL FUNGI CHAGA (THE TINDER CONK)

Chaga conk on a White Birch

Chaga conk on a White Birch

White Birch Moxa

Before I started this study of the White Birch, I did not know that the First Peoples in Cascadia used Moxabustion.  Moxibustion is the application of heat resulting from the burning of a small bundle of tightly bound herbs, or moxa, to targeted acupoints on the human body. The burning plant material is traditionally mugwort.  It is sometimes used along with acupuncture.  It is used to open up or move energy in a part of the human energetic body. It is well-known that for thousands of years far-eastern cultures have used moxabustion as part of their healing regimes.  What I was not aware of was that the First Peoples of North America, Central America and South America also use Moxibustion.  As I studied the White Birch I came upon a quote that perked up my inquisitive nature.  The book is called A Modern Herbal published in 1931 by Mrs. M. Grieve.  Grieve reports that birch leaf and bark was used as a moxa, and that it was burned on top of a fungi.  Both the birch parts and fungi were used to create a moxa for healing. Here is a quote from Grieve’s published works.

“Moxa is prepared from it and regarded as an effective remedy in all painful diseases. A type of moxa is made from the yellow fungus that is excreted from the wood of the White Birch, which sometimes swell out from the fissures of the bark” – Grieve p. 104

After some research I found that there are several types of fungi that are yellow and live in the fissure of the White Birch.  It is a tree that attracts fungi as it ages. Here is short list of some of the edible and medicinal fungi that grow on birch.  Ganoderma applanatum, or artist’s conk, Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), Turkey tail (Trametes spp.) attacks fire-scarred, wounded and drought-, freeze- or sunburn-stressed birches. Hairy (T. hirsuta) and colored (T. versiclor) turkey tails, Lenzites betulina, commonly called birch mazegill, Yellow Brain fungus and Chaga (Inonouts obliquus). According to Paul Stamets, most of these fungi have several medicinal properties, including antioxidant, antimicrobial, antitumor, and immunosuppressive activities. (Stamets 2005)

There are so many fungi attracted to the White birch that I would only be able to identify which was used as a moxa by contacting an expert.  But, there are clues.  It is yellow; it is used for burning as a moxa.   Was the fungi Chaga (Inonouts obliquus) also called Birch Tinder fungus Grieve’s moxa?  Chaga has a somewhat yellow underbelly.

I found several books that stated that the First peoples burned plants for many reasons; healing, food, spiritual connection, and fire carrying. It is well know that the First Peoples of all cultures across the globe including those of Cascadia burned plants as a method of reconnecting spiritually to the natural world.  They smoked and burned plants for healing and for ceremony. And they used the burning of plants as a method of healing via moxabustion.  One method of releasing essential oils in a plant or bark was to burn the plant, or place it on burning material and let the spark ignite the essential oils of the plant.  This method was often used to help healing substances connect with hard to reach areas of the body, such as cartilage and deep tissues.  My investigation found that in the practice of shamanism, moxabustion was essential to the healing process.

Let’s look at Chaga and its relationship with the birch.

Many mushrooms prefer a particular wood for their growth because they need the nutrients and conditions that they can get from that wood. Some form symbiotic relationships with certain trees, as the chanterelle does with birch, but many also feed on dead, decaying wood. There are also mushrooms that parasitize birch trees and which will kill weakened trees, such as the birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus), a shelf fungus with an interesting history.

Chaga, a fungus in the Hymenochaetaceae family is in a symbiotic parasitic relationship with birch and other trees. The sterile conk that is Chaga is irregularly formed and has the appearance of burnt charcoal. Chaga was called the Birch tinder fungus because it was used as a means of carrying fire from one hearth to another.  The fungus was lighted and it carried the ignition spark.  Chaga was also used as a moxa hearth.  Plant material was placed on top of a burning ignited Chaga.  Together the Chaga and the burning plant created a moxabustion of healing aromatic substances. According to Paul Stamets the First Peoples used these fungi as a natural antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and immunopotentiator as well as a practical fire-starter mushroom. (Stamets – Mycelium Running p. 258)

Finally I found a research paper published in the Journal of Ethnobiology in the summer of 1992 titled “Short communication – Use of Cinder Conk (Inonotus obliquus) by the Gitksan of Northwest British Columbia, Canada.

The author Leslie M. Johnson Gottesfeld writes:  “Cinder conk had two principal uses: for moxibustion treatment of swollen athritic joints, and as tinder or a slow match for making and transporting fire.”

Further she writes the Gitksan elder had two words for cinder conk: mii’hlw and tiiuxw. A Gitksan elder describes cinder conk and its medicinal use as follows:

“Mii’hlw-the black growth from the crack in the birch tree. Like yellow cotton inside. If you cut it off, use the yellow cotton stuff. Take a sliver like a match stick and burn it for pain in the joint.” According to the elder, after the sliver of cinder conk was burned near the skin on the affected joint, a special salve was then applied to the burn wounds. This treatment was reported to be effective in reducing the swelling, and presumably the discomfort, of the joint. ( Johnson Gottesfeld p. 154-55)

I love this much endangered fungi and birch that it grows upon.  And so do others who value it for its healing abilities.   Paul Stamets reports that wild harvesters for the nutraceutical industry are decimating the White and Yellow Birch populations of North America and Europe as they walk through the forest with machetes chopping the fungus off the tree and causing life-threatening damage to the trees.  The removal of the mother-chaga is also removing the spores from the forest (Stamets, October 2012).  The Chaga communities are becoming rarer as are the birch forests.

Stamets is trying to remedy the situation by teaching the nutraceutical industry and others to grow Chaga in growing houses on birch and other forest product chips.  He is also asking that the industry stop buying from foragers. Here is a link to a short video about conservation efforts to save the Chaga and the birch.

The trees are dying for a second reason:  Birch trees are especially sensitive to herbicides because they have a shallow root system. The herbicides are also decimating the beneficial fungi that live in symbiotic relationship to the birch.

UTILITY – CANOES AND BASKETRY

The White Birch is also called the Canoe Birch. In the Cascadian Bioregion (Pacific Northwest), some canoes were built as large as one

Canoe building - inland waters of Pacific NW

Canoe building – inland waters of Pacific NW

hundred feet long and seven feet wide, and could hold up to sixty people. Bark canoes are constructed of sapling frames covered in bark. Birch bark is very popular for both its durability and its relatively light weight. The birch bark is an outer covering spread over a frame (ribs and gunwales) made of flexible wood such as red or white Cedar. The canoe of the First Peoples was extraordinarily light and graceful. When new and dry, a 15-footer might weigh less than 40 pounds; the longer ones, made by some tribes, weighed about 75 pounds. One man could pick up a canoe and carry it, upside down and resting on his shoulders, over a long rough portage. For its size and weight, it had greater carrying capacity than almost anything that floats. A birch bark canoe could carry almost a ton of load and it is said that a 15-foot canoe was often used to transport an Indian Family with several children, plus all of their duffel and dogs. (Nature Bulletin)The Birch bark has been used to make baskets for thousands of years. There are myths about these baskets that have been retold to the basket-making societies. The birch basketry was used to make many helpful containers.  Panels of bark were also be fitted or sewn together to make cartons and boxes (a birchbark box is called a wiigwaasi-makak). The bark was also used to create a durable waterproof layer in the construction of sod-roofed houses.

Video – Cool things in nature:  Paper Birch Tree

REFERENCES

  • Birch Bark Canoes – Nature Bulletin No. 463-A   September 23, 1972
  • Forest Preserve District of Cook County viewed on the internet 1/20/2013 – http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/natbltn/400-499/nb463.htm
  • Doctrine of Signatures – plant signatures – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctrine_of_signatures viewed on the internet 1/22/2013
  • Gunther, Erna. (1945) (Revised 1973) Ethnobotany of Western Washington. Knowledge and use of Indigenous plants by Native Americans, University of Washington Press.
  • Grieve, Mrs. M. (1931) Modern Herbal – The medicinal, culinary, cosmetic and economic properties, cultivation and folk-lore of herbs, grasses, fungi, shrubs and trees with all their modern scientific uses, 2 volumes, Harcourt, Brace company; reprinted by Dover Publications, NY in 1971.
  •  Johnson Gottesfeld , Leslie M. (1992) Short communication – Use of Cinder Conk (Inonotus obliquus) by the Gitksan of Northwest British Columbia, Canada. Journal of Ethnobiology, 12(1):153-156 Summer 1992
  • Meyer, Joseph E. (1918) (Revised 1970) The Herbalist, Meyer Books Publishing
  • Moerman, Daniel E.(1998) Native American Ethnobotany, Timber Press, Portland and London, pp.38
  • Pojar and MacKinnon, (1994) Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska, Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, BC
  • Stamets, Paul (2005) Mycelium Running- How Mushrooms can help save the world, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA pgs 203-205.
  • Stamets, Paul “Chaga, the Clinker Fungus: This Mushroom Looks Scary But Can Benefit Health – October 25, 2012 – Huffington Post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-stamets/chaga-mushroom_b_1974571.html
  • Stur, Ernst T. (1933) Manual of Pacific Coast Drug plants, Ernst Theodore Stuhr Papers, Oregon State University Archives, Corvallis, Oregon.

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Red Alder (Alnus rubra)

During the storm I dreamt of Red Alder.  I dreamt that the spirit of the tree was leading me away from danger.  Then I woke and saw ruts of the big machines and I cried for the forest.  Soon after the Red Alder came up through the sun-baked soil of the clear-cut. – Ellen O’Shea – Radical Botany

Red Alder Grove along stream

Some plants are trailblazers.  They show up when great change has happened.  They grow in the ruts of human civilization, the mud, the flood tracks and the places where sun and wind prohibit other plants to grow. Red Alder just such a trailblazer. A true pioneer plant.  It shows up to heal, grows fast, stays a short time, then allows the tall conifers, the redcedar and majestic Bigleaf maple and other trees to take over.  It is a friend and healer of the forest. It is a tree that perseveres in the direst of circumstances. Even after massive clear-cutting and wild fire destruction where the forest seems changed forever, the Red Alder will push up out of the graves of other trees and change the soils.  It is an alchemist.  It will attract the bacterium needed to change the acid of riddled sun-parched soils into  the conditions needed to bring back an entire eco-system.  After the Red Alder emerges, the tiny herbs, the ferns and sedges follow.  Soon after that the wildflowers, elderberry shrubs, Indian plum and wild honeysuckle will follow. And then the conifers and larger deciduous trees follow and a whole forest eco-system emerges.

The Red Alder soothes the hardest of earth and entices the fungi, bacteria and nutrients back into the forest floor. The bacterium on its roots fix the nitrogen needed to feed the forest community. A grove of Red Alder will only live about 100 years, just enough time to coax the forest community to come home one more time.  As a healer of humans its bark is used to sooth the acid stomach and gallbladder, clean the lymph glands and bowels, entice the poisons from the skin and open up the lungs.  A poultice of the bark will bring forth the inner poison.

Red Alder wood chips are often used to cultivate eatable and medicinal mushrooms such as the Shiitake.

THE NAME

Clallam  – s’ko’noiltc

Quinault – malp

Swinomish – su-k’uba’ts

Alder is the common name of a genus of flowering plants (Alnus) belonging to the birch family Betulaceae. The English name was derived from the bright rusty red color that develops in bruised or scraped bark. The outside bark is mottled, ashy-gray and smooth, often draped with moss. But just inside is the glorious red used for dye and medicine.

HABITAT

Red alder (Alnus rubra) are the largest species of alder on the west coast of North America.  The tree can grow to 40 feet or more, needs full sun, is a nitrogen fixer, tolerates poor, wet soil and is found in valleys in the Cascadian bio-region as well as the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Red alder is a fast- growing but short-lived (old at fifty, with a maximum age of about a hundred years).

For years, as the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest were devastated by massive clear cutting of the region, Red Alder was thought to be invasive and was destroyed.   For the first 100 years of European settler decimation, the Red Alder was thought to be scrub, a noxious weed and unnecessary for forest health.  Then in the 1970’s and 80’s as second and third growth Douglas fir tree farms failed to thrive, research showed that an essential part of the forest eco-system was missing.  Red Alder, an amazing nitrogen fixer had been systematically removed from the forests using massive amounts of chemicals and extraction methods of forest management.

With the lack of nitrogen in the forest soils, other native species began to be stunted and attract disease. But as foresters began to study forest re-growth, they noticed that Red Alder was one of the first trees to return to a clear-cut.  They also noticed that as the Red Alder stands thrived, so did the small plants, shrubs, and then other tree species thrive. The Red Alder is a forest healer; it brings life back to much damaged soils.  For soils that have been heavily sprayed with toxic chemicals, the introduction of Red Alder is less successful.

RED ALDER AND NITROGEN FIXING BACTERIUM

An important nitrogen-fixing bacterium in our Cascadian bioregion is Frankia ahni.  Red Alder (Alnus rubra) and other types of alders are the host for this important bacterium. Alder is particularly noted for its important symbiotic relationship with Frankia ahni, an actinomycete, filamentous, nitrogen-fixing bacterium. This bacterium is found in root nodules, which may be as large as a human fist, with many small lobes and light brown in appearance.

I found a great online source for explaining the nitrogen fixing process. “A Nitrogen Fixation: The Story of the Frankia Symbiosis by Peter Del Tredici a Harvard researcher can be found at this link: http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/1995-55-4-a-nitrogen-fixation-the-story-of-the-frankia-symbiosis.pdf

Here is a quote from that document:

“Before atmospheric nitrogen can be used by plants, it must be “fixed,” that is, split and combined with other chemical elements. This process requires a large input of energy and can occur either biologically, within the cells of various bacteria, or chemically, in fertilizer factories or during lightning storms.

Among all living organisms, only bacteria have evolved the complex biochemical mechanisms required for nitrogen fixation. All “higher” plants and animals that are said to fix nitrogen are really only the symbiotic partners of the bacteria that do the actual work.”

Red alder is often found growing near coast Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii subsp. Menziesii), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), grand fir (Abies grandis), western redcedar (Thuja plicata), and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) forests. When found along streambanks it is commonly associated with willows (Salix spp.), red osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), Oregon ash (Fraxinus latifolia) and bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum).

Red Alder leaf

THE LEAVES

Alternate, deciduous (fall off the limb in the autumn), broadly elliptic, and sharp-pointed at the base and tip. The leaf top is dull green and smooth, and the underside is golden-colored and hairy. The leaf margin is revolute, the very edge being curled under, a diagnostic character which distinguishes it from all other alders. The leaf turns yellow in autumn before it falls from the tree.

 

The male and female catkin

THE FLOWER

The flowers are catkins with elongate male catkins on the same plant as shorter female catkins, often before leaves appear; they are mainly wind-pollinated, but also visited by bees to a small extent. These trees differ from the birches (Betula, the other genus in the family) in that the female catkins are woody and do not disintegrate at maturity, opening to release the seeds in a similar manner to many conifer cones. The catkins form in the fall, and then overwinter, ready to open or flower in spring. The female catkin is cone-like, droops slightly, usually in clusters of threes.

The male catkin is slender, cylindrical, hanging in clusters of 3 to 5 from short leafless branches.

THE FRUIT

Red Alder cones or fruit

The fruit is clusters of brownish cones which are quite small (up to 2 cm long). They remain on the trees over the winter and contain oval winged nutlets. About 2000 seeds are normally produced by the cones which are normally spread by the wind but also by the water and birds. The seeds have a viability of about 45%. Seeds are normally dispersed between the months of October and March.

THE BARK

The bark is thin, grey, and smooth often with white patches of lichens.  The bark will turn bright red to rusty red when cut.

As a weaver I often sought the bark of the Red alder as a source of dye.  I peeled back the bark and exposed it to air and it would turn a brilliant red.  As the bark dried the color of the bark changed from red to a slightly golden brown.  I fixed the color using apple cider vinegar.

MEDICINE

Red Alder is a bitter and an astringent (Meyer p.3).  Bark twigs and buds were used. An ointment of the bark was used to cure eruptive skin diseases (Stuhr  p. 21). Catkins are edible and high in protein, but are very bitter in taste and utilized usually on for survival food. The wood is used to smoke cooked food.

The Bark of the Red alder contains anti-inflammatory salicin that metabolizes into salicyclic acid in the body.

Cut of the Red Alder – new (red) and old (golden)

Salicin is related to Aspirin. Red Alder bark is used for relief from poison oak, insect bites, and skin irritations.  The Red Alder bark is used in infusions to treat lymphatic disorders and tuberculosis.

The bark was boiled and drunk for colds, stomach trouble, and scrofula sores. The rotten bark and woody parts were rubbed on the body to ease “aching”. (Gunther p. 27)

The wood was used to make canoes, boxes and paddles and multiple other utility implements.  Like the Western Red Cedar, this tree was widely used by the first people of the Cascadian bio-region. The wood was important because it could be used while still green, seasoned and not split in the sunlight.  The wood of the Red Alder has long been used to smoke salmon.  The bark was used to line baskets for storing wild berries, roots and other foods and herbs.

POLLINATOR AND BUTTERFLY HABITAT

Alder leaves and sometimes catkins are used as food by numerous butterflies and moths. The late winter and spring catkins are beneficial to more than one species of bee,  and depending on nearby habitat may attract other insect pollinators, such as butterflies, hoverflies, and pollinating beetles. If the Red Alder is close by water, the pollinators can be plentiful.

Red Alder is a better butterfly host plant than the Asian butterfly bush, which only provides some nectar, not structure to attach chrysalis, nor leaves for caterpillars after hatching.

If you would like to learn more about native plants and the pollinators they attract, order the wonderful book  put out by the Xerces Society called “Attracting Native Pollinators”.  The book is coauthored by four Xerces Society staff members Eric Mader, Matthew Shepherd, Mace Vaughan, and Scott Black in collaboration with Gretchen LeBuhn, a San Francisco State University botanist and director of the Great Sunflower Project.  More on the book go here – http://www.xerces.org/announcing-the-publication-of-attracting-native-pollinators/

VIDEO  AND ONLINE RESOURCES

Article about Red Alder healing capacity by Kiva Rose, herbalist- http://bearmedicineherbals.com/alder-tree-of-transformation-healing.html

How to identify a Red Alder – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBdmL5A0_3c

Interactive Distribution Map of Alnus rubra – http://www.plantmaps.com/nrm/alnus-rubra-red-alder-native-range-map.php

REFERENCES

  • Del Tredici, Peter (1995) Nitrogen Fixation: The Story of the Frankia Symbiosis, Harvard University, Arnoldia Arboretum – viewed on the web on November 9, 2012 – http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/1995-55-4-a-nitrogen-fixation-the-story-of-the-frankia-symbiosis.pdf
  • Gunther, Erna. (1945) (Revised 1973) Ethnobotany of Western Washington. Knowledge and use of Indigenous plants by Native Americans, University of Washington Press.
  • Meyer, Joseph E. (1918) (Revised 1970) The Herbalist, Meyer Books Publishing
  • Pojar & McKinnon, (1994) Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska, Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Stur, Ernst T. (1933) Manual of Pacific Coast Drug plants, Ernst Theodore Stuhr Papers, Oregon State University Archives, Corvallis, Oregon.
  • Tilford, Gregory L., Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, ISBN 0-87842-359-1

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The roots of a plant play an important role to help the plant grow and thrive. They anchor the plant in the soil; absorb water and minerals; and store excess food for future needs underground.  We are all familiar with eatable roots like carrots, beets parsnips and potatoes.  But what about the roots of native and wild plants? What are their attributes? Do they provide food and medicine?  Yes! And native plant roots are easy to cultivate and harvest.

One of the really nice things about bringing native plants back into our environments is that they are already acclimated to our local soils, rainfall and nutrient loads.  Garden soils need little work for native plants to flourish.

ROOT PHYSIOLOGY

The roots of plants have four regions: (1) a root cap; (2) a zone of division; (3) a zone of elongation; and (4) a zone of maturation.

The root cap is a cup-shaped group of cells at the tip of the root which protects the delicate cells behind the cap as it pushes through the soil. The root cap secretes mucigel, a substance that acts as a lubricant to aid in its movement. The root cap also plays a role in a plant’s response to gravity. If you were to place a young plant on its side the stem would grow upward toward the light and the root cap would direct the roots downward. Yes, the root follows gravity toward the earth’s core.  The root cap firmly drives the roots downward in most plants. So strong and persistent is this mechanism that roots has been known to break through rock, concrete and other hard surfaces. Some scientists also believe that the downward direction of the root may also be that the plant is trying to escape the sun’s radiation. (Ott 1973)

Above the root cap is the zone of division and above that is the zone of elongation.

The zone of division contains growing and dividing meristematic cells.  As we learned last time the meristem cells are very important to the design and function of a plant, they hold the DNA of the plant and create new cells for the expansion of the plant.  If something damages the meristem cells the plant will either die or be deformed.

After each cell division, one daughter cell retains the properties of the meristem cell, while the other daughter cell (in the zone of elongation) elongates sometimes up to as much as 150 times. As a result, the root tip is literally pushed through the soil.

In the zone of maturation, cells differentiate and serve such functions as protection, storage, and conductance. Seen in cross section, the zone of maturation of many roots has an outer layer (the epidermis), a deeper level (the cortex), and a central region that includes the conducting vascular tissue.

The root systems of native plants

The root of a plant provides a significant competitive edge to a plant trying to reach light. The root of a plant such as a tree provides an anchor and base as the tree stretches to the top of the forest.  In general, the deeper the root and wider it’s base, the larger the plant.

We all have experienced the stunting of plant growth when a root has not the right soil to anchor in.  The tilth and depth of the soil is important to healthy roots.

Roots uptake water from the ground.  The leaves of a plant act to channel rainfall and water to the roots which in turn absorbs it and distributes it inside the plant. The root is also very good at uptaking toxins and heavy metals.  This is why plants are so good and helping to clean up the earth. This process is called bioremediation.  This intense uptake can also make eating roots and plants dangerous to human health.  That is why it is such a good idea to grow your own food or only purchase organically grown food.  For instance potatoes grown in the toxic fields of commercial chemical farms are very contaminated.

ALL MY RELATIONS

Beneficial soil fungi (mycorrhizae) form symbiotic relationships with the tender, young roots of many species of higher plants.

Rhizoboa bacterial influence on plant roots

The mycelium fungus penetrates the root and also the soil around the root.  The fungi open up or “till” the area around the root so that its root hairs can thrive.  Mycelium collects nutrients from the soil such as phosphorus and nitrogen and uses it not only for its own benefit but that of the host plant. In return the higher plant supplies the fungus with photosynthesized foods, including sugars.  Another important symbiotic relationship between plants and fungi involves the soil bacteria rhizobium.  Rhizobium “fixes” the nitrogen around the young roots of many angiosperms especially members of the pea family (Fabaceae, formerly Leguminosae).  Rhizobium and several species of blue-green algae or cynobacteria) are able to “fix nitrogen” by converting nitrogen gas (N2) in our atmosphere into a nitrogen that is useable by the plant. The bacteria invade the root of a plant causing it to enlarge in groups of root nodules. The host plant provides the rhizobium with carbohydrates.

Frankia nodules on Red Alder roots

Another important nitrogen-fixing bacterium in our Cascadian bioregion is Frankia ahni.  Red Alder (Alnus rubra) and other types of alders are the host for this important bacterium. Alder is particularly noted for its important symbiotic relationship with Frankia alni, an actinomycete, filamentous, nitrogen-fixing bacterium. This bacterium is found in root nodules, which may be as large as a human fist, with many small lobes and light brown in appearance.  The practice of removing alders from conifer tree farms and clear cut replants has caused much damage to the eco-systems in our region.  Massive amounts of herbicides are used to kill Alders in clear cuts.  If you look at the soil after this poisoning, you will find dead, grey hard compacted soil that will take years to recover.

Over use of fungicides and herbicides in the garden and natural areas is killing off the mycelium and the beneficial bacterium that thrive on the roots of plants.  The cumulative effect of years of poison application is destroying native plant habitat.  There is much discussion about this fungi-plant relationship in Permaculture.  Permaculture looks at all the relations of living things in each community and welcomes native plants. The roots of plants found in natural undisturbed areas are a wonder to behold.

THE HAIRY TRUTH

If you look closely at the root of a newly sprouted seed you will see a fuzzy area all around the root.  These are actually root hairsor extensions of the outer root cells. The primary function of the root hairs is to increase, by several hundred-fold, the organs absorptive surface level. That is why you must be very gentle when transplanting seedlings so as not to tear off the root hairs.  You can stunt the growth of the plant for good by damaging the root hairs. (A really fast way to observe root hairs is to sprout radish seed between wet paper towels.  Radish seed can sometimes sprout in 2 to 3 days.)

Later on as the plant shoots up above the ground, the root will produce branches which will become part of the root ball.

It was once believed that the root of a plant was the brain or center and electrical nervous system of the plant.  Much research has been done to prove that while the root operates like the human heart expanding and contracting and sending out fluids and signals to the rest of the plant, there are many other ways for the plant to relay information. Much communication happens on the cellular level simultaneously throughout the plant.  The root however is a powerful distributor of chemicals, electrical charge and food storage.  That is why the root of the plant is such a complete food for animals and a very powerful medicine as well for humans and animals. Peter Thompkins and Christopher Bird wrote a book in 1973 that became a cult favorite of plant lovers.  “The Secret Life of Plants: A fascinating account of the physical emotional, and spiritual relations between plants and man.” The book offered extensive research from around the world that provided much new information for the naturalist and gardener.  The book delves into the profound relationship between root and plant, and root and man and animal including how humans foraged for plants and roots for thousands of years. Thompkins and Bird looked at the relationship between plants and human health and healing and found much evidence that wild plants resonate at a closer level to human cells energy than do cultivated plants.  (Thompkins and Bird pg 306-07)

THE ROOTS OF OLD

The roots of native plants can be extremely beneficial to human health. First peoples referred to any part of a plant growing underground as a root.  Bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes are often lumped into the family of roots. The term root crop refers to any edible underground plant structure, but many root crops are actually stems, such as potato tubers. Rhizomes are simply underground stems. They grow horizontally just below the soil’s surface. They will continue to grow and creep along under the surface with lots and lots of growing points. Examples of rhizomes would be lilies, irises, and asparagus. A corm looks a lot like a bulb but is the actual base for the plant stem and has a solid texture. As the plant grows, the corm shrivels as the nutrients are used up. Essentially the corm dies, but it does produce new corms right next to or above the dead corm.  If you look closely at the bottom of the corm, rhizome and bulb you will find true roots.

ROOT HARVEST

First people were very organized in their harvesting of native roots.  So important were roots as a staple crop and medicine that tribes would negotiate ownership rights to these areas.  The area was cultivated, protected, and specific rules of harvest were instigated.  The rules of harvest included making sure that the plant would come back year after year.  The root was harvested in a way that did not harm the plant or its community.  One rule was to never tear at the plant.  A sharp knife or root stick was used to cleanly cut the roots.  Another rule was never to destroy the tap or mother root.  Smaller side roots were harvested.  That way the plant could keep growing.  This was hard to do when harvesting the bulb of camas or the corm of Wapato.  However, in these cases care was taken to not overharvest an area.  The land, water and environment was to be protected. These practices guaranteed a continuous crop each season. There are all sorts of stories about the destruction of native root plants because humans were greedy in their collection practices or because acts of genocide against the First Nations of Cascadia included destroying nutritional and medicinal plants. (see my essay on Wapato)

ROOT MEDICINE OR “SKOOKUM”

The word “Skookum” comes from Chinook Jargon used as a Pacific Northwest trading language and was used by many tribes.  The word meant to be strong, powerful or having special powers.  Roots of plants were thought to be very Skookum.  Roots were harvested and dried to be used fresh or over many months.  Here is a list of my favorite native plants whose roots were harvested for food or medicine.

Plant Common Name Plant Latin Name How it was used Where it is found
Dull Oregon   GrapeTall   Oregon GrapeIn   the Barberry family Mahonia   nervosaMahonia   aquifoliumAlso   known as Berberidaceas The   shredded bark of the stem and roots were used to make a bright yellow dye for   basket materialsThe   root is a bitter herb. The root was boiled and the liquid drunk to cure   coughs and stomach disorders.  The   Squaxin, Swinomish and Samish prepared a tea of the root to be used as a   gargle for sore throat and drunk in the spring to purify the blood. Oregon   grape and its cousin goldenseal act very similarly. But since Oregon grape is
easy to grow and is not threatened with extinction, more and more herbal   practitioners are switching from goldenseal to Oregon grape to treat a range   of conditions.
Dry   to fairly moist, open to closed forests at low to middle elevations
WapatoBroadleaf   Arrowhead, tule potato, duck potato, arrowleaf Sagittarian   latifolia The Wapato tuper was eaten   raw (although somewhat bitter) or cooked. Wapato tubers were prepared for   eating by boiling, or by baking in hot ashes or in underground pits, after   which they could be eaten or dried for long-term storage or trading. The   taste of the Wapato is much like that of the potato.The tuber was an energy   food much like potatoes. Only this plant also yielded some iron, calcium,   zinc and magnesium and other minerals. It was an outstanding food when there   was a shortage of protein. It is very high in carbohydrates. Wapato   is an herbaceous wetland plant. The leaves and flower stalk rise above the   water. The leaves are arrow-shaped (sagittate). Leaf stems attach directly to   the base of the plant like celery. The base is partially submerged in the   muck, giving rise to the roots and rhizomes below.
Skunk   Cabbage Lysichiton   americanum Native   American informants and botanist Ernst Stuhr report that the root of the   skunk cabbage (Lysichitum americanum) was the main ingredient of the infamous   “Skookum” which was reported to be a blend of plants that was reputed to be a   stimulant, antispoasmodic, and emetic for bronchial and pulmonary   afflictions.  It was also used as a   salve for ringworm, swellings and inflammatory rheumatism. The root is very   bitter. Swamps,   fens, muskeg, wet forest, mucky seepage areas, wet meadows, at low to middle   elevations.
Western   TrilliumBirth root, Beth root Trillium   ovatum A tea   of the root was used as an eye wash by the Lummi and Skagit peoples.  The   root is used as an alternative medicine and is antiseptic, antispasmodic,   diuretic, emmenagogue (to promote menstruation), and ophthalmic. The roots,   fresh or dry, may be boiled in milk and used for diarrhea and dysentery. The   raw root is grated and applied as a poultice to the eye in order to reduce   swelling, or on aching rheumatic joints. An infusion of the root is used in   the treatment of cramps and a common name for the plant, ‘birthroot’,   originated from its use to promote menstruation. A decoction of the root bark   can be used as drops in treating earache. Considered to be a sacred female   herb. Moist   to wet woods, stream banks, shaded open areas; at low to middle elevations
Stinging   Nettle Urtica   dioica The   Snohomish used the shredded nettle root as a hair wash.  The root and the rest of the plant as well   as the needles and bark of the white fir were pounded together and boiled and   put into a bath to be used as a general tonic. The Quileute pound the root   and drink the boiled infusion in small amounts for rheumatism. The root was   used for yellow dye. Meadows,   thickets, open forest and stream banks.    Often found in disturbed areas. Always in moist rich soils; common   locally from the lowlands to subalpine elevations.
Fern   – Licorice Polypodium   glycyrrhaiza or Polypodium vulgare This fern rhizome has a distinct licorice   flavor is somewhat sweet. It was a favorite medicine for many people. The   rhizome is roasted by the Makah, peeled, chewed, and the juice swallowed for colds   coughs and sore throats. The Cowlitz crush the rhizome, mix it with young fir   needles, boil it, and drink the infusion for coughs. The root is demulcent,   pectoral, purgative and anthelmintic Found   on wet mossy ground, logs and rocks. Also found on the trunks of trees and   often found on big-leaf maple at low elevations.
Cattails Cattail   is a member of the grass family, Gramineae, as are rice, corn, wheat, oats,   barley, and rye, just to mention a few. Traditionally, Typha latifolia   has been a part of many native   North American   cultures, as a source of food, medicine, and for other uses. The rhizomes are edible   after  cooking and removing the skin,   while peeled stems and leaf bases can be eaten raw, or cooked.  Some cultures make use of the roots of T.   latifolia as a poultice for boils, burns, or wounds.    In early spring, dig up the   roots to locate the small pointed shoots called corms. These can be removed,   peeled, and eaten, added to other spring greens for a salad, or cooked in   stews or alone as a pot herb. As the plant growth progresses to where the   shoots reach a height of two to three feet above the water, peel and eat like   the corms, or sautee. Root starch is harvested until late spring. The starch   is made into flour.  The root can also   be made into a natural sweetener.  The   root contains vitamin C, A and micronutrients. Marshes,   ponds, lakeshores, and wet ditches, in slow-flowing or quiet water; low to   middle elevations

VOCABULARY

Angiosperm (an·gi·o·sperm). noun. Botany. a plant that has flowers and produces seeds enclosed within a carpel. The angiosperms are a large group and include herbaceous plants, shrubs, grasses, and most trees. Compare with gymnosperm.

Phlo.em (fl m ). n. The food-conducting tissue of vascular plants, consisting of sieve tubes, fibers, parenchyma, and sclereids. Also called bast.

REFERENCES

  • Capon, Brian (1990) (Revised  3rd edition, 2005) Botany for Gardeners, Timber Press, Portland, London
  • Gunther, Erna. (1945) (Revised 1973) Ethnobotany of Western Washington. Knowledge and use of Indigenous plants by Native Americans, University of Washington Press.
  • Meyer, Joseph E. (1918) (Revised 1970) The Herbalist, Meyer Books Publishing
  • Ott, John Nash (1973)  Health and Light – The effects of Natural and Artificial Light on Man and Other Living Things. Old Greenwich, Conn. Devin-Adair
  • Pojar & McKinnon, (1994) Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska, Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Stur, Ernst T. (1933) Manual of Pacific Coast Drug plants, Ernst Theodore Stuhr Papers, Oregon State University Archives, Corvallis, Oregon.
  • Tompkins, Peter and Bird, Christopher (1973) The Secret Life of Plants: A fascinating account of the physical emotional, and spiritual relations between plants and man.  Perennial – HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY
  • O’Shea, Ellen “Honoring our ancestral plants: Wapato” (2011)  https://radicalbotany.com/2011/02/21/honoring-our-ancestral-plants-wapato/

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PLANT BLINDNESS is a modern phenomenon whereby humans walk through their world each day and do not notice plants, nor do they know the name, the physiological, ethnobotanical, herbological or ecological connection between themselves and plants.”

Evolution of Plants

First off you should know I am not a scientist.  I am a naturalist.  My knowledge of plants comes from a personal relationship and constant observation and study.  I read everything I can find, including the works of various plant and biological scientists.  I forage for plants and use them as food, utility, medicine, and spiritual growth.  I am teaching from what I know  and what I am learning and offer what I know as one method of connecting with the plant “kindom”.  Yes, KINDOM.  Kindom is different from the hypothesis of Kingdom, which is hierarchical in organization.  Kindom, is different – the hypothesis put forward by the likes of plant specialist and scientist Dr. Alan (Mushroom) Kapuler – says that plants and animals and all species all need each other for survival.  There is not a higher group organization, rather all species interact and need each other in cooperation. Relationships between all species is not competitive but cooperative.

Here is a link to Kapuler’s web blog for further discussion of cooperative relationships between species:

http://mushroomsblog.blogspot.com/2005/01/descriptions-from-dr-kapulers-peace.html

WHY DO YOU NEED TO KNOW BOTANY?

Why do you need to know botany?  Because my goal is to allow each and every one of you to go into a natural area and identify every plant.  A goal that will only be reachable if you are well versed in Botany and plant identification.

Do you know that the connection between humans and the natural world is breaking down so fast that we now have a definition for humans that are disconnected from plants.  It is called “Plant Blindness”.  PLANT BLINDNESS is a modern phenomenon whereby humans walk through their world each day and do not notice plants, nor do they know the name, the physiological, ethnobotanical, herbological or ecological connection between themselves and plants.

It is my hope that you will learn all about plants on this Radical Botany blog and it will be taught in a way that you can easily absorb and apply to your life as a plant lover, naturalist or budding scientist.

So let us begin.

Botany is the study of plants.  It is a scientific process whereby plants are examined from the cellular to the ecological levels.  A scientist who studies Botany or plants are called a botanist.  A plant lover can also be called a naturalist, a gardener, a horticulturist, or one of my favorite “a tree hugger”.  Unabashedly I am a tree hugger and a naturalist.

WHERE DO PLANTS COME FROM?

According to the theories of science,  hundreds of millions of years ago, tiny specks of protoplasm appeared on earth in the ancient seas,  and were the beginning of all our plants and animals.  The protoplasm specks – a one cell organism that became plants developed thick walls and developed the green coloring matter as chlorophyll which enabled them to make food from substances in the air, water and soil.  Slowly over time the plants were able to leave water and adapt to land growing and producing multi-cell organisms.

In the past botanists regarded plant as meaning a multicellular, eukaryotic organism that generally does not have sensory organs or voluntary motion and has, when complete, a root, stem, and leaves.  However this is a better description of vascular plants.  Some plants have no roots, stems or leaves.   And, plant-like organisms such as kelp are actually from the order Laminariales.

Let me go out on a limb here (pun intended) and make this statement about plants: they are alive versus being parasitic and not alive.

A second characteristic of a plant it is that it refers to any organism that is photoautotrophic—produces its own food from raw inorganic materials and sunlight.  However, Blue-green algae and certain bacteria and cynophytes are photoautotrophic and are not classified as plants.

The same is true for mushrooms.  A mushroom- the fruiting body of a fungus (Kindom Fungi)  is not considered a plant. It is closer to the animal kingdom.  A mushroom is not photoautotrophic at all, but saprophytic for the most part however, some fungi and bacteria is parasitic.

Traditionally, all living things were divided into five kingdoms:

MoneraProtistaFungiPlantaeAnimalia

I know, I know – scientists are now trying to say there are only three kingdoms: ArchaeaEubacteriaEukaryota and these kingdoms reflect whether the object of study has a cell wall or not.  I prefer to work with the five kingdom (or Kindom) system because it allows us to generally differentiate between major groups of living organisms.

So let us say that plants are part of the kindom Plantae.  Plants include familiar organisms such as flowering plants, conifers, ferns, mosses, and green algae, but do not include seaweeds like kelp, nor fungi and bacteria.

Plants can be grouped as follows:

First informal group – GREEN ALGAE

Green algae Division name: Chlorophyta and Charophyta of which there are between 3800 and 4300 species

Second Informal Group – BROYPHYTES – land plants that do not have true vascular tissue and are therefore called non-vascular plants.

Bryophytes : Marchantiophyta also called liverworts of which there are between 6,000 and 8,000 species.

BryophytesAnthocerotophyta also called hornworts of which there are between 100 to 200 species

BryophytesBryophyta also called mosses of which there are about 12,000 species

Third Informal Group of plants -PTERIDOPHYES- The pteridophytes are vascular plants (plants with xylem and phloem) that produce neither flowers nor seeds.

PteridophytesLycopodiophyta also called Club Mosses of which there are approximately 1,200 species

Pteridophytes: Pteridophyta also called  ferns, whisk ferns and horsetails of which there are approximately 11,000 species.

Fourth Informal Group of Plants: SEED PLANTS

Seed plants: Cycadophyta also known as cycads of which there are 160 known species

Seed Plants: Ginkgophyta also known as ginkgo of which there is one known species

Seed Plants: Pinophyta also known as conifers of which there are 630 known species

Seed Plants: Gnetophyta  (woody plants) also known as gnetophytes of which there are approximately 70 known species.

Seed Plants: Magnoliophyta also known as flowering plants of which there are approximately 258,650 species

My focus for Radical Botany will be worts, clubs, mosses, ginko, flowering plants and conifers as well as other trees found in the Cascadian bio-region: An area that includes British Columbia, Washington State, Oregon State, and Northern  California.

Next time: Cell structure of Plant Groups: flowering plants and conifers

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Artic Lupine

Salem, Oregon

Amateur Naturalist Series -Landscaping with Natives, Gail Gredler

January 13, Thursday, 7-8:30 pm Program: Creating Native Plant Gardens. Gail Gredler, Instructor of Horticulture at Chemeketa Community College, will explain how to create native plant gardens and landscapes. She will highlight the benefits of gardening with native plants and discuss which plants to use to create a haven for birds, pollinators, and other wildlife. The class costs $5 and is open to the public and is co-sponsored by Willamette Valley Chapter of the Native Plant Societyand the Straub Environmental Learning Center. Location: 1320 A St. NE, next to Olinger Pool, near North Salem High. Registration is required. To register, call John Savage at 503-391-4145. All classes are held at the Straub Environmental Learning Center at 7:00 p.m.  Call or email Alexandra at 503-391-4145 or fselc@fselc.org to register.   Website:  http://www.fselc.org/programs.html

Eugene, Oregon             January 10, Monday, 7:30 pm

Meeting: Bruce Newhouse presents “Delights, Myths and Legends of Native Plant Gardening.” Can midwinter exploration of gardening delights, myths and legends bring spring here sooner? Let’s try it and see! Join us for this presentation on creating “deep gardening” goals that can make a garden both good looking and purposeful. Is there really a difference between planting native or non-native plants in a home garden? Do native Plants have special care needs? Native plants are not easy to find for sale, so where can I get them? These and other questions will be addressed in this show. You can create a small ark of native biodiversity in your yard if you are willing to include native bees, butterflies and birds as part of your inner circle of friends. Sharing between like-minded gardeners will be encouraged during this event. If you would like to read a good primer, try “Bringing Nature Home,” by Douglas Tallamy. Can spring be far behind?

Location: EWEB Training Rm., 500 E. 4th Ave., Eugene. For more info call 541-343-2364.

 Ashland, Oregon

Wildflowers (many of which are endemic and very rare) begin to bloom in the lower altitudes in February and March. The Native Plant Society leads walks throughout the Rogue Valley on Saturday mornings (See www.npsoregon.org)

Tundra Swans

RIDGEFIELD, WASHINGTON

Ridgefield National Wildlife refuge – Annual return of the trumpeter and Tundra Swans also large repository of Wapato and other native water plants.  http://ridgefieldbirds.com/TheRefuge/Birds/ridgefield_NWR_tundra_swan.html

Seattle, Washington – Native Plant Society of Washington

Seattle Chapter     –    Saturday, January 8th

Tradition Lake Plateau, led by Nelson Salisbury and Louise Kulzer
Come join our Chapter Botanist, Nelson Salisbury, and Field Trip Chair, Louise Kulzer, for a bit tamer New Year romp on the Tradition Lake Plateau. It’s not New Year’s Day, but it’ll still get the year off to a great plant start. We’ll peruse the extensive plant list created by Fred and Ann Weinmann and see how many of the choicest mid-elevation plants we can find. Pacific willow, the most upland of the willows, mature ninebark, cherry and a conifer of great girth (was it a hemlock?) are some of the highlights I remember from a past field trip. Wintering waterfowl should be on the lake, Douglas squirrel and woodpeckers are also to be expected. Trip length can range from 3-5 miles, depending on the group’s desires, with moderate elevation gain.Note:  The gate to the parking area is closed, so we’ll meet at the gate and hike the .4 miles in.  Dress warmly! 
Date & Time Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011; 9 AM
Location Meet at the parking area by the trailhead at 9:00 AM. Take I-90 past Issaquah to Exit 20, then turn right on the frontage road to the gate. Note:  The gate to the parking area is closed, so we’ll meet at the gate and hike the .4 miles in. 
Contact Contact Nelson at 206-372-4255 or nelson@earthcorps.org to sign up.
Bring Bring water and a lunch and dress for the weather.

 

Native Plant Identification Workshop

Join Nelson Salisbury, Chapter Botanist, in a free plant identification workshop that is offered before each Chapter meeting at 5:30 PM in CUH, Main Hall.  While the workshop is oriented primarily toward beginners, anyone who wants to work on improving keying skills or their familiarity with the northwest flora is welcome.  Feel free to bring samples of unknown plants in for identification.  We will have plenty of material and tools if you come empty-handed.

Tri-cities – Washington

Koma Kulshan

Winter Twigs and BudsMeet at 9 AM at North Chuckanut Trailhead. We will decide then and there on route, depending on weather and interest.  We might hike four or five miles, but should be back by 3:00.  This winter walk will emphasize identification of deciduous trees and shrubs based on their twigs and buds (copies of a key will be provided).  There is a diverse assortment of native and non-native plants along the upland trails and along the Chuckanut beachfront. Bring lunch, and dress for the weather, including boots for muddy trails. 
Date & Time Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011; 9 AM
Location Meet at 9:00 AM at North Chuckanut Trailhead (the parking lot on Chuckanut Drive south of Old Samish Road and before California Street).
Contact Contact Allan Richardson at 733-5477 or boghill@earthlink.net to confirm. 

http://www.wnps.org/chapter_info/chapter_trips.html

British Columbia

Vancouver, British Columbia

Thursday January 6, 2011

Presentation: Fabulous fungi of Haida Gwaii
Paul Kroeger 
Until recently, very little was known about the kinds of fungi found on Haida Gwaii. Why should we care? Because fungi play incredibly important roles in ecosystems. Without fungi, we wouldn’t have the rich native plant communities that we have in BC.
Paul Kroeger is one of a team of mycological specialists who has been studying fungi in Haida Gwaii since 2003. He’ll talk about some of the species found there – including some rare species – and about the role of fungi in maintaining the health of our forests and other plant communities.It all happens at 7 p.m in the Cedar Room at VanDusen Botanical Garden, at 37th and Oak in Vancouver.Coming soon:
February 3: Edible plants of Coastal BC with Andy McKinnon
March 3: Flora of White Lake with Terry McIntosh
April 7: Pink Mountain Revisited with Ron Long 

 http://www.npsbc.org/Education/education.htm

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After spending a wet morning in the Oregon Coast range mountains collecting chanterelle mushrooms I decided to sauté up some delicious “roots and shrooms”.

This week I went to a local farmers market and purchased some late season zucchini and some beautiful multicolored carrots.  I also purchased some fresh leeks.  I decided to mix them with my newly found Chanterelles and create a beautiful feast.

The trick to eating mushrooms is to never eat them raw.  Mushrooms have amazing nutritional and medicinal qualities that can only be released through cooking.  Cook all mushrooms at least 15 minutes over low heat.  Here is my recipe for cooking wild Chanterelles.

What you will need:

Two tablespoons olive oil

Two large gloves fresh garlic – sliced thinly

Sliced leeks to taste (I used about ¼ cup)

1 cup sliced fresh carrots

½ cup sliced fresh zucchini

8 to 9 medium to large Chanterelle mushrooms

¼ cup Tamari

Herbs to taste (powered basil, sage, black pepper, and coriander) ¼ teaspoon each

Use a large flat frying pan or a Wok. Slowly sauté two tablespoons of olive oil and two large gloves of fresh garlic on very low heat.  Cook 5 minutes.  Add two tablespoons of tamari, ¼ teaspoon each powered sage, basil, black pepper, and coriander. (You can substitute the herbs you like to use here).  You have now created a wonderful broth to cook your veggies and mushrooms in. Arrange the vegetables and mushrooms on the bottom of a flat surface of the pan in the sauce you have just prepared.

Sauté for at least 15 minutes until the carrots are soft enough to eat. Turn the mixture over a couple of times to make sure all sides are fully cooked. I covered the pan with a lid during this time.  ENJOY!

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