About 20 people had a ‘wild’ time on Keystone College’s Trolley Trail on Saturday as they were provided expert information on the local flora.
Nathaniel Whitmore, an herbalist from Glen Spey, N.Y., talked about how to identify various plant species during Keystone’s ‘Wildflower Walk’ along the trail.
“It’s part of our ‘Reach out to the Community’ program,” explained Nancy Petaluer, Director of Communications for the Keystone College Environmental Education Institute. “We want to give the community the opportunity to use the Trolley Trail and see what it has to offer.”
Participants walked along the trail with Whitmore providing information on various wildflowers - how to identify them, and what they can be used for.”
Coming across hops growing in the wild, Whitmore points out that at one time Pennsylvania was a primary area for producing the plant.
“Oh we know that,” said JoAnn Brown, who explains that she is from Hop Bottom.
The herbalist picks piece of broom sage, and explains why it is so named.
“Because it looks like it has little brooms along the edges.
Some of the wildflowers have medicinal uses, while others are edible. Whitmore cautions that while some wildflowers can be eaten raw, many should be cooked first.
The reason, he said, is because commercially grown vegetables are bred to be more mild in taste. Wild plants, he said, tend to be more ‘toxic’ and cooking is the way to reduce their toxicity.
Although Whitmore chews on a piece of clover, and offers it to some of the folks, he strongly advises people against eating wild plants, unless they are absolutely certain it is safe and how to prepare it.
On the medicinal end, Whitmore talks about jewel weed - also known as touch-me-not - which can remove the affects of poison ivy is applied quickly enough. If a person waits until the rash appears, he said, it is probably too late to do any good. One can identify jewel weed because the flowers look like little jewels in the sunlight.
Whitmore points out a Virginia Creeper to the group, and explains a lot of plant names comes from the state because that is where they were first identified.
Normally, Whitmore continued, the flora would be more extensive along the trail. However, deer have a tendency to decimate much of the plant life, particularly the ones they like.
“Deer can eat just about anything,” he said.
Because deer also favor more mild tasting plants, what they leave behind has a tendency to be more toxic in nature.
Berries, he said, have a tendency to be the least toxic part, because that’s the primary way many plants reproduce. Birds eat the berries, then later dispel the non-digestible parts, which take root in the ground and start a new plant.
Taking mugwort, a plant which can commonly be found around parking lots and other public areas, Whitmore said it is a popular addition to ice cream in Japan. Rice and mugwort are combined with the ice cream, he said, which many Japanese consider a sweet treat.
Coming across white snake root, Whitmore explains it is the plant which caused the death of Abraham Lincoln’s mother. In Lincoln’s day, he said, cows would often eat it. The plant is extremely toxic, and would be passed into a cow’s milk, causing milk sickness. Sometimes who villages would be affected by milk sickness because of the plant, he said.
“I’m been doing this for quite a while, and it’s great to be able to talk to people about it,” Whitmore said at the end of the walk. “You can’t explain everything in an hour-and-a-half, of course, but it’s nice to see people take in an interest in plants and the outdoors.”
“I’m going to start taking a book with me on how to identify plants when I go for walks,” said Audrey Gozdiskowski of Tunkhannock. “I think it’s fascinating.”