nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘poisonous plants

red, red, red

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Autumn, no doubt about it. When I go outside, I see red everywhere. The red of the leaves of red maple, many already on the ground. The red of the lily-of-the-valley berries. The red of the crab apples on our little tree at the end of the walkway. The red hips on the rose bush beside the driveway. Red, red, red.

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red, red, red

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each rose hip edge

an ellipse to complete

the curve of rambling canes

berries red, mellow to orange

the white shine, highlight, tipped

with the black remains of blossom,

once pink, now vermillion of vermis,

cinnabar, poisonous, mercuric, toxic

lily-of-the-valley, raceme of berries

dangle, vivid crimson blush, bright

spot on fevered cheeks, the child

thought the berries good to eat

scarlet sigillatus, decorated

small images, pixilations

of woman with camera

limps to reach third

red, ruby, purple

red crabapples

in bunches

hanging

in rain

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Copyright Jane Tims 2019

All my best,

Jane

Written by jane tims

October 9, 2019 at 7:00 am

harvesting colour – berries of Daphne

with 4 comments

With the help of a friend, I have been able to add Daphne berries to my growing list of plant dye experiments.  She invited me to harvest some of the berries from her Daphne bushes, before the birds ate them all.  We spent an hour picking berries and catching up with one another.  I went home with enough berries for my dye pot and some of her excellent photos of the Daphne berries.

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red berries on the bush (photo by L. Cogswell)

red berries on the bush (photo by L. Cogswell)

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closeup of Daphne berries (photo by L. Cogswell)

close-up of Daphne berries (photo by L. Cogswell)

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Daphne’s beautiful crimson berries are poisonous, although the birds love to eat them.  I was anxious to see what colour they would bring to my growing collection of home-dyed wool.  I know from reading that the leaves and twigs of Daphne produce a yellow dye.

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In the dye-vat, the berries quickly lost their colour to the boiling water, making a pale rose-coloured dye.

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And the colour of the wool roving after an hour’s simmer in the pot?  A lovely yellowish brown …

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pretty side of poison

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exotic, elliptic

berries among laurel

leaves droop vermillion

toxic pills, birds immune

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spirit of bubbling wells

and water-springs, Daphne

drupes in rainwater seethe

and berries leach rosy

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waters blush at this strange

use of poison, tint the

roving, wool lifts yellow

brown dye from the kettle

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scarlet Daphne berries

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

August 22, 2014 at 6:58 am

poisonous Lathyrus – when ‘wild’ plants are not edible

with 6 comments

Yesterday, August 1, 2012, I posted a description of the Beach Pea (Lathyrus japonicus Willd.) and said the peas could be collected, boiled and eaten. This is the advice of the Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants (1977).  My further reading, from more up to date sources, says you should not eat the seeds of Beach Pea or other species of wild pea.  Many Lathyrus species contain a neurotoxin that can lead to a condition called lathyrism, a type of paralysis.  Although there are other guides saying that Beach Pea is edible in small quantities, I have revised the post to remain on the safe side.

When we choose to include wild plants in our diets, it is very important to know for certain they will not be harmful.  In my posts, I have talked about avoiding berries that may look pretty to eat, but contain toxins (for example the bright blue berries of Clintonia (see my post for May 23, 2012, ‘Bluebead Lily’ https://nichepoetryandprose.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/bluebead-lily-clintonia-borealis-ait-raf/ ) or the tomato-like berries of the Common Nightshade (see my post for July 16, 2012, ‘growing and gathering – barriers to eating wild foods’ https://nichepoetryandprose.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/growing-and-gathering-barriers-to-eating-wild-foods/ ).

I have also talked about cases in history of people who risk eating poisonous plants when hunger or famine strike.  An example is the making of Missen Bread in Scandinavia, using a long complicated process designed to remove the burning, poisonous crystals contained in the roots of the Wild Calla (see my post for  June 4, 2012, ‘keeping watch for dragons #6 – Water Dragon’  https://nichepoetryandprose.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/keeping-watch-for-dragons-6-water-dragon/ ).  Poisonous species of Lathyrus (for example Lathyrus sativus, the Grass Pea), in the same genus as the Beach Pea, have been used throughout history for food when people are desperate, in times of drought, famine or poverty.

So, please, take the following steps before you ingest any wild plant:

1.  check out as many sources as you can find, to discover the current wisdom and science about ingesting a plant

2.  be certain of your identification – many plants look very similar to one-another and can be confused

3.  think about your own sensitivities, since you may react to foods that do not bother other people.

4.  when in doubt, take the route of caution and safety and do not eat

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©  Jane Tims 2012

Written by jane tims

August 2, 2012 at 9:38 am

Common Plantain (Plantago major L.)

with 16 comments

When we were children, we often pretended to be storekeepers and picked various wild plants as the ‘food’ for sale.  We collected weed seeds for our ‘wheat’, clover-heads as ‘ice-cream’, vetch seed pods as ‘peas’, and (gasp) Common Nightshade berries as ‘tomatoes’.

This is probably a good place to urge you to teach your children – everything that looks like a vegetable or fruit may not be good for them to eat!  I don’t remember ever trying any of our pretend ‘groceries’, but some of them, such as the Common Nightshade berries, were poisonous and harmful.

berries of Common Nightshade are poisonous… later in the season, they are red and quite beautiful… children should be warned that all red berries are NOT good to eat

We also ‘sold’ the leaves of Common Plantain at our ‘store’.  They looked like spinach, and the Plantain leaves would have actually been fine for us to eat.

Common Plantain (Plantago major L.) is a very easily found weed since it grows almost everywhere, especially along roadsides, in dooryards and in other waste places.  Plantain is also known as Ribwort, Broad-leaved Plantain, Whiteman’s Foot, or, in French, queue de rat.  The generic name comes from the Latin word planta meaning ‘foot’.  Major means ‘larger’.

Plantain has thick, dark green, oval leaves.  These grow near the ground in a basal rosette.  The stems of the leaves are long and trough-like.  The leaves themselves are variously hairy and feel rough to the touch.  The leaf has large, prominent veins, and, as the plant grows older, these veins become very stringy.  The veins resist the breakage of the leaf and stick out from the stem end of a harvested leaf like the strings of celery.

Flowers of Plantain grow in a dense spike on a long, slender stalk rising from the leaves.  The flowers are small and greenish-white, appearing from June to August.

The young leaves of Common Plantain can be used in a salad or cooked and seasoned with salt and butter.  The older leaves become tough and stringy.

Warning:
1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.

leaves of Common Plantain and Dandelion, picked from our dooryard, not yet washed or looked over for insects… note the strings protruding from the stem ends

Yesterday, I gathered the youngest leaves of plantain I could find and cooked them for my lunch.  They might be fine in times of need, but I found the cooked product to be just like eating soggy cardboard.

I should say, since I have begun my almost daily tests of edible wild plants, my husband asks me almost hourly how I am feeling.

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wisdom

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plantain, past the picking –

a pulled leaf resists,

tethered to a thread

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©  Jane Tims  2012

Warning:
1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.

Written by jane tims

June 13, 2012 at 7:21 am

keeping watch for dragons #6 – Water Dragon

with 6 comments

The last full week in May, we took a day to drive the Plaster Rock-Renous Highway.  This is an isolated, but paved, stretch of road, called Highway 108, connecting the sides of the province through a large, unpopulated area.  The highway runs from Plaster Rock in the west, to Renous in the east and traverses three counties, Victoria, York and Northumberland.   It takes you across more than 200 km of wetland, hardwood, and mixed coniferous forest, some privately owned, and some Crown Land.  A large part of the area has been clearcut, but the road also passes through some wilderness of the Plaster Rock-Renous Wildlife Management Area and the headwaters of some of our most beautiful rivers.

From the east, the highway first runs along the waters of the Tobique River, across the Divide Mountains, and into the drainage of the Miramichi River, crossing the Clearwater Brook, and running along the South Branch of the Dungarvon River and the South Branch Renous River.

Along the way, we stopped at a boggy pond next to the road between Clearwater Brook and the Dungarvon, to listen to the bull frogs croaking.  There among the ericaceous vegetation filling most of the pond was a dragon for my collection.

look closely near the center of the photo… the single white spot is the spathe of a Wild Calla or Water Dragon

Water Dragon, more commonly known as Wild Calla or Water Arum, was present in the shallow, more open waters of the pond, appearing as startling white spots on an otherwise uniform backdrop of green and brown.

Wild Calla (Calla palustis L.) is also known as Female Dragons, Frog-cups, Swamp-Robin and, in French, calla des marais, arum d’eau, or aroïde d’eau.  It lives in wet, cold bogs, or along the margins of ponds, lakes and streams.

The Wild Calla belongs to the Arum family, along with Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema Stewardsonii Britt.) and Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Nutt.).  These plants have tiny flowers along a thick spike known as a ‘spadix’.  The spadix is enclosed by a leafy bract called the ‘spathe’.  The spathe of Wild Calla is bright white, ovoid and abruptly narrow at the tip.  The leaves are glossy green and heart-shaped.  The flowers growing among them are often overlooked.  On the pond, there were about ten visible spathes, and likely many more hidden among the plentiful leaves.

The various parts of the Wild Calla are considered poisonous since they contain crystals of calcium oxalate.  These cause severe irritation of the mouth and throat if eaten.  However, there is a twist to this story of a poisonous plant.  Scandanavian people, in times of severe hardship, prepared flour for ‘Missen bread’ from the dried, ground, bruised, leached, and boiled seeds and roots of Wild Calla.  Do I have to warn you not to try this at home!!!!????

Warning:
1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.

Linnaeus, the botanist who invented the binomial (Genus + Species) method of naming plants, described the laborious process the Swedish people used to remove the poisonous crystals from the Water Dragon in order to make flour.  To read Linnaeus’ account, see Mrs. Campbell Overend, 1872, The Besieged City, and The Heroes of Sweden (William Oliphant and Co., Edinburgh), page 132 and notes  (http://books.google.ca/books?id=IAsCAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA222&lpg=PA222&dq=missen+bread&source=bl&ots=ZO8cl_2nBl&sig=Gtr5Lq6PvG3DXV_l-kfECNuhWfo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=gGLFT-79B4OH6QG1m-nOCg&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=missen%20bread&f=false Accessed May 29, 2012).

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desperate harvest

‘… they can be satisfied with bark-bread, or cakes made of the roots of water-dragon, which grows wild on the banks of the river…’

– Mrs Campbell Overend, 1872

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the pond beside the road

simmers, a kettle

of frog-croak and leather-leaf

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spathes of Water Dragon

hug their lamposts, glow white

lure the desperate to the pond

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bull-frog song deepens the shallows

the way voices lower when they speak

of trouble, of famine

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people so hungry, harvest so poor

they wade in the mire

grind roots of Wild Calla for flour

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needles to the tongue

burns to the throat

crystals of calcium oxalate, poison

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worth the risk –

the drying,

the bruising,

the leaching,

the boil,

the painful test to know

if poison has been neutralized

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the toughness of

the Missen bread

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©  Jane Tims  2012

Warning:
1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.
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