Hello Wilderness, We’ve Missed You

February 13, 2015 at 3:04 am (Education, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , )

Since moving away from our beloved Timberlane Estates, we’ve been in dire need for nature.  Especially with this winter we just had – harsher than I remember winter being – wet, muddy, colder sooner, and nowhere cozy to defrost.  Temporary living arrangements have caused us to leave the comfort of having a nearly 1000 square foot library just down the hall from our beds.  We also don’t have a fireplace here.  It’s been a long time since I lived without a fireplace.  But the change is good, it’s helped us redefine necessities, discover the beauty of new public libraries we hadn’t yet visited, save mP1000764oney for the land and dream home we want, and teach our daughter lessons she might have otherwise missed.

We’ve also discovered the Lake Houston Wilderness State Park.  We went from 100+ acres of trails and exploration that we knew like the back of our hands to not having anything most of the winter, to Lo! And Behold! 4700+ acres of trails and wilderness closer than we could have ever imagined.  Ask and ye shall receive.  Take a ride down the highway and pay attention to those marvelous brown signs!

It costs $3 per adult to get in, kids under 13 and senior citizens are free.  OR (and this is what we’ve done) it’s $25 for a year pass for an adult and three adult guests; basically, a family pass.

We’ve been back about every other day since we’ve discovered it.  We walk, tromp, and read.  We snack and picnic, we play in the creek, we stare at the trees.  We read all the sign posts and discover new plants we’ve never heard of.  We soak up vitamin D and work our muscles.

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To the left you’ll see a Hercules’ Club. We were pretty excited about this discovery and did a mini-research project on it when we got home.

In all this much needed tromping and new library resources at my fingertips, I stumbled across a Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants by a fellow named Nyerges.  It isn’t the best resource for Texans, only a few plants were ones I recognized, but if you hail from California then it’s right up your alley.  Either way, if you’re in the foraging scene, this book is a great read.  Nyerges personalizes a lot of his foraging facts with anecdotes of how he has confirmed or debunked various myths, legends, and general assumptions for certain plants.  My favorite was a bit about the Native Americans and poison oak – eat the young, red leaves and you’ll be immune to the rash for the rest of the season/year.  The science of immunizing oneself at its finest.  Already this is how we tackle seasonal allergies when it comes to pollen, it would not have occurred to me that there is a practical pre-remedy for poison oak.

 

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Stuffed Grape Leaves and Dewberry Pie

May 8, 2014 at 7:35 pm (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Homeschooling adventures have turned into some serious life skills lessons, which in turn have become foraging.

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As previously mentioned, we use foragingtexas.com as a main source of information, but we do a lot of external research on our own as well.

Mustang Grapes – from foragingtexas.com

Scientific name: Vitis mustangensis
Abundance: plentiful
What: fruits, leaves, young tendrils
How: fruit raw (very tart), cooked, dried, preserves, wine; leaves and tendrils cooked,
Where: Edges of woods. Mustang grape leaves are fuzzy and have a white underside.
When: summer
Nutritional Value: calories, antioxidants
Other uses: water can be obtained from the vines (see technique in grapes- muscadine post), wild yeast from the fruit
Dangers: Mustang grapes are very acidic and handling/eating large amounts of the raw fruit can cause burns to hands and mouth.

When homeschooling, this is a good time to teach your kiddo about plant classifications.  While picking the leaves (we had a mixture of Mustang grape leaves and Muscadine grape leaves, but I don’t recommend stuffing the Muscadines, they end up a little stringy).

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Vitales

Family – Vitaceae

Genus – Vitis

Species – V. mustangensis

Our lessons then continue into the kitchen where we follow recipes and learn about fractions and conversions.  You’d be amazed at how much a three year old will pick up on if you just show them.  We halved this recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/my-own-famous-stuffed-grape-leaves/ as well as added lemon balm from our home garden to the rice mixture.

P1020054Our dewberry & grape leaf haul.

Dewberries – from foragingtexas.com

Scientific name: Rubus species
Abundance: plentiful
What: flowers, berries
How: open mouth, insert flower/fruit, then chew. seep flowers/young leaves in hot water for tea
Where: Sunny wastelands, borders between woods and fields. Dewberry plants grow as a low, horizontal ground cover.
When: Spring
Other uses: wine, jelly, tea, wine
Nutritional Value: carbohydrates, vitamin C; small amount of minerals and vitamins A & B
Dangers: sharp thorns

Again, our goal is to memorize the classifications and understand how they work:

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Rosales

Family – Rosaceae

Genus – Rubus

Species – R. arborginum

Well, that and to make pies.

We used this pie recipe, except exchanged the blackberries for dewberries, and used a bit more sugar.

It was a hearty dinner and dessert.

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Lessons in Fleabane

April 22, 2014 at 9:10 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Book - Wildflowers Of TexasMy favorite thing about homeschooling is hitting the books and walking in the woods.  All of our lessons involve those two things in some combination or another and it’s so invigorating.  Fresh air, sunshine, open spaces, trees, and good books – I don’t understand how I learned anything in any other fashion. With spring upon us, we’ve been going headlong into Wildflowers of Texas. We love this book. This book has already enabled us to identify Bull Thistles (& Yellow Thistles), Herbertia, and a number of other plants we’ve seen popping up along the trails in the last month.  We like taking the book with us, so if the little girl has a question we can pull out the book right away and discover its name.  The flowers are sectioned off by color to make it easy to do quickly. This weekend, we identified Philadelphia Fleabane, which apparently is an edible weed.  Roots, stems, leaves, flowers, every part of this plant can be made into teas and poultices.  Today, we made tea out of the flowers (making it from the root is more traditional, but the flowers work for a quick tea). P1010739So on our trail walk today, we collected fleabane flowers.  (Kiddo likes to pick them anyway, so if we’re collecting flower baskets, I’d like to get good use out of them.) There are a whole host of lessons that come into foraging.  Identify the plant, spell the name of the plant – with a three year old we get to talk about phonics and how the ‘ph’ in Philadelphia makes the same sound as the ‘f’ in Fleabane.  I wonder if in the long run the F sounds will always bring to mind images of white sunflower-like-daisy flowers and the smell of fresh, nearly summer tea. We learned that “fleabane” is a common name for Erigeron and is part of the Asteraceae (sunflower) family. P1010741  Once home, another science lesson ensues.  Boiling water on the stove.  After all, boiling is the rapid vaporization of a liquid with occurs when heat is applied.  We get to discuss the words ‘rapid’ and ‘vaporization.’  Rapid ties into our synonyms lesson (from the Bryan P. Collins’ Words are Categorical series that we’ve been reading since birth.)  Kiddo’s eyes light up when she sees the water get hot enough to cause steam and bubbles. P1010742We’ve used the strainers before, and the measuring cups, but becoming a pro in the kitchen is something to strive for daily.  Making tea this way is the perfect opportunity to practice reading our measurements and understanding what those mean… two cups, one cup, half cup, etc.  Understanding these concepts visually before setting fractions in front of them when they’re older is essential, I think.  Plus, there are some practical life skills gained from knowing how to make fresh food from fresh sources. P1010743 I also like her growing up knowing that food has purpose beyond pleasure and satisfaction.  This tea, for instance, has very little flavor.  It is a bit floral, obviously, having been made from flowers, but without honey tastes a bit like fancy water. It is a natural insecticide but is edible.  You can treat headaches with it as well as inflammations of the nose and throat.  It cleanses the kidneys and can aid against gout.  Be warned, like chamomile and licorice root, fleabane tea made from the roots can induce miscarriages and was commonly used for menstrual issues and birth control by Native American tribes.  Now, we’re diving into history… P1010744 The picture came out a little blurry.  But now, we’re enjoying our tea and a game of Name That Continent. Happy Earth Day.

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Literary Journal Monday – Earth Day, Every Day Part Two

April 15, 2014 at 12:18 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Blackwood 1It’s April, it’s spring time, it’s RAINING! To bring May flowers, of course.  So, I jumped head first into an April 1968 edition of Blackwood’s Magazine, more specifically, Roy Neal Williams’ Mushroom Weather.

I’ve never heard of Roy Neal Williams before today, but I definitely can say I’ll remember him.  His memoir about his grandmother and their adventures foraging in the woods for mushrooms with his german shepherd mix, Shep, is right up my alley.  His prose is nice and playful, easy to get right in step with the spring time atmosphere he is describing from his childhood.

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The time spent in the woods and the property with his grandmother is looked back upon so fondly.  I hope that my daughter remembers her time with me in the woods as well.  And I like his grandmother,

“She stopped and looked at the flowers.  All was quiet.  There was only the sound of the water as it rushed along its way, cutting round stones and making miniature waterfalls from a flat rock or a fallen limb.  An occasional bird would chime in and, in the distance, we could hear Shep yelp now and then.”

He explains how they collected mushrooms, morel mushrooms, and then took them home and soaked them in preparation to eat the next day.  As he slept that night he would dream of the delicious dish that awaited him the following day.

The forager in me couldn’t help but come home and search the web for images of these tasty treats.  Below is a picture of morel mushrooms that serves as a link to the Morel Mushroom Hunting Club.  How exciting – and odd – is that?

morels

 

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