Saturday, April 16, 2011

Where the wild things are.

Back in the day, or at least when I was young, we spent hours out of doors. I remember walking over dirt fields looking for rocks; catching butterflies; collecting bees and lightening bugs.  I think it was then that my love for the outdoors was born.  There was never a dull moment with or without companionship.  My sisters and I made rafts from old logs and floated them across ponds, caught frogs and ran through fields.  Sadly, the same is not true for many children today.  In fact, there is a whole group of youngsters who are outdoor impoverished.  Instead of fresh air and personal creativity, these kids are stuck behind computers or surrounded with high tech toys.  Worst of all, they are missing the vitamin D of the sun, the wonders of nature and the joy of creating games for entertainment with other friends.  So here is my challange for the week.

How about you and the kids drawing a square in the yard, or the woods. 12x12.  In fact, give each kid his/her personal square.  Have each kid collect as much stuff from their square as possible and sort it out....bugs, plants, rocks...  See who saw the most and what they know about each of their specimens.  For those things they know nothing about use the computer.  I am a fan of Google but there are some other wonderful sites you might appreciate. This is a great one for identifying bugs.  Just start with the shape of the bug and work your way through the various options. Or, if you think you know what the insect is, do a search and see if you are right.  This site is great if you have a flower you want to identify.  At the very least it will give you a head start on the possible family in which your flower resides.  Finally, there are rocks to consider.  This site has great information on rock identification plus it has a rock key which helps your "student" to identify his/her rock. 

The success of taking a kid outdoors is measured by their involvement.  If they forget that you are there -- if you can't take them away from their spot --  if they start to invent games and want to include you or, if they just want to wade in a stream.... you've created a winning opportunity for future excitement and learning.  What a great combination.  Painfree learning and fun.  There really isn't a much better package.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Don't eat that wild carrot!

Today, the topic is Umbelliferae or Apiaceae.  You know this plant because it contains celery, caraway, carrot, queen anne's lace, parsnip...and 293 other plants.  More than once you've seen plants like this in the wild because they look just like carrot tops. Sadly, in addition to being wild carrot it can be unforgiveably poisonous when it grows in the form of poison hemlock. 

Poison hemlock looks much like Queen Anne's lace and can be difficult to distinguish it. To be safe, never eat any part of a plant in the celery family that hasn't been grown in a garden from a seed packet. There are other poisonous plants in the family besides this one.  There is no known antidote for poisoning in the family.

We all eat carrots or parsnips or caraway seeds in our rye bread but are there other alternatives?  Carrot tops are highly nutritive, rich in protein, minerals and vitamins. They are loaded with potassium, which can make them bitter, so the use of them in food is limited,  My suggestion is to put them into your salad as a condiment rather than eating a bowl full.  They are also rich in Vitamin K which should be consumed in limited quantities if you are on a blood thinner.

In old England, garlands of carrot leaves were worn in ladies hats during the winter months in place of bird feathers and, to brighten up the hearth, the top of a carrot was cut off and placed in a plate of water; the result was a lovely bouquet of leaves.  A tea made from the leaves serves a dual purpose, a diuretic and an anti-flatulance.  Nature is soooo wonderful.  Just make sure you got your leaves from the grocery store!

The other thing we are seeing these days are wild onions; aka garlic chives, wild garlic.  Not be confused with Crow Poison which grows at the same time... Wild onions smell like onions while Crow Poison doesn't have that distinctive oniony aroma.

These you treat just like garden chives.  Cut them from the plant, wash them, chop them and either put them on your baked potato; into a dip; as an accoutrament to your soup or salad OR, you can freeze them or dry them and save them for a rainy day.  The bulb you can steam or saute and serve as a side dish if you are so inclined.