Ozark Regional Library hosted Bo Brown, field biologist and author of Foraging the Ozarks, and Rachel West, chef and educator, at Millstream Gardens, June 9 for an edible outing called “Foraging and Wild Food Adventures.”
The event was so successful that both Brown and West had three full sets throughout the morning and afternoon. Brown was kind enough to sit down and talk about how the day went.
“Everything went well,” Brown said. “The walks were organized differently this year, with the goal of allowing more participants. Instead of two walks last year, we did three short-term walks, and Rachel Elizabeth has two programs for children on things to do with wild plants.”
The term “hike” doesn’t accurately describe what happens since groups stopped every few feet when they discovered a new species, Brown said. He said, he would have described it more as an edible “mousse” plant.
“On most walks, it takes an hour and a half to walk a hundred yards, because there’s a lot of food vegetation to cover,” Brown said. “There have been some changes since last year, mainly the growth and abundance of invasive species such as the winter creeper (Euonymus fortunii) and the winged burning bush (Euonymus elata). Rachel and I have found a wonderful wildflower that we don’t see often on our expedition, the Indian rose (Spigelia marilandica) It was in a weedy spot along the river, but we found a small copper head nearby and decided not to bring people in to look at it.”
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Brown said he was even more surprised about the species they didn’t find.
“It amazes me how species diversity changes from year to year in any given location, but there were several that we found last year that I didn’t see this year such as the original sweet Sisley, also known as anisirut, Osmurhiza longistilus,” Brown said. “These changes are likely the result of natural growth cycles and weather conditions, but some may be due to climate change and by crowding out turbulent non-native terrestrial colonists.”
The groups have found all the common plants like plantain, wood sorrel, peppergrass, smart weeds, other turbulent land colonies to expect to see, and a few edible natives, Brown said. He said that some plants like one of the Pope’s paws bore small fruits, but unfortunately the people maintaining the foundations sprayed herbicides on them and they weren’t safe to eat.
During the “mess” period, Brown not only covered edible plants, but also made sure everyone understood the risks.
“There are two of the most important poisonous plants to know about in the carrot family and they are among the most poisonous plants found in the country – poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) and water hemlock (Cicuta maculata),” Brown said. “Many sources advise avoiding anything in the carrot family, at least until all the physical characteristics of the family and related species are well known. Poisonous chimlocks can be separated from wild carrots (Queen Anne’s lace) by purple spots on the stems of the adult plants and the lack of hairs on the Stem.Wild carrot always has a carrot smell, poison hemlock has a foul smell.Water hemlock is a little harder because unlike poison hemlock, the smell is similar to edible carrot or parsnip, but it is stronger.Eating small amounts of either plant can be fatal, especially If the root is eaten.”
Brown said, hemlock is known historically from the execution of the philosopher Socrates. He said, the toxic hemlock alkaloids in poison hemlock affect the nerve impulse of the muscles, usually death as a result of respiratory failure.
Pictures and information about both edible and poisonous plants in the area can be found in Brown’s book, Foraging the Ozarks. Brown’s book is currently one of the most requested books in the branches of the Ozark Regional Library.
At the end of his book, Brown discusses the topic of industrial versus wild food, something he’s been talking about for nearly a decade.
“Humans evolved as hunters and gatherers, and consumed or used a hundred or more species of plants in any given year,” Brown said. “In order to have more control over their food supply, some tribes have switched to agriculture, and the number of plant species consumed has fallen dramatically because many species did not do well with farming outside their natural habitat.”
During the selection process, Brown said, the varieties grown for desirable traits such as larger, sweeter or milder strains, larger fruits or seeds, foods that were softer and easier to chew, or strains that were easier to process like wheat and others. Cereal grains.
“These selective pressures created crop foods that were easy to grow in abundance, but those foods were relatively lacking in the important health benefits of wild foods such as higher nutrient density and vitamin content,” Brown said. “These cultured foods also contain fewer bitter medicinal compounds such as anthocyanins, polyphenols, antioxidants and other phytonutrients. These compounds are known to help prevent cancer, provide better immune system health, and aid in body regulating functions.”
This dramatic departure from the diets of other tribes neighboring the hunter-gatherers, Brown said, was so prominent that skeletal remains provided evidence that degenerative disorders, disease, and tooth decay were becoming more prevalent, and individuals began to lose height.
“We have since corrected most of these nutritional deficiencies with the sheer abundance of food, but there is evidence that a varied and natural diet is healthier than a diet based on starchy calories and easy-to-obtain fatty meats like modern cattle,” he said. Brown. “Today, only three high-carb plants, wheat, rice and corn, provide the bulk of the calories consumed by the human race, yet each is deficient in certain vitamins or amino acids essential for life. That doesn’t mean you can’t eat a diet. A modern and still healthy diet, but foraging forage is a way to compensate for some of these shortcomings.”
In a recent foraging tour, Brown said, they discovered 31 species of wild plants in one salad, and those species were represented by 18 plant families. About two-thirds of these vegetarian families, he said, have no local counterpart that can be purchased at the grocery store.
“There is so much variety and flavor in wild foods that it has become common for discerning chefs to seek out these wild species to use in their creations,” Brown said.
Foraging the Ozarks is just one book in a series of foraging books that address individual cases or biomes. After Brown’s success, Falcon Guides, America’s largest outdoor entertainment guide publisher, asked him to write another title.
After doing some research, Brown said, he noticed that the prairie and grassland were the only area not completely covered. He says, he hopes to fill this position with the fodder of the middle pastures.
“Tallgrass prairie and mixed grasses are considered critically endangered due to habitat loss predominantly from agriculture, so they will be heavily weighted toward preserving the more sensitive prairie species while still covering the introduced and common plants found in human-altered habitats,” Brown said.
As Brown works on his next book and continues his research on edible plants and education, the community will have to make sure to review his book in the library, until his next visit.
Victoria Kemper is a reporter for Democracy News. She can be reached at email@example.com