Short Homestead Trip – A Walk In The Woods

I made a day trip to my property this week to drop off a trailer, and ended up walking most of the 80 acres.

If you are following my personal account on Facebook, then you may have seen a post about a wonderful little blue flower called spiderwort this week. This wonderful little grassy plant was just one of the joys I passed on my walk.

The mission for this trip was clear enough. Go out to the woods, drop the trailer, and hunt for two very specific herbs that might help with my back problems (yes, I can be a bit of a hippie from time to time). I planned on spending the night, but I didn’t really make the final decision until about four in the afternoon. I was in Illinois, and started the five hour journey toward the Arkansas/Missouri border early in the morning. When I arrived, the sun was high in the sky. I needed to drop the trailer in case I have to turn in the license plate when I finish the migration from Louisiana.

The final closing papers on the house sale are supposedly being signed next week, finally.

Anyway, one of the plants in question, mullein, is growing near my new driveway, so I didn’t bother scouting for it. I saw the little plants coming up the last time I was there. The other, Solomon’s Seal, is kind of new to me, but the root is said to contain a powerful medicine for bones and joints. I decided that the best place to start was in the old woods in the northwest corner. Ox-eyed daisies were my first discovery though, as they were blooming everywhere. It’s a decently sized flower on a single stalk that grows 1-2 feet tall. The yellow center resembles a flattened coneflower, bordered by delicate white petals. It’s not only beautiful, but delicious, and a handful of them ended up in my soup for the night.

Since the Ozarks was logged out around 150 years ago, the “age” of various areas can be determined by the trees and plants growing in each zone. The oldest are mostly oaks and hardwoods, representing 100 years of sequestration. It’s younger sibling on the other northern corner has lots of pine, and is slightly younger, maybe 60-100 years, and the grassy areas and cedar trees are younger still. The “cedar” zone, which I’m currently in the process of clearing, has sprouted up just in the last 20 years.

Okay, enough with the biology lesson, I set out looking for my little green miracle herb, and found myself studying every little blooming pod to learn more about the environment around the property. A good steward should know what’s on his land, and how best to manage the whole environment, not just pieces of it. To my surprise, I found sassafras invading the top of the hill. Normally, I only see it in the bottoms. Since it was growing literally everywhere in the older woods, I dug a couple roots up and stuck them in my pocket for later. Continuing my walk brought me to the curious looking three-petaled blue flower, spiderwort. I didn’t know a lot about it, but once I identified it, I found a handful of them blooming, and maybe 20-30 that hadn’t spawned flowers yet. I figured best to let them be for now. After learning more about them this week, I’ve decided to help the little plant propagate by spreading the seeds before the critters can get them, but I could go on about that flower for days at this point, and it’s ability to detect radiation. No Solomon’s seal, though.

My phone wouldn’t take a clear pic of the spiderwor flower, and I didn’t go back with the Sony, sorry.

I scanned some open patches where I found an abundant supply of blackberries in bloom, though there were at least 3 related species growing, so some are likely black raspberries as well. It’s going to be a yummy summer. Growing among them were some little yarrow plants (another that I don’t have much experience with) and a combination of young members of the carrot family. Most of them Queen-Ann’s Lace, but likely some hemlock mixed in. The ferny leaves of all three are pretty easy to pick out of a field, though if you aren’t sure about them, it’s best to leave them be. Hemlock is deadly poisonous if ingested by accident. The little white flower clusters are quite showy, however, and nice to look at.

Giving up on my search at the top of the hill, I descended into the bottoms. I didn’t seen to much of anything weird. It really struck me as odd that I hadn’t found any nettles yet (and wouldn’t all day), but I guess that’s another story. I did find a cool looking mushroom. Then it was off to the western side of the property.

There’s a tiny pond (tank? hog bath? I dunno who put it there, but definitely man-made) not far from the main road. This is where my frogs live. And I spotted it! Two stalks growing side by side with the unmistakable parallel veins on the leaves that mark Solomon’s Seal. Unfortunately, when I got closer, I noticed the inflorescence hanging from the tip. These were a related plant known as “False Solomon’s Seal,” but typically found in the same areas. I scoured the whole area around the pond, but turned up nothing. Well, I did find a little grove of may-apples (American Mandrake) growing in a tiny clearing, ready to bear fruit. I left them alone to do their thing, but it’s always exciting to spot them, because they look like little green umbrellas sticking up from the ground, and in May, the umbrella shades a little white poppy flower.

My next discovery was pretty awesome. There’s a bottom on both sides of the hill within my property boundaries, and somehow I never explored farther than the hollow itself. I walked across the big rocks that poked above the flowing water from our recent flood, and found the other side covered in sand. Beach sand, or at least that’s how it looked. It was a swampy little paradise in there, and I found some wild garlic sprouting up everywhere around it. I collected some of those too, but not too many, because there wasn’t a ton of it, just little patches. I found another “jungle” kind of area leading in from the neighbor’s creek. Pretty cool that I hadn’t explored that “biome” of my property yet.

Next was to the younger woods in the bottom-land. A big mix of trees, but mostly tall pines with trunks around a food in diameter. And somehow, more sassafras growing right beside them. I think the sassafras trees are planning a hostile take-over this summer.  That’s good for me though, because I love sassafras tea, and they need to be cut back a bit this year. I don’t think it’s good to have any single plant running amok, as it stifles diversity of other things trying to grow (like cedar trees drying up and corrupting good pasture grasses, for instance).

Anyway, as you may have guessed, no Solomon’s Seal. On the clearing near the younger woods I did find lots of yarrow and little fragrant herbs, so I know right where to go for nasty cuts. I went back up the hill (which climbs a good 100 feet from the bottom-land) and took stock of my Mulleins. This is another plant that I would like to see everywhere. It has about 50 common names, but I like calling it velvet-wort. The leaves get over a foot long, and each is thick and fluffy. Some people are mildly allergic, but for those who aren’t, it feels wonderful on the skin. It grows like a thistle, making a rosette of leaves on the ground the first year, and then sending up a stalk of flowers the next. I found two of them happily preparing for flowers, and noted the location, so I can help them spread seeds later on, and then collected several of the plants for a tincture and a good pipe smoke. I dried some by the fire that night, which got them to the perfect dampness for a pipe. I don’t really recommend smoking, but I’m a smoker and these leaves make a good substitute that doesn’t irritate my throat or my lungs. Most of the best values for the plant won’t be found on the wiki page, and I won’t get into it here, but I have two jars of tincture now soaking. I won’t be able to collect the flowers of it this year, because like I said, I only have two mature plants. But hopefully the others will stalk up next year, and more will be showing up around my cabin soon. If you want some seeds for your garden, and you’re in the St. Louis area, let me know. I save you some.

To give you an idea of the size of this plant:

So, I dropped the trailer off, and I found one of my target herbs, among a myriad of others. The host of surprise plants included big vines of honeysuckle (and a very territorial hummingbird guarding them), a variety of bee-balm, a white sage flower of some sort, another big-leaf plant that I still haven’t identified, poke-weed sprouts (though I don’t have the water reserves or experience to cook poke sallat this year), a couple of wild mints, docks, plantains, and that little blue wonder known as spiderwort. I didn’t get any cutting or clearing done, as I couldn’t stay long enough to make it worthwhile to bust out the chainsaw. I had a wild dinner outside, and my cabin was cool enough to sleep comfortably (I even had to fetch my sleeping bag in the middle of the night to keep warm). Made enemies with a couple of ticks, saw some rabbits and cool birds, and enjoyed having the light of the moon to brighten up the night. All in all, a good trip, and learned some useful things that will help me out later, like becoming more familiar with some growing wild edibles in the area. Hopefully my next trip will kick off more clearing and planting fence posts, and less worldly distractions so I can stay out long enough to accomplish something.

Some of the pictures came out blurry, but I included the better ones, and I’m not a photography hound most of the time. I’ll try to get more snapshots for you guys this summer.

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Author: spottedgeckgo

Writer. Making my living on my pen, and working to turn a raw chunk of land into a future homestead.

2 thoughts

  1. If you are gonna be out there again soon look for chanterelle mushrooms, would be around the old growth areas with the oak. May even find some Berkeley’s Polypore.

    1. Oh I didn’t post the mushroom pic, it was just a little woody one, but the only one of note that I found. I had my eyes pealed for morels in the damp parts, but didn’t see any mushrooms worth talking about. Just some dried of half circles on a couple of logs. They may have been those turkey-somethings, but way past their prime if they were any good.

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