By Brenda Black
|Prairie Parsley - photo by Brenda Black ©2015|
I took a tour of the Briarwood Native Prairie last weekend and was mesmerized by the incredible intricacies and beautiful diversity of more than 200 species of plants. Prairie biologist Elizabeth Hamilton-Steele offered insight on a dozen of the most prominent samples of flora. She provided history on each variety and counseled prairie tourists on whether the plants were edible or poisonous. I appreciated the colorful scenery and fascinating science, but the take-away had to be the handy eat / don't eat advice. You never know -- it could mean the difference between life and death, should I ever take up residence on a rolling grassy patch of paradise.
On the tails of such details about leaves, seeds, roots and blooms, I had to wonder how such edible knowledge first was discovered. You can't trust the grazing habits of animals or insects entirely. What their stomachs can handle might mean our demise. For example, Steele explained that the milk weed plant's sap is toxic to us, but the sole diet of the delicate Monarch butterfly. Their cast iron digestive tract serves them well, for birds have learned if they chomp down on an orange and black winged bite, they'll suffer the consequences. They choose to pass up the bitter butterfly and pursue something a little sweeter and safer.
|Amethyst Shooting Star - Photo by Brenda Black ©2015|
Neither can you count on the assumption that if one part of the plant is safe, that all parts are beneficial. That's even true with common vegetables we consume. Several edible plants have poisonous parts or parts that can turn poisonous in the wrong conditions, including potatoes, rhubarb, spinach and peaches. And the ONLY thing you better eat off of a tomato plant, is the tomato! Wilderness-survival.net provides a 13-step plan to determine the edibility of wild plants – Yes, I said 13 steps! So my nagging question remains: Who was the guinea pig to take the first brave bite that would save generations to follow all of the risk?
One friend ventured that was the job of the women in a tribe. Go figure! So some innocent female is stoking the fires at base camp when her husband's hunting party returns with venison and some strange leafy side salad that he thinks just might round out supper. He has neither nibbled nor sniffed. That's her duty. If she lives, he dines lavishly. If she dies, he'll be all the wiser.
|Prairie Ragwort - Photo by Brenda Black ©2015|
Ironically, my prairie tour fell on Mother's Day weekend. Once again, I was reminded just how much our mothers, grandmothers and even those dozens of generations prior, have been watching over us and sacrificing for us. I do believe we have courageous and resilient ancestral female genetics to thank for more than we can fathom. Here's my Native Prairie salad bar salute to all those past and those now persevering! Happy Belated Mother's Day!