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Yak Post 5/28 (by NA Students)

Journal entry 5/28

This morning, our cooking team made chocolate pancakes for breakfast where we met for the first time Dave Haffeman, a Dragons administrator working with us. Shortly after, we ventured to a local park in Washburn; we met with Axel Peterman, a local foraging expert and nature educator. Axel taught us about a variety of plants including ramps, valerian, and ostrich fern. During our walk, we foraged for ramps which we cooked for dinner! Later today, we read and discussed in seminar the “Honorable Harvest” which is an excerpt from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. We talked about how to harvest mindfully and respect our environment. We were able to relate Axel’s lesson about taking 1 in every 10 plants in able to conserve plants and better preserve our environment.

Native peoples of this region, near the currently tranquil Chequamegon Bay, relied on three major plants to survive, harvesting them in mid and late summer. Although we only saw one clump today, one of the three plants, the wild blueberry grows in large quantities in the region. Secondly, the “manoomin,” known as wild rice (even though it is actually a type of oat) was the major staple of the Ojibwa and other peoples. Growing in the shallow shoreline waters, it is harvested often from a canoe and tastes delicious, especially when put in the local specialty pastry dish. Then, just after the hunger moon in the midst of winter, when winds can whip the waves to sixty feet, the maple trees save the people of the Great Lakes with the sap that flows and can be converted into maple syrup by distillation via freezing and removing the layer of water that freezes first and subsequently boiling the remainder to increase concentration. Other food sources were also essential to the natives, with the Sucker-Fish runs of mid Spring (a couple weeks ago) journeying upstream to spawn and the continued bounty of the lakes and lands of the region. The indigenous peoples worked to sustain this diverse and lush environment by harvesting only what they needed, and, most importantly, working to give back to the environment — in many ways actually enhancing their surroundings.

Here are some of the plants we explored today:
Pin Cherry, June/Service Berry (Axel’s favorite – like a blueberry but larger, juicier, and seedier), Valerian and Chamomile (which are both used as sleeping tonics), Ostrich and Bracken Ferns (don’t eat them when unfurled due to their carcinogens), Dwarf Raspberry, Strawberry, Blueberries, Yellow Rocket (a member of the broccoli family), Trout Lily (which grows near the Ramps, and we harvested them for a spell in the low-lying freshwater bogs), Salsify, Fir and Spruce new growths, Jewelweed, Stinging Nettles, Plantains, and Chicory.

In general North American plants are rather docile, but four in particular can be fatal if consumed: water and shade hemlock, death-cap mushrooms, and the angel of death (a similar fungi, but not a fun guy). Generally, the consensus is to only eat what you really do know, you should be as certain that you know the plant is edible and what it is as you are that a banana is a banana. So be banana certain before you eat.