A town is saved, not more by the righteous men in it,
than by the woods and swamps that surround it.”
-Henry David Thoreau
Our particular corner of the world here in Northwest Louisiana is a wonderfully rich and diverse bioregion, complete with a variety of ecosystems to explore. It is an area replete with natural resources. We have our beloved lakes, rivers, bayous, forests and even relatively wooded urban and suburban parks and streets. Accordingly, area residents spend a great deal of time outside. Running, kayaking, fishing, and hunting are some of the common outdoor activities for folks in our region (it’s not called Sportsman’s Paradise for nothing). However there still is a disconnect between seeing the natural world around us, and ourselves as separate beings who sometimes choose to spend a little time in it.
It is my belief that we can cultivate a connection to our landscape and nature in general, by learning about the edible flora that grows abundantly here.
Many of us have a good understanding of the local foods movement—why eating food that is grown locally, supporting local farmers and producers and also keeping money circulating in our local economy is important. I think that we can do more of this, AND go even deeper.
We can all get even closer to our food by participating in the gathering of it. Most of us who grew up in the South remember eating dewberries off the bramble during the summer, or picking up a handful of pecans to crack and enjoy in the fall. We can all certainly do more of that, but how many of us have enjoyed gooey caramel sweet wild persimmons, or happened upon a thicket of tart and sweet Chickasaw plums? There are so many more local wild foods to consider—muscadines, huckleberries and sparkleberries, wild onion, hickory nuts, acorns, hackberries, dandelion greens, dock leaves, poke greens in the springtime and even tender young sassafras leaves.
If you have an urban or suburban yard, chances are almost 100% that you have something edible growing there. Physically go outside, look at the plants and trees around you, and choose one plant to identify positively. Research everything you can about that plant—the life cycle, if it’s native, invasive or weedy, how it was traditionally used by the people on the land where it is native to, if it’s edible or medicinal, how to prepare it. Then actually do it! If you choose dandelion, actually pick the greens and eat them. You may feel a little silly at first, but as humans we are meant to eat wild foods. It feels more natural the more we engage in this species appropriate behavior. If we compound the fresh air, Vitamin D and the light exercise of walking outside with the health promoting properties of many of the wild plants growing there, we have a doubly effective recipe for making an impact on how we feel and the way that we walk in the world. To be clear, there are as many ways to experience connection with nature as there are humans in existence, but focusing on the plants around us that can co-create more wellness and better health in our bodies and communities is a beautiful and utilitarian entry point.
It is my observation that when we have a vested interest in something, we tend to care more about it. By teaching our children to care about ecology, we have a chance to change the paradigm of consumption in our culture. Learning to use one plant from our landscape can create a ripple effect in our lives. We can reduce our food bills, have access to higher quality foods, spend more time outside and learn new skill sets that we can share with friends and family.
Pine Needle Sugar Scrub
Pine trees are incredibly abundant in our region, but that doesn’t make them any less useful! Pine needles can be made into a lemony tasting tea that is rich in Vitamin C and perfect for cold weather. Here, I am taking advantage of their stimulating and antimicrobial qualities to make perfect sugar scrub.
The first step is to infuse pine needles into oil. I like to use olive oil because it is easily available and economical to use. Simply fill a mason jar with finely chopped pine needles and cover with olive oil, making sure you have an inch or so of oil on top of the pine needles. Any plant material peeking out of the oil could cause mold to appear in your infused oil. Let the pine needles and oil sit for 4-6 weeks, shaking it daily and making sure the oil is still covering the needles. You also want to be vigilant about checking for mold growth.
Once your oil has infused, you want to strain it using a cheesecloth. Now, you can use your oil as a warming massage oil, as well as to make your sugar scrub. You will need:
1 cup organic sugar
1 cup pine needle infused oil
Stir the sugar together with the infused oil and store in a jar. To use, scoop out about a tablespoon of the sugar scrub before showering. The oil will make your skin incredibly soft, but can also make your bathtub a little slippery, so be mindful!
Pine Needle Syrup
Pine needle syrup takes advantage of the lemony and resinous qualities of pine to create a delicious syrup that can be used in sparkling water, cocktails or even added to teas during the cold and flu season. Pine needles are antimicrobial and expectorant, which is perfect for coughs and colds.
・2 cups pine needles
・1 quart water
・4 cups sugar
・To make pine needle syrup, cut your pine needles
up into finely chopped pieces.
・Bring water to a boil in a large heavy pot, and add the pine needles.
・I like to let them simmer slowly for a few minutes, then turn off the heat.
・Cover and let steep for an hour or two.
・Strain the liquid and bring it to a boil again.
・Add 4 cups sugar and over medium heat, stir until
the sugar is fully melted.
・Let cool, store in the fridge and use within a few weeks.
One of the easiest and most classic uses for pine syrup is in
a cocktail, and here is one of our favorites!
・1 part yaupon or black tea
・1/2 part apple cider or juice
・1/2 part pine syrup
・1 part sparkling water
・1 part bourbon
・Shake together in cocktail shaker and serve over ice.
・It works wonderfully as a non-alcoholic but still punchy
beverage, thanks to the caffeine in the yaupon or black tea.