|Dr. Larry Martin next to a black cherry tree. Note the distinctive|
dark bark, resembling "burnt potato chips"
The focus was Native American survival skills, which always hold a particular interest to me since such an approach tends to be slanted more to what works for the region I am in, which in the event of an actual survival situation would be the most valuable information to have. Some stuff I already knew, like you can make turtle soup right in a turtle shell or that pine or any other evergreen needles can be used to make a tea that is high in vitamin C, something that isn't always easy to come by in the middle of a Michigan winter without that knowledge. I learned many other things as well, such as you can use ash or red cedar to make bows (we'll learn more about that in next week's class), hawthorn thorns can be used for fishhooks, basswood tree bark makes good rope (also something we'll learn more about next week), prickly ash is "nature's Novacaine", almost all plants with square stems are in the mint family and therefore edible (and good for upset tummies), those little black fruits I've seen on the ground a lot are black cherries and can be eaten after the first frost (the frost removes a lot of the bitter taste), wild grapes are all edible although some are also too bitter until after the first frost, and moss contains iodine.
My favorite part of the class was when he told us to start looking for a "watermelon like fruit" among some trees that I didn't think I'd ever seen before. Sadly, we didn't find the fruit (Dr. Martin said a young naturalist that hadn't learned not to take more than a couple must have been through. Or the squirrels got them all.), but he identified the tree for us as a paw paw. I was ecstatic! I first heard about paw paws, sometimes also called Michigan banana, a couple years ago and have been wondering where to find them ever since. They are supposed to grow in Michigan, but I'd never seen one before so I didn't know where to start looking. They sound delicious though and you can't buy them in the store because they transport so poorly that they turn to mush before they would get there. Supposedly, some farmers at farmers markets may have them, but I've never seen them their either. Now, I can at least identify the plant and can possibly find some in the wild in the future. Of course, being impatient as I am, I might also give into the temptation I've faced since I first heard about them and buy some trees of my own (I've had a pair of trees sitting in my Amazon shopping cart ever since I first heard about them, or try to start some from seed, of course that still means waiting 3 or 4 years until it bears fruit. But at least then I'd know where to find the elusive pawpaw on a regular basis!
|In addition to producing delicious (so I'm told) fruit, the large leaves of the pawpaw apparently lend themselves well to being used as wilderness toilet paper.|