Discovering native plants

Although it was called a walk, participants were almost hunched over, looking down and stopping more than they were stepping. Approximately 10 people joined Augusta State University emeritus biology professor Judy Gordon on a "Going Native" Discovery Walk at the Augusta Canal on Saturday.

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Biology professor Judy Gordon talks about some of the books on the subject of edible plants during the Discovery Walk near the Augusta Canal.    MICHAEL HOLAHAN/staff
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/staff
Biology professor Judy Gordon talks about some of the books on the subject of edible plants during the Discovery Walk near the Augusta Canal.

The purpose of the walk was to find local plants that were used by American Indians for food, fiber and other purposes.

"I'm learning a lot. Maybe I could be a survivor," Betty Barcikowski said with a laugh.

She came from Beaufort, S.C., with her husband to visit her daughter and son-in-law.

"I'm sure there are many plants like this in our area, but nobody ever tells us," Barcikowski added. "I like that Augusta has this to tell people what's in their area."

Augusta Canal's Julie Boone said many people have requested an edible-plant discovery walk, but this was the first time they've held one because of the dangers involved.

"You can easily poison yourself or make yourself sick if you're not careful," Gordon warned the group, adding that many plants and their fruits can be poisonous in certain stages of their life, but not all.

She recommended using Peterson Field Guides: Edible Wild Plants to help identify whether a plant is safe to eat. Gordon also recommended Web sites to learn more on the subject.

"If you really want to get into it," she said, "the Web is the best resource. Just go to Google and type in the common name of the plant."

Gordon said American Indians grew almost all of their foods -- tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash and pumpkins -- in gardens.

On the walk, she pointed out onions, pecans and elderberry that Indians used. She told of how they soaked acorns in rivers to leech out the tannins, then roasted them and ground them into flour.

Many nonnative edible plants, including clover, chickweed, oxalis, apples and pears, also were discovered around the canal.

"This is great," said Christina Davis. "I'm a Richmond County schoolteacher, and I think it's wonderful for educators to have knowledge of native local plants so they can incorporate that into their curriculum."

The casual atmosphere and small size of the group meant questions easily could be asked. Every few feet, someone would ask: "Is this native?" "What is this?" "Is this a male flower or female?" "Can you make tea from this?" "Could this be used in jelly?"

Gordon shared tidbits of information throughout the walk -- toadstools and mushrooms are the same thing, cicadas are edible if you pull off the heads, legs and wings, and sautee them in olive oil; and the top, new leaves of smilax, or greenbrier, can be cooked like asparagus. Although everyone in the group complained of the smilax growing in their yards, Gordon told the participants it would be difficult to find in the woods because "the deer love it."

"I never actually tried eating any of those pesky things I've got in my yard," Melissa Gayle said. "But I have a lot of smilax, so I'm going to try it."

The next Discovery Walk will be the Spider Lily canoe/kayak paddle on May 28 and 29.


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