Last Sunday on the vernal equinox, myself and a friend attended ‘Planty Kim’s’ Tree Ramble just a few miles from my home here in Pittsboro, North Carolina. Planty Kim–in non-timberland areas known as Kim Calhoun–hosted the event. For five hours we explored lakeside trees and wooded areas learning about the wild food and medicinal plants here in our local environment.
I met Kim through Wake-Up Wednesday a few years ago and have wanted to take one of her classes ever since I heard about them. She hosts one-day events like the one I attended, plus multi-week classes and sessions at the community college. She is quick to identify plants, both by their common names and their genus and species too.
In a culture that is focused on knowing where our food comes from, eating local–and in some areas of the country more than others, survivalist lifestyles–identifying wild edibles is comforting, cool, and pretty damn useful.
Our adventure started off in a welcoming circle where we all shared spicebush tea Kim made the night before. Before we left our circle we each tried a redbud flower. Mild, nutty, and not floral like I expected. If you’ve ever eaten hibiscus it’s like the ‘fun size’ version of that.
Shortly thereafter we rambled to our first ‘tall friend’–fittingly for North Carolina, it was the loblolly pine. The pollen had not started yet (amazing how just a few short days later and now our deck is muted in a yellow hue) and Kim invited us to chew on the pine needles and eat the maturing cone pod (not the prickly kind, but the little pods that will eventually turn into the iconic pine cone). It did not taste like chicken, and it was not terribly pine-y. The needles were refreshing in a way. I don’t have seasonal allergies nor do I currently have a cold, but the short time chewing on the needles made my lungs and sinuses feel unexpectedly clear, and left a smooth pleasant lingering film, like an after-dinner mint. The cone was fairly tasteless; a step up from cardboard.
Our hike brought us past (and tasted some of the following) beech, hackberry, persimmon, spicebush, sassafras, elderberry, trout lily, elm, sweet gum, and a dozen others.
Throughout the hike Kim shared various ways each part of the tree can be used, and which parts should not be used. Aside from stir frying, adding to smoothies or pancake batter, and making tea – many local plants can be harvested to make tinctures or wound/rash applications. (I didn’t know what a tincture was until this class – you can learn more about tinctures here.)
The ramble ended where we started, plus Kim incorporated the first plant we tasted–redbud–into our last snack of the day. Kim made redbud marmalade using redbud flowers, orange rind, and local honey. We passed around crackers and scooped up the bright dip while Kim quizzed us on tree identification. The flowers were all for show in this treat. The dry bitterness of the rind took a backstage spot too, and the spare pieces of orange flesh hit a few subdued citrus notes. The honey helped hold everything together and acted more as a palette for the salty crunch of the cracker.
I left the class feeling anxious to explore our own backyard nature trail to see if I could identify our ‘friends’ by name. Black walnut, sweet gum, winged elm, redbud, and others are here. And, of course, dozens of redbuds.
This weekend I’m having some poets over for tea and I will serve some redbud marmalade, and later this year I’m going to gather walnuts. In between these two harvests I will query a few magazines on wild edibles angles. Here are a few you might consider if you’re a health and wellness or outdoors magazine journalist*:
Healing Lifestyles & Spas – 90% freelance written – features 1,000-2,000 words – Pays $150-$500
Whole Life Times – ‘Almost entirely freelance’ – features 800-1,100 words – Pays $100-$175
Health Freedom News – 50-60% freelance written – features 750-2,000 words – No rates posted
*Note – all market details are c/o Writers Market and may not be accurate. You should do your due diligence to verify.
Kim has several fantastic classes coming up in Pittsboro, NC: “Eat Wild Spring! Foraging for Smoothies, Salads, and Pesto,” “Edible and Medicinal Spring Plants,” “Splendid Summer Tree Exploration,” plus more rambles, yoga, and she is available to come to your yard and ramble. Learn more about her events through AbunDance Healing Arts.