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Archive for the ‘Wild Edibles’ Category

young snowshoe hare in late spring

What do snowshoe hares eat?  Bugs Bunny might subsist on carrots, but hares in the wild seldom have access to them.  After a hare has been weaned, a smorgasbord of healthy fare can be found around Flandrum Hill.  Greens may not be a favorite of young children, but they are certainly enjoyed by young hares.

young snowshoe hare

Below, a young hare sniffs a closed dandelion flower.

young hare smelling dandelion

Plantains and dandelion blooms and stems may taste bitter to us, but not to hares who eat them along with the leaves.

young hare eating dandelion

Below, an older hare decides to give sunflower seeds left out for the chickadees a try in early spring.

snowshoe hair eating sunflower seeds

Year-round, hares have access to the tips of low-hanging evergreen boughs such as spruce and balsam fir.  These are especially tender and delectable in late spring.  In winter, deep snow makes boughs higher up on the trees easier for the hares to reach.

https://flandrumhill.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/snowshoe-hare-eating-spruce-needles.jpg?w=500

Perhaps we should take note of the hares’ food choices and all consider eating more greens. It’s highly likely that the snowshoe hares’ diet is at least partially responsible for their vitality, which seems to be leaps and bounds ahead of ours.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2015

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porcupine eating maple

Over the past year, chewed tree branches too high for deer to reach indicated a porcupine was likely dining regularly in the backyard.  This week I finally spotted the suspect in action, munching on maple.  Since porcupines are usually active at night, I was surprised to see him late on a bright, sunny morning.

porcupine in sunlightHis black claws and the long hairs of his fur shone in the sunlight.  As soon as he heard me, he froze.  His underbelly appeared soft and vulnerable.  Porcupines are protected by law in some North American locations as they are easy, nutritious prey for humans lost in the woods who may be armed with nothing more than a stick.

When I decided to move closer, his brunch interrupted, he slowly came down from his perch on the tree stump next to the branches, and made his way into the bush.  His quill-covered back was huge but seemed so well camouflaged in its woodland setting.  You wouldn’t want to step on that by mistake.  Another reason to walk, not run, in the woods.

porcupine heading into bush

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2014

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ravaged partridge berry bush

Who’s been nibbling all the leaves off the partridge berry bush?  Have the snowshoe hares been at it again?  I’m sure its evergreen leaves are tempting, especially in early spring, after yet another snowfall has covered the ground.

browsed euonymus

And who ate all those leaves off the euonymus branches right next to the house?  Despite a long, harsh winter, this plant was still lush green and thriving until… this morning.

ravaged euonymus branch

As if the tracks weren’t enough of a tell-tale sign…

deer tracks on snow

Further evidence was waiting to be discovered along the trail in the backyard…

deer droppings on snow

Oh deer!  (Maybe they’ll be back!!)

White-tailed deer photographed in Eastern Passage by Linda Hulme

White-tailed deer photographed in Eastern Passage by Linda Hulme

Update April 15th, 2014

Early this morning around 1:30 am, I was able to see half a dozen white-tailed deer moving slowly around the open area in the front yard.  They looked so calm.  Two were much smaller than the rest.  Three approached the house and began ‘pruning’ what’s left of the evergreen leaves on the  euonymus.  They were just a foot away from my vantage point on the other side of the living-room window. 

Guessing they’d soon be moving to the backyard, I slowly opened the back door.  The last one to leave flashed his white tail as he entered the path into the deeper woods.  Suddenly he stopped and turned back.  As I stood there at the half-open back door, I watched him walk around the deck for a few minutes and then just quietly go into the deeper woods by an alternate path.  It seemed like a dream.  I’ve waited all these years to finally see one deer in my yard, and then I see half a dozen all at once!

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2014

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snowshoe hare eating spruce needles

‘Eat your greens’ we’re told from a young age.  Young snowshoe hares need not be reminded.  Nothing green seems to get overlooked by their taste buds.

hare nibbling on spruce branches

Once new growth emerges on the lower branches of fir and spruce trees in the yard, the tender needles replace dandelions on the hares’ seasonal menu.  Hungry bunnies reach the higher branches by standing on their hind legs, carefully balancing themselves in order to grab a bite.  Who knew snowshoe hares could eat standing up?!

Snowshoe hares are amazing runners whose reproduction rates are legend.  Could the greens in their diet be a key to their boundless energy?

Even keen salad eaters wince at the idea of eating evergreen needles but we don’t need to eat an entire bough to benefit from such nutritious fare.

balsam fir new growth

A simple tea made by steeping a sprig of new growth needles in hot water will provide a good dose of vitamin C.  Balsam fir needles are used for colds, coughs and asthma according to my Peterson Field Guide of Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs.  As wild as it sounds, it’s probably tamer on the body than most drug store decongestants.

fresh green growth

The Green shopping aisle

Spruce and fir needles can also be dried and crumbled for use as a wild accent in a variety of kitchen fare.  Think of adding a bit to rice, venison or even Christmas cookies.   At least the shopping aisle won’t be crowded and the Grocer’s selection will be a feast for the eyes as well.  Recent rains have encouraged so much evergreen growth that Nature’s bounty will be great enough for both humans and hares to have plenty to share and enjoy.

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2013

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What’s in a name?  That which we call a lingonberry
 By any other name would be as healthy.
~ William Shakesberry

Cowberries grow in Cow Bay.  Of course they do, you say.  Where else would cowberries grow?  Well, in a lot of places actually.  They’re found in most countries located in the circumpolar expanse that encompasses the arctic tundra and the sub-arctic regions of the boreal forest (known as the taiga in Russia).  Vaccinium vitis-idaea goes by a number of names:  partridgeberry, foxberry, redberry, lingonberry, quail berry, csejka berry, mountain bilberry, mountain cranberry, lowbush cranberry and… cowberry.

Regardless of what it is called, this tart red berry is brimming full of anti-oxidants.  Native peoples and Scandinavians have known this for some time, but North Americans are just catching up on the news, making the lingonberry the new superstar natural food recommended for lowering bad cholesterol and fighting cancer.

Dr. Oz puts lingonberries in a smoothie with almond milk while Scandinavians (even IKEA) and Newfoundlanders make them into a jam/preserve which can be spread on toast or served with venison, ideally reindeer meat.  However, I enjoy the berries fresh off the vine, their flavor being a blend of blueberry and cranberry.  Frost enhances their flavor but makes them more mushy.  I also find them tasty crushed fresh and sprinkled with sugar as a topping for vanilla ice-cream.

This evergreen vine often grows in boggy places.  The ones I found were on or near deadfall trees in locations many would consider scrub wastelands.  As old growth forests on the edge of wetlands are destroyed to make way for new  ‘developments,’ I’m sure these wonderful berries will become less common here in Cow Bay Nova Scotia, and consequently even more prized for their healthful properties.

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Why did the snake cross the road?  Didn’t it feel the vibrations from oncoming traffic? 

Hey, do I look worried?

This maritime garter snake managed to survive being run over by a truck, luckily slipping between the tires.  Why was it willing to risk life and limb to get to the other side?  Was it looking for something tasty to eat? Snake berries perhaps?

For years I’ve heard both adults and children talk of ‘snake berries.’  Could these be berries that were frequently eaten by snakes? 

As children, my sons and their friends used the term to describe the fruit of the bunchberry plant, shown above.  It seemed that only the daring among them had ever tried tasting these snake berries.  My friend Sandy thought snake berries were blue. Others who knew of snake berries weren’t able to describe the plant in any detail. 

After a bit of digging, I discovered that the term is used to describe any berry of questionable edibility.  So, if you are in the woods, and see a berry that you’re not sure you can eat, you might choose to call it a snake berry.  All snake berries are therefore considered poisonous.  By the way, bunchberries are edible.  They’re bland with a large pit, but edible nonetheless.

Since the berries shown above are unknown to me and I’m not sure if they’re safe to eat, I’ll call them snake berries until I can learn more about them.  And since all snakes are carnivores, there’s no way that they would eat this or any other berry.

So, as to why the snake crossed the road… in Cow Bay, there can only be one answer:  it was the pheasants’ day off!

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