Foraging Wild Flowers: Black Elderberry

Photo of Black Elderberry flower cluster

Here in southern Maine, Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is blooming, which makes now a great time to notice this widespread shrub. Black Elderberry typically grows in moist soils, so look for the bright white flower clusters lighting roadside gullies and the edges of small streams. Many of these clusters will produce forage-able purple/black fruits by September, but the flower clusters themselves can also be gathered for food and medicine. In 2011, Becky Lerner, a west coast forager and author shared two uses of the flowers on her First Ways blog.

Look for the following field marks for Black Elderberry: large, flat-topped flower clusters with hundreds of tiny 5-petaled flowers, pinnately-compound leaves arranged oppositely along stems, toothed leaflets, and young stems and older bark with obvious freckles (technically lenticels). These features are shown in the following images. (To view them in full-size, click here.)

Bog Plants: Sheep American-laurel

Photo of Sheep American-laurel

A June-blooming bog counterpart and close relative of Bog American-laurel is a small shrub called Sheep American-laurel (Kalmia angustifolia). Less of a bog specialist, this shrub also grows in forests and on pond and lake shores. While Bog American-laurel produces flowers in terminal clusters, Sheep American-laurel produces flowers below a flush of new leaves. Later in the season, fruit capsules of Sheep American-laurel are therefore partly concealed under a canopy of leaves. As the final photo shows, these capsules can persist through a turn of the seasons. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Medicinal Weeds: Rayless Chamomile

Photo of Rayless Chamomile flowers

Rayless Chamomile (Matricaria discoidea) is a short plant of roadsides, unpaved driveways, and similarly disturbed habitats. The button-like flower heads are comprised of tiny yellow disc flowers, surrounded by the slightest suggestion of white ray flower petals (effectively rayless). In the top photo, notice how hundreds of flowers are open, while others have yet to bloom. This plant is also called Pineapple Weed, and indeed the leaves and flowers smell decidedly like the sweet, familiar Pineapple fruit.

The fresh or dried plant tops can be brewed as tea and used for various medicinal purposes. In his book Ancenstral Plants (2010), Arthur Haines says infusions of Rayless Chamomile can help with stress, anxiety, inflammation and various skin conditions. He also notes that, "Drinking the tea or making a stronger infusion and using it as a gargle is beneficial for oral hygiene." Read his full species account (p. 145-146) for more details.

Due to this plant's habit of growing close to roads*, I've not yet consumed Rayless Chamomile, though the fragrance of a crushed leaf or flower never fails to improve my mood. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

*If you know of a patch growing in a safer location (preferably near Kennebunkport, ME), do tell.

Bog Plants: Purple Pitcherplant

Photo of Purple Pitcherplant flower

In early June, I noticed emerging flower stalks of Purple Pitcherplant (Sarracenia purpurea) along the boardwalk at the local bog. When I returned a week later, several flowers were blooming. This plant has adapted to life in nutrient-poor bogs by obtaining many essential elements of life from invertebrates who are captured in the plant's water-containing pitchers. These modified-leaf traps are evergreen, so they can be observed year-round, though they're easiest to spot in late spring when flowers are present. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)