All posts by Josh

Foraging Wild Teas: New Jersey Redroot

During the last week of June, I discovered a single clump of an unfamiliar shrub.  After identifying it using a few reliable plant guides, I was confident that I'd located New Jersey Redroot (Ceanothus americanus), also called New Jersey Tea.  As the latter name suggests, the leaves of this shrub can be used to make a caffeine-free tea substitute -- a use reportedly popular during the Revolutionary War.

New Jersey Redroot

New Jersey Redroot is a small shrub, which I probably would have overlooked had it not been flowering when I passed it.  It prefers dry, sandy sites. Continue reading Foraging Wild Teas: New Jersey Redroot

Foraging Fragrant Leaves: Small Bayberry

I often recognize plants by look alone, but sometimes my nose can help nail down an identity. Such is the case with Small Bayberry (Morella caroliniensis).

Photo of Small Bayberry immature fruit

Distinctive bluish waxy fruit -- which ripens in the fall, but can remain on the shrub into the following spring -- can often be found along the twigs of this shrub, below the most recent year's green growth.  In early summer, the tiny fruit is green and forming, but it is still a solid field mark.

Photo of Small Bayberry branch

The resinous leaves provide another clue.  Rubbing them gently with my fingers releases their pleasant aroma.  Last week, I dried some Small Bayberry leaves to use as a food seasoning, similar to the culinary bay leaf.

This shrub grows in many Plainville locations, often thriving in poor soil conditions. I often find it along roads, power-line cuts, and in old fields.  Small Bayberry also grows in many coastal locations, and is frequently used in landscaping.

Check out my related posts: Foraging Fragrant Leaves: Sweetfern and Foraging Fragrant Leaves: Sassafras.

Foraging Fragrant Leaves: Sassafras

Sassafras (Sassafras albidium) is an easily identified tree.  If you find a tree with three types of leaves -- entire or with two or three lobes -- and a pleasant fragrance when you scratch the stem, you've likely found Sassafras.

Photo of Sassafras leaves

Sassafras is found throughout much of the eastern US, but is less common north of Massachusetts.  It grows abundantly in Plainville, where I typically find families of young trees along sunny forest edges.

Dried, crushed, and added to soups, Sassafras leaves provide both a unique flavor and a thickening quality.  I've not used them in large enough quantities to notice the thickening action, but I do enjoy the flavor.  Commercially, dried Sassafras leaves are sold as filé powder and are a traditional thickener of many Louisiana gumbos.

Photo of Sassafras twig

Once you've found this tree, give a young twig a scratch.  Smell it once and you'll never forget it.

Sassafras flowers early in the green season.  I found these female flowers in late April.

Photo of Sassafras flowers

Whether you eat the leaves or not, do take an opportunity to acquaint yourself with this spicy tree.  And if you missed the first post in this series, check out Foraging Fragrant Leaves: Sweet-fern.