Plants at the Intervale: a Guide to Harvesting Sustainably

 
 Wild Ramps - please don't pick me!

Wild Ramps - please don't pick me!

 The Rena Calkins Trail

The Rena Calkins Trail

 Garlic Mustard Plants

Garlic Mustard Plants

 Garlic Mustard Pesto

Garlic Mustard Pesto

 Japanese Knotweed

Japanese Knotweed

 

Plants at the Intervale: a Guide to Harvesting Sustainably

By: Sophia Skelly

In mid June at the Intervale, the sun filters beautifully through the foliage and the Calkins Trail is lined with lush, green undergrowth. All of Intervale’s trails are open to the public and there is no better time to explore the area. Birch and maple trees bob and sway along the Winooski river and a wide array of plants flourish in the trees’ shade.

The Intervale is home to a variety of nutritional and medicinal plants including Ramps, Fiddleheads, Burdock, and Dandelions. However, it is vital that visitors leave some of these plants undisturbed, as many are at risk because of over-foraging.

Fiddleheads, for example, are a delicious and beautiful addition to a summer salad but please do not pick them while on your nature walk. This curly, little plant is being overharvested all over the east coast and it is often unable to release enough spores to reproduce. Ramps are also a summer favorite for locavore foodies. They are commonly used to make pesto and are prized for their subtle notes of garlic. Like Fiddleheads, though, Ramps are aggressively foraged and do not have the reproductive capabilities to bounce back. In fact, a recent study found that a ramp patch takes 10 years to recover from just a 10% harvest. This is largely because people often harvest ramps with their bulbs, removing their ability to reproduce. In Quebec, it is even illegal to sell ramps. So, on your next visit to the Intervale, if you see these plants, look but do not take.

Luckily, there are other edible and medicinal flora in the Intervale that you can forage sustainably! In fact, there are many invasive plants that can be transformed in the kitchen. One such plant is Garlic Mustard. Known for its heart and triangular shaped leaves, this plant grows tall stems and small white flowers which bloom in the early summer. Garlic Mustard was brought to the U.S. in the nineteenth century and grows invasively throughout New England, dominating in shady, moist areas—like the woodland understory at the Intervale. Garlic Mustard is alleopathic, which means it releases chemicals that prevents the growth of other plants. The plant also has very durable seeds and because of this, people typically burn the plant when they pluck it from their backyards or gardens.

If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, however, you can tinker with the plant in the kitchen. One New York Times blog recommends making pesto with the leaves of Garlic Mustard, blending them with olive oil, nuts, and parmesan. Others toss the leaves in with their favorite salad or soup. No matter how you prepare it, you are doing the forest a great service by removing an invasive plant! Just make sure you pull as much of the plant as possible, including the root.

Japanese Knotweed also grows voraciously at the Intervale. If you peak under their canopy of flat, wide leaves, you’ll see bamboo-like stems, which can be harvested and eaten. They almost look like asparagus and can be prepared similarly, as they easily absorb flavors and are enjoyed roasted, or even raw! The best time to pick and eat knotweed is in the spring before the stems become woody and tough. Besides Japanese Knotweed and Garlic Mustard, there are a handful of other edible and medicinal plants. The more popular of these include dandelions and burdock whose roots can be utilized in a variety of ways; just make sure to do your research before picking because there are also nettles and poison ivy lurking in the brush.

Our little corner of Burlington is not only a hub for food production, it is a place where all people can enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. Next time you find yourself on the Calkins trail, swatting at mosquitoes and catching Cottonwood seeds in your eyelashes, look down at the plants growing around your feet. You might even be able to forage your dinner for the evening!

Abby Portman