A couple of generations ago useful plant and mushroom knowledge was something that nearly everyone had. These days it’s rare. I read recently that people now can identify more company logos than they can plant and/or animal species. More specifically, the assertion was that children could identify thousands of company logos but fewer than a handful of local plants and animals (although I can’t access the original study from which these findings are cited). I find that incredibly sad, even though I only recently began to see what I was missing. We are so disconnected from the earth that we live on, and the nature that we are a part of, that we don’t have any idea what’s really going on around us. I’ll try not to get too philosophical here but if you’re interested in that I can recommend some good books (I’m putting together a list I will link here)!

Nathan (Sarah’s brother), Sarah, Becky (the foraging teacher), and Bailey on our foray.

Having been fortunate enough to grow up before the age of social media and tiny portable computers, Michael and I both spent a lot of time outside as children, playing with bugs, building forts, and getting dirty. My family had a garden, Michael’s had some farm animals; we both knew where our food came from, for the most part. Even so, neither of us were raised with the knowledge of the names and uses of wild plants (and mushrooms) around us, nor the framework for how to identify these things. Being new to Southern Appalachia made the limited knowledge we did have less applicable. Feeling it was important to remedy this lack of knowledge and connection we’ve been slowly learning about the world around us. We found an expert in foraging and Southern Appalachia and hired her to come to the property and show us the bounty in our woods and meadow. I will share some of the specifics of what she taught us soon.

An important part of permaculture and being a good steward of land is observation. Through this observation comes understanding. So, as we take our hikes around the property we observe all we can about it. Where is the water flowing and how does that change over time; what’s growing, blooming, or fruiting where and when; what kinds of soils are where; what different micro-climates do we have? The more we observe and learn the more we hunger for knowledge and understanding.

Overlooking a section of the creek that has drastically changed numerous times in our <year of visiting it. A storm knocked the tree down and that changed the flow. Then another storm pushed the tree and scraped away some of the creek-bed changing the flow again.Some of the groups I am in on Facebook.

We are finding that knowledge anywhere we can. There are some great books out there, but sometimes they can be a difficult starting point. Surprisingly, a great place to start is Facebook. I joined a bunch of plant and mushroom identification groups on FB and started watching what people were posting and what answers they were getting. You do have to be VERY careful because there are a LOT of people who confidently comment incorrect identifications (it’s really quite frightening!)– always verify the identification via at least 3 sources (preferably at least one knowledgeable human you trust), especially if you’re planning to eat it! Even so, FB groups are still a great way to see a wide variety of species in a wide variety of settings and developmental phases. Incorrect identifications can be a learning experience too, you can look for similarities between the confused plants, and differences. Thinking through this allows you to learn from someone else’s mistake. Over time, I started to recognize the plants and mushrooms as they came across my feed and started to treat the ID groups as flashcards and quiz myself. If I don’t know, or want to confirm my guess, I can open the comments and see what other people think it is. I can google the binomials for more information, pictures, and identification tips.

Be careful with common names! Common names vary from location to location and person to person. I have seen at least 4 completely different species called “pigweed”, for example. Always identify a plant by its Latin binomial to ensure accuracy of the identification.

Some Cantharellus cinnabarinus, or Chanterelles, we found on the property after seeing the coveted mushroom online and in books.

It’s really exciting to meet a plant or mushroom in person the first time after seeing it online and in books for years. It’s probably my version of meeting a celebrity! The coolest part is when I meet these plants and mushrooms on our property I can get to know them in ways that most of us will never get to know any celebrity. I can establish an intimate relationship with each plant and mushroom. I get to know what they look, smell, (and if it’s safe*) taste, feel, even sound like.

Daucus carota displaying it’s double-umbel flower with a single purple flower at the center and “birds nest”. D. carota has a deadly look-alike in Conium maculatum, also called Poison Helmock.

I heard an analogy once that went something like this: There’s no such thing as a look-alike; it’s all about how well you know them; this applies to people and plants. People who don’t know me well may mistake me for other people with long red(ish) hair. People who do know me well wouldn’t make the same mistake. If you only ever saw one photo of a person (or plant, or mushroom) online and then were asked to pick them out of a lineup (or field, or woods) of similar looking individuals you would probably have a hard time. But if you saw 100 photos of them, it’d be easier. If you met them in person, in their typical habitat, even easier. Once you looked at them closely in person, making note of all their features, held them, smelled them, tasted* them… then you would probably recognize them anywhere. It’s crazy what happens when your eyes are opened to the more-than-human world. Everywhere you go you will start to see your new plant and mushroom friends. Going to work, school, and the store you’ll start to recognize them in parking lots and roadsides.


One of the Amanitas we found on the property. We’re not sure of the exact species but the warty cap, remaining partial veil, and bulbous base are the clues that lead to Amanita.

*It should be noted that (again, kinda like people) some plants are NOT safe to put in your mouth. Some plants are not safe to even touch (I’m lookin’ at you, poison ivy). You should not move on to that that level of getting to know a plant until you know who it is and that it’s safe. No one wants to break out in blisters (or die), ya know? Unidentified mushrooms on the other hand, are safe to touch (allergies aside), even the deadly ones. We have about 3 different species of deadly Amanita mushrooms (some are also called Death Angel or Destroying Angel) growing all over the woods. I have touched them multiple times, broken some apart with my hands looking at all it’s pieces. I am told mushrooms are all safe to put in your mouth and chew, as long as you don’t swallow (I, personally, am not that brave and can’t recommend it– DO NOT put Aminita’s in your mouth). The chew and spit test is a part of telling certain species apart. I won’t lie, I licked a mushroom to confirm it’s edibility, once. But at the time I had a professional forager standing next to me telling me how to confirm the species of Lactarius, and that required licking the milky excretions of the cap. 

Impatiens capensis, also called Jewelweed.Suspected Tylopilus rubrobrunneus, also called Reddish-Brown Bitter Bolete.

I challenge you to learn something new about the wild life around you this week. Go out into your yard. Find a plant you don’t know what it is and try to identify it. Join a couple ID groups. While not specifically an ID group, the Mountain Bound Community group is a place where we can discuss plants and mushrooms, too. To get a good ID it’s important to take clear photos. Take photos in the specimen’s natural surroundings whenever possible and always note where you found the mushroom setting wise as well as map/geographical location. For plants, get a clear close-up photo of each part, leaves (top and bottom), bark, branches, flowers, and fruit.– these are all the parts that are important to look at when identifying a plant. For mushrooms, take a photo of the top of the cap, under the cap (to see the pores, gills, or other structure), the stipe (stem), and the base of the mushroom. You may also need to get a spore-print, cut the mushroom in half, poke it to see if it bruises, and/or lick* it. Take the time to learn the names of different parts of plants and mushrooms too. This is part of the foundational knowledge you will need to begin your relationships with plants and mushrooms.

Infograph I downloaded. I did not make this.

As promised, we are going to talk about some of the plants we learned about from Becky Beyer, of bloodandspicebush.com . I first met Becky at an edible plant walk she led at my work that I got to do as “professional development” (how neat is that!). After that one hour walk I knew we had to have her come to the homestead to help us learn to identify useful plants growing here. Becky is an ethnobotanist, that means she studies the historical uses of plants, specifically for Southern Appalachia; she is a wealth of knowledge. You can read a bit she wrote about ethnobotany here https://appalachianethnobotany.weebly.com/ and while you’re there, take the time to poke around the site (I’m guessing it’s for her masters thesis). There’s a TON of great info in there! My book list got way longer after going through her resources. I am so grateful to Becky for putting the website together and sharing it with the world! Even more so for providing the badly needed service of educating people (us) about the plants around them (us). 


My original intention was to write a post that went over all the plants that we discussed with her, how to identify them, what their uses are, recipes, etc. It’s just not possible to cover that much information in a single blog post, especially in a level of detail that will be helpful to you. For perspective, the packet of information she sent me about some of the plants we found is 25 pages long.


In this post I will list the plants that Becky helped us identify so that you can begin researching on your own if you wish. I will include a little bit of very basic information about the plants uses so you know what you might be interested in researching further. As I increase my knowledge about these and the other plants on the homestead I will do more in-depth posts about each individual plant. That way I can really take the time to go into detail about each of them and do the plants justice. Since we are just beginning to learn about plants and their uses, a lot of the information I present here was found through research online. Over time, we will begin to understand this knowledge first-hand and will continue to share our findings. 


Unfortunately, before I go any further, it’s necessary for me to say: I am not an expert. This information is for educational purposes only. I am not responsible for what you do with the information or the plants themselves. While I do my best to verify everything I share from more than one source, the internet is a mysterious place filled with misinformation. It is good practice to do your own research before acting on any personally unverified information, from things you share on Facebook to strange plants you plan to ingest, especially when it could affect your health or life. Always be 100% sure you have the correct identification before eating anything you find in the wild. Also, be aware that while a plant may be edible or useful for most people, there’s always the chance that you have an allergy, or drug interaction, that will make the plant unsafe for YOU personally.


Without further delay, mostly in the order we encountered them on our walk, some of the *useful* plants we learned about from Becky, all of which grow wild on our homestead. *Notice I said useful, not necessarily edible.

Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis)- The pretty purple flowers of this vine are edible. We have quite a lot of it growing behind the house. It’s somewhat invasive and smothering some of the trees. But, the plant is prized by some bonsai enthusiasts so we may be able to dig up some stumps and bonsai them in order to curb its takeover.

Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva)- Daylily has edible flowers, shoots, buds, and tubers. Make sure you have the right species though, some lilies are poisonous! 

Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)- This very common plant, often seen as a “weed”, has edible flowers, buds, and leaves. It has also been used medicinally.



Carolina Sweet Shrub/ Sweet Bubbies (Calycanthus floridus)- This is one that we hadn’t ever heard of before. It’s leaves and twigs are used in tea and mead.


St. John’s Wort (Hypernicum sp.)- Having heard of St. John’s Wort and it’s medicinal uses, we were thrilled to learn that we have quite a lot of it growing on the homestead. You may have heard it’s useful to combat depression and anxiety. But it’s also said to be useful to reduce inflammation and help heal wounds or ease the pain of sore joints and muscles. I have already started making a tincture and infused oil from this plant. I will share more on that process with you soon.


Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)- This is another one we have quite a lot of. People use the twigs, leaves, and buds in teas. Its bark can be dried and powdered and is said to be an acceptable cinnamon substitute. Its ripe berries can be used to make what is often called “Appalachian Allspice”



Smilax (Smilax sp.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smilax 

Smilax is a semi-invasive vine, also called Cat Briar or Blaspheme Vine. It’s soft tips are a delicious edible that Becky described as “lemony-asparagus” and she was so right! I learned about this one from my first walk with Becky at my work. I was super excited to find it growing around the property when I got home. It’s a fun little trail snack, but can also be lightly steamed or sauteed. We tried it sauted and it was good, despite being late in the season and them being a bit woody. They are best earlier in spring before the plant gets too big and tough.

There is a lot of variation in leaf shape throughout the genus but all members have both thorns and tendrils, which is one way to differentiate it from other vines. The thorns up on the edible part the are still rubbery, not sharp, and not a problem for humans to munch on raw (in small quantities). To harvest just snap off the top few inches (up to a foot) of soft growth. If you run your hand up the vine starting where the spines get rubbery harvest the part that snaps off easily. Here’s a great post about identifying smilax http://foragedfoodie.blogspot.com/2016/05/identifying-eating-smilax.html 


Violet (Viola sp.)- The Violet is a great plant to know. It’s quite common and is available most of the year. It’s leaves and flowers are edible. But be careful, it’s leaves are sometimes confused with a poisonous plant that grows in similar areas. Here’s a particularly great article about Violets: https://chestnutherbs.com/violets-edible-and-medicinal-uses/


Asiatic Dayflower (Commelina communis)- This flower we found growing in the bottom of the woods. It’s flowers, stems, leaves, and immature seeds are edible.


Wild Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens)- This plant is said to be medicinal.


Pennsylvania smartweed (Polygonum persicaria and other sp.)- Is one also said to be medicinal


Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)- Red clover flowers are edible. They can be added to salads or dipped in pancake batter and fried. The most common use seems to be for tea. They are also said to be medicinal though modern research has not confirmed any of the claims yet. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-308/red-clover


Hosta (Hosta sp.)- Hosta’s are a relatively common decorative plant. But, it does more than provide curb appeal. It’s young shoots, flowers, and buds are edible


Mullein (Verbascum thapsus and sp.)- Mullein has been used medicinally for generations, primarily for respiratory conditions. It was often used to treat tuberculosis. It’s leaves can be smoked, chewed, or made into tea. It’s roots are said to be effective as a treatment for urinary tract infections. I’ve heard of the flowers being infused into oils. The flower stalk can also be dipped in beeswax to make candles. It’s fuzzy leaves have also been called cowboy toilet paper, just make sure to wipe with the grain of the fuzz, not against it. I also hear the leaves make a great bandaid for cuts and scrapes.


Maiden Hair Fern (Adiantum pedatum)- This beautiful fern, often grown as a coveted house plant for it’s delicate and interesting look. But, it has also been used medicinally for a number of conditions.


Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)- Goldenrod’s cheery yellow flowers are seen all over the area in the late summer (right now). All it’s above ground parts are edible. It has also been used medicinally, most commonly as a tea to fight allergies.


Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)- Jewelweed is a plant that I’ve heard can “cure poison ivy” and is “always found growing near poison ivy- the scourge and the cure together”. I get a twitch every time I see someone say this. This is a prime example of why you don’t just swallow any random “medicinal plant” recommendations on the internet. While it has been shown to be effective in neutralizing the oil from poison ivy that gives you a rash, it is slightly less effective than soap… It is only effective when fresh, so all the salves and soaps you see claiming the poison-ivy-curing-powers of jewelweed are lies. Once you have actually broken out in a poison ivy rash, Jewelweed cannot help you. (although, other herbs like Plantain can). That said, if you’re out in the woods and come in contact with poison ivy, but don’t have access to soap, crushing the leaves and stems and rubbing the juice on the affected area is more effective at neutralizing the oils than doing nothing! https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22766473 


Plantain (plantago major and lanceolata)- This is an herb that nearly everyone in North America who doesn’t spray their yard with weed killer has in their yard. In fact, it grows in most of the world. You’ve probably stepped on it thousands of times. The even more exciting part is that many of the claims about its uses seem to be backed up by actual scientific studies. One such study found it to be more effective than cortizone on various skin conditions like rashes and bug bites, not to mention the fact that it’s been used with much success for thousands of years. This makes it one of the most important herbs to know and a great one to start with if you’re just starting to explore your interest in medicinal herbs, or wild edibles. It is also edible and a great substitute for spinach. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3834722/

Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)- Black Locust flowers are edible. The wood is a good hard wood that is often used for fence posts due to its rot resistance. Be careful though, it’s covered in sharp spikes that can do some real damage and are known to lead to Staph infections.


Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)- Black walnut produces edible nuts. Its hulls have been used as a stain/dye. The hulls are also used as a vermifuge (de-wormer). Its wood is prized for furniture and other wood crafts. As a matter of fact, we had a big one fall in a storm and my dad took home some huge logs he will be making some beautiful wood-crafts with. The catch is that it produces a growth inhibitor called juglone which it uses to cut down on competition by hindering the growth of most nearby plants. It has even been used to create a “natural” herbicide. So, the one growing next to the garden might need to go…


Horsechestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)- Unfortunately, the one huge chestnut tree we have is not an edible one. But it’s wood is a good hardwood used for smoking food, fire wood, and wood crafts.


Hemlock Pine (Tsuga sp.)- A lot of people immediately think of poison hemlock when they hear the name Hemlock Pine, but poison hemlock is a totally different herbaceous plant, not a tree. The hemlock pine is edible! The soft tips of the branches can be eaten. Its needles are also a good tea. They are rich in Vitamin C and said to be helpful for kidney ailments, colds, and a number of other conditions. The bark is said to be medicinal as well.


Pine, White and Virginia(Pinus strobus and virginiana)- We have some White Pine and Virginia Pine too. Like the Hemlock Pine (but note not the same Genus) it is high in vitamin C and has been used medicinally. It’s needles are often made into a tea. It’s pollen, bark, and sap are all useful as well. I have a longer, more detailed (half-written) post I am working on about pines I will share soon.


Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)- You may have heard of sourwood honey before. Well, it’s made from the flowers of the sourwood tree. The leaves and bark of the tree have been used medicinally. Becky told us the leaves are good chopped in salads or to wrap around fish for steaming.







Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)- Sassafrass is the tree that the original “root beer” was made from. It exhibits a relatively rare phenomenon called heterophylly. That means the plant has multiple leaf shapes on the same plant. You can use this as an identification tool. This plant has also been used to make medicines, but some modern research shows it contains a chemical called safrole that can be dangerous.


Wild Cherry: (Prunus serotina)- Wild cherry produces edible cherries but is also medicinal. It’s used to make a number of remedies including cough syrup.


Ironwood/ American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)- While I’ve read that this tree has edible seeds, Becky told us this one is great wood for tool handles and things like that. https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Carpinus+caroliniana 


This list contains just over 25 plants; we encountered all of these useful plants (and more) in one, two hour, walk around our property. I am currently working on a massive, super exciting (if you’re a spreadsheet nerd, like me) spreadsheet of all the plant (and mushroom) species we find on the property. So far, that list has 60 useful (mostly edible and/or medicinal) plants on it, and we haven’t even been here a year yet! Once you begin to open your eyes, mind, and heart to all of the life around you it’s amazing what you’ll find. To be able to just walk out into the yard and harvest food and medicine is an incredible feeling. I hope I was able to pique your interest enough that you’ll continue exploring on your own. I look forward to continuing to share what we’re learning with you!