The prairie has unlocked her vault on seeds to be collected and let the creatures in to take the plants riches. Birds, bugs, slugs, and us have run into the prairie overwhelmed by the amount of seed ready to be harvested and the limited amount of time that we have. It’s gotten to the point that we strap two vinyl bags to our waists that are filled with even more paper bags and still have plentiful amounts of seed that we don’t have room for. It’s a restoration goldmine.
Unfortunately Mother Nature has other plans. Since she has withheld the water as long as she can and has burst in random days of immense rain that has left us limited in our seed collection journey. Checking the radar has been added to the normal morning routine in hopes that we can get a few hours of “no rain” to go gather seeds. We have discovered that radar is not as accurate as it seems…. And I should really invest in a rain coat.
This doesn’t mean we have stopped learning here at Midewin. It seems like every time I learn a new plant five more pop up that I need to remember the name of. Remembering the differences in the Genus name and the correlating species name is the hardest part but the feeling of accomplishment and joy over correctly identifying a plant makes it worth the memory struggles. It also helps being out in the prairie five days a week.
With our unexpected days we have learned a new skill as well. Seed cleaning with Midewin’s big cleaning machines (some all the way from Denmark) makes hand cleaning child’s play for us now. But you gotta wear the proper PPE. So when it rains, we gear up with our masks, glasses, and ear protection and hit the seeds where it really hurts. Clean. Weigh. Bag. Throw it in the cooler. Is there anything more fun to do on a cold rainy Tuesday morning?
Seed cleaning isn’t the only thing we are gearing up for. With only two weeks left in our season, and the impending threat of a government shut down, we try to get out as much as we can to collect seeds. Along with also finalizing our days if we are to never come back….. the dogs days of summer might be over but now comes the sadness of leaving the prairie. Maybe that is why Mother Nature is crying so much. Maybe she doesn’t want us to leave. Don’t worry, we aren’t done just yet.
The last month, a story of incredible learning and experiences
To start this one off I just must make clear that the AQI’s of over 400 in the Umpqua area have finally come to a halt, we can finally breathe again! In place of the smokey visor is the looming dark clouds of fall. Which brings me to one of my favorite parts of this experience, extracted from any work duties, which are the low-alpine meadow openings that showcase some of the most mystifyingly incredible views of low-lying clouds (I suck at cloud identification) enveloping the upper echelons of the best peaks, scenery that any fantasy drama show director would be jealous of.
This last month consisted of some of the most intense berry collection known to man. Feeling like bears in spirit, the botany crew set out to complete their berry collections. The final destination: Snowbird Road. The weary travelers made their way through the rocky ridge known as snowbird taking no prisoners. Assaulting each population of bitter cherry, mountain ash, and blue elderberry alike, the hardy crew finished their quest at the end of four days. The rewards were splendid. Alone, they managed to collect over 100 pounds of berries in just that location. However, added together with the spoils of previous ventures their total reached 286 pounds. The brute of the part even had a difficult time lifting that sort of weight. Their journeys are to continue with a different target in mind in the upcoming month. Seeds. Stay tuned…
The days start to get shorter, the nights longer. As each day passes in which the sun of whom illuminates the sky begins going to bed earlier, we get closer and closer to the end of term here at Umpqua. It starts to feel cooler and the smell of autumn wafts ubiquitously through the air. It’s a great feeling. It feels bittersweet in some sense but also incredibly empowering and endearing. Bittersweet because it’s the end of a truly incredible experience but at the same time empowering because of the opportunities each intern has ahead of them. Some have already accepted permanent positions (shoutout Casey!) and some are browsing the job market as we speak (shoutout me!). Either way we have all paved our way towards a successful career whether through this position or prior. We’ve all improved our skills in the field of botany and have cemented confidence in our abilities going forward. While ending so soon, there are so many opportunities still out there to continue our journey. I just hope everyone enjoyed their truly one-of-a-kind experience like I did.
To my favorite collection species: Columbine (Aquilegia formosa). Your dried-up floret resemblant of a trumpet nose was the most enjoyable feeling. It felt as though each collection was a treat, spinning the bracts as the numerous seed went flooding into the bag. In conclusion, aquilegia you make me happy!
To my least favorite invasive species: Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus). You were a huge pain in the ass (apologies for the French). Your extended root ball made it almost impossible to remove all parts of you. Your fruit was tasty but not worth the struggle of pain-staking geopick maneuvers.
This season the Diamond Lake Botany Crew and I collected a little bit less than 300lbs of fruit! We plan on taking our first trip to the Bend Seed Extractory this Thursday (9/28) to deliver our collections for cleaning. Our collections included Sambucus cerulea (Blue elderberry), Prunus emarginata (Bitter cherry), Rubus parviflorus (Thimbleberry), and Sorbus scopulina (Mountain ash)…
While the crew and I were busy making collections for CBG during the week, I was able to spend a few weekends picking fruits for myself! Earlier in the season I spent a day collecting some of the smaller, native blackberries located in the Forest. I cooked them down that same day, making a syrup for easy storage. This past weekend I finally got my hands on some pectin, took my stored blackberry syrup, and made jelly! While picking enough of the smaller blackberries to make jelly was a labor of love, it was absolutely worth it! I can now take a little taste of Oregon back home with me to Alabama.
Additionally, I foraged for elderberries and also made a nice elderberry syrup with local honey in preparation for the colder months. (Just in time too! The high for Toketee this week is a rainy 53degrees. Brrrrr.) In recent years, elderberry syrup has gained popularity. These days, you can find it in just about any grocery store or pharmacy. However, elderberry syrup has been used in folk medication for hundreds of years! The syrup is known and still used today as a strong cold preventative and remedy. One cup of berries contains around 58% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. Similar to blueberries, elderberries are also a great source of antioxidants.
Below I have the recipes I used to make my elderberry syrup!
Ingredients Needed (1 Batch)
3/4 cup of dried Elderberries – I picked my own but you can order dehydrated elderberries online. https://www.amazon.com/Elderberries-Packaging-Resealable-non-irradiated-Elderberry/dp/B09RTPRPMC/ref=sr_1_2_sspa?crid=23GS8ZXA06BAY&keywords=dried+elderberries&qid=1695657085&rdc=1&s=hpc&sprefix=dried+elder%2Chpc%2C176&sr=1-2-spons&sp_csd=d2lkZ2V0TmFtZT1zcF9hdGY&psc=1
1 cup of Raw Local Honey – Honey that has been filtered goes through a heating and cooling process. A majority of the enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are killed by the high heat, negating many of the health advantages of raw honey. Additionally, raw, local honey can also shield you from seasonal allergies by gradually exposing you to local pollens until you become used to them.
2-3 Cinnamon Sticks (Optional)
2 tablespoons of shredded Fresh Ginger (Optional)
1 teaspoon of ground Cloves (Optional)
1/2 cup of dried Rose Hips (Optional)
3 1/2 cups of Water – I used filtered water
Cheesecloth, small mesh colander, and/or juicer
Spoon or masher
Container/jar for storage
With the exception of the honey, combine all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat to a rolling boil. For my syrup, I only added shredded ginger root and cinnamon sticks.
When the boil starts, reduce the heat to a simmer. Continue to simmer for 45 minutes stirring occasionally.
Turn off the heat and allow the product to cool for about 30 minutes before handling it.
Take out the cinnamon sticks and use a spoon or masher to crush the mixture.
Squeeze through cheesecloth or pass through a fine mesh filter.
Add 1 cup of honey to the juice it produces.
For up to a few months, keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Take a teaspoon per day or as desired. I usually take 4-5 spoonfuls a week!
*Elderberry syrup is not a guaranteed “cure all”. I believe that paired with a healthy lifestyle it does boost your immune system and when taken early enough, can reduce the symptoms of a cold! With any folk or traditional medicine, appropriate expectations are required. Again, if you are eating McDonalds everyday, never engaging in any forms of exercise, stay chronically dehydrated, get terrible rest, etc. then yes, I doubt a homemade remedy will help you.