Portage River Farm

  (Pinckney, Michigan)
Notes on our struggles and successes on our family farm in rural Michigan.
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I have had an interest in wild plants for most of my life. Throughout my late teen and college years, I spent countless hours (that I probably should have been studying!) wandering the fields and woods with identification guides in hand. I still have hundreds of pages of notes logging my finds from those days. Since then I have headed out any chance that I could to collect wild plants for food and medicine. Gradually, I'm passing that knowledge and the love of wild plants to my children.

One of the herbs that the family has taken to whole-heartedly is jewelweed. I have been able to find it just about anywhere I have ever lived and it grows in great abundance in the woods behind our house. Anyone who has ever taken a walk with me in the woods has been subjected to a demonstration of how the plant got its name. The leaves are covered with a nearly invisible layer of dense hairs. By holding one of the leaves underwater, the plant shimmers beautifully as if transformed into silver due to the layer of air trapped in the hairs.

Our favorite use for this plant is as a remedy for itchy skin. It has a succulent stem that reminds me of very watery celery. If you crush the stem between your fingers it yields a clear sap that when spread on the skin will relieve mosquito bites, rashes or poison ivy at least as well as anything in the drugstore shelves. During the summer, our household puts this remedy to work a number of times each week. Late evenings will often find me walking out into the woods with a flashlight to retrieve a stem or two to ease someones itchy skin so they can sleep.

The other name commonly used for jewelweed is spotted touch-me-not. It gets this name from the little black spots on the orange flowers and the way the seed pods react when touched. In the fall the plants produce little pairs of seed pods where each flower had bloomed. These pods are attached to the stem by a ingenious little spring mechanism that propels the pod several feel away when disturbed. It is fun to walk through patches of jewelweed at that time of year and hear the little pods springing off in every direction as you pass.

Raspberry Pickin'

Yesterday morning, the boys and I headed out into our woods to pick some black raspberries. I had noticed some canes coming up in the springtime in the woods near our chicken coop but had not been back in that area since.

When we arrived at the edge of the woods our eyes opened wide at the abundance of raspberries everywhere we looked. Since they are wild they are relatively small but the moist soil at the edge of our wooded wetlands has provided them the conditions to grow in abundance.

A part of our master plan for the farm is to plant a large berry patch with just about every variety that you can imagine. My experience with domestic raspberry varieties thus far has been that they are much larger but much less flavorful than their wild cousins. Now that we know about this wonderful wild resource at the edge of our woods we plan to incorporate its preservation into our plans so that we will always have wild raspberries for our table.
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