When we describe why we love the outdoors to someone else, we may talk about the vast seas of rolling green trees, or the calm blue waters of natural lakes. One thing is certain, the vast array of colors and fragrances created by flora are not only calming, but a refreshing break from the man made structures that we live in. But sometimes, it's more fun to dive into what specifically creates those green landscapes, those fragrant smells, and of course, what plants are edible. I am talking of course of the science of Botany - a worthwhile skillset for any outdoor enthusiast.
Throughout centuries of human evolution, we've discovered what is and isn't edible through trial and error. Thanks to that research conducted by the earliest versions of humankind, we now know collectively what is and isn't good for human consumption. That being said, I can bet that some of you reading this may not know what flora exists in your local ecosystems. While I can't discuss every species of plant life you may find in your area in this post, I can offer some examples of America's favorites, and hopefully inspire you to pick up a book and learn more about the plants you share your world with.
Being a New England resident, we're no strangers to Botany, as our famous fall foliage draws millions of eyes each year. But what makes our fall foliage such a spectacle, when the entire country will enter this Autumn cycle? Well that would be because of the higher concentration of sugar maple trees, which the Northeast has a plethora of. These trees produce vibrant reds and purples, coupled with the traditional yellows and oranges, creating a breathtaking array of colors that blanket the forest canopies. A little bit of knowledge in this regard can be a fun educational tool, and give some additional insight to the array of vibrant colors that New England Fall Foliage is famous for.
Going beyond the surface understanding of tree species, let's talk about how this ties into survival skills. Obviously knowing what you can and can't eat out in the wild is a worthwhile skill to have. If you ever find yourself out in the wilderness without food or water, scavenging will be the best way to get the nutrients you'll need. Water is fairly straight forward, and some filtering options will help to prevent harmful bacteria and other microbes from causing illness. For those of you who have never hunted, it's significantly harder than you may think. Animals are smart, and will very easily detect the unexperienced hunter, leaving you in the dust as you watch your potential meal disappear behind the foliage. This is where knowing your local flora becomes beneficial, as the forest is a plentiful bounty, so long as you know what to look for.
For us in New England, crab apple trees are plentiful and easily provide a source of nourishment. But other than the obvious fruits we also have things like Sassafras and wintergreen berries that can be foraged during the winter. Plants like the Ostrich Fern are available during the early spring. If you're feeling a bit more bold, Mycology is a part of botany that focuses specifically on mushrooms, and can be considered it's own separate science entirely. Mushrooms are the super food of the wild, and items like Chicken of the Woods (pictured above) are popular as a standard food item, growing across all of North America . Mushrooms are extremely varied, but knowledge of Mycology will set you up as one of the better prepared outdoor enthusiasts overall.
As always be sure to plan carefully and never push yourself past your limits. A bit of naturalism can help enhance your outdoor experience, and, in a worst case scenario, potentially save your life!