By Anne Marlowe
I was looking at a class posted to the Friends of Magnum Facebook page, by Jason Marsteiner. He owns Mountain Man Survival LLC and holds the Survival University. https://www.thesurvivaluniversity.com/ There was to be a plant identification walk the next day and, on a whim, I signed my friend Alan and I up for the class and got my backpack ready.
We left early in the morning, drove up to the Cripple Creek area and wandered around for an additional 30 minutes, after I took a wrong turn making us a few minutes late. We pulled up to a camp where there were 6 people milling around and I saw several primitive structures. I had no idea what to expect but my sense of adventure was taking over.
The class was to be taught by guest instructor “Cattail Bob” who seemed like a guy who knew his way around the landscape. What I later found out was, “Cattail” Bob Seebeck, is quite an accomplished author, adjunct college professor and is a serious plant expert. He’s been teaching folks since 1975, so I figured I had better listen to what he had to say. When I go on the TV Series Naked and Afraid, Cattail Bob might save my life. Ok I’m not going on the TV show, but who knows when this knowledge could come in handy?
We started with a little chat, getting to know the others in the class. They were really nice folks! We also learned there would be a contest at the end of the day and the winner would receive a free book Survival Plants of Colorado, from Cattail Bob. I am pretty competitive, so it was on!
I have hiked and hunted in the Colorado mountains for much of my life. There are so many plants I have walked past but never paid much attention to. I can identify many Colorado wildflowers, but now would be looking at them in a whole new way.
There were to be 5 categories we were looking to find. Edible, Medicinal, Tool Craft, Smokable (no, not that) and Poisonous.
Have you ever wondered how ancient folks discovered the medicinal and edible properties of plants? I mean, who did they send to eat them? Did they draw straws? “Hey, Dude, ancient plant eating guy. Take a bite of this, see what happens!”
According to Cattail Bob, the elders of native American tribes chose to eat plants to keep the rest of the population alive. I started wondering, who determined what an elder was. I mean, they lived shorter lives than we do. Would I be considered and elder? I don’t believe I would like this job. How did they know the elder, died from eating the plant and not just because he was an ancient?
Ok enough of that.
We walked out of camp and quickly started finding plants to identify and chew on.
We checked out Stinging Nettle and well, it was stingy. I had previous firsthand knowledge of this stingy-ness, so wasn’t about to touch it. One guy did and well, he wasn’t super happy about the result. BUT the cool thing about stinging nettle, is, you can make a medicinal tea to drink that cuts down on allergies, a whole host of other things including, eczema, urinary infections and prostate issues.
Stinging Nettle is closely related to hemp so you can make rope. That is, if you have time to harvest it and make a rope, instead of running to the corner Ace Hardware and buying one. This plant has so much value as a tea, and you can also harvest it and steam it like spinach. I watched a really interesting video about Stinging Nettle on the Learn Your Land, You Tube channel. He opined, Stinging Nettle could be one of the most nutritious plants in the world. I am not sure about this, but it was really interesting. I cracked up when reading my field notes on this plant. It said, “The best parts are young stem parts and leaves, harvest with gloves, DO NOT EAT RAW.” Right?
We moved on to the Fremont Geranium. I have always thought they were such pretty, delicate flowers and have many photos of them. But, did you know they are great for saddle sores and blisters. I am not sure how you do this. Do you pick the flowers and stick them in your shoes or do you rub them on your feet? I am going to find more information but I think it is pretty interesting that God even thought of our sore, hiking feet when creating this plant.
Next there was Usnea or “Old Man’s Beard.” Usnea Lichen is like pale green fur for trees. It is a fascinating plant and has tons of medicinal uses. According to a fascinating article, http://www.sustainablehomesteading.com/edible-and-medicinal-plants/usnea-old-mans-beard/, who sites, G. Tilford (1997). Usnea is a potent antibiotic and can heal respiratory and urinary tract infections. Read the article if you want to learn more, but we all ate some in the woods. And well it tastes like dirt and eating something that looks and feels like an old man’s beard is kind of nasty, but it is a super cool plant.
We moved on to wild raspberries, currents and strawberries. This year, the Colorado mountains were super dry, so many of these berries were fairly small, but I have often thought they were a treasure to find. There is a certain satisfaction to be hiking, wiped out, sick of jerky and finding a patch of wild raspberries. The gooseberries were sour as heck this weekend and really didn’t have much flavor.
My favorite plant of the day was chamomile or pineapple weed. Besides being a mild sedative, the flowers look like little pineapples and they SMELL and TASTE like pineapple! Crazy right? Pineapples in the Colorado mountains? Really, when the Great Creator made chamomile, did he make it taste like pineapples or did he make pineapples taste like chamomile? Think on that one for a while. When I have made chamomile tea I never smelled pineapple so this was a fun find.
After lunch we all carpooled to Phantom Canyon outside of Victor, Colorado, and found wild Valerian root. If you have ever smelled it in a bottle and took some to help you sleep, you know it smells like rotting feet. Well a whole hillside of it smells the same. We all dug a little bit up and my car smelled pretty rank soon after that. I took some home to clean and dry. We will see how I sleep.
One of the last plants we approached, were some gorgeous shiny red berries called Baneberry. Cattail Bob explained to us that they were one of the most toxic plants in the Rocky Mountains. He went on to mention how many kids are poisoned each year when parents camp in the mountains and little ones are lured by the pretty red berries and ingest them. Be wary of these and watch where you place your camp.
There were so many plants that I really went on overload and everything began to just look, well, green. But I learned quite a bit and thoroughly enjoyed my day. I came in second in the competition and came home and ordered the book from Amazon. What the class did, was to ignite a desire to really be able to identify more plants and if I ever get lost in the woods, to know what to eat, because I really do get sick of jerky.