Howdy campers. I think for many people who love to backpack, the idea of walking off the suburban path to enjoy the purer essence of the world we live in sums up the appeal pretty nicely. With time this experience changes from a visit, to a true immersion into nature. We become more comfortable with the experience, the surroundings and the feel of being part of nature, not simply seeing it.
One way to make an outdoor experience richer is to become familiar with the plant life you’re likely to encounter. Just knowing the names of the flowers, plants and trees you come across can be a very engrossing part of the backwoods experience. But, actually understanding the uses of the flora can change your outlook on the landscape entirely. It’s important to understand that learning which plants can be eaten or used medicinally can take years and takes some diligence and patience to learn. But today I’ll give you a few examples plants, native to Utah, that are easy to find, identify and use. This will give you a taste (literally in some cases) of the concept so you can decide for yourself if you would like to learn more.
Willow Bark (from the Genus Salix containing over 400 individual species. I know I know, you already knew that…just covering my bases here). Think of this as nature’s aspirin. Willow barks use has been traced back thousands of years. It can be used to help with minor pain from:
Muscle Pain (with plenty of H2O)
Back Pain (especially lower)
I also had a trail mate once tell me it’s also great for the cocktail flu (hangovers)…bonus!
Essentially anything that could fall under the “mild discomfort” umbrella
Willow bark is best prepared as a tea. Just boil up a small handful of crushed, dried bark into 8-12 oz of water and boil for 15 minutes or so. Let it steep for another 30 minutes as the water cools, then strain and drink in sips. Chase it with an equal amount of good clean water
Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttallii): As Utah’s state flower, I thought I should give a horticultural shout out to the Sego Lily. The edible bulb on this white, three petaled flower can be roasted in a little in olive oil to kick any meal up a notch with some starchy, somewhat nutty tasting goodness, BAM! They can also be boiled and mashed up to add body to a soup or stew. Try tossing a handful in with your favorite trail curry, and you’ll be in Calochortus nuttallii heaven.
Trailside botany is a fun and interesting knowledge set to acquire. And should you decide to refine that knowledge to where it becomes useful then you can have some very cool experiences. You may be very surprised at how many plants you used to walk right past that have a use or previously unknown attribute.
The skillset is a very large one however. It’s best approached a little at a time. Start with an excellent book that is based on the region like this (my personal fav…thanks Jenni) or this, and take some time each trip to identify the plants you come across. It can be a little frustrating to set out looking for a specific flower or plant if you don’t know where to find them. Explore different environments like shady gullies, or sunny hillsides, streamsides and sandy rocky outcroppings. Each plant has a favorite place to live, and in time you will learn where to look for each.
Thanks for stopping by, and as always I’ll see you on the trails
QUICK TIP: The most common cause of muscle cramping is dehydration. If you experience cramps, either on the trail or after you have stopped for the day, get some H2O into the bloodstream. Don’t chug it, but get a litre on board relatively quickly and then keep sipping after that. The midnight potty break might be inevitable, but it beats the midnight charlie horse!