Hunting Spring Peepers

Walking up to the farm on a balmy evening in early May, the night is relatively quiet. The only sound besides our feet on the earth is that of a few drops of water, leftover from rain earlier in the day, dripping from new leaves to the ground beneath them. But as we crest the hill, the farm house and cow pasture at the end of the lane ahead of us, we start to hear them, the raucous singers of spring. ‘Peep…eep…PEEP!..Pee..Peep!’

We get closer, and this nighttime chorus becomes so loud we have to raise our voices in speaking to one another in order to hear ourselves talk. The marshy, wooded little pond next to the farm is a home for spring peepers, the tiniest of vernal vocalists emitting their proportionally LOUD mating calls, attracting froggy partners as well as us curious humans.

Peeper Hunt - Caught in the middle of a peep

Garbed with a good pair of boots, flashlights, and a sense of adventure, we’ll be taking our annual pilgrimage to the citadel of springtime, the peeper pond next to Duryea Farm, on Saturday evening, May 3rd, beginning at 7:30 pm. This event is for children with their parents, as the night is dark, the path is brambly, and ‘hunting’ for spring peepers is an endeavor that requires care, patience, and helpful, watchful eyes.

We’ll meet in front of the lower school at Green Meadow, 307 Hungry Hollow Road, in Chestnut Ridge, NY to begin our adventure.

Adventure into the wild with us on our Spring Peeper Hunt!

Peeper Hunt - Mother and Sons

Ed’s Corner – They’re Coming…

Sometimes it feels that opportunities for earth art present themselves everywhere. One of these moments will soon be on your lawn or at least somewhere close to your home. You just may go out one day soon, look down, and feel like you have run smack dab into a wall, a sea, an avalanche (you get the point) of yellow! You will see hundreds of golden dandelions just starting to grow, and without much of a stem yet. There will be so many that you won’t feel guilty picking as many as you want. It might feel like you’re holding hands-full of sunlight, or tiny, bite-sized suns.

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What to do with them:

You can lay them on the lawn, next to and touching each other, and make a long, meandering yellow chain, or snake, or just a beautiful meandering line of yellow, over hill and dale and rocks. Watch what happens to your art over the next few days.

Make a spiral with them, starting at the base of a tree and spiraling outward.

Rub them on a piece of white paper against a hard surface such as the sidewalk and see why they can be called ‘yellow crayons’.

Wait to pick them until they have a long stem. Peel the stem into 3 or so long pieces, all still attached to the flower end. Dunk the stem pieces into water (submerge them) for a quick one or two second dunk, pull quickly out and hold them in front of you and just watch. If they could shout we would call what they are doing ‘twist and shout’. Or better still, ‘curl and shout’.

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Different parts of the dandelion can be used for food, medicine and dye. Read about these usages here, in Paul Tappenden’s dandelion article.

A long time ago people used to pull grass from their lawns to make room for dandelions!

The name ‘dandelion’ comes from the French ‘dent de lion’, which means lion’s tooth. Look at the leaves on the ground directly at the bottom of the stem and you’ll see why. Growl.

Dandelions are not native to this country but came to us from Asia.

The little dandelion seeds on their little white ‘parachutes’ have been known to travel up to five miles!

Look at dandelion plants growing in mostly sunlight and then at those growing mostly in shade. What do you notice that’s different about their leaves?

Food and Drink: Dandelions

I have long been a fan of Dandelions.  Whereas most gardeners dread the sight of dandelions in their yard, I have actually planted them in mine.  From the time that the basal rosettes first appear in the spring until the ground turns hard with winter frosts, I find ways of making use of this versatile plant.  At this time of year, before the flowers appear the leaves of the dandelion are mild and tender, ideal for eating raw.  Dandelion greens can be used in place of spinach in most cooked recipes.

Dandelion flower scones

Dandelion flower scones

Once the flowers bloom, the leaves become rather bitter, but can be boiled to make them more palatable.  However, at that time of year, I concentrate more on gathering the flower heads, which I immediately freeze and save until I have enough to stuff a gallon ziplock bag.  I give these to my friend Elana, who makes an outrageous dandelion wine every year.  It tastes like a fine sherry.  Naturally, she saves a bottle for me.

Dandelion root curry

Dandelion root curry

The petals and stamens of dandelions also make a potent yellow/green dye, good for dying Easter eggs.

The roots can be gathered at almost any time and cooked in many different ways, however, in the fall, I look for the older plants and dig the roots for making dandelion coffee.  I grind, dry and roast them until they turn a dark brown, much like regular ground coffee.  The resultant drink looks and tastes a lot like coffee, with added notes of chocolate and caramel.  The roots can also be used for making dyes, and produce either red or pink (also useful for dying eggs)

Dandelion coffee

As well as their use as food and dyes, dandelions make good medicine to help tonify the kidneys and liver and to help encourage the flow of urine, helping to lower blood pressure.  The leaves in particular aid the digestive system and stimulate appetite. They are rich in minerals and vitamins (including A, B2, C and K).

Just to further illustrate the Dandelion’s amazing versatility, even the white milky latex has its uses.  Applied regularly to a wart, the rubbery latex will ultimately remove it altogether (never to return).

Paul Tappenden is the Rockland Forager. He leads identification walks once a month in our area. See regularly updated blogs, videos, events, and what he and other foragers, herbalists, and naturalists are up to at www.suburbanforagers.com.