Friday, March 20, 2015

Skunk Cabbage Welcomes Spring

Today’s vernal equinox in the neighborhood was celebrated under breezy gray skies and sporadic rain. Let the early bloom’d cherry blossoms, daffodils and tulips droop; the real harbinger of spring is the skunk cabbage.

Lysichiton americanus (western skunk cabbage) is a familiar springtime sight if you get out of your house and your car and frequent bogs, swamps and stream sides. You can’t miss the bright yellow, petal-like sheath in which tiny flowers are found on a stem. Blooms of the western skunk cabbage stink like rotten flesh and attract flies and beetles that serve as pollinators.

Famous forager Euelle Gibbons, author of Stalking the Healthful Herbs, describes his attempt to eat skunk cabbage (the eastern variety) boiled and served with salt, pepper and butter. He reported, "It tastes exactly like it smells, and burns your throat like red hot pepper as it goes down." And, if you can believe Wikipedia, “its roots are food for bears, who eat it after hibernating as a laxative or cathartic. The plant was used by indigenous people as medicine for burns and injuries, and for food in times of famine, when almost all parts were eaten.”

Another harbinger of the real spring: Have you already seen dandelions in their yellow blooms? No woosy plants these.

--Mike Sato

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