Florida Springs in Peril

A recent visit to the Silver Glen Springs in the Ocala National Forest, left me wondering once again at the obliviousness of human beings when it comes to our environment—the environment that keeps us alive. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the land on which we build our homes and cities, and the forests we take for granted require our support and understanding. More about that below, but first, I want to share the bounty of Florida summer wetland wildflowers that we saw on the road to the springs.

Edibles Along the Road
While would not, of course, have picked any of these plants, we did see a number of native species on the road to the Silver Glen Springs. including swamp hibiscus (Hibiscus grandiflorus), pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) in full bloom, duck potato (Sagittaria lancifolia), star rush (Rhynchospora colorata) and the beautiful white blossoms of loblolly bays (Gordonia lasianthus).

Before sampling any wetlands plants, be sure the areas where you gather them are free from pollutants or pathogens and that you are gathering the plants legally—not, for instance, inside the Ocala National Forest!

Malvaceaes (Hibiscus spp.) are renowned for their immensely demulcent properties, and the flowers and leaves were used in that way by native people to relieve sore throats and soothe the bowel and kidney.

Pickerel weed seeds can be eaten right off the plant, dried, or boiled as a grain for cereal. Dried seeds were ground and used by native people for flour. In her book, I Eat Weeds, Phyllis Bowers writes that she uses the young leafstalks, gathered in early summer before the leaves uncurl. Chop the young leafstalks and add to salads or boil for 10 minutes and serve as a potherb.

Duck Potato
Duck Potato

Native people as well as European settlers enjoyed “duck potatoes” roasted or boiled. These wetland plants are harvested in the late fall when the leaves have died off. Herbalist Doug Elliott notes that they can be raked from bottom and gathered as they float to the surface.

Degradation of Florida Springs
We are part of a connected system, but as Daniel Goleman reminds us in Ecological Intelligence, human beings are hardwired for responses to immediate stimuli, not to long term changes such as climate change. We will react quickly when a snake crosses our path, but we are languid when it comes to minute changes in temperature. This unfortunate biology puts us in peril and should alarm us enough to use our brains and intellect to noodle out the consequences of our actions regarding our environment. The overused example of the frog in the slowly heating pot of water is still the most apt example of our folly. The frog could jump out but does notice the increase in temperature until it is too late.

Boats at Homossasa Springs
Boats at Homossasa Springs

Regardless of what springs I visit, boats crowd the mouths as close as possible. Propellers disrupt river grasses, oil and gasoline leak into the streams and cause damage to creatures and flora from microscopic to macroscopic and change the natural chemical balance of the water. But all that those who motor up the river care about is there recreational activity. Little thought goes to the effect of their actions. It should be a privilege to visit the springs and we should do so with reverence and care, leaving our polluting machines well away. How about rowing up to the springs? Or only allowing boats with electric motors to venture close these endangered watersheds.

My friend Lynne and I wandered down the boardwalk at Silver Glen toward the boils, where the water system erupts from its deep underground journey,  literally boiling up through the sand. On this short walk, we encountered two disparate families.

A seven-year-old of the first family we encountered excitedly told us all about the boils, where they were and what they were for. She wanted to be sure we saw all of them! She was bossy and well-informed. Her father was slightly embarrassed at her loquacity and forwardness, but we thought she was adorable and that it was great that she knew so much.

A bit later another family wandered down the boardwalk. They were louder and more boisterous. Despite the sign that clearly said “Restricted Area,” the children jumped off the boardwalk and began splashing and playing in the boil area. The parents were concerned about whether or not the children had hurt themselves jumping from the boardwalk and whether they were “playing nice.” The parents and the children were oblivious to fact that they were trampling through a special habitat. I wanted to say something, but did not intervene. I wished that I had had ranger’s badge and could have ordered them out of the boil. This family is not alone in its ignorance and obliviousness.

Clearly some educational materials aimed at children are vital to protecting this natural resource. The seven-year-old had retained and understood enough information about the springs to know they are special. The other family just needed the opportunity to learn and understand as well. Teaching children about the importance of preserving our natural environments is self-sustaining proposition. They will teach their parents and their own children when the time comes. Spending funds to educate youngsters are dollars well spent.


2 Responses

  1. I’ve only been reading your blog a little while and I love it. I don’t think I’ve commented before, but may have. I also live in FL and love it here. So, your blog is especially helpful in my desire to learn how to forage for health. I love how committed you seem to be to natural health and even wild remedies. I was wondering what you know about cattails. I know they are lots of places in the South. My hubby says you can eat the roots and the “tail” bit (sort of like corn on the cob). We haven’t done it yet. I WANT to, but we really have to just DO it. It hasn’t been exactly convenient thus far, so I think we just need to do it whether convenient or not, ya know? Anyway. My question is whether you use it for any healing purpose? Do you consume it at all?

    Also, I’ve recently learned about Codex Alimentarius. Do you know about it? It is extremely disturbing to me and will drastically effect our rights to learn about and especially USE natural healing methods… and even extends into growing our own foods and herbs. It’s VERY troubling. There was a bill on vote in the House yesterday. It was shot down, but will surely come up again sooner than later (since the deadline for Codex regulations to be in place is the 31st of this year! Actually, there are a few bills in the House and at least one in the Senate that all relate to Codex.

    I know your blog isn’t exactly political in nature, but the fact that these bills are so closely related to your subject matter… I thought you might be willing to spread the word. You know people I don’t. I hope you will either through your blog and/or email.

    If you would like to watch a few videos, I’ve compiled some in a post. They are very informative. The attitude of the speaker could be off-putting, but her information is important.

    I love your blog. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experiences with natural healing. It’s SUCH a treasure to those like me who are striving to learn and grow in that ability!

    Posted on July 30th, 2009 at 2:57 pm

  2. I have read a bit about Codex Alimentarius, but not enough to know how dangerous it might be for us foragers and traditional herbalists. But without a doubt, the plants in our yards will hopefully always be under our control–all the more reason to learn about the “weeds,” and their healing and edible properties.

    I have only recently started researching cattail. Here are some of my notes:

    Typha domingensis Southern Cattail
    T. latifolio Broadleaf Cattail

    Parts used: New young shoots, pollen, flower spikes.
    Harvest tips: Gather the shoots when they appear in early spring. Harvest the middle stem by tugging on the new leaf growing in the center. Be certain you are gathering cattail shoots and not some other possibly toxic wetland plant. Gather the male flowering heads (located above the female spikes) when the flowers are still enclosed in the bracts. Do this by stripping off the flowers.

    You can freeze the flowers, pollen, stamens, and anthers to use at other times in pancakes, muffins, or breads.

    Roots are nutritious from fall to spring when they store starch, but not in the summer when that energy is used for growth.

    Culinary preparations: The first few inches of the white part of the middle stem of the young plant has a flavor reminiscent of cucumber and can be eaten raw or cooked. Sauté in butter for a few minutes. Add seasonings of your choice

    The pollen can be added to baked goods such as muffins, pancakes, or bread.

    Posted on August 4th, 2009 at 2:03 pm

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