Spring is in the air! I had a fantastic time hiking at the Sylvan Glen preserve yesterday. This interesting little preserve is in Westchester county near the Putnam county border. It’s close to Yorktown. I hiked about 4 miles with the hiking group I was with, which didn’t include any joggling since I did that earlier in the day and I didn’t want to distract anyone.
Sylvan Glen also has one of the oldest trees for miles around. This tree is several centuries old. It is probably a white oak, judging by the leaf litter around the tree. It’s been said by some arborists that oaks specialize in not specializing – hence, they grow almost everywhere. I hope this tree survives for another thousand years.
You know its spring when skunk cabbage(Symplocarpus foetidus) starts peaking through the ground. In the north-eastern U.S, it is very often the first green you will see in early spring/late winter. And yes, the plant does live up to its name.
It is an amazing plant due to its ability to produce a lot of heat. According to Craig Holdrege at the Nature Institute:
A couple of times I’ve been lucky enough to see spathes growing up through a thin layer of ice, the ice melted around the spathe in a circular form. This is an indication of skunk cabbage’s remarkable capacity to produce heat when flowering. If you catch the right time, you can put your finger into the cavity formed by the spathe and when you touch the flower head, your finger tip warms up noticeably. Biologist Roger Knutson found that skunk cabbage flowers produce warmth over a period of 12-14 days, remaining on average 20° C (36° F) above the outside air temperature, whether during the day or night. During this time they regulate their warmth, as a warm-blooded animal might!
Skunk cabbage is at best marginally edible if you boil it in 10 changes of water and leave it to dry for a few days. In other words, don’t bother. Native Americans would only eat it when nothing else was available.
If you try to eat it raw or with only a little cooking, the oxalic acid(partially responsible for the plant’s smell) crystals in the leaves will make you feel like you are having holes burned in your tongue.
What is oxalic acid? Oxalic acid is a powerful anti-nutrient that can block the absorption of calcium, iron and other important minerals. Although spinach(and some other vegetables) doesn’t have as much oxalic acid as skunk cabbage, it still has a significant amount. This is one of the reasons I don’t eat much spinach(I prefer kale and cabbage), and strongly advice others to avoid juicing spinach. Cooking spinach can reduce its oxalic acid content, but it won’t eliminate it.