Youth Mentor-ship in a Natural Setting

These are trying times. During these challenging times, our children face difficult and confusing circumstances. The atmosphere at home has suffered with increased abuses and a decrease in resources.

Youngsters are left confused and confronted with levels of stress that kids should not have to contend with.

Through my life, Nature has been my biggest stress relief. It has a way of calming nerves and increasing curiosity.

Nature is the perfect atmosphere to provide solace, learning and adventure. The perfect way to provide a welcome distraction to Covid 19, civil direst and distrust.

Our intent is not to promote a religious doctrine or societal lesson. It is rather, to provide an atmosphere of calm where the kids can explore and learn about nature and to provide the atmosphere for group mentoring (provided by the churches, clubs or departments).

We will provide an outlet for the police, youth clubs and religious institutions to mentor children attendees. We, however, will leave those subjects up to the professionals. We provide the atmosphere, the pro’s provide the mentoring.

We do have staff with experiences that will be very educational and helpful to kids, especially kids at risk. Those experiences will be shared, but the lessons to be taught and relayed will be the responsibility of the mentors.

This does not mean we don’t teach, we do! We teach fishing, camping, fire building, camp cooking, shelter building, playing in the water, plants and maybe even a bit of blues around a camp fire. We teach fun, Nature’s way!

For more information, contact us today!  We operate in the West Michigan area.


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Salt and Fermented Vegetables for Survival

Controlled Fermentation has been around for about 9000 years. The results of controlled fermentation is beer, wine, and spirits, bread, preserved fish and pickled vegetables.  The importance of Fermentation in a survival situation can not be understated. If the situation that exist results in a long term absence of commercial food chain access, then your ability to harvest and preserve natural foods will be paramount to your survival.

If you had one thing that you could store in preparation for a long term food shortage, that one thing should be salt. Non iodized pickling salt would be my choice. It does not spoil and can be kept at any temperature or humidity level. It is essential in preserving meats, fish and vegetables. Meat, fish and vegetables can be found almost anywhere if you understand the edibility of wild plants and knew how to hunt and fish. Salt on the other hand, is only available in limited areas naturally. That’s why there were literally salt wars fought in Ohio. Ohio has a large salt deposit and that salt was essential to the survival of Native Americans and Settlers alike.

Fermenting vegetables is a very easy process. You basically need 4 things. 20190131_191810Edible vegetables, clean non chlorinated water, salt and a vessel to hold it all. There are numerous YouTube videos on how to ferment, so I won’t get into the process in detail here. The basics of it is simple. Good bacteria thrive in relative saline solution that is void of free oxygen. 20190131_192039The process of the bacteria feeding on the sugars in the vegetable provides a byproduct-Lactic Acid (which is why this process is known as Lactose Fermentation). The Lactic Acid is also hostile to harmful bacteria. The result is a saline-lactic acid environment that promotes the growth of healthy bacteria and prevents the growth of harmful bacteria.20190131_195053 To read more about the Science behind it without getting too crazy, click here.

There are some draw backs on pickling and that is storage. If you are on the move, it is tough to carry vessels of pickled vegetables. Hopefully however, you will find a place to settle down for extended periods of time. Hopefully you also carried as much salt as you could. Note: Fermentation can take place without the salt, but it may not be as safe a product.

The positives of fermentation are so tremendous that you should consider fermenting even when not in a survival situation. 20190127_180212The benefit to your gut that the good bacteria (they are probiotic in nature) provides is tremendous. The bacteria breaks down the cellulose and allows your body to better digest and make use of the available nutrients. The nutrients tend to increase in the process rather than decrease. The vegetable matter provides fiber that is easily processed, resulting in easier digestion. Here is a fantastic benefit. 20190206_203321The end product taste way better than what you can buy at the store. Almost not comparable.  The store bought is pasteurized and is basically dead. Fermented is alive and will help you stay alive as well.

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How to Get I.D. Help from Michigan Flora

The first step to getting help is to Join Michigan Flora. Sounds easy enough. It is. Michigan Flora is a new Facebook page that focuses on plants and mushrooms in the Michigan area, but keep in mind, most of the plants found in Michigan are likely present in much of the Northern Mid-West and usually the North Eastern United States as well. Go to Facebook and search for the Michigan Flora Page. Follow the easy instructions and request to join. It should be less than 12 hours to get a response.

Something you will find a bit different about Michigan Flora, if you’ve ever been on other I.D. sites is that at Michigan Flora, it is OK to have a conversation, put in pictures just to show them off, ask any question about edibility, medicinal use and certainly ask for I.D. help. We won’t always have the answers, but at least you’ll know you aren’t the only one stumped.

Speaking of I.D. help, keep in mind that people looking at your plant or mushroom are only looking at pictures. Sometimes, pictures can be deceiving and usually don’t show the whole story.


Opposite vs alternate

Here are some guidelines for asking for Plant I.D. help.

  1. Take a photo of the entire plant.
  2. Take a close up of the leaf to show its growth pattern; the leaf itself and it’s relationship to the other leaves. The leaf itself should show the margin, veins, petiole, and both sides. The relation to other leaves on the plants should show if the leaves are simple or compound or complex and whether the leaves are opposite or alternate. The leaf pattern is a very important Identifier.
  3. The flower. Get a good close up of the flower that shows its connection to the plant and also the reproduction parts of the flower.
  4. The Fruit. Whether a nut, fleshy fruit or berry.
  5. If a tree, try to get a good shot of the bark on both the trunk and the branches.

Provide a brief description of what you have observed. Note where the plant was found, I.E. the forest, meadow, by water, with pines, hardwoods, sand dunes, etc.

Interesting enough, once you have considered these things, you might be able to identify the plant on your own. If you do, post it to Michigan Flora and brag about it.


Show flower reproduction.

The fungus among us are easier to photograph really, but harder to Identify.  Rather than thousands of plants found in Michigan, as there are, Mushrooms number in the Millions of species. Some species within a Genus are exceptionally hard to nail down.  Heck, some Genus’s within a Family are very hard to nail down. Here are some guidelines for Mushroom I.D. help.

  1. Take a picture of the top of the cap.
  2. Take a picture under the cap to see the gills or pore surface.
  3. Take a picture of the stipe (stem).
  4. Take a picture of the “root” ball or base. You may need to dig around the base to expose this part.
  5. Take a picture of the Mushroom itself.
  6. If you can, take a spore print.

Provide a brief description of what you have observed. What is the fungus growing on? Dead wood, live wood, meadow or forest floor; in clusters, singularly or groups.


Growth pattern and substrate.

Mushrooms often have very close associations with particular trees. Note what tree it was near.  As mentioned, Mushrooms can present quite the challenge at getting an accurate species identification.

Scarlet Cup 2

Bottom of Scarlet Cup

As always, with both mushrooms and plants, realize that the I.D. help you are getting is from pictures, not the real thing. People making suggestions as to I.D. or usability have varying levels of experience and education. Use the suggestions to point you in a direction where you then study and compare. Get professional, in person help on anything you intend to use that you are not 100% sure of.


Both Plants and Mushrooms are amazing and healthful. Both plants and mushrooms can make you very ill and both plants and mushrooms can kill you.

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Basic Plant Family Identification

There are thousands of plant species that are a part of hundreds of plant Family’s. The important thing, for folks who want to begin learning about useful plants in the wild, to understand is that plant Family’s have very specific patterns.  By learning these patterns, you can begin to identify plants as being a part of a Family, even if you have never seen the plant before and don’t know what it’s name is.

Once you can confidently identify plants as being a part of a Family, you begin to understand the usefulness (and dangers) of the plant, even if you don’t know exactly what it is.

Following are a few examples:


Above we have two members of the Mallow Family. The key to identifying Mallow is that all Mallow have five petals with many stamen fused to the pistol. If you have that characteristic, pick a leaf and crush it between your fingers. Does it get very slippery and sometimes even slimy? If it does, you have Mallow. Now you know you have an edible and medicinal plant (great for sore throats and burns), even if you don’t know the exact species.



Take a close look at the examples above. All of these plants are members of the Aster Family. Asters appear to be a single flower, but on close inspection, each flower is made of many individual complete flowers. Some, like the Aster in the upper right, have outer Ray Flowers as well as inner Disk flowers. The Dandelion only has Ray Flowers. If you have a pattern that you can see a bunch of flowers within a single looking flower, than you have an Aster.

Another great example are plants of the Mustard Family below. Mustards all carry the following pattern. 4 petals that form a cross, 4 sepals, 6 stamen (4 of which are tall and 2 short). If you have that pattern, you have a mustard. The Mustard Family is huge and every one is edible. Some don’t taste great, but edible none the less.

mustard flower3

Cutleaf blossom

Though some Families of plants are completely safe, that’s not always the case. Families like the Carrot or Parsley Family have edible species like Queen Anne’s Lace and extremely noxious species like Giant Hogweed as well as deadly poisonous species like Poison Hemlock. But, by learning the specific characteristics of plant Families, you can begin to determine that a plant will have certain qualities that are either useful, or should be avoided, no matter where you are or whether you have seen the plant before.

As always, if you aren’t 100% sure you have what you believe you have, don’t use the plant. This blog just skims the surface, but hopefully it gives some direction on how to study and learn plants. Learn to recognize the characteristics that are constant and unique to the Family. Then learn about any constants within the Family, such as, if it’s a Mallow, Mint (square stem, opposite leaves, typically minty odor) or Mustard you have an edible and medicinal plant, even if you have never seen it before.

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Understanding Scientific Names…for beginners.

Lets begin by making sure it is understood that to enjoy Nature and make use of her bounty, it is not crucial to know Scientific Names. I for instance have been hunting game in Michigan since I was a young boy. I have eaten plenty squirrels, rabbits, deer and various other critters without having a clue what its Scientific Name was. I’ve also settled in on other vittles like Morel Mushrooms, wild plants and berries without knowing the Scientific Names of those either. I did however know what I was eating….every time.

As my main area of interest is Flora, I will head us in that direction. Botanist and other scientist need to be able to narrow down plants to the exact point that when they study one specimen, they know that its DNA, chemical compounds and other characteristics mirror, as close as possible, a specimen collected some distance away. That way, all the medical or nutritional knowledge gained of the plant they are studying can be duplicated in the same species elsewhere, so the benefits are naturally being duplicated.

The problem with common names is that they aren’t accurate. The same name is used for different plants from region to region. Heck, even next door neighbors know plants by different common names. But scientific names (Latin) are known and fairly constant for a plant or mushroom, world wide.

The 3 classifications that you should be concerned with is Family, Genus and Species.

Family tells you whether a plant is related to a Rose (Rosaceae) or a Carrot (Apiaceae).  Genus further separates the Family. For instance, Solanum and Capsicum, both Nightshades, but the first being plants that have tomato like or fleshy fruits. The Latter being plants that contain Capsaicin to some degree, with the exception of Bell Peppers, but it has other qualities that puts it in the same Genus. Then there is Species which specifically tells you what you have, ie, tomato vs potato. 

For example, “Pigweed” is a common name given to many plants. Most commonly to different Amaranths. But I have heard people call Lambs Quarters, Pigweed. Which makes some sense in that it is in the same family as Amaranth (Amaranthaceae) but not the same genus Amaranthus. The genus for Lambs Quarters is Chenopodium. So basically all plants in the Amaranthaceae family stand a chance being locally called “Pigweed”. FYI, they are called Pigweed because farmers loved giving it to their pigs and the pigs loved receiving it. Another FYI, they are typically also very healthy for you, especially the seeds. Many species are used as a grain (sort of-they aren’t grasses). Spinach and Beets are members that you are more familiar with. 

With all this said, Amaranthus retroflexus is exactly what it is to scientist in Michigan or Wisconsin and is not the same plant as Amaranthus palmeri to either of those scientist. 

Scientific names are important to Naturalist for much the same reason. 100% identification is important if you are living off the land or even just studying flora as a hobby.

Typically for most of us, we really start looking at Flora at the Family classification. Its where we start clumping plants and mushrooms together with descriptions that make say, plants of the Nightshade family…a Nightshade.

Solanaceae (Nightshade) is a fairly large family of plants. One of the most economically important plant families there is. Not a lot of people have gone without eating Nightshade of some sort, but you certainly don’t want to eat every Nightshade you run across. Actually, you don’t want to eat every part of very many Nightshades at all. All that I’m aware of are poisonous. Some, however, have edible fruit., seeds or tubers.

Here are a couple Genus within the Solanaceae Family: Solanum and Capsicum.

The genus Solanum contains some common plants that I’m sure you have eaten, but despite their similarities are quite different. Tomato, Potato and Eggplant. The genus Capsicum include all the Peppers, like Jalapeno, Bell and Wax.

Look at the flowers of all these plants and you will see that they are all very similar to any of the non edible Nightshades. Below left is a Horsenettle (Solanum carolinense) the right is a tomato blossom (Solanum lycopersicum).  Both drooping, five petals with prominent Stamen.



The other thing that is common to the other Nightshades is that most of the Nightshade fruits and vegetables  you eat come from poisonous plants. The Potato fruit is in fact poisonous. Only the potato itself is edible.

Now, to break down the Solanum even more, you then look at the species. Solanum tuberosum- the Potato, Solanum lycopersicum-Tomato and Solanum melongena-Eggplant. All VERY closely related, but not interchangeable. 

The point to Scientific names to sum it up…is to be able to confidently talk about or study a very specific plant and know exactly what is being talked about or studied whether the specimen is from Michigan or France or the Scientist is from Brazil or China.

Hopefully this is  a little clearer than mud. If you have any questions or comments, please ask.



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Take a Kid out into Nature

How many hours in a day does a kid spend in front of some sort of screen. I-Pads, TV, Lap Tops, Cell Phones, X-Box and the list goes on. How much fun are they really having? What are they learning? Are electronics an addiction or just a habit? Probably a bad habit.

How many kids have never actually been off a trail or even on a trail?  Way too many! Most states have hundreds of thousands of acres of nature available to enjoy. I understand the hesitation of wandering out into the wilderness if you aren’t experienced yourself, but there are many opportunities to enjoy Nature Centers and improved trails. Here in the West MI area we have Blandford Nature Center, Indian Trails, Hoffmaster State Park and Howard Christensen Nature Center and several others. Here is a list of the Nature Centers in Michigan:

Here are some fun pictures:


A bunch more!

Or the other option……

computer screen

Which option looks better to you?

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The issue with harvesting young shoots for food or medicine is that mistakes are more likely than when identifying mature plants in bloom. Both of these plants have long fuzzy leaves and are similar in appearance. Especially from above looking down. This is when it is important to know what the identifiers are. 20180515_162705.jpg
The plant leaves on the left are more rounded on the base and apex and I would consider them to be oblong. The leaves on the right are more elliptical. Both are fuzzy, but the hairs on the left are are much shorter. Both have white latex as a sap. Also notice the veins are more horizontal from the mid rib on the left plant. The plant on the left, I know to be Common Milkweed. An edible (learn to process it) and very useful plant. I’ll have to wait till the plant on the right matures a bit to positively Identify it. It’s not Dogbane though for sure as it is hairy. The point? Don’t be nonchalant when identifying a plant, especially if you are going to eat it. Know 100% what you have.
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Poison Hemlock

Conium maculatum-Is a HIGHLY POISONOUS herbaceous plant in the carrot family. This is a plant that makes foraging for members of the carrot family extremely dangerous for beginners. By poisonous, I mean drop you dead poison. One mouth full will be the end of you.

Coniine is the compound that is responsible for your demise. It works on the Central Nervous system which in turns prohibits the muscles that allows you to breath from functioning. You will die from respiratory distress.  The only chance you have is to be put on a respirator until the effects wear off, which is about 48-72 hrs. The problem is, the poison works as quickly as 30 minutes after ingestion. The poison also effects your Kidneys and can cause Renal failure. If you think you may have ingested some, seek medical attention immediately. Poison Hemlock

What to look for: A carrot looking leaf pattern. Purple spots or blotches on the hairless stem. The stem is hollow, which unfortunately has resulted in kids using the plant as a straw, leading to death. One of the most common mistakes is to misidentify the plant as Wild Parsley.
Poison Hemlock 3Notice the carrot like leaf pattern. Look closely and you can see the purple blotches on the stem. Look at the hallow stem. I thoroughly washed my hands after handling the plant.
Poison Hemlock2I was also very careful not to put my hands in my mouth or in my eyes until after I washed them….twice. Yes, it’s that poisonous. Poison Hemlock1

If you have Poison Hemlock on your property and want to get rid of it, I recommend seeking professional help.


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Michigan Flora Facebook Group

If you are looking for a place to show off, get an identification or information about a plant or mushroom, join Michigan Flora. You don’t have to live in Michigan to join. Most of the plants found in Michigan can typically be found in the entire Great Lakes region and North East United States.

Trout Lilly rises above Spring Beauties

Trout Lily among Spring Beauties.

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Being a Safe Forager

OK Michigan. Enough is enough and get nice already! Well, it is crappy and so far this Spring has been nothing to brag about. I’m sure it is lovely somewhere but here on April 14, 2018, it is about 35 degrees and pouring rain. It’s supposed to turn to ice later.

Believe it or not, Foraging weather is coming. It is time to shed off the Cold Weather Blues and get back to Nature. It is time that we begin to partake in her bounty. That means it is also time to think about Foraging safety.

You think that doesn’t pertain to you? Maybe not. Do you hunt Morels? Do you go Blueberry picking or Blackberry picking? Maybe you are a bit more involved and have a few other favorites. Could be you are like me and dive in head first to all that Mother Nature provides. If you fit anywhere in there, you are a Forager.


Not sure what this Mushroom is? When it comes to Foraging, that’s all you need to know for the minute. DO NOT EAT IT. Study it. Have it positively identified. Learn its nuances, habitat, etc.. Make it an exception by knowing it 100%. Then enjoy it for what it is.

So with that in mind, the key to enjoy Foraging is being able to make use of your bounty without tossing your cookies and wishing you were dead…or actually becoming dead.

What is then, the most important thing to know when it comes to Foraging Safety? Simple…knowing that you don’t know all that much, but what you do know…know it very well. That is the key to safe foraging.

Here is the truth about wild plants and mushrooms. There are crap loads of them. In Michigan alone, there are about 1800 native species and 800 non-native species of plants. No one really has a clue how many fun guys are running around. That’s fungi for you serious folks. There are some guesstimates that there are over 5 million different species world wide. I don’t have a clue how many are in Michigan. No one else does either.

So what is the point? When it comes to plants and especially mushrooms, being an expert is relative. Doctors in Botany and Mycology are smart enough to know they have a lot to learn. So folks like me, who would be considered an expert to many, know that relatively speaking, I am not very knowledgeable about  plants or mushrooms. So if you are just beginning, no offence, but you have a heck of a lot to learn if you are serious about making use of what Nature provides.

You will be way ahead of the game if you just know, what you don’t know. Which is pretty much everything. What your goal needs to be, is to begin to make exceptions in your lack of knowledge. For instance. You don’t know much, but, by golly, you know a Dandelion when you see one. OK…that is great, because if you can Identify a Dandelion 100% of the time, then you have a fantastic free and healthy natural resource.


Delicious or deadly? Useful or useless? If you don’t know, the best thing for you to do is to take a picture and enjoy its beauty. Study it and make it an exception. You will be glad you did.

You have the Dandelion down pat. Awesome. How about Morels? Can you Identify the Morel 100% of the time or do you throw in a False Morel, the Gyromitra esculenta, better known in this neck of the woods as the Beefsteak Mushroom?  If you make that mistake, you might not regret it until you do. When that fateful day comes that you succumb to the toxins present, you will pretty much wish you were dead. There has been some cases in which the unlucky souls wish came true. So, is the Morel an exception to your lack of knowledge? If it is, awesome! You will enjoy some great eats.

If you realize what you don’t know and take that lack of knowledge with humility, you will be just fine. Take each plant or mushroom one at a time. Make each one an exception to your lack of knowledge. Maybe you aren’t an expert Botanist or Mycologist, but when it comes to your exceptions, you are an expert. That makes you a pretty safe Forager.


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