Wild Plantain – a Common, but Useful, Backyard Weed

Wild Plantain – a Common, but Useful, Backyard Weed

The wild plantain is a very common weed, found in most yards in North America. There are three species of plantain found in Minnesota: broadleaf plantain (Plantago major), blackseed plantain (Plantago rugelii), and buckhorn plantain (Plantago lanceolata). Blackseed plantain is the only one of the three that is native to Minnesota. It looks very similar to broadleaf plantain, which is the most common species, but you can tell them apart by pulling the plant out of the ground. Blackseed plantains have a purple tinge at the base of their petioles.     Plantains are a low, short plant with wide, round leaves that have parallel veins.  Plantains grow well in compacted soil, and can be found in dry soils, lawns, fields, and roadsides. We have them in our own Minnesota backyard, and I’ve even seen it along trails and at campsites in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In addition to being easy to recognize, wild plantains have an abundance of uses. The leaves can be used for pain relief; chew them up and put the mush directly on a bee or insect sting, or crush them and put them on a rash or wound. Wild plantains are edible, and can be used in salads, as a potherb, and as tea. The tea is mild tasting, high in vitamins A and C, and useful as a remedy for diarrhea, and relieving a cough. Young leaves are a good addition to salads, or blanched and sautéed with butter and garlic. Related articles: – Wild Edibles: Wild Plantain...

Backpacking Fare: Wild Raspberries

Backpacking Fare: Wild Raspberries

Wild raspberries (Rubus sp.) are one of the ultimate backpacking foods, because you don’t have to pack them! On the other hand, you aren’t guaranteed to find them either. They happen to be fairly abundant in Minnesota, and can be found in clearings, along edges of woods, and in thickets – i.e; along the edges of trails! Raspberries are a sun-loving plant. It’s quite easy to fill yourself up on raspberries if you happen across a good patch of them. Raspberries are a prickly shrub that grows to about 1 – 5 feet in height, and are often ripe in early to mid summer. In the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, we find ripe wild raspberries in July every year.  Handle the plants with care, as the bushes can be quite prickly. Wild raspberries are high in vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber. When backpacking, they are excellent eaten on their own, added to pancakes, tossed into some edible wild greens such as dandelion leaves, added to some white or red wine (if you happen to backpack with a small cardboard box of wine), or, if you’re feeling extra luxurious, added to s’mores!...

Brule Lake and South Temperance Lake, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Brule Lake and South Temperance Lake, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

My husband and I just returned from our annual trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  This year we decided to take an easy trip to Brule Lake.  I’ve never seen an easier entry point; you can literally back up to the lake, drop off your canoe and gear, drive your truck 25 feet away and park, and your trip can begin!  I can see how the ease of entry would be a draw for many (particularly those with children), but it did not feel as though we were “roughing it” as much as our past trips.  We actually canoed back to the truck in the middle of the trip to drop off a baggie of garbage and some dirty clothes. If you’re looking for a low-key BWCA trip, entry point 41 is for you! The main thing we noticed about Brule was how crowded it was for being in the BWCA.  It’s a large lake with many campsites, and 7 entry permits are granted per day.  We knew it was going to be a busy lake, but I was still surprised to see so many trucks lined up in the parking lot.  Many of the groups we saw were larger; we saw several groups with the maximum 4 canoes alloted per entry permit. Brule is the 7th largest lake in the Boundary Waters, and the effects of its size became apparent in even the slightest wind.  It’s a rather oblong lake, oriented East/West, and it was quite common to see small whitecaps when the East or West winds started to blow.  Hugging the shoreline is recommended when possible.  We paddled west into the 15 mph west winds one day, which was not only tiring, but the occasional extra large wave would cause our canoe to jar downward and give me a good splash in the process. The campsites seemed to be either beautiful, scenic rocky points or smaller, mosquitoey sites tucked back into the woods.  Naturally, we gravitated toward the more picturesque ones.  With the traffic on the lake, it was necessary to get up early and move to a new site quickly.  It seemed like there were two waves of groups: those who got up early and traded good sites (10am or earlier) and those who got a move on later in the day and ended up with the less attractive sites. We canoed past a good majority of the sites on the lake, and we could generally tell which sites would be good by looking at the red dots indicating campsites on our McKenzie maps and customized National Geographic TOPO maps ahead of time. Nearly always, the good sites were the ones located on points jutting out like this: Part of our preparations for a Boundary Waters trip include putting the GPS coordinates of all the campsites into our GPS.  This helps us to travel swiftly between sites.  Here are some views of site C0967:   We had heard rumors that the fishing on Brule Bay (located on the east side of the lake) was good, but we did not find out firsthand.  After spending a relaxing two nights at our first campsite, we headed out to Brule Bay to search for a good site bright and early.  Another tip:  if you head out early in the morning, before 9am or so, the water is much less wavy.  Alas, after a quick tour of all the campsites (which were all available), we decided to head west again and try our luck elsewhere.  All of the sites were tucked back in the woods and lacked the expansive lakeshore views we were seeking. We traveled back toward the center of the lake and actually ended up at a campsite quite close to the one we had just left!  By this time it was about 10:30 AM, so we were lucky to get it.  Quite a few canoes passed us shortly after we arrived, also looking for good sites like the one we just snagged. We planned to stay at C0941 for two nights, since rain was in the forecast.  It proved true, and we were glad to have a tarp shelter to relax under during the morning rain. We left this site on our second morning there by 7:30 AM, and made a pit stop at our truck on our trip west.  We have never had the luxury of stopping at our vehicle before, so it was a very un-BWCA-like experience. It took us about 4.5 hours to leave our campsite, stop at the truck, canoe across the rest of Brule Lake, portage 10 rods (easiest portage ever) to South Temperance Lake,...

Tick Season in Minnesota

Tick Season in Minnesota

by Carolyn Laursen Tick-borne diseases can potentially affect anyone who spends time in the outdoors and comes in contact with ticks.  Ticks are generally found in wooded, brushy areas.  I often notice them on the ends of tall grass with their little legs outstretched, waiting to be picked up by an unfortunate passerby. The worst part of tick season in Minnesota is in the spring and early summer, and a smaller resurgence occurs in the fall. As far as my dogs are concerned, they wear frontline from March – November. There are thirteen species of ticks in Minnesota, and three of these are frequently encountered by people.  These include the blacklegged tick (deer tick) Ixodes scapularis, the American dog tick (wood tick) Dermacentor variabilis, and the brown dog tick Rhipicephalus sanguineus.  The blacklegged tick is the most notorious vector, being the potential carriers of four (and now probably 5) diseases: Lyme disease, human anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and as of 2008, Powassan virus infection.  Now it seems the Ehrlichia bacterium has been added to that list.  The American dog tick has transmitted Rocky mountain spotted fever in Minnesota, but that has been on a very rare basis (a few cases per year). The best way to avoid getting these diseases is to prevent ticks from attaching to your body, checking for them thoroughly and frequently (Brad Paisley, anyone?), and removing them immediately if any are found.  It is lamentable that the tick that carries the most diseases is so small – adult deer ticks (blacklegged ticks) are about the size of a sesame seed. A couple of things you can do to lessen the amount of ticks you may pick up include walking down the center of a trail, or through areas with less tall, tick-bearing grasses and brush.  Also, wear light-colored clothing so that you will be able to see ticks sooner and pluck them off!  One of my favorite looks is the “pants-tucked-into-yer-socks” style, which looks slightly absurd, but does generally prevent ticks from crawling up your legs inside your pants and toward your crotch.  Bugspray containing DEET or permethrin for your clothes is also helpful, not only for ticks, but also the bountiful “Minnesota state bird” – the mosquito (hyuck, hyuck). If, even after all this, you do end up with a tick attached to you, fret not.  Grab a tweezers, get a hold on the tick close to it’s mouth, and slowly pull straight backwards. Be thorough and wash the area while you’re at it.  Another tip – please do not attempt the maneuver of blowing out a match and using the still-hot end to burn the tick.  I’ll give you a reason why; when I was a child, I once had the misfortune of discovering a tick attached to me while at the residence of an apparently uneducated individual.  He put a blob of vaseline on it for about an hour, which did nothing.  Then he decided to pull the match trick – after blowing out the match and moving it toward the little bloodsucker, the tick flipped over in the opposite direction, and this person firmly pressed the hot matchstick onto my arm.  Ouch.  Apparently he had decided to run the gauntlet of “what not to do.” If you would like further information about tick-borne diseases in Minnesota, here is an excellent link: http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/naturalresources/M1275.html During tick season in Minnesota, it’s also important to protect your dog. We bring our dogs out in the woods with us, and they frequently pick up ticks from the tall grass. If you have a dog, make sure you are applying a product such as Frontline to protect them from ticks. The package you buy will depend on the weight of your dog. The one below is what we buy for our chocolate lab Timber; he weighs about 100 pounds. Frontline Plus RED for Dogs 89-132 lbs, 3...

A Backpacker’s Guide to Buying a GPS

A Backpacker’s Guide to Buying a GPS

GPS (Global Positioning System) units are a relatively new device for the backpacker or outdoors person. GPS units can be one of the most helpful items carried in certain situations. Although one should never leave a map and compass at home, a good GPS unit can be the primary item used in navigation. Choosing a GPS can be an intimidating task, not only for the first timer, but also for a hiker who has had multiple units in the past. Like all technology, GPS units not only get increasingly better each year, they can also become increasingly more complicated. Going along with the title of this article, I will assume that you are looking for a unit primarily for backpacking or general hiking. This narrows down the options a little in that we can avoid all but the smaller handheld units. With all the abilities GPS units currently have, I decided to pick my top 10 suggestions for you to consider when planning on purchasing a GPS for backpacking. Mapping function/memory: The ability to upload maps into the GPS is something you have to consider. Most GPS units nowadays have a basic preloaded map already in the GPS. Although the preloaded maps are useful, they are not that detailed nor are they very accurate. Higher priced handheld GPS units will allow the ability to insert SD cards with preloaded maps for a specific region. The maps are much more useful especially if you plan on using the GPS for driving as well as hiking. As far as memory goes, the more the better. Color VS black and white screen: Although this may seem a little more superficial, colored GPS units will get my vote every time. The biggest reason I like the color screens is that they are much easier to read, and allow you to differentiate between different subjects more easily. I am not sure how much longer they will even produce black and white GPS units anyway. Ability to use with your Mac or PC: You may think you don’t need this feature until there comes a time when you have to enter in 50 or more waypoints, and your finger goes numb from typing it all in the unit itself. Many times a year I enter the GPS coordinates for specific Boundary Waters Canoe Area campsites and portages which I plan on visiting. I could not imagine having to type them all directly into the unit. Magnetic Compass: You may ask, aren’t all compasses magnetic? Well, yes and no. Many lower end GPS units actually do not use a magnet, they use the movement of the GPS in relation to the satellites to decipher a bearing through the use of triangulation. What this means is that you must be moving in order to see which way is which. A GPS with a magnetic compass allows for the user to stand still and aim the unit in any direction to see which way is north or which direction their destination is located. This is another feature I would not go without. Size and weight: Choosing a size for a GPS comes down to personal preference. Personally, I like smaller, lighter units mainly because they are less bulky when hung around the neck or stored in smaller pockets. However, the larger units usually have large screens, which may be a more important feature to others. Battery life: This seems like common sense but it’s a feature that can be easily overlooked. Unquestionably, the longer the battery lasts, the better. Waypoint and Route Storage: Although this has not been a large issue for me, it may be for you. Try to think of all the additional uses you may have for the GPS such as fishing, hunting, geocaching, etc. The memory these waypoints take up can add up quickly, so keep that in mind when choosing a GPS. Button placement and overall feel: This part all comes down to personal preference. Before deciding on the unit that’s right for you, get out into the store and play around with as many different brands and styles as you can. You will find buttons in places you may or may not like. As you look around at the variety of GPS units available you may become entranced in the touchscreens that are available. Touch screens are often fun to use but if you have ever tried to answer an iPhone (or other touchscreen phone) in the winter while ice fishing you know how annoying that can be. Touch screens don’t work worth squat when you’re wearing gloves! Now if you don’t live in the cold or simply don’t go out in the cold then...

Top Ten Lists: The Worst Camping Equipment to Leave Behind

Top Ten Lists: The Worst Camping Equipment to Leave Behind

10.) A decent tent Although it is absolutely possible to camp without a tent, one cannot deny the benefits of having a shelter in which to escape the hoards of mosquitoes, all of whom seem to have the innate ability to find any bare patch of skin or simply hover incessantly next to your ear. 9.) A sleeping bag Of course, you could always burrow under a pile of leaves… 8.) Proper clothing for the weather conditions Do not underestimate the virtues of raingear, extra pairs of socks, and warm clothes for the evening. 7.) Some method of water purification Whether you bring a kettle in which to boil water, iodine tablets, or a water purifier, any will do. 6.) Flashlight You will be cursing yourself for forgetting your flashlight while you’re stumbling over exposed roots and running into trees in a vain effort to dash to the “toilet” in the middle of the night. 5.) A comfortable pair of waterproof boots Before you even think of going camping, wear them in and spray them down.  Soggy and stinky feet are not fun for anyone.  4.) Bugspray Prepare to spend your evenings and any time next to water decked out in pants and long sleeves. 3.) Map and compass Did your GPS run out of batteries? 2.) Fire starters Even though you can start a fire by rubbing two sticks together or making sparks with a rock, it’s very time consuming and not at all reliable. 1.) Common sense Cheesy? Yes.  Necessary? ...