coming full circle

When I was maybe 21 I started this interest in what could be done with the plants that grow around us… what’s edible, what’s medicinal, what’s useful in other ways. I dyed up some yarn I got at some fair with black walnuts and at least one or two other things, and even though I hardly knew how to knit, I made an Andean style hat with llamas and earflaps. In my memory it came out pretty well, but it’s long gone, along with the man I gave it to (actually I left him, and the hat ended up with a daughter of a friend out west).

I had quit mechanical engineering school and was drifting around odd jobs in Syracuse, when one day I wandered through Illick Hall on my way to a bookstore job. There was a display in the lobby of lichens and mosses. I had been reading about lichens as dye plants and was amused at the idea of setting them in a bucket of stale urine in the sun to get some amazing colors.

So I hunted down the professor. I found out he taught a bryoecology class (ecology of bryophytes, an upper level class) and it was starting soon and I wanted in. He asked if I had any college level biology coursework, I said no. He told me the class was mosses and liverworts not lichens, I said I didn’t care I still wanted to take it. He was reluctant to let me in, but he did. And I got an A. And that fall I was enrolled full time as a plant ecology student to finish up my BS. I credit him much with that decision. He was a great professor, a natural teacher, who shared his enthusiasms and interests.

Anyhow, you’ll note my recent, um, obsession with fungi and dyeing. Look what came to me recently,
A lichen called rock tripe (lichens are a symbiosis of fungi and blue green algae)

Um, yeah, you can eat the stuff, but I imagine it’s little better than shoe leather.

Anyhow, I’ve been making use of interlibrary loan,
and Casselman says that stale urine is little more offensive than ammonia. I think collecting it will be a weekend activity.

I only browsed the book a bit, but it looks really informative. And potentially entertaining. She has a “how to identify” section for all the plants. Here’s the one for beets: “look at the supermarket for a red, bulbous-shaped, tuberous vegetable with large green and red-veined leaves“. Or you could just look for the sign or tag.

6 Responses so far

  1. 1

    marissa said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 8:34 am

    My mind has imagined the color that will produce, and I can’t wait to see how accurate I am. This looks like an amazing project, one I’m glad to have the chance to follow along!

  2. 2

    Elizabeth | The Natural Capital said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 9:14 am

    Ooh, sounds fun! What color should the dyeing process create?? I’m having trouble picturing anything beyond rock tripe grey (sounds like something for a fancy clothing catalog), but I know sometimes these things work in mysterious ways.

  3. 3

    Chris said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 9:31 am

    An adventure begins!

  4. 4

    Mom said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

    We learn new things every day and I’m delighted today to learn of your interest that started when you were 21, which led to an education in biology, ecology. You are an amazing woman, a daughter beyond wonderful, and one of the most interesting and intelligent people I know. I’m so proud to be your mother!! Much love, Mom

  5. 5

    Mel said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 1:36 pm

    Just had a bunch of fungi – shelf-like, but from the ground – pop up down by the driveway because of the rain. If I have time, I’ll harvest and see if I can identify them.

  6. 6

    Colleen said,

    September 9, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

    I’m fascinated by plant (and fungus) dyeing. If I had dye-space that was NOT my kitchen, I’d like to get more into it. So… what does one do with beets (after one has laboriously ID’d them in the grocery store)?

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