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Burr Oak State Park to host edible-plant nature hike

On the surface level, root beer, allspice and lemonade do not have much in common. But in actuality, these drinks share a similarity – they all originate from edible plants that are native to Appalachia. 

Burr Oak State Park, located in Glouster, Ohio, is hosting a nature hike that will allow participants to identify and taste edible plants – particularly those commonly used to make teas. The event is scheduled to take place on Saturday, Sept. 25 at 2 p.m. at the Burr Oak State Park Nature Center. It is open to the public and no prior registration is required. 

“The Wild Edibles: Tasty Teas” hike aims to provide an enjoyable afternoon in nature while connecting participants to the natural origin of modern foods and beverages. 

Julie Gee, naturalist at Burr Oak State Park, has held “The Wild Edibles: Tasty Teas” hike for nearly five years. She recalls that in past years, many people who are interested in nature have treasured the experience. They enjoyed learning more about the intersection of history and the environment. 

“I just think they love having that connection,” Gee said. “We have beverages today that really go back. If you go back in the history of root beer, you are going to find that it goes back to the earth, it goes back to nature – to using the sassafras fruit, and people finding out that sassafras tea really tastes great.”

Those who attend the hike can expect to learn about other edible Appalachian plants as well, such as wild spicebush and smooth sumac. Both of these plants have been used to create modern-day food and drinks. Spicebush can be used to make allspice, and smooth sumac can be used to make lemonade. Not only are spicebush and smooth sumac edible, but they also have several medicinal properties – such as spicebush’s ability to combat colds and fevers, and alleviate aches and pains. 

Nature offers a way for educators to provide students with hands-on learning experiences. Many schools implement nature-based learning experiences as part of the required curriculum. A 2005 study by the California Department of Education found that students’ science test scores increased by 27% after they engaged in outdoor science programs. 

Elizabeth Garcia, a visitor to Ohio University’s campus, experienced this type of learning firsthand. 

“I did a hike when I was in high school for my biology class and it was really fun,” Garcia said. “It was a similar thing – we did mushroom foraging and that stuff. I really enjoyed it.”

In addition to brief history and science lessons about the origin of modern food and drinks, the hiking event offers a relaxing and scenic afternoon in nature, which can be a rarity in everyday student life. 

“If you are stuck in the dorm rooms all day, there is not very much nature unless someone has a houseplant,” Julianne Rapacki, a fifth-year nursing major at OU, said. “It’s just nice to get out there, especially when it’s fall. All the trees turn this beautiful array of warm colors.”

Athens is home to many plants that are edible or have medicinal properties. Participants of “Wild Edibles: Tasty Teas” will learn more about Appalachian nature and plants that they can find in their own backyards. OU students, who are encouraged to attend, may even recognize plants that are native to quintessential Athens destinations, such as Strouds Run State Park or OU’s College Green. 

“I think college students from OU would really enjoy the experience,” Gee said. “They would learn about common plants that are all around us – that are not just at Burr Oak State Park – that would be at Strouds Run State Park and even at Sells Park in Athens. I bet there is a sassafras tree that’s been planted on the campus at OU.” 

Those who have questions about Wild Edibles: Tasty Teas can contact Julie Gee at julie.gee@dnr.ohio.gov. 

@lwielonski

lw293117@ohio.edu

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