It is not as familiar a combination as, say, soup and salad, or a shower and a shave, but Plants and Pilates makes sense to its creator -- and the program's fans.
"I do the Pilates [physical fitness system], and I thought, 'There is power from using both plants and Pilates, so why not," Pam McQuistian said.
She is the instructor for Plants and Pilates at Keystone State Park in Derry Township, now in its third season. A recent free program drew a handful of participants to the visitor center to begin with basic stretching and breathing exercises in the Pilates method.
Afterward, they explored the park's dense wood with its shade and diversity of plants to identify medicinal and edible wild plants along the trail.
Among the lessons learned:
• Rose flower petals may be eaten raw in salads or used for making jelly as a good source of Vitamin C.
• "Boiling leaves and twigs from a spice bush makes a very tasty, healthy tea," Mrs. McQuistian said. The leaves of the bee balm plant, the roots of the sassafras tree and pine needles can all be used to make tea.
• The sassafras tree's analgesic and antiseptic properties can be used to treat skin sores, toothaches, rheumatism, bronchitis and more.
• Native Americans cooked the roots of the jack-in-the-pulpit plant, the leaves of which resemble poison ivy but with different veins, to make hot, spicy foods. If eaten raw, jack-in-the-pulpit roots can be harmful to the mouth.
• Early Americans roasted the roots of wild ginger, which is identifiable by its heart-shaped, fuzzy leaves, for use as a spice.
• The juice of the jewelweed, or touch-me-not, which is collected by breaking open the stem, can be used to diminish the discomfort of poison ivy. As a true anti-fungal, the juice can be used to treat athlete's foot. The juice can also be boiled to produce an extract for bee stings.
• Wild grape leaves, which have three lobes and are notched, are best picked in the spring while they are tender. They become a vegetarian or meat appetizer/meal depending on the stuffing, which usually includes a rice mixture and lemon.
Mrs. McQuistian said when searching for edibles in the woods, these rules must be adhered to:
• Be 100 percent sure what a plant is before eating it.
• Know what part of a plant is edible and when it is edible. Some plant parts are not edible at certain stages.
• Know how to prepare the plant for eating.
• Do not over-collect because some plants are rare or protected.
• Be cautious of poison ivy and allergies.
• Do not collect roadside plants.
Among the trail goers was Roseanne Ometz, 53, who found the commingling of Pilates and plants a perfect fit.
"I have a great interest in edible wildflowers and medicinal plants, and the overall well-being of Pilates' toning and healing properties," the Ligonier woman said.
Jen Moreth, 21, an environmental science student at Slippery Rock University, said the outing taught her the role edible plants played in our nation's early survival.
"The settlers lived off the land and discovered for themselves what tastes good and works well," the Baldwin Township woman said.
Mrs. McQuistian's favorite edible plant dish is dandelion quiche.
Dandelion leaves, which are picked in the spring when young and tender, are blanched, and then packaged for refrigeration or freezing.
Follow a standard quiche recipe, substituting dandelion greens for, say, spinach. "They are nutritious and they are free," Mrs. McQuistian said.
For more information on this and other park programs, visit: www.dcnr.state.pa.us/Calendar/list.asp, or call 724-668-2566. Also call or email firstname.lastname@example.org to register for a Wild Food Fest at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 in which participants may sample foods made mostly from park plants.neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland
Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: email@example.com.