Our community is named for the creek that marks its way through the valley floor. The road runs alongside the creek and shares its name. For me, this is the way home.
After nearly two years of living here I am now beginning to note the features of this path, the seasons of this valley. The changing corn field, the bend in the creek that is highlighted in the evenings by the setting sun, where the early morning light dances on the surface of the water. I like to imagine a large brook trout lives there.
Then there is the copse of mayapple in the corner just before the crumbling red-painted shed that marks one border of the corn field (the other boundary of which is our neighborhood). I like seeing them in spring--the mayapple, their umbrella leaves, hiding, I know, a small white flower or a green berry.
On the wooded hill behind our house, out by the bird feeders, there is another group of mayapple, this one convenient enough for me to observe more closely. To monitor its growth and flowering.
I take my guidebooks down. I read: "Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum); Barberry Family. Solitary, nodding flower borne in the crotch between a pair of large, deeply lobed leaves. Flowers: 2" (5cm) wide with 6-9 waxy white petals. Leaves: to 1' (30cm) wide. Fruit: large, fleshy, lemon-like berry." (from The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers).
The text continues:
The common name refers to the May blooming if its apple-blossom-like flower. Although the leaves, roots, and seeds are poisonous if ingested in large quantities, the roots were used as a cathartic by the Indians. The edible ripe golden-yellow fruits can be used in jellies.
[An online source says that the name refers to the apple-like fruit, which is really a berry.]
Peterson's Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants for Eastern and Central North America says this for its use:
Fresh fruit, jelly, cold drink. The large pale yellow berries ripen as the plant begins to wither and die. The pulp surrounding the seeds can be eaten raw, or cooked and made into jelly (add pectin); the juice can be added to lemonade. Warning: The roots, leaves, seeds, and green fruit are strongly cathartic and should not be eaten.
These mayapple plants--the family on my hillside--are just now budding, flowers still tightly closed, as you can see. In the next month they will open and I will climb through the undergrowth again to peek under the leaves and photograph the flowers. Then another month, and I will look for the fruit. You'll forgive me, I hope, if I don't make any jelly. The words "strongly cathartic" make me a tad wary.