May 2, 2013

Edible plants abound in Rugar Woods


---- — PLATTSBURGH — It is important to know about the plants around us to understand planet Earth, Michael Burgess says.

The assistant professor in the Biological Sciences Department at SUNY Plattsburgh led about 30 people through Rugar Woods for what he called an edible-plants walk as part of the college’s recent Earth Week.

“The reason why I love plants so much is because the natural plant world has everything we need, like oxygen,” Burgess said.

Modern culture has disconnected people from the environment, he said, and that is why it is important to know about the benefits of plants.

Mollie Putzig, who went along on the walk, said she likes the idea of people going back to nature.

“There are a lot of valuable things that people don’t know about,” she said. “It’s great that Michael is doing this.”

Burgess also talked about the code of ethics of interacting with growing things.

“It’s important to know how to take care of plants. There is a specific way to collect plants, and if this is done wrong, it could be death.”


The group made its way through the woods, and soon it began to drizzle.

The first stop was in front of a white pine tree. Burgess plucked some needles to show them to his audience.

“Those are not needles; they are leaves,” he explained. “It’s a really wonderful tree.”

The white pine has a rich history, Burgess said, that goes back to Native Americans, who used it for food, medicine and building materials. The leaves can be used as an infusion for tea or as an addition to a salad, he said.

“It provides a wonderful smell.”

The tree’s paste, a resinous substance that comes from the inner bark, is useful for pain and skin problems.

“For example, if you get a cut in the woods, it can be used to provide some relief for a little while,” he said.

The bark of the pine tree is also very strong, Burgess said, and was used to make baskets and other objects.


As he took a bite from the leaves, the professor said they can be a good snack in the early spring.

“It does not taste great, but it’s good for you,” he said.

Soon, the sky began to clear, and the sun shone as the group continued its way behind Burgess.

The next sampling was of the yellow tussilago flowers, which resemble the dandelion. According to, the plant is also known as coltsfoot, and a tea made from it is used for coughs, colds and asthma.

Those flowers and also clover, Burgess said, are also nice in salads.

A few people sampled the clover, finding it tastes like green beans.

Even though plants can be edible, Burgess said, it is important to be careful, as some of them often cause allergic reactions.


After the event, he said he was happy so many people took part and were curious about the plants.

Brandon Boynton, who participated for his photojournalism class, said he enjoyed the experience.

“I liked how detailed he (was) about everything,” he said. “The little rain sucked, though.”

Barbara Brienza, 71, of Saranac Lake said she found out about the walk from the newspaper and brought a friend along.

“We like to garden, and we find it interesting to see what’s edible and what is not. 

“It’s nice to have somebody giving you a nice idea of it,” she said.