Vail Daily column: The wonderful, wild strawberry | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: The wonderful, wild strawberry

Beth Markham
Curious Nature

Backpacking the steep and rugged trails of the Gore Range my first summer in the Vail Valley, I recall my feet aching from the blisters forming on my heels, cold drops of rain penetrating my so-called rain-coat, and my belly grumbling with cheeseburgers and beer on my mind. My PMA (positive mental attitude) had taken a turn for the worse. Then it happened. My fellow backpackers discovered a sizable patch of what appeared to be tiny strawberries. Although they were pretty sure we had just stumbled across a bounty of edible, wild strawberries, we double checked the field guide to be confident.

Blueish-green leaves 2-4 inches in size and comprised of three sharply toothed leaflets, check! Small clusters of white flowers with five broad petals that surround a yellow center, check! Reddish, slightly hairy, long and slender stems, check! Small, reddish fruits that resemble tiny strawberries, check! Sure enough, we found the mother-lode of Frigaria virginia. As I popped one of these small red berries in my mouth, I discovered the attitude-adjusting deliciousness of a wild strawberry. The incredible sweetness found in each tiny berry from just off the trail far surpassed that of its perfectly ripened and much larger cultivated cousin purchased at the grocery store. I later discovered that 90 percent of all cultivated strawberries were derived from the wild species (Kershaw, 2000). The wild strawberries we stumbled upon reminded me of how wonderful nature’s bounty truly can be. Eight years later, my heart still sings with delight at the first signs of the distinctive wild strawberry, whose leaves typically emerge in May, followed by flowers in June, and berries a bit later in the summer depending on the conditions.

Berry Delicious Uses

Not only does the wild strawberry make a tasty trail snack, but it has several other applications. The berries and leaves can be steeped in hot water to make tea (great for a chilly morning sunrise while backpacking or camping). These parts can also be dried and saved for tea on a snowy morning in the comfort of your own home. The berries can also be collected, cooked down, mixed with a little pectin and preserved as a jam. Keep in mind this takes A lot of berries, so you may want to start your berry collection early in the summer.

If you intend to use the leaves of the wild strawberry, then please take note that partially wilted leaves contain toxins that can cause a rash, so be sure to only use fresh or completely dried leaves. As always, when searching for wild edibles, be sure you are 110 percent positive that you have correctly identified the berry or plant you intend to eat!

Medicinal Plant, too

The wild strawberry also has several medicinal purposes. The leaves are high in Vitamin C and can be submerged in cold water and blended into a pulp. Simmer the pulp mixture for 15 minutes and after 24 hours of chilling in the refrigerator, strain out the solids. The remaining liquid can then be used as a tonic to reduce fevers, improve kidney function and is acclaimed to be one the best home remedies for diarrhea. In addition, it can be used on skin to help improve eczema and other skin issues. The strawberry tonic, combined with the actual berries, has also been used as a remedy for gout, rheumatism, liver and gall bladder problems. Strawberries also contain high levels of ellagic acid, which is believed to prevent cancer.

And for those who might be feeling a little crazy this mud season, have I got a remedy for you! Making a tea from the roots of both wild strawberry and yarrow plants has thought to even cure insanity. Hopefully your needs aren’t quite this extreme, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the wild strawberry in one way or another. Keep your eyes peeled for this tiny little burst of sweetness and sunshine this summer, you won’t be sorry. Happy strawberry hunting!

Safety first! If you intend to use the leaves of the wild strawberry, then please take note that partially wilted leaves contain toxins that can cause a rash, so be sure to only use fresh or completely dried leaves. As always, when searching for wild edibles, be sure you are 110 percent positive that you have correctly identified the berry or plant you intend to munch on! When in doubt, spit it out!

Beth Markham, youth programs director at Walking Mountains Science Center, can be found foraging edible plants all summer long while hiking and mountain biking.