Friday, June 22, 2012

Arthur Haines at New England Primitive Skills Gathering

Arthur's book is in the Foraging Family's top 5 recommended wild plant guides. 
If there are such things as botanical rock stars, Arthur Haines must be one.  He's recently finished the gargantuan Flora Nova Angliae, the most comprehensive key and manual to New England plants.  His name is dropped in circles of plant lovers like the New England Wildflower Society where I volunteer.  And he's in the upper echilon of experienced American foragers.  So I was delighted to see him at this year's New England Primitive Skills Gathering, a little gathering of aspiring cave men, women, and kids. 

To top it all off, Arthur is an engaging, theatrical speaker.  He began his plant walk by sitting in a patch of poison ivy, plucking a leaflet, and rubbing it against his forearm until we onlookers were sufficiently convinced that he had gotten the plants oils all over his skin.  After reassurances that he does indeed react to poison ivy, he promised to show how he would avoid that rash even after such thorough exposure.  He definitely had my attention. 

I've been in the audience of many an edible plant walk and led some myself.  Most entail the following formula:  1.  walk along roadside or through park, 2.  find interesting edible plant, 3.  give its name and field marks, describe its edible parts, tell how to prepare it, 4.  resume walking.  Arthur's presentation was no exception to this tried and true format.  What was different was the depth of knowledge that he brought to the table.  Not only did he tell us names and uses, he told stories of the plant's use in Native America complete with mini-lessons on Passamaquoddy language.  He explained the phyto-chemistry of each plant, why certain plants had evolved to manufacture a given compound, and what effects it had on the human body and our inner ecosystem of microbes.  He digressed into commentaries on diet and human evolution, the so-called paleo movement (a diet and fitness movement supposedly based on ancestral eating), and the costs that humans have made by moving from wild foods to selectively-bred and genetically-modified agricultural ones. 

I left enriched and inspired--and with several new wild plants to try.  (Boy, were they good!  Look for posts later this week.)  I also left with some key advice on preventing poison ivy rash.  (Yes, for those out there in the know, the secret is jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).  This I knew long before this weekend.  What I hadn't known was that the chemical responsible for preventing the rash, lawsone, is a red pigment and is found in greatest concentration in the noticeably reddened parts of the stem of the jewelweed, usually near the base.  I also learned that because lawsone acts by binding to the skin more aggresively than the rash-causing chemical in poison ivy, jewelweed is not an effective treatment for poison ivy after the rash has developed.  Now there's a myth I've heard oft-repeated.)  If you ever get the chance to forage with Arthur Haines, I highly recommend it. 


  1. Thag,

    It was nice to meet you at the gathering. I've been enjoying reading through your posts (I'm through the first year and a half). I think we have a great deal in common. I look forward to crossing paths again.

    Be well and happy foraging,

    1. Josh,
      Great to meet you as well. I'm so glad that you are enjoying our blog. We're going to the gathering in Deerfield, MA in October. Maybe we'll see you there.

  2. This is indeed a great book, especially pertinent to your geographical area and personal interests of primitive anthropology. Had you read it before meeting Arthur Haines?

    1. Hi Foragers,
      We've foraged with Arthur a couple of times. So even though we did not read it before meeting Arthur, we've enjoyed using it for some time.

      We love reading your blog. Keep up the great work.

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  4. Hi! I'm casting a show for primitive living experts and would love to chat with you about it. Is there a number I can contact you from? I can be reached at 212-548-5752 or at Thanks!