Harvesting Plants For Paper
Late Summer and Fall, 2004
I'm on my second summer harvesting plants for papermaking. I did not keep an accounting last year of what I harvested or my adventures in doing so! This year, I share with you my forays into the wild! If you're curious about what the plants look like, go to my Flowers site and locate my photographic journaling via my scientific index. I prefer to wait until late summer/early fall as all the flowers have started or gone to flower or seed. This gives a stronger, more fiber-filled plant.
Brandy Bottle, Nuphar Luteas - Also known as water lily, this is an A class noxious weed in Oregon and it is SO pretty. It grows in great abundance in the Klamath Wildlife Preserve and the overflow ditch for the canal that runs along Highway 97 just north of Worden. I harvested them just as the plants begin to die back, the stems are still filled with fluid. A quick, firm pinch to break the stem and a quick twist and tug will cause the leaf stem to pop right into the hand. I harvested leaves and all, fully expecting the leaves to render junk. The completely dry stems are simply a matter of picking them up as they have separated from the base completely. Resulting paper was weak as there was just the tiniest amount of fiber in the plant. It makes wonderful inclusion into a stronger paper.
Flag iris, Iris Pseudacorus - This is an escaped cultivar and rubs elbows with the simplestem burreed. Hard to differentiate between the two just by looking at the stem shapes. The flag iris is more blue green in appearance while the burreed is yellow green. Like the burreed, these are easily cut near the base with a pocket knife. Unlike the burreed, if you cut higher it isn't as difficult to slice! Flag iris also grow both in the water and right up to the dry shore so they're even easier to access than the simplestem burreed.
Common mullein, Verbascum thapus - I had tried to make paper from this plant before when it was in flower one summer. The resulting pulp was a dismal failure and great fodder for my compost bin. However, I was gathering another plant and pulled up an overwintered stalk of mullein mistakenly. It was simply a matter of reaching down and lifting the silvered stalk up. What amazed me was the apparent woodiness of the outer layer of the stalk. That was just illusion, the stalk made more fodder for the compost.
Common red sage, Kochia scoparia - I love this plant. It's one of the pigweeds, is a noxious weed in Oregon and makes a beautiful tan paper. It grows everywhere around here, mostly in arid soil. Rancher Tom says his cattle love it, so I harvest the stands along Highway 97 here in the Klamath Basin. These plants are easily harvested by simply grabbing them close to the base and pulling. Their roots are pretty extensive but shallow. I like to harvest them just as they start to flower because I adore having the seeds in the paper. By harvesting as they flower, they continue to mature as they dry in my Studio O and I process the entire plant, leaves and all.
Common sunflower, Helianthus annuus - These delightful annual plants are not weeds, but they grow wild in abundance everywhere in the Klamath Basin. I found mine along the roadsides and cut them while they were in bloom so I could have dried flowers, too. The stems are quite tough so I used garden snips to harvest them. I suppose, since these are annuals, pulling them up would not be out of the question, I just didn't think to try it! *eyeroll*
Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale - We have oodles of sow thistles and hawkbeard around the Klamath Basin but taraxacum is a rare find, so I was really tickled to find a terrific crop of real dandelions growing in the lawn of the Winema Office Complex up on "Hospital Hill." The gardner was amazed and pleased to find me snatching all the blowballs I could see. The entire plant from root to tip makes a lovely paper, but all I was harvesting were the tall stems with the flowers and blow balls. Very easy to harvest as the stems are delicate and easily "popped" wherever you grab and give a slight pinch/twist with the fingertips. I wasn't careful in my harvest and gleaned dandelion leaves and some grass as well. I expect this will be a delightful paper. There were so many dandelions in the lawn, I figured if I had harvested the whole plant, they would have more dirt than grass! Dandelions do come up quite easily, though, if the ground is well soaked before harvest and simply using a gardner's forked hand cultivator. Slip the tines down into the earth at the base and lever the plant up from below.
Ox-eye daisy, Leucanthemum vulgare - These are crop weeds and are plentiful in the Klamath Basin. They grow to a respectable size. The ones I harvested were about three feet tall. After getting permission from Ed Stuebli if I could harvest some from his corrals, I chose to gather plants in bloom. Like the sunflowers, I wanted dried flowers as well. I tried pulling them up and found them to be more than I could manage, so I pulled out my pocket knife to slice them. The stems are very woody and, while the knife worked, I would have been better off with garden snips. These plants appear to be perennials as this year's growth was growing from a rosette of last year's growth. I will return later to gather up some of last year's growth to have a comparison of papers from new and old fibers.
Smooth Hawksbeard, Crepis capillaris - It seems these grow mostly in ditches where there is plenty of moisture and are found tooth by jowl with cattail. They have a taproot system and, being a crop weed here in Oregon, I pulled them up roots and all. Fortunately for me, they were in a loose soil. The local Smooth Hawksbeard grows pretty tall here in the Klamath basin, ranging anywhere from three to seven feet in height. I also found last year's stems growing in the same area. This plant is an annual, but it looks like it stays put throughout the winter. Last year's stems had to be pulled from the ground just like this year's growth, but they were a lovely grey and quite easily broken so I had to take care not to lose any of the plant as I stacked them together. The flowers only wilted within the 24 hours between when I harvested and started processing instead of going to seed immediately like the Dandelion it vaguely resembles.
Simplestem burreed, Sparganium Erectum - This grows along the edges of the local canals and lakes and is easy to access. It grows a little back from the shore, so I had to either get my feet wet or stretch to get to them. They don't pull out easily and are also thickly hidden in last year's leaf debris. The debris pulls out with some slight determination to expose the base of this year's growth. The plants are easily cut with a pocket knife slicing close to the base where the leaves are thickest. Cutting higher up where the leaves no longer have the air pockets is challenging. I can see where these leaves would make beautiful basketry. I came home with an armload each of this and last year's leaves.
Stinging nettle, Urtica dioica L. - I've harvested last year's winter retted stems before (which have no sting to them and pull up easily) so this year I harvested the green plants. I take normal precautions and armed myself with long-handled garden loppers and leather gloves and wore a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and tennis shoes with long socks. I cut and then stacked the plants onto a beach towel. When I had as much as I wanted, I pulled up the ends of the towel to wrap the stack in and protect me from contact as much as possible as I carried the bundle back to the truck.
Water hemp, Amaranthus tamariscinus - This plant bites when you grab the blooms, but pulls out of the ground quite easily. It grows just about everywhere here in the Klamath Basin and I've found it mostly next to ditches. I checked with Rancher Tom and have his blessings to remove any I see on his ranch as the plant is poisonous to cattle and causes bloat. I yanked up an armload and set them in my Studio O workspace. The stems are tough and, as the flowers dry, they become even more stickly like thistle!
Water Smartweed, Polygonum anphibium. - This plant is not a weed, but it is plentiful here if harvested wisely. When picking them, the vines are jointed and break easily if just grabbed and tugged on. I pulled a vine gently up with one hand and then followed down close to the root with the other. When I got to an area where the vine started to turn black, I gripped it and gave a firm pull to separate it above that point. Since this is not a weed, I did not want to pull up any of the rhizomes or remove any of the actual roots. This plant spreads primarily by rooting at the joints and secondarily by seed. I would also pull only two or three vines from a spot and then move a few feet away and pull another two or three vines so I wouldn't disadvantage any plants. When I had enough to make a small amount of paper, I added them to my bag and, when I arrived back home, set them out in Studio O for chopping.
Western Salsify, Tragopogon dubius. - In Oregon this plant is classified as a crop weed. I love the puff balls when it has gone to seed. I should've gathered some to add to the paper. I harvested these after they had completely gone dormant and nothing was left but the brown, dead plant. They pulled from the ground easily and hosted a big, fat taproot resembling a turnip.
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Last revised: November 14 2008