LEE MEMORIAL FORREST, LOUISIANA-- 14 hundred acres of over 600 species of plants is the emerald world of LSU's Lee Memorial Forrest in Washington Parish, Louisiana. Millions of years before any grocery story would sprout, Louisiana was ripe with vegetation. The first native peoples that called the area home were amidst a flavorful terrain.
The Great Southern Lumber Company owned Lee Forrest until it was donated to LSU's school of Agriculture and Forestry in 1926. Today, Lee Forest is used to educate students in the program and the students have expert educators. Among them is LSU Botanist Chris Reid.
LSU Botanist, Chris Reid says, "red bay is a small tree with aromatic leaves. The leaves can be used in the same way as the bay leaf you get in the grocery store."
All around the forest are blackberry vines and sassafras trees. Sassafras leaves are used in gumbo file and also in early root beer recipes. Additionally, there are edible plants and are less known.
While foraging through the forrest, Chris Reid points out a plant and says, "this plant in South Louisiana is called mamou. Another name is coral bean. The red seeds were used by the cajuns medicinally."
On the ground under shade of the long leaf pine trees are many edible plants that depend on fire to grow. Fire clears keeps the bushy plants at bay and allows tubered plants to get feel of sunlight.
Dr. Reid is well-versed with the natural world around him and says, "this is mountain mint. The leaves are aromatic, really strong and have a menthol scent and a friend of mine's mother uses them in delicious homemade sausage."
The forest is a tea lover's dream. Fragrant goldenrod has edible leaves that can be steeped to make a licorice perfumed tea."
One of the more odd characters of the area is Winged sumac. It is a leggy tree with minuscule fruit rich in vitamin a. It is related to cashews, mangos and poison ivy. But that makes the fruit peculiar is that it tastes like lemon-head candy.
Mysterious is the forest. It is both figuratively and literally food for the soul and a foundation of Louisiana's great culinary pallet.
We strongly advise anyone interested in edible plants to not go foraging. Many plants are toxic and there are edible plants that look very similar to deadly ones. It takes a trained botanist to distinguish the difference.