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Published on: Sep. 20, 2011

If you hike one of the six exceptional trails that meander through Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area in Blue Springs, you may meet a lady, small in stature, but full of spunk and passion, wandering and searching along the path. If your curiosity gets the better of you, and you stop to visit, you are in for a real treat.

Frances Mathews may be a small woman, but her legacy is not. She may invite you to see the object of her scrutiny, indicating a tiny plant growing up through the cracks in the trail with the tip of her handmade hiking stick. As your eyes focus on the object she indicates, you may discover that tiny, pesky weed with succulent leaves that you have pulled from your own sidewalk on many occasions. With a smile she introduces you to purslane.

“This little plant is chock-full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It is high in vitamin C, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium and contains more beta-carotene than spinach,” she explains. “If you can’t get past the idea that it is a detestable weed, you will miss out on one of the most nutritious plants on earth.”

Like the Missouri Department of Conservation, Frances is dedicated to sharing our outdoor heritage with the next generation. Foraging for wild edible plants is a tradition that she intends to keep alive. These strong convictions have become her legacy.

Frances has shared a lifetime of knowledge with visitors to Burr Oak Woods. She will tell you that these plants are a gift from the earth that we have all but forgotten. Learning about wild edible plants is so much more than an act of nostalgia. She believes that the more we learn about these nutritious and delicious treasured plants, the greater understanding we will have about nature and a healthy lifestyle. Foraging for them is also a fun family activity in nature that helps to stretch the family budget rather than break it.

A Natural Forager

Frances began her education as a 5-year-old girl. She vividly recalls the details of the first time she was allowed to forage for wild mushrooms and greens with her aunts, uncles and a neighbor back in 1936.

She woke up early that morning and kept watch, leaning out the windowsill with her chin resting on her crossed arms. When the car

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