Posts Tagged ‘wild edible’

Persimmons – Diospyros virginiana

Persimmon fruit
Persimmon fruit

Mr. ‘Possom is a farmer
And his crop? Persimmon trees!
Many a woodland stocks his product
And he grows his crop with ease.

How he loves those ripe persimmons
Sweet as syrup, smooth as silk —
Like a gourmet loves his entrees
Like a baby loves his milk.

By Reverend John F. Dorsey (1916- )

This slow growing fruiting tree is native to Eastern North America. It can often be found in dry woods, old fields, and clearings. This deciduous tree is becoming less frequently found in the wild and is listed as of Special Concern in Connecticut and Threatened in New York.

The earliest reference to them that I have found was by Hernando De Sotto who first found them in Florida in 1539. The settlers quickly learned not to eat them until after the first frost, which took away the astringent aspects and rendered the fruit sweet. Later, during the Civil War, when times were tough, the seeds would be used as a coffee substitute by boiling them. And for those of you who like beer and other fermented foods, try a southern Appalachian idea of fermenting the ripe fruit to make beer!

The Cherokee are credited with some of the earliest baked breads using the persimmon fruit, which they served to the Europeans. The Asian persimmon is rarely cooked as they get astringent with heat, but the native American persimmon is often baked into puddings, pies, & breads. Jams and Jellies are also common from the fruit.

This tree also contributed to the ancient medicine wisdom of the south. The unripe, very astringent fruit would be boiled into a decoction and taken internally to stop bloody stools. The Cherokee used a decoction of the inner bark to treat thrush, sore throats and as a wash for warts or cancers. A few twigs boiled and cooled is a good wash for poison ivy and its kin, taking away the itch and finally drying out the blisters.

There is an old use of the persimmon that I have always found fascinating. Take fresh persimmon seeds and split them open. In the center you will find the little whitish sprout…the shape of this sprout was believed to predict the weather for the coming winter. If the sprout looked like a knife it would be an icy, cold winter. If it looked like a fork it would be a mild winter. And if the little sprout resembled a spoon, get the shovels ready ‘cause snow was sure to blow!

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Meadowsweet – Spirea alba var. latifolia

White Meadowsweet
White Meadowsweet

Through grass, through amber’d cornfields, our slow Stream–
Fringed with its flags and reeds and rushes tall,
And Meadowsweet, the chosen of them all
By wandering children….

 

By William Allingham (1824-1889)

 

This perennial shrub of the Rose family is native to Northeastern North America and can be found growing in wet areas such as edges of marshes, bogs and ditches, along streams, and wet prairies. In Kentucky, and Tennessee it is considered Endangered. While in Ohio it is listed as Extripated (locally extinct).  The plant was imported into parts of Europe; Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, United Kingdom. In Belgium and Latvia it is listed as Invasive, and in Lithuania as potentially Invasive!

 

In herbal medicine of the Ojibwa Indians a tea of leaves and flowers was used to ease childbirth. Early settlers used the inner bark as a pain killer, much like other early aspirin like herbs (willow. etc). Unlike willow or poplar, which also contains Salicylates, the properties and strength of the aspirin like effects is consistent from plant to plant. In minute amounts Meadowsweet can also be used on stomach issues. The Blackfoot Indians used a tea as an enema and a vagina douche to treat infections.

 

The leaves smell like almonds and have been used to keep linens fresh and nicely scented. The leaves have also been use in making an astringent skin tonic. The leaves have been dried and used as a China tea substitute, supposedly tasting much the same as the original. The early settlers ate the roots.

 

In magic use this plant and its flowers are used to promote love, balance and harmony. Among the Druids the Meadowsweet, Vervain and Verbena were their three most sacred herbs. The use of fresh flowers on the alter has been frequent when casting a love spell, also use the dried petals in love mixtures. The fresh flowers were often included in wedding bouquets. In Welsh Mythology, Gwydion and Math created a woman out of oak blossom, broom, and meadowsweet and named her Blodeuwedd (“flower face”).

Leatherleaf Mahonia – Mahonia bealei

Leatherleaf Mahonia leaflets and fruit
Leatherleaf Mahonia leaflets and fruit

This evergreen is a native of China and brought to the United States in 1848 as an ornamental. In 1848, after the Opium Wars in China had ended which opened up trade, Robert Fortune first found this plant. An interesting story surrounding his first encounter goes like this: Fortune saw the leaves of this plant peeking above the walls of an enclosed courtyard of someone’s home. He didn’t know the people, but apparently that didn’t matter to him. He opened their front door and walked through the house to the courtyard where he considered digging up the shrub, but felt it was too large to survive. In the next town he offered a reward to anyone who would bring him smaller specimens he could carry with him. In short order he received three separate shrubs.

 

This interesting plant is recommended in the southeastern United States as a wildlife attractant, but it is that wildlife that it attracts that has contributed so heavily to its becoming an almost invasive plant there! The fruits are abundant and are greatly relished by the birds, which eat it and spread the seed in their excrement. So this once garden plant is now naturalized throughout the south. The Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council has it listed as a Rank 2 NIS plant (significant threat). This means that it poses a threat of becoming invasive, but as of yet is not spreading easily into native plant communities.

 

The leaves on this plant are very attention-grabbing. They resemble holly leaves in basic shape and in having points on the leaflets, but they are opposite unlike holly leaves that are alternating. The other major difference is that these are not opposite leaves, but leaflets…which make them all together one very large leaf! The flowers are an interesting yellow, growing abundantly in large clusters and appearing in late winter. Walk past on a crisp winter, very early spring day and get a whiff of citrus in the air…those are the Mahonia flowers!

 

The fruit which follows start out green but swiftly turn bluish black with a grayish bloom. If you can beat the wildlife to them (birds will strip the plant bare in a few short days) then they are actually edible. There are many seeds wrapped up in very little flesh, but the taste has a very refreshing, slightly acidic taste. They have been recommended added to cereal. They ripen in April and May and provide Vitamin C.

 

Since this plant is in the Barberry family of plants it has Berberine in the rhizomes which make it a bitter tonic with antibacterial effects. A decoction of the root and stems has been used to treat pulmonary tuberculosis, recurring fever, and cough in rundown body systems, rheumatoid arthritis, backache, weak knees, dysentery, and enteritis.

Red Birds in a Tree – Scrophularia macrantha

Red Birds in a Tree fruit
Red Birds in a Tree fruit

‘On the mainland the figwort is known for its medicinal properties,

and in the islands for its magical powers.

On the mainland the leaf of the plant is applied to cuts and bruises,

and the tuber to sores and tumours.

In the islands the plant was placed on the cow fetter,

under the milk boyne, and over the byre door,

to ensure milk in the cows.’

 

In  Carmina Gadelica, Volume 2, by Alexander Carmicheal, [1900]

 

This native plant of New Mexico has become rare in nature, growing only in a small area of New Mexico. It carries the common names of New Mexico Figwort and Mimbres Figwort for that reason. It is usually considered Rare or Endangered. A relatively new interest has been given this plant and the nursery industry has assigned the new name of Red Birds in a Tree to it. The new name is due to the striking red flowers it bears from July to October in its native habitat. Here on the east coast I have seen this plant happy and flourishing in the University of Delaware’s Botanical Garden. I saw it in August and the flowers seemed done, but it had great seedpods growing profusely.

 

The Yavapai people of Arizona had at one time used the leaves as spring greens and ate them boiled. No other reference to this variety of figwort being consumed could be found.

 

The genus name, Scrophularia is based on the word scrofula (tuberculosis of the lymph nodes found in the neck) which members of this genus have been used to treat. Although there is no mention of this specific member having been used for anything medicinal!

Carolina Nightshade – Solanum carolinense var. carolinense

Carolina Nightshade fruit
Carolina Nightshade fruit

This native of the southeast North America has spread to cover most of the United States. It is known to be weedy and invasive spreading through seeds and its underground rhizomes. It is extremely deep rooted, and if the entire root is not removed it will regrow being a perennial. Of the 44 states in which it grows, 7 of them have listed it as a Noxious weed…Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Iowa and Nevada. Even though this plant is list as a noxious weed it cannot be listed as invasive, since it is native of this land.

 

Another reason for the aversion to this plant is that all green parts, but especially the unripe berries carry an alkaloid (solanine) that is very toxic. It has been shown toxic to horses, cattle, sheep, and humans. The symptomology of poisoning is abdominal pain and may potentially cause circulatory and respiratory depression. If sufficient quantity of the plant is consumed it can be deadly.  Although the unripe berries are toxic, the ripe berries are consumed safely by pheasants, quail, prairie chickens and wild turkeys.

 

The fruits have also been consumed by humans safely although it is not recommended. In times past the ripe berries (after turning yellow) have been used in herbal medicine to treat epilepsy, and to work as a sedative and an anti-spasmodic. In fact the Genus name (Solanum) is taken from the Latin, meaning quieting! According to Foster & Duke (A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants Eastern and Central North America Volume 40: Peterson Field Guides) the berries have been use to treat epilepsy and pain, as a diuretic, antispasmodic, and aphrodisiac.

 

The Cherokee Indians used it in their Herbal medicine. Often referred to as the bull nettle, the ripe, yellow berries were used to treat nervous stress and as a mild sedative. It was also used for treating asthma, and all sorts of bronchial conditions. The Cherokee also used the crushed leaves mixed with sweet milk as a fly poison. In another use the root would be strung on a thread or piece of leather latigo and hung around a teething babies neck to easy the pain!

Pineapple – Ananas comosus

Pineapple
Pineapple

Pineapple, pineapple the elixir of life
Pineapple, pineapple cut open with a knife
Pineapple, pineapple the sensitive fruit
Pineapples are awful cute…

 

By Unknown

 

This herbaceous, perennial plant originates in South America. It is believed to have been first cultivated by the Guarani Indians of northern Paraguay. Well before the Spaniards arrival the natives of southern Paraguay and Brazil had spread the plant through South America, and into the Caribbean. When Columbus hit the Indies in 1493 (his second voyage) he “discovered” Pineapples and returned them to Europe (specifically Spain).

Since then it has spread to Hawaii, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, and Guam. The first commercial plantation was started as early as the 1860’s. These same natives introduced the Spanish, and therefore the Europeans to the use of the Pineapple motif as a symbols of hospitality and friendship. The Caribbeans placed the whole pineapple or the crown of the fruit outside their door; while the Europeans chose to carve it into lintels over doorways, and furniture.

The Spanish found the locals in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico) soaking slices of the pineapple in salt water before they consumed them. This practice is no longer being followed. The fruit of the Pineapple is still enjoyed with relish, it is often eaten fresh with just the crown, rind, and eyes removed. The flesh may be cut and added to salads, in desserts, compotes, cooked in pies, cakes, puddings or as a garnish on ham. It can be made into sauces or preserves. In Malaysia it is added to curry and used to accent meat dishes. While in the Philippines they ferment the fleshy fruit pulp to make nata de pina. The most common way pineapple is found today is canned as slices, chunks, crushed, or as juice.

The fruit, peel and juice have been used in the treatment of corns, tumors and warts. In some areas it was used to induce abort, labor or menstruation. The juice of unripe fruits will cause vomiting, aiding in clearing the system of poisons. The fruit is often used in Mexican healing rituals. It has long been used as an aphrodisiac, and is used in a homeopathic formula for impotence. An easy use for an aphrodisiac is to place a pineapple spear or ring into a rum based drink (this may not work as an aphrodisiac, but it just may relax fear of inadequacies!)

There are many myths and folkloric tales surrounding Pineapple. Folktales relate that sea captains at one time would place a pineapple outside their door upon returning home to signify their return from the sea. Some people had beds with removable pineapples at the ends of the bedposts, when the guest overstayed their welcome the pineapple carving would be unscrewed from the end and removed!

In the Philippines the myth surrounding the origins of Pineapples is to teach children to always obey their parents, but it is also to teach the parents to treat their children with love and to take care in how they handled them. While the Peruvian legend has the dead arising from their graves and eating the fruit of wild Pineapples!

Sago Palm – Cycas revoluta

Sago Palm
Sago Palm

The Sego, or King Sago Palm is native to Japan and China. It grows on hillsides in thickets on small islands on the Japanese chain of islands. They have a thick 2 foot diameter trunk that reproduces through offsets or suckers that grow at the base of the plant. There are several stands that are protected in nature now, but most of these palms grow in cultivation.

 

According to the ASPCA this plant is toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. It is also highly toxic to humans! Cycasin (a toxic glycoside) may cause these symptoms with exposure: vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, seizures, liver failure, or hepatotoxicity characterized by icterus (jaundice), cirrhosis (scarring of the liver, and poor functioning), and ascites (fluid in the peritoneal cavity). The pet may appear bruised, have nose bleeds (epistaxis), melena (blood in the stool), hematochezia (bloody straining), and hemarthrosis (blood in the joints). This plant has great potential as a toxin with pets, as they find the flavor enticing. Every part of this palm has some Cycasin, but it is especially concentrated in the seeds.

 

Even though there is toxicity present in every part of the plant, it was still used for food and medicine. In folk medicine the leaves were used in the treatment of cancer and specifically hepatoma (liver cancer). The seeds were utilized to help rheumatism, and an extract was used to inhibit the growth of cancer tumors.

 

The seed is also eaten raw or cooked! The seed can be dried and ground to be added to rice which is fermented into date miso. The pith of the trunk is dried and powdered then utilized to make dumplings, which are very sustaining.

 

There are methods of treatment of this plant and its seeds that are very exacting to make it palatable and not toxic! To try and use this plant at home is ill advised!!