Joined: May 29, 2010
Location: Ava, Mo, USA, Earth
Most of the stuff on my list from last week is still in season. Here's some new things to try.
Gooseberries and Currents (Ribes spp.) Some books list the leaves and flowers of some species as being edible. None are mentioned as being potentially harmful. It's easy to learn to recognize plants belonging to this genus, but not always as easy to distinguish each species, so I just try them and see if they are good. Flowers are eaten raw as a trailside nibble. They are very sweet and delicious. Leaves can be eaten raw if tender enough, or cooked. Some books mention making tea from the leaves, but I've never tried it.
Basswood (Tilia americana) is often grown as a shade tree, but I planted some for the leaves and flowers. The leaves are a bit tougher than what you would commonly find in a salad, but not too tough. They have a nice flavor. The unopened buds can also be eaten. I just planted mine last year, so all I've been able to do so far is nibble on a small sample.
Brambles (Rubus spp.) include blackberries, raspberries and dewberries that are native and a number of nonnative species and hybrids. The fruit isn't the only part that is edible. Tender leaves can be used in salads. The new shoots, especially rampant growth from plants that were pruned or mowed off, is delightful. Well, usually delightful. Some have a slight bitterness to them. I eat most of the ones I find where and when I find them, but they are also good lightly cooked. Bend the stem, if it snaps it's good; if it bends, it's too old. The leaves of most species can be used to make tea, but I haven't played with that.
Speaking of tea though, most leaves make better tea if they are dried first. Something about the drying makes the essential oils more available to flavor the tea. If the tea is too mild, try toasting the leaves slightly. This is true for all teas, not just brambles.
Plantain (Plantago major) is a common yard weed. It makes a passable salad green if picked young enough. Even tiny new leaves are tough in the summer heat, so try it now. Plants growing in the shade tend to be more tender. The fibers in the ribs are the first thing to get objectionably tough. One thing that can be done to minimize this is to roll up a bunch of leaves and slice them up, cutting across the ribs. Try adding some to coleslaw. Narrow leaf plantain is also edible, but I don't like it raw. Both are often added to my “mess of greens” pot. It's also good on sandwiches.
Ox-eyed Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) is, in my opinion, and underrated flower. It's a very underrated salad and cooked green. In China and Japan they grow a special variety of chrysanthemum called “shingiku” that some claim is too strong tasting for American's palettes. Our common wild daisy is a slightly milder near twin. Unlike a lot of plants, it does not get bitter when it flowers, so the leaves can be eaten anytime you can find them. They are a bit more tender before the flower stalk comes up though.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) isn't a plant to fill your belly with, but it is a good year-round seasoning and tea. There isn't any part of the plant that doesn't have a spicy flavor and scent that is similar to allspice. Twigs, bark and leaves are all available now to seas you meats or to be brewed into tea.
Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) is also known as wild carrot. Like garden carrots, it is a biennial. And like the domestic ones, but the time you see the flower stalk, the root is tough and woody. You might still find a few roots tender enough to eat, but fall or really early spring is better. I decided to mention them now because the greens can be used as a flavoring soups or for meat. Just make sure you get plants with hairy stems, smooth stems might be deadly hemlock. This isn't one to just guess and hope you ID'ed it right.
Wood sorrel (Oxalis spp.) is a delight to any kid who finds it. Looking back at how much of this stuff I ate as a kid, I think kids are born liking sour things but learn to like sweets. Like the Rumex spp I mentioned last week, Oxalis spp get their sourness from oxalic acid and could cause health problems in some people if eaten in large amounts. There are a number of species in the area. They all have the same shamrock-shaped leaves, but differ in size and color. All are interchangeable for culinary uses. Some do provide much larger leaves than others. All parts are edible: leaves, stems, flowers and seepods.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is the only plant on this list that I haven't at lease nibbled in the last week. There isn't any growing nearby and according to some that's a good thing. I know it's in season though because one of the parks near Springfield, Mo., just had a garlic mustard pulling day. It's officially a noxious weed. One of our native butterflies lays its eggs on native mustard plants, except where garlic mustard grows. If it lays its eggs on the garlic mustard, the caterpillars never mature. In some areas garlic mustard is so rampant that the butterfly is threatened with extinction. If it wasn't for this, I'd plant it in my garden. I ate bushels of the stuff before I moved here. The tender new leaves are one of my favorite pot herbs. So do the butterflies a favor and eat as much of it as you can.
There was a little article on eating plantain in Mother Earth News (issue 245), and to take care of the fibery quality, they boil it until tender and serve the leaves like spinach and the seedpods like asparagus or green beans. They are rich in iron, and vitamins A and C.
sometimes i wonder how much the invasives thing is overblown. i cant believe that a butterfly would be that poor a judge of something so primal as what to feed its babies. (if i may simplify). anyone know the real threat? anyone know what they should be laying eggs on?
it sure is prolific but i just wonder how harmful it could really be. sure tastes good to me