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Foraging, Permaculture, and other things, too
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Sedum: Stonecrop

Thu, 05/19/2022 - 16:55

Sedum with mild flavored leaves. Photo by Green Deane

Confessions of  forager: In a general sense I have known for many years that “Stonecrops” were edible. I avoided them as they were usually associated by writers with cactus (In that they grow well where it is warm and dry and rocky. Where I live it is hot, wet and no rocks.) So I ignored “stonecrops” for decades except for two:  a distant edible relative I stumble across in Florida, Ice Plant, Carpobrotus edulis,  and sedum ternatum which I played with as a kid in Maine. 

I grew up on a dirt road out in the country, five miles west of the famous L.L.Bean store in Freeport Maine. Of course back then it was a relatively small store over the post office. Now it’s the entire town. My grandfather printed catalogues for L.L. himself and invented their one-wheel deer carrier.

Down the road from our house in Pownal was a seasonal pond with alder trees and polywogs and what we called Frog Bellies growing right beside the road. It was Sedum ternatum. As kids we didn’t know what it was but we would suck on the leaves. The upper layer of the leaf would separate and balloon up, filled with air which to a kid looked close enough to a frog’s puffy belly. There are between 400 and 475 different species of Sedum.    Several species of stonecrop have a history of edibility.”the genus native to Europe, Northern Africa and Asia where varities grow in rock crevices, on ravine edges and in scrubby areas. It’s among the fe plants tht can survive in the rocky Greek landscape.

Ice Plant is native to South Africa.

Among the edibles are: Sedum, sarmentosum (which is high in vitamin C) S. roseum, S. rhodanthum, S. reflexum, S. telephium var. purpureum, and S. acre. Roots of Sedum roseum are eaten after being cooked. The roots of S. roseum are also a common supplement sold under the name Rhodiola rosea. The roots of S. telephium var. purpureum have also been eaten. Sedum telephium var telephium is a cultivated salad plant in Europe, the leaves are used. S. acre has pungent leaves and is used as a condiment. Native Americans used S. divergens, and S. laxum for food, the latter rolled with salt grass. The red tops of  Sedum integriforlim ssp. integrifolium  were used to make a tea, or the leaves eaten fresh or with fat, the root was also eaten. S. rosea (The rhodiola) was eaten fresh, cooked or fermented. Roots eaten with fat or fermented.  Interestingly kalanchoe is in the wider stonecrop group though I have never heard of any of them being edible. Avoid Sedum alfredii which is known to accumulate cadmium.

Contemporary references say Sedum means “House Leek” in Dead Latin. Merritt Fernald,the Big Botanical Man at Harvard from 1900 to 1950, author of Gray’s Manual of Botany 1950 (the year he died) says “Name [is] from sedire, to sit, alluding to the manner in which many species affix themselves to rocks or walls.


Green Dean’s Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION:  Sedum acre,  tuberous-rooted, carpet-forming, evergreen succulent  to  3” tall spreads moss-like along the ground to often making an impressive ground cover. Plants are thickly clothed with blunt, conical, pale green leaves. Leaves overlap in shingle-like fashion. Small, terminal clusters of tiny, star-shaped, five-petaled, yellow flowers to half an inch  blooms most of the summer.

TIME OF YEAR: warm weather, most like it suuny and dry

ENVIRONMENT: Sunny locations, Varies. Some like to cling to rock faces and well-drained gravely soil others like lawns. Like Ice Plant a good plant to cultivate near the sea. Can tolerate some shade, rarely needs to be watered

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Varies with species, some just the young and tender  leaves, others the entire plant, often roots are eaten with fat. Or dried and powdered and use for tea. The sap os S acre, can irritate the skin of some people and the leaves, eaten in quantity, can cause stomach upsets.


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Harvest Moon Wort

Tue, 02/15/2022 - 17:47

Self-seeded Moon Plant in North Carolina forest.

It looks like a fake plant created for a low-budget space movie. It even has a good name: Lunaria annua, Annual Moon. It’s also edible. I first saw them was in mile-high Beech Mountain, a city near Boone North Carolina. Then later I saw them growing on my cousin’s property in upstate South Carolina. 

The blossom tell you it’s in the mustard family.

Lunaria annua (loo-NAIR-ee-uh AN-yoo-uh) is a purple-flowered native of southeastern Europe* — the Balkans — and western Asia. Its unconventional seed pods (silicles  SILL-ah-cle) prompted the species to be used as a garden ornamental. It’s been widely planted in the United States and Canada. It’s also widely scattered in Great Britian — introduce there 400 years ago, it was popular in the Victorian era. The species is listed as invasive in Australia (and the U.S.)  As you might also presume it is a popular in flower arranging. A relative, Lunaria annua var. alba, has white flowers, L. alba var. albiflora ‘Alba Variegata, is variegated with white trimming on its leaves. There is also a Lunaria rediviva which has oval seed pods and likes to be slightly damp. There are about a dozen plants in the genus. Lunaria is sometimes confused with Dame’s Rocket, Hesperis matronalis, which is also edible (young leaves, seedpods, flowers and seeds sprouted.) 

Lunaria annua seeds.

Other common names for Lunaria annua include Honesty, Silver Dollar, Dollar Plant, Money Plant, Moneywort, Moonwort, Satin Flower, and Kuuruoho (yes, that is spelled correctly.)  It was also once known as Lunaria biennis. The plant attracts butterflies, long-tongued bees and is disease/pest resistant. 

It was one of the first European flowers introduce into the American colonies where it was value for its striking seedpods and edible roots. Thomas Jefferson was growing them in 1767.  

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

Identification:  Two to three feet tall with alternate to opposite, oval to heart-shaped leaves. They are toothy, medium green and slightly fuzzy, pointed at the tip, upper leaves are stemless. Four-petaled purple flowers are in racemes above the leaves in spring. Flowers are replaced with flattened, paper-thin, silver-dollar sized fruit which become translucent. Several seeds are in the fruit and are easy to winnow. 

Time of year. As the plant has a long juvenile stage it should be planted in very early spring for a late summer or fall harvest. They can take a frost an temperatures own to 10.6 F. Biannual, it produces only leaves the first year and is a small plant that year; as a tall plant flowers and seeds the second year. As it reseeds you only have to plant it once. Soak the seeds in water a day hours before planting. 

Environment:  Edges and transition zones. Open woodlands, naturalized areas such as permaculture lots with native and non-native species, semi-shady gardens. It likes well-drained, rich soil, full sun in cooler climates, afternoon shade in warmer areas. It needs six hours of sunlight a day, an is hardy in zones 5a, 5b, 6b, 6a, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, and. 9a

Method of Preparation: The thick root is edible raw or cooked before blossoming. When the energy in the root is used to make flowers and seed the roots usually get tough. Cooked, pungent seeds are a mustard substitute. The seed is 30 to 38% oil, high in erucic acid, 44%, and nervonic acid, 23% (which is a base material in creating medicine for multiple sclerosis.) The long-chain oil itself is also a high-temperature lubricant. As with most mustards most of the plant is edible — leaves, flowers and unripe fruit — but are bitter. It is also believed to be high in vitamin C as most mustards are. Leaves are edible by rabbits. 

*To be more specific it is native to Albania, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy, Crete, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia. It has been introduce into: Alabama, southern Argentina, Austria, the Baltic States, Belarus, Belgium, British Columbia, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Czechoslovakia, Delaware, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Idaho, Illinois, India, Indiana, Ireland, Kentucky, Madeira, Maine, Manitoba, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Norway, Nova Scotia, Ohio, Ontario, Oregon, Pakistan, Pennsylvania, Québec, Rhode I., Sweden, Tennessee, Ukraine, Utah, Vermont and Washington

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Soapberry, Buffaloberry

Tue, 01/25/2022 - 08:35

Shepherdia were an important Native American and First People’s food.

There are only three species in the genus Shepherdia, all in North America, and one brings up a good point. When you go up in elevation you often go north in flora and fauna. There are some northern plants that grow south on the tops of Appalachian Mountains but no where else at lower elevations in the south. Two of the Shepherdia species grow mostly in northern states. But, one is in Utah and Arizona on the Colorado Plateau… which is 5,000 to 7000 feet. The plant thinks it’s further north than it really is. 

Some three dozen native groups depended on the species and with good reason. A hundred grams of Shepherdia canadensis has 80 calories, 0.7 grams of protein, 0.7 grams of fat, 16.6 grams of carbohydrates, and 5.3 grams of fiber. Vitamin C is outstanding and about three times your daily need, at 165.6 mg. Vitamin A in a separate report said it was 0.97 grams. The B vitamins are B1 (thiamin) 0.03 mg, B2 (riboflavin) 0.1 mg B3 (niacin) 0. 2 mg. Phosphorus is 21 mg, calcium 16 mg, magnesium 8 mg, zinc 1.4 mg, iron and sodium, o.5 mg each, 0.2 mg manganese, 200 mcg copper and strontium 70 mcg. 

These berries get around. S. aragentea is in the western two-thirds of North America excluding Texas to Maine and southeast. Oddly it’s in one eastern country of New York, an escapee perhaps. Of all the west it is not reported in Washington state. S. canadensis is in all of Canada, the western third of the U.S. and the states north and east of Illinois. It’s in Vermont were I still have cousins living and didn’t quite get down to where I lived in Maine. Roundleaf Buffaloberry is found in southern Utah and northern Arizona.

Argentea is new Dead Latin for silvery. Canadensis of or from Canada. Rotundifolia means round leaf. The genus is named for John Shepherd, 1764-1836, curator at the Liverpool Botanic Garden.


Shepherida argentea: Deciduous shrub to small tree 20 feet tall,  (20 ft) dense silvery surface on the bottom of leaves and young twigs. Older branches commonly tipped with a spine, leaves wedge-oblong, no teeth. Flowers small, inconspicuous, in clusters in the leaf axils, fruits are scarlet. Also called Silver Buffaloberry,  it’s high in pectin.

Shepherdia canadensis: Soapberry. Deciduous shrub under six feet, oval to lance-shaped leaves, smooth edges. Bottom of leaves and twigs covered with rust-colored surface, flowers small, green, inconspicuous, bloom in early spring, berries single or in clusters in leaf axils, orange to deep red, covered with small dots.  It also has a small amount of saponins so it can make a foam. Also called Buffaloberry it pairs well with Blackberries.

Shepherdia rotundifolia: Roundleaf Buffaloberry:  Unlike its relatives the S. rotundifolia is evergreen, has tightly packed silvery leaves, wooly below, and scruffy rough berries. 

TIME OF YEAR:  Shepherdia canadensis: Bitter berries in July to early August. Shepherdia argentea: Tart berries in in fall usually after a frost. Shepherdia rotundifolia fruits in late summer.

ENVIRONMENT: Open woods, thickets, rocks, shores. The species is a nitrogen-fixer. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Eaten raw, cooked or dried. Can be made into a juice, jam, jelly or used as a flavoring. Natives also dried, smoked and pressed into cakes. They were also whipped until they created a foam then sugar was added for something akin to whipped cream. 

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Tue, 12/07/2021 - 09:40

Pacific Silverweed, a traditional vegetable.

Pacific Silverweed gets around… mostly the top of the world: Siberia, Alaska, the Yukon, British Columbia, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, Greenland… New Hampshire…( Mt. Washington is, after all, a mile high) western Long Island, Washington state, Oregon, California… And it has a long list of names: Silverweed, Pacific Silverweed, Greenland Silverweed, Eged’s Silverweed, Potentilla pacifica, Potentilla anserina ssp. pacifica, Argentina egedii ssp. ededii, Argentina egedii ssp. groenlandica and no doubt others. It was renamed in the 1990’s and not everyone is pleased. I think the nom de jour is Argentina egedii. What ever it is called many native groups ate it for a very long time proving botanists are not necessary. 

Pacific Silverweed roots. Photo by Radix4roots

Pacific Silverweed also has a lot of things we need. Per 100 grams of steamed roots it has: 132 calories, 3.1 grams of protein, 0.6 grams of fat, 29.5 grams of carbohydrates, 9.5 grams of fiber. No vitamin C reported and barely any Vitamin A, 0.2 RE. Te B vitamins are B1(thiamin) 0.01, B2 (riboflavin) 0.01 and B3 (niacin) 2.4 mg. The minerals line up: Phosphorus 109 mg, sodium 65 mg, magnesium 60 mg, calcium 37 mg, iron 3.5 mg, zinc and copper 1.1 mg each, and manganese 0.8 mg. 

One of the problems with the plant is it grows like crazy. But if you’re hungry that’s great. At least 12 native groups in North America considered it a staple. They also ate A. anserina the same way (Silverweed, Common Silverweed and Silver Cinquefoil.) It’s a smaller plant and is found in wet places inland distributed sporadically throughout most of North America except the Old South. 

As for the botanical names… What Argentina means is easy, “silvery.” “Anserina” is Dead Latin for “of the goose” either because it was fed to geese or the plant’s leaf shape reminded someone of a goose foot which is also what “chenopodium” means. In Sweden it is called Goosewort.  “Egedii” took me far longer to sort out. But, I had an inspiration one day and found the answer on page 813 of a 72-year old book, Gray’s Manual of Botany, edited by Merritt Fernal. (If you’ve visited my website I’ve mentioned Fernald here and there.) Egedii honors Hans Poulsen Egede (1686 -1758) “the father of Greenland” (or in new Dead Latin, groenlandica.)  

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A low-growing perennial that spreads by creeping stolons. Leaves are pinnately compound, alternating, glossy green with very silver undersides. The five-petaled, five-sepaled flowers remind one of buttercups. 


ENVIRONMENT: Beaches, dunes, sand flats, coastal estuaries, high tidal marshes, at or above the mean high tide. (When you consider New Hampshire only has 18.57 miles of coastline that’s quite a feet… feat. If you count every tidal nook and cranny it’s 235 miles.)  

METHOD OF PREPARATION: The roots are always cooked — boiling or roasting — to remove bitterness. They can be dried before or after cooking for storage 

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Tue, 11/23/2021 - 05:26

The little chestnut that survived. Photo by Will Cook, North Carolina Plant Photos.

One way to think of Chinquapins is they are small Chestnuts that survived. In the same genus as their bigger relative — Castenea — when the  blight wipeout the Chestnuts Chinquepins suffered but some managed to survive. One can see the  Allegany Chinquepin (C. pumila) while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Their nut is about half of the size of their deceased relative but still worth collecting. We also know some of the nutrition of another edible Chinquepin, the Ozark Chinkapin (C.  ozarkensis.

Chinquapins pack a lot of nutrition.

Per 100 grams it has 443 calories, 18 grams of fat, 57 grams of carbohydrates, 13 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber. The fat is 10 grams monounsaturated, 4 grams polyunsaturated and 4 grams saturated. Potassium is 77 mg, no sodium reported. A second report says they are 5% fat, 55 protein, 40% starch and 50% water with 4736 calories per kilo. European chestnuts, not affected by blight,  are the only cultivated and consumed nut that has vitamin C, about 40 mg per 3.5 ounce serving. 

In the Beech family the Chinkapin has been called them most  ignored and undervalued native North American nut tree. It has a sweet and edible nut and has been used for fuel, charcoal, fence posts, railroad ties and a coffee and chocolate substitute (as are the seeds of the Blue Beech, aka the American Hornbean, Carpinus caroliniana.)

 Just how many “Castanea” species there are is anyone’s guess. For example the USDA uses the name Castanea pumila for the Allegany Chinkepin. They say it is also called American chinquapin, C. alnifolia, C. ashei, C. floridana, C. margaretta, C. nana, C. paucispina, chinquapin, dwarf chestnut, Fagus pumila, and Golden Chinquapin. We are fairly sure C. ozarkensis is a separate species.  C. davidii, C. seguinii, C. mollissima and C. henryi are from Asia, C. creanata, Japan. To my knowledge all of them have edible nuts. Chinkapin’s native range is New Jersey and West Virginia, west to Missouri and Oklahoma, and south to Texas and Florida. It’s been planted in Wisconsin and Michigan. 

Green Deane Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Chinkapin is a small tree or large shrub that grows six to 15 feet tall. Twigs are densely hairy when young becoming shiny brown with reddish-hairy buds. The leaves alternate, are simple, short-stemmed, prominently veined, oblong with fine pointed teeth or bristles, and hairy on the lower surface. The fruit is a spiny bur with a single nut. Bur opens like a clam shell. 

TIME OF YEAR: Early September with some leeway for location.

ENVIRONMENT: It does not like limestone or sand dunes. Prefers mixed hardwood forests with pines and oaks on ridges and slopes, under 4450 feet. Heat tolerant but intolerant of salt spay or shade.  

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Shelled nuts eaten raw or roasted. 

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Wild Parsnip

Tue, 11/02/2021 - 11:06

Wild Parsnip makes a flat-top yellow blossom.

Wild Parsnip, Pastinaca sativa, is native to Europe but is found in all of North America except Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida. It’s a root vegetable closely related to carrots and parsley and has been cultivated since at least the early Greeks. It was part of the tribute the Germans gave to Roman Emperor Tiberius. Both English immigrants to America and French to Canada brought the plant with them. 

Be sure of your identification.

If we combine two reports we can get a good accounting of Wild Parsnip’s nutrient profile. A 100 gram sample has 76 calories, 1.7 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of fat (mono- and saturated) 17.5 grams of carbohydrates and two grams of fiber. Vitamin A is minor — 3 RE, but vitamin C is good: 16 mg a little over a third of your daily need. The B vitamins are B1 (thiamin) 0.08 mg, B2 (riboflavin) 0.09 mg, B3 (niacin) 0.2 mg, and B6 (pyridoxine) 0.85 mg.  The minerals are potassium 541 mg, phosphorus 77 mg, calcium 50 mg, magnesium 29.4 mg, sodium 12 mg and iron 0.7 mg. 

Tasty and nutritious so what’s the down side? It’s in the same family as Poisonous Hemlock so you have to make sure of the identification. Taste and aroma is not enough. By the account of victims Poisonous Hemlock root also smells and tastes like parsnip. That said Poison Hemlock produces white flowers on stalks creating a more rounded appearance like an umbrella. I tell my students a white umbrella made up of smaller umbrellas. Wild parsnip has yellow flowers on stalks producing a more flat-topped appearance. Wild Parsnip has celery-like leaves and deeply grooved main stalk that is green. Poison Hemlock has smoother stems if not splotched with purple and the leaves are more fern-like. 

What Pastinaca means is foggy. It can be from “pastinum” meaning food or to prepare the ground for planting a vine. If so then “sativa” is redundant as it means “sown.” Parsnip is from Pastinum which passed into Old French as pasnaie then into Middle English as pasnepe. The current ending -nip was added by mistake because folks thought it was related to turnips which it is not. 

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A two-year plant, basal rosette of roughly hairy leaves, strongly aromatic when crushed. Leaves compound,  pinnated, broad, with toothed edges, leaf stems grooved, main stalk grooved, second-year stalk taller than first year. Blossoms yellow making a flat-top arrangement.  

TIME OF YEAR: This is a plant you have to identify this year and the harvest next year. The first year it is a basal rosette growing a tasty root. The second year it sends up a flower stalk. Flowering starts in May and can last to July or even October depending on climate and location. You can also harvest roots at the very beginning of year two. But once the plant is flowering the roots grow woody. 

ENVIRONMENT: It is rudual meaning it likes disturbed ground from abandoned fields to roadsides. It prefer a little dryer soil to a little wetter but it can some moisture.  

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Be sure of your identification. Check with a local expert. Roots raw, boiled, steamed, sauteed, mashed, pureed, baked used in soups, stews, sauces. Also made into beer and wine. Young leaves coked. Seeds used for a dill-like seasoning. Wear gloves and a long-sleeve shirt when harvesting just as you would cultivated parsnips. Sap on sweaty skin which is then exposed to sun can cause a rash that can last for months. 

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Lady Thumbs

Fri, 10/22/2021 - 05:48

Lady’s Thumbs are closely related to Smartweed.

Where I teach classes in South Carolina — Honea Path — a weed that is prolifically under foot is Lady’s Thumb. Unfortunately the names of it and related species are constantly being changed and shuffled between two genera, Polygonum and Persicaria. This is understandable as the resemblance between the two groups is striking. Sorting out your local species requires attention to detail. Close is good enough as I am not aware of any toxic Persicaria though some may increase light sensitivity. As for edibility, test to determine if the leaf is mild or peppery.  The mild ones are eaten as a salad ingredient or pot herb, the spicy ones as a peppery or spicy green. 

From Eurasia Lady’s Thumb is among the most prolific of the group and is botanically known as Polygonum persicaria or Persicaria maculosa. Common names include Spotted Lady’s Thumb, Jesuspant, Smartweed, Devil’s Pinches, Virgin Mary’s Pinch, Herbe Traitesse, Red Joint, Red Weed, Red Legs, Redshank and more. As the stems can get red that explains that. The leaves often have a brownish spot in the middle — maculosa (mack-cue-LOW-sah) means stained or spotted — and that gave rise to the “pinches” as the leaf was pinched by the Devil, the Virgin Mary, and a Lady’s thumb. Herbe Traitesse refers to a tale in which a woman murdered her husband and wiped the blood off on the leaf leaving a stain leading to her detection. Some Gaelic-speaking folks called it Blood Spot. Other populations call it Lover’s Pride and Saucy Alice. A few folks were not as high-minded calling it Devil’s Arse-wipe.  

Other botanical synonyms include P. maculata, P. ruderalis, P. ruderalis, P. vulgaris, P. dubium, P. fusiforme, P. minus and P. puritanorum. Although Eurasian it was wildly reported in the great lakes region by the mid-1800s. This also might account for why various native people were reported using it in the late 1800s when early botanists were investigating such things.  When handling older and or peppery plants make sure to keep your fingers away from your eyes or they will smart hence another name: Smartweed. 

Names aside we do have some nutritional information for the Polygonum persicaria aka Persicaria maculosa (percy-CARRY-ah mac-you-LOW-sah). A 100-gram serving of fresh greens has 0.33 mg of B2 (riboflavin) 60 mg of vitamin C, and 12 RE of vitamin A. The same amount of cooked greens has 0.18 mg of B2, nothing else reported.  Some names suggest the plant might make a yellow dye so there might be some beta carotene which is the precursor to vitamin A. Also know Lady’s Thumb is on the weed hit list of many states either as a noxious weed or an invasive species. It invades 35 crops in some 50 countries. Not all things are bad, however. This plant provides “persicarin”  which might be used in treating severe vascular inflammatory diseases such as sepsis or septic shock. It can also remove more than 60% of nitrite from ground and surface water. The flowers attract bees, wasps, and syrphid flies. Many insects feed on the species including aphids, beetles, weevils, stink bugs, larvae of sawflies, larvae of several moths, copper butterflies and grasshoppers. Most mammals avoid the species at its peppery stage though the white-tail deer will eat young plants and or flowers thus spreading the seeds. Rodents also eat the seeds such as mice, squirrels and chipmunks. Canadian Geese have been seen eating the species as well and three turtles: Snapper, Painted and Slider. 

There are several native Persiaria some of which can resemble P. maculpsa among them the Nodding Smartweed (Persicaria lapathifolia) and Pennyslvania Smartweed (P. pensylvania.) They like similar habitats and have similar identifying characteristics.  P. maculosa has consistently shorter upright blossoms whereas P. lapathifolia has longer nodding blossoms. P. pensylvanica also has short upright blossoms but those of P. maculosa are usually shorter and more slender. P. lapathifolia and P. pensylvanica occasionally have a dark spot on the upper leaf whereas P. maculosa almost always has a dark spot.

And I saved this for last so not to confuse: Persicaria is from Dead Latin’s “persica” which means peach. Persicaria means leaves that look like peach leaves. 


IDENTIFICATION: A weed to a yard high. Young leaves alternate, are lance-shaped, approximately two to six inches long, just over an inch wide and hairy on the upper surfaces  Older leaves are slightly hairy. Leaves taper to a point.  Leaves often have a purple/brown spot in the middle of the leaf. Stems are branched, often reddish in color and swollen at the nodes. A thin sheath encircles the main stem at the base of each leaf stem. Flowers are spikes at the ends of stems. Individual blossoms are small and usually pink but can also be white. The shiny seed is a disk to three-sided, brown or black. Tap roots are shallow. 

TIME OF YEAR: Warm weather, usually summer. If flowers from about May to October, depending on your climate. 

ENVIRONMENT: Lady Thumb prefers moist to wet waste ground, disturbed sites, meadows, stream banks, roadsides  and well-watered gardens. It prefers acid loam and does not tolerate alkaline soil.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Non-peppery leaves in salads or cooked as a pot herb. Peppery leaves used as a spice. 


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Pacific Crabapple

Wed, 10/13/2021 - 07:58

The Western Crabapple. Photo by Ken Morse.

The Pacific Crabapple, Malus fusca, was put in a separate entry because it’s the only crab apple on the west coast of North America from about San Francisco north. It’s a wild apple that manages to survive in Alaska and deserves to be mentioned. (See a separate entry for Wild Apples.) 

The western carbapple has a different shape than the eastern crabapple.

This small apple was highly important to indigenous peoples who lived anywhere near the tree. At least 19 groups — mostly coastal — harvested it annually. As of 1990 many were still picking it. A hundred grams of Pacific Crabapple have 90 calories, 1.2 grams of protein, 1.6 grams of fat, 17.7 grams of carbohydrates, and 6 grams of fiber. B vitamins are B1 (thiamin) 0.03 mg, B2 (riboflavin) 001 mg, B 3 (niacin) 1.9 mg.  A second study puts the vitamin C level at 8 mg, vitamin A 4 RE and potassium 194 mg. As for the rest of the minerals phosphorus 33 mg, calcium 29 mg,  magnesium 28 mg, sodium 21.2 mg, iron 0.6 mg, manganese 0.33 mg, zinc 0.2 mg and copper 500 mcg.  

Malus is Dead Latin’s version of Greek Malon/Melon for apple. Fusca means dark, swarthy, dusky.  Often called “deer candy” as deer are fond of the fruit.

Distribution map, Pacific Crabapple

IDENTIFICATION: Small tree, leaves irregularly lobed, toothed edges, pointed at the end.  Branches have sharp shoots, fragrant apple blossoms white to pink.  Fruits are small, to half-inch, oblong unlike eastern crabapples, and yellow to orange to purplish-red.  Older bark deeply fissured.

TIME OF YEAR: Late fall to after first frost. Often picked when slightly under ripe to sweeten off the tree. However they turn soft after a frost, turn brown, and become sweeter. 

ENVIRONMENT: Moist woods, edges of wetlands, estuaries. Prefers full sun. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Edible fresh, cooked and preserved. Can be mixed with sweeter fruits, are made into jelly and are a good source of pectin. They were often preserved with fish oil and also served with fish oil (ooligan grease.) Their acid content also helps in their preservation.  The bark was used medicinally but contains cyanide-producing compounds. 

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Coralwood: Food and Medicine Tree

Mon, 09/13/2021 - 11:48

It’s easy to see the Coralwood is in the pea family. Photo by Green Deane

Coralwood seeds and leaves are edible cooked. The tree has been used for centuries as food and medicine so why is it controversial? There are two possible answers: Lack of definitions and the habit of the Internet to cut and paste.

Coralwood seeds are usually weigh a quarter of a gram each. Photo by Green Deane

Adenathera pavonina (ah-den-ah-THER-rha pah-vo-KNEE-ah) is an Old World tropic tree. In the New World it has been introduced from Venezuela to southern Florida. The species is a nitrogen fixer, is cultivated for animal forage, is a garden ornamental, has a huge array medicinal uses and dozens of common names. It is safe to say it’s been the subject or many research papers from food to medicine. The issue is raw seed edibility. 

Cornucopia II, a standard published reference, says on page 152 “Seeds are eaten raw, or roasted and shelled and eaten with rice, tasting like soy beans. The husked kernels contain 25% of their weight of oil with a protein content of 39%. Young leaves are cooked and used as a vegetable.”  That’s from the 1998 edition of Cornucopia II. 

The Internet, revealing cutting and pasting from Wikipedia, references an 1889 Australian book that they say says the uncooked seeds are toxic. I happen to have a copy of that book: “The Useful Native Plants of Australia.” It does not say the seeds are toxic. This is exactly what the author, J.H. Maiden, wrote on page 5:

In India these seeds are occasionally used as an article of food. They are the size of a kidney bean. They would doubtless require boiling, or some similar preparation, for it should be borne in mind that the Leguminosae must be regarded as a poisonous Natural Order in spite of the fact that it yields some of the most valuable foods used by man and beast.”

Heck, in my classes I tell students the pea family is not a friendly one. A lot of species in the pea family are toxic from weeds to trees. What Maiden wrote is far from saying Coralwood has toxic seeds. He wrote a warning in general about the legume family (which also holds true for uncooked kidney beans et cetera.) 

Coralwood is used for firewood, lumber and building houses. Photo by Green Deane

At any rate are doubts: In all the professional studies I read the seeds were cooked. They were made into everything from a nut milk to ground chicken feed. Most of the internet authors who say the raw seeds are edible also say the seeds often have to be cooked to reduce “toxicity.”  That “toxicity” is usually unstated. Perhaps getting closer to the truth a government website in Singapore says “Uncooked seeds (though toxic) have been used as [an] intoxicant.”  Not reported are  the effects of the intoxication. To be on the safe side we should cook the seeds which includes roasting and boiling (which in itself is confusing. Roasting usually degrades a bad chemical, such as calcium oxalate. Boiling often carries a toxin away as when we boil poke weed.)  More digging reveals a possible answer: One study says the seeds “are believed to be toxic when eaten raw.” They think the “toxin” might be a trypsin inhibitor which reduces the breakdown of digested protein thus prevents the body’s utilization of the proteins. Cooking would reduce the trypsin inhibitor.   

Research in the Czech Republic (reported in Emirates Journal of Food and Agriculture. 2020. 32(2): 100-108) reports:  “The analyses showed that the lignoceric [acid] (17.59% and 18.24%), linoleic {acid  an Omega 6 oil found in soybean and canola et cetera] (39.80% and 37.88%), and oleic acids [such as found in olive oil] (14.67% and 14.75%) were the most abundant in the oil of raw and roasted seeds, with the unsaturated forms present in higher amounts than saturated. The seeds were found to be rich of vitamin E (33.09 and 15.94 mg/100 g), whereas the contents of vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6 were rather low. Calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sulphur were the minerals found in the highest concentrations. Salicylic acid (201.01 and 151.95 µg/100 g) has been detected in higher amounts than other phenolic compounds. In summary, the findings of this study indicate that the both raw and roasted seeds of A. pavonina are good sources of various health-beneficial nutrients, including those reducing the negative effects of obesity. The seeds also contain many phenolic compounds and vitamin E was in four forms: Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gamma.

Adenanthera is a genus with about 13 species found in India and China. Coralwood is endemic to Southern China and India. It has been widely introduced and naturalized in Malaysia, Western and Eastern Africa as well as most islands of Pacific. It is listed as one of the worst invasive species in Jamaica and it has been classified as an invasive plant in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and many islands in the Pacific including American Samoa, Hawaii, French Polynesia, Micronesia and Australia. 

In the medicinal realm the species has anti-diabetic activity, hypo-lipidemic activity, anti-hypertensive activity, anti-diarrheal activity, anti-cancer activity, antioxidant activity, antiviral activity, anti-inflammatory activity and antimicrobial properties. In India a decoction of young leaves is used for  rheumatism and gout. It is also used for inflammations, blood disorders, arthritis, cholera, paralysis, epilepsy, convulsion, spasm and indigestion. Pulverized wood is mixed with water and taken orally for migraines and headaches. Bark and leaf decoction are used to treat dysentery, diarrhea and tonsillitis. Decoction of the seeds were used in pulmonary infection and externally applied in chronic opthalmia. 

As it is fast growing after the first year it is used for shade trees and firewood as well as lumber for furniture, cabinets, decorative wood products and house construction. The leaves are used for fodder — high in protein, low in minerals — and breakdown easily for green manure. 

Adenanthera is from the Greek ‘aden’ (sticky gland) and ‘anthera’ (anthers.) It refers to the flower anthers being tipped with sticky glands. Pavonina comes from the Dead Latin word ‘pavo’ meaning peacock-blue. While no reference is given explaining the name the leaves are dull green on top, blue-green underneath. Other scientific names for Coralwood are Adenanthera gersenii Scheff, Adenanthera polita Miq, and Corallaria parvifolia Rumph. 


IDENTIFICATION: A medium- to large deciduous tree, A. pavonina ranges in height to 45 feet. The tree is generally erect, having dark brown to grayish bark, and a spreading crown. Leaves are bipinnate with 2-6 opposite pairs of pinnae, each having 8-21 leaflets on short stalks. The alternate leaflets are oval-oblong with an asymmetric base and a blunt tip, being a dull green color on top and a blue-green beneath. The leaves yellow with age.

Flowers are narrow spike-like racemes, to five inches long at branch ends. They are small, creamy-yellow in color, fragrant. Each flower is star-shaped with five petals and 10 prominent stamens bearing anthers tipped with minute glands.

The curved pods are long and narrow to eight inches long with slight constrictions between seeds, dark brown in color turning black upon ripening. The leathery pods curve and twist to reveal the 8-25 showy seeds. The hard-coated seeds, are lens-shaped, vivid scarlet, and stick to the pods. The ripened pods can remain on the tree into the next season. There are some 1600 seeds per pound.

TIME OF YEAR:  Early fall locally, seeds can persist into spring. In it’s native range it peaks in May.

ENVIRONMENT: It likes lowland tropics. Can be found as far north as West Palm Beach in Florida. Can tolerate a variety of soil. Growth is slow at first then very fast. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Cooked seeds (usually roasted or boiled) and are eaten out of hand or used like soybeans. The red coating on the seed is not eaten. Boiled leaves are considered a famine food. A nut milk made from the seeds is more nutritious than nut milk made from soybeans. The seeds are roasted in a manner similar to peanuts.    

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The Other Fireweed

Fri, 08/20/2021 - 09:37

Chamerion angustifolium is the prettier of the two fireweed/burnweeds.

The other Burnweed in blossom. Photo by Green Deane

Having two different edible plants both called Fireweed and Burnweed can be confusing. This species is showy, a tall wildflower with noticible pink flowers. The other is not showy at all, in fact its greenish flower barely open, see photo right. You won’t confuse the two in person though some of their territories overlap. For the other one see a separate entry under Burnweed which is Erechtites hieracifolia, the wallflower of the two. 

Fireweed is call that because it is ruderal, that is, it takes advantage of burned ground and sprouts soon after a fire scorches through. It can tolerate bombing and volcanos. When London was blitzkreiged in WWII Fireweed was one of the first flowers to emerge from the rubble. It was also the first blossom to appear after Mt. St. Helens blew her top in the spring of 1980. In the Evening Primrose family, it was in the genus Epilobium but was recently changed (as are so many plants now that DNA testing tells us botanists really got it wrong… an often.) Now it is Chamerion angustifolium.

Nutritionally fresh Fireweed shoots have per 100 grams 20 calories, 0.3 grams of protein, 0.4 grams of fat, 6.4 grams of carbohydrates, and 0.8 grams of fiber. They have 32 mg of calcium, 31 mg of phosphorus, 20 mg of magnesium, 0.7 mg zinc, 0.6 mg sodium, 0.5 mg iron, 0.18 manganese and 700 mcg of copper.

Found in most of North America except Texas and the Old South, Chamerion is from two Greek words, chamai and nerion, together meaning “dwarf oleander” (as it has a leaf shape like the Oleander.) That’s seems a waste of name space as angustifolium means narrow leaf.

Green Deane’s Itemize Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Spikes of red to pink to white four-petaled flowers, boom begins in the middle of the stem, leaf veins are circular and to not terminate at the edge of the leaf. To six feet tall. Blooms most of warm weather, seeds are in pods.

TIME OF YEAR: Young shoots and stems in spring, older leaves for tea.

ENVIRONMENT: It likes disturbed ground such as where logging occurs, woodland borders, meadows, roadsides and after fires.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Shoots raw or cooked, young stems and leaves cooked, steaming or boiling works, leave can be used for tea. Older stalks can be peeled. Old stem peelings twisted into twine for fishing nets.

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Wild Currants

Fri, 07/23/2021 - 06:34

Ribes glandulosum, Maine, not bad when fully ripe.

There are more than 80 species of Wild Currants and Gooseberries (Ribes.)  The latter is heavily armed with spines and prickles the former is not. Therein lies a great distinction and less pain. 

At least 42 different species of Wild Currants were eaten by Native American groups. There may be 50 species of currants and their names are always changing. Wild Currants like cooler weather as do Gooseberries.They are more above the Mason-Dixon line than below it. However, the USDA says currants are native or introduced to all of North America except Alabama. I used to see them around abandoned houses in the rural areas of Maine. 

A representative nutritional profile for one Wild Currant, 100 gram serving, has: 50 calories, 1.4 grams of protein, 0.2 grams of fat, 12.1 grams of carbohydrates, and 34 grams of fiber. It has 41 mg of vitamin C, about two thirds of your daily need, and 72 RE of vitamin A. As for B vitamins, B1(thiamin) 0.04 mg, B2 (riboflavin) 0.05 mg, and B3 (niacin) 0.1 mg. The minerals are: potassium 257 mg, calcium 32 mg, phosphorus 23 mg, sodium 20 mg, magnesium 13 mg, iron 1 mg, zinc and manganese 0.2 mg and copper 0.1 mg. 

The Natives had a wide variety of uses for the various Wild Currants as some were tart and other sweet, some strong smelling others not. They were eaten fresh, cooked or dried. They were mixed with other berries to produce certain flavors and or mixed to make wine. Through dried they were not usually stored for long b

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Currants are shrubs rarely more than six feet high. The leaves remind one of a maple leaf. They usually have scalloped edges and three to five distinct lobes. The veins on the leaf fan out from the base like fingers on a hand. If you crush a leaf it can have a skunk-like aroma, be citrusy or spicy. Flowers can be white, yellow or red. The berries — in clusters —can be black and blue or red and gold. They usually have stripes up and down the berry. Unripe berries are green. There are numerous cultivars and they can liberate themselves into the countryside. 

TIME OF YEAR: Fragrant flowers April to June, ripe fruit early fall. 

ENVIRONMENT: Full sun, well-drained medium to heavy soil. Afternoon shade in warm climates. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Preserves, jams, jelly, pie filling, garnish, salad addition. Underripe berries have more pectin.

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Wood Ears

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 05:26

Wood Ears on a dead oak. Photo by Green Deane

Wood Ear Mushrooms, Auricularia auricula, Auricularia polytricha. Also called Cloud Ear, Tree Ear, Black fungus, and Jelly Ear, they are in a group known as Jelly Fungus. These are privately found and used in North America though they are a commercial product in Asia and can be bought. There are several species of Wood Ear and they are all used much the same way and look similar. 

We have two nutritional results for Wood Ears, a commercial one and one from a study. The folks who sell dried Wood Ear say they have per 100 grams dried: 357 calories, 85.71 grams carbohydrates, zero protein, zero fat, 57.1 grams fiber, 38.57 mg iron and 143 mg sodium. The study lab says 208.27 calories, 14.12 grams protein, 3.53 grams fat, 31.77 fiber, 97.39 mg iron, 49.42 sodium, 17.65 RE vitamin A, B1 (thiamin) 0.176 mg, B2 (riboflavin) 0.423 mg, B3 (niacin) 2.50. The macrominerals are 758.95 mg potassium, 293 mg phosphorus, and 250 mg calcium.

As you are more likely to use one ounce dried the breakdown is:  59 calories, 4 grams protein, 1 grams fat, 9 fiber, 27.59 mg iron, 14 sodium, 5 RE vitamin A, B1(thiamin) 0.05 mg, B2 (riboflavin) 0.12 mg, B3 (niacin) 0.71 mg. The macrominerals are 215 mg potassium, 83 mg phosphorus, and 71 mg calcium.

When cooked they are firm and crunchy with a musty flavor if you don’t flavor them. One way to do that is to dehydrate them then rehydrate them in some flavor you want to use such as broth, juice… or bourbon. 

Auricularia auricula  redundantly means Little ear ear. In Asia they are known as Yung ngo, Kikurage, Mokurage, and Aragekikurage. Polytricha means having many hairs. 

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Tough, gelatinous, rubbery, flabby, irregular ear- to cup-shaped fruiting bodies with ribs near the point of attachment. Usually dark brown. Spore print white, fertile surface downward. Single or in clusters.

TIME OF YEAR: Year around and or seasonally depending upon where yo live.  

ENVIRONMENT: On hardwood with bark still in place. I look for them on branches of dead oaks.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Rinse and remove any tough patches. Used for their chewy texture fresh or dry. Soak dry ones in a flavored liquid you like, add them to whatever you are cooking. They work best with foods you are boiling, stir-frying, or sautéing. Use quickly as they don’t store well.

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Canadian Woodnettle

Mon, 05/24/2021 - 07:17

Laporta Canadensis, Canadian Woodnettle, photo by June Ontario.

Laporta canadensis is another plant that gets overlooked because of a famous relative, the Stinging Nettle. Called Canadian Woodnettle this plant also gets confused other plants called “wood nettle.”  So it’s in a relative’s shadow and has an overused common name. To muddy the nomenclature waters Laportea canadensis also used to be called Fleurya canadensis, Urtica canadensis and Urticastrum divaricatum. It got its current botanical bon nom in 1916. More confusingly the genus, Laportea, consists mostly of tropical stinging trees no where near Canada. (For a totally different stinging tree see Chaya.) 

Francois Louis de la Porte

“Laportea” is Dead Latin for “of Laport.” The species was named for Francois Louis de la Porte, the wandering Count of Castelnau. He was a French naturalist born in London who visited North America between 1837 and 1841. An insect specialist, he started in Central Florida and worked his way north to roughly Ontario and Quebec. Then he went to the Amazon area for five years and was in Australia from 1864 to 1877 dying in 1880. He was also big in the bug world. Canadensis means of Canada. The plant is found in the eastern two thirds of North America. Locally it is reported in two western Florida counties, Liberty and Jackson. 

This species can sting mightily. Daniel Austin, author of Florida Ethnobotany, relates about teaching a class and wandering into a patch. He had long pants on so he was in the patch before he got stung. However, students with shorts who followed him actually began crying the sting bit so much. The plant was once used to flog people.

Canadian Woodnettle has distinctive blossoms. Photo by Peter Dziuk.

Although edible the plant has been used far more as fiber being some 50 times stronger than cotton of the same size.  Several tribes also used it medicinally. The Muskogean reported using it as a decoction to lower fever. The Iroquois employed it as a “love potion” and a tea to ease childbirth, the Meskwaki to treat incontinence and as a diuretic (which are actually opposite problems.) The Ojibwa used it for urinary issues. The stinging hairs break upon puncturing the skin and contain histamine-like substances. The Potawatomi ease the rash with juice of the Jewel Weed, the Rappahannock used urine or salt water. 

While the plant is edible published reports are few and it tends to not be in standard texts.  The nutritional value of Laportea canadensis is also generally not known. Most, if not all, internet references borrow nutritional values from its relative, the Stinging Nettle. Stinging Nettles have vitamin A, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. The latter comes in with 481 mg per 100 gram serving. Next is potassium at 334 mg, followed by phosphorus 71 mg and magnesium 57 mg. Vitamin A, as beta carotene, is at 2011 IU.There are traces of zinc, copper, manganese, selenium and some B3 and B6. In micrograms there’s 4178 mcg of the vision twins, Lutein+zeaxathin, and interestingly 498 mcg of Vitamin K, phylloquinone. Again, those values are for the Stinging Nettle. 

Green Deane Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: To four feet tall, branched or unbranching, stems light green covered with white hairs. Lower to middle leaves alternate, upper leaves are opposite, they are to six inches long, four inches wide, medium to dark green, oval to ovate, serrated. Young leaves are densely hairy, and wrinkled, older leaves less hairy. Stems up to four inches long, also covered with stinging hairs. Male and female flowers, greenish white, wind pollenated. Blooms mid- to late summer. While this plant has alternative leaves — the only nettle that does —  the Stinging Nettle, see separate entry, has opposite leaves only.  Do not confuse Canadian woodnettle with the non-stinging Rough Snakeroot, Ageratina altissima (which killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks.) Rough Snakeroot has opposite leaves, where as Canadian Woodnettle has alternating leaves (leaves are in pairs.) Rough Snakeroot does not sting. 

TIME OF YEAR: Whenever there are young leaves (blooms between June and September)

ENVIRONMENT: Likes partial sun to medium shade, moist conditions and loamy soil. If cultivated it makes a good privacy fence. It likes to grow with Maples and Basswood perhaps because of nitrogen and or phosphorus provided by the trees’ leaves. They do not like clay. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION:  Cooked shoots, young tops  and or young leaves. Leaves usually picked before the species blossoms.  After blossoming its tea might be more medicinal. Older plants can be retted for fiber. If peeled the young plant is edible but bitter.  If you rinse the leaves before using dry thoroughly. Leaves can also be dried. Cooking reduces them significantly. My favorite way to prepare Stinging Nettle leaves (Urtica dioica) is to dry them next to a camp fire. That also takes the sting out. 

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Skunk Cabbage

Sun, 05/16/2021 - 19:03

Skunk cabbage in springtime

The first eight years of my formal education was spent in one-room school houses without running water. The 7th and 8th grade-school house was in the center of Pownal, Maine. There was a pine-covered hill behind it to the east no doubt over a ledge, and a gully to the north of it. There I saw skunk cabbage and trilliums in early May, both of which smelled like Budweiser beer (which is an adult, hindsight observation as neither of my parents drank.)  

Young skunk cabbage. Photo by Derek Ramsey

I was in that particular school house in the early 60’s including November 22nd 1963. A decade earlier Merritt Fernald of Maine was writing about skunk cabbage and apparently there was some ethnic controversy about it. He wrote on page 118 and 119 of Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America “The roots of skunk cabbage have had a repute among the eastern Indians as a source of bread, in regions where the plant thrives the roots are abundant but difficult to dig; and obviously, for many reasons, only an enthusiast will try to secure them. It is probable that drying or baking before final use will dispel the acrid properties, as in Peltandra and Arisaema, but our own experience show that three weeks of drying is insufficient to dispel the peppery quality. The bread made from the flour dried for three weeks is palatable, having a suggestion of cocoa flavor, but a few minutes after it has been eaten the mouth stings with the perculiar burning and puckering sensation familiar to all who have tasted the fresh root of the Jack-i-the-Pulpit. One average root gives about half a cup of flour.

Skunk Cabbage tolerates northern  weather.

“A more available food is found in the “cabbage” or young tuft of leaves, which in spite of inevitable prejudice on account of the odor of the bruised plant, makes not wholly unpalatable vegetable. During boiling no trace of the characteristic, disagreeable ordor is given off, but the cabbage should be cooked in several waters to which has been added a pinch of baking soda. Serve with vinegar and butter or other sauce. Our Italian immigrants often make use of these greens which, if prejudice were forgotten, might abundantly serve as large population. Our experience indicates that the plants vary, sometimes being quite mild, sometimes peppery. If one is in luck he will cook only the former.”

Fernald goes on to warn to not mistakenly collect the White Hellebore or Indian Poke (Veratrum viride) which grows in the same environment and is a “violent poison.”  As for the skunky Trilliums the cooked leaves are edible but the roots are highly emetic and the berries questionable. Also know that nutritional information on the Internet supposedly for “skunk cabbage” is actually that of a totally different plant “swamp cabbage.” 

Symplocarpus foetidus was coined by controversial British botanist Richard Anthony Salisbury nee Markham (1761-1829) and is from the Greek σνμπλοκη symplokee for “connection” and καρπος  carpos for “fruit” referring to the ovaries connecting into a compound fruit. Foetidus is from Dead Latin meaning foul smelling. 

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Low growing, foul smelling to three feet tall growing.  Roots are fleshy, tuberous, two inches long and an inch through,  dark brown on the outside, white or yellowish inside.

TIME OF YEAR: Early spring, February in the southern end, end of spring northern end.

ENVIRONMENT: Swamps, wet woods, by streams, and or other wet, low areas, gullies.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Dried leaves later boiled in changes of water, roots long-term dried edible. None edible raw. The roots are between one and three feet down, older ones have ring-like wrinkles. 

Distribution of skunk cabbage in North America




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Texas Ebony

Tue, 05/04/2021 - 08:40

Texas Ebony seed pod. Photo by

A lifetime ago I used to fly to Dallas Texas in an executive jet from Orlando. It was a 150-minute flight take off to touch down. One could see the Mississippi river for 40 minutes. One of the first things you notice in Texas is the plants are different and things tend to be named Texas this or Texas that even if it is just a thistle. Thus that the Texas Ebony is not an Ebony is no surprise and could easily be called the Mexican Ebony. It is edible no matter what its name is. 

The seeds are toasted, young pods are cooked like a vegetable. The seed coat was used for a coffee substitute. It also has edible relatives: P. lobatum has seeds that are edible raw or cooked. Young flowers, leaves and fruit are eaten. The seeds are a source of starch. The seed and aril of P. dulce are eaten and the seeds produce a useable oil. (See a separate entry for P. dulce, aka Camachile.) 

Texas Ebony blossom. Photo by

The seeds of E. ebano are about 35% protein which is comparable to legumes though they are larger than chickpeas. Carbohydrates in 100 grams (before processing) are 29.36 grams, fat 28.16 grams but fiber quite low, 0.51 grams per 100 grams. That’s all about 500 calories. Cooking increases the available protein by some 12% and reduces anti-nutrient phytate 35% and protein inhibitors 96% overall increasing the nutrition. The most common amino acids are leucine, lysine, valine, isoleucine and treosine.    

Originally Pithecellobium flexicaule it is now Ebenopsis ebano. As that is mostly Greek it can be translated in several close ways. Pithecellobium flexicaule is easy: Monkey’s Earring with Bent Stem. Ebenopsis ebano has more possibilities because of -opsis. That’s often translated into “view” but the original Greek means more like a spectacle, something impressive you would see on stage or the like, something that makes you go “wow!” So I’d say Spectacular Black Ebony.  That’s better than Monkey’s Earring with Bent Stem. 

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A large tree to 50 feet, trunks up to 10 feet in circumference, branches very spiny and zig-zag at every node, dark green foliage, white to yellow fragrant flowers starting in May or June creating four to six inch pods. Hardy down to 25F, perhaps lower.

TIME OF YEAR: Pods in fall. 

ENVIRONMENT: Well-drained clay, loam or sand. Full sun. Very drought tolerant.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Seeds cooked, young pods boiled. 

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Thu, 04/22/2021 - 15:51


Camachili is closely relayed to the “Texas Ebony.”

Camachile, Guamuchil

Pithecellobium dulce

I was teaching in an eclectic park one day when the visiting aunt of a student recognized a tree from back home on the other side of the world. She knew it as camachile which is actually a native of Mexico where it is known as guamuchil. 

This huge, thorny tree has a multitude of names and is in the same genus as Texas Ebony. And like the Texas Ebony it has edible fruit. The most commonly consumed part is the aril around the seed. Livestock like the fruit and leaves. 

The arils is commonly eaten.

The aril, which is 60% of the pod, contains per 100 grams 78 calories, 3.0% protein, 0.4% fat, 18.2% total carbohydrate, and 1.2% fiber. It has 13 mg of calcium, 42 mg phosphorus, 0.5 mg iron, 19 mg sodium, 222 mg potassium, 15 mg beta-carotene equivalent, 0.24 mg B1 (thiamin) 0.10 mg B2 (riboflavin) 0.60 mg B3 (niacin) and 133 mg ascorbic acid more than twice your daily need. The essential amino acids are 143 mg of valine per 100 grams, 178 lysine, 41 phenylalanine, and 26 tryptophan.

Per 100 grams of seeds it has 17.7 grams protein, 17.1 grams fat, 41.4 grams starch, and 7.8 grams fiber. On alcoholic extraction, the seeds yield a saponin, a sterol glucoside, a flavone, and lecithin. The fatty acid composition of the seed is 24.3% saturated acids, 51.1% oleic, and 24.0% linoleic. Another analysis shows 0.3% caprylic acid, 0.3% caprinic, 0.3% lauric, 0.8% myristic, 12.1% palmitic, 6.9% stearic, 3.1% arachidic, 13.1% behenic, 4.9% lignoceric, 32.2% oleic, and 26.0% linoleic. 

The tree is not only native to Mexico but is found through Central America to Colombia and Venezuela. Introduced into southern Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and St. Croix. It’s an invasive weed in Hawaii. 

Everything starts green.

Pithecellobium means Monkey’s Earring, dulce is sweet. Guamuchil is from the Nahauti name cuauhmochitl. It is related to P. lobatum, (lobes) which has several edible parts as well. According to Cornucopia II from page 153, P. lobatum “seeds are eaten raw, boiled, salted or cooked with coconut milk or oil. Young leaves, flowers and fruits are eaten. A delicacy called amping is made by pounding the cotyledons one by one in the shape of cakes which are sun dried. The emping is fried in coconut oil, sprinkled with salt, and eaten at the rice table. Seeds are a source of a starch.” 

Green Deane’s Itemize Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A large, almost evergreen tree that grows up to sixty feet or more in height, it has a broad crown (to thirty feet across) and a thick truck (more than a yard through.)  At the base of each leaf is normally found a pair of short, sharp spines. Reproduces easily from seeds or cutting, used for hedges, grows quickly. Makes a lot of smoke when burned. Not a good nitrogen fixer. 

TIME OF YEAR: Flowers in your dry season.

ENVIRONMENT: Tolerant of drought, heat, poor soil, salt, sand and shade.

METHOD OF PREPARATION:  The aril is edible raw or cooked, the high-protein seeds are eaten raw or often mixed with curry and have an edible green oil. Fruit is made into a drink. 

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Collecting Cashews

Sat, 03/13/2021 - 09:07

The edible cashew “apple” an aril is the largest part of the fruit.

Cashews are high in potassium.

The Cashew belongs to a rather toxic group of plants, all closely related and some of which we eat: Poison Ivy, Poison Sumac, Mangos, Brazilian Pepper, Pistachios, and Cashews. While the cooked cashew “apple” and roasted nut are edible the shell’s jell is extremely toxic. Mother Nature does not want you eating those nuts and protects them mightily. Not surprisingly the tree itself looks mango-ish. Many people get a poison ivy like rash from touching mangos. They can, however, usually eat mango if someone else peels it. Like the Ginkgo tree, if you don’t  clean up Cashew debris it can leave a toxic litter. We used to visit one often in my foraging classes until Hurricane Irma destroyed it.  

Nature protects the nut with a caustic brown jell.

The Cashew apple, which can be eaten raw but is safer processed, has per 100 grams 124 mg of potassium, 67 mg of phosphorus, 10 mg calcium, 49 mg vitamin C, 2 mg iron, 3.2 mg fiber, 53 calories and 23 mcg beta-carotene.  The unsalted cashew nut contains 583 calories, 14.85 grams of protein, 47.96 grams fat, 31.71 grams total carbohydrate, 2.9 grams fiber,  548 mg potassium, phosphorus 475 mg,  magnesium 252 mg, calcium 44 mg, sodium 16 mg, iron 5.82 mg, zinc 5.43 mg, copper 2.153 mg, selenium 11.3 mcg  B1 (thiamine) and B2 (riboflavin) 0.194 mg each, B3 (niacin) 1.358  mg, B6 (pyridoxine) 0.248 mg, B9 (folate) 67 mg, choline 59.2 mg, Vitamin E 1.24 mg, Lutein+zeaxanthin 22 mcg, vitamin K 37.2 mcg and  in a separate study 7 mg ascorbic acid. 

Raw cashews are extremely toxic topically.

Cashew trees are planted for three reasons:  They look attractive– make a good shade tree if you clean up under them —  and produce edible parts (with proper preparation.) The tree, which is native to northern Brazil, has large leaves and pretty pink blossoms. Like the Podocarpus there is an aril then a seed on the end. The cashew “apple” is a swollen part of the stem rather than the ovary. It can be yellow to red, is high in vitamin C, juicy and slightly acidic. Rather than eaten out of hand — the “apple” can make the mouth feel fuzzy — it is often used with other fruits and juices via blending. The nut is in a kidney-shaped double shell with a caustic brown liquid between the outer shell and the inner testa that will quickly burn your skin or mouth. The cleaned nut is edible raw but roasted is better and that can reduce allergic responses. Eating them raw is dangerous and difficult because of the caustic chemicals and allergies to the parts that are processed away. After drying the unshelled seeds are soaked for a few days in water. The seed is cooked in oil (210 C) for two minutes then cooled in water. Then they are shelled, dried, and the papery coating — the testa — is removed. The shells with nuts inside can also be fried in an open pan but that is more iffy in that the shells can squirt the bad jell. The smoke is also toxic, don’t breath it in. Another method for the brave is to freeze the shell/nut and shell it while frozen peeling away the acidic jell. Wear heavy gloves and goggles. Work fast. Know that cashew production is the source of questionable labor practices where they are produced.  

Cashews have a burning liquid between the nut and the shell.

Young cashew shoots can be eaten and the “apple” cut in to pieces, blanched, dried, then cooked like a vegetable. In fact it is far more popular where they grow than the nuts. The “apples” also dry well and can be made into jam or wine. They can also be feed to livestock — minus the seed. The “apple” contains five times more vitamin C than an orange and more calcium, iron, and B1 than bananas, avocados or citrus. They are also a good source of magnesium, phosphorus and copper. Cashews bloom in winter so you have to have a warm winter.

Botanically the tree is Anacardium occidentale, Anacardium is Greek with a Latin ending that means heart-shaped — referring to the shape of the aril. Occidentale means western (usually European.) Native to tropical America from Mexico and the West Indies to Brazil and Peru. It has few pests or diseases. 

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION:Spreading evergreen perennial tree to fifteen tall; leaves simple, alternate, obovate, hairless to eight long, six inches wide, pointed or notched, not teeth, short petiolate; flowers numerous in terminal panicles, six to eight long, male or female, green and reddish. The cashew-apple is shiny, red or yellowish, pear-shaped, soft, juicy, six to eight inches long, two to four inches wide; seed surrounded by a hard shell oily, said oil is poisonous causing allergenic reactions in some. 

TIME OF YEAR: Fruits in wet weather, three months from flower to fruit. 

ENVIRONMENT: Grows in almost any soil but does not tolerate salt or frost. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Apple edible raw better cooked, seeds processed. 

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Morels Meanderings

Tue, 03/02/2021 - 16:12

A reminder that morels are hollow. Photo by Modern Forager.

Morels are perhaps the most foraged and prized fungi in North America. There are folks who forage for nothing but Morels and grew up doing so with their parents. They are esteemed in Europe as well so it was natural for immigrants to America to look for morels and continue the foraging tradition. Morels are so coveted that hunters not only do not reveal their “patches” but give out disinformation. Several states require you to be certified to pick them even for private use. 

Morels need cool soil to reproduce.

There are some 50 species between North America and Europe. In North America 14 new species were announced in 2012 bringing the total to 19 (when previously they thought there might be five or so species.) The species names are in flux because it’s first come first served. For example: If a species in Europe and North American has the same name and it’s decided they are two different species the first one gets to keep the name, the second one has to be changed. And of course not everyone will accept the evidence they are different thus the naming tempest grows. We just call them Morels…  

A dried ounce of morels (28.4 grams) has: 84 calories, 8 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fat, and 4 grams of fiber. it has 59 RE of vitamin A, 1 mg of vitamin C. B vitamins are: B1 (thiamin) 00.3 mg, B2 (riboflavin) 0.64 mg, and B3 (niacin) 2.50 mg. Potassium is 490 mg, phosphorus 339 mg, calcium 33 mg, sodium 10 mg, and iron 8.72 mg.

Morels dry well.

The nutrition for fresh morels follows but remember they always must be cooked. A 100 grams has: 31calories, 3.12 grams protein, 0.57 grams fat, 5.1 grams carbohydrates and 2.8 grams of fiber. There’s half a gram of sugar and it is glucose. No vitamin A or C but there is 206 IU of vitamin D with 5.1 mcg of D2. B vitamins are B1 (thiamin) 0.069 mg, B2 (riboflavin) 0.205 mg B3 (niacin) 2.252, B5 (pantothenic acid) 0.44 mg, B6 (pyridoxine) 0.136, and B9 *folate) 9 mcg. The mineral line up is: Potassium 411 mg, phosphorus 194 mg, calcium 43 mg, sodium 21 mg, magnesium 19 mg, iron 12.18 mg, zinc 2.03 mg, copper 0.625 mg, manganese 0.587 mg, and selenium 2.2 mcg. 

This wondrous species does not get into the deep south. During my training to be certified to sell mushrooms one of the things we learned was Morels need ground temperatures of about 55 F for some 11 days for to reproduce. That never happen in warm areas. But they like my cousin’s farm in South Carolina. 

The genus Morchella might be from a German word for mushroom “morchel” in the Dead Latin feminine form.  Morel is also from Dead Latin and means brown.

 Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION:  Large fruiting body with a distinct head that is thimble-like or sponge-like and has a pitted surface, usually on a short stem, color ranges rom blonde to dark brown. The honey-combed cap has irregular holes and attaches directly to the stem. Inside there is a hollow cavity that runs from the top of the mushroom down the stem to the bottom.  

ENVIRONMENT: Forests (hard and soft woods) old orchards, open ground, drive ways, under hedges… where ever they want. 

TIME OF YEAR: May is the target month but they can show up in summer fall and winter. In spring look in warming weather after a cold spell. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Must be cooked.  Raw morels can cause digestive issues.

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Candlestick Tree

Sat, 02/27/2021 - 08:20

The Candlestick fruit is edible, most often it is pickled or eaten raw.

If you are meandering through a botanical garden in a warm climate and you see a tree growing four-foot-long candles it might be Parmentiera cereifera. Endemic to Panama it’s a favorite specimen for them to grow because of the unusual fruit and is called Palo de Velas or Arbol de vela. 

The blossoms and fruit can grow on the trunk. Photo by Susan Rushton

The species is cultivated for the edible fruit as is P. aculeata. There is a Candlestick Tree at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, the Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens in Coral Gables, The Fruit and Spice Park Redland,  and the Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach. The fruit is as resistant as a carrot but tastes like tomato and okra some say bell peppers and sugarcane. The seeds are edible as well. 

The genus honors the French agronomist and pharmacist Antoine Augustin Parmentier (1737-1813) whose claim to botanical fame was to promote the potato in France. At the time the French called it “hog feed” and believed it caused leprosy thus it was officially banned. Parmentier’s efforts got the ban lifted. Cereifera means wax producing.

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

Also found Puerto Rico and south Florida.

IDENTIFICATION: A rough-bark tree to 25 feet, opposite ovate leaves of three leaflets. White blossoms, fruit from one to four feet long, green turning yellow, resembles a candle. The fruit can grow directly from the trunk.  It’s in the Bignoniaceae family which has about 104 genera and 860 species. Preliminary phytochemical investigation suggested the presence of flavonoids, saponins, tannins, triterpenoids and steroids.

TIME OF YEAR: Mid-winter in Florida. 

ENVIRONMENT: Adapts to different soil and climate condition. Can tolerate frosts. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION:  Edible raw or cooked when waxy yellow. It resembles sugarcane in texture. Can be pickled and preserved. Roots are diuretic.

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Trillium Trifecta

Thu, 02/25/2021 - 07:38

Trilliums can be a bright spot in a drab spring

Arlene Tryon 1963

Every May Day — the first of May  — we kids would hang a May Basket on our teacher Arlene Tryon and disappear off the school grounds. It was a tradition in the rural school: Half a hundred kids just took off at noon time in all directions. No police were called (the schools didn’t have phones anyways… or running water) no parent was upset, no one got lost or was kidnapped. Some of us boys even managed to walk a couple of miles and climb to the top of Bradbury Mountain State Park (without paying an entrance fee.) 

We had to cross a gully to hike to the state park and there grew Trilliums and Skunk Cabbage (see separate entry.) Trilliums were kind to the nose so I was not surprised then to learn people ate them. But the annual trek to the top of Bradbury fixed the date in my mind of the plant being at the right stage in southern Maine: May first. 

The young unfolding Trilliums before flowering are edible and were called by Mainers “much hunger.” They are a salad and pot herb tasting like raw sunflowers seeds.  After they flower the edible parts are bitter. Not all Trilliums are edible. Among the comestible species are T. erectum, T. sessile and T. grandiflorum. 

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Trillium don’t produce true leaves or stems. The stem is an extension of the rhizome. It produces tiny scale-like leaves. It has a single terminal blossom and leaves of three in a whorl. 

TIME OF YEAR: Spring, early in southern areas, later in northern areas. 

ENVIRONMENT: Wet areas, gullies, by streams, moist woods

METHOD OF PREPARATION: These plants are often protected. Make sure of your local laws. That said young leaves before the plant blossoms can be eaten raw or cooked. The berries and rhizome are not edible. 

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