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Foraging, Permaculture, and other things, too
Updated: 19 hours 33 min ago


Mon, 02/15/2021 - 14:09

Only the blossoms of one Bougainvillea, Brasiliensis is usable.

We use the sepals not the flower itself.

Bougainvilleas are often referred to as a toxic plant.  The reason given is that scratches from their thorns infect easily. The thorns are coated with a substance that can cause contact dermatitis. Symptoms are a rash, tenderness, and itching. It can resemble poison ivy. Any wounds should be cleansed and care for. Bougainvilleas are not forager friendly except one, the purple variety, B. brasiliensis. 

On page 161 Cornucopia II says “Bougainvillea Brasiliensis, Purple Bougainville, In Mexico the flower bracts are used for making an attractive, violet colored water drink (agua fesca) called agua de buganvilia. It is said to have a refreshingly delicate taste. Other types of bougainvillea are not suitable for making the drink.” 

B. brasiliensis can also be redish instead of purple.

In the Four O’Clock family, there are four to 18 Bougainvillea species. Botanical egos can’t agree. The plant was named after Admiral Louis Antoine, Count of Bougainville, who was in charge (1767) when the plant was first seen at now Rio de Janeiro by Europeans, in this case Frenchmen sailing around the world (and unwittingly at the same time taking the first woman to go around the world, Jeanne Baret.) 

Modern Bougainvilleas are a hybrid between Bougainvillea spectabilis (the species discovered in 1767) and Bougainvillea glabra.  There are also 300 varieties which makes identifying parentage difficult. 

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile.

Bougainvillea distribution in North America

IDENTIFICATION: A sprawling, woody vine that behaves like a shrub with showy flowers of yellowish-white waxy tubes surrounded by three 1 to 2 inch long colorful bracts. Bougainvillea can reach 40 feet tall/long. Bloom colors including purple, scarlet, orange and pink. The species is evergreen. 

TIME OF YEAR: Spring to fall

ENVIRONMENT: Full sun, the more sun the more blossoms. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Purple bracts and be used to make a tea or other beverages. Four blossoms per cup is used. For a cough remedy lemon juice is added and honey or sugar. Heat water, add blossoms, let seep, remove blossoms before drinking. This drink is also made as a cough remedy. 

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Sun, 02/07/2021 - 18:26

Ackee must be carefully harvested and prepared.

Delicious and deadly, that’s ackee. 

Native to Africa and a common food in the Caribbean Islands Ackee is eaten at home and in restaurants in Jamaica and canned in brine for export. Because Ackee killed some 5,000 people between 1886 and 1950 the raw fruit is officially banned in the United States though you can buy it frozen or canned. I knew someone who had a tree in his yard. Like the tomato it’s a fruit that’s used like a vegetable and is the national dish of Jamaica.  

Jamaican Ackee Pizza

You will find this tree either wild or intentionally cultivated in South Florida. The toxin in the fruit is hypoglycin an amino acid unnatural to our bodies. It causes a severe drop in blood glucose. The arils are toxic before the fruit naturally opens called “yawing.” The seeds are always toxic. If even a tiny little part of seeds are left in the ripe arils it can make you sick. The rind has saponin and is used to poison fish. 

The botanical name Blighia sapida is name for Captain William Bligh of “Mutiny on the Bounty” notoriety. He got the nomenclature nod because he was the first one to take the plant to Kew Gardens in London in 1793. Sapida means savory, delicious or prudent and wise… a questionable name for this national fruit.  

I’ve eaten Ackee once raw and it reminded me of cheese in flavor and texture. Indeed, there are four dozen cultivars and they are split between “butter” or “cheese” types. The “cheese” type is pale yellow and solid and often used in canning. The butter type is more delicate and more often used fresh. 

All of Ackee is toxic except the ripe aril.

If we combine two reports we learn 100 grams of fresh ackee aril has 10 grams of carbohydrates, 3.45 grams of fiber, 19 grams of fat, 9 grams of protein and 140 calories. There’s 500 IU of vitamin A and 68 mg of vitamin C which is your daily need. Iron is 5.52 mg, calcium 30 mg,  B1 (thiamin) 0.10 mg. B2 (riboflavin) 0.18 mg, and B3 (niacin) 3.74 mg.   

A tall evergreen tree, most poisoning happen in the winter because the tree does not get enough sun exposure. If raised from a seed the tree can fruit in as little as three years.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile 

IDENTIFICATION: Medium to large tree, 30 to 75 feet, alternate pinnate leaves with six  to eight leaflets with short stems; shiny green, stiff, six to eight inches long.

ENVIRONMENT: Grows well in well-drained, deep, fertile soils but also non-fertile soils such as sand and calcerous bedrock 

TIME OF YEAR: January March, October-November. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: The aril is edible only when the fruit naturally opens. It must be separated from the fruit and the seed and absolutely no part of the seed is consumed.  The red tissue and veins that attach to the aril must be removed. The aril is edible raw and turns yellow when cooked. Don’t over cook as it will fall apart easily. You can get ill from canned fruit.

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Wed, 01/27/2021 - 16:13

Jabuticaba fruit grows on the trunk and limbs of the tree.

In its native Brazil the Jabuticaba is by far the most popular fruit. The Dutch knew about it in 1658. Jabuticaba made it to California by 1904. It’s a common ornamental and there are many cultivars” Sabara, Paulista, Rajada, Branca, Ponhema, Rujada, Roxa, Sao Paulo, Coroa, Murta, and Mineira.  

Per 100 grams Plinia cauliflora fruit has 45.7 calories, 0.11 grams of protein, 0.08 grams of fiber, 0.01 grams of fat and 12.58 gams of carbohydrates. Vitamin A is absent but it has 22.7 mg of vitamin C which is about a third of your daily need. The B vitamins are B1 (thiamin) 0.02 mg, B2 (riboflavin) 0;02 mg, and B3 (niacin) 0.21 mg. Two minerals are reported: Calcium 6.3 mg and phosphorus 9.2 mg. 

A second name for the species is Plinia cauliflora.

It’s a short tree planted in warm areas of North American and a common ornamental in Florida and the Gulf Coast. One is reported to sustain an 18F freeze and continued to thrive and fruit. Jabuticaba means “like turtle fat” referring to the fruit pulp, or, it means “tortoise place.” Take your pick.  Myrciaria is from the Greek myrike (μυρίκη) which was the  Greek name for the “tamarisk” a tree that is aromatic. In English it means Myrtle. Cauliflora means cauliflower-like. Plinia is Dead Latin for filled, full, rich, whole, perfect, well-equipped. You might remember from history Pliny the Elder and Younger. 

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Slow-growing tree, shrubby, usually not more than one two yards, profusely branched starting close to the ground, thin outer bark that flakes, evergreen leaves, glossy, leathery. Fruit on trunk and branches. Round or pear-shaped, tough skin, ranges from bright green to dark purple appearing to be black, slight muscadine grape flavor can be astringent. Pulp gelatinous, juicy, translucent all-white to light rose in color clinging to the seeds. Untrimmed trees fruit the best. The one you will see locally is probably the Sabara. From flower to fruit is four to five weeks. 

TIME OF YEAR: All year in warm areas but heaviest in March  and April or September. In some areas they fruit twice a year. 

ENVIRONMENT: Jaboticaba grow best on deep, rich, well-drained soil but also grow and bare in sand over  limestone. If you are going to plant some they should be 30 feet apart. They tolerate light freezes. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Out of hand. Squeeze the fruit between your thumb and forefinger. It causes the skin to spilt making the pulp easy to get at. The seeds are edible but not usually eaten. Once harvested they ferment quickly. They can be made into wine, jelly and jam how much skin to remove is a matter of personal preference as they have tannins. 

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Marijuana Machinations

Wed, 01/27/2021 - 16:11

You can’t rummage around the woods as a forager without running into someone’s marijuana patch. Locally the most likely place to find said is on spoil islands, the ones created by dredging. Kids row out, have a party and toss away the seeds. What is not surprising those abandoned seeds grow into plants the kids don’t recognize as the same plant they are smoking. 

We don’t have a full nutrition panel for Marijuana, Cannabis sativa… yes it does have some nutrition. A 1991 book on indigenous diets reported 100 grams of seeds has a whopping 421 calories, 27.1 grams of protein, 27.6 grams of carbohydrates, 25.6 grams of lipids, 20.3 grams of fiber, 2.1 mg of B3 (niacin) 0.3 mg of B1 (thiamin) 1.7 mg of B2 (riboflavin) and half an IU of vitamin A. On the mineral side it has 970 mg of phosphorus, 12 mg of calcium, and 12 mg of iron. 

Actually the seeds are achenes and were cattle food in Europe after oil extraction. Most seeds contain 30% oil, according to a report in the 29th edition of the Journal of Economic Botany, July-Septmeber 1975. The oil was called “oleifera” which is now confusing as an important food tree has the same name, Moringa oleifera (elsewhere in this book.) 

The plant was originally put in the Nettle family then the Mulberry group and later Hops. Some think it might be related to Elms. The genus “Cannabis” comes form the Greek word κάνναβις (kánnavis.) That probably was Scythian or Thracian and most likely was borrowed from the Persian Kanab and (as is often the case) that probably came from India. Sativa is Dead Latin for “cultivated.”  While those in India and China long ago knew about the drug properties of the species the Greeks did not nor the Egyptians or Hebrews. There exists some hemp cloth from China that is perhaps 6000 years old. It was first cultivated in the Americas in 1545 in Chile, Nova Scotia in 1606 and 1632 in the Puritan settlements of New England. Among that study’s finding — they grew an experimental plot in Ottawa — was that fiber hemp can also contain drug properties.  

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Needs no identification.

TIME OF YEAR: Summer in cold climates, year round in warm. Male plants die after shedding pollen, female are killed by frost. In cold Ottawa — for science — they grew 900 pounds on a half acre.

ENVIRONMENT: Like most plants sun, water, good soil. Despite it chemical armaments it can suffer from insect predation.  


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Black Calabash

Tue, 01/19/2021 - 12:55

The blossom of the Black Calabash. Photo by Green Deane

It started with spotting a blossom while teaching a foraging class. There are so many edible plants that one is constantly learning. You can walk past one dozens of times before you notice it for some reason such as fruiting for the first time in your presence or in this case blossoming.

Fruit of the Black Calabash Tree

The location was a park that was designed and crafted close to a century ago by one county employee without a plant budget. So species were begged, scrounged and rescued from trash heaps from all over the place. One never knows what one will find in 100-acre Dreher Park though I doubt anything poisonous was intentionally planted there. 

A student asked what was the tree as it was blossoming. It was a large, dark-leafed tree with distinctive flowers. I had walked past that tree couple of dozen times over the last 14 years or so.  I admitted I did not know. After a few fits and starts Black Calabash seems right, Amphitecna latifolia (and if so it might be the most northern one identified in the state as there is a stand of them some seven miles south on the north end of Lake Worth. ) 

Reports vary on edibility. Most agree the black seeds are edible. One book, A Field Guide to Plants of Costa Rica, says the spongy white pulp is edible but does not mention the seeds which makes me cautious (in that the authors might confuse edible seeds for edible pulp.)  Other reports say the tree does not fruit often unless the blossoms are intentionally pollenated. We do know the skin was dried and used like cups. 

The blossoms get pollenated by chance.

Why doesn’t the tree fruit more often?Apparently it is pollenated by nectariferous bats of which there are none locally so birds do it accidentally. (I’m going to take some cotton swabs with me from now on and stimulate some blossoms.) Whether the tree is native or not is a botanical debate. Some think it is a critically imperiled native and others think it’s an exotic thankfully about to die off… and here you thought botany was mild-mannered and sedate.   

Amphitecna (am-fee-TEK-naw)  is from two Greek words, Amphi (all-around, on both sides) and teknos which is  “craft” or “skill.” Perhaps it takes a knack to open the fruit. Latifolia (lat-ih-FOLE-ee-uh) in present-day botany means broad leaves. In Greek it means “star hairs.” No, I can’t explain the difference. I blame drunk botanists. 

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION:  Upright, densely-foliated, evergreen tree to 30 feet, dark-green, glossy leaves to seven-inches long,  two-inch long, purplish-white tubular flowers followed by shiny green, four-inch long fruit with a thin hard shell. 

TIME OF YEAR: Continuous.

ENVIRONMENT: High hammocks, well-drained, good soil. Full sun, little shade.  It will grow on shell mounds. Not salt-tolerant and subject to wind damage. Blow over easily. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Seeds are edible.  Opinions vary on the edibility of the pulp. The University of Florida states the fruit is “suited for human consumption.”

Distribution of the Black Calabash, south Florida to the Virgin Islands.

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Pony Foot

Wed, 01/13/2021 - 08:23

Pony Foot in blossom. Photo by Green Deane

Are they edible? 

That is often asked about a little lawn plant called Pony Foot, or Dichondra carolinensis. I think they are bitter and medicinal, others toss them into salads. My herbalist friends call them a “liver tonic.” But, since they are bitter it is better to mix them with other greens — as one does chicory — rather than using them as the main ingredient. 

Pony Foot might have antibacterial properties. Photo by Green Deane

This underfooter spreads by means of runners and they taste a lot better without the runners.  The species is also used as a ground cover in shade. I’m not sure why the plants were called Dichrondra which means two hearts. Reni– or nephri— (meaning kidney shaped) would have been far better. Its leaves do alternate but they are far more kidney-shaped than heart-shaped. They are also have a slightly off-side funnel shape (a basal notch.) Usually dime-size I have seen them more than an inch across. Pony Foot is often found with two other edibles, Dollarweed, which has a stem attached to the middle of the leaf, and Gotu Kola which has a spade-shaped leaf but rounded teeth on the margin and the stem is hairier.

A 1905 report suggested that Pony Foot extract with glycerine was good against bacteria associated with diphtheria.

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile 

IDENTIFICATION: Low-growing, leafs dime to half dollar size, kidney-shaped with the stem forming a slight funnel indentation on one side, blossoms white

TIME OF YEAR: All year in the warmer areas of its range, spring to fall in the cooler climes.

ENVIRONMENT: Lawns or under spreading trees. Likes open areas or near water .

METHOD OF PREPARATION:  Edible raw, can be cooked, as a tea (dried and concentrated) is said to be medicinal. 

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Oyster Mushrooms

Mon, 01/04/2021 - 04:35

Oysters Mushrooms are often prolific. Photo by Green Deane

Oyster Mushrooms fall into that category of a wild food so good that it’s also cultivated. It is also one of the six to eight fairly mistake-proof mushrooms for folks to hunt for. There are several edible species. As with any mushroom and indeed any wild plant, check with a local expert first. 

These tend to be cooler weather fungi. I find them on dead or doomed hardwood trees, usually oak. They’re called Oyster because of their shape not taste. They’re about the size of an oyster shell (which I dug a lot as a young man in the mud flats of Maine.) They also usually have a gilled stem that is off set.  It is rare for me to find one or two Oyster Mushrooms. Usually there is a whole tree trunk of them. The exception are occasional solitary species in warm weather growing palm stumps. 

If they have a stem it is usually off-set. Photo by Green Deane

Curiously mushrooms are more closely related to humans than plants. They make vitamin D, one reason to eat them. And things that bother us can bother them so if they are healthy there’s probably no bad environmental toxins involved. As for nutrition 100 grams of fresh oyster mushrooms have 33 calories, 3.13 grams of protein, 0.41 grams of fat, 6.09 grams of carbohydrates and 2.3 grams of fiber. There is 1.11 grams of sugar and it is glucose. No vitamin C reported and barely any vitamin A, 2 mcg RAE or 48 IU. Vitamin D, however, is 29 IUs of vitamin D (0.7 mcg of that D2.) The B vitamins are B1 (thiamin) 0.125 mg, B2 (riboflavin) 0.349 mg, B3 (niacin) 4.956 mg, B5 (pantothenic acid) 1.294 mg, B6 (pyridoxine) 0.11 mg, folate 38 mcg, choline 48.7 mg, and Betaine 12.1 mg. The minerals are potassium 420 mg, phosphorus 120 mg, sodium and magnesium 18 mg, calcium 3 mg, iron 1.33 mg, zinc 0.77 mg, copper 0.244 mg, manganese 0.113 mg, and selenium 2.6 mcg. 

Oyster Mushroom also have ergothioneine an antioxidant which might decrease inflammation. They also have lovastatin. Pleurotus ostreatus means “sideway oyster” a reference to the general shell shape and the stem or pseudo-stem usually to one side. Two others we see are Pleurotus pulmonarius and Pleurotus populinus. (Lung shape and inhabiting populars.) P. pulmonarius can be seen in warm weather and P. populinus likes populars.)  

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

They like hardwoods, usually oaks. Photo by Green Deane

IDENTIFICATION: Shelf-like clusters, usually numerous, kidney or fan shaped or nearly round mushroom to six inches across, can be greasy when young, pale to buff, edge can be rolled in some, gills run down the short stem or pseudostem or no stem, gills are close. Spore print white to lightly yellow or lilac. 

TIME OF YEAR: Late fall to spring (though in Florida some species grow on dead palms in the summer.) 

ENVIRONMENT:  on logs, living trees or dead standing trunks. Usually hardwood, occasionally conifers. I have seen them on Magnolia virginiana and Sycamores.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Cooked any way you like. They have a slightly chewy texture, the flavor ranges from mild to nutty to seafood-ish. Very versatile in the kitchen. They have been cultivated for more than a century starting in WWI.

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Florida Thatch Palm

Mon, 12/28/2020 - 06:12

The white fruit of the Thrinax radiata, Florida Thatch Palm. Photo by Green Deane

Almost all white berries are not edible. Is there half-a-dozen on earth that are? It seems we have two in Florida, the White Indigo Berry, and Florida Thatch Palm. 

The Florida Thatch Palm might be found more in landscaping than in nature.

On teaching trips to south Florida I saw a palm with small white fruit. Twice I tasted them. No particular flavor but more importantly no burning from calcium oxalates which is usually the first sign a palm fruit is not edible (same with most large-leaf “elephat ears” and the like.)  It isThrinax radiata, the Florida Thatch Palm, so called because it was used to thatch hut roofs (which also suggests it was more prolific in the past.) Its fibers and netting have been found in pre-Columbian sites on Marco Island. It was used for rope into the 19th century.  On page 670 of Florida Ethnobotany by the late Dr. Daniel Austin he writes: “Fruits are sweet and edible.” Then he says “the fiber has been used to stuff pillows and mattresses.”  Like many palms it’s had several names Cocothrinax martii, C. radiate, Thrinax floridana, T. martii, T. multiflora and T. wendlandiana. It grows on southern coast of Florida, the Florida Keys, Bahamas, western Cuba, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Honduras,  Nicaragua, the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and Belize. This palm likes it warm. The one I see regularly — planted — is in the southeastern corner of Bayshore Park in Port Charlotte (which in theory is out of its range.)  

Thrinax means “trident” in Greek, referring to the shape of the frond center where the leaves radiate hence radiata.

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

The fronds are circular. Photo by Green Deane

IDENTIFICATION: It’s a slender, slow-growing palm that can reach 30 feet but is usually much shorter.  The trunk is matted with fiber between old leaf bases. The base often has protruding roots. A fan palm it usually has between 12 and 20 frond. Fronds are green above with yellow ribs, lighter green or yellow green underneath with a distinct spear shape protruding from the frond’s center. White fruit. It differs from both the thatch palm (Leucothrinax morrisii, syn. Thrinax morisii) and the silver palm (Coccothrinax argentata) by lacking the silvery white leaf under surfaces. When grown in full sun the canopy is globular. When grown in shade the fronds are widely dispersed with an open-air canopy.

TIME OF YEAR: Fruits continuously but produces the most in the spring. 

ENVIRONMENT:  Salt, wind and drought tolerant. It tolerates high ph. Can survive temperatures down to 26F.  Does not appear to be bothered by Ganoderma Butt Rot. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Seed pulp is edible. It’s roots and shoots were considered tonic and restorative. 

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The Coffee Cherry

Wed, 12/23/2020 - 07:13

Coffee Cherries are edible and nutritious.

Coffee is a weed? Absolutely and out of control in places like Hawaii and Sri Lanka. More to our point if you ate the Coffee Cherry before you ever head or knew about the beverage you probably would have never roasted the seeds. You would have just eaten the fruit and look forward to it every year.  

It sounds odd to say but sometimes you eat a food that just doesn’t seem like food. It’s not substantial or satisfying. The Coffee Cherry — the fruit the coffee “beans” come from — tastes like real food, substantial. Your pallet recognizes it immediately and says “this we will eat again.” 

The unripe seeds called green coffee beans  are roasted for coffee.

Actually the fruit can be divided into three parts: The outer skin, the pulp and the seeds (usually two seed but not always.) The pulp is sweet and contains a small amount of caffein. The skin can be plain or a little bitter though I have not tasted one like that. It actually reminds me of a Cocoplum. Some people don’t like that fruit from a texture point of view. The Coffee Cherry fruit is slightly tough on the outside and a bit slimy on the inside. The pulp can also be dried and made into a “flour” that is used more like a seasoning than a flour. As millions of pounds of it are thrown away every year they are trying to find ways to use it. It’s full of polyphenols most of which is chlorogenic acids, ten times greater than what you get from the beverage 

The Coffee Cherry itself has 144.9 calories for 100 grams. That delivers 51 grams of fiber, 425 mg of calcium, 333 mg of magnesium, 49.6 mg of iron, 15.7 mg of sodium, 530 mg of caffeine and 22 mmol of antioxidants.  We see them in my foraging classes in Orlando and West Palm Beach.

Coffee Cherries: Good food or pulp fiction?

Not only can you grow your coffee you can grow decaf. One strain of C. arabica naturally has very little caffein. The usual C. arabica has 12 mg of caffeine per gram of dry mass this strain has 0.76 mg per gram but the same flavor. Coffee was originally grouped with Jasmines because of the flower’s aroma. And you can make a tea out of the leaves which also has some caffeine. The plant is native to a strip across the widest part of Africa. The drink has been made for perhaps 600 years. 

The genus Coffea is new Dead Latin for Coffee. The word “Coffee” came from the Dutch ‘koffie” which came from the Ottoman Turk’s “kahve” which came from the Arabic “qahwah” which referred to a type of wine really meaning a beverage that could make you less hungry and or give you energy. Arabica is from the Greek Arabikos meaning Arab or Arabian. Canephora is from the Greek Kanephoros which means basket carrying.  The Caryatids — maidens — carried a basket on their heads holding sacred objects for feasts and the like.

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A shrub or small tree to 30-some feet. Open branches, well-spaced. Leaves are opposite, simple elliptic-ovate to oblong, four inches long,  long, glossy, dark green. The flowers white, in axillary clusters. The seeds are a round drupe like an olive but with two seeds, ripens to bright red or purple. 

TIME OF YEAR: In some areas year round, in other seasonal often in winter. Locally in the fall. Do you live where it doesn’t freeze and you want a shrub that you can plant in the shade? C. arabica is a good candidate. 

ENVIRONMENT: Likes it cool and elevation but many coffee plantations are in warm areas and at sea level. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Fruit out of hand or prepared in various ways or dehydrated. Tea from the leaves.  

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Dulse for Dinner

Mon, 12/14/2020 - 09:21

Dulse is full of Iron and Vitamin B12

Foragers tend to ignore seaweed. Granted you need to be near the shore but they are often low on the list when they can be so nutritious. They apparently aren’t alone: In Native American Food Plants by Daniel Moerman he lists only one group, “Alaska Native” as consuming Dulse. Eating it on the northeast coast seems to have been mostly by immigrants from the British Isles who traditionally ate it back home.

Dulse powders and stores well.

I grew up four miles from the sea and saw Dulse often. Indeed, my mother as a kid rowed around most of the islands off southern Maine from Brunswick to Portland as did I as a teenager.  I used to go sea bass fishing with an old story-teller named Hap Davis. He couldn’t swim and I often wondered what we would do if we ever sunk. The water’s perpetually cold and the islands always too far away.  

Moerman writes Dulse “…leaves air dried and stored for winter use… added to soups and fish head stews… eaten fresh or singed on a hot stove or griddle.”  If I remember correctly one saying of northwest natives was: “When the tide is out the table is set. “  And when these shore-dweller ate Dulse what did they get? A huge serving of potassium, some 7,000 mg per 100 grams dried. Said another way dry Dulse is 7% potassium. 

Immigrants were fond of Dulse as they ate it in the British Isles.

Nutty-flavored here’s the rest of the nutritional line-up dried: Calories 323, protein 19.1 grams, carbohydrates 59.5 grams, fat 0.6 mg, vitamin C 4.8 mg, and vitamin A 2 IUs, Chlorine 7500 mg, sodium 1740 mg, magnesium 450 mg, calcium 375 mg, phosphorus 360 mg, zinc 71.1 mg (quite high as is) iron 11 mg, manganese 4.5 mg, and copper 4 mg. The B vitamins are B1 (thiamin) 0.23 mg, B2 (riboflavin) 0.76 mg, and B3 (niacin) 5.4 mg.  Fresh there are some variations: Protein 1.8 grams, carbohydrates 6.1 grams, vitamin C 38 mg, and vitamin A 285 IUs. Chlorine 1306 mg, magnesium 60.1 mg, calcium 48 mg, zinc 0.8 mg, manganese 0.6 mg, copper 0.2 mg, and molybdenum less than 0.1 mg. The B vitamins are B1 (thiamin) 0.63 mg, B2 (riboflavin) 0.51 mg, and B3 (niacin) 0.2 mg. While there are more minerals dry there is far more vitamin C fresh. Some nutritionists, which we got along without for a very long time, say Dulse has the most iron of all food.

A USDA page for Dulse nutritions says 100 grams (we’ll presume dried) has 22500 mcg of iodine which is 22.5 mg or nearly a quarter of a gram of iodine which is a lot. It also has 6666.67 mcg of vitamin B12 which is 6.66 mg still a lot. Your daily need is 2.4 mcg.  A little dried Dulse daily would fit that need. Laver and Sumac, elsewhere in this book, also provide vegetarian sources of B12.

Palmaria (paul-MARE-ree-ah) means “deserving of a palm” that is outstanding, masterful, good. Palmata (paul-MAH-tah) is hand-shaped.  Dulse in English is Dead Latin through Spanish. It means sweet smelling or sweet scented. 

Green Deane Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Rosy to reddish-purple, to a foot and a half long, grows from tiny disk-shaped foothold. Fronds thin, stretchy, irregularly lobed, kind of resembles a hand in shape. 

TIME OF YEAR: Late spring to November. Tides are usually lowest at either new or full moons. 

ENVIRONMENT: On rocks and shells from middle to sub-tidal zones in very cold to temperate waters, both hemispheres, in North America both northern coasts.  

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Fresh or dried (and unlike Laver, elsewhere in this book, Dulse is not rinsed before drying.) Use is salads to soups, dried added to relishes to bread, deep fried or ground into a powder for seasoning. 

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Wild Avocados

Tue, 12/08/2020 - 10:30

When avocados ripen is semi-predictable. Photo by Green Deane

Wild Avocados

Yes, there are wild, weedy avocados. They have a huge seed and thin pulp. The Aztec did not eat the seed nor should you. 

Actually there are several varieties of avocados and given a chance they will sprout from seeds. The majority of avocados I eat are from trees here and there not under cultivation. While there are some four dozen or more species of avocado perhaps the truest wild form today is Persea schiedeana. 

Wild avocados have huge seeds. Wild chimpanzees don’t eat them.

Called “aguacate de mono” or Monkey Avocado (and many other names) they range from ping-pong to baseball size, 100 grams to 450 grams. The seed is huge, the pulp is small. Like all avocados it does not ripen on the tree however it ripens quickly and can go bad within five days. In southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Belize, the pulp is popular food and spread on tortillas and used in bean soup.

That said the Hass avocado — the small, wrinkly black one — is about 6.5 times the production of all the other varieties/species all together. But I don’t find naturalized Haas avocados so we’ll us the nutrition from a small green fruit like a Fuerte which is what I forage. 

Hass avocados outsell all other kinds put together.

Per 100 gram serving there is 120 calories, 2.34 grams of protein, 10 grams of fat, 5.6 grams of fiber 2.17 grams of glucose and a very tiny amount of fructose.  The minerals are potassium 351 mg, phosphorus 40 mg, magnesium 24 mg, calcium 10 mg, sodium 2 mg, zinc 0.4 mg, iron 0.17 mg, copper 0.311 mg, and manganese 0.095 mg. Vitamin C is 17.4 mg. The amount of B vitamins are small: B1 (thiamin) 0.021 mg, B2 (riboflavin) 0.053, B3 (niacin) 0.672 mg, B6 (pyridoxine) 0.078, pantothenic 0.931 mg, and folate 35 mcg. Beta carotene is 53 mcg, which is 140 IUs of vitamin A. There is some vitamin E, 2.66 mg. 

The avocado of the Aztecs, P. drymifolia, is quite different.

The Aztecs used anise-smelling avocado leaves for flavoring. They wrapped food in the leaves of P. americana drymifolia (PER-see-uh uh-mair-ah-KAY-nuh drim-if-OH-lee-ah.) As for drying and eating the pits… the Aztecs, no matter how hungry, did not eat the pits. My speculation is it interferes with the gut biome and made them ill but they didn’t know why. Persea is the name giving to some unknown ancient tree in Greece that was thought to have come from Persia.  Americana the american, Drymifolia is forest leaf or sharp/stinging/biting leaf. Schiedeana (she-dee-ANN-ah) commemorates German botanist Christian Julius Wilhelm Schiede (1780-1836) who collected plants in Mexico from 1828 to his death in 1836. A Tillandsia is also named for him.  

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: There’s huge variety with three “races” and 50 varieties. They are an evergreen tree with glossy leaves that can be 10 to 60 feet depending on which one, it can be low and symmetrical to tall and asymmetrical. The fruit can be black, green, and purple, round, oval, and pear-shaped. 

TIME OF YEAR: Depends on species and location. Different species in different climates can provide almost year-round production of fruit. 

ENVIRONMENT: This also varies with the variety. Some are more salt tolerant than others, some more cool tolerant. Sun, rich well-drained soil and water makes them all grow well. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: A wide variety of ways from raw to used in cooked dishes.  Wild 

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Redflower Ragweed

Mon, 11/30/2020 - 08:10

Redflower Ragweed. Photo by Green Deane

The first time I saw Redflower Ragweed I thought I was seeing two species at once some weird combination of Tassel Flower and Fireweed. It’s way too big and has the wrong leaves to be a Tassel Flower but the blossoms remind one of a Tassel Flower but the rests of the plant looks life Fireweed/Burnweed.  

The blossoms do resemble the Florida Tassel Flower.

Redflower Ragweed isn’t a “ragweed” as most North Americans know the word. The common ragweed that launches a million sneezes annually is Ambrosia artemisiifolia. Redflower Ragweed is not an Ambrosia.  It is Crassocephalum crepidioides (kras-oh-SEF-uh-lum krep-pid-dee-OY-deez.) Crassocephalum is from the Dead Latin “Crassus” meaning “thick” and “kephale” which is Greek for head. Crepidioides is more mangle Greek. “-oides” in Dead Latin is mispronounced borrowed Greek and means “resembles.” Crepidioides means “resembles Crepis.” Crepis is from an old Greek word for a frilly funeral veil. It works its way into English via French as “crepe” paper.  So “thick head resembles crepe paper” is one way to interpret the plant’s name.” And even though it is called the Redflower Ragweed its leaves more resemble Fireweed/Burnweed, Erechtites hieraciifolius (which is an even more complicated, naughty story.)

The petalless blossoms are not edible. Photo by Green Deane

This edible shows up in our winter time and lasts until spring or so. I’ve seen it in Largo but this weekend noticed it in Sarasota. It’s actually attractives as weeds go. Cornucopia II says of Crassocephalum crepidioides on page 37: “Ebolo, Okinawan Spinach, Young leaves and shoots are used as a potherb, fried, or mixed in Khao yam. The leaves are fleshy, tinged with purple and have a somewhat mucilaginous quality and nutty flavor. Has become quite popular on the island of Okinawa and in Hawaii In Thailand, the roots are eaten with chili sauce or cooked in fish curry. Tropical Africa. Cultivated.”

Nutritionally the plant is very high in potassium but also sodium. It’s relative C. rubens (red) is also edible and higher in nutrition. 

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile: 

IDENTIFICATION: Erect, sparsely branched, aromatic to 40 inches (100 cm.) Stem ribbed, leaves spiral around the plant, red cylindrical flowers, no petals, which droop as if the plant were low on water.

TIME OF YEAR: In warmer climes in the winter.

ENVIRONMENT: Where ever crops can grow. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves and young stems cooked.  

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Wed, 11/25/2020 - 03:39

A pair of fruiting Tamarind Trees. Photo by Green Deane

I drove past a dozen Tamarind trees for a decade or so until I looked up one day. The lumpy brown pods on pretty trees had finally caught my attention.

The pods stay on the tree a long time. Photo by Green Deane

As most folks know Tamarind is used as a flavoring though you can crack open ripe fresh pods and eat the pulp inside. I have not only picked them up off the ground — what’s a few bugs and bacteria? — but also climbed trees for them. The sweet and tart flavor that liven pallets everywhere is also nutritious. As you might expect that sweetness comes with an energy price: 239 calories per 100 grams. What most folks don’t realize is that Tamarind leaves are also edible raw or cooked. 

Once one notices it is easy to see the Tamarind (Tamarindus indica tam-ah-RIN-dus inn-DIC-ah) is in the greater pea family (and most of them not edible.) The Tamarind is native to Africa and is also monotypic, that is, it is the only tree in its genus. Some genus have hundreds of trees, the Tamarinindus has only one (the Ginkgo tree is also monotypic with only it in its genus.) Slow growing to 100 feet the Tamarind is a massive tree you plant for the next several generations.

Tamarind Pods naturally dehydrate. Photo by Green Deane

A mature tree can produce 500 pounds of pods a year. The pods themselves are collected when they’re cinnamon brown. The wood is yellow with red streaks and termite resistant. As for the name it is part right and part wrong. Tamarind is said to come from the Arabic “tamar hindi” meaning Indian date. It was so associated with India the species was called indica which means from India. The botanist bungled it again and should have called it Tamarindus africana or the like.

And where are those dozen Tamarind trees? They encircle the first traffic circle at the north entrance of Dreher Park in West Palm Beach… Mr. Dreher knew what he was doing.  

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Graceful strong tree with dropping feathery foilage of pinnate leaves three to six inches long, evergreen, dark gray rough bark, flowers small pink racemes. Lumpy four-inch long seed pods turning brown as they ripen.

TIME OF YEAR: As a tropical species it reported flowers in summer, green fruit appear around December or January and ripen April to May. But, I have picked ripe fruit September to November.

ENVIRONMENT: Tolerates most soil as long as well-drained and not crowded by other trees. While it is in the pea family it does not fix nitrogen.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young pods are used for seasoning, they can be roasted, peeled and eaten. Older velvety pods are eaten out of hand. Pulp from the dehydrate fruit — which they do naturally — is used in a wide variety of ways such as made into sauces curries, chutneys and bitters. It is also used to make candy. Flowers and young leaves are edible as are boiled or roasted seeds. You can also soak the pods, once soft remove the seeds, then dehydrate the rest. It will last for a year in the refrigerator. 

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Lion’s Mane

Tue, 11/17/2020 - 04:53

Lion’s Mane is tasty and medicinal. Photo by Green Deane

I see Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) on the same oak log every fall at the same time to the day. This is joyous and sad. I like finding it because I think they taste great. But it is also sad in that it and other fungi will do their job and reduce the log to powder and be gone. I have watched that happen to several trees with oyster mushrooms. Everything in life is temporary. 

Sautéed in butter. Photo by Green Deane

I find this mushroom so tasty that I am not thinking about its nutrient content or it’s well-researched affects on brain function. Nutritional reports on Lion’s Mane differ greatly. This could be because wild and raised mushrooms vary. The raised ones tend to be higher in potassium than wild ones but lower in protein than wild ones. In general terms Lion’s Mane is about 43% protein, 61% carbs, 8% both fiber and fat. It has eight non-essential amino acids and seven essential amino acids adding up to some 14% of the mushroom’s dry weight. One hundred grams of Lion’s Mane has 65 grams of carbohydrates, 31 grams of protein, four grams of fat, and 35 calories. Ergosterol content is 381 mg, magnesium 123 mg, D2 (calciferol) 240 IUs, iron 20.3 mg, B3 (niacin) 18.3 mg, B1 (thiamin) 5.33 mg, potassium 4.46 mg, riboflavin 3.91 mg, calcium, sodium and phosphorus 1.2 mg each and folic acid 5.5 mcg. While there isn’t much sugar in Lion’s Mane two-thirds of it is glucose and ten percent mannose. Ergosterol has a similar function in mushrooms cells as cholesterol has in mammalian cells which is to maintain cell integrity (keep it from falling apart.)  It’s a pre-cursor to vitamin D2. Ultraviolet light changes Ergosterol to D2. This is how mushrooms get vitamin D. As for the brain…

Same Fungi, same log, a year apart almost to the day. Photo by Green Deane

Research says Lion’s Mane might protect against dementia by stimulating brain cell growth. It’s also anti-inflammatory and can reduce mild symptoms of anxiety and depression. Lion’s Mane may help damaged nerves recover and protects against ulcers. The fungi can have positive cardio-vascular effects and help to manage diabetes. Lastly Lion’s Mane might have some anti-cancer properties. Personally I just really like the taste and texture of it. I grew up on the coast of Maine and it does taste like carb or lobster to me. 

Hericium erinaceus  (Hair-REE-cee-um air-wren-NAY-see-us) means “pertaining to hedgehog” and “like a hedgehog.” That said it might also come from Hircus which mean goat. It is more like a goat’s beard than a lion’s mane. 

Green Deane “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A white fungus though sometimes tinged with yellow or pink. It has soft teeth hanging from a center stalk (other species are branching.) The teeth can reach close to an inch long. It makes a white spore print. 

TIME OF YEAR: They are a cool weather mushroom but that can vary greatly. You can find them in northern climes on 40 degree days or in north Florida were the nights are just eeking into the 50s. 

ENVIRONMENT: They grow on hardwood, oaks, maple and beech. I usually find them on downed white oaks. They can be predatory on certain species of tree or ill trees. It decomposes dead wood. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Many. I just sauté them in real butter.

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Gooseberries and Currants

Fri, 11/13/2020 - 04:48

Ripe Gooseberries can be Green, Red, Purple, Pink even Yellow.

A century can make a lot of difference.

In 1911 the federal government banned Gooseberry production because they were the intermediary host for the white pine blister. It’s a disease that kills pine trees. As you can imagine in the Pine Tree State of Maine Gooseberries were more than banned. They were sought out and destroyed… but not all of them.

My mother had the habit of collecting horses (five at one time.) We rode everywhere and that included long-abandoned roads through large expanses of woods. They were they type of road a horse could pick their way through but rocks and ledges would hang up a vehicle’s undercarriage. In the early 60’s on one such road a caved-in farm house had gooseberries and their relative, currents, still growing next to the foundation. It was the first time I had seen them and they probably escaped eradication because of the remote location. (Carrying out that destruction incidentally were the Boy Scouts, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Work Project Administration.)

You can see the family resemblance with Red Currants

In 1966 the banning of gooseberry fell to individual states and now in more places than not a century-plus later you can plant them again. According to the University of Massachusetts Delaware, New Jersey and North Carolina prohibit importing and raising of all currants and gooseberries. Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont allow planting in certain areas of certain varieties. There are Black, Red and White Currents besides gooseberries and the restrictions vary from variety to variety, city to city and state to state. I suspect gooseberries and currants are still growing in the wilds (though people might not admit they know where they are.) There are also farms now where you can pick them from Rhode Island to Washington State.

Gooseberries fall into two groups, North American (R. hirtellum) and northern European (Ribes grossularia var. uva-crispa) They like cool, humid climates such as the coast of Maine, points north, and the tops of mountains to the south. Merritt Fernald, who was the big botanist at Harvard from about 1900 to 1950, wrote about them as growing extensively in New England, Newfoundland, Labrador and as far west as Manitoba.

Black Currants still are on almost everyone’s hit list.

The fruit itself can be purple, red, pink, yellow, and green. Red and green are the most common ones — the ones I recall were green — and while you can eat them raw they are better cooked. They’re high in potassium. As for the names Ribes (REE-bess) is from the Arabic Ribas which means “rhubard.” The fruit can be sour. Hirtellum (her-TELL-um) is a little hairy (the fruit.) Grossularia (gross-ul-LAIR-ree-uh) is from the French for Gooseberry, Gorseille a’ Maquereau (meaning mackerel berries because they were used for a sauce on those fish.) Uva-crispa (OOU-vah CRIS-pah) means curved grape.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A very spiny branching shrub with deeply lobed, dark green leaves. The flower is bell-shaped in clusters of two or three producing inch-long berries with a lot of seeds. They can fruit for 20 years.

TIME OF YEAR: End of summer into fall. There are several pick your own operations in the U.S and Canada.

ENVIRONMENT: They like cool, humid locations, can tolerate some shade.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Raw or cooked, used for pies, jams and fruit leather, wine even for flavoring cheese. They are not sweet but the red ones are sweeter than the green ones and they can be pickled.


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A Rose Apple By Any Other Name

Tue, 09/15/2020 - 10:04

An immature Rose Apple just starting to produce seeds. Photo by Green Deane

The apple is in the Rose family but the Rose Apple is not though it can sometime taste like rose water… and watermelon… but not apples.

The redder the Rose Apple the sweeter.

Like many fruit of Asian origin this species and relatives have dozens of common name and a few botanical ones as well: Bell Fruit, Champoo, Cloud Apple, Jamaican Apple, Java Apple, Lembu, Lian-Woo, Love Apple, Makopa, Malay Apple, Mountain Apple, Royal Apple, Water Apple, Wax Apple, and Wax Jambul. Its most significant other botanical name is/was Eugenia javanica. That should tell you two things: It’s from the Java area and is related to the Suriname Cherry and the Simpson Stopper. How closely related is a good debate. The blossoms look similar and the leaves are aromatic. The genus is Syzygium — more on that later — and there are 1,139 members in that genus including the tree that produces the spice “cloves.” You will have to take the common names, as they say, with a grain of salt in that related genus-mates often have the same names. Add to that different botanical names and it is a drunk-botanist mess.

The flower buds of one Sygyzium become cloves.

As one night surmise the Rose Apple (Syzygium samarangense) has a long history in Southeast Asia. Not only does it have a wide range it is also the most commonly cultivated tree in that area of the world. Native from Bangladesh to the Solomon Islands it’s commonly planted in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Taiwan, India, Zandibar, Pemba, Surinam, the Antilles, northern Australia, and the Philippines where it is naturalized. It was intentionally introduced into Florida in 1960 and some trees can be found in Arizona and southern California. The species does not like high altitudes (must be below 4,000 feet) nor temperatures below freezing though mature trees can take 28F for a while. It likes well-drained soil, morning sun and afternoon shade if temperatures are regularly over 90F. Self-pollinating the tree easily grows from the non-edible seeds, grows very fast, and can fruit within three to five years. It is not unusual for a five-year-old tree to have 700 fruit per season. The fruit can also grow on the trunk and branches and reach maturity in 63 days. As for the fruit…

Jambul Fruit being made into wine. Photo by Green Deane

They range in color from pinkish white to deep red almost black. The darker the fruit the sweeter also the more ripe it is and the less citric and oxalic acid it has. Traditionally the bottom of the fruit is removed with the core and seeds as one often prepares a green pepper for stuffing, leaving it hollow. While we don’t eat the seeds they are in a matrix that resembles Ackee. The Ackee-like growth is edible but has no flavor. The fruit has more water content than an apple, on par with a watermelon, and the flesh is softer than an apple despite its name. They are eaten out of hand or made into jelly, juice, sauces and wine (fruits of different color produce different colored juice.) The fruit is a sliced addition to salads, can be pickled, and is use as a food decoration. Nutritionally per 100 grams they have about 0.3 grams of protein, no fat, 3.9 grams of carbohydrates, one gram of fiber, 253 IUs of vitamin A, traces of vitamin B1 and B2 traces, one milligram of vitamin C and 80 calories. It’s 90% water. A close relative of the Rose Apple is the Jambul or Java Plum. That is more commonly found in Central to South Florida. As far as I can tell all the species fruit at about the same time which can range locally from late July to mid-September.

Syzygiums have two equal leaves at the end of each branch.

As for the botanical name Syzygium is Latin-mangled Greek for “yoke mate.” Greeks call their spouse their yoke-make. The genus got the name because at the end of the branch there are two equal leaves, see photo left. They are not off set but equal. It’s a good identifier. S. samaragense is more ambiguous. The central city of Java is Semarang and was perhaps named for that. S. jambous is from Indian names of that fruit (which can also means guava) and S. cumini… That’s bit more complex. It means “cumin” like the spice going back to the Greek Kimion but it also has the meaning of being a spice or a drug. The dried buds of S. aromaticum (aromatic) are “cloves.” “Clove” by the way goes back to Dead Latin and means “nail.”

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile


The tree, 16 to 50 feet tall, has a short trunk, 10 to 12 inches, thick, and open, wide-spreading crown, pinkish-gray, flaking bark. Opposite leaves are nearly sessile (stem-less) elliptic-oblong, rounded or slightly heart-shaped at the base; yellowish to dark bluish-green; 4 to 10 inches long and 2 to 4 3/4 inches wide; very aromatic when crushed. Flowers drooping panicles of 3 to 30 at the branch tips or in smaller clusters in the axils of fallen leaves, fragrant, yellowish-white, 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches broad, four-petalled, with numerous stamens to one inch long. The waxy fruit, usually light-red, sometimes greenish-white or cream-colored, is pear-shaped, narrow at the base, very broad, flattened, indented and adorned with four fleshy calyx lobes at the apex; The skin is thin, the flesh white, spongy, dry to juicy, subacid and very bland in flavor. One or two somewhat rounded seeds 3/16 to 5/16 of an inch or none.


In its native range year round or late spring and early fall. In central Florida late July, August usually, some times September.


Rich, well-drained soil, morning sun, afternoon shade in hot climates, top of a hill rather than the bottom of a hill, temperatures not lower than 28F and elevations not over 4,000 feet.


Fruit raw or cooked (not seeds.) Can be made into jelly, juice, wine, sauces, or pickled. A recipe is below. 

Herb Blurb

The flowers are astringent and have been used to treat fever and diarrhea. The principal compound seems to be tannin. The fruit also contains desmethoxymatteucinol, 5-O-methyl-4′-desmethoxymatteucinol, oleanic acid and B-sitosterol and show weak antibiotic action against Staphylococcus aureus, Mycobacterium smegmatis, and Candida albicans.

Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Rose Apple Filling

2 bunches (approx. 20 pieces) squash blossoms
3 tablespoons oil, divided
1 medium white onion, minced
1 cup canned button mushrooms, drained and chopped finely
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped finely
4 tablespoons minced Rose Apple
1/2 cup finely cubed soft, un-aged white cheese
3 egg whites, beaten lightly

Prepare the squash blossoms: Snip off the stems, wash, and carefully pat dry with paper towels. Remove the pistil from each flower. Set aside. In pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Sauté the onion for a couple of minutes. Add mushrooms and cook for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Add tomatoes. Season it with salt and pepper. Add makopa, mabolo, and kesong puti. Toss well. By using a teaspoon, stuff it filling into the squash blossoms. In a nonstick pan over medium heat, pour remaining oil. Dip each stuffed squash blossom into the egg whites and pan-fry, turning once to make sure both sides are cooked through.

Crunchy tip: If you want it crunchy, combine rice flour, egg white, and water to make a batter with a pancake like consistency. Dip stuffed squash blossoms into the batter and deep-fry quickly.



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Kudzu Quickie

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 21:11

Kudzu, Pueraria montana var. lobata, the vine people love to hate. Photo by Green Deane

The state government tells me that the plant growing at the end of my street isn’t there.

It’s kudzu, the plant that grows so fast it can follow you like a puppy. It’s not a mile from here. And about eight miles further north I was collecting it some 20 years ago. Yet the government says it is not in this county. It also makes me wonder how the federal Department of Agriculture gets by.  I read the USDA plant distribution maps with a skeptical eye. I’m not sure they are updated every century. And if you write to them and tell them their map is wrong… they get very attitudinal. Kudzu, Ear Tree, Wild Pineapple… NONE of them grow here officially. The only thing worst than academic botanists who never get into the field is USDA agents who can’t tell a plum from a cherry.

Kudzu leaves have hair on the edges. Photo by Green Deane

Rant over, Kudzu, Pueraria montana var. lobata, (pew-er-RAY-ree-u MON-tah-nuh var. low-BAH-tuh) is an extremely versatile plant. We just don’t use it enough. But know this: If Kudzu grows near you, you won’t starve. Indeed, economic times may make Kudzu valuable again. It’s not on menus yet but you may wish it were. A couple of years ago there’s was a Kudzu methanol car-fuel plant in the works in the U.S. but the plans stalled. The only thing about Kudzu I don’t like is the smell of the flowers in bloom: It smells exactly like the very cheap, very intense grape-flavored chemical gum kids chew. You can detect it from hundreds of feet away. Very strong, but good for identifying. If you like that aroma let your nose guide you. (I like the smell of grape, it’s that cheap artificial grape smell I can’t stand.  That’s what Kudzu smells like. Kudzu has no choice, so I don’t blame it. But the gum makers do have a choice and they make the wrong one. )

Kudzu was introduced into the United State in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The exposition was to celebrate 100 years of the United States being an independent country. Japan built a garden using Kudzu. Then it was at an exposition in New Orleans in 1883. American gardeners fell in love.  By 1908 Kudzu was being promoted as a forage crop in Florida then it was widely distributed in the 1920s by a Florida nursery. (At one time they proudly displayed a ground zero Kudzu plaque.)  It was planted by the conservation corps during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl Era of the 1930s and in the 1940s the government was paying farmers $8 an acre to let it grow for soil conservation. (In 2008 dollars that is $134 an acre.)  It was called “the miracle vine” and cotton was no longer king of the south.

Removing root starch is labor intensive

But, by 1953 even federal employees suspected something was wrong. The government stopped paying to plant it. Kudzu can grow a foot a day and when escaped from cultivation, it can smother and kill an entire forest. By 1970 the government called it a weed and it’s been a “pest” ever since finally getting on the Federal Noxious Weed List in 1997, some 44 years after the alarm was raise.  A half a billion dollars is spent annually trying to contain it. Granted Kudzu is a problem, but “pest” or “resource” is a matter of attitude and policy.  It’s a huge amount of food not being consumed, a resource not being used. What would a country in famine do with those hundreds of thousands of acres of food? I doubt they would call it a noxious weed. Perhaps instead of sending dollars to the starving we should send them nutritious kudzu.

Kudzu’s pods and seeds are NOT edible

Kudzu can be eaten many ways. The young leaves can be consumed as a green, or juiced. They can be dried and made into a tea. Shoots can be eaten like asparagus. The blossom can be used to make pickles or a jelly — a taste between apple and peach — and the root is full of edible starch. Older leaves can be fried like potato chips, or used to wrap food for storage or cooking. With kudzu you can make a salad, stew the roots, batter-fry the flowers or pickled them or make a make syrup. Raw roots can be cooked in a fire, roots stripped of their outer bark can be roasted in an oven like any root vegetable; or grated and ground into a flour to make a thickener, a cream or tofu. Kudzu is used to make soaps, lotions, rope, twine, baskets, wall paper, paper, fuel  and compost. It can also be baled like hay with most grazing animals liking it, especially goats. Only the seeds are not edible. And while the root starch is edible, it takes hours of pounding to get the starch out, as my friend Doug Elliott wrote in his book, Roots. 

Kudzu, to someone not familiar with it, does have a couple of look-alikes, such as the Desmodium rotundifolium, or the Ticktrefoil.  Kudzu has very hairy young stems, the D. rotundifolium does not… that and that Kudzu goes wild and outgrows it. The hog peanut, Amphicarpaea bracteata, may be mistaken for young Kudzu vines, but it does not have hairy stems or climbs into trees. The key is to look for hairy stems on the young Kudzu, and when it blossoms follow the grape aroma.

The word “kudzu” comes from the Japanese word “kuzu” which means vine. The name itself comes from a particular region of Japan where the people are also called Kuzu. It is not known which came first, the name or the people. Pueraria was named after the Swiss botanist Marc Nicolas Puerari who taught in Copenhagen. Montana means mountainous. Lobata means lobes. Sometimes the plant is called Pueraria lobata, skipping the Montana part. In China it is called gé gēn.

Kudzu is not a famine food but prime fare. We call it a weed because we are not hungry enough… yet. Recipies on bottom. By the way goats love Kudzu and it is by far not the most invasive species in the South. The Asian Privet is.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Kudzu is a climbing, semi-woody, vine that can reach up to 100 feet in length. Stems can reach the diameter of ½ to 4 inches, old ‘stumps’ can be nearly 12 inches across. Leaves alternate, compound with three broad leaflets to 4 inches across. Leaflets may be entire or deeply 2-3 lobed hairy underneath. Flowers are ½ inch long, purple, highly fragrant in long clusters. Flowers in  late summer, seeds pods brown, hairy, flattened, containing three to ten seeds.

TIME OF YEAR: Shoots in spring, young leaves anytime, blossoms July through October, roots best in fall or early spring.

ENVIRONMENT: Likes full sun, heat, plenty of water.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Nearly too numerous to mention.  Most of the plant is edible in some way except the seeds and seed pods.  They are not edible.

Herb Blurb

In the Orient, it is used to treat dysentery, allergies, migraine headaches, diarrhea, fevers, colds, intestinal problems and angina pectoris, to help with the digestion of food and reduce blood pressure. Kudzu has been used successfully for centuries as a treatment for alcoholism, and this is a main focus of modern kudzu medical research today. Experiments with hamsters and rats, show that a compound in kudzu actually causes the repression of alcohol consumption. This research could have great value in the future for the treatment of alcoholism

 Kudzu Blossom Jelly

Spoon over cream cheese, or melt and serve over waffles and ice cream. The blossom liquid is gray until lemon juice is added.

4 cups Kudzu blossoms

4 cups boiling water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 (1 3/4-ounce) package powered pectin

5 cups sugar

Wash Kudzu blossoms with cold water, and place them in a large bowl. Pour 4 cups boiling water over blossoms, and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight. Pour blossoms and liquid through a colander into a Dutch oven, discarding blossoms. Add lemon juice and pectin; bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly.

Stir in sugar; return to a full rolling boil, and boil, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Remove from heat; skim off foam with a spoon. Quickly pour jelly into hot, sterilized jars, filling to 1/4 inch from top. Wipe jar rims. Cover at once with metal lids, and screw on bands.

Process in boiling water bath 5 minutes. Cool on wire racks. YIELD: 6 half pints.

Rolled Kudzu Leaves

Kudzu Leaves

1 can diced tomatoes

2 teaspoons salt

3 cloves garlic, cut in half

Juice of 3 lemons

Bacon Grease (optional)

Stuffing ingredients: 1 cup rice, rinsed in water

1 pound ground lamb or lean beef

1 cup canned diced tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon of allspice

Salt and Pepper to taste

Gather about 30 medium-sized young kudzu leaves. Make sure area has not been sprayed with chemicals.

Wash leaves. Drop into salted boiling water. Boil a 2-3 minutes, separating leaves. Remove to a plate to cool. Remove heavy center stems from the leaves by using a knife and cutting down each side of the stem to about the middle of the leaf. Combine all stuffing ingredients and mix well.

Push cut sides together and fill with 1 teaspoon stuffing and roll in the shape of a cigar. Place something in bottom of a large pan so that rolled leaves will not sit directly on the bottom of the pan. Bacon grease is great for seasoning.

Arrange Kudzu rolls alternately in opposite directions. When all are in the pot, pour in a can diced tomatoes, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 3 cloves of garlic, cut in half. Press down with an inverted dish and add water to reach dish. Cover pot and cook on medium for 30 minutes. Add lemon juice and cook 10 minutes more.

Kudzu Quiche

Makes 4-6 servings.

1 cup heavy cream

3 eggs, beaten

1 cup chopped, young, tender Kudzu leaves and stems

1/2 teaspoon salt

Ground pepper to taste

1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

1 nine-inch unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix cream, eggs, kudzu, salt, pepper, and cheese. Place in pie shell. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until center is set.

Kudzu Tea

Kudzu leaves



Simmer 1 cup of finely chopped Kudzu leaves in a quart of water for 30 minutes. Drain and serve with honey and a sprig of mint. If you prefer a sweeter taste use honey to sweeten the tea.

Deep Fried Kudzu Leaves

Pick light green leaves, 2-inch size.

Thin batter made with iced water and flour


Heat oil. Rinse and dry kudzu leaves, then dip in batter (chilled). Fry oil quickly on both sides until brown. Drain on paper toweling. Eat while warm.

kudzu powder

Kudzu powder can be prepared on a small scale from wild kudzu with little equipment. Roots no smaller than 1 1/2” in diameter should be harvested during the winter months, December through March. Kudzu root should be washed, cut into approximate one-inch thick slices and pureed in a blender with enough cold water to blend the root well. The puree should be strained and the solid fibers squeezed to extract all the liquid to be used for further processing. The remaining fibers should then be saturated with water, stirred, and strained again, collecting the liquid into the container with the other extract. The brown kudzu liquid should be filtered through muslin or lower grade cotton fabric and left undisturbed in a cool or cold location for 24 hours. The fibers can be composted and the brown liquid should then be discarded as grey water. The clay like substance remaining in the container should be broken up and mixed well, until thoroughly dissolved with clean water once again, and allowed to rest for 24 hours in a cool environment. The liquid should again be discarded and the starch redissolved into a second batch of clean water, this time leaving the mixture for 48 hours in a cool place. The liquid should then be discarded and the layer of gray impurities removed from the starch. The starch is then ready to be used immediately or can be dried to preserve it indefinitely. To dry the kudzu starch, place kudzu chunks on a tray or on layers of paper and set it in a cool, well ventilated place for 10 to 40 days until thoroughly dry. Store dry chunks of kudzu in a sealed container. The dry chunks of kudzu, when pulverized, become kudzu powder.

Kudzu Flower Wine

4 quarts water

6 quarts fresh kudzu blossoms


4 cups sugar 1 gallon jug 1 balloon

Pick kudzu blossoms when they are dry (mid-day). Wash in pan of water containing 1/2 cup vinegar to kill any bugs. Pour 2.5 quarts of boiling water over the blossoms and stir. Put a lid on the container and stir twice a day for four days.

Strain the liquid through a clean cloth. Press the blossoms to get all the liquid from them. Add four cups sugar. Dissolve yeast in lukewarm water. Pour the dissolved yeast into the liquid. Stir well. Transfer to a one-gallon jug. Add enough water to bring the liquid within 2 inches below the neck of the jug. Attach the balloon and secure it with twine or a strong rubber band. Place jug in a cool dark place that is between 60° F to 75° F.

Every other day gently loosen the balloon and allow the gas to escape and then replace the balloon firmly on the neck of the jug. In approximately 6 weeks the balloon will stop expanding and the wine is done. Strain the wine through a clean cloth and transfer it to airtight bottles. Allow it to sit for an additional two to twelve months before drinking.

Kudzu Root Sucker

In a survival situation, any kudzu root between 1/2 to 3/4 inches in diameter can be washed, cut at both ends to a length of about 6 inches, and then all the exterior bark should be scrapped off. The raw root can then be sucked on to gradually remove all its internal nutrients. Only suck the nutrients out of the root. The root is wood. Wood is NOT digestible. Do NOT eat the wood.

Kudzu Root Tea

The thin, tender young roots can be dug up, washed, diced, boiled, and strained to make a tea.

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Canna Confusion

Sun, 07/19/2020 - 02:32

Canna edulis, achira

How many species of Canna are there? Used to be perhaps 100 but now there are 20 or so, plus one Scottish island with a …ah.. population problem. And don’t misspell it Cana with one ‘N’ or you will get a cremation society.

I lived with a Taiwanese family for a while, perhaps that’s where I got my skills at cooking down home Chinese food. They grew Canna, red blossom with skinny petals (well, blossom parts that look like petals.) See above. I thought the flowers were Taiwanese Canna because they looked so different in blossom than Canna found in the southern United States, which has large fat blossoms of yellow. My presumption was that Canna was Asian. Come to find out everyone thought that but it is origionally from the Americas. It went east and west and then it came back and got discovered.

Golden Canna, Canna flaccida

Canna is called a lily in common terms — Canna Lily — but it is not a lily. It’s in the order of Zingiberales which includes ginger, bananas, and marantas. The resemblance is in the leaves. How it got to be called a Canna Lily is unknown though it can be a bit orchid looking and was once called the Orchid-Flowered Canna. One can also easily see the ginger relationship just as kids in a family can look similar. Its leaves are large and green, some times brown to maroon, occasionally variegated. Blossom color varies but usually favoring the red/orange/yellow range. Hybids are often multi-colored. The blossom is rather odd in that what attracts our eye is often modified stamen (reproductive parts) rather than true petals. But I’ll call them blossoms for convenience. Like so many plants misnamed and renamed by personality-void botanists the genus proliferated with species and varieties and cultivars until it was a mangle morass of monikers. It took two botanists two careers to sort them from a big mess to a little mess. Here’s what happened.

Canna indica

Cannas are native to the warm areas of the Americas. They were taken to warm areas of the Orient, then called the East Indies.  From there they went to Europe. The first named species was Canna indica, which means Canna from India. In those days that meant from the West Indies but that was overlooked and the notion arose that the Canna was from the East Indies rather than the West Indies. More so, indica today mean from India not the West Indies. Subsequent botanists “discovered” Canna in Africa and Asia thinking it came from the India. Then they were “discovered” in the Americas, for a second time. It would be centuries before there was general agreement that Canna are native Americans and that scores of different Canna species was probably only one score. (Ya gotta love academics, like doctors, oh so right and oh so wrong.)

Canna edulis roots in the Andeas

So, what of the Canna, which parts can be used? If you believe everything on the Internet the entire plant is used, seeds to rhizome. Reality is a bit different. The seeds are tough. How tough? They can stay viable for 600 years and have been used for buckshot. That’s tough. Thus references that mature seeds can be sprinkled on tacos was not written by anyone who ever tried it. Cooked immature seeds, however, are edible. In some species the young shoots and leaves are a cooked green — usually boiled — and in some species the root starch is edible. In fact, it is the largest plant starch, molecularly speaking, and among if not the easiest to digest. Arrowroot starch, used as a thickener, comes from a relative of the Canna, Maranta arundinacea.

Canna indica purpurea rhizome

The best-known Canna for food is Canna edulis, also called Achira. It can have a rhizome clump two feet long. At harvest time the plant is three to six feet high with alternative leaves that are a foot long and almost half a foot wide. The unisexual flowers have orange red petals and three petal-like staminodia, each of different lengths. Those lead to a three-cell seed capsule with round black seeds. Its starch has been used for food for at least 4,500 years. Canna indica roots are edible, too, as are the rhizomes of Canna coccinea. C. indica It looks similar to Canna edulis but is shorter and has brighter red flowers.

Locally the edible member of the species is Canna flaccida,  KAN-uh FLACK-sid-uh, also called Golden Canna. It’s a showy, emersed native that typically grows to four to five feet tall. Golden Canna is found in small stands at the edges of marshes, swamps, ponds and lakes. It is found throughout the southern United States. It also has been hybridized and found in household gardens around the world. Golden Canna flowers are showy yellow and usually open in the afternoon. Hybrid Golden Canna flowers are oranged tinged, or have large fat petals that are orange and red (compared to the skinny red species.) The three-inch-long flowers grow in clusters at the tops of long stalks. They attach in a spiral along the stem as do the leaves. The leaf shape is oblong to elliptic, tapering bases and pointed tips. Leaves can be two six inches wide and three feet long. Veins are parallel and sharply angled. The three-part seed capsule is rough to the touch turning black. Roots are long, thin, and white. Synonyms: Canna anahuacensis, Canna flaccidum, Canna reevesii. (That’s how they ended up with 100 botanical names, nearly everyone thought they had found a different species.)

Canna root does not store well so it is best left in the ground until when you intend to use it, say within a few days. It can be eaten raw, or is often boiled. Best method of preparation is long baking. The roots are not peeled before or after baking. Once cooked they are slit and the soft, shiny starchy content scooped out. A lot of the starch can make you hiccup. In the mountains of Peru the roots are baked in ground pits with coals and hot rocks covered with dirt, usually 12 hours at least.

Propagation: Plant the small corm-like rhizome segments. Flowering plants have rhizomes tinged with purple, immature plants have white rhizomes flesh. Rhizomes of the Canna iridiflora are not eaten because it is among the few Canna that does not produce fleshy rhizomes.

Canna Island, Scotland

You will read that Canna means reed and is from a Celtic word. Partially true, and there is a Scottish island named Canna. But the Celtic word is from the Dead Latin word Canna which is from the Living Greek word Kanna. Kanna was a certain reed Greeks used to weave into mats and fences. And about Canna Island…

As detailed in my previous article it is an island, above left, with about a dozen residents (in 2010)  though the Scottish government would like to increase that. The island had a rat over population problem. A few years ago they got rid of the rats then had a rabbit over population problem because the rats weren’t around to keep the rabbits in check.  Bunny birth control eased that problem but the low human population remains a problem. The island is a tourist destination and at one time presumably had Canna, or more specifically local reeds.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile: Golden Canna, Bandana of the Everglades

IDENTIFICATION: Canna flaccida: Rhizomes fleshy. Leaves: sheath and blade hairless, narrowly ovate to narrowly elliptic, 20 to 50 inches long, base gradually narrowed into sheath, apex acute (pointed.) Inflorescences racemes, simple, bearing one-flower each, fewer than five flowers per inflorescence; Flowers pure yellow, pedicels short, sepals narrowly oblong-elliptic, petals strongly curve back, lobes narrowly oblong-elliptic, base sharply reflexed; three staminodes, broadly ovate, seed capsules irregular ellipsoid, seeds brown, nearly round.

TIME OF YEAR: Usually summer time. Roots should be harvested before the plant flowers.

ENVIRONMENT: Full sun, shallow water around six inched deep, open marshes, lake margins, ponds, savannahs, ditches,  and inundated pine flatwoods. Although Canna is frost sensitive it also grows very fast and has been grown in extreme northern climates such as northern Alaska and Canada because of the long days.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Canna edulis roots are either boiled or baked, or eaten raw. Usually they are slow roasted, usually 12 hours minimum, a good oven on low heat can do that in half the time. Young shoots are eaten as a green vegetable usually cooked but I have had one Hawaiian forager tell me he eats young shoots raw. Leaves can be used to cook food in. Immature seeds cooked. Starch can be used like arrowroot. Canna flaccida roots are usually ground and washed letting the starch settle. The water is then poured off and the starch dried then ground. Cooked Canna starch can be used to make alcohol. The stems can be used to make fiber.

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Galinsoga’s Gallant Soldiers

Sat, 04/25/2020 - 21:12

Galinsoga, “Gallent Soldiers” aka Quickweed grows up, it’s toxic look-alike crawls.


Galinsoga ciliata: Quickweed is fast food

Quickweed does not look edible or gallant. In fact, it looks like a daisy that lost a fight. But it, and a close cousin, G. parvifolia, are good pot herbs. There is a potentially toxic look alike, Tridax procumbens, “Coat Buttons” which is more viney, and low growing except for flower stalk. Unfortunately the blossoms of Galinsoga ciliata and Tridax procumbens are nearly identical so you have to look at the rest of the plant to make sure you have the Galinsoga. It is found nearly everywhere in North America except the desert southwest (and sparingly in warm southern states.) 

Galinsoga blossom

Beside roundish older leaves, Galinsogas have (usually but not always) five widely spaced petals with indented tips. A native of Central and South American, Galinsoga ciliata (gal-in-SOH-guh sil-ee-ATE-uh aka G. quadriradiata)  is a little plant that has gone a long ways. It was introduced to Kew Gardens in England in 1796 and not only has naturalized there but escaped to the continent as well. That makes some sense in that one plant in a season can produce 7500 seeds. As a new comer to not only the northern United States and Europe it does not have an extensive foraging history outside of its native region. However, as soon as it got to China it became a prime pot herb. The entire plant is eaten except the root. However the leaves are the best part. For an ugly little plant it has great taste. Pick a lot because it loses some size in the cooking.

Low-growing Tridax procumbers: NOT EDIBLE

Nutritionally the leaves of the Galinsoga per 100g edible portions are:  88.4g water, 156 calories, protein 3.2g, fat 0.4g, carbs 5.2g, fiber 1.1.g, calcium 284 mg, magnesium 60 mg, potassium 58 mg, iron 5.3 mg, zinc 1.3. mg, carotene 4 mg, vitamin C 6.7 mg, thiamin 0.08 mg, riboflavin 0.21 mg, and niacin 1.21 mg.

Galinsoga was named after Mariano Martinez Galinsoga,  a Spanish physician and botanist in the 18th century. Ciliata means fringed with hair.  Parvifolia means small flowers. The plant’s nick name in England is “gallant soldiers.” In Brazil it is known as botão-de-ouro.  G. parvifolia is toxic to goats, apparently among the few plants that are.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Quickweed is identified by its opposite, oval, coarsely toothed leaves on opposite-branched stems. Its small flower heads have a yellow disk and five (or four) three-toothed white tiny petals (occasionally pink.) To two feet tall. It’s toxic look-alike, Tridax, is ground hugging except for the flower stalks, see photo upper right. Remember, Galinsogas grows up, the entire plant. The Tridax grows low except for the flower stalk which grows up. Do not eat the Tridax. The blossoms resemble each other closesly so don’t use just the blossoms for identification.

TIME OF YEAR: May through fall in northern areas, nearly year round in Florida

ENVIRONMENT: Waste ground, cultivated areas, roadsides, gardens, dooryards lowland fields. However, it prefers damp rich soil with plenty of sunshine. (The government lists toxic Tridax as only growing in central and south Florida but eleven states consider it a “pest”: Alabama, California, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North and South Carolina Oregon, Texas and Vermont. ) 

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Cooked green. Put in boiling water for 10/15 minutes. Excellent with butter, salt and pepper.  Dried leaves can be used for flavoring. G. parvifolia being less hairy is used as a salad green as well.  The juice and leaf paste of the Tridax procumbens can be used to stop bleeding wounds.

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Coral Bean: Humming Bird Fast Food

Fri, 03/20/2020 - 19:33

The Eastern Coral Bean is easy to spot this time of year. Photo by Green Deane

Erythrina herbacea: Part Edible, Part Not

Eastern Coral Bean in blossom

The (eastern) Coral Bean is one of those damned if you do, and damned if you don’t kind of species.  Parts of it are edible, parts of it are toxic, narcotic and hallucinogenic. So there is a trade off: Very easy to identify, but harvest carefully.

The boiled flowers and young leaves are edible, cooked like string beans but in more water.  This semi-toxic plant is also quite healthy. A Japanese study published in the Journal of Natural Medicines, 29 Jan 2008, confirmed five antioxidants in the coral bean flower and found a sixth antioxidant. I boil mine for 15 minutes in plenty of water. They turn green and limp when cooked and reduce in size so collect a lot. The flavor is mild, like young spinach.

Coral Bean is a plant of the old South and into Mexico. But, it can grow not only across the southern tier of the United States but up the east coast to Maryland and up the west coast to Washington state. Out hiking it is always very easy to spot though in the wild it is rarely more than a spindly bush. However most people know the coral bean as a landscape plant and under cultivation and ideal conditions can reach 25 feet.

Cooked young leaves edible, but poor fare

It is one of those odd thing in the plant world that people interested in plants tend to view them three basic ways. One is the agriculturist who views them as a commodity.  There are those like foragers who tend to land on the nature side of things. They want to know where does it grow and can it be eaten. Then there are those who view plants like artistic elements to be put in a living canvas, the landscaped garden. I have a close friend like that. His property is as disciplined as mine is feral. He knows probably not a botanical name, nor which leaf he can eat, yet he’s a good husband of his plants and his yard a thing of beauty.  He works very hard at it.

A coal bean to him would be a bit of color, and color over time because a landscaped garden is an interplay of plants as the season progresses. To an agriculturist the coral bean is a source of costly contamination, especially the seeds. It is a weed, weeds cost money and they are thus called noxious and must be dealt with as some enemy. To me it is something to add to the herb pot if it is shy on content. And I suppose there is a fourth group that includes most people. They ignore plants even though their lives depend on them.

The seeds are toxic, do not eat

The coral bean is an interesting plant for many reasons, one of which is that it always turns it leaves towards the sun. Each petiole has three uterine-shaped leaves, two on short stems but all three stems have the ability to turn the leaf. And you will notice unlike most trees and more like an herb, the smaller leaves are in the middle. Those are the edible young leaves, and of course, the red blossoms, both cooked. The seeds are NOT edible. They have been used for beads, however, and played an important religious role for the Aztecs in auguring the future. In tiny amounts the seeds are said to be hallucinogenic.

As for the toxin, it is not great according to the data base of the state of North Carolina. It varies from according to age, weight, physical condition and individual susceptibility. Most of the reports involve kids eating the scarlet seeds. In Mexico the seeds are used to poison rats, dogs and fish. It is similar to curare and hypnotic. That the flowers and leaves are edible is confirmed by no less august authority than Dr. Julia Morton, who for most of her life was the final say on toxic plants in warm climates, such as Florida. In fact, she is one of the experts that authored the edible plant portion of the U.S. military’s survival guide. I like the flowers. Boiled they are a mild in flavor.

The flowers of the Erythrina flabelliformis (fla-bel-ih-FOR-miss, fan shaped) are  reported as edible — very favored in Mexico — but I have not tried them.

As for the botanical name of the coral bean, Erythrina herbacea (air-rith-RYE-nuh hur-BAY-see-uh) …There are about 112 species in the genus Erythrina, which comes from the Greek word ερυθρος which means red.  The species name, herbacea in Latin means “grass, low growing, not woody.” It was named that because this particular plant is more herbaceous than others in the genus.  Many of the plants in the genus are well-known and used in the tropics and subtropics as street and park trees. Some are used as shade trees for coffee or cacao and can grow to a hundred feet high. In most of its range in the United State the Coral Bean is a bush. The common name might come from the fact the flowers are shaped like a form of red coral. It is also called the Cherokee Bean, who used a decoction of the root for various purposes including kidney and urinary blockage.

Besides brilliant color the Coral Bean’s second claim to fame is that it’s fast food for humming birds. They were made for each other and one of the quickest way to get hummers to your yard is to grow a Coral Bean, just keep the seeds away from the kids. Humming birds, by the way, follow routes, kind of like air corridors called traplinings, (for next time you’re playing scrabble….

Other known edibles in the genus include E. americana, E. berteroana, E. fusca, E. rubrinervia, and E. veriegata.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Bush, three to sixteen feet,compound, uterine-shaped leaves lost in winter in cooler areas, kept in warm areas, herbaceous, bushy, can survive a lot of trimming. Stems have small, curves prickles, as do leaves. Flowers on leafless spikes  in early to early summer depending upon the latitude, young leaves throughout the growing season. Easily blooms in February in Florida. Occasionally blossoms in fall. In dry areas can keep blossoms after leaves have fallen

TIME OF YEAR: Broken shade, sandy woods, hardwood hammocks,  dry coastal tidewater  areas, roadsides

ENVIRONMENT: Usually an understory plant among other bushes. But I’ve also seen it grow in full sun. Become less common due to destruction of habitat.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Boil young leaves and blossoms in ample water. Whether the blossoms are edible raw is a bit of a debate with one authority quoting another in a questionable reference saying yes. Be safe and don’t eat them raw. I know one can be eaten raw but beyound that I do know know. Besides containing harmful alkaloids, they contain antioxidants. Flowers turn mushy while cooking and loose their red color.

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