Eat the Weeds
You never know where you’ll find Chickweed but locally you know when: Winter. When I owned a lawn it showed up gloriously every December. (If you live up north, think soon after the snow goes.)
Of course, few lawn owners view Chickweed as glorious. Decapitated grass has given chickweed a bad rap. Instead of lawn lovers pulling out a clump of chickweed and having it for dinner, they spend a lot of green to get rid of the green. Killing chickweed is a million-dollar business which is a large expense and a waste of food.
Chickweed tastes good and is good for you with ascorbic-acid, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, niacin, potassium, riboflavin, selenium, thiamin, zinc, copper, and Gamma-linolenic-acid. That’s a win win as they used to say. Raw, it tastes exactly like corn silk, if you’ve ever tried that. Cooked it is similar to spinach though the texture is different. It can be added to soups or stews but in the last five minutes to prevent overcooking. Unlike many wild edibles, the chickweed’s stems, leaves, flowers and seeds are all edible. It does hold nitrates and people with allergies to daisies might want to pass it by. Only the Mouse-Ear chickweed should be cooked because of texture issues. The rest of the Chickweeds can be eaten raw but I think they tastes better cooked.
The species scientific name is Stellaria media (Stel-LAY-ree-uh MEED-ee-uh which means “little star in the mist.” Probably from Eurasia, it is now found around the world even in the arctic circle and Greenland (as are thistles, mustards, clover, and blackberries.) Chickweed is also a back yard barometer. Its leaves fold up when it’s going to rain. The leaves also fold up at night. Cute. Also, chickweed is not an early riser: The blossoms open late in the morning. And it’s called chickweed because chickens love it. There are some reasonably close look-alikes, but three things separates chickweed from poisonous pretenders. First, it does not have milky sap. Next, it has one line of hairs on its stem that changes sides at each pair of leaves. And if you bend or crease the stem, rotate each end counter with each other, and pull gently the outer part of the stem will separated but the elastic inner part will not and you will have a stretched inner part between the two stem ends. See picture above right.
If you have chickweed but it doesn’t quite fit the description, look at my article on Drymaria coradata, a Chickweed cousin that shares some characteristics. A second plant that is commonly mistaken for Chickweed is Richardia scabra. That always surprises me as Richarda is rougher and ranker. Folks get thrown off by the species’ blossom. Richardia is generally consider not edible and at least one species will make you throw up, Richardia emetica (also called Richardia brasiliensis.) Can you eat R. scabra? I know some people who have mistakenly done so. They didn’t eat a lot of it but none reported any immediate ill effects.
2 cups of chopped chickweed leaves and stems.
¼ cup minced onion
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons honey, fruit juice concentrate, or sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups wheat flour
¾ cup warm water
1 packet yeast
Sauté onion and chickweed until tender (not brown). Dissolve honey and yeast into the warm water and then the salt. Mix the yeast mixture with the cooled sautéed chickweed and onions and slowly add the flour until the dough no longer sticks to your fingers Form into a ball and let it rise to twice its volume. Shape into loaves and let rise again. Bake at 375 .F for 40-45 minutes.
Chickweed And Bacon Pie is best hot; it will keep one to two days in the refrigerator and can be reheated.
One 10-inch pie crust
3 cups chopped chickweed
1 cup diced slab bacon
½ cup finely chopped onion
3 large eggs
1½ cups sour cream
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 10-inch pie dish with crust and make a raised border around the rim to prevent filling from overflowing during baking.
To prepare chickweed, remove all leaves, twigs and root ends, reserving only the greenest, leafiest parts. Rinse thoroughly in a colander and gently dry with paper towels. Bunch the chickweed together into a ball and chop it with a sharp knife until reduced to a confetti texture. Measure, then put chickweed in a large bowl.
Fry diced bacon in a skillet until it begins to brown, then add onion. Cook about 3 minutes, or until onion wilts. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon and onions to bowl with chickweed. Discard drippings from pan.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs until lemon colored, then add sour cream, flour and nutmeg. Add egg mixture to chickweed, onions and bacon. Spread filling evenly in the pie shell and pat down firmly with a spoon. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until pie has set in center and top looks golden.
—Adapted from Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking by William Woys Weaver (Abbeville Press, 1993).Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
Annual herb with slender, smooth stems to about a foot long, one row of tiny hairs growing in a row on one side of the stem, switching to other side at each pair of opposite, oval pointed leaves. Old leaves have stalks, young leaves do not. Flowers, small, white with five petals so deeply notched that they look like ten petals. Does NOT have milky sap. If you have a plant you think is chickweed and it has milky sap you have the wrong plant.
TIME OF YEAR:
During the cool weather of spring, which in Florida is February. Dislike heat, germinates in the winter.
Likes moist soil and or shady areas.
METHOD OF PREPARATION:
Numerous, usually chopped and boiled or fried, or added raw to salad. Chickweed can be stringy so it is often chopped. Has many herbal uses, too numerous to mention.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that “Ho Ho Ho” bellies and Pyracantha jelly jiggle into the season just before Thanksgiving.
While there is no explaining plump Santa, the Firethorn in Florida, Pyracantha coccinea, (pye-rha-KAN-tha cok-SIN-i-a) puts on its second crop of red berries about the same time the frozen Tom turkeys are being delivered to grocery stores. Firethorn’s two fruitings are thoughtful, feeding beast and man, spring and fall. Incidentally, Pyracantha comes from Greek and means literally “fire thorn.” Coccinea means scarlet.
A thorny evergreen, the Firethorn has been under Western cultivation since 1629 when it was first introduced into English gardens. Its native range is from southern Europe to the Caucasus Mountains. The Firethorn can make a very showy stand-alone small tree, a stunning hedge, an espalier to crawl along walls, or be potty trained as patio topic of preoccupation. It can also be a natural barrier grown outside windows that few trespassers would cross to get inside. You’ll also probably get a birds for entertainment because the species’ thorns keep predators of birds away.
Decades ago when I first saw the lanky Firethorn I asked about it and was told it was poisonous. “All red berries” the person said, “are poisonous.” That clearly is not true, nor is “all black berries are edible” true. These sayings are almost always wrong, but one, for practical purposes is close to true: Almost all white berries are toxic. There are a few white berries that are edible but they are so uncommon one might as well think all white berries are poisonous. Just avoid them
There are references to Pyracantha as a famine food, and that might be true. However, the seeds, like the apple seeds, should not be eaten in quantity. My mother, who lived to 88, ate every seed of every apple she ever ate. She also ate the core as well: The entire apple was hers. When she is done there was nothing left. So a few apple seeds at a time appears to be fine. I asked her one time why she ate the entire apple. She said that’s what her mother did. Her mother also saved the seeds of virtually every fruit, dried them, cracked them and ate them, a few at a time. Back then they never heard of avocados or loquats, so don’t try it with those. However, loquat seeds, also in the Rose Family, can be used to make a cherry-flavored liquor. For that story, look at the article for Loquat Grappa.
The berries of the Firethorn — high in Vitamin C — are actually pommes which is a fleshy fruit with seeds at the core, like apples. They are greatly favored by Black Birds and Cedar Waxwings, which have been know to strip a tree of all its berries. To the human pallet, the berries are soft and mealy — like an apple that should have been eaten last week. They are mild flavor and have several seeds. The seeds are shaped like tiny angular Brazil nuts. Some report the berries are bitter but that has not been my experience. They are, however, sometimes slightly astringent. Like many soft berries they don’t keep well and that’s probably why they service man as jelly.
If you do any research on the internet for Pyracantha jelly you will find the following recipe:
Place 7 cups washed Pyracantha berries in a very large pan with 5 cups of water. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Strain through a cloth. Measure 3 cups berry juice, 1/2 cup lemon juice and 7 cups sugar into a very large pan. Over high heat, bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Immediately stir in one bottle liquid pectin, bring to a full rolling boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, skim off foam and pour into sterilized glasses. Cover With 1/8 inch melted paraffin. Prepared berry juice may be refrigerated or frozen prior to making jelly.
While that’s a good starting point I have not found it a satisfactory recipe. It produces an edible but weak-flavored jelly with anemic, runny texture. Here is what I do: I start with two quarts of cleaned and washed berries (no leaves, minimal bugs.) I boil them in six cups of water for at least 30 minutes. Then I mash the berries and cook for five minutes more. Strain. That gives you six or so cups of infusion. I put that in a new pot and bring to boil. I premix eight cups of sugar with TWO — not one — but TWO packages of Sure Jell (twice the standard portion in other words) and I add one half teaspoon of citric acid. A half cup of lemon juice also works but I like to thoroughly mix my dry ingredients together ahead of time. It reduces clumping. Once the infusion is boiling, I add the dry mixture and then bring to boil again and boil for two minutes. This will make 12 to 13 cups of jelly. Then I can it the usual way using sterilized jars and paraffin. I haven’t tried it but I am tempted sometime to add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the infusion because the jelly has a hint of apple flavor. Here’s my video link to making Firethorn sauce: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obZkfO3tKt0
Of course, making Firethorn jelly is more than just making jelly. While there have been many changes since the days of our grandparents, or great grandparents, one of them is we have become removed from the dynamic of food. Ask kids where milk comes from and too many will say a bottle. Food is the intimate link between us and the earth and in our preprocessed, prepackaged world we lose a bit of our grounding when everything comes off a shelf, or worse, out the drive-in window. It is surprising how many of us actually don’t eat much food these days but rather preprocessed food substitutes that proudly state what has been removed. When you identify a fruit grown by nature, not man; harvest it, prepare it, and then let it help sustain your life, you realize you are part of this planet and very dependent upon it. I would also add our ancestors got along quite well without nutritionists or botanists. Fortunately, artificial food has been around less than a century. If the ingredients reads like a chemistry set, you might want to consider not eating it.
One of my grandfathers who lived into his high 80s liked two things and had them nearly every day of his adult life: A pint of cream and a piece of homemade jelly roll. Owning a succession of cows took care of the cream, and my grandmother was constantly making jelly and jam out of most conceivable and inconceivable things: Hawthorn jelly, Chokecherry jelly, and Gooseberry jam come to mind. I think she even made tomato jelly (and why not? After all, tomatoes are actually fruits, not vegetables.) Besides putting a little nature in one’s life, jellies and jams that you can’t buy can be come seasonal events, family traditions and tastes that last from generation to generation. I can hardly wait until spring to make pindo palm jelly.
by Green Deane
3 pints ripe pyracantha pommes
Water to cover
Juice and zest of one lime
One (or more) minced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
Sugar to taste
Two tablespoons corn starch
Put whole pommes and water in a sauce pan, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and simmer for 30 minutes, mash. Add lime juice, zest, and chipotle pepper, simmer 30 more minutes. Filter the liquid, discarding all solids. Reserve 1/2 cup liquid. By simmering again reduce liquid down to about two cups. Taste. Add sugar to desired taste. Mix the corn starch in the now cool reserve liquid then mix that a little at a time into the sweetened sauce until thick. Use or refrigerate.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Thorny evergreen shrubs with serrated leaf margins and numerous thorns. They have white flowers and either red, orange, or yellow berries.
TIME OF YEAR: In northern climates the flowers come out in late spring and early summer; the berries develop from late summer, and mature in late autumn. In Florida this happens in spring and fall, sometimes continuously throughout the year.
ENVIRONMENT: Not particular about soil, refers full sun but will grow in partial shade. A common landscape plant
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Berries can be used for jelly. They can also be used for a sauce, marmalade, wine and extender. The seeds are not edible in quantities more than a few.
Some 18 generations ago — 600 years ago give or take a century or two — some Natives Americans stopped cultivating a particular crop and may have moved on to maize. About 150 years ago — five generations — American farmers were raising crabgrass for grain when they, too, moved on to corn, the descendant of maize. So what crop did the Indians stop growing? Ragweed, the most hay-fever causing plant in the world. No one alive knows why Ragweed fell out of cultivation though the development of maize is a prime guess. And Ragweed certainly is not favored by farmers now who view it as a vile invader that chokes domestic crops. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider Ragweed.Common Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia
The grain is some 47% crude protein and 38% crude fat. That’s an energy powerhouse despite the size. The seed oil is edible and at least one person alive today has eaten a small hand full of seeds. They taste like wheat bran. In excess of 5,000 seeds can be produce per plant. Generally said Ragweed is not an “antique vegetable” as such things are sometime called. But, it might be a lost grain. Ragweed oil is on par with soybean oil and the plant produces about the same amount as soybean, one fifth the seed weight. Some reports say natives would grind the seeds, bring them to boil in water, the oil would float to the top, then was ladled off.Ragweed seed, photo by USDA
While one could argue this is much to do over some oil but fat is essential to survival. You absolutely cannot live without some source of fat. Oil would have been extremely important to native populations and could be again if we were ever forced to provide our own food. And unlike soybean which has to be cultivated, Ragweed is a weed that can do all right on its own. One debate in the ethnobotanical community is whether the natives cultivated a huge version of Giant Ragweed or not. One study says yes because the seeds that were found were larger than found in nature. Another study says no reporting that there are large seeds in nature as well. Bit of a toss up there. But we know animals certainly ate them and still do. In fact Ragweed is one of the few seed-bearing plants that stands above deep snow providing valuable creature food during the winter. It’s on the menu for the Eastern Cottontail, Meadow Vole, grasshoppers which eat the leaves, Dark-eyed Junco, Brown-headed Cowbird, Northern Bobwhite, Purple Finch, Mourning Dove, American Goldfinch, and the Red-bellied Woodpecker. Sheep and horses also like to eat the plant. What about humans eating the hard seeds or foliage? There’s a lot of speculation but few hard facts.The author Peter Goodchild reports giant ragwee seeds were a source of grain
An article on the plant at Michigan State University for the W.J.Beal Botanical Garden says: “…some archaeologists have suggested that … the seeds were impractical as a food source. However, the fact that Indigenous Americans were specialists at navigating starvation episodes, combined with the observation that giant ragweed seeds are comprised of about 19 percent edible oil, make it fairly certain that these seeds would not be overlooked as a food resource.” No details given. A weed ecology fact sheet for Ohio State University says: “One of our few native weeds. Seeds eaten by pre-Columbian Indians.” Again, no details. In the book Archaic Societies: Diversity and Complexity Across the Midcontinent by Thomas E. Edison (2009) it mentions a 1997 it report (Gremillion) that Ragweed seeds were found in paleofecal material from 950 to 1400 years ago along with sunflower seeds and sumpweed seeds. It’s difficult for a seed to end up in an ancient bathroom unless it was eaten. In 1984 Peter Goodchild published Survival Skills of the North American Indians. On page 209 in a list of “food plants” he writes for the Giant Ragweed “cultivated for its seed in several areas.“
Was Giant Ragweed cultivated? It would seem so, and for its grain. It’s definitely in the ancient farmers crop line up but then falls away. The next question is was it raised to eat the grain or for the oil, or both? It’s not easy in modern times to be aware of past practices. For example, some suggest the natives crush the seeds and boiled them for oil (not unlike acorns.) Possible yes, but is it probable this was done for food? In communication with Goodchild he writes:
“Judging from other uses of oily seeds, the natives are unlikely to have done any processing of the seeds. Generally that’s not practical without modern machinery. I’ve even experimented myself with sunflower seeds, and found no practical (primitive) method of getting the oil out — it’s far easier just to eat the seeds”Peter Goodchild
Thus while the seeds have oil its extraction might not have been the prime use whereas eating the grain could have been. But might I offer a variant of that? From a calories-in calories-out point of view — or level of difficulty — many ancient foods would not be consumed. They just were not worth the effort as food. Among them could be smilax root starch and pokeweed greens. Getting the starch out of a smilax root is a Herculean task that burns far more calories than is produced on consumption. And boiling pokeweed twice does not make caloric sense when boiling was difficult and other nutritious leaves could be eaten raw. What I suspect was whilst in the pursuit of medicine — which is not a calories-in calories-out dependent task — it was discovered various plants had other edible parts. Medicinal needs could justify calorie-deficit tasks. And while fat was obtainable from animals a plant oil might have its medicinal applications. So perhaps the Giant Ragweed could have been used for food and for oil but the latter in a medicinal sense. Ragweed oil might have been too valuable to eat but worth the effort to obtain medicinally. Another possible aspect professional archaeologists never seem to consider is that long ago the menu changed only with the seasons. They would dismiss Giant Ragweed grains as too small or not worth the effort to make a stable crop, and that may be true. But, such grains were another flavor and texture to add to the limited, slow-to-change diet. We sprinkle pine nuts on pesto. Might they have done something similar?Ragweed Pollen
As for allergens, Ragweed is second only to mold in causing allergic symptoms. There are 17 species of Ragweed in North America. The common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) can produce a million grains of pollen per plant daily, the Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) can create in excess of 1.25 million grains daily and over a billion during its life cycle. This leads to a lot of cross pollination and plant variation. Left on its own Ragweed is a riparian plant living along rivers and local flood plains. Isolated patches depend upon the wind to carry the pollen. With the migration of man so went the Ragweed and the number of plants and the amount of pollen carried by the wind. Ragweed has multiple antigens but the strongest is Antigen E. There are also several plants that in the greater Ragweed family that can cause allergic reactions including sage brush, marsh elders, poverty weed, cocklebur, desert broom, groundsel bush, feverfew and dog fennel. Goldenrod is unfairly blamed for causing allergies because it blooms at the same time as Ragweed. But, its pollen is too heavy to be windblown. (Here’s a botanical hint: Green flowers, in particular small green flowers, are usually wind-pollinated. They aren’t colorful enugh to attract insects for pollination.)Ambrosia tenuifolia has edible roots.
There is also at least one Ragweed with a root the natives ate, Ambrosia tenuifolia, Slimleaf Burr Ragweed. Professor Daniel Moerman reports the Papago Indians dried the roots in the sun and used them as a staple crop (that would be in Arizona.) They also ate the stalks as greens. However the USDA lists Ambrosia tenuifolia as only growing in Louisiana and Puerto Rico. That particular Ragweed it is native to South America and has been naturalized in Spain, France and Italy. Why it is missing from Arizona now is anyone’s guess. Elsewhere natives used Ragweed stalks for rope. The stems and leaves of Ambrosia peruviana were and are used as a green dye. Various species were also used medicinally, see Herb Blurb below.The Greek Gods consumed ambrosia and see what it did for them!
As for the binomial name, Ambrosia is usually translated into English as meaning “food of the gods.” A direct translation from the Greek means “unmortal” or “not mortal.” In Greek mythology “ambrosia” was sometimes the food the gods ate and or wine they drank which gave the gods (and demigods) immortality thus called “ambrosia.” But, food and drink were used interchangeably thus for some ancient writers “ambrosia” was food and for others it was drink which was also called nectar, Greek NEKtar which means “death overcoming.” Ambrosia is close to the older Sanskrit word Amrita which means “without death.” Clearly there was a long-running theme here. Greek gods, who always had human failings and consequently were far from perfect, were what they ate and drank, not unlike people today. Why a rather nondescript plant that is a prime allergen would be called Ambrosia is anyone’s guess. No hints were left.
A couple of more things: The common ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia, is the most efficient plant to remove lead from the ground. And I know a retired doctor in south Florida who tells me he’s eating Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia. Like Pokeweed he is boiling it twice in this case to moderate the flavor. We know from his experiment this apparently does not cause any acute toxicity or quick reactions. However, a steady diet of Ragweed might cause issues over the long term, or might not. We just don’t know.Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile: Giant Ragweed
IDENTIFICATION: Annual 3 to 12 feet tall, branching occasionally. Green stems covered with white hairs, leaves opposite to a foot long and eight inches wide, larger leaves divided into 3 or 5 lobes, usually serrated along the edge, long petioles sometimes winged. Smaller leaves near the base of flower lance-shaped, often hairy underneath. Upper stems terminate in a cylindrical flower spike to six inches long. Small flowers yellowish green, no petals or sepals, drooping clusters.
TIME OF YEAR: Flowers late summer or early fall, seeds follow, large, tough-coated, viable for many years.
ENVIRONEMENT: Full sun to light shade, moist, fertile soil. It is native to 47 of the 50 states missing Nevada, Hawaii, and Alaska.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: We have no idea. Perhaps ground seeds boiled in water, oil skimmed off the top. Perhaps the seeds were parched then eaten. A few can be eaten raw. Beyond that there is no modern report of consumption other than the doctor I mentioned above.Herb Blurb
Te genus yields volatile oils. quercetin, and bitter alkaloids. Plant extracts are anti-bacterial and anti-viral. Ambrosia ambrosioides; a tea was made from the roots and given to women after birth. Ambrosia confertiflora; used to cure diarrhea, flowerettes chewed and followed by a drink of water. Ambrosia cumanensis; herb teas for yellow fever, constipation, menorrhagia. Herb juice for pleurisy. Root or herb infusions for colds, flu, fever, in postpartum depurants. Herb of second growth crushed leaves mixed with chicken fat and/or hot water, cool mixture rubbed on the body to reduce fever. Ambrosia elatior as a poultice. Ambrosia hispida was used to relieve fever, stomach ache, pain, loss of appetite, and flu. To boiled leaf tea they added salt to to increase the appetite then drank the tea for nine mornings. Lemon juice and salt was added when it was used for gas and colds. A weak leaf tea with salt was used to relieve menstrual pain (again taken for nine mornings.) It was also a “granny” medicine to “clean everything out” after childbirth. Tea from fresh plant less better than tea from dried plant. Ambrosia psilostachya, a bitter decoction taken to relieve fever.
Journal of Northeast Forestry University 2008-01
GC-MS Analysis of Fatty Acid Constituents in Ambrosia trifida Seed Oil
Zhang Lin,Yang Lei,Niu Huiying,Li Xiaowei,Zu Yuangang(Key Laboratory of Forest Plant Ecology of Ministry of Education,Northeast Forestry University,Harbin 150040,P.R China)
Seed oil extracted from the seeds of Ambrosia trifida through solvent extraction was analysed by GC-MS after esterification. Four components from six peaks of the fatty acid constituents were identified.The main constituents are linoleic acid and oleic acid,and the relative contents are 81.60% and 14.73%,respectively.
That’s how starving shipwrecked Quakers described the flavor of the saw palmetto berries in 1692, “rotten cheese steeped in tobacco juice.” The account is in a 103-page report on Saw Palmetto written by Dr. Edwin Moses Hale in 1898:
“There is no doubt that the aborigines of the Florida peninsula depended largely upon the berries of the saw palmetto for their food. In a very old book, with a quaint title page, published in 1796, are narrated by Jonathan Dickinson the adventures of a shipload of Quakers who were shipwrecked on the coast of Florida… The shipwreck occurred [24 September] 1696. They were captured by the Jaega Indians, who were believed to be cannibals. After terrible sufferings, a part of the men and women arrived at St. Augustine. Dickinson narrates that on their [capture] they were taken to the wigwam of the “casseky” or chief who “seated himself on his cabin, cross legged, having a basket of palmetto berries brought him, which he eat very greedily.” These Quakers, while with the Indians, nearly starved to death. The only food given them were fish and berries. Their first trial of the berries was not favorable. “We tasted them, but not one among us could suffer them to stay in our mouths, for we could compare the taste of them to nothing else by rotten cheese steeped in tobacco juice. …. of the palm berries we could not bear the taste in our mouths.” Even when almost starving “the Indians offered us some of their berries, which we endeavored to eat but could not; the taste was so irksome and ready to take out breath from us when we tried to eat them.”
Hale, quoting Dickinson, goes on to say the Quakers did learn to tolerate the berries and the boiled juice of the saw palmetto helped feed and save Dickinson’s infant son. That makes sense: The berry is loaded with oil and sugar. In his book, the good doctor also describes eating them: “The berries are at first exceedingly sweet to the taste, but in a few seconds this is followed by an acrid, pungent sensation that spreads to the fauces, nasal mucous membrane and larynx. This is in turn succeeded by a feeling of smoothness in all those parts, as if they had been coated with oil.” He likened the flavor to butyric acid that grows stronger with age.
Some Internet pundits — no doubt copying each other — call the shipwrecked account about eating the berries humorous. That is woefully misplaced. Their ship, the Reformation, a barkentine sailing from Jamaica to Philadelphia, was wrecked off Jupiter Island, near Hobe Sound, by a hurricane. Twenty survived the wrecking and subsequent “capture.” And though starving they had to wrestle with the idea the Indians wanted to fatten them up for slaughter — cannibals only eat strangers. Released after several weeks of captivity they had to make their way on foot the 230 miles up the coast to St. Augustine, five of them died along the way from starvation and exposure. No food, no water, in a hostile strange land with often hostile natives. Hardly humorous. They were semi-captured as second time by the Ais Indians and endured yet another hurricane. One can still read of the harrowing account in Dickinson’s narrative (abbreviated title) : God’s Protective Providence, Being the Narrative of a Journey from Port Royal in Jamaica to Philadelphia Between August 23 1696 and April 1, 1697. The book was reprinted 16 times in English, and three times each in Dutch and German between 1700 and 1869. Today it is known as Jonathan Dickinson’s Journal. Dickinson, by the way, went on to twice serve as mayor of Philadelphia. There is now an 11,500-acre state park in Florida, the Jonathan Dickinson State Park, about five miles from where they were shipwrecked.
Personally, I think the black ripe berries of the Serenoa repens (sair-ren-NOE-uh REE-penz) tastes like an extremely intense, very long-lasting, exceptionally peppery piece of blue cheese. It is also very close in flavor to the gastric juices we sometimes burp up and coats our throat. Blue cheese/gastric juice, intense, mouth coating, near burning. Discarding the seed unless I plan on squeezing it for oil, I eat one berry at a time, with wine, and still it is very intense blue cheese-esque…. not as good as blue cheese, but more intense, on the verge of being gastric juice. Not something to eat without a chaser… you have been warned.
Old time Seminole Indians said you shouldn’t eat more than five palmetto berries at one time. If you eat it with hot water it will bother your mouth for a while. They may know a thing or two about that. They still squeeze the berries, but add a little sugar with the juice, and drink it as a tea. In the early 1900’s in Miami you could buy “Metto” which was saw palmetto juice mixed with sugar and carbonated water. And as much as Dickinson said none of his party could eat them the berries were exported to Europe nearly as century earlier in 1602.
Fortunately for us there is more to forage off the saw palmetto than the berries. The terminal buds of the growing trunks contain heart of palm just like the cabbage palm does except it’s smaller. Taking it from the saw palmetto does not kill the many-trunked palm. The growing bottom ends of young fronds are also edible, after one carefully pulls them out. You get one or two bites off those but it is work hauling them out. You pull them out by putting on some thick leather gloves, grabbing the youngest stalk firmly, and yanking. Where it breaks is edible. Also the stems can be chopped, ground, mixed with water, strained and an edible starch settled out.
The Saw Palmetto cover about 10% of the state of Florida and is a major source of honey. There are actually two varieties, one with yellow green fronds and ones with blue green fronds. Both of them also produce wax in their leaves but the wax from the blue green variety is preferred. Besides that the plant is used for fiber and thatching. Seminole Indians still make their dolls out of 100% saw palmetto fiber. It stems provide a good cork substitute, the root pulp was used to plug WWII ammunition, and the root makes a natural scrub brush.
In a modern day twist the saw palmetto berries have several medical application so this “irksome” weed is a $70 million or more business in Florida. They’ve even had to pass laws to prevent unauthorized saw palmetto berry pilfering. Has a $500 fine. We now know saw palmetto berries have a positive effect on the male reproductive system, though the studies are mixed. Older Seminole Indians called the berries the “spring of life.” Some think this is where Ponce De Leon got the idea there was some fountain of youth in Florida. Talk about a mistranslation. I processed 10 pounds of berries. Five pounds were dehydrated, and five went into vodka. The dried saw palmetto berries had a milder flavor. The ones in vodka moderated, too, but took on a tougher texture like think cardboard.
Incidentally, be careful when foraging for palmetto berries. Palmetto thickets are favorite place for the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, not only on the ground but in the fronds. The snake often climbs the plant on sunny days to get off the hot ground and enjoy the shade. It is also where their prey like to escape as well. Proceed carefully. Creatures that like to eat the berries include raccoon, fox, black bear, gopher tortoises, white tailed deer, feral hogs, water birds and even fish. Butterflies like it, too. In fact the plant provides food or cover for some 100 birds, 27 mammals, 25 amphibians, 61 reptile species and numerous butterflies. Cows fed saw palmetto berries produce richer milk, perhaps because the berry is loaded with oil. Two thirds of the oil is comprised of free fatty acids including capric, caprylic, caproic, lauric, palmitic and oleic acids.
Incidentally, the heart of the Sabal etonia aka Sabal minor can also be eaten. It resembles the saw palmetto but its stalks have no saw-like teeth. It is also rather rare, so don’t put it on your dinner plate unless it is development kill.
The genus, Serenoa, is named for shy Harvard botanist and herbarium curator Sereno Watson, 1826-1892. His name means calm, peaceful. Repens means “creeping.” The palm has many branches and creeps out in all directions along the ground.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: A small palm, six to twelve feet, sprawling, grows in clumps or dense thickets. Leaf stalks are covered with saw like teeth.
TIME OF YEAR: Fruits ripen in fall, heart available year round.
ENVIRONMENT: Sandy ridges, flatwood forests, coastal dunes, islands near marshes, hardwood hammocks, dominant ground cover in some southeastern pine forests, sometimes covering hundreds of acres. Seen inland as far as Arkansas
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Fruits raw or dried, heart raw or cooked. Crown end of growing leaf, trail side nibble. The seeds are edible raw or cooked but is an acquired taste.Unripe (yellow) and ripe (black) saw palmetto berries. Photo by Green Deane
The Australian Aboriginals knew a good thing when they tasted it. So did the immigrants. It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t like the taste of Bunya Pine nuts. But you will find people who don’t like to clean up after it because the ancient species sheds sharp leaves and heavy cones.
As a well-fed kitty Cous Cous, right, doesn’t get too excited over wild food that can’t run. She weights 10 pounds and sharing the box with her is a 6.5 pound edible Bunya Pine cone. The Bunya Pine is a close relative to the Monkey Puzzle Tree which produces a similar edible fruit except rounder and more pocupine looking. And it’s a stretch to call them pines or the fruit “cones” but it will do. The tree, Araucaria bidwillii (air-ah-KAIR-ee-uh bid-WILL-ee-eye) is native to Australia and was prominent in Aboriginal culture. They would stop wars for its harvest. the Bunya has been exported over the world for a few centuries. It’s naturalized in south Florida but can be found in landscaping in warm areas of the United States and elsewhere. None have made the official maps locally though they are naturalized locally.
My friend Marabou (see Yam Harvest on You Tube) tipped me off to where there was one dropping cones so I had to take a look and taste. And dropping is the lethal word. A six-pound cone dropping 50 feet or more easily has enough impact to kill a person. A couple in New Zealand in April 2012 were hit by a watermelon size cone as they strolled hand-in-hand in a botanical garden there. It fortunately landed between them damaging shoulders and arms rather than causing fatal concussions. They did require some hospitalization.
In its native range the tree can grow taller than 150 feet. Around the age of 14 begins to produce cones which take up to 18 months to mature. They fruit every two to three years though three years is favored. Like the Monkey Puzzle Tree, which reportedlyy grows locally, when the cones are dropped the seeds inside are ready to eat. There’s 30 to 100 seeds per cone whereas 50 is closer to average. They can be eaten raw, boiled or lightly roasted (be careful if you roast them in their shell, they can pop!) The nuts can be deep fired or used in stuffing. Raw the texture is crispy-ish with a soft crunch. Cooked the texture is like a cooked chestnut as is the flavor. Uncooked they taste more like raw peanuts to me. The left-over shell (and wood) is used to grill fish and meat. Indeed, when you roast the nuts in the shell they smell delicious with hints of cinnamon and spice. The germinated seed also produces an underground “earth nut” which has a crisp coconut like flavor. Somewhere I also read the roots are edible but I can’t refind the reference. Seeds weigh around half an ounce each and have about 30 calories. Unlike most nuts they are more starchy than oily. If roasted a long time the become very tough but then they can be ground into a flour-like powder. You can used the shelled nuts like pine nuts and they freeze well for later use.
To see my video on the Bunya Bunya go here.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile: Bunya Pine
INDENTIFICATION: A tall tree with an egg-shaped dome, whorls of gangly branches covered with very sharp leaves. They can draw blood. It is tempting to misidentify the Bunya Pine for the Monkey Puzzle Tree. But there is a fairly easy way to tell them apart besides their cones which are different enough not to be confusing. The Monkey Puzzle Tree has sharp triangle-shaped leaves, pointed at the tipm wide at the base. The Bunya Pine leaves, right, are not diamond-shaped but they have a pointed tip and a tapered base and not too wide in the middle. Young leaves tend to be oval and can align themselves in geometric rows. Older leaves tend to be longer and linear.
TIME OF YEAR: In the northern hemisphere around July, in the southen Hemisphere around January, read the beginning of hot summer.
ENVIRONMENT: Good soil and sun. Originally a rainforest tree it will not survive deep cold.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Nuts raw, boiled, roasted, dried, and sprouting roots as well.
I discovered ground cherries quite by accident.
It was back in the last century. I raided a particular field annually for smilax tips and noticed the ground cherries in blossom. That prompted me to returned later in the season to collect them. Unfortunately that field is now a residential neighborhood. While ground cherries are a common plant one has to look for them. They blend in well and don’t announce themselves. Even their blossoms are sotto voce. The blossoms like to look down and this one, right, had to be coaxed into a picture.
Ground cherries, locally Physalis walteri, (FEE-sa-lis wall-TEER-ee) are related to tomatoes and tomatillos. Physalis means “bladder” referring to the enclosed fruit. The Physalis is found in the Old World as well as the New World. There are nine species in here in Florida and you would be hard pressed to tell some of them apart. The local Indians used them interchangeably.
After discovering my local ground cherry inland I then noticed some on the east coast of Florida. They looked similar (both had blossoms with and without purple throats.) Inland they were P. walteri, and on the coast P. viscosa. I had two different books of Florida wild flowers with good descriptions. Yet I could not tell these two species apart, even after taking into account the blossom variation. I went to a third book and found out why. They are the same species. One book called it P. walteri and did not mention any other names, and the other book called it P. viscosa again also did not include any other names. Sometimes you want to strangle botanists…
That would mean Physalis viscosa means “sticky bladder” and P. walteri means “Walter’s Bladder.” Who “Walter” was I do not know but many such plants are often named for Thomas Walter, an 18th century South Carolina botanist. Another ground cherry I’ve found tasty is the Coastal Ground Cherry (Physalis angustifolia) that I have found on the west coast of Florida.
The fruit is edible raw or cooked, as in pies or preserves. The fruit can fall from the plant before it is ripe. That usually takes a week or two or more until the husk has dried and the fruit a golden yellow to orange. Each fruit is wrapped in a husk that is NOT edible. The fruit will store several weeks if left in the husk. Unripe fruit — light green — is toxic. Ripe fruits are light to golden yellow. If any ripe fruit has a bitter aftertaste should be cooked first. If it is still bitter after cooking, don’t eat it. A wild species that takes to home gardening very well is Physalis angulata, the Cutleaf Ground Cherry. It’s tall and prolific under cultivation.
Linguistically the plant has had quite a diverse journey with nearly every country and language having its own (or several) names for the encased fruit. The ancient Greeks used halikakabon and pheesalis (bladder and swelling) the latter was translated into Dead Latin as visicaria. The Italians used halicacabo uolgare and the French halicacabon comun, both of which mean “common bladder.” In Italy they are now called Coralli (coral) and Palloncini (balloons.) Farther north they were called winter chirir ((winter cherry) Judenkirsen (Jew’s Cherry) and Schlutten (ground cherry in 1542 German) They were also called Judendocken (Jew’s bundle) Judenhutlin (a variation of Jew’s hat) and that got mangled into the English Jerusalem Cherry, which is still used. The Aztecs called it tomatl (source for the words tomato and tomatillo.) In Hawaii it is called Poha.
Other names used include Alkekengi (which is cultivated and perhaps the only one you don’t eat) Barbados Gooseberry, cherry tomato, Chinese Lantern, husk tomato, Japanese Lantern, strawberry tomato, tomatillo, wild cherry, winter cherry and Cape Gooseberry. Several other Physalis fruits have been used for food: P. ixocarpa, P. fendleri, P. heterophylla, P. lanceoleta, P. longifolia, P. neomexicana, P. pruinosa, P. pubescens, P. turbinata, P. virginiana, and P. angulata , the latter which is also found locally, growing to more than two feet tall and wide.
Fruit photos by Sybaritica.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: P. walteri/P.viscosa: Fruit is a yellowish sticky berry that does not fill the husk, solitary growing from the leaf’s axil. Leaves are entire or wavy and angled, sometimes toothed. Flowers are yellow with dark centers, purplish antlers, or no dark centers. Entire plant covered with fine hairs, entire plant sometimes appears gray. All the P. angulatas I’ve seen had toothy leaves like the photo at left and strong branching stems.
TIME OF YEAR: Blossoms in late spring fruits towards fall, however in Florida it can have two seasons, summer and fall.
ENVIRONMENT: Old fields, sunny woods, bordering streams, cultivated fields, waste ground, railroads, road sides; full sun to some shade. Low growing, often overlooked. It likes water and humidity.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: When ripe raw or cooked like any fruit, pectin needs to be added to make jelly or jam. Species with a bitter after taste are better cooked. If bitter after cooking do not eat. Some foraging books say the fruit does not ripen on the plants but I have found and eaten many that were. More so, like a tomato while it will ripen off the plant it will not improve in sweetness off the plant. Only ripening on the plant accomplishes that.
Blueberrying was a family tradition. The only debate was did you pick them clean, or did you pick leaves, bugs and all then clean the haul later? My mother preferred the clean method, so clean it was. Why did she prefer the clean-picking method? Because as a child she and her mother visited a friend who had just finished picking a lot of blueberries. My mother was asked if she wanted some, she said yes a big bowl. The bowl of blueberries were delivered then milk poured on them. That caused all the twigs, leaves and bugs to float to the surface making the berries not possible to eat. We picked clean.
My most enduring memory, however, was when I was 14 and had just started high school. I was picking away late one season on a Sunday afternoon when a bee came up and stung me right on the end of my nose. Yes, it did swell up. Yes, I did look ridiculous. Yes, I was forced to go to school the next day, putting Cyrano de Bergerac to shame.
We berried in two very different areas with two very different kind of blueberries. Low-bush blueberries were extremely common, covering huge fields, hundreds of acres. The fields were burned every year to ensure a good crop of blueberries, which prefers poor acid soil and ashes. In late summer rows were marked by string. Pickers with hand rakes would come in and strip a field in a couple of days. They always focused on the productive center of the field, leaving the edges. We used to raid those edges on the weekend, collecting quarts of ignored fruit. But, there were other blueberries as well.
High on a ridge, west of the Libby Road where it intersects with the Witcher Road, in Pownal Maine, there’s a north south granite ledge showing here and there. On that ledge were the best specimens of high-bush blueberries I’ve ever seen. Tall shrubs, they were six to eight feet tall and loaded with large, sweet blueberries. Picking was fast, if there weren’t bears around, which brings me to a short story about my Great Aunt Myrt, born in the 1880’s. She loved blueberries.
Like all eight of her siblings born in the late 1800s, Myrt caught scarlet fever when she was in her teens and as a consequence was nearly stone deaf. That presented some problem, of course, but life went on. One day she was out with other members of the family picking blueberries. While they were picking a bear came along and started eating the berries right next to Myrt. Everyone but Myrt apparently saw the bear and moved away. Myrt kept right on picking. As you may imagine, the mostly deaf members of the family trying to get Myrt’s attention by yelling did not work nor did it scare the bear. Myrt was focused on filling her berry bucket. When her bucket was finally full she left the patch and joined the others.
“Didn’t you see that bear?” my grandfather shouted? “Yes,” said Myrt, shouting back, “but I wasn’t going to let that damned bear have my blueberries.” Myrt, a feisty, tall, good-looking woman, lived into her 90s. No doubt the healthful blueberries helped.
When picking off high bush blueberries it was not unusual to come home with a washtub full of them. You could eat fistfuls of blueberries and still have gallons left. In fact, the only way we ever ate them were either fresh or in muffins. Gallons of blueberries in the frig was a good feeling. The quantities of blueberries hereabouts are more modest, and sporadic.
The most common blueberry locally where I live now is Vaccinium myrsinites. There are no fields of them or even large patches that I’ve ever seen, always just a few short bushes here and there, usually around 18 inches high though they can get to three feet. Another local is the Vaccinium stamineum, Deerberry. It’s taste varies from tart to sweet. Deerberry is the easiest of all the blueberries to identify with leaves are egg-shaped and whitish underneath. The fruit can be green to deep ruby when ripe.
The high bush blueberry of my youth, Vaccinium corymbosum doesn’t quite get to Florida, or if so one foot across the state line. There is, however, a high-bush blueberry in Florida that grows to 20 feet or more, the Sparkleberry, aka Farkleberry, Vaccinium arboreum. It is edible but not too palatable. The bottom of its leaves have a net of gold-colored veins.
As you may infer, numerous birds and mammals like the blueberries. Among the creatures that like them are grouse, partridge, quail, robins, blackbirds, thrushes, chipmunks, deer, elk, rabbit and bear. Deer are quite fond of the leaves, a point not lost on hunters. Medicinally, decoctions of the leaves have been used for sore throats and diarrhea but if too strong can be toxic.
Vaccinium myrsinites is said vak-SIN-ee-um mur-sin-EYE-teez. Myrsinites is from Greek and means looking like the myrtle. What vaccinium means is more of a debate. One idea is that it goes back to a prehistoric European language called Thraco Pelagian, a precursor to Greek. A competing idea is that it is from the Latin word “vacca” meaning cow (frankly, both could be right since half of Latin is bastardized Greek, and the other half is misappropriated Etruscan.) The cow berry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea was common where plant namer Linnaeus was born, so…. we’ll never know. No doubt blueberries have been eaten for thousands of years and can be found in all lands circling the north pole then south. The oldest find is from a Bronze-Age grave in Denmark, a few thousand years ago. Two-hundred year old frozen blueberries have also been found in Northern Canada. In the Heath family, all Vacciniums — all 450 or so species — have a five-pointed, star-shaped calyx that remains on the fruit. Some native Americans believed that in times of starvation “the Great Spirit sent the star berries down from the night of heaven to feed the children.”
If you have black blueberries with large leaves you may have huckleberries…. read that article here.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: V. myrsinites is a small shrub, one to three feet, leaves alternate, ovate to elliptic, to 3/4 of an inch long, sometimes with fine, sharp teeth and spine-tipped. Leathery. Young grayish foliage often purple tinged. Flowers red or red-purple, in small compact clusters, bell-shaped, berries blue or blackish, round. V. darowii looks similar but the base of the blossom is redder as are the tips of the blossoms.
TIME OF YEAR: Blooms in late May, fruit in the summer, June to August depending on area
ENVIRONMENT: A small bush with small fingernail sized leaves in saw palmetto prairies and pine flat woods
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Uses nearly too numerous to mention, jelly to wine, pies to confit, full of antioxidants.
My first recollection of basswood was not on the supper table but rather helping my step-father make pipes.Pipe maker Robert Hartley Jordan
First we’d find a nice piece of applewood for the bowl; take the bark off then boil the bowl wood for a couple of hours on (of all things) the wood stove. That “drove” the sap out so when it dried or was used it wouldn’t crack. After the bowl was shaped, sanded and drilled a stem was needed. That’s when we’d go find a basswood sapling of just the right size to make a stem. At that young age it’s easy to run a wire through the core and ream out the pith. That was fitted to the bowl and the pipe was done except for polishing. Dad would rub the sides of his nose with the finished bowl to give it a shine. Oil glands on our nose apparently are perfect for that. I still have one or two of those pipes we made from some 60 years ago.The bract and seed arrangement are unmistakable. Photo by Green Deane
It was not unusual that we turned to the Basswood for utilitarian uses rather than food. Even among the native Indians only one tribe — the Ojibwa — was known to eat parts of the Basswood. Others may have but there is no record of it. Indeed, modern foragers may actually consume more of the tree than the Natives did. However, the tree was a major source of fiber for the Indians and that’s where the common name, Basswood, comes from.“Bass” is a corruption of “bast” which is a type of fiber. The Indians soaked the bark for two to four weeks to loosen long fibers. They used the fibers for many of their needs: Bags, baskets, belts, fishnets, house mats, snowshoe netting, ropes, sewing thread and even suturing wounds. It was used where a lot of fiber strength was not needed. The Ojibwa ate the young buds raw or cooked as greens and they used the sweet sap, boiling it down to a syrup. Fortunately, there is more to be had.Bass wood leaves petioles, tongue and fruit
Besides the buds the young leaves are a prime “wild green” of the forest. Young shiny shoots are also tasty. Edible raw or cooked you can make a salad using the leaves as the main ingredient like lettuce. Cooked they lose flavor and shrink in size considerably. The cambium, between the outer bark and the wood, in spring time, is moist and tastes of cucumber. It’s good for soups or when dried can be powdered and used for bread. You can also eat it raw off the tree, the least amount of work for the nutrition and flavor. However, don’t destroy the tree for it. Take vertical pieces.
While the flowers are edible raw or cooked and a tea can be made from them. Two tablespoons per cup. They also produce a lot of nectar creating high-quality honey. For that Basswood is sometimes called the “Bee Tree.” The tree also has a small nut, more like a seed. Fill one pocket with them as you wander through the woods, crack ’em with your teeth and spit out the shell. The tree can produce seeds when as young as eight years and continue to 100. Past 120 years old the tree starts to get a lot of “cavities” and becomes home to a many woodland creatures, notably porcupines and raccoons. Basswoods can live up to about 200 years old.
As you would guess, denizens of the forest like the Basswood as well. Whitetail deer, rabbits, mice, voles, squirrels, chipmunks and foxes snack on the tree, as do many species of song and game birds including quail. Some voles, however, girdle the tree, killing it.
One particular habit of the Basswood is to produce sprouts, especially after the main tree dies. Often you will find a clump of basswood sprouts of varying sizes, many of which get large enough to harvest. Basswood is valued for its wood which is soft, light and easily worked wood, particularly for turned items and hand carving. Natives made face masks out of it. Before synthetics it was was the material of choice for prosthetic limbs. It’s also been used to make boxes, toys, woodenware, drawing boards, veneer, venetian blinds, plywood and pulp. The Iroquois even used the bark as an emergency bandage for wounds.Large tongue-like bracts on Basswood blossom
One problem with the Basswood is what to call it. It has multiple common and scientific names. Experts can’t agree if there is one species with variations or several species, though they are all edible. While some call the Basswood that grows in Florida Tilia floridana (TILL-ee-uh flo-re-DANE-nah) the current name de jour is Tilia americana (a-mair-ee-KAY-na) . Tilia comes from the Greek word “ptilon” meaning wing, referring to the large winglike bracts of the flower cluster. Some think they look more like tongues than wings. Americana means of America and floridana of Florida. As for common names, particularly in Europe, the Basswood is called the Linden tree. That name comes from the Old English word of “linde.” It’s been called that for some 1300 years. So, where did “linde” come from? That’s a bit more … sticky.
Folks of yore somehow noticed that when a bird “deposits” a mistletoe seed the seed sticks to the tree. That is how mistletoe, a parasite, gets from tree to tree. So they used mistletoe (or holly) to make a glue to put on tree limbs to catch small birds. That was called birdlime, lime coming from the Latin word for mud, limus, so less poetically, bird mud. So limus became lime which became lime+en which became by 700 AD linde which then became linden. Many Brits today call the Basswood the lime tree. (The citrus “lime” came from the Arabic limah.) Lime, in the sense of mud, is still with us today. When we mark a field for sports it is called liming the field.
Personally, I like the young leaves right off the tree when they are about the size of your thumb nail. On one hike through Spring Hammock in Seminole County a Basswood tree had toppled over. Not uncommon in Florida. Weeks earlier it was upright. But this was prime leafing out season and though toppled it was putting on leaves and I ate my fill. Mild, slightly sweet, tender. Well worth looking for. And one more thing: A paste made from the seeds and flowers of the Basswood tree is a good substitute for chocolate.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
Tall tree to 100 feet, round uniform crown. Leaves alternating, distinctly heart shaped and strongly toothed. Creamy, five-petaled flowers in small clusters,. unique tongue-like light-colored bract with each flower cluster. No other tree in North America has such an arrangement. Gray bark, furrowed with flat ridges.
TIME OF YEAR:
Spring in Florida, early or mid summer farther north.
Deep, well-drained soil. In Florida that is close to fresh water, lakes and streams
METHOD OF PREPARATION
Season new young leaves, smaller than mature leaves, lighter in color and shiny. Raw or cooked. Young shiny shoots, raw or cooked. The buds raw or cooked, a bit mucilaginous. Cambium raw or cooked, seeds raw or cooked though usually eaten raw on the trail. Sap boiled down to sugar.
Sugarberries like to be near water and that’s why it caught my eye as I coasted by: It was growing on top of a dry hill.
Part of my approach to plants is to answer the questions raised by I.T.E.M., Identification, Time of year, Environment, and Method of Preparation. If you can’t satisfactorily answer them all then you might have the wrong plant. This surgarberry was environmentally out of place. I had seen such a thing once before with a sugarberry and you have to figure out why. It is simply good form to do so, and safe foraging.
Sugarberries — Celtis laevigata (SELL-tiss lee-vih-GAY-tuh )– like moisture. You’ll often find a stand of them near rivers. The last time I found a stand out of place they were growing near an irrigation canal. This time there was no canal. The Sugarberry was struggling with two Black Cherries for one spot, and winning. There was a swale nearby but on the top of the hill it was more for aesthetic reasons than practical. Then I saw the lawn irrigation head nearby. The tree was near a large, long-term business and daily watering was enough to make it think it was living in a wetter spot. Probably a bird dropped a seed while visiting a young cherry and the rest is botanical history.
Sugarberries, called hackberries outside of the South, were prized among people everywhere, New World and Old, though I don’t see how. They are big trees that can grow to 100 feet. The berries are small, sparse, and usually way out of reach. They have been praised since ancient times. Homer, the 900 BCE blind poet of ancient stories that shaped the Greek culture, spoke of them. He said one taste of the hackberry in a foreign land was enough to make a man never want go home again. Honestly, that’s an exaggeration. They are sweet and delicious but a huge amount of work would be involved to get even a cup of them. Perhaps natives everywhere trimmed the tree short and husbanded it.Sugarberry leaves have three main veins at the base. Photo by Green Deane
The berry is just about the same size as chokecherry but the stone is larger. Inside the stone is a kernel. The pulp around the stone is about 10 times thicker than the pulp on a cabbage palm berry which is paint thin, so think ten layers of paint… read not a lot. This is a trail side nibble when in reach. However, the Native Americans had a different idea. Some would grind up the entire berry, stone, kernel and all, and make a paste out of it, either to bake in a fire or to add with fat and parched corn to make a gruel. Others removed the pulp, eating that separately. Then they lightly dried the kernel and cracked it. The inner kernel was considered a delicacy and the outer shell was ground up and used as a spice, usually on meat. The stone can be eaten raw and they also store well in oil. The entire berry is high in calcium, can be up to 20% protein, and has a good amount of phosphorus as well. It also has a high amount of fat and fiber.Sugarberries have warty bark
How the tree got its name is a bit of a story. Only in the South are they called Sugarberries. Elsewhere they are Hackberries. That word came via Scottish from the names of some northern Scandinavia cherry trees that mean hag, or old woman. How the name of cherry trees got to be associated with the Celtis is anyone guess, though the fruit do resemble choke cherries and the tree is considered by some to be a ‘witch” tree. My guess is because the bark of the species is usually warty in patches it might have reminded folk of an old face in olden times. That warty bark is one of its identifying characteristics (and in the southwest of North America some hackberries also have thorns.) Don’t confuse the Sugarberry with the Toothache Tree which has very aromatic, medicine-smelling leaves and thorns. The Sugarberry does not.
Celtis is the ancient Greek name for a lotus with sweet berries, and was used by Pliny. Laevigata means smooth, and most of the sugarberry’s bark is smooth but there are always tell-tale corky warts, without thorns. It is interesting that English speakers would refer to the tree as the Sugarberry and the Greeks, a world and language away, call their tree, the C. australis, the Honeyberry. Clearly the dry sweetness impresses people.
While the C. laevigata is the common species in the lower half of the United States, there are several species, many of them edible, and found throughout North American and the world. Check out the species nearest you. Most hackberries like highlands, the sugarberry the low lands. Oh, It is a common host for mistletoe, is a good candidate for bonsai, and like the black walnut its leaf litter discourage growth of other plants.
And at Emerson Point Preserve, Palmetto, Fl., there is a “sugarberry” with teeth on the leaves. Current guess is that it is a “Japanese Sugarberry.”Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Leaves alternate along the stem, medium to dark green, 2 to 4″ twice as long as wide, oval, serrated only on upper half of leaf, asymmetrical (lop-sided) three prominent veins, leaf spots and galls common, wigs zig-zaggy. Leaves turn yellow in the fall. Flowers greenish-yellow in spring. Fruit a green berry turning to orange, red or dark purple. Branches droop. Gray bark has patches of corky warts.
TIME OF YEAR: Fruits late summer, fall
ENVIRONMENT: Likes full sun and prefers moist rich soil.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Ripe fruit pulp raw or cooked. Stone and inner kernel raw or cooked, stone shell ground up as seasoning, kernel roasted as a delicacy, entire berry pulp and seed crushed and cooked.
When I go to Greece I always stay a few days in Athens to get used to the time change and visit in-town relatives (as opposed to out-of-town relatives.) I stay at the same little hotel — the Art Gallery Pension — on Erekthion Street. It’s a few hundred feet due south of the Acropolis and the Erechtheon, a shrine also atop the Acropolis (or Acropoli as the Greeks say.) I also stay at the same pension a month or so later when I am ready to leave, to enjoy the Plaka night life after I’ve adjusted to the time change and to visit in-town relatives again. So when I see Fireweed’s scientific name, Erechtites hieraciifolia, though half a world away I am reminded that even after some two and a half millennia the language of the past is still with us, particularly with Greek in botany. More on that later.
Opinions vary greatly on the Fireweed. Horrible, a choice edible, or toxic? Widely used in the past and the present in Asia this is not a dainty-flavored plant. While young leaves can be eaten raw and older ones cooked Native Americans did not use it for food but rather medicine. This might give us pause to be cautious. A 1939 study found the plant has pyrrolidines. That’s a group of chemicals that can damage your liver, permanently. Usually species with pyrrolidines are not eaten. Yet this plant has a history of consumption.
Merritt Lyndon Fernald, of Gray’s Manual of Botany and also co-author of Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America, wrote twenty years after the above study: “There is no reason, except the odor, that prevents us from using it.“ Dick Deuerling, author of Florida’s Incredible Wild Edibles, told me personally he only ate tasty wild foods and that did not include the E. hieracifolia, though he included it in his book. Dr. James A. Duke author of the Handbook of Edible Weeds and a second book, Medicinal Plants, said he could not improve on the comments of Troy Peterson, author of A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants who said of the E. hieraciifolia: “The strong flavor suggests this is an acquired taste.” Duke recommends we don’t eat it.
That said I have a good friend who enjoys the flavor immensely, raw or cooked. Here’s what one reader — below –had to say about it: “I’m honestly perplexed with regards to the culinary reputation of this plant. Every chef I’ve shown this plant to so far has been really impressed, in a good way. The distinct perfume and flavor goes amazingly well in multiple preparations. I did cold blanched greens Korean style with sesame oil and soy sauce, brown rice steamed with chopped fireweed and shiso, and a quick chutney pickle of peeled fireweed stems and leaf tips, poor man’s pepper, nasturtium leaves, chopped apples, cucumber and coriander. I also used it as a soup base with lamb’s quarter and nettle. One vegetarian cold soup with raw goat buttermilk and the cooked wild greens puree, and one with chicken broth. The blanched greens also went into translucent summer roll wraps with sauteed pickerelweed, plantain seed heads, chanterelles, venison and nasturtium flowers, to be served with the chutney.
Not a single person in the large class (22 students + wildlife center interns and instructors) found the fireweed to be less than delicious prepared by these methods. All of the above dishes vanished like snow on a hot griddle, and I had to go harvest more fireweed after class so there would be any left for my chef buddy to play with at his restaurant. They ate it all.
Identification is 100% certain; this is Erechtites hieraciifolia. Properly prepared, it is delicious, and all of the local professional chefs whom I’ve gotten interested in wildcrafted foods are pretty excited to work with this plant. It’s not at its best raw and unadorned, but a little kitchen tweaking and flavor pairing and it’s suddenly amazing.
All I can say is if other foragers don’t know how to use and appreciate this green, that just leaves more for me and my chef friends!”
E. hieraciifolia has been viewed a famine food as the Caesar Weed (Urena lobata) is a famine food: Nutritious, common, and edible if you can get past this or that. With Caesar Weed it is texture, with E. hieraciifolia it is aroma and flavor though opinions do vary from ugh to delicious. These plants are plentiful in the spring and summer. Tall, rank and in your face, it is hard to misidentify a Fireweed. Foul or not it is as good as any other spring/summer green and is not unheard of in winter either. Perhaps the key is proper preparation. Fernald did not have a lot of chefs giving the green a try.
As to the scientific name, Erechtites hieraciifolia. The latter part, hieraciifolia, is easy: It means “having leaves like the hawkweed,” referring to the Hieracium (which itself means of or pertaining to priests.) But, Erechtites is more involved and botanists tend to not know their Greek. One, for example, will say the genus name may come from Erechtho, to break. Another says it might be for the fable early king of Athens, Erechtheus. Both close but no cigar. They need to read more of the Classics.
The goddess Athena went to the lame blacksmith-god Hephaestrus. He was the tool maker for the gods. She wanted some weapons. (For sake of the story we will set aside why a goddess would need weapons or someone to make them.) Things did not go as she planned. Hephaestrus found her so enticing that he tried to overpower her and take away her virginity. She successfully resisted and he missed his mark so to speak leaving a deposit on her thigh. With a scrap piece of wool she wiped it off and threw the wool to the ground. That impregnated the earth, Gaia. Gaia gave birth to a son and took him to Athena who named him Erichthonius. Erextho means trouble and xthon means earth. The name has come to mean “troubles from the earth” for a troublesome, ruderal weed that pops up after fires. The transliterated spelling varies greatly. Erechtites was also the name of an ancient groundsel in Greece and was first used to describe a plant in 40-80 CE by Dioscorides (for whom the yam genus is named.) King Erechtheus, who invented the chariot, was actually an early king of Attica not Athens but the region of Attica included Athens.
The plant has many local names as well besides Fireweed: Goat’s Chicory, Burn Weed, Stickers, Sun’s Ribs, Dog Weed and American Burnweed. There is also a second “Fireweed” a tall perennial (Epilobium angustifolium) in the evening-primrose family with spikes of pinkish-purple flowers. It is also edible. Our Fireweed has one other common name: Pilewort. Folks used Oil of Fireweed to externally treat their hemorrhoids. Fireweed puts out the fire. A poultice of the leaves work well I am told. Fireweed also has some internal uses as well such as treating dysentery.
And I saved this for last. The pronunciation of Erechtites hieraciifolia, is eleven syllables: e-rek-TEE-tez hee-eh-rak-ee-FO-li-a. I should mention that some folks remember Erechtites by starting with “Eric’s Teeties.” Clearly Greeks like long words. That is why it is easy to tell the difference between an Irish and Greek cemetery. When you drive by the Irish cemetery the stones are all tall and skinny with vertically engraved short names like Sean Ireland. Whereas all the stones in the Greek cemetery are low and long to accommodate Βασιλιος Σταβρος Τσαπατσαρις.
Green Deane’s Itemized Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Erect annual to 80 inches, flower yellow to whitish, 1/3″- 2/3″ inches long; inflorescence flat-topped to elongated clusters of drooping heads, flowers barely open; fruit, a dry seed on a bright white fluffy powder puff. Leaf alternate, lance-shaped, sharply toothed, some times lobed. It has a … ah… distinctive aroma that once you know is unmistakeable.
TIME OF YEAR: Blooms early summer to autumn.
ENVIRONMENT: Dry to wet; open woods, partially disturbed sites, fields, lake shores. Often colonial.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Tops, leaves, flower buds raw or cooked, including steaming and boiling.
* E. hieracifolia (L.) Raf. PYRROLIZIDINE ALKALOID: hieracifoline. Manske, Can. J. Res., 17B, 8 (1939)
I rarely write about toxic plants because this site is about edibles. However there are enough prickly nightshades around to justify an article about them and how to identify them even if they aren’t edible.
The Red Soda Apple, Solanum capsicoides, might be a native Floridian. Botanists can’t agree. It is now found in most warm areas of the world. Outside of North America S. capsidoides is often confused with Solanum aculeastissimum. Or… botanists being what they are… S. aculeastissimum and S. capsidoides might be the same species, or a close variation. At any rate it is a thorny, large-leafed plant to a yard high with spines all over it including the leaves, which can be shiny. The round green fruit resemble a striped water melon. When ripe it is red and slightly smaller than a ping-pong ball. One is safe saying the fruit is not edible because it certainly is toxic at some stage. Yet, one can find snippets of references here and there to the opposite. Usually they say the ripe flesh is edible but not the skin nor seeds which have the highest concentration of toxins. If the flesh is eaten it is only in small amounts. Loaded with steroids and precursors of steroid hormones it has been associated with abortions and other things steroids can do to your body. Ripe cut fruit is used as cockroach bait. Some botanists would argue S. aculeastissimum is African and all the nasty stuff is about that plant not S. capsicoides which they say is Brazilian. It is a dangerous family and best avoided. The easy answer is the Red Soda Apple is not edible. That is my position until someone can demonstrated in person otherwise.
The Tropical Soda Apple, Solanum viarum, is similar to the Red Soda Apple except its fruit turns bright yellow when ripe. And if I remember correctly the riper the fruit gets the more toxic it gets. And while it is similar-looking to the Red Soda Apple it’s oak-shaped leaves are dull green, never shiny. A lot more is written about the Tropical Soda Apple. For a toxic plant cattle and feral hogs spread the plant’s seeds around in their droppings. Growing to six feet high it has thorns on the tops sides of the leaves, underside of the leaves and all along the stem. It can grow year around as long as it stays warm. The blossoms are creamy white with petals and a yellow center. Its sweet-smelling fruit is one inch in diameter containing up to 400 brown seeds. The plant can produce some 50,000 seeds a year. They think its seeds came to south Florida in the tummies of cattle from Brazil around 1988. It became such an invasive that some ranchers were spending as much as 40% of their working time on controlling the plant costing some $16 million in 2007 dollars. Biological controls were implemented in 2003 with the release of Gratiana boliviana a beetle that only eats Tropical Soda Apple. It is currently found in Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. All reports say it is toxic. Avoid it.
Horsenettle, Solanum Carolinense, is similar looking to the Tropical Soda Apple but is a smaller plant. The Tropical Soda Apple has larger leaves and long thorns and is more shrubby. Horsenettle flowers can be purple or white where Tropical Soda Apple has only white blossoms. And while the Horsenettle also has yellow fruit they tend to be wrinkled when ripe. The Horsenettle also has a potato-like odor when a leaf is crushed and the leaf stems are are covered with star-shaped hairs. Yellow fruits are half-enclosed in a paper calyx. The Horsenettle is found in most of the United States and Eastern Canada. It skips Nevada, Colorado, North Dakota, Montana and all of Canada west of Ontario. Not edible. A close relative, the Robust Horsenettle (Solanum dimidiatum) which has rounder leaves than the Horsenettle, also is not edible.
The Aquatic Tropical Apple, Solanum tampicense, typically prefers wetlands. Much of southwest Florida have been invaded by it. Once established, it forms large, tangled, dense stands along river banks, cypress swamps, open marsh, and relatively undisturbed wetlands. It’s native to the West Indies, Mexico, and Central America and blooms in the fall. A straggly, sprawling prickly shrub, woody below, herbaceous above, has green stems to 16 feet long. Leaves: Alternate, simple, leafs longer than wide, 10-inches wide, three inches wide deeply round-indented edges, recurved or straight prickles on veins, and stellate hairs. Flowers are small, three to 11 individual flowers in stalked, branched clusters at leaf axils. Petals are white; stamens with yellow anthers held closely and erect in center of flower. Fruit: A small, spherical, tomato-like berry to almost half-an-inch, shiny solid green turning orange then bright red at maturity, with 10 to 60 yellowish, flat-round seeds. Not edible.
Among the more unusual prickly non-edibles is the Nipplefruit Nightshade, Solanum mammosum. While it is naturalized in Puerto Rico it also escaped from back yards in peninsula Florida south coastal Texas. I’m not quite sure why one would plant it. Not edible, prickly, and irregular in flowering and fruiting. The fruit contains solanine saponine, mallic and gallic acids, and solamargine, a glycoalkaloid. It is purgative. There is one Malaysian report that the unripe fruit is edible. I’d have to see it to believe it. The plant resembles a thorny eggplant but can grow to the size of a small tree.
The Jamaican Nightshade (Solanum jamaicense) is found in only a few central Florida counties. It’s a prickly, perennial, invasive shrub in central and southern peninsular Florida and was first seen in the state in 1930 near St. Cloud. Jamaican nightshade is usually found in woodlands where it can dominant the understory. Occasionally it grows in isolated patches in the open. Like other nightshades in this article it is armed with short curved spines. Leaves are in subequal pairs, with dense stellate hairs, somewhat diamond-shaped, flowers white, yellow anthers; fruit is an red-orange berry to about a third of an inch.
Very few people would mistake the Buffalobur, Solanum rostratum, as edible but it is a prickly, toxic nightshade often seen. The small fruit is totally encased in a spiny calyx. It is an erect, branching annual found in fields, pastures, fence rows, roadsides and wastes sites. The leaves have with prominent white veins. The plants, especially the leaves and green fruit, are poisonous and contain the glycoalkaloid solanine as well as other tropane alkaloids. The plants can also accumulate toxic levels of nitrates from the soil. Stinging or Itching – The numerous sharp spines on the plants and burs can cause intense, lingering pain if touched. Animals are also affected, and even after the burs are removed, dogs will continue to lick and chew on their feet because of the pain.
Before we move on to an edible prickly nightshade, why the term “soda apple?” Soda through Middle English, Middle French and Middle Latin is probably from the Arabic word Suwwad (saltwort) which was a plant alkaloids were gotten from perhaps for soap making. And most of these non-edible plants have alkaloids. So instead of thinking Soda Apple or Tropical Soda Apple think Alkaloid Apple, a good reason to avoid said. Lastly there is one local prickly Solanum that is a tomato and definitely edible, the Litchi tomato. To read more about it go here. There is also a lesser edible, the Turkey Berry, read about it go here.
Foraging is treasure hunting for adults. Not only is finding food fun but finding new food you didn’t know about is a joy as well. That happens reasonably often during my foraging classes in sub-tropical south Florida.The ripe fruit ranges from yellow to orange to red.
As far as I know there is no complete accounting of all the plants in Dreher Park, West Palm Beach. And it suffered significant storm damage particularly hurricanes a decade ago but also Hurricane Irma last year. I had been teaching in the park for several years and had walked past this particular tree many times, at the end of a street near a foot entrance (that might be a clue to finding other “treasures.”) This time, however, the ground was covered with orange orbs. Hundreds of inch-long “bullet”-shaped fruit that resemble a small persimmon except longer (and the calyx was different and a key identifier.) As you can imagine doing a Goggle search for “Florida fruit orange” was not helpful. I eventually identified it as the south Asia native Mimusops elengi, Spanish Cherry, Bullet Wood, and Malabar Plum. Oddly it is not listed in the good book “Tropical Trees of Florida and the Virgin Islands.” Its central native range is India and surrounding areas where it is called Bakul along with over one hundred local names (yes, I counted them.) Interestingly it has a relative that is also cultivated in south Florida and like warm areas, Monkey Apples, or M. coriacea. They are both in the greater Soursop group.
As for the botanical name, Mimusops (MIM-you-sops) comes from the Greek words, mimo meaning ape, and ops meaning resembling. In English we would say “looks like a monkey.” “Elangi” — ee-LAN-gee — is from the common Malabari name for this tree and flower though it is also called the Tanjong Tree.Fruiting season depends where on earth you are.
The evergreen tree is quite valuable commercially and otherwise. The wood is hard — is that why it is called Bullet Wood or possibly because of the shape of the fruit — and is deep red. The fruit is orange to red and edible. Various parts of the tree have also been used in Ayurvedic medicine (see Herb Blurb below.) It’s considered a prize addition to gardens for its fruit and fragrant flowers. The tree won’t grow in temperate climates but can survive subtropical areas and is tolerant of light frosts but not salty areas. The fruit reminds one of small persimmons in color and mild taste when ripe but a different texture, mealy. The tree’s bark resembles an oak but the leaves favor a Magnolia look and at one time the tree was named in that genus. Definitely a tree to look out for (I even brought home a seed for pot planting.) I think Mr. Dreher, Superintendent of Parks, would be proud.Paul Dreher
Dreher Park was the main project of Paul Dreher, a German immigrant, who came to the United States in the 1920s from Wurttenberg. (He had an aunt who was among the pioneer settlers of Delray Beach in 1895.) Thus a foraging fellow from a cold climate got a chance to create a park in a warm place before the advent of lawyers and rabid municipal liability. The “Johnny Appleseed” of West Palm Beach, Dreher had a degree in horticulture from the University of Hohen-Heim in Stuttgart. He was hired for 25 cent an hour then later $5 a day. His projects included picking thousands of trees for the city’s streets, Flager Park, Currie Park, Phillips Park, and Bacon Park. In 1951 Dreher convinced the city to buy 108 acres for a park. The city came up with $100 to buy the land but would not fund its development. Dreher scrounged plants for ten years, rummaging around landscapers’ dumps and taking donations. That became the basis for what is now Dreher Park. (The loud interstate to the was, I-95, was not built until the 1964.) Six farm animals Dreher had on the property — a goat, two chickens, two ducks and a goose, valued at $18 total — became the beginning of the Palm Beach Zoo. Dreher, whose hobby was collecting rocks in rockless Florida, also was involved after his retirement in the landscaping of the city of Palm Beach Gardens, the PGA National Golf Course and Lion Country Safari. He died in 1993, at age 90. His wife of 63 years, Alice Irene Owen, died nine years later in 2002, age 92. Dreher’s philosophy was “Anything green that grows is good. You just have to control it.”
Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: A large glabrous evergreen tree from 50 to 90 feet, with a relatively short trunk and a compact leafy crown, bark smooth, scaly, and gray, Leaves spirally arranged, four inches long, and inch wide, elliptic shortly acuminate, glabrous, base acute or rounded, flower star-shaped, white, fragrant, solitary buds, fruit about an inch long, similar to a small olive, ovoid, yellow to red when ripe, seed solitary, ovoid, compressed, brown, shiny. The wood is very hard.
TIME OF YEAR: Blossoms in Fall, fruit is the new year here in Florida, or, it can blossom in the spring and fruit in early summer.
ENVIRONMENT: Full sun, average water, dryer areas than wetter areas, it does not like its wet feet. Grows year round, evergreen. Does not like to be close to the sea shore. Inland a few miles is fine. Endures high winds well.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Fruit edible raw, cooked, pickled, seed oil is used for cooking but also used for lamps. The fatty acid line up is oleic acid 64%, linoleic acid 14.5%, palmitic acid 11%, stearic acid 10% and behenic acid 0.5%. Bark oil is used in making perfume. Blossoms are used for potpourris.
The bark is acrid and sweet; cooling, cardiotonic, alexipharmic, stomachic, anthelmintic, astringent; cures biliousness and diseases of the gum and teeth,. The flowers are sweet, acrid, oleagenous; cooling, astringent to the bowels; good for the teeth, causes flatulence. They are used as expectorant; cures biliousness, liver complaints, diseases of the nose, headache, and their smoke is good in asthma. The seeds fix loose teeth; as an errhine cures nasal congestion and headache. The root is sweet and sour; aphrodisiac, diuretic, astringent to the bowels; good for gonorrhoea; as a gargle, strengthens the gums. The fruits are sweet and sour, aphrodisiac, diuretic, astringent to the bowels, good in gonorrhoea. The pulp of the ripe fruits is sweetish and astringent and has been successfully used in curing chronic dysentery,. The leaves are well known for analgesic and antipyretic
My introduction to violets was seeing my mother eat “Piss-a-beds” in the spring (Viola rafinesquii. VYE-oh-lah raff-a-NESK-kee-eye.) They grew in the shade near the smelly cellar drain and were, as you might guess, a diuretic.
For all their presence in Florida I did not see violets for quite a while. More so, they show great variation so getting the right identification can be a bit irritating. Pictured here, I think, is Viola sororia/affinis. (VYE-oh-lah-ROR-ee-uh / aff-EYE-niss.) However, violets are like oak and pine trees, you really don’t need to know which exact species it is as long as you have the right genus. (And just to make sure, we are not talking about African Violets, which are in a different genus completely.)
Violets leaves can be used raw in salads or cooked like spinach. Their flowers can be eaten raw, or candied, the dried leaves can be used to make tea. Violets can also be added to soups as a thickener. In fact, in the 1800’s that was the most common reference for them. While they traditionally blossom in the spring, warmer areas can see them blossom in the spring and late fall. In Central Florida’s winter, Christmas to Valentines, they are quite happy and blooming.
Native Americans had various medicinal uses for some 17 species of violets. Surprisingly there is little record of them eating violets with only three western tribes doing so. They did, however, used violets as poultices for headaches and boils, as an infusion for dysentery, kidney problems, bladder issues, heart pain, colds and coughs (they are high in vitamins A and C.) They were also used for skin problems, as application research confirmed in 1995.
Violet roots, however, are not user friendly. They can clean you out. The Indians soaked them with corn seeds as a pre-planting insecticide. Indeed, violets have long been associated with chemistry. Before there was the “litmus” test there was the violet test for acids and alkalis. And of course, recreating the aroma of violets was a major challenge of the perfume industry.
The name “violet” is often given as from Dead Latin, and it is. However, there is Greek behind that Dead Latin. Contemporary Greeks say violetta — adapted from English — or menekseis. The English word “violet” is from the Dead Latin “viola” the Roman’s name for the plant. However, viola came from the Greek word Vion, which is a variation of Io, (EEoh… Ιω…) the beautiful daughter of Inachus, King of Argos. Io was also priestess to Zeus’ wife Hera. According to Greek legend, Zeus was so smitten by Io that he seduced her after much pursuit and rejection by her. The seduction made his wife, Hera, quite angry. To protect Io from Hera Zeus transformed her into a white heifer. (Ain’t that nice: You’re young, beautiful, you’re seduced by the most powerful god around and then get turned into a cow.) As a heifer, however, Io wept because she had to eat coarse grass. To compensate her for her suffering Zeus changed her tears into sweet-smelling, dainty violets for her to eat. However, Hera was not without her means and caused the earth-wandering Io/heifer to be incessantly bothered by a gadfly.
Mythology notwithstanding, violets have quite a history. Violets were first cultivated in Greece around 400 BC or about the time of Socrates, Hippocrates, and the building of the Acropolis. ( so-CRA-tis, i-po-CRA-tis, a-CROP-po-li ) In fact they were the first commercial flower product. Athens was known as the “violet-crowned city.” The Romans liked violet-flavored wine so much they spent more time cultivating violets than olives, much to the irritation of Horace (65-8 BC.) Violets, associated with resurrection, were secretly planted on Nero’s grave. And when Chopin died in Paris his student, Jane Stirling, bought all the violets she could find in Paris and put them on his grave. That tradition lasts to this day with visitors to his grave leaving violets. [Note: Chopin’s body is in Paris but his heart was removed and resides in Warsaw.] Napoleon was nicknamed the Caporal Violette which he used as a nom de plume along with Pere La Violette. When he died he was wearing a locket of violets taken from the grave of his wife, Josephine. They were her favorite flower, and that of England’s Queen Victoria’s, too. Until the early 1900’s violets were associated with St. Valentine’s Day, not roses. According to the legend, Valentine crushed the violet blossoms growing near his cell to make ink to write messages on violet leaves to his friends, delivered by a dove. He was executed on 14 February 269 A.D.
The state flower of Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Illinois and New Jersey, there are some 850 species of violets, in two large groups, sweet and wood. Sweet is strongly scented, wood less scented but larger than the sweets. At least three violets are native to Florida, V. conspersa, sororia and bicolor. Affinis means “similar to” and is a synonym for sororia, sometimes a variation. Conspersa (kons-PER-sa) is sprinkled, sororia sisterly, and bicolor two colored.
Nutritionally violets have 15,000 to 20,000 IUs of vitamin A per 100 grams serving. See recipes below.Green Deane’s “Itemized Plant Profile”
IDENTIFICATION: Blossoms blue, violet, yellow, white, shades in between and multi-colored. Five petals, with lowest petal heavily veined and going back into a spur. Low growing, there is a wide variety in the leaf shape. Sweet violets are the most aromatic, wood violets tend to be larger.
TIME OF YEAR: Varies slightly. Sweet violets first in spring, the wood violets. In warmer climates they can blossom again in fall
ENVIRONMENT: Moist shaded areas, partial sun.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves raw, dried or cooked. Blossoms raw or candied. Yellow violets can be mildly laxative.
2 cups fresh violets
2 cups boiling water
Juice of one lemon
1 pack pectin
4 cups sugar
Place the violets blossoms in a glass jar and cover them with the boiling water. Make an infusion with violets and water by placing your blossoms in a glass jar and covering them with boiling water. Put a lid on the jar, and set aside for anywhere between 2-24 hours. The water will turn to an aqua blue. Strain and discard the spent flowers. Add the lemon juice and the mix will change to a pretty pink. (After you do this a time or two, you can sort of judge how much lemon juice to add to get a color that `suits’ you.) Stir in pectin, and bring to a boil. Add sugar, bring to a boil again, and boil vigorously for one minute. Skim if necessary. Pour into sterile jars and seal. Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups jelly.
4 cups of violets
2 cups boiling water
6 cups sugar
Juice of one lemon
2 cups water
Place violet flowers in a mason jar and pour boiling water over them. Let sit 24 hours. Strain liquid into a bowl (not aluminum!) squeezing out all the goodness from the flowers. Place sugar, lemon juice and water in a saucepan and boil into a very thick syrup, near the candy stage. Add violet water and bring to a rolling boil. Boil 10 minutes or until thickened. Pour into sterile bottles. Allow to cool, then seal and refrigerate. Serve with club soda or as pancake topping, or brush on baked goods.
Photos and article by Green Deane
There is no getting around it: Bacopa Monnieri is bitter… really bitter. But of course part of that perception depends on what bitter gene you have. There are several variations.Bacopa caroliniana is not bitter.
Some like the bitter flavor all their lives, some dislike the bitter flavor all their lives. Some are extremely sensitive to bitter as a child — exponentially so —but very insensitive to it as an older adult. They’re the ones who could not stand broccoli as a kid and love it in retirement. At any rate Bacopa monnieri is bitter, as are two of its local relatives, Bacopa innominata and Bacopa repens. A fourth, Bacopa Caroliniana, is not bitter at all and is the least like the other Bacopas. How do you tell them apart?The blossom can have four or five petals.
There is no shortage of research on the memory effects of Bacopa monnieri. If it had been invented by a pharmaceutical company it would be in all the water supply systems by now. As it is a lowly plant used for some 4,000 years there’s no patent money to made off it. But the research ranges from its potential use from Alzheimer’s to Attention Deficit Disorder. Interestingly it appears to be able to improve most people’s memory function whether 15 or 85.It can take 12 weeks.
How Bacopa Monnieri works is a bit of a debate. It might have several avenues of efficacy. One is stopping the reduction of chemicals the brain uses for thinking and memory. Another could be it up regulates genes and they prompt new memory cells. It could increase cerebral blood flow and is a strong anti-oxidant. Any or all are possible. But the research also seems to agree that it takes time to do it herbal magic, usually several weeks.A wide variety of dosage works.
Most of the studies are — like bitter — a variation of a theme. Sometimes the subjects are all older than 70, or the are all older than 55 with memory issues, or healthy volunteers of all ages. Sometime the does is 125 twice a day, sometime it is by weight (300mg under 200 pounds, 450 mg over 200 pounds.) Or it is an extract or 300 mg once a day. And usually there is no immediate improvement (in hours) but over weeks memory improves, information processing is faster, and better associate learning.The leaf has one main vein.
Whether you call Bacopa a food or a medicine perhaps depends upon your tastes, or needs. Some folks chop it up and toss some in salads. I now more people who use it as a nootropic. Four people have told me it has made a significant difference in their memory abilities. The genus name “Bacopa” is the Latinized name the aboriginals Indians called it in what is now French Guiana. Monnieri honors Louis Guillaume le Monnier, 1717-1799, French botanist and royal physician to Louis XV. You can see an earlier article about this Bacopas and B. caroliniana here and learn why they are called “Hyssop.”
Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: The leaves are succulent and thick, 1/8 inch wide and 5/8 inch long. They’re oblanceolate (skinny on this end, fat on this end) opposite, and have 1-veined. Flowers are small and white, with 4 or 5 petals. This species is also called the Smooth Water Hyssop and is often spelled Waterhyssop.
TIME OF YEAR: All year
ENVIRONMENT: Fresh and brackish waters, usually sunny damp spots.
METHOD OF PREPARATION as a food: Raw when fresh, but very bitter. It can be steamed for a cooked vegetable and in India it is dried and used as a tea… let’s just say that tea is a very acquired taste. Memory applications vary greatly.
You can see an earlier article about some Bacopas here.
Three Bacopa studies are:
Article and photographs by Green Deane
Brazilian Pepper is a personal unknown: You might like it but it might not like you. This is because many people are allergic to it on par with poison ivy. Others have used Brazilian Pepper for decades as a spice without incident.Leaves of seven and nine leaflets
Native to Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, this invasive species was imported to the United States in the 1800’s though when is a debate. Governmental records definitely say it was here just before the the 1900’s but the plant was listed in at least one seed catalogue as early as 1832. The U.S. Department of Agriculture got packages of seeds in 1898, 1899, and 1901 (one of them from Algeria.) Those seeds, or subsequent seedlings, were forwarded to the Plant Introduction Station in Miami where the species was studied. But it was Dr. George Stone of Punta Gorda, Florida, who championed the species in the 1920s changing the tree from a personal passion to a public menace. An amateur botanist Stone raised and gave away hundreds of plants. They were called “Florida Holly” and planted along the streets in Punta Gorda and elsewhere. In 1937 one company advertised the Brazilian Pepper as “one of our most worthwhile plants for general landscape purposes, as it makes a fine subject for mass planting and succeeds well along the beach, standing quite a lot of salt spray.” An article in the 1944 edition of the magazine “My Garden in Florida” said of the Brazilian Pepper “it ought to be in every garden in Florida.” Just six years later folks began to noticed it was becoming a serious problem. Brazilian Pepper is so invasive that today it’s in 20 counties of the state limited only by cold weather. Nearly everywhere it’s been imported it’s on the noxious weed hit list. Besides Florida and Texas it’s a serious weed in South Africa, Spain, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, and on Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean islands. In its native range it is not invasive.Dried berries are peppery for at least five years.
The species itself is in the Anacardiaceae (Cashew) family which also includes poison ivy, poison sumac, poison wood, and mangoes, all known allergens along with cashews and pistachios. Toxicity in that family is usually caused by a resin. People can get contact dermatitis from Brazilian Pepper, welts from it like poison ivy, or rashes as from mangoes. Some people can get sick just being in the same room with the crushed berries. It has sickened researchers working with the fruit. The sap can cause lesions resembling second-degree burns. Brazilian Pepper can cause edema, and eye and facial swelling. When pollenating — usually September to October — it can be a severe allergen even though the pollen is sticky and heavy. Brazilian Pepper can intoxicate birds, injure livestock and can cause fatal colic in horses… Are you sure you want to try it as a spice?Spice is used from fish to popcorn to ice cream.
I’m not allergic to the berries but I don’t care for the flavor. I have met six people, however, who use it; two couples and two individuals. In fact both couples have been using it as a spice for decades and one couple likes it so much they put it on pop corn. I know a man who, again for decades, uses Brazilian Pepper as a spice but only on fish and no other time. He grinds up a few berries in a mortar and pesetle as needed. I know a young man who eats the ripe berries off the tree. He doesn’t eat a huge amount of them at a time but he does eat them and I’ve seen him do it. I also know of a young woman who liked the flavor of the berries so much she used them extensively as a spice for a week — even on ice cream — and then got very sick from them. She couldn’t use them after that. So it’s across the board varying from individual to individual from some who consume it as a spice with no problems to others with a wide variety of sickening symptoms.There are four varieties of Brazilian
Despite its dubious nature Brazilian Pepper has several uses other than a spice. Bee keepers champion the species. Opinions on its honey vary: Some call it “esteemed” other say it is below “table grade.” It’s popular enough however to sell between six to eight million pounds annually. The taste is sweet with a mix of spicy aftertaste flavors. Honey becomes “Brazilian Pepper honey” when about 70% of the blossom visited by the bees are that species. The tree has also been used to make toothpicks, stakes, posts, railway ties and research shows it might make a good pulp wood. A resinous extract is used to protect fishing line and nets. It has been used to tan leather. The species also has many herbal applications. A 2017 study said in Brazilian herbal medicine it was used for: “…its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities in the treatment of wounds and ulcers as well as for urinary and respiratory infections.” The study reported it might have some use against MRSA. It seems to interrupt the bacteria’s signaling capacity keeping it from releasing toxins thus giving the person’s immune system time to mount a counterattack.The berries can be ground to a desired grade.
As for the botanical name it is — as is so often the case — Greek mangled through Latin tongue-tied into English. The Latin Schinus comes from the Greek word Σχίνος (SKI-nos) which means “lentisk” which is the Mastic Tree. The genus name was chosen because Brazilian Pepper has similar foliage as the Mastic Tree which also exudes a sap. The English the genus is said SHY-ness or SKY-ness. Take your pick. The latter is closer to the original Greek. Terebinthifolius is also Greek but slightly less distorted: τερέβινθος (ter-REH-been-thos.) In English terebinthifolius is said terra-been-tha-FOE-lee-us which means “turpentine leaves.” The species’ name from the Terebinth Tree, Pistacia terebinthus, which is the turpentine tree in the Mediterranean area. With Brazilian Pepper you don’t have to crush them to smell them. Just bring them into a room. And for night time fun if you lignite the dry leaves their oil content is so high they can pop and sparkle.
Note it is illegal in Florida and Texas to sell, transport or plant Brazilian Pepper in any form. A relative, S. molle, is also found in Florida and Texas. Both are also in Hawaii, southern California and Puerto Rico. Brazilian Pepper seeds are popular with mocking birds, cedar wax wings, migrating robins and the Red Wiskered Bulbul. Raccoons and possums eat the seeds. Planted seeds have a high germination rate and sprout within three weeks.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile Note the red at the base of the stem.
IDENTIFICATION: It is an evergreen tree to 40 feet, low-branching, bushy, and spreading to equal width; the foliage is dense. Glossy leaves are aromatic with a red midrib, they’re about three inches long, compound, five to nine leaflets to a leaf. Flowers are tiny, white, compact, male and female blossoms on separate trees. Fruit is the size of a BB, 3/16 of an inch round, red, juicy, with an aromatic oil and a peppery flavor. The seed is yellow and kidney shaped. Sometimes it is mistakingly called “pink pepper corns” which is actually the fruit of a different species mentioned earlier, Schinus molle.
If you want to get technical there are actually four recognized varieties of Brazilian Pepper: var. acutifolius (lance-shaped leaves, tips pointed,) var. pohlianus (stems winged, stems and leaves velvety-hairy) var. raddianus (leaf edges toothed to toothless, tips rounded) and var. rhoifolius oval to obovate leaves, tips rounded.) They can be difficult to tell apart.
TIME OF YEAR: September to October or November is the main flowering season, fruits mature in December. However the tree can flower and fruit anytime of year and the fruit is persistent.
ENVIRONMENT: Dry or wet conditions. You’ll find it in waste ground, at waterfront, in right-of-ways, lawns, pastures, groves, dry lakes or even invading stands of larger trees.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: The ripe berries are dried then ground to a desired state and used as a spice. Some people eat a few ripe berries at a time.Photo courtesy of Department of Agriculture Fieldbook, 1916.
The Firebush is probably one of the most commonly planted unknown edibles. They are usually arranged in the landscape to attract butterflies and migratory or resident humming birds. However the fruit is edible — with precautions — and the plant has a long history of medicinal and industrial uses.
It would be difficult to make a better consumer lawn shrub than the Firebush. It is showy, fast-growing, evergreen, stays small, attracts birds and insects and provides an edible fruit. It blossoms all year with tubular flowers, reddish-orange or scarlet. Even the stems of the flowers are red. The fruit is a juicy berry with a lot of little seeds. It ripens from green to yellow to red then black. It can be eaten out of hand — more on that in a moment — made in to a syrup or wine, a particular favorite in Mexico. It can fruit nearly all year unless damaged by cold. The berry is deceptive raw. It has an initial sweetness and grape-texture that yields to a sticky, lingering, slightly bitter aftertaste in the back of the mouth. Try one first, not a lot. See if you like it. Some people don’t taste that so it might be a genetic trait. Cooking eliminates that aftertaste.
The Mayans called it, Ix-canan, or “guardian of the forest.” In Belize the Firebush is used to treat a variety of skin problems including, sores, rashes, wounds, burns, itching, cuts, skin fungus, and insect stings and bites. For topical use they boiling two handful of leaves, stems and flowers in two gallons of water for 10 minutes. Once cool, it is applied liberally to the affected area. This same liquid is drank as a tea to relieve menstrual cramps. The Choco Indians in Panama drink a leaf infusion to treat fever and diarrhea; the Ingano Indians make a leaf infusion for intestinal parasites. Tribes in Venezuela chew on the leaves to lower body temperature to prevent a sun or heat stroke. In Brazil the root is used as a diuretic, the leaves for scabies and headaches. Cubans use the leaves externally for headaches and sores while a decoction is taken internally for rheumatism. In Mexico it is used externally to stop staunch to flow of blood and heal wounds.
In the lab animal studies with Firebush leaf extracts showed analgesic, diuretic, and hypothermic actions. External use showed significant anti-inflammatory activity. The bush also antibacterial and antifungal properties against a wide range of fungi and bacteria in several. Also, incisions bathed with plant juice healed faster and stronger than no bathing or application of petroleum jelly.
The industrial use of the plant comes from it high amounts of tannins. The hard, brown wood has also been used. Firebush’s botanical name is Hamelia patens. Hamelia honors French botanist Honri Louis Du Hamel du Monceau and is said: huh-MEE-lee-uh. Patens, said PAY-tenz, means spreading.
2 cups ripe berries
½ cup mild vinegar
2/3 cup water
1 cup brown sugar
½ tsp each of clove, ginger and paprika
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
Put into a saucepan the berries, vinegar and water. Boil the berries until they are soft (5 minutes). Put through a blender or food processor. Then add the sugar, spices and salt. Simmer for 3 minutes. Serve at room temperature.
Carambola and Firebush Chutney
4 cups carmbola, peeled and pipped, cut into small pieces
¼ cup ripe berries
2 cups vinegar
2 cups sugar
¼ cup finely chopped ginger
Put in a heavy saucepan vinegar and sugar and bring to boiling point. Add the carambola and ginger. Cook on low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking to bottom of can. Add berries in the last 10 minutes of cooking to allow then to retain their shape.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Shrub or small, bushy tree to 12 ft. Young branches reddish. Leaves elliptic, oblong or elliptic-ovate, pointed, 3 to 7 in. long, more or less flushed and dotted with red or purple, and with red stalks; soft-textured, hairy. Flowers scarlet, tubular, with dark linear stripes, slender, to 1 1/2 in. long, in tassel-like, branched clusters. If the flowers are more yellow than red and without stripes it is probably the H. patens var glabra from Mexico, presumed to be edible. Fruit ovalish, five-pointed calyx, seedy, distinct nipple.
TIME OF YEAR: Flowers and fruits year round.
ENVIRONMENT: Common in hammocks and landscaping. It prefers damp to dry. Native to Florida but can be grown along the southern gulf coast and up the west coast to southern oregon.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Ripe fruit is black, edible raw, can be made into a syrup or wine.
Be brave when you collect cactus.
Of course, good gloves and tongs help. With those tools you can have a very steady and nutritious supply of a tasty wild edible, and not only in warm areas. Cactus grow from Alaska to Argentina, or chilly Canada to chilly Chili, and other parts of the world. People have been eating Nopalea/Opuntia for at least 9,000. It’s not too late to join them.
For example, Opuntia, the most common of the edible cactuses, is native to every U.S. state except Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Hawaii, the four states farthest from its native area, Central America (yes, Opuntia are native to southern Alaska and have become naturalized in Hawaii.) That said, I seem to remember seeing some growing in southern Maine in the woods when I was a kid, and I can remember the exact spot. So if not native, they did survive there. Some other families of cactus with edible members are Cereus, Hylocereus and Saguaro. There is probably an edible cactus near you. It also might be healthy: A close cousin, Opuntia Ficus-Indica, seems to have good effects on blood lipids. It also has antioxidants and might help in repair of DNA. O. ficus-indica is the cactus most often found for sale in stores.
Here in Florida there are several kinds of edible cactus. A very common one I have planted in my yard — but can be found growing wild everywhere — is Nopalea cochinellifera, (Noh-PAL–ee-uh koh-ken-ill-EE-fer-uh) also called the cochineal cactus. It was Opuntia cochinellifera (oh-PUN-she-ah koh-ken-ill-EE-fer-uh) but was given it own genus. It can grow in to a 12-foot tree-like cactus and requires much trimming to keep it in check. Both the fruit and the pads are edible after de-spining. Many references say the N. cochinillifera has no spines but they ar wrong. It has little tuffs stuffed with microscopic needles called glochines or glochids (best remove by a blast of water, and or burning off. Hot wax as last resort or duct tape.) “Glochis” is a Greek word meaning “the point of an arrow.” If you get one in your finger you’ll understand.
I got my Nopalea 19 years ago the true forager way. I was in Daytona Beach going to their annual Greek Festival. While walking on the sidewalk I saw one pad — technically a cladode. It had broken off a parent plant and lay on the walkway. I took it home, you know, be kind to homeless plants and all that. Now I have several N. cochinillifera and more cactus than the neighborhood can eat.
Besides food, the blossoms of the N. cochinillifera are a wonderful fuschia. They attract bees, butterflies and those rare little feathered helicopters, hummingbirds. The pear-shaped fruit are ripe when deep red to purple. A large cactus can have virtually hundreds of fruits
Harvesting: The best thing to do is spray fruits and pads with water to reduce the amount of glochids. Pick the fruit with heavy leather gloves then wash them again and or burn what spines there might still remain off — a butane torch works well, a candle flame, or a deftly held propane torch. You then peel them for the soft red fruit flesh inside. It can be eaten raw or cooked and has a raspberry like flavor. Just be sure to take the seeds out. They are very hard and can break your teeth. Grind them into flour. I use often use the cactus fruit to make a salad dressing, especially when I am making a backyard salad. The pads are treated the same way, eat them as is or peeling them and eating the inner part of the pad, raw or cooked. Some say it is an acquired taste but I don’t think the flavor is that far out of the mainstream to say that. Besides everything other than mother’s milk is an acquired tasted. If you can get the spines off you can also eat the outer part of the pad. Just as the Nopalea has a history behind it so to does its name. Let’s take the species name first.
Cochenillifera in Latin means “cochineal bearing” but is from the Greek word for red, “kokinos.” That’s because the cochineal insect lives off that particular cactus and others in the family. That might be almost interesting except you may have eaten that exact insect at one time, or more specifically, a product produced from their crushed, little dehydrated bodies: Cochineal dye. Actually, only the female cochineal provides the red dye and it takes some 75,000 to make one pound, 155,000 to the kilogram. Sometimes in the wild you will see a Nopalea or Opuntia pad flecked with white gray, or even covered with white or gray cotton. That’s a cochineal condo. The hard part is each of the scale-like insects has to be harvested by hand, when they are around 90-days old.
Until artificial dyes were invented, cochineal dye was the main red dye from food to fabrics. In the 1400s, eleven cities conquered by Montezuma each paid a yearly tribute of 2000 decorated cotton blankets and 40 bags of cochineal dye. During colonial days Mexico had a monopoly on cochineal dye and it was that country’s second largest export after silver. Cochineal went out of favor and flavor when chemical dyes came in but the organic movement and rejection of artificial dyes has brought it back. Cochineal trumps chemicals, as it were. If you use a cosmetic or have eaten a product with any of these ingredients, you have used or bitten the bug: Cochineal extract, carmine, crimson lake (or lac) natural red 4, C.I. 75470, E120, or even “natural coloring” when the product is any shade of red, scarlet or orange. Cochineal is one of the few water-soluble dyes that resist fading.
The genus name, “nopal” means cactus in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, wrongly reported as “Spanish” for cactus. No, the Aztecs had the word first. Opuntia, however, is very removed from the New World. It is from a Greek word, Opos. Opos is an area near Lokria on the island of Euboea, which is northeast of Athens. The Greeks say the island’s name as EH-via (see how Latin has perverted the Greek it imported.) Evia is a favorite get away and one end of the island is only about 100 tidal-torn feet from the mainland. In the Opos area, according to Pliny and Theophrastus, there grew a spiny plant. There also grew figs. Figs are one of the few foods with a latex sap that we can eat (see Natal Plums.) That sap was used as rennet in making cheese. Rennet makes the solids in the milk separate from the liquids so it can be made into cheese. The adjective form of the opos is opuntios, meaning “of Opos.” It came to mean fig-shaped. The cactus, which has spines and a fig-shaped fruit (kind of) got named Opuntios. That was then degraded via Latin to Opuntia, and where I get linguistically irritated when it comes to English. The original word is Greek and is spelled with a T. The T is pronounced as a T, not an S. Yet when you say “oh-PUN-tia” there is always someone around who will try and correct you with “oh-PUN-see-ah.”
Incidentally that cheese-making technique was mentioned in the Iliad and later by Aristotle. It was used well into the 1800s until bacterial ways were found to curdle milk. The technique was so common it was mentioned in several farming “books” by ancient Greeks and Romans.
Opuntia littoralis was introduced to Mediterranean area long ago and flourishes in its mild climate, such as in the south of France, southern Italy, and Sicily where it is a culinary speciality called ficurinnia. In Greece the fruits are called frangosyka (French figs) or pavlosyka (Paul’s figs). The prickly pear also grows in Malta where it is a typical summer fruit and used to make the popular liqueur, Bajtra. There the opuntia is a common dividing wall between Maltese fields.
Nopalea is good for you. There is some lab evidence that it lessens low-density cholesterol, though not reported is whether that was large molecule LDL or small molecule LDL. It’s the small molecule LDL that harms (as of this writing.) The exact nutritional value is not set with several sources giving differing amounts. But, it is low in calories and sodium, high in fiber and vitamin C. It also helps control blood sugar and, according to lab work, reduces the effects of a hangover if eaten before drinking. One word of caution, besides avoiding the spines: Never eat any part of any cactus that has white sap.
Below are some recipes, though they are as common on the internet as spines on a cactus. One note of forecaution: Eating ripe opuntia fruits can turn ones urine reddish. Thought you’d like to know rather than it be a surprise. My two favorite ways of preparing Opuntia/Nopales pads is to pick young ones, brush off the glochids, julienne the pads, and fry in oil. Or, grill them and put them in a sandwich. Delicious. Of course, you can always skip the cactus collecting and give Nopales a try from the can or with commercially harvested pads. Both are found in many supermarkets these days. And let me be honest, I used to cheat a little. Many times when I was serving a dish of a “wild” food — to a group known to have a few squeamish people in it — I would actually buy the “wild” product in the local market, keeping the receipt. That way if someone said they got sick from the “wild” food it was 1) highly unlikely or 2) the grocer’s problem not mine.
Scrub cactus pads well, remove any spines. Cut around the spiny nodules and remove them, completely. (Not necessary with young thin pads. Use whole) Grill the leaves over charcoal for 10 to 12 minutes per side. Thicker pads take longer. Brush pads with oil occasionally while grilling. Serve hot.
One to two quarts or so of cactus fruit (1.5 pounds)
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice**
6 ounces liquid fruit pectin Boiling water
Place fruit in a large saucepan or kettle. Cover with boiling water, allow to stand for 2-3 minutes, and pour off water. (This aids in softening stickers of the fruit.) Peel fruit, cut into pieces, and place in a medium-sized saucepan. Cover fruit with water and boil at high heat for 5 minutes. Pour boiled mixture through cheesecloth. Drain as much juice as possible. Discard seeds. Measure juice. Combine cups of cactus juice, sugar , and lemon juice in large saucepan. Bring mixture to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to medium-high, add liquid pectin, and cook mixture for 8-12 minutes, or until the mixture begins to thicken. Skim off any foam that may have formed. Pour mixture into hot, sterilized, canning jars and seal as usual. Process jars immersed in a Boiling Water Bath for five minutes to seal the lids.
1 pound cactus pieces
1 small tomato
1/4 small white onion
1 jalapeno pepper
1/4 bunch cilantro
1/4 cup shredded Monterrey jack cheese (or of choice)
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
4 tablespoons avocado or low heat olive oil
Steam the cactus until softened. Drain the cactus. Lightly fry all the other ingredients except for the Monterrey Cheese. Combine fried ingredients with the cactus and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Top with cheese before serving.
CACTUS FLOWER WINE by Jack B. Keller, Jr.
- 2-1/2 quarts firmly-packed cactus flowers
- 2 lbs granulated sugar
- 1 11-oz can 100% white grape juice concentrate, frozen
- 1-3/4 tsp acid blend
- 1/8 tsp grape tannin
- 6-1/4 pints water
- 1 crushed Campden tablet
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1 pkt Champagne wine yeast
Wash the flowers and put in nylon straining bag with a dozen marbles for weight, tie bag, and place in primary. Heat 1 quart water and dissolve sugar. Cool with frozen grape juice concentrate and remaining water and add to primary. Add remaining ingredients except yeast and stir well. Cover primary and wait 10-12 hours before adding activated yeast. Recover primary and stir daily. When specific gravity drops to 1.020, drip-drain bag and transfer wine to secondary. Affix airlock and set aside. Rack after 45 days and again after another 45 days, topping up and refitting airlock each time. If fermentation has finished, wine should be clear or begin to clear, although pollen will continue to settle for another 1-2 months. Rack again 60 days after wine has cleared, top up and reattach airlock. Set aside another 90-120 days to bulk age. Stabilize, sweeten to taste and rack into bottles. May taste after 6 months in bottle.
Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Nopalea/Opuntia can usually be distinguished by flat, rounded pads that are actually jointed stems. They’re usually covered with two kinds of spines, fixed brittle needles and tiny glochids that stick to you instantly. Blossom vary greatly from bottle brush to rose-like. They are a large family, two genera, so learn your local varieties. Duct tape is good for glochid removal, or hot wax.
TIME OF YEAR: Blossoms in spring or summer in some climes, year round in others, pads edible year round, fruit in season.
ENVIRONMENT: They grow from northern Canada to southern South America, rainy Florida to dry deserts.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young pads are edible whole. Older pads are usually peeled or have spine eyes removed. The best pads are shiny and not too thick. They get fiberous then woody as they age. The inner flesh of the red fruit is edible having a flavor similar to raspberries. Juice from the inner fruit can be used as is or made into ade or jelly. The hard seeds must be ground before eating. The inner flesh of some pads of many if not most species is also edible, can be sour. If your cactus has milky sap. DON’T EAT IT. You’ve got the wrong plant.
Do not eat any mushroom without checking in person with a local, live, mushroom collector.
The first time I thought I saw the Ringless Honey Mushroom was on my neighbor’s lawn. The only problem was this species of mushroom grows on wood such as stumps or on decomposing roots. I had lived in the neighborhood 13 years and didn’t remember a tree on the lawn … though maybe there was a stump there when I first moved in…
Next time I thought I saw it was 200 miles away in West Palm Beach growing on an Eastern Cedar stump, or Southern Cedar … much the same thing (Junipers.) Ringless Honey Mushrooms usually don’t like conifers (its the pitch I imagine. I’ve also noticed them growing on Camphor stumps — pass — and on banyan roots… maybe worth trying as that is the fig family.) The third time, however, was a charm, about a mile from my house growing on oak stumps in an area that had been cleared a couple of years earlier. It was a mushroom mine, so to speak. When I took a Mushroom Certification class in late August in North Carolina they were everywhere. Locally they like October through December with November being the heaviest month.
The Ringless Honey Mushroom, Armillaria tabescens, is a southern stand-in of a very common mushroom in North America and Europe, Armillaria mellea. which is also edible. The A. mellea, however, has a ring around the stem — an annulus — as almost all Armillaria do. The Ringless Honey Mushroom does not have a ring and there is also one ringless species in Europe, the A. ectypa. It is rare and classified as endangered in some areas. I note A. ectypa only grows in acidic marshes and is listed as edible and non-edible…. not good form to list an endangered species as edible. A. mellea is an infrequent Florida mushroom in the spring. Though looking similar again it has an annulus and the cap is tacky.
As mushrooms go the Ringless Honey Mushroom is one of the easier to identify. The Ringless Honey Mushroom grows on wood, preferably oak. But has also be found growing on Buckeyes, Hemlock, Hollies, Junipers, Sweetgums, Plums, Apples, Perseas, Maples, Pines, Ash, Alders, Almonds and Walnuts. Ringless Honey Mushrooms found growing on Hemlocks and Buckeyes are known to cause digestive upset. I would avoid those growing on plums, apples, almonds and hollies. Those trees can have some nasty chemicals in them including hydrocyanic acid. However a mycology professor told me these mushrooms should not pick up any bad chemicals from such trees. Oak is the most common and safest bet.
James Kimbrough in his book “Common Florida Mushrooms” says of the Ringless Honey Mushroom: “This is the most common late fall-early winter mushroom in Florida. It causes mushroom root-rot of numerous tree and shrub species, and is especially critical in the die back of oaks. It is seldom found in summer months, but appears in striking numbers as soon as late fall rains commence. It is a choice edible species, but because of its toughness, must be cooked longer than the average mushroom.” I would add one usually does not eat the stem. The mushroom is also a good candidate for drying. I fry them but have also parboil them for 15 minutes or so first, drain, then used.
As for the scientific names, Armillaria (ah-mill-LAIR-ree-ah) is Dead Latin for “little bracelet.” Tabescens (tay-BESS-sins) mean decomposing. One would like to think it is called “little bracelet” because it can embrace an entire small stump but no. It is because of a bracelet-like frill on the fruiting bodies. And I don’t know if tabescens refers to helping wood decompose or the brown-black pile of dried muck the mushroom becomes when reproduction is done. They are called “honey mushrooms” because their color is similar to honey. And it should be added that not all categorizers of mushroom like “Armillaria” for the genus and prefer “Desarmillaria.”
Kimbrough describes Ringless Honey Mushroom this way: Pileus is 2.5-10 cm, convex to plane, sometimes sunken at the disc with uplifted margins; yellow-brown with flat to erect scales. The lamellae are decurrent, somewhat distant, staining pinkish brown with age. Stipes are 7.5 to 20 cm long, 0.5 1.5 cm wide, tapering towards the base; off-white to brownish in color, lacking an annulus. Spores are white in deposit, broadly ellipsoid, 6.0-10 x 5.0-7.0 um, not staining blue in iodine. Basidia are clavate, 30.0-35.0 x 7.0-10.0 um, with four sterigmata. Normally I would translate those technical terms into plain English but with mushroom you should also learn the argot. But to give you an idea: The cap is one to four inches across, shaped like an upside down bowl to flat across the top with the edge turned up…
David Arora author of Mushrooms Demystified, describes the related Armillaria mellea as an edible spring mushroom then adds Armillaria tabescens is the same except no ring (annulus) and a dry cap. He provides more details:
Cap: 3-15 cm broad or more, convex becoming plane or sometimes broadly umbonate or in age uplifted; surface viscid or dry, usually with scattered minute dark brown to blackish fibrillose scales or erect hairs, especially towards the center; color variable: yellow, yellow-brown, tawny, tan, pinkish brown, reddish-brown et cetra. Flesh thick and white when young, sometimes discolored in age; odor mild, taste usually latently bitter.
Gills: Mushroom perfectionists can really rattle on about gill attachment, which are admittedly important. Start with the word F.A.D. Free, Attached, Descending. Gills are one of those three but there are nuances. Do they touch with an upward swing or square one? If they don’t attache the stem at al they are free. So these are “adnate” meaning square on to slightly decurrent (running down the stem some) or sometimes notched — half adnate; white to yellowish or sordid flesh-color, often spotted darker in age. Stalk: 5-20 cm long, 0.5 3(5) cm thick, tough and fibrous with a stringy pith inside; usually tapered below if growing in large clusters, or enlarged below if unclustered and on the ground; dry, whitish (above the ring in the A. mellea) soon yellow to reddish brown below and often cottony-scaly when very young. Spore print white 6-10 x -6 microns, elliptical, smooth, not amyloid.
Habitat: In small or massive clusters on stumps, logs, and living trees, or scattered to gregarious (occasionally solitary) on ground — but growing from roots or buried wood; common on a wide variety of trees and shrubs… on oaks trees the mycelium (mushroom roots) can frequently be seen as a whitish fan like growth between the bark and wood.
Arora says (of the A. mellea which he also says describes the A. tabescens) is eminently edible. Use only firm caps and discard though stalks (which are used for stock.) It is an abundant food source, crunchy in texture, and a very passable substitute for the shiitake in stir-fry dishes. The bitterness cooks out, but some forms are better than others. Arora recommends because of its various forms beginner should pick only those growing on wood.
There are three or four similar-looking mushrooms which are toxic. The Galerina autumnalis has a ring, is smaller, and has brown spores. The Pholiota species also have brown spores. Gymnopilus have rusty-orange spores. The Sulphur Tuft, Hypholoma fasciculare, which likes to grow on wood, has purple-brown spores. That leaves Jack-O-Lanterns, Omphalotus.
“Jacks” are similar but in age can become vase shaped. More importantly their color is shades of orange or reddish-orange, occasionally yellow orange or one species olive orange. The cap is smooth, the Ringed Honey mustard has small black hairs. Also the gills run down the stem strongly whereas in the Ringless Honey Mushroom the gills meet the stem or run down only a little. The flesh of the Jack-O-Lanterns is about the same color as the cap whereas the Honey Mushroom cap is tan/brown and the flesh is white. If you’re healthy Jacks won’t kill you but will cause severe gastrointestinal illness. Fresh Omphalotus gills can glow faintly in the dark. I’ve seen this several times. As the mushroom ages it loses the ability to glow so don’t rely on it. Some folks mistake Jacks for Golden Chanterelles but Chanterelles when cut are white inside (like the Honey Mushroom) and do not have true gills but rather ridges.
From the kitchen of James Kimbrough: Mushroom Meatloaf.
2 pounds of Armillaria mellea or A. tabescens
1 Large onion
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 Cup of dry bread crumbs
2 Eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 Butter melted
1/2 Teaspoon salt
Dash of pepper
Saute half of the onion in two tablespoons of butter until golden brown. Save several large mushroom caps for garnish. Chop remaining mushrooms, including stems and remaining onions; mix with bread crumbs, salt, pepper, and remaining butter. Stir in eggs and sauteed onions. Press entire mixture in a well-greased loaf pan. Arrange mushrooms caps on top and press slightly. Bake for one hour at 350 F. Let stand several minutes; slice and serve with mushroom gravy.
The Kousa Dogwood is one of those plants that makes you ask: What is it?
Its large, bumpy, red fruit looks like a raspberry on steroids. Very eye catching and exotic, which it is in North America. Planted as an ornamental reports say it is naturalized only in the New York city area. But I have personally seen it growing on its own from there south and west. You can also find it in protected or warmer areas farther north. Look for it in landscaping or as a potted plant. In the Carolinas, where I go for a busman’s holiday, it’s a common ornamental. In fact where I stay in Boone, North Carolina, there’s one at the bottom of the hill. In Ashville where I study mushrooms it’s an escapee. In late August it and the ground beneath it are covered with fruit.
The Kousa grows to 15 to 20 feet, has flakey bark, and long-lasting white “flowers” which usually come out about a month after its cousin, the Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida.) Actually, its flowers are quite small. The shrub’s showiness comes from large white bracts that dwarf the true flowers. The bracts are two to three inches across, sometime off-white to light yellow, and cover the entire tree when in bloom. Another reason why this Asian native is used in landscaping is as it matures the bark flakes leaving a camouflage pattern of tan and brown, sometimes tan and green. In autumn the leaves turn bronze before dropping.
Kousa’s bracts can turn pink to red through the season, and the Cornus kousa satomi starts with pink flowers that turn purple. In fact, there are nearly 100 different cultivars of the plant and it’s been in western gardens since 1875. The Kousa is also resistance to Dogwood Anthracnose, a fungal disease that has been infecting flowering dogwoods in eastern North America.
Although the fruit is pink to red, inside it is yellow to orange and has a taste people can’t agree on. Some say the texture similar to a pear or apricot. To me the pulp texture was like a ripe persimmon, the flavor like an apple. The tougher skin tasted like bitter peach. Usually it is eaten raw but can be cooked but doing so can destroy its delicate flavor. The fruit can also be made into jelly. As I said the skin can be tough and sometimes the fruit is bitter. The young leaves are cooked and eaten by mountain people in Japan. I have not tried said, so be wary. Additionally, the fruit may have anti-tumor activity. Read the Herb Blurb below. It ain’t easy…
Botanically Cornus (KORE-nus) means “horn” which can mean a wind instrument or hard. The dogwood is known to make stiff skewers and dogwood is from Dag where we also get the word dagger. Kousa (KOO-sah) is the Japanese name for the tree, It is also called Benthamia kousa – (Miq.) Nakai, and Benthamidia japonica (Siebold.&Zucc.) H.Hara.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Shrub or a small tree to 25 feet, camouflaged-patterned bark, tan and brown, leaves 2 to 4″ long, opposite, simple, dark green; reddish purple to scarlet to bronze fall color. Vase shaped when young growing into a rounded shape with horizontal branching.
TIME OF YEAR: Fruit in the fall, young leaves anytime present.
ENVIRONMENT: Well-drained soil, full sun to partial shade, usually in landscaping or potted.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Ripe fruit edible raw. They can be made into jelly. Young leaves boiled.HERB BLURB
20 May 2005, Life Sciences, Volume 78, Issue 7, pp 777-784: The anthocyanins in native Cornus alternifolia, Cornus controversa, Cornus kousa and Cornus florida were quantified by HPLC and characterized by spectroscopic methods. The analyses of C. alternifolia and C. controversa revealed that both contained delphinidin 3-O-glucoside (1), delphinidin 3-O-rutinoside (2) and cyanidin 3-O-glucoside (6), respectively. Similarly, C. florida and C. kousa showed identical anthocyanin profiles with major anthocyanins as cyanidin 3-O-galactoside (4) and cyanidin 3-O-glucoside (6), respectively. The amount of anthocyanins 1, 2 and 6 in C. alternifolia and C. controversa were 8.21, 8.44 and 0.02 mg; and 7.74, 5.92, and 0.02 mg/g of fresh fruits, respectively. The anthocyanins 4 and 6 in C. kousa and C. florida were 0.02 and 0.16 mg; and 0.62 and 0.03 mg/g fresh fruits, respectively. Anthocyanins 1 and 2 were not studied earlier for their inhibition of lipid peroxidation, cyclooxygenase enzymes (COX-1 and COX-2), and tumor cell proliferation. At 50 μg/mL, anthocyanins 1 and 2 inhibited lipid peroxidation by 71% and 68%, respectively. Similarly, they inhibited COX-1 enzymes by 39% and 49% and COX-2 enzyme by 54% and 48%, respectively, at 100 μg/mL. Anthocyanin 1 displayed 50% growth inhibition (IC50) at 21, 25, 50, 60, and 75 μg/mL, against HCT-116 (colon), MCF-7 (breast), NCI-H460 (lung), SF-268 (central nervous system CNS), and AGS (stomach) human tumor cell lines, respectively. Similarly, IC50 values for anthocyanin 2 were 38, 30, 76, 100, and 100 μg/mL against HCT-116, MCF-7, NCI H460, SF-268, and AGS, respectively. This is the first report of the quantification and biological activities of anthocyanins in C. alternifolia, C. kousa and C. florida in addition to the anthocyanins not previously quantified in C. controversa.
Gorse has edible flowers. It also has thorns… Really bad thorns.
In August 2005 an Englishman, Dean Bowen, 32, left to walk home after many drinks at the local pub. He woke up the next day in the middle of a Gorse patch. Bowen couldn’t remember how he got there, and couldn’t find a way out of the thorny mess.
On his second day stranded in the patch he caught the attention of a passerby by using a cigarette lighter to reflect sunlight. That brought the rescue squad but they couldn’t get to him. He was surrounded, as they say, in a thorny situation. Bowen was eventually rescued by the British Royal Air Force who lifted him out by helicopter.
“I wouldn’t advise anybody to go into it [gorse bushes], you know what I mean? At first it seems fun but, before you know it, you’re like stuck,” Bowen, from Hunmanby, North Yorkshire, told the BBC after his rescue. “Whichever way I turned it seemed to be the wrong one that day.”
Bowen spent some time in the local hospital recovering from mild hypothermia and dehydration. Colin Yorke, who winched him to safety, said: “The man was in a patch of gorse brush 10-feet deep.
“We’ve no idea how he got there. He was right in the middle of the gorse. It was like he had been dropped there by a spaceship… It was certainly one of our stranger rescues.”
There is a saying: “When Gorse is out of bloom kissing is out of season.” That’s understandable since it is an evergreen that blooms year round. A spray of Gorse used to be put in bridal bouquet as an allusion to this. Pliny said Gorse was used in the collection of gold. The plant was put on stream beds to catch any gold-dust brought down by the current. It’s also been used for fuel in bakers’ ovens and in soap-making, as it contains much alkali. If the spines are crushed it is acceptable animal fodder. It has half the protein of oaks, not bad for wild fodder. Horses in particular like it especially tender young tips.
Gorse is common in western Europe and has been naturalized in Coastal Australia, New Zealand, South America and North America. In North America it is found along the Mid-Atlantic states, the west coast from California north into Canada, and Hawaii. It can also be found inland.
The only edible part for us are the flowers which have a slight coconut aroma and almond taste. They’ve been used in salads, for tea and to make a non-grape wine — recipe below. The buds can be pickled like capers. Don’t over eat them. The plant contains slightly toxic alkaloids. Soaked seeds are a flea-repellant.
Botanically known as Ulex europaeus (YEW-lex yew-row-PEE-us) Gorse is also called Furze. Ulex is Latin for some unknown ancient plant and Europaeus is of Europe. The word “gorse” comes from the Anglo -Saxon word “gorst” which is a descendant of a German word meaning barley which makes no sense at all. The word “furze” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “fyrs” which means ‘a waste’ suggesting where it grows or the litter that accumulates around it creating a fire hazard. Gorse is on many noxious weed lists and is myrmecochoric meaning its seeds are distributed by ants.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Evergreen shrub to six feet, sometimes 10, forming dense and impenetrable thickets, young stems green, leaves modified into green spines, 0.4-1.4 in long, young seedlings have trifoliate leaves resembling a small clover leaf. Flowers are golden yellow, 0.4-0.8 in) long, with egg-shaped bracts and has a typical pea-flower structure. NON-EDIBLE: pod, long and dark, purplish brown, 2-3 small blackish seeds.
TIME OF YEAR: Year round if the climate agrees, heavily in spring.
ENVIRONMENT: Non-arid areas neither too hot or too cold, coasts, disturbed ground, grasslands, shrub lands, forest edges, waste places also as a hedge and in landscaping. Can grow in some shade. Makes soil poorer.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Flowers as a trail-side nibble, or use to make tea or wine. Buds can be pickled. Do not consume a lot. Flowers have been used as a dye for Easter eggs. Flowers and roots provide a yellow dye for clothes.
Gorse Wine Recipe
* 12 cups of gorse flowers
* 1 gallon of water
* 4 cups of sugar (can substitute with honey, 3.3 pounds)
* 1 1/2 cups seedless white raisins
* 2 oranges
* 2 lemons (or 1/4 oz. citric acid)
* 2/3 cup strong tea or 8 drops grape tannin
* 2 heaping teaspoons all-purpose wine yeast
* 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
(Optional, two ounces of ginger root)
Put the flowers into the fermenting bucket immediately. Boil half the water, half the sugar and the chopped raisins together for 1 to 2 minutes, then pour over flowers. Thinly peel the rind from the oranges and the lemons, and add to the bucket. Squeeze out the juice and add that too. Add the cold tea or the tannin and stir thoroughly. Make up to 1 gallon with cold water. When tepid add yeast and yeast nutrient, stir well and cover. Ferment for 1 week, stirring daily. After 2 or 3 days, when fermenting well, add the remaining sugar and stir to dissolve. Strain through a sieve or cloth and siphon into a gallon jug or bottle. Fill up to the neck or the jug with cool, boiled water. Rack when clear, bottle and keep for six months.