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Foraging, Permaculture, and other things, too
Updated: 1 day 9 hours ago

Coralwood: Food and Medicine Tree

Mon, 09/13/2021 - 11:48

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Other Fireweed

Fri, 08/20/2021 - 09:37

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

The other Burnweed in blossom. Photo by Green Deane

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

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

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

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

Green Deane’s Itemize Plant Profile

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

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

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

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

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Wild Currants

Fri, 07/23/2021 - 06:34

Ribes glandulosum, Maine, not bad when fully ripe.

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

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

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

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

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

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

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

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

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

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Wood Ears

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 05:26

Wood Ears on a dead oak. Photo by Green Deane

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

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

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

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

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

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

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

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

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

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

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Canadian Woodnettle

Mon, 05/24/2021 - 07:17

Laporta Canadensis, Canadian Woodnettle, photo by June Ontario.

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

Francois Louis de la Porte

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

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

Canadian Woodnettle has distinctive blossoms. Photo by Peter Dziuk.

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

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

Green Deane Itemized Plant Profile

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

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

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

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

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Skunk Cabbage

Sun, 05/16/2021 - 19:03

Skunk cabbage in springtime

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

Young skunk cabbage. Photo by Derek Ramsey

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

Skunk Cabbage tolerates northern  weather.

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

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

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

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

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

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

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

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

Distribution of skunk cabbage in North America




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Texas Ebony

Tue, 05/04/2021 - 08:40

Texas Ebony seed pod. Photo by

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

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

Texas Ebony blossom. Photo by

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

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

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

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

TIME OF YEAR: Pods in fall. 

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

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Seeds cooked, young pods boiled. 

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Thu, 04/22/2021 - 15:51


Camachili is closely relayed to the “Texas Ebony.”

Camachile, Guamuchil

Pithecellobium dulce

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

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

The arils is commonly eaten.

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

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

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

Everything starts green.

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

Green Deane’s Itemize Plant Profile

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

TIME OF YEAR: Flowers in your dry season.

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

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

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Collecting Cashews

Sat, 03/13/2021 - 09:07

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

Cashews are high in potassium.

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

Nature protects the nut with a caustic brown jell.

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

Raw cashews are extremely toxic topically.

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

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

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

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

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

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

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

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

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

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Morels Meanderings

Tue, 03/02/2021 - 16:12

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

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

Morels need cool soil to reproduce.

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

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

Morels dry well.

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

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

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

 Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

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

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

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

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

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Candlestick Tree

Sat, 02/27/2021 - 08:20

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

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

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

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

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

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

Also found Puerto Rico and south Florida.

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

TIME OF YEAR: Mid-winter in Florida. 

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

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

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Trillium Trifecta

Thu, 02/25/2021 - 07:38

Trilliums can be a bright spot in a drab spring

Arlene Tryon 1963

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

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

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

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

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

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

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

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

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Jewels of Opar

Wed, 02/17/2021 - 05:18

Jewels of Opar sound right out of a movie.

Learning wild edibles has a sense of discovery to it. One day a friend said she had an edible in her yard with a strange name: The Jewels of Opar. If that sounds like something out of a Indiana Jones movie you’re close. It was novel with the Indiana Jones of his day: Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. It was the fifth book of Edgar Rice Burroughs and appeared in 1916. The plant is supposedly native to warmer areas of the United States. However, Dr. Daniel Austin did not include it in this 909-page book Florida Ethnobotany. 

Related to Purslane Jewles of Opar are used in similar ways. One source, Cornucopia II, calls it the Caruru and Flameflower and says: “The leaves and stems are blanched and used in green salads, cooked in soups, or eaten like purslane.”  Others call it Javense Ginger and say the long orange root cause be used that way, as a flavoring. A Chinese report says the roots can be stewed with meat. Because of that report and another we know some of the leaves nutrients.

Talium paniculatum can be used like purslane.

100 gram have 15 calories, 1.19 grams of protein, 0.31 grams of fat, 2.02 grams of fiber, 0.939 grams of carbohydrates. Potassium is 304 mg, calcium 78 mg, magnesium 61 mg, sodium 5.1 mg, iron 4.71 mg, phosphorus 0.73 mg, zinc 0.27 mg, no vitamin A or C reported but it has 1316 mcg of beta-carotene which is a vitamin A precursor. 

Botanically the Jewels of Opar are Talinum paniculatum. (tah-LINE-uhm puh-nick-you-LAH-tum.)  Talinum is new Dead Latin for a native Sengal name for the plant. Paniculatum means like a panicle. Unfortunately its reporting is sporadic, a few counties here, a few counties there, from South Carolina to Texas. No doubt it is more wide-spread but has not be officially found by an official botanist and approved by an official botanical state committee. It is listed in five areas in Florida. 

The species is somewhat tart because of oxalic acid. Hexane extract proved “outstanding” against Micrococcus luteus and Candida albicans. The species has Campesterol, stigmasterol, and sitosterol. 

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

Jewels of Opar distribution

IDENTIFICATION: Mucilaginous leaves are flat, glossy, to four inches long, half as wide, growing in thick whorls, has whispy pink flowers and dark red fruit. Roots are long and orange. 

TIME OF YEAR: Year round

ENVIRONMENT: Moist areas, well drained soil, warm weather, intolerant of frost, prefers full sun but can grow in partial shade. 

METHOD OF PREPARATION:Shoots and leaves eaten raw or in stews and soups,  Used in folk medicine extensively used ornamental. 

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Mon, 02/15/2021 - 14:09

Only the blossoms of one Bougainvillea, Brasiliensis is usable.

We use the sepals not the flower itself.

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

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

B. brasiliensis can also be redish instead of purple.

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

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

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile.

Bougainvillea distribution in North America

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

TIME OF YEAR: Spring to fall

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

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

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Sun, 02/07/2021 - 18:26

Ackee must be carefully harvested and prepared.

Delicious and deadly, that’s ackee. 

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

Jamaican Ackee Pizza

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

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

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

All of Ackee is toxic except the ripe aril.

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

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

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile 

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

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

TIME OF YEAR: January March, October-November. 

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

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Wed, 01/27/2021 - 16:13

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

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

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

A second name for the species is Plinia cauliflora.

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

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

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

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

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

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

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Marijuana Machinations

Wed, 01/27/2021 - 16:11

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

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

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

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

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Needs no identification.

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

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


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Black Calabash

Tue, 01/19/2021 - 12:55

The blossom of the Black Calabash. Photo by Green Deane

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

Fruit of the Black Calabash Tree

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

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

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

The blossoms get pollenated by chance.

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

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

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

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

TIME OF YEAR: Continuous.

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

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

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

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Pony Foot

Wed, 01/13/2021 - 08:23

Pony Foot in blossom. Photo by Green Deane

Are they edible? 

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

Pony Foot might have antibacterial properties. Photo by Green Deane

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

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

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile 

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

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

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

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

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Oyster Mushrooms

Mon, 01/04/2021 - 04:35

Oysters Mushrooms are often prolific. Photo by Green Deane

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

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

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

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

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

Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile

They like hardwoods, usually oaks. Photo by Green Deane

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

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

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

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

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