Friday, May 24, 2013

2 Blocks: 17 Edibles

One of the kids asked me if I'd go on a walk with them last week. Being a great dad, I said yes... but before I left, I had a thought: why not bring a camera and take photos of the many wild edibles within a couple blocks of my house? Granted, I live in a rural neighborhood. However, even in suburbia there are often plenty of chances to snag something tasty while strolling - particularly in Florida.

And now, for your enjoyment, is a photo tour of the great bounty to be found in the "wild."

First up - some shepherd's needle:

Sauteed, boiled, or steamed... these are a good green. They're also everywhere in Florida. If you can ID them, you won't starve.

The next plant we came across was a majestic hickory tree:

We got buckets of nuts from that tree the year before last and the kids spent weeks hitting them with hammers and bricks and eating the tasty kernels. Though they're really a pain, labor-wise, the nutmeats taste as good or better than pecans.

Beneath the canopy of the hickory, there are plenty of these:

What's that thing, you say? It's a beautyberry! They're blooming right now and it'll be a few months before the berries are ready... but it's good to ID where they are now so you can hunt 'em up later.

Now... this guy is more of a condiment than an edible, but I'm including him anyway:

Recognize that? It's a bay tree. One of the multiple varieties that grow here in Florida. Laurel wilt disease has wiped out quite a few, but there are still many healthy ones scattered through the woods around my house. I hope they're disease-resistant enough to continue.

Anyone know what this next plant is?

If you guessed "wild lettuce," you guessed right. Though they're not nearly as sweet as their cultivated relatives, they're still edible. And I'll bet they're a lot healthier than any lettuce you'd buy in the store. Now... speaking of things you'd buy in the store... this next plant is easy to identify:

Aww yeah... wild grapes. There are plenty of blooms this year so I'm hoping for a bumper crop of tart muscadines so we can make jam again. Last year's turned out great. They're not very good right off the vine - but for processing? Awesome.

And speaking of awesome... this next wild plant produces one of the tastiest things you'll ever come across in the Florida woods:

Recognize that? It's a passion vine, which is where we get passion flowers:

Which is where we get passion fruit... provided these guys don't eat all the plant first:

That scary-looking thing is a Zebra Longwing Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. Most ornamental gardeners plant passion vines in their butterfly gardens just to get these spiny orange and black monsters to show up - along with the spiny white and orange Zebra Longwing caterpillars. Not me... I want fruit! And, speaking of fruit... recognize this tree?

I wouldn't be able to pin down the species unless I saw it up close. Maybe this will help you?

See the little green fruits? Wild persimmons! We ate a bunch of persimmons off this and a couple of other trees last fall... and I planted the seeds right afterwards. A few weeks ago I was rewarded with about a dozen sprouts... but that's something I can share in another post.

This next guy is a nasty plant to run into unawares:

A member of the Euphorbiaceae family, also known as the "spurge family," that there is a Cnidoscolus stimulosus... the "tread-softly" plant, also known as the "spurge nettle." It packs a nasty sting... and an edible root... like its cousin the cassava. It's also related to the delicious chaya... though I've never discovered if tread-softly leaves are edible.

Next up, a gourmet edible that's everywhere right now:

That's a smilax shoot. Break off the top eight inches or so of new growth, steam or sautee in butter, and the taste is a dead ringer for its cousin... the asparagus. (NOTE: these are also called "greenbriars" or just "brambles." The vines are covered in vicious thorns, unlike the young shoots. Later in the year they can make the woods almost impassible. My daughter tells me they should be named "frownax" instead of "smilax," since they're always scratching you up!).

On the other side of the block, I found this:

Yep - it's a cabbage palm. They are everywhere here. The fruits are edible and sweet, though they have almost no flesh. Roasted, you might be able to grind the seeds... but otherwise, they're like buckshot. The heart is edible but that requires killing the tree. If I had plenty of land, I'd harvest them selectively and let the birds replant. They take a long time to get to any size.

Another interesting edible we found was this beautiful plant:

Those are coral bean blooms (it's also known as the "Cherokee bean.") The beans it produces are bright red and poisonous - DON'T EAT THEM! However, according to Green Deane, the blooms are good if prepared correctly. You can find details here. I don't eat them, personally, but I do plant seeds and start plants around the base of my fruit trees to add nitrogen to the soil. Yep, they're a nitrogen-fixer.

Here and there along the sides of the road, we came across quite a few of these unlikely salad sources:

It looks like a mulberry... but that's actually a basswood tree. The leaves are excellent food for livestock and people. I just recommend eating the really young leaves when they first appear, otherwise the texture is rather coarse. Your goats won't care, though, so give them the big tough ones.

Speaking of trees, here's another tree with edible parts:

That's the "winged sumac," a non-poisonous sumac that has clusters of red berries that are filled with vitamin C and make a good drink in late summer. I keep meaning to make some for a barbecue... and speaking of barbecues, look at this delicious edible:

That's Canis lupus familiaris, also known as a "dog." Dogs are made up of meat and can be served any way you'd serve goat, venison or cat. Unlike cats, though, they're unlikely to scratch you when you put them in the pot. And, along the lines of getting scratched, here's a classic edible - the blackberry:


Can you believe how much food we've seen thus far in one short walk? There are plenty of things that aren't ready to eat yet, like the blackberries, but I'm keeping my eye on them for later. One plant I really don't want to miss harvesting this year is this medicinal and edible standby:

Elderberries! There are a couple of dense wild stands just around the corner and they're in full bloom right now.

The blooms can be made into tea... and the fully ripe berries are edible... but the rest of the plant is totally toxic. So don't go eating elderberry-leaf salads, okay?

And on that note... my walk is over. Are you amazed by how many edibles we came across? I was. 16 edible plants in two blocks. Before things get tough... make sure you know how to forage. (And keep your dog locked up.)

Finally, if you're lost in the Florida woods and wish you knew your plants better, this book is excellent (click for the Amazon page):

Now get out there and have some fun in the woods!

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At May 24, 2013 at 9:01 AM , Blogger Gardens-In-The-Sand said...

With the dawg, you should add a perilla picture... Most recipes call for shiso to season that canine critter. I don't believe I'd care to eat a dawg, though...
I've tried eating passion fruit, but cleaning the small amount of fruit off those seeds, like eating pomagranite... Not worth it to me...
At my house, those orange n black cats turn into gulf fritillary b-flies...
I don't believe ima eat nething from a rosary pea vine... No matter what Greene Deane says...
Nice article... I recently had someone call me and ask me to identify edibles at his house... Wasn't much, back yard was covered in privet... Pretty much just the smilax, and the next time I went there... No smilax!

At May 24, 2013 at 9:24 AM , Blogger David The Good said...

You're right! I got my caterpillars mixed up. Tells you where my focus is...

The white and black spiky ones turn into zebra long-wings - the orange and black spiky ones are frittilaries.

Here's the longwing:

As for that borderline edible/borderline kill you bean, that's not the same as the rosary pea, though the seeds are similar. The rosary pea is one of the most poisonous plants on earth, if not the most poisonous. This one is poisonous... but not to the nuclear level of rosary peas.

I should probably just stick to Latin names. ;)

At May 24, 2013 at 10:30 AM , Blogger jean said...

The dog looks like he could use a few edibles himself. Looking rather thin in the skin, there. I love that we have plenty edibles in the wild. It's a great thing. As for passionfruit, we make juice out of it and strain the seeds. Easy enough and it's good, though the seeds are edible. Funny, I lived in Florida before moving here and never noticed the edibles in the wild. Now, that I garden for food, I look around for wild edibles.

At May 24, 2013 at 10:46 AM , Blogger mrlespaulman said...

This is great!

At May 24, 2013 at 11:38 AM , Blogger David The Good said...

It's really tasty, though our native ones are apparently not nearly as productive as Passiflora edulis, the "true" passion fruit they use in South America.

At May 24, 2013 at 6:12 PM , Blogger Kathy said...

Thanks for all the great information!
This morning my city fumigated my neighborhood for mosqutoes. I have multiple trees with small budding fruit. How will this effect my fruit?

At May 24, 2013 at 6:24 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Thank you for stopping by, Kathy.

And boy... don't you hate the mosquito spraying? Sometimes it's necessary, like when you're dealing with malaria or other diseases... but I really get the heebie-jeebies around clouds of pesticide. It also poisons a lot of other insect life, which is really uncool.

Chances are, if you're in Florida, the toxin was Naled. There's a sheet on it here:

It's supposed to break down quickly... though I've heard that refrain before. If I were in your shoes, I'd go outside and spray all the fruit trees down with plenty of water so the developing fruit doesn't grow around the minute amounts of pesticide on its surface. I can't say for sure if that will get rid of all of it - or if it's even necessary - but I would feel better about my own trees if I at least took a shot at flushing the stuff off. I know that some pesticides on the skin of fruits can get inside the fruit as it develops.

At May 24, 2013 at 7:30 PM , Blogger Arisia said...

Greenbriar is edible? I have classed that as second only to poison ivy in my list of vines I don't want on my property, but have anyway. It's a late comer, probably appeared around ten years ago. As soon as I saw that it was a vine AND a thorn bush, I knew I hated it. In the past year, the place it was growing has been totally demolished and turned into a rock wall, so I don't expect to see it again. It was a bit too cold for it here, anyway.

At May 24, 2013 at 7:45 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Oh yeah... very edible. It's certainly nasty to clear... but it's also one of the few wild edibles I actively seek out and harvest when it's in season. We get it all through the spring here - lots of great new growth. On multiple occasions I've wandered through the woods for an hour to gather a few pounds of it.

At May 25, 2013 at 8:35 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. I grow a number of these to attract birds and butterflies. I know the mockingbirds love the beauty berries, but I didn't know they were edible to us humans. Googled it (LOL) - seems it makes a good jam.

I'm with Jean on the skinny dog. My chunks could sustain us for months. Man, I feel guilty just typing that.

At May 25, 2013 at 11:57 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Thank you. I thought it was really cool that beauty berries were edible. My kids eat them all the time, though I find them too bland to be worth eating. Apparently they come into their own as jelly. I keep planning to try it and then not following through. Maybe this year! If I do it, I'll post pictures and a review of how it tastes.

And HA! Give your dogs a hug, you horrible woman. How dare you! ;)

At May 27, 2013 at 6:54 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

I can help with the Dog recipe, bay has been hard for me to ID but the rest i look for while out in the field, always good to refresh on the basic edibles.
Excellent work dave.

At August 13, 2014 at 6:47 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there a non producing passion vine? I have had several passion vines & never any fruit...???

At September 4, 2014 at 10:17 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why did you put a dog into such a nice educating article....Totally Disgusting!!!

At September 4, 2014 at 10:30 AM , Blogger David The Good said...

Why do you hate dogs?

At November 2, 2018 at 12:37 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Hi David, when the family went fishing along lake Monroe when I was a child my mother picked elderberry flowers to take home to cook, she dipped them in this matter and fried to a light crisp they were exceptionally Delicious! Thank you for creating this informative page, by the way I've had a hard time locating sassafras Vines, do you know of the regions where they grow?

At November 2, 2018 at 12:38 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Batter not matter


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