Last weekend we had a couple of nice folk over to our house for a plant identification walk.
We met Victoria Greba and Eric Kelly of Charm City Farms back in May at an Introduction to Permaculture course we took at Centro Ashé Farm in Bryan Point, Maryland. Eric taught the class and Victoria led a plant identification segment. We wanted to learn more, specifically about what’s growing on our property, so we got in touch with Victoria.
We walked around our property (which is in the Atlantic Coastal Plain region of Maryland, for geographic bearings) and—for five hours!—they pointed out interesting plants and talked a bit about their uses. We were primarily interested in edible plants so that’s what we focused on. And we learned a LOT.
So, what do we have growing around here? Here are some of the edibles we found low to the ground, with some very brief information about each (partly learned on our walk and partly gathered from other sources):
Perilla frutescens (pictures above and below) This herb is growing alllll over the place. We have large swathes of it near the house and along our driveway, had no idea what it was, and here it turns out that it’s a bit of a hot ticket. Shiso is popular in Japanese cooking, and as I’m looking into it more I’m realizing that there are a ton of things we can do with it in the kitchen. I plan to give at least a couple of these ideas a try, maybe make some Korean-style fermented Shiso leaves, and will definitely make at least two Shiso Juleps.
Commelina communis (above) When the dayflower is young its stems, leaves, and flower can be eaten raw in salads; when older, steam and eat it like spinach. (This source recommends only eating it cooked.) The taste is described as being like green beans, or peas. It has some medicinal properties, and the flower petals can be made into dye.
Ground Ivy, or Creeping Charlie
Glechoma hederace (above)
Stellaria media (above) Add the leaves of Creeping Charlie and Chickweed to your salads.
American Burnweed, or Fireweed
Erechtites hieracifolia (above) Yet another salad green—the shoots, young leaves, and [pink-to-purple] flowers of the burnweed are edible raw. Cook the flower pods (shown in the photo) and dry the leaves to make tea.
Smilax rotundifolia (above) A distinguishing characteristic of greenbrier is that it has both tendrils and thorns. The part that’s edible is the last foot or so of the vine end, which you snap off and cook like asparagus (take only what snaps off easily), or nibble on raw. I think the raw ends of the vine are delicious.
Young greenbrier roots can also be eaten, and the plant and roots have medicinal qualities. Here’s more information, including an interesting-sounding recipe for root beer.
Rubus phoenicolasius (above) Just like blackberries and red and black raspberries, wineberries grow wild along the edges of clearings (we found this plant along a stream), and they have no poisonous look-alikes, just sweet delicious berries on thorny stems. Unfortunately for us there were no berries left on this plant.
Polygonum hydropiperoides (above) You can chop this up finely and use it as a seasoning in place of pepper—but use sparingly as it’s spicy hot.
Jewelweed, or Touch-Me-Not
Impatiens capensis (above) Jewelweed is a traditional remedy for skin rashes, such as—hello, zombie poison ivy trees—rashes caused by poison ivy and poison oak. Cut the stem of the jewelweed and rub the juice wherever you’ve been touched by poison ivy, or if you have a mosquito bite or bee sting go ahead and rub some jewelweed juice on those too. The seeds are easy to pop out of their pods and taste like walnuts.
Asclepias syriaca (above) As far as food sources, milkweed provides six different vegetables: shoots, leafy tops, flower buds, flowers, immature pods, and seeds. One part or another of the plant is edible from late spring until late summer. This source: The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer, debunks the “great milkweed myth” that milkweed should be prepared with extreme caution and elaborate techniques. The problems arise when common dogbane (they look very similar), or other, toxic, species of milkweeds are mistaken for common milkweed. My takeaway from the Forager’s Harvest was, one: learn to tell the difference between the plants, and two: if your “milkweed” tastes at all bitter then it isn’t milkweed at all.
Jack-(or-Jill)-in-the-Pulpit, or Wild Turnip
Arisaema triphyllum (above and below) Not to be confused with poison ivy when its leaves are unfolded. It’s most distinctive in the spring when its leaves are folded and the flowers are in bloom (spring photos below). The flowers are really something. The plant can live a hundred years and regularly switches gender.
You can eat the roots (“corms”) of the jack-in-the-pulpit if they’re prepared properly—but it sounds like a fair amount of trouble to actually do that, and if you mess up you’ll poison yourself…so I’ll probably pass on these.
Next up: eating from trees!