Eat the Weeds
I’m often asked during my classes why I mention many plants that can be used to make tea. There are two answers: One is that different teas can be pleasurable if not healthy. The other answer is more practical: Leaves that can made into tea can often be use for flavoring like a bay leaf, or, a leaf that can make a tea can be a possible marinade. Why a marinade? Flavor. The menu for the natives only changed with the season so anything they could do to improve the taste of a day-in day-out food was welcomed. Those leaves can also be stuffed into vegetables and beasts about to be roasted.
While there are many native species that can be used for tea there’s also an imported ornamental that available as well, the Bottlebrush Tree, or Callistemon citrinus (kal-liss-STEE-mawn sih-TRY-nus, or, sit-REE-nus.) It is reported that all of the Callistemon species can be used the same way but I personally don’t know that for certain. You can use either the Callistemon citrinus leaves or blossoms to make a tea or use the leaves to make a tea and use the blossom to sweeten the tea. A very close relative of the Callistemon is the Melaleuca (to see separate entry click here.) It’s leaves can also be used to make a tea and the blossom to sweeten it. The main difference between the two species is that the stamens (male parts of the flower) are generally free in the Callistemon but grouped into bundles in Melaleuca. Another difference is that Melaleucas like wet places and Callistemons dryer locations. One look, however, at the leaves, blossoms and fruit and it is clear they are related. At one time the Callistemons were in the Melaleuca genus and some botanists still put them there. As for other uses a tan dye is made from the flowers and with a mordant they dye green. A cinnamon dye can also be made from the leaves. The wood is hard, heavy, tough, and close grained. It’s used for tool handles and fuel.
Besides the Bottlebrush Tree other common names include the Red Bottlebrush, Lemon Bottlebrush, and Crimsom Bottlebrush. The genus name Callistemon was created by Robert Brown (1773 – 1858) a Scottish botanist who made significant contributions to botany by using the microscope (read making small differences into big differences.) Callistemon is two mangled Greek words, “kallis” (beautiful) and “stemon” (stamen.) Together they mean “beautiful stamens.” The species name, citrinus, means like citrus. Remember the blossom looks like a bottlebrush, not a pom-pom. If you have a pom-pom blossom you have a different species altogether. Incidentally, the name “Lemon Bottlebrush Tree” comes from the aroma of the leaves, not from any color per se.Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: A small tree or large shrub, 6-12 ft (2-4 m) tall and 6-9 ft (2-3 m) wide. Leaves narrow, lance shaped, leathery, distinctly citrus aroma. Fuzzy-looking flowers composed mostly of stamens. Bark moderately rough, light brown.
TIME OF YEAR: Leaves year round, blossoms heavily in early spring with red flowers followed by some blossoms in summer.
ENVIRONMENT: Native to Australia and New Caledonia it likes well-drained soil, sandy loam. Will not thrive in heavy soil or soggy ground. Can take some salt spray, likes full sun. Drought tolerant once established. While planted ornamentally in warm areas throughout the world it is naturalized in Louisiana and Puerto Rico.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Blossoms soaked in hot liquid to release nectar to sweeten, leaves used to make a tea.
How embarrassing. A week after posting the article above I found one I wrote two years earlier and never published. It was on a thumb drive, not my main computer. It has some more information:
Some plants are at the same time easy and difficult to identify. Wild grapes are a good example. The genus is usually easy to sort out but exactly which species can be elusive. The Bottlebrushes can have similar issues.
While native foragers had no issues with the Bottlebrush tree and its close relative, the Melaleuca, botanists did, eventually putting them into two different genus. The trees are clearly related and look similar from leaves to blossoms to seeds.
The main difference among them is Bottlebrush blossoms have “free” stamens and the Melaleuca bossoms have “united” stamens. What does that mean? The stamen of the bottlebrush stand apart like separate hairs whereas the Melaleuca are like upside down little brooms, many stamens on one stem. However, some botanists think this slight difference is not enough for them to be two separate species. They argue the Bottlebrushes should be merged into the Melaleucas, and some published works have done that but not without controversy. With that thought in mind also know that not all Melaleucas have cylinder-shaped blossoms. Reclassification, reunification, or agreement is probably a long ways off. Fortunately foragers are not bothered by such tempests.
The blossoms of all the Bottlebrushes (and Melaleucas) can be used to make a sweet tea, or to to sweeten other teas. Callistemon blossoms are usually red but they can also be yellow, green, orange or white. They produce a triple-celled seed capsule which remains on the tree until the plant dies or a fire causes the release of seeds. The seed capsules resemble beads on a bracelets.
Best known among the Bottleburshes for leaf tea is the Lemon Bottlebrush, Callistemon citrinus aka Callistemon lanceolatus. The leaves only need to soak in hot water. While that is fairly straightforward, the question is which Bottlebrush is the C. citrinus?
The most common Bottlebrush species one will encounter locally is the C. viminalis, also called the Weeping Bottlebrush. Like a weeping willow the branches droop extensively. Its “brushes’ are very cylindrical and about six inches long. The leaves, which smell more medicinal than citrusy, are around three inches long, skinny, linear, stiletto-shaped, pointed, and drab green. The leaves lateral’s veins (coming out from the midrib) are nearly obscure. The seeds capsules are flatish on top, or “not contracted” looking like little cups almost full, a ring around the top. Locally the tree can grow to 20 feet. In Jamaica it has been used for generations for a hot drink call “tea” used for the treatment of gastro-enteritis, diarrhea and skin infections. Again, separate tests extracts were antibacterial and antifungal activity against gram-positive and gram negative bacteria.
The less common but more desirable C. citrinus weeps as well, but not as much. Its leaves smell lemony when rubbed (not crushed) and its “brushes” are slightly egg shaped and shorter than the C. viminalis, two to four inches. Young leaves of the C. citrinus are fuzzy and coppery later turning drab green. Mature leaves are about three inches long, more a long oval than stiletto shaped. The round tip has a sharp point and the leaf evergreen. The seed capsules are puckered at the top, or “contracted” with a small hole in the middle. Locally the tree grows to 10 feet or so. There are dwarf versions, so use your nose.
Be advised some websites — copying each other no doubt — say the entire tree is poisonous though they have been used to make tea for virtually thousands of years. The leaves of the genus have been studied extensively. A methanolic extract of them is antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant in activity. The extract works against both gram positive as well as gram negative bacteria as well as some fungal species.
In a 2010 report (Am. J. Applied Sci. 7 (1) 13-16) leaves of C. citrinus were shade dried for 48 hours and crushed into a powder using a blender. Six grams of powder were used in 10 ml of ethanol distilled water to make an ethanol extract and 10 mls of of methanol distilled water for a methanolic extraction. They were then centrifuged (3,000 rpms) for 15 minutes and clear liquid harvested. This was done three times then the alcohol evaporated by incubating at room temperature. They, too, had antibacterial and antifungal activity.
In their native range in Australia the Cellistemon is often the host to the larval stage of the cossid moths, Endoxyla leucomochla and Hepialidae, aka the Witchetty grub, a popular raw or cooked food of the Aboriginals. They have an almond taste with the consistency of egg and when cooked have a crispness like fried chicken.
Upright small tree or large shrub, 6′-12′ high by 6′-8′ wide. Leaves are narrow, lance shaped, and leathery, with a distinctly citrus aroma (thus the common name). Bright red, plump, bottle-brush shaped flowers composed mostly of stamens bloom off and on throughout hot weather. Bark is somewhat rough and light brown.
Molecules. 2009 Jun 2;14(6):1990-8.
Chemical composition and antibacterial activity of the essential oils of Callistemon citrinus and Callistemon viminalis from South Africa.
Oyedeji OO, Lawal OA, Shode FO, Oyedeji AO.
School of Chemistry, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville Campus, South Africa. firstname.lastname@example.org
The chemical composition and the antibacterial activity of the essential oils obtained by hydrodistillation from the leaves of Callistemon citrinus and Callistemon viminalis were analyzed by GC and GC/MS. Twenty-four and twelve components were identified for C. citrinus and C. viminalis, representing 92.0% and 98.3% of the total oils. The major components of C. citrinus and C. viminalis were 1,8-cineole (61.2% and 83.2%) and alpha-pinene (13.4% and 6.4%), respectively. The in vitro antibacterial activity of the essential oils was studied against 12 bacteria strains using disc diffusion and broth microdilution methods. The oils exhibited strong zone of inhibitions against some bacteria such as S. faecalis (20.3-24.0 mm), both strains of S. aureus (23.0-26.3 mm), B. cereus (17.3-19.0 mm) and S. macrcesens (11.3-23.7 mm) when compared to standard antibiotics gentamycin and tetracycline used as controls. Expect for P. aeruginosa and S. macrcescens, the MIC values of both essential oils ranged from 0.31-2.50 mg/mL.
Buttercups are usually considered not edible. In fact, I think they were the first plant I learned not to eat when I was just a few years old. Of the 2,252 species in the family and some 600 buttercups in the genus perhaps a dozen and a half squeak into the edible realm. Potential famine food. I also learned at an early age they grow in wet places such as near quicksand.
There is something of a debate whether true “quicksand” exists in North America. I don’t see why not. It’s liquefied soil, usually sand kept in suspension by water flowing up from underneath. Directly behind the first house I lived in there were buttercups and quicksand. Cows were known to drown there. In fact when I was four or five I fell head first into said. Was rescued by the family dog named “Sister” who wasn’t much more than a puppy herself. Thus exploring buttercups and I go way back along with falling into things. (By the way if you do find yourself in quicksand, float as you would in a pool.)
The only use for our buttercups was the childhood game of holding the yellow blossom under someone’s chin to see if they “liked” butter. The chin always lights up with a yellow glow. It took scientists a century to figure out why. You can read a web page about it here or you can read the entire article below.)
Buttercups, like horseradish, engage in chemical warfare. In horseradish the heat one tastes comes from crushing cells that hold two different chemicals apart which are only peppery when they combine. This is to discourage consumption by me, thee and the denizens of nature. The buttercup is similar in that the offending chemical, a glycoside called Ranunculin, is not a problem until the plant’s cells are crushed. Then an almost instant enzyme reaction turning Ranuculin into Protoanemonin, a bitter, irritating, yellow oil. The animals most bothered by buttercups are grazing cows then horses, sheep and pigs, the latter two sometimes suffering paralysis. Humans are rarely poisoned by buttercups because they taste so bad. It is not fatal in small amounts but a significant irritant that can make you ill with gastric distress.
So, which part is toxic? The entire plant: Sap, flowers, seeds, and leaves but the greatest concentration is in the yellow flowers, next are the shoots which have one-sixth as much. However, dried the plant can be eaten by cows. Heat also destroys the toxin. According to the late poisonous plant expert John M.Kingsbury, “as far as has been determined they [Buttercups) all contain the same toxic principle, although in varying amounts, and produce an equivalent syndrome.” Thus our goal is to use species that have small amounts and/or which can be easily removed. R. sceleratus has 2.5% Protoanemonin (dry weight basis) and R. bulbosa 1.45%. R. repens has only 0.27%.
Which ones have been consumed? Ranunculus abortivus (leaves boiled) Ranunculus acris (leaves boiled) Ranunculus aquatilis (entire plant boiled) Ranunculus bulbosus (roots, much boiled or after drying, young flowers pickled, ) Ranunculus californicus (seeds parched and pulverized, there are about 30 per pod and are approximately 18% protein, 26% oil) Ranunculus cynbalaria (mature leaves boiled) Ranunculus edulis (tubers, young stems and leaves boiled) Ranunculus ficaria (young leaves eaten raw in salads, bleached stems cooked and eaten, bulbils — both leaf axils and roots — cooked with meat and eaten, flower buds substituted for capers) Ranunculus inamoenus (roots cooked) Ranunculus lapponicus (leaves and stems boiled) Ranunculus occidentalis var. eisenii (seeds parched) Ranunculus occidentalis var. rattanii (seeds parched) Ranunculus pallasii (shoots and young roots boiled) Ranunculus polyanthemos (leaves pickled first in salt water then added to cheese) Ranunculus reptans (roots cooked on hot rocks) Ranunculous repens (leaves boiled, flowers pickled after boiling) Ranunculus sativus (raw stems eaten as is) and Ranunculus sceleratus (leaves boiled and or fermented.) R. acris, R. bulbosa, R. edulis, R. ficaria, R. repens, and R. sceleratus were introduced from Europe.
Among the Native Americans who consumed buttercups in various ways were the: Cherokee, Gosiute, Miwok, Neeshenam, Iroquois, Acoma, Inuktitut (Eskimos) Keres, Laguna, Mendocino, Pomo, Hesquiat, Makah, Quileute, and Costanoan.
John Lightfoot, who wrote Flora Scotica in 1777 said “not withstanding this corrosive quality, the roots when boiled become so mild as to become eatable.” Merritt Fernald, the grand wild food man of Harvard yard, said the R. bulbosus bulbils if overwintered and dry become mild and sweet. Medicinally the buttercups have been used in a wide variety of ways. The Illinois-Miami used them to treat arrow and later gunshot wounds, the Cherokee as a poultice on abscesses, as a sedative and for sore throats. The Iroquois used a decoction for epilepsy, blood diseases, sore eyes, stomach issues, stiff muscles, snake bite, toothaches, as an emetic, to counter poisons and to dry up smallpox sores. The Meskwaki used them externally to stop nosebleeds. John Bartram, 1751, reported Buttercups were used for syphilis, asthma, rheumatism, pneumonia and other ailments. The juice has been used to remove warts. Extracts of R. sceleratus are good against plant fungus. The native Florida Buttercup. R. abortivus was also considered a remedy for syphilis. I don’t want to know about application methods.
The genus name, Ranunculus, is Dead Latin for small frog. Pliny the Elder, 23-79 AD, used that name for the buttercup which should tell you man has been familiar with the plant family for a long time. Farmers long ago thought cows eating buttercups would improve the color of their butter. Some farmers even rubbed the yellow blossoms on the udders. Considering the flowers can be irritating that probably did not work out well. However, a tea made from buttercups and poured on the ground drives earthworms to the surface. The yellow flowers yield a light fawn dye if alum is used as a mordant, green with chrome as the mordant, and yellow with tin as the mordant. Mordants set the color on the fabric.Why Buttercups Reflect Yellow
As reported in Phys.Org scientists have discovered why buttercups reflect yellow on chins – and it doesn’t have anything to do with whether you like butter. The new research sheds light on the children’s game and provides insight into pollination. Researchers found the distinctive glossiness of the buttercup flower (Ranunculus repens), which children like to shine under the chin to test whether their friends like butter, is related to its unique anatomical structure. Their findings were published 14 December, 2011, in the Royal Society journal Interface.
The researchers discovered that the buttercup petal’s unique bright and glossy appearance is the result of the interplay between its different layers. In particular, the strong yellow reflection responsible for the chin illumination is mainly due to the epidermal layer of the petal that reflects yellow light with an intensity that is comparable to glass. Scientists have been interested in how the buttercup flower works for over a century. They have previously shown that the reflected color is yellow due to the absorption of the colors in the blue-green region of the spectrum by the carotenoid pigment in the petals. As the blue-green light is absorbed, the light in the other spectral regions (in this case, primarily yellow) is reflected. It has also been known for many years that the epidermal layer of the petals is composed of very flat cells, providing strong reflection.
This new study shows how the buttercup’s exceptionally bright appearance is a result of a special feature of the petal structure. The epidermal layer of cells has not one but two extremely flat surfaces from which light is reflected. One is the top of the cells, the other exists because the epidermis is separated from the lower layers of the petal by an air gap. Reflection of light by the smooth surface of the cells and by the air layer effectively doubles the gloss of the petal, explaining why buttercups are so much better at reflecting light under your chin than any other flower.
The researchers also found that the buttercup reflects a significant amount of UV light. As many pollinators, including bees, have eyes sensitive in the UV region, this provides insight into how the buttercup uses its unique appearance to attract insects. Dr. Silvia Vignolini, lower left, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physics (Cavendish Laboratory), explained the importance of the buttercup’s unique appearance: “Although many different factors, such as scent and temperature, influence the relationships between pollinators and flowers, the visual appearance of flowers is one of the most important factors in this communication. Flowers develop brilliant color, or additional cues, such as glossiness – in the case of the buttercup – that contribute to make the optical response of the flower unique. Moreover, the glossiness might also mimic the presence of nectar droplets on the petals, making them that much more attractive.”
Dr. Beverley Glover, Department of Plant Sciences, said: “This phenomenon has intrigued scientists and laymen alike for centuries. Our research provides exciting insight into not only a children’s game but also into the lengths to which flowers will go to attract pollinators.” Professor Ulli Steiner, from the Nanophotonics Center at the Cavendish Laboratory, the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physics, said: “It is fun to revisit a problem that is more than one century old and, using modern methods, discover something new. The strong collaboration between Physics and the Plant Sciences has enabled this.”
Next topic to be researched: Quicksand… For you historical buff there once was a Buttercup, Texas. And for 11 weeks in 1968 the song on the top of the charts was “Build Me Up Buttercup” by the Foundation.
If the Crepis fits….wear….ah…eat it
Crepis japonica gets no respect. When I wrote this original article seven years ago you couldn’t find Crepis japonica in field guides on edible plants. And there was very little of substance about it on the Internet other than its name. The same can also be said for its edible cousins, Crepis setosa, Crepis runcinata, Crepis glauca, Crepis capilaris, Crepis bursifolia, Crepis vesicaria and Crepis tectorum. My point, there’s an edible Crepis near you.
All these Crepis have little variations, and some are more or less bitter than the others, but they are found across North America, Europe and Asia. For such an edible group they are barely known. While this article is about the Crepis japonica there is in North America: Crepis capilaris, the Smooth Hawksbeard which is found in most northern states; Crepis glauca or Crepis runcinata, the Fiddle Leaf Hawksbeard which is found along the Rocky Mountains through the United States into Canada; Crepis tectorum, the Narrow Leaf Hawksbeard which is found in the upper half of the United States and Canada; Crepis setosa, the Bristly Hawksbeard, found in a smattering of states of no particular pattern; Crepis vesicaria, the Beaked Hawksbeard, which is found along both coasts of the United States, and Crepis bursifolia, the Italian Hawksbeard, which is found in California, and Europe. Crepis japonica is found from about Pennsylvania south in to the South and west to Texas, also in Asia. What can be said of one, applies to the others and they are used in similar ways.
My local Crepis, C. japonica (KREP-is juh-PAWN-ih-kuh) might not get much attention because they changed its name from”Japanese sandal” which was kind of cute, to ” Japanese Young” or Youngia japonica (YOUNG-ee-ah) honoring which botanist I’ve never been able to find out.) Also being called the Oriental False Hawksbeard doesn’t help. But no matter what you call it, or them, the plants do just fine and are excellent potherbs.
Personally, I prefer the name Crepis japonica than Youngia or hawksbeard. Youngia sounds a bit contrived and I have always associated “hawksbeard” with a totally different plant in a different area of the country.
As for the word “Crepis” we know that Theophrastus, the immediate successor to Aristotle in Athens, mentioned the plant by this name some 2,300 years ago, as did Pliny some 400 years later in Rome. But English-speaking botanists say they don’t know why the genus was named Crepis. They use the phrase “lost to history” to explain that when perhaps they should admit they are linguistically challenged: Knowing a non-speaking, dead form of writing — Latin — doesn’t count towards linguistic proficiency.
Three possibilities are usually offered in English for the word “crepis” (krepis) two of which are not convincing. The first definition is that it describes a step at ancient Greek temples, what we would call a fancy doorstep. I have not been able to confirm “Krepis” ever referred to a temple step, and neither can a Greek professor of Greek I know
A more common ascription is that “krepis” means slipper or sandal, some say boot. Again, research in Greek does not bear that out. But it is getting closer. A secondary use of “krepis” in non-demotic Greek is for the soft leather that makes up the soul of a shoe, back when shoes were more like pointy moccasins. And if you have fantastic eyesight and imagination the seed of the C. japonica might look like a slipper or a sandal. But that is looking very hard for an answer.
The primary use of the word “krepis” in non-demotic Greek was for a textured light cloth that had various uses including veils. From there it went into Dead Latin as “crispus, or, “crisp” meaning curled and wrinkled. Then to French and lastly to English as “crepe” as in “crepe paper.” And indeed the leaves of the C. japonica and the rest, are curled and wrinkled. Crepis explained. You read it here first in 2011 …. lost to history… what nonsense. The more I live the more I think academics are lost inside their ivory towers, or like well frogs: They know only the bottom of their well and the tiny patch of sky above.
The local Crepis, C. japonica, is native to Japan and China and was first mentioned in the United Sates in 1831. It is now found throughout the world, and in many places it grows year round.
There are about 200 Crepis worldwide and a couple of dozen in the United States. At least six are known to make a good potherb if not better than sow thistle and wild lettuce (read my separate articles about Sonchus and Lactuca which is one of several articles I have on wild lettuce.) One writer refers to Crepis as “bitter” but that has not been my experience. In fact, it’s very mild — when picked young and tender. Granted, however, bitterness may vary among species.
As you can see by the photos, it’s a low rosette with a long and skinny flower stock topped by small, dandelion-like yellow flowers, which are rather distinctive. It can blossom, seed and drop old blossoms all at the same time. And, when in seed the Crepis blossom resembles a miniature puffy, slightly ratty dandelion, about one fifth the size.
It might be easy to overlook Crepis in some landscapes but it tends to grow in colonies so you’ll spot a small stand of tall stalks with yellow flowers. It likes grassy areas and does not tolerate mowing well. The roundish dandelion-like leaves are shiny above, soft and dull underneath if not downy. Sometimes some edges of the leaves are decorated with a little dark trim. Veins are pronounced in the leaves, which curl on the edge. “Hawksbeard” also tends to have the same growing season as sow thistle and wild lettuce. Whilst you’re out collecting them keep your eye out for the “Japanese Sandal.”
While C. Japonica can be found as far north as Pennsylvania, it’s more common in the southern United States where it’s considered an invasive weed. But, isn’t that a matter of perspective? It could also be considered a free beneficial crop, along with many other plants. In fact, one study found up to two-thirds of what we call weeds in an urban setting are edible. And let us not forget, any insect that likes a dandelion, such as a nectar-seeking bee, will find the Crepis familiar territory.
Despite its low profile, figuratively and literally, Crepis might have the last laugh. It has anticancer and antiviral “activities.” A 2003 study in China showed a hot water extract of Crepis japonica inhibited cell proliferation and growth with human leukemia cells, mouse cancer cells, influenza A virus and herpes simplex type 1. An alcohol extract also worked but to a lesser degree. They think the “antiviral ingredients were likely to contain phenolic compounds including tannins….”
Not bad for a little weed that gets no respect.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile:False Hawksbeard
IDENTIFICATION: Crepis japonica: Flower: In the composite family, disk flower resembling a dandelion; Fruit; See seed. Leaves: oblong, soft, wrinkled and curly, often tinged red on the edge. Stem: Round, fuzzy, skinny, up to two feet. Seed: Seeds look like a miniature dandelion puff ball, several on one stem. Root: tap root vertical.
TIME OF YEAR: Springtime, can persist into warmer months in southern states and again in the fall through winter
ENVIRONMENT: Moist, semi-shaded to sunny areas, sandy to rich, soil, likes grassy areas and unmaintained lawns.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young leaves can be eaten raw, better cooked as a potherb, very mild when young, boil for 10 minutes or longer.
I debated a long time whether to include Black Medic as an edible. There are several plants in that category and over time I usually land on one side or the other. Black Medic is one of them.
Black Medic itself has not been implicated in any disease that I currently know of. But one of its relatives and at least one chemical it contains has. Not exactly a smoking gun but where there is warmth there might be fire.
Black Medic is a species in the Medicago genus. Some Medicagos (Alfalfa for example) might present a health risk because they have L-canavanine. It’s an amino acid which can cause abnormal blood cell counts, spleen enlargements, or a recurrence of lupus in those who had the disease under control. Seeds and sprouts have more L-canavanine than leaves or roots. One qualifier: Heated alfalfa did not appear to cause any problems, and the thinking is heating the L-canavanine destroys its potential toxic activity. The seeds of the Black Medic might also contain trypsin inhibitors that could reduce nutritional qualities. Sprouting the seeds might eliminate that purported problem. It’s all rather iffy.
Alfalfa also has some estrogenic components, so it is not recommended for pregnant women or children, and it also increases the clotting ability of your blood, or decreases the effectiveness of such drugs as Warfarin/Coumadin. Lastly Alfalfa sprouts can appear fresh yet contain a multitude of bacteria so they are not recommended for children, those with chronic disease, or the elderly. It would seem cooking the Medicago genus is a good idea. So, if you are a healthy young man you might be able to eat a Medicago now and then and be none the worse for it. But what about Black Medic? The answer is no one really knows.
A report that California Indians used to eat the seeds of the Black Medic is a curious one. They parched them or ground them into a flour. The seeds can be beaten off ripe inflorescences over a sheet or the like to collect them. In Eurasia, where the plant is native, it was used as a potherb. Black Medic is first mentioned in the early United States in a seed catalog in Pennsylvania in 1807. The plant went west with the expansion of the nation. Oddly there seems to be no mention of the Indians eating it as a potherb (they only ate the seeds) nor any mention of Eurasians eating the seeds (they only ate the foliage.) Need could dictate that, poor record keeping, wrong questions asked, or how the plant was being used the day the chronicler visited.
According to the well-known Dr. James Duke (Medicinal Plants of China) nutritionally the leaves of the Black Medic are rather high in protein for a green. Three ounces has about 23.3 grams of protein, 3.3 of fiber and 10.3 of ash. In milligrams they have 1330 mg of calcium, 300 mg of Phosphorus, 450 mg of magnesium and 2280 mg of potassium.
Botanically the Black Medic is Medicago lupulina. Medicago (med-ik-KAY-goh) is Greek bastardized through Dead Latin. Some say the Greeks imported a grass (alfalfa) from Media (Persia now Iran.) Some say the Medes brought it with them when they invaded Greece. Regardless the Greeks called it “median grass” which in Greek is μηδική (said mee-thee-KEE.) The Romans’ called it Medica. That got botanized into Medicago when combined with agere, to bring.
Lupulina is Latin for “little wolf. Origin of the term is a bit contorted. The Black Medic blossom resembles Hops (Humulus lupulus which means “low wolf.” That hops in Germany often climbed on the Willow Wolf Tree, Lupus silicarius (wolf with silica.) That double hint towards lupus ended up Lupulina.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile: Black Medic
IDENTIFICATION: Medicago lupulina: Multi-branched, slender, prostrate, slightly hairy stems, 12 to 24 inches long, spreads low to the ground, does not root from nodes. Leaflets of three, center leaflet on separate petiole and longer than other two. Resembles hoop clover but has longer leafstalk, leaflets often bristle-tipped. Tightly coiled one-seed black pod. Re Black Medic and Hop Clover: Stems of M. lupulina are downy (they have white hairs.) The stems of Trifolium. dubium are almost hairless and more redish.
TIME OF YEAR: Flowers April to August, seeds ripen July to September. Not frost tender.
ENVIRONMENT: Roadsides, waste areas.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Seeds parched and or ground into flower. Leaves as a potherb. Chewy. Should be cooked.
I wrote this more than six years ago, but it’s still relevant:
I’m reaching retirement age. I’m also reaching the point of being tired of being told how green we are today and how ungreen we were in the past. Oh? When I was a kid:
We didn’t all drive en mass to the store to buy milk. Milk was delivered… by one man in an Oakhurst milk truck. And milk came in reusable, recyclable bottles that you could also use for other things. Baked goods were delivered the same way, in a Cushing’s Bakery station wagon. And vacuum cleaners sold door to door! How ungreen of us.
Our neighbor, who raised seven kids, washed cloth diapers because there weren’t disposables then. I wonder why no one champions recycling disposable diapers? We just toss them in land fills, vertical septic systems. And those cloth diapers were dried on a clothes line, an artifact found only in museums and my backyard. We did not use a 220-volt soon-to-wear out machine to dry clothes or start house fires. And kids got hand-me-down clothes, not the latest designed-for-them fashion seasonally. I got new clothes once a year, ordered out of a Sears catalog for school. Rummage sales were community recycling. How ungreen of us.
We didn’t get a TV until I was nine, a small black and white set we put on the window sill. It got three channels if the weather was good and you held the antenna just right. A PSB channel would not be added for a decade. Programming was wholesome and no censoring was needed for kids or grandma. We actually watched it as a family. One TV, not a TV in every room. It did not have a digital color screen twice the size of the window. How ungreen of us.
In the kitchen stuff was mixed, blended, chopped and beaten into submission by hand. No blenders, no food processors, no mixers. How many folks are willing to blend their environmentally healthy, nutritious smoothies by hand? What’s the collective carbon footprint of all those blenders macerating food from halfway around the world? We prepared our food by hand rather than buying it prepared. We never bought vegetables in a package, or hardly anything else. We put up food in reusable glass containers. It was called canning, a verb I don’t hear too often these days. And we packaged fragile items for mailing with old newspaper not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. We didn’t own plastic or paper cups or “sporks.” Anything worn out that could burn was put in the kitchen stove, broken chairs to chicken bones. It cooked our food and warmed the house. How ungreen of us.
The only stuff we threw away was stuff that would grow fungus and smell. And before that happened it was put outside for the animals. Dead motors were kept for parts, old appliances were cannibalized for cords and wire. All manner of things were taken apart and the nuts and bolts saved. We actually took down a three-car garage and used the boards and timber to build our barn. We pulled nails out of boards, pounded them straight, and reused them at a time when nails were a couple of dollars for a 50-pound keg. My mother made rugs out of rags and had a huge button box filled with buttons off every piece of clothing destined to be a rug. How ungreen of us.
Pens and cigarette lighters were refilled. We put new blades in razors, put tape on the old blades and used them around the house. The whole safety razor was not thrown away just because the blade was too dull to shave with. I still own and use two straight razors. Typewriter ribbons were re-inked, and typewriter technology barely changed every half century rather than computer seasonally. How ungreen of us.
We walked up stairs because stores did not have elevators or escalators. We mowed the lawn by hand with a push mower (or watched some domestic animal eat it.) We bought local because it was what we had. Every home had a summer garden and us kids collected return bottles for pocket change. We rolled pennies by hand. Now a machine charges you 8% to do that. I walked or rode my bike several miles to school even the in winter, and shoveled the driveway by hand. We played board game with real humans during those long winters evenings rather than buying a new game when we got bored. How ungreen of us.
And we didn’t get a phone until I was 20 and in the Army. Overseas I got to call home once a year. Once. We wrote letters, now a dead art. Not every one had a cell phone or a personal computer in every pocket. How ungreen of us.
And we didn’t need two or more devices bouncing and triangulating signals over thousands of miles to find the nearest pizza place. We used our nose. How ungreen of us.
What shall we call this little member of the Brassica family? Western Tansy Mustard or Tansy Mustard? We could always opt for its scientific name: Descurainia pinnata (des-kur-AY-nee-ah pin-AY-tah.)
I am hesitant to call it the Western Tansy Mustard because it definitely grows here in eastern Central Florida, hardly west unless you’re living in Europe. It’s our native tansy mustard vs. a European import (which is why it’s called “western.”)
It shares many of the characteristics of a subset of members of that popular family: Small edible leaves, spicy seeds in pods, rangy growth, the ability to survive in dry areas, and four-petaled yellow flowers resembling a cross.
Other writers say older leaves of tansy mustard are edible cooked but bitter. They say as young spring greens they can be salty. I have found them to be neither bitter nor salty and edible raw as well as cooked though the raw texture is a bit cottony. The seed pods are an interesting nibble and can be pickled but they are tiny. The seeds are edible raw or cooked and have been used as piñole. The seeds can also be used to flavor soups, as a condiment ground into a powder mixed with cornmeal, used to make bread or to thicken soups and stews. In Mexico the seeds are made into a drink with lime juice, claret and sweet syrup. That’s a lot for such a minute seed. Medically natives ground up the seeds and used them in the treatment of stomach complaints. A poultice of the entire plant was used to ease the pain of toothache. An infusion of the leaves was used as a wash on sores.
The D. pinnata grows from Quebec to British Columbia, Florida to California, and south into Mexico including Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Sonora. It was more used by Western Indian tribes than eastern because the eastern diet was supplanted by beans, maize and squash.
The Tansy Mustard was a major plant for various Indian communities. The Hohokam cultivated the plant, the Maricopa and Quechan baked the young greens in pits. They would alternate layers of greens and hot rocks then cover the top with earth. Of prime use, however, were the seeds, They were eaten by the Atsugewi, Cahuilla, Cocopa, Gosiute, Hopi, Kawaiisu, Keres, Maricopa, Mojave, Navajo, Paiute, Papago, Pima, and Quechan. Up to a century ago the seeds were still sold in large quantities near Indian villages. That’s rather amazing since the seed is about the size of the eye of a needle.
Typical preparation of the seeds was to collect them when ripe. The plants heads were shaken into baskets to collect the microscopic seeds. They were then mixed with water and eaten like a mush (they are a bit mucilagenous, perhaps why they settle tummies.) Another way was to grind them and mix with cold water and sugar, much as the modern drink is still made.
Interestingly the Pima also used the seeds to remove foreign objects from the eye. They would put one seed in the eye and it would bring out the offending debris, so they say. I’m not sure putting a mustard seed in the eye is a good idea. They can be spicy. Another non-culinary use was the Hopi mixed the ground seed with iron to make a pigment for pottery.
The Descurainia genus honors Francois Descurain, 1658-1740, a French botanist and pharmacist. “Pinnata” is from the Latin word for “feather”, describing the finely cut leaves. “Tansy” comes from the Greek word “Athanasia” meaning “immortal” in that its blooms last a long time. “Mustard” comes from the Latin word “mustum” which means “young wine” read tart, rank and or bitter.
Lastly, the Tansy Mustard is toxic to livestock in more than small quantities, especially if there is a lot of selenium in the soil. It is difficult for humans, who are not grazers, to eat that much. Grazing cattle can go blind and die from it.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: An annual cool-season forb to 2.5 feet high, usually single-stemmed, leafy, covered with fine, gray hairs. Leaves alternately along wavy stems, each divided into small segments. Flowers range from yellow to whitish, in long clusters at stem ends, four petals but oddly shaped. Very distinctive club-shaped fruit, long, round, slender, two-celled capsules filled with many small, waxy seeds. It’s a silique meaning it separates like a V-sign with your fingers but in between is a small tongue holding all the seeds.
TIME OF YEAR: Flowers January to July depending upon climate, seeds pods follow quickly.
ENVIRONMENT: Plains, hills, disturbed areas, does very well in sandy soil and the desert.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young leaves as greens or older leaves cooked. Young leaves and seeds pods as a trail side nibble or for seasoning or pickling. Seeds have many uses including drinks, breads, mush, thickener and flavoring. It picks up selenium from the soil.
Brookweed is an edible plant few know a lot about these days. Even Professor Daniel Austin, who managed to write 909 pages about ethnobotany, could only scrape up one paragraph.
Moerman does not mention the Brookweed in his book on Native American Food Plants. It escaped entry in Cornucopia II, the Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America, and Edible Wild Plants, the latter by Fernald who included some mighty off-beat species in his book such as Montropa uniflora, the Indian Pipes. Brookweed also managed to not be mentioned in the Journal of Economic Botany during the last 60 or so years. Most references skip over the genus (Samolus) going from Sambucus to Sassafras which is admittedly quite tempting. On the positive side the plant is also not mentioned in Plants that Poison People by Morton, Plants That Poison by Schmutz nor in the mystery writers’ bible Poisonous Plants of the United States and Canada by Kingbury. Here’s Austin’s entry from page 596 of his book Florida Ethnobotany:
“This is another medical plant that Hogan (1978) found at the pre-Columbian Glades village at Ft. Center. Here, however, apparently is the only record of indigenous use of the plants in North America. Nearby in Cuba, Samolus is considered antiscorbutic and diaphoretic and is sometimes eaten in salads or as emergency food. (Roig 1945). Although no use is given for Samolus, its Huastec name associates it with an edible plant, suggesting that it, too, was eaten (Alcorn 1984.)”
Brookweed, Samolus valerandi, has some history as an edible in Europe (as old books say it is found in the Old and the New World and even in Australia.) It grows in watery conditions and can tolerate some salinity. At least one related species tolerates high salinity. Young leaves are soft, spinach-like. When very young the leaves are bland but quickly develop a bitter flavor, which might explain their absence from the dinner menu but found in the home pharmacy. Like many such greens they were tossed into salads with a lot of other greens. In Catalonia, for example, it is a very common salad addition usually with two to three other greens. When cooked they are used the same way, an addition to not the main flavor of. In parts of Africa it is famine food, that is, eaten when preferred food is not available.
Medicinally S. valerandi has been used as an astringent, a laxative and for scurvy. It’s very high in vitamin C. Brookweed was also often used to heal wounds, rashes, chaps, and ringworm. Close relatives, the Pimpernels, were used for dropsy, epilepsy even rabies. Locally Wunderlin enumerates two Samolus in Florida, S. valerandi subsp. paraviflorus, aka S. floribundus, and S. ebracteatus also called the Limewater Brookweed. Interestingly the word “brookweed” has been around in English since at least 1624. As Florida is wet and there aren’t that many brooks the name “Pineland Pimpernel” is as good as any other.
There are about a dozen species in the Samolus genus and there is a bit of a debate on what the genus name means. It could be from the Gaelic meaning “ointment” or “plant salve.” Other translations include “Good Pig,” “Healthy Pig,” and “Pig Food.” Or Samulos might be Dead Latin for some plant the Druids used for pig medicine. Pliny the Elder reported that in the first century. Perhaps the Druid/Gaelic words came first and the Dead Latin is only echoing that use. Pliny also reported there were superstitions associated with the plant and that was used as medicine for cattle. It was harvested only while fasting, only with the left hand, and was not put anywhere “other than the trough where it is crushed.” Translations vary but what he wrote was: “Druidae Samolum herbam nominavere – hanc et sinistra manufactory legiti a jejunis counter morbos sum boumque, ne respicere legentem -” The Druids believed Brookweed could make one invisible. (Apparenlty the conquering Romans did not believe that.) Because of the plant’s common name back then some early botanists thought the plant was from the Greek island of Samos. That’s probably not true but inhabitants there did make vases that resemble the plant’s leaf shape, and the plant is common on Crete.
Valerandi is also from Dead Latin and means “full of strength.” The species was named after 16th century botanist Valerand Dourez of Lyon. An early publication, the Journal of British and Foreign Botanists, says Dourez was born in Lille, Flanders, and might have been related by marriage to the more famous botanist Johann Bauhin for whom Bauhinia is named. Though a botanist Dourez leaned towards the chemistry side. Today we would call him a pharmacist. His botanical travels included going to the Alps, Greece and Syria. In 1565 he married in Lyon then died there between 1571-75. Samolus (Samole in French) was a tribute to Dourez by his French botanists friends. And there is also some disagreement whether his name is Valerand Dourez or Dourez Valerand. I think this can be traced to a Victorian illustrator named Anne Platt (1806-1893) who wrote and illustrated over 200 books. Though publicly very popular she was never accepted by the Good-Old-Boy botanists because
she was self-taught. In 1855 she wrote Flowering Plants of Great Britain and mentions Dourez in Volume 3 page 52. Later she repeats herself (posthumously) on page 79 in an 1899 book called Flowering Plants, Grasses, Sedges, and Ferns of Great Britain. It seems Platt is the first one to switch the names in print calling him Dourez Valerand. Unfortunately a 1985 book copied the mistake. Platt also reported that some earlier authors thought Dourez (rather than the plant) was from Samos. That is how someone who was born in Belgium and lived in France becomes on the internet a Greek from Samos with a reversed name.
Ebracteatus means without bracts, parviflorus means small leaf. Samolus in English is said SA-moe-lus or SAM-uh-lus. Valerandi is said va-LAIR-ann-dee though some might be tempted to say val-er-ANN-dee. Common names in English are the Pineland Pimpernel, Water Pimpernel, Water Chickweed, Seaside Brookweed (the name the USDA prefers) Salt Bunge, Water Rose, Water Cabbage, Florida Limewater Brookweed, and Kenningwort, the latter a rare use meaning “ulcer plant.” There is some speculation that Shakespeare mentioned it in Midsummers Night’s Dream when referencing “Dian’s Bud.” The Germans call it Samoskraut, Dutch Strandpungen and the Danes Strandsamel.Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile: Brookweed
IDENTIFICATION: Samolus valerandi, low to short, creeping perennial; stems branched or unbranched, erect, light-veined leaves a basal rosette of oval, alternate along the stem. White blossoms, cup-shaped, stalked, borne in lax racemes; five petals joined at half way. S. ebracteustus does not have any bracts, flowers are 5-7 mm wide, stem leaves do not extend into the inflorescence. S. valerandi has minute bracts near the middle of the pedicle, the stem leaves extend into the inflorescence, blossoms are 2-3 mm wide. Grows eight to 10 inches high. Now in their own family, Samolaceae.
TIME OF YEAR: Flowers May to September depending on climate, young leave when present. Small pods ripen, darken then turn brown.
ENVIRONMENT: Slow growing. Watery places, wet grasslands, edges of streams, ditches, can thrive in salty conditions. Given a choice it likes to grow on wet gravel. Can reproduce by seeds or by leaf bud. Some report it is difficult to grow. Can grow submerged. The plant’s habitat is diminishing in France and in some areas is protected.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Young leaves raw or cooked.
Special thanks to Josey for some information used.
Do the peppery Nasturtiums make your nose twitch? Then you know how they got their common name. “Nasturtium” in Dead Latin means “twisting nose.”
Nasturtiums are among the most well-known edible flowers. Their leaves and stems are edible, too, but peppery. You can steal a snack or two out of a flower bed as long as you know the flower bed does not have any pesticides on it. Locally they like out mild-winters.
Nasturtium’s botanical name is Tropaeolum majus (trope-ee-OH-lum MAY-jus). I comes from the Dead Latin word tropaeum or trophy. That comes from the Greek word tropaio, meaning prize. Food used to be given to winners in athletic contests. The word for food in Greek is trofima. Anyway, a yellow-flowered Nasturtium twining up a post reminded Linnaeus —the fellow who started naming plants — of the practice used in ancient times of displaying shields and helmets of slain soldiers on the trunk of a tree at the scene of a battlefield. Majus means big, large or great. By the way, Latin was chosen to name plants because it is a dead language. No large group of people are speaking it as their native tongue so it is not evolving. Unlike the older, still living language of Greek, Latin is static.
Nasturtiums came to North America the long way. Discovered in Peru in the 1500’s, two species were taken back to Spain as a vegetables. It was a Dutch botanist who took the then short plants and developed the twisting vine Linnaeus named. Soon they were being grown for their flowers as well and spread across Europe. Then they came to North America with immigrants as early as 1759. Nasturtiums were also know as Indian Cress or Capucine Cress, in reference to the shape of the flower that was also similar to Capucine monks’ robe hoods.
Thomas Jefferson planted nasturtiums in his garden from at least 1774 on. He pickled the seeds and categorized the Nasturtium as a fruit along with the tomato (which is botanically a fruit but legally a vegetable. That came from a US supreme court ruling in the 1890s and involved different taxation rates for fruits, vegetables, and seeds. Since tomatoes — and beans — were used as vegetables rather than fruit and seeds, respectively, they were to be taxed like vegetables. ) While Nasturtiums are primarily cultivated they have escaped and naturalized in a few states and of course are wild in Peru.
Nasturtiums are easy to grow and aren’t picky about soil, light or water. Rich soil produces lots of leaves, poor soil lots of blossoms. Thus they are a natural indicator of the quality of your soil. The seeds, which germinate in a week to 10 days, are large so they make a good project for kid hands.
Dwarf Nasturtiums add a butterfly-like rainbows of color to annual beds and borders (and attract humming birds which pollinate them.) Trailing forms of Nasturtiums color fences, trellises, slopes and hanging containers. Aphids incidentally love Nasturtiums so organic gardeners like to plant them around the vegetable garden to “lure” aphids away from other plants. Nasturtium flowers, leaves and immature seed pods can be added to salads. They are rich in Vitamin C. The immature pods can be pickled and the mature seeds roasted for a peppery snack or ground and used like black pepper. My mother loved to eat their seeds. I lacto-ferment the seeds for three days, drain, then put in the frig with a little sugar and chardonnay to cover. Very tasty but they smell horrible while fermenting.
Like all wild plants with a good dose of oxalic acid they come with the warning not to eat them in large quantities. Odd that warning is never given for domesticated plants with higher levels of oxalic acid.
Dressing: 1/4 c. white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar, 1 T. Dijon mustard, 1C. vegetable oil, salt and pepper to taste, 1/4 C. light olive oil, 1 T. freshly squeezed lime juice, finely grated zest of lime.
Salad: 3 heads radicchio, washed and dried, 1 small bunch of chives, 1 lb. tender spinach, trimmed, washed and dried, nasturtium blossoms.
In a bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Just before serving, toss, toss greens, chives and flowers with enough dressing to coat. Yield 8 servings.
Gather medium size nasturtium leaves. Rinse with cool water and dry. Set aside. In a small bowl: mix 1 – 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened, 1 small can crushed pineapple, drained and 3 T. of any of the herb choices ( washed, dried and chopped): thyme, lemon verbena, lemon scented geranium leaves or flowers, basil, chives or rose petals – pith removed (white part at base of petal). After blending: With a knife, generously spread the cream cheese mixture on each nasturtium leaf, roll up and pile on a serving platter. Add nasturtium flowers as an accent. Recipe created by Kelly Wisner.
Steamed Beets with Nasturtium
4 whole beets steamed
6 nasturtium leaves, shredded
4 nasturtium flowers
1/3 C olive oil
2 T balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt of choice, plain or flavored
Steam peeled beets, covered, until just able to pierce them with a fork (about 30 minutes.) Cool. Cut into bite sized wedges. Whisk the dressing. Shred nasturtium leaves and sprinkle on top of beets, drizzle dressing over all. Decorate with flowers. Serves 3-4.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATIOIN: Flower: Nasturtiums grow showy with spots of bright blossoms in masses of foliage. Leaves are round and scalloped, flowers funnel shape with a spur on the underside. They come in rich shades of yellow, orange, , pink, red and brown, dwarfed to climbing, a favorite of leaf miners.
TIME OF YEAR: Plant in spring and summer in northern climes, spring, fall and winter in Florida in southern states with successive plantings. Like rich soil but can grow in sandy areas with irrigation. Tolerate neglect
ENVIRONMENT: Usually found in gardens, flower beds and flower pots. Make sure no pesticides have been used. They are naturalized in some urban areas.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Peppery leaves in salads or out of hand hot snack. Flowers can adorn salads, seeds can be pickled and used like capers.
The Wild Radish has an identity problem. It looks similar to it’s equally peppery cousin, the wild mustard. In fact, it really makes no difference which you have, both are edible, appear the same time and are used the same way. Both grow locally though I think radishs are more common. So, how do you tell them apart?
Wild radishes have singular flowers while mustards have a clump of flowers. The petals of the radish flowers are veined, mustard flowers are not. The seed pods of the radish are segmented, the mustard pods are not. Also wild radishes tend to grow to one or two feet high, maybe three. Wild mustards can four to six feet high. Usually just with a glance you can tell if it is a field of radis or mustards.
Like the mustard the greens of the wild radish make an excellent greens, boiled for 10 minutes or so in plenty of water. They are edible raw but can upset some tummies. In fact, many livestock owners consider the radish and the mustard toxic for the same reason, then again, cows have several stomachs to upset. I have eaten boiled radish greens for years and find them one of the tastiest short-lived plants of spring. That’s the only flaw of the Wild Radish, it’s here for a few weeks and gone. Thus for a few weeks I am busy harvesting, blanching, and freezing as much as I can process.
The blossoms are edible and the seed pods have many uses, from eaten raw to cooked to pickled. Few mention the edibility of wild radish roots. They are quite edible and remind me of kohlrabi in flavor, not a radish. They have vitamins B, C, rutin, and minerals. The tough, outer layer peels off like a separate jacket, often coming off in strips the way colors wrap around a barbershop pole. What is left is the clean, smooth, inner core of the roots. I dice them and cook them in plenty of boiling salted water for 45 minutes. Depending upon their age, they can be occasionally be fibrous but still quite tender and tasty. They do, however, smell like radishes when peeling and can fill the house with a sulfur aroma when cooking. The cooking water may also turn light tan. I like them with salt, pepper and butter. Cooked, they are not peppery at all but rather mild.
Also called the “Jointed Charlock” the Wild Radish’s name is a double take. Raphanus raphanistrum (RA-fah-nus raf-ahn-ISS-trum.) Both come from Raphanis, a Greek word that means appearing quickly. It was the the Ancient Greek name for this vegetable. “Charlock” comes via Old English from the French word “cerlic” the name for the plant.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Flower: Four sepals, four petals, six stamen, 4 long, 2 short, pistil in middle; Flowers tend to be solitary and petals clearly veined. Leaves lobbed, tough, stem round. The pods of wild radish break in fragments to expose the seed while the wild mustard open straight down the middle to expose the seed. Pods stick out around the stem like a spiral staircase. Under a yard high.
TIME OF YEAR: Springtime to summer in northern clims, winter in Florida.
ENVIRONMENT: Well-drained soil, sandy to rich, old pastures, gardens, lawns, roadside
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves as potherb, seeds for spice or flavoring, can use flowers to flavor vinegar. Some young leaves can be used raw in salads. Try a little first. Roots, peeled of outer core then boiled.
Recipe by Pascal:
Take 3 part apple cider vinegar, 2 parts white wine, 1/2 clove garlic, a bit of California Bay Leaf and Italian Spices, red chili and voila! Oh…and a dash of sea salt as well per jar. Canning it for 15 minutes (water-bath canning).
Stinging Nettles Know How
I was hiking one day when I saw what I thought was a mint I had not seen before. I picked a leaf and it bit me, badly. Welcome to the world of stinging nettles.
As luck would have it, I also picked the North American nettle that stings the worse, Urtica chamaedryoides (UR-tee-ka kam-ee-dree-OY-deez) which is a combination of Dead Latin and Living Greek that means “burning dwarf.” Modern Greeks call the nettle Tsouknida.
Humanity has been using the nettles for thousands of years. Not only are they an excellent source of food but also cordage. They also seem to be an element of grade-school torture, judging by all the videos on the Internet involving kids and nettles.
From the nutrition point of view, they pack a wallop as well. Stinging Nettles are rich in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. They are also high in protein and when cooked are very mild, tasting similar to spinach but slightly rougher.
Indeed, soaking, cooking, refrigerating, wilting or drying neutralizes the plant’s sting. Good as the plant is it should not be eaten after flowering. It reportedly can irritate the urinary tract, which makes some sense as it is a diuretic as well. It also gets stringy as it ages. Cooked nettles can be used in a wide variety of recipes from polenta to pesto to soup. There is a recipe below. The water you cook the nettles in can be kept for tea or as a soup base. You can also dry the leaves and use them for tea as well.
The stems of the nettles contain bast fiber and have been used the same way as flax, Caesar weed, Spanish Moss, and retted similarly. (Retting is a means of rotting off the non-fiber material of the plant. ) The fiber is more coarse than cotton, closer to burlap. Clothes have been made out of it and it was a fashion style recently.
As for stinging… I have been stung by a spurge called Cnidoscolus stimulosus and this stinging nettle (Urtica chamaedryoides.) While both bites are different I think the Urtica wins, so to speak. With me the Cnidoscolus‘ contact begins to burn slowly and intensifies over an hour or so and then goes away completely by two hours. The Urtica hits, as Shakespeare said, like a “hotspur” throbs, then lessens in an hour but stays painfully sore as a welt for several days especially after contact with water. The juice of a jewelweed or dock is reportedly a good treatment of the Urtica sting. Didn’t work. The juice of a chewed leaf is also supposed to bring relief but I can say that absolutely does not work with me. Nor plantagos or urine. A paste of baking soda did bring some relief.
There are some look-alike plants to the beginner. Two are the Pilea pumila and a new weed, the Fatoua villosa. Neither sting. It is that simple. A third plant that does not really look like the Urticas but does sting is the aforementioned Cnidoscolus stimulosus. It has deeply palmate leaves and large white flowers, at least a half inch or more across. You can see a picture of the Fatoua on the UFO page. The article on the Spurge Nettle is here.
One last word before the recipe. While folks can be allergic to stinging nettles they are also used to treat certain allergies particularly hay fever. Around the world nettles have been used for at least centuries to treat nasal and respiratory issues such as coughs, runny nose, chest congestion, asthma, whooping cough and in some cases tuberculosis. The roots are used as well as dried leaves. Apparently freeze dried leaves are the best.
6 cups fresh nettle, blanched in boiling water for a minute, drained and roughly chopped, 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped, 1/3 cup pine nuts, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/3 cup olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
Place the blanched nettle, pine nuts, Parmesan, a little salt and pepper, in a food processor. Blend the mixture until the mixture is smooth, or reduce by hand. While the motor is running, or mixing by hand, gradually pour in the olive oil until well distributed.Green Deane’s :”Itemized” Plant Profile: Stinging Nettles
IDENTIFICATION: Urtica chamaedryoides: An unbranched weed one to several feet high, small inconspicuous flowers, fine bristly hairs all over the stem, leafstalks and underside of leaves. Very obvious. The bristles sting greatly when gently touched. Manhandling the plant reduces the chance of being stung as it breaks the hairs before they sting.
TIME OF YEAR: Spring and fall, depending upon the climate, during Florida’s winter into spring.
ENVIRONMENT: Moist areas, along streams and woodlands, nettles are found around the world.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves raw or cooked but eating raw requires much skill to reduce stinging. Usually young shoots and leaves are boiled 10 to 15 minutes. Reserve the resulting water for nettle tea. Once cooked use like spinach or basil. Very nutritious. The cooking water is good as a tea or soup base. Dried leaves can be used to make tea. If you are an the trail you can use an alternative method of preparing nettles used by Ray Mears, and English wild food expert. He places the entire plant near a fire for a few minutes until it completely wilts, and that stops it from stinging. Mature stems can be used for cordage.
It is time for my semi-annual rant and wish that G.V. Hudson had a different hobby. Hudson, a New Zealander, collected insects and was a shift worker. In 1895 he proposed Daylight Savings Time so he could collect insects after work in daylight. The world rightly ignored his idea but it was also championed by a golfer William Willett in 1907. He fought for it tirelessly and the world rightfully ignored him as well. But, to save energy during WWI, Germany adopted Daylight Saving Time and soon other countries in the conflict followed. The time pox has been on humanity since. In the fall Americans set their clocks back to standard time, or what I call solar time. In the spring they go back on artificial time.
As I have mentioned before I stopped changing my clocks many years ago. I absolutely refuse to go on “daylight savings time.” The entire idea strikes me a silly particularly when one considers there is a fixed amount of daylight no matter how we set our clocks. It is rightfully called “daylight slaving time.” Only the government would cut the top foot off a blanket, sew it on the bottom, and then argue the blanket is longer.
What really got to me was the seasonal flipping, springing forward, falling back. It always left me out of sorts for weeks. Now I don’t flip. I don’t change when I get up, when I eat, when I go to bed or when I feed the animals. This family stays on solar time. I just recognize that for half the year the rest of the country thinks it is ahead of me by one hour.
Fortunately nature is not so wrong headed. Animals and plants ignore the time change. Cows get milked at the same time no matter what hour it is. Plants grow the same while we pretend there is more light in the evenings during summer. (Though as a kid I remember marveling that at 9 p.m. it was still light outside.)
There is also a philosophical reasons. So much of our lives is artificial. And artificial “daylight savings” time is but one more thing to knock us out of sync with the world around us. I spend a lot of time with Mother Nature and I prefer her time to man’s. And grumpy me, I like to use my watches (12 and 24-hour) as compasses, and that’s easier if one stays on solar time. Thus I do. And more than one study shows it actually cost more to go on Daylight Savings Time than not.
From a factual point of view, the majority of people on earth do NOT go on daylight savings time. How sensible. Asia doesn’t nor does Africa. Most equatorial countries don’t. Great Britain and Ireland tried staying on DST permanently from 1968 to 1971 but went back because it was unpopular. Most of Arizona does not go on DST either. Lead the way Arizona. Daylight Savings Time is a bad idea that needs to go away.Related Posts
Cucurbita muschata: Seminole Pumpkin
Unlike watermelons which are from Africa, pumpkins and their kin are North American natives. When Panfilo de Narvaez was on an expedition in 1528 near what is now Tallahassee, Fl., he saw Seminole Pumpkins under cultivation. They still grow in the wild in many states, Florida north to Pennsylvania. They might have even been in Massachusetts when the Pilgrims arrived.
Let me quote Dr. Julia Morton, the larger-than-life grand dame of edible and poisonous plants in the southeastern US:
“A mainstay of Florida Indians and early settlers, the Seminole pumpkin is botanically identified as a form of Cucurbita moschata Poir., the species embracing the Cushaw or winter Crookneck squashes. It will spread over the ground, drape a fence or climb trees; needs to be fertilized only at planting time; requires no protection from insects. The fruit, variable in form and size, is hard-shelled when mature and keeps at room temperature for months, is excellent baked, steamed or made into pie. The Indians sliced, sun-dried and stored surplus pumpkins. Very young, tender fruits are delicious boiled and mashed; the male flowers excellent dipped in batter and fried as fritters. Thus, the vine produces three totally different vegetables. This is an ideal crop for the home gardener. The portion of the vine which has borne will die back but vigorous runners, which root at the nodes, will keep on growing, flowering and fruiting, yielding a continuous supply.”
The Indians not only cleared land for agriculture but they took advantage of the Seminole Pumpkin, which is a vigorous climber. They would plant it as the base of a dead oak tree and let the vine climb the tree and fruit off the ground. The plant would then grow all over the hammock reseeding itself. The natives were, actually, more ingenious than that. A hammock is a hardwood island in a swampy area. They would girdle the trees on the inner part of the island killing them but turning the inner part into a small field protected by a wind break and prying eyes. Getting the pumpkins down was no issue with a lot of young braves wanting to prove themselves. Uninjured, a Seminole Pumpkin will store for several months even in hot weather if it has good ventilation.
The pumpkin is round, lightly ribbed, around three pounds with tan skin or mottled and green. The sweet flesh is deep orange and dry. Highly productive, it is resistant to insects and disease. The fruit is actually more closely related to butternut and calabaza than the common Halloween pumpkin.
The botanical name, Cucubita moschata (kew-KUR-bi-ta MOSS-kuh-tuh) means Musk-scented Bottle Gourd. Moschata is also where we get the word “musk” from. Cucubita was what the Romans called the bottle gourd.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Vine, soft-hairy, creeping, leaves ovate or nearly round or sometimes triangularly lobed, toothed, six inches to a foot long, soft, limp. Flowers funnel-shaped, crinkly, yellow, five lobes, three to four inches wide. Fruit comes in many forms, round, oblate, pear-shaped, short-necked, ribbed, orange when ripe with orange-yellow flesh, central cavity more or less filled with soft, fibrous pulp and flat, elliptic, white seeds, to three quarters of an inch long.
TIME OF YEAR: Fall and winter
ENVIRONMENT: Hammocks, everglades, abandoned camps
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Numerous: Boiled or baked, used as a vegetable, dried and ground into a flour for bread, young shoots and leaves cooked as greens, flowers with pistils removed cooked and eaten. They can also be stuffed. Seeds edible, can be roasted or hulled and ground into a gruel.
There are two ways of thinking about peppergrass, either as a real neat wild treat, or an obnoxious weed. Regardless of your world view — or weed view — peppergrass is a survivor and part of man’s diet for many thousands of years. As far back as 300 BC Pliny was writing about the Lepidium, and more than a thousand years before that the Incas were cultivating it.
There are about 175 different Lepidiums, no doubt some native to your area and some imported. Growers dislike them because raw they can flavor milk and are herbicide resistant. (Fermented peppergrass, however, is an excellent silage feed for cattle. ) Pictured is “Poor-Man’s-Pepper” Lepidium virginicum (leh-PID-ee-um vir-GIN-i-kum). Virginicum means “North American” and Lepidium is dead Latin’s bastardization of Greek for little fish scale, Lepidion. And indeed, with a little imagination the notched seed pods of the Lepidium can look like little fish scales, some say little purses, I think flat, tiny lentils. Modern Greeks call this (and the related Shepherd’s Purse) kardamo whicm means cress.
While in many places Lepidium is a winter and spring visitor, it is a year round plant here in Florida though it is most noticeable and happiest in winter here. The young leaves can be added to salads or soups — they are peppery. The seed pods can be used like pepper. The root, ground and mixed with vinegar is a good substitute for horseradish. I like them as a trail side nibble. The leaves contain protein, vitamin A and are rich in Vitamin C. There are no poisonous look-alikes.
As with all mustards, it has a tiny four-petal flower, whitish-yellow with two stamen. Bees like them. The flowers are on elongated racemes, which lends them to the classic description of looking like a small bottle brush. The leaves are deeply toothed. First the plant produces a low rosette of deeply cut basal leaves, then vertical growth and seeding. Some species in some places are biennial, rosetting one year, growing up and seeding the next.There are actually four very common Lepidiums and variations in all of North America. The leaves and seeds tell them apart but their use is the same. The shape of the seeds spell T.H.O.R. and that is how I remember them.
The Cow-cress, Lepidium campesire, has basal leaves that embrace the stem — making them rise up — and a seed pod shaped like a front Tooth, with a tiny nick at the end. A close relative, the Shepherd’s Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris, below, resembles “Poor Mans” but its seed pods are Heart-shaped. “Poor-Man’s Pepper” has deeply toothed leaves and an Ovalish seed pod with a small notch at the end. Pennycress resembles “Poor Man’s” as well, but the seed pods are Round and deeply notched. The common horseradish, that the sauce of the same name is made from, is a relative though it is much larger and has tiny egg-shaped seed pods. That the family is nutritious is just the beginning of the story. There are medical uses, some proven. The L. virginicum is antiamoebic, for example.
In a 2001 study looking for antiprotozoal agents from plants researchers found “a crude extract from the roots of Lepidium virginicum exhibited antiprotozoal activity against Entamoeba histolytica trophozoites,” one nasty bug. “The results support the anecdotal reports for the traditional use of L. virginicum roots in the control of diarrhea and dysentery in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.”
Perhaps the most famous Lepidium, however, is Lepidium peruvianum, also know as Maca. It grows a tuber that has been used to “enhance” fertility in man and beast. Research shows it also relieves stress.
Maca is hardy, being cultivated high in the Andes at altitudes from 8,000 to 14,500 feet. It has the highest frost tolerances of all plants and takes seven to nine months to produce a root, which can be eaten fresh or dried. They can be stored dry for as long as seven years. L. peruvianum roots have a tangy, sweet taste similar to butterscotch. In Peru they are eaten as is or made into jam, pudding, porridge, soda even a fermented drink called Maca Chicha.
There is a debate whether the Maca sold today is L. peruvianum or Lepidium meyenii, with the latest opinion favoring peruvianum. Called the “natural viagra” Maca has caught the attention of the non-Peruvian world: In 1994 less than 50 hectares were used in the commercial cultivation of maca; by 1999 over 1200 hectares were under production. It now exceeds 2000 hectares.
Those 2000 hectacres are found high in the Andes, an inhospitable place of intense sunlight, violent winds, and below-freezing weather. With such extreme condition and poor, rocky soil, the area is among the world’s worst farmland. However, Maca evolved to live under those conditions as have most mustards. They can be found growing in Greenland and the Arctic circle. The Incas domesticated Maca about 2,000 years ago, and primitive versions of Maca — early cultivars — have been found in archaeological sites dating back nearly 4,000 years.
Lastly, if you’re not inclined to eat the peppergrass, then there is another use: the dried seed stems make a great addition to dried arrangements and wreaths. They are showy, sturdy, and last for a long time.
Here’s a recipe from Leda Meredith who forages in New York City .
Chermoula is a North African marinade that is usually used with seafood. It is also wonderful on steamed vegetables and mixed into whole grain salads.
1 large clove garlic, peeled OR several underground field garlic bulbs
1 tablespoon fresh green peppergrass seedpod discs
1 small hot pepper
1/2 cup fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves
1/4 – 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Place the garlic, peppergrass, chile pepper, and cilantro in a food processor and pulse to finely chop. Scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl with a spatula and pulse again (repeat a few times to end up with a more or less evenly minced mixture).
Alternatively, finely chop the garlic, chile and cilantro. Pound them together with the peppergrass with a mortar and pestle.
2. Add the salt and 1/4 cup of the olive oil and blend. You want to have a slightly liquid paste. Add more olive oil if needed.
Chermoula will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Flower: Four petals, two stamen. Fruit: See seed. Leaves: Lobbed, toothed, varies, long to lance shape. Stem: Erect. Seed: Seed pods vary in shape round the stem. Root: Tap root vertical
TIME OF YEAR: Springtime into summer
ENVIRONMENT: Well-drained soil, sandy to rich, old pastures, gardens, lawns, roadside, nearly any sunny spot
METHOD OR PREPARATION: Leaves as potherb, seeds for spice or pepper flavoring, can use flowers to flavor vinegar. Some young leaves can be used raw in salads. Try a little first. Can blanch leaves then saute.Related Posts
Polygonum punctatum: Smartweed
I can remember my first taste of a smartweed leaf… kind of like trying a piece of burning paper. Indeed, a lot of plants resemble smartweed but one quick taste and you’ll know if you’ve got the right plant: If it isn’t very peppery, you picked wrong. Actually, the burn is not immediate. It takes a few seconds to kick in and then it intensifies. And about the time you wish it would stop intensifying it’s just getting started. Word to the wise, use sparingly and try only a very small piece to start with chewing between teeth and tongue.
It’s a little hard to stuff inside the head, but the smartweed, Polygonum punctatum, (pol-IG-on-um punk-TAY-tum) is in the the buckwheat family, but you would never use it on morning pancakes. It’s for seasoning, soups, and perhaps salads. Not only is it burning hot but some varieties, especially P. hydropiperoides, (hye-dro-pie-per-OY-dees) are also vasoconstrictors. So if you have high blood pressure, go easy on those species. It’s all right as a spice, a bit much as a pot herb.
The Smartweed is common throughout North American and nearly year round in the southern range. Actually it is easy to identify even when brown dead and is still peppery. It has freely branching stems and a lot of joints which gives the plant its name. Polygonum is Greek for many knees. Punctatum means dotted, referring to dots on the tepals, and indeed it is also called Dotted Smartweed. It’s a fine plant for seasoning while camp cooking, but can overwhelm like cayenne pepper. Also be careful because some people can develop dermatitis from it.
There are three species locally, all useable: The P. punctatum as well as P. densifolrum (compactly flowered) and the aforementioned P. hydropiperoides (water pepper.) P. hydropiperoides has tannins, rutin (3% in leaves) quercitin, kaempferol and some protein. It is considered a diuretic and has been used to stop intestinal and uterine bleeding, hasten menstruation and to treat hemorrhoids. It has many more applications as well. The Indians also cooked the leaves of the trio and ate of them sparingly. It’s also a common waterfowl food. If you crush a bunch and put it in a small body of water it will force the fish to float to the top by interrupting with their oxygen uptake (as does American Beautyberry.)
I saw some P. hydropiperoides in Mead Gardens, Winter Park, Fla., the day I originally wrote this article. It was flowering and taking on a bit of fall red. It had been a while since I had seen the P. hydropiperoides, the P. punctatum being the one my path crosses most often. Soooo, I tried a good part of a leaf…. the hole in my tongue should heal in a few days. The blossoms are hot as well but are also bitter.
Some Polygonums have edible roots, perhaps the best know is P. bistorta, a Eurasian import. The roots are first soaked in water then cooked in embers. Or it can be chopped up, soaked in many changes of water, then passed through a mill to make a puree. The bulbs of the P. viviparum have been eaten raw but they are better roasted. The roots of the Polygonum multiflorum are also edible raw or cooked as are the roots of the Polygonum bistortoides The seeds of the Polygonum douglassii, Polygonum aviculare and the European Polygonum convolvulus have been eaten since mesolithic times.
And while the Smartweed is called “many knees” at one time its name was arsesmart. I have never found any reference to what chemical(s) make the species peppery. Lastly, I have a video on the Smartweed on You Tube… made it in the rain… dedicated I am…Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: P. punctatum: Alternate leaves are smooth-edged, lance shaped, willow-like, one to six inches long, leaf base forms sheath around stem. Young leaves flat, older leave can be wavy, The stems are often reddish, flowers are small, pink or white in dense clusters from the leaf joints or stem apices. It can grow to four feet or more but is usually smaller.
TIME OF YEAR: Year round in Florida, seasonal elsewhere, blooms July to first frost.
ENVIRONMENT: It likes moist areas. I often find it in the center part of old woods roads where they dip down and collect water or stay moist.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: In Asia the seedlings (sprouts) are collected and used like spicy radish sprouts for a hot flavor. Mature leaves and stems chopped up and used sparingly as pepper, leaves and stems boils in soups, again sparingly. Numerous herbal applications. The roots of some species are edible cooked, some require a little cooking, others require much cooking. The seeds of some are also edible. Check with a local expert about your local Polygonum.HERB BLURB
A Mem-Inst-Oswaldo-Cruz. 2001 Aug; 96(6): 831-3. Abstract:Polygonum punctatum (Polygonaceae) is an herb known in some regions of Brazil as “erva-de-bicho” and is used to treat intestinal disorders. The dichloromethane extract of the aerial parts of this plant showed strong activity in a bioautographic assay with the fungus Cladosporium sphaerospermum. The bioassay-guided chemical fractionation of this extract afforded the sesquiterpene dialdehyde polygodial as the active constituent. The presence of this compound with antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and anti-hyperalgesic properties in “erva-de-bicho” may account for the effects attributed by folk medicine to this plant species.Related Posts
Kangaroo meat is so good it makes one wonder why the Aussies ever imported beef.
If you follow the Paleo lifestyle, as this writer has for some 12 years, Kangaroo meat is just about perfect: High quality protein, 2% fat, the best known animal source of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (helps you take off body fat) as well as high in iron and zinc. It does us modern cavemen proud. Kangaroos used for food are free-ranging and don’t contribute to greenhouse gasses. Even some vegetarians are eating kangaroo meat under an ethical view called Kangatarianism. I just call it tasty. How do you get it? You can order Kangaroo from several companies that will ship it to you packed in dry ice. Or, in larger cities you can find it in local markets and restaurants. Like other meats you can get various cuts and forms, medalions to ground. As a lean meat it does not over cook well and benefits from added fat in various dishes (as does horse meat.)
This account is from a 1948 expedition to Arnhem Land, a remote part of the northern Australia the size of Ireland set aside for Aboriginals who want to persue the hunter/gatherer lifestyle. It’s how to cook and eat a wallaby indigenous style.
“A large fire was made in a depression in the sand, and stones and shells were heated. Small green branches were placed on top of the stones and the wallaby was flung on these. After 5-10 minutes it was taken off the fire, placed on a layer of green leaves, and the singed fur was removed with a tomahawk. [Just the fur, not the skin.] Although the women sometimes did this preliminary treatment, a man always did the subsequent cutting up, which was done with a metal spear blade.
The first cut was made horizontally on the ventral [belly] surface at the level of the anus, and next on the dorsal [back] surface along both sides to sever the leg muscles. Another cut was then made from the anus to the neck. The viscera were pulled out; and the kidneys, liver, heart and lungs, and the omental and mesenteric fat [the fat surrounding the intestines] were separated from the rest, and cooked on the hot stones and coals for 5 minutes. The cooked lungs were used to soak up the blood inside the carcass and then eaten. The offal was regarded as a delicacy by everybody and a certain amount of squabbling always followed its distribution.
The tail was cut off, and during the cooking was put on or alongside the body. The carcass was laid flat, dorsal side downwards, on the hot stones and ashes and the body cavity was filled with hot stones. Sheets of paperbark formed a cover over the animal, and sand was scooped out to make an oven. Wallabies weighing 15-20 pounds were cooked for 25-35 minutes. Everything edible was eaten except the stomach and intestines. The skull was cracked open to get the brain, and the bones were broken to extract the marrow.”
Kangaroos themselves are something of a problem in Australia. There were 27 million in 2010. By 2016 that number was 45 million. Blame rainy conditions that produce a lot of kangaroo food thus a lot of kangaroo babies. It seems to be a case of either humans start eating them or the kangaroos are going to starve to death by the millions. It’s a hard choice for many Aussies who think of “Skippy The Kangaroo” as many Americans think of “Bambi” a non-edible edible. By the way, as a meat animal kangaroos are very environmentally friendly… unless you have a few million carcasses lying around…
If I listed this edible under its botanical name few would find it. On the other hand it has some three dozen commons names in several languages. So which one does one choose? In English, Tallow Plum is the most accurate.
It has also been called the American plum, blue sour plum, monkey plum, mountain plum, seaside plum, Spanish plum, wild plum, hog plum, and yellow plum though it is not a plum but its leaves can be bluish. Other names include pepenance, coastal prune, spiny prune, Brazilian apricot, spiny apricot, wild apricot, little apricot and little wild apricot though it is not a prune nor an apricot. Then there is ocean cherry, wild cherry and cherry — no, it is not a cherry either; sea lemon, seaside lemon, wild orange, and wild lime…and no it is not a citrus. Others prefer devil’s apple, fiddle apple, little apple and wild quince. Yes, you guessed it again: It is not an apple or any apple relative. Some even call it the Wild Olive. No, it is not related to the olive but it is in the Olax family. Olive/olax… tenuous at best. There is also a darker side with names like purge-nut, cagalera (diarrhea) and fransman moppe (Frenchman’s complaint) a reference to what too many of the seeds can do.
It got the name Tallow Plum because of the waxy texture of the fruit. Botanically it is Ximenia americana (that’s hem-MAY-nee-uh a-mer-ih-KAY-na.) It was named for the Spanish monk Francisco Ximenez, a native of Luna in the Kingdom of Aragon. Americana means of the Americas.
Found in Florida and south, locally it likes dry scrub areas. The picture above came from the southwest side of the entrance road to Haulover Canal parking lot on the north end of Kennedy Space Center. Tallow Plums here in Florida range from a few feet tall to sprawling shrubs five or six feet tall. In southern hammocks, however, which are islands of hardwoods in wet areas, it can grow to 35 feet. I’ve been able to look over every Tallow Plum I have ever found.
The yellow fruit, sometimes orange/red particularly when dropped off the tree, is edible raw or cooked. It can range from a bitter-almond in flavor to sweet. The flesh is somewhat astringent and sticky. There is no particular aroma of the fruit but the flowers have an intense lilac aroma. Young leaves, which have a strong aroma of almonds, can also be well-boiled then eaten in small amounts. Think famine food. Do not eat them raw. They contain cyanide.
The oil of the seed is also edible and used for cooking. It has 10 fatty acids, seven unsaturated yielding a total unsaturation of 92.42%. The oil contained essential fatty acids of Linoleic (1.34%), Linolenic (10.31%), Arachidonic (0.60%) and varying levels of unsaturated higher fatty acids, specifically Eicosatrienoic (3.39%), Erucic (3.46%) and Nervonic (1.23%) acids. The level of Oleic acid is 72.09%.
The pulp of the seed itself is purgative raw. A few can be eaten after cooking but if too many cooked ones are consumed, like the raw ones, they becomes a most efficient laxative. The fruit is known to quench thirst, is used as a drink and in making jams and jellies. In Tazania the Sandawe (Bushmen) rely on the fruit as a staple.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: A shrub to a small tree, branches long, zig-zaggy, vine-like, semi-climbing, thorny; leaves alternate, yellowish-green in the scrub, darker green in hammocks, oblong or elliptic, rounded or notched at the apex, or spine tipped, one to three inches long, some times in clusters of three. Flowers yellowish, four petals, 3/8 inch wide, hairy within, very fragrant, similar to lilac, in small clusters. Fruit a broad oval or nearly round, to 1.5 inches long, skin smooth, bright yellow to orange red, flesh yellow, bitter almond to sweet flavor, sub acid to acid. Seed large, oval, buff-colored with white nut like kernel. The wood is very dense and the plant can be parasitic.
TIME OF YEAR: Spring and fall
ENVIRONMENT: Dry scrub lands to hardwood hammocks. For several decades I only found them in coastal areas. But this past year I found one under a pine west of Orlando, mid-state.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Fruit edible raw or cooked, used for juice, jelly, jam and wine. Kernel roasted but in limited quantities, seed oil is edible and can also be used in making soap, lubrication and a vegetable butter. Young leaves can be boiled and eaten sparingly. Raw fruit picked when unripe. The fruit is high in Vitamin C and oil that has been used externally on hair and as a skin softener.HERB BLURB
The bark, fruit, and leaves have several medicinal uses. Leaves and twigs are used to treat fever, colds, as a laxative and an eye lotion. Leaves are used for headaches, angina, and a poison antidote. Roots are used for skin problems, headaches, venereal disease, sleeping sickness, and water retention. The fruit has been used for constipation. The bark has been used for febrile headaches, bath water for sick children, for kidney and heart complaints, and applied to skin ulcers. Stem bark methanolic and water extracts of showed a spectrum of activity against E coli, P. vulgaris, S. aureus, P. aeruginosa and B. subtilis.
The Antigonon leptopus ( an-TIG-oh-non LEP-toh-puss) inspires local names everywhere it grows: Tallahassee Vine, Honolulu Creeper, the Christmas Island Crawler, as well as Confederate Vine, Mexican Coral Vine, Mexican Creeper, Chinese Love Vine, Chain of Love, Queen’s Jewels, Desert Bleeding Heart, and Queen’s Wreath. Other names include: Kadena de Amor, Flor de San Diego, Rosa de Mayo, Corona de Reina, Hierba de Santa Rosa, San Miguelito, and Fulmina. Natives called it Coamecate, Coamecatl, Chak lol makal, Cuamécatl, Gui-bakushu, Mamasa-sai and Tunuc. It’s also called the Rose of Montana, but does not grow there. In most countries where bellies are full, it’s called an invasive weed.
Related to the seagrape and in the buckwheat family, the Coral Vine is a native of Mexico and is widely cultivated in South America. In other pan tropical places it is an escaped ornamental. It tolerates poor soil and a variety of light conditions. While a hungry man would view that as a reliable food source, most first-world governments think of it as difficult to eradicate. In Florida, where it is naturalized, it is considered a Category II invasive exotic (I have often wondered why they don’t think the same way about non-native citrus.)
A fast-growing climber, the Coral Vine grabs via tendrils and can reach 40 feet in length in old age. Its leaves are heart shaped, sometimes triangular, crinkly edged, with reticulated veins (looks wrinkled.) They are officially around one three inches long though I think they grow larger. The flowers are arranged in panicles, pink to white, blooming from spring to fall, many times year around. It is an evergreen in some climates or looses its leaves for a little while in other areas.
The Coral Vine is well-equipped to proliferate itself. It produces a huge amount of seeds, which also float. The edible seeds, and or other parts of the vine, are favored by birds, raccoon, deer, pigs and sheep. Bees and butterflies like it because least least 41.6% of its flowers are open at a given time. The plant can also reproduce via its edible tuber which grows larger with age. It likes pinewoods, fence rows, yards, disturbed ground even marshy areas. Climbing by tendrils, it tends to smother what it ascends.
Least you think the Coral Vine is just another pretty invader it’s medicinal as well. An extract of its leaves and flowers inhibit lipid peroxidation. It’s an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and analgesic. A hot tea made from the ariel parts is used to relieve symptoms of the cold and flu. A leaf tea is also made to treat diabetes and high blood pressure. In the kitchen the cooked roots are nutty, and the leaves and flowers are dipped in flour, fried and served with pasta. The flowers are also mixed into omelet. The seeds can be roasted, winnowed, then ground and used like flour.
Antigonon is from Greek and means opposite angle, think elbow, a reference to the blossom arrangement. Leptopus is a Greek/Latin mess that comes from the Greek word Leptos meaning thin or delicate. Lepta is pocket change and lepto is a moment. If you prefer the Greek the pronunciation would be LEP-toh-puss (as in cat.) The Latin would favor lep-TOE-puss. There are four to eight species of Antigonon — depending on who is counting. A second one grows in south Florida, A. guatemalense. It has larger leaves and hairy stems. Its edibility is unknown to me.
The vine is found throughout the southern United States, Central America and South America. It is also found on Africa — it got to Egypt by 1805 — and 98% of the Pacific Islands including American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Galapagos Islands, Guam, Hawai‘i, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Midway Island, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Island, Samoa, Tonga, the Philippines. It is also found on most islands in the Caribbean. It can be grown as an annual or a container plant at least as far north as St. Louis. It is also found in India, Australia, and England, and is known to grow in southern California but not blossom there.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: A twining vine, clings and climbs with curled tendrils to 40 feet. Leaves: ovate, heart-shaped, soft, pronounced veins on underside, reticulated on top. Flowers: on branch terminals, reddish or light pink, or white. Petioles 2cm or longer, whereas on the A. guatemalense they are 1 cm or shorter.
TIME OF YEAR: Roots anytime they are large enough to harvest, often deep. Blossom when in season, in warm areas nearly year round, in cooler areas until frost.
ENVIRONMENT: Nearly any environment will do. Flourishes with good water and plenty of sun
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Roots cooked — some say raw, I do not personally know that — seeds roasted and winnowed. Flowers and leaves cooked.HERB BLURB
Tea prepared from the aerial parts of Antigonon leptopus is used as a remedy for cold and pain relief in many countries. In this study, A. leptopus tea, prepared from the dried aerial parts, was evaluated for lipid peroxidation (LPO) and cyclooxygenase (COX-1 and COX-2) enzyme inhibitory activities. The tea as a dried extract inhibited LPO, COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes by 78%, 38% and 89%, respectively, at 100 microg/ml. Bioassay-guided fractionation of the extract yielded a selective COX-2 enzyme inhibitory phenolic aldehyde, 2,3,4-trihydroxy benzaldehyde. Also, it showed LPO inhibitory activity by 68.3% at 6.25 microg/ml. Therefore, we have studied other hydroxy benzaldehydes and their methoxy analogs for LPO, COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes inhibitory activities and found that compound 1 gave the highest COX-2 enzyme inhibitory activity as indicated by a 50% inhibitory concentration (IC(50)) at 9.7 microg/ml. The analogs showed only marginal LPO activity at 6.25 microg/ml. The hydroxy analogs 6, 7 and 9 showed 55%, 61% and 43% of COX-2 inhibition at 100 microg/ml. However, hydroxy benzaldehydes 3 and 12 showed selective COX-1 inhibition while compounds 4 and 10 gave little or no COX-2 enzyme inhibition at 100 microg/ml. At the same concentration, compounds 14, 21 and 22 inhibited COX-1 by 83, 85 and 70%, respectively. Similarly, compounds 18, 19 and 23 inhibited COX-2 by 68%, 72% and 70%, at 100 microg/ml. This is the first report on the isolation of compound 1 from A. leptopus tea with selective COX-2 enzyme and LPO inhibitory activities.
Bioactive Natural Products and Phytoceuticals, 173 National Food Safety and Toxicology Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA. email@example.com.
Simply called Ti (tee) Cordyline fruticosa spent most of its history with humans as a food, a source of alcohol, or a medicine. Now its foliage is in demand with many showy cultivars. Ti is probably native to southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea. It was carried throughout much of the Pacific by Polynesians who used the starchy rhizomes for food. An outdoor ornamental in warmer areas of the Earth today Ti is found naturalized in eastern Australia and many of the larger tropical Pacific islands including the Hawaii. It’s a common potted plant in cooler climates. The point is you should be able to find it nearly everywhere, often with other people taking care of it for you. And if you are so inclined you can even make a Hula skirt out of it.
Boiled roots taste like molasses and were used to make a beer that was reported to cure scurvy (but modern references to its nutrition are scarce.) Some say the Hawaiians learned to distill Ti beer into a stronger brew from convicts in Botany Bay, Australia. Young leaves are used as a potherb. Older leaves are used to wrap food, make clothes, rain capes and for thatch. Ti leaves are to wrap foods for grilling, steaming or baking. Dried leaves should be soaked to soften before using.
One word of caution. Don’t confuse the Ti with the Dracaena. Ti leaves have a petiole (stem) arching out from the trunk or branch. Dracaena leaves clasp the trunk or branch. Dracaena will also burn your mouth and hands.
Two species are regularly reported as food sources. C. fruticosa and C. australis. Cordyline (kor-dih-LYE-nee) means club-like, referring to the look of the roots. Fruticosa (froo-tee-KHO-sah) means fruit. Australis (oss-TRAY-liss) means southern.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Cordyline fruticosa is an evergreen shrub with a strong trunk which does not usually branch, 10 feet in height. Also a small house plant with colorful foliage, leaves 15-30 inches long, 4-6 inches wide, varying in color from shiny green to purple, red, yellow, purple and white. In mature plants, the leaves are tuft-like in appearance on the top of the stems, leaves along the stems with young pants. Flower fragrant, usually yellow or red, berry-like red fruit
TIME OF YEAR: Year round
ENVIRONMENT: Partial shade to nearly full sun, moist soil. Like humidity. Prefers water without Fluoride.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: C. australis: Young leaves and shoots eaten raw or roasted. Roots eaten or brewed after cooking. C. fruticosa. Roots cooked for food and brewing, young leaves cooked as a potherb. Also used to wrap food. The roots were slow roasted for days to get a molasses-like syrup which was then used for alcohol production. One way to use the leaf is to wrap food in it then cut the center rib out leaving two smaller wraps then cook (such as steam.)
This original article was first written in July 2011 by Green Deane.
Monotropa is almost a monotypic genus. Instead of having one species in the genus there are two: Monotropa uniflora and Monotropa hypopithys.
Most references to the Monotropas are medicinal but Merritt Fernald in his publication “Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America” mentions the Monotropa uniflora as barely edible. He writes on pages 305-306: “So far as we are informed, the only person who has reported upon it is Prest, who states the fresh plant is almost tasteless but that when parboiled and then boiled or roasted it is ‘comparable to asparagus.’ Our own single experiment was not gratifying in its result.”
That’s not promising. Fernald was the main botanical man of his age. Born in Orono, Maine, he was soon at Harvard and never left becoming the expert in eastern North American flora. He published the above book in 1943. Fernald died in 1950 two weeks shy of his 77th birthday. His book was republished in 1958. I own a copy. Nearly 40 years later in 1996 it was reprinted virtually unchanged. In the introduction, written during World War II, Fernald echoed some sentiments now familiar to us: “Nearly everyone has a certain amount of the pagan or gypsy in his nature and occasionally finds satisfaction in living for a time as a primitive man. Among the primitive instincts are the fondness for experimenting with unfamiliar foods and the desire to be independent of the conventional sources of supply. All campers and lovers of out-of-doors life delight to discover some new fruit or herb which it is safe to eat, and in actual camping it is often highly important to be able to recognize and secure fresh vegetables for the camp-diet; while in emergency the ready recognition of possible wild foods might save life. In these days, furthermore, when thoughtful people are wondering about the food-supply of the present and future generations, it is not amiss to assemble what is known of the now neglected but readily available vegetable-foods, some of which may yet come to be of real economic importance.”
Fernald thought little of the Monotropa uniflora and by accident or intent left out of his book’s bibliography who Prest was. That struck me as a challenge. I accepted. I eventually found a W.H. Prest who was the author of Edible Plants of Nova Scotia circa 1904-1905. He seemed a likely candidate. Experiment Station Record, Volume 23, United States Office of Experiment Stations, Agricultural Research Service, says on page 668 that Prest’s plant list was: “…a popular description of plants which have little commercial value, but which may be used for food in case of necessity.” More digging filled the name out to Walter H. Prest, of Bedford and Halifx, Nova Scotia. And it wasn’t much of a publication, just notes. They were included in the Proccedings of the Nova Scotian Institute of Science, Volume 11. Prest was a dues-paying member and participating fellow. On page 413 Prest gets to the Monotropa in note 67 (of 77) the first and only entry under “Parasitic Plants.” He writes:
Monotropa uniflora L. Indian Pipe, locally “Death-Plant.” White semitransparent stalk 2 1/2 in. to 5 in. high, with highly organized flower of five petals, without smell, stalk with thin transparent scales or leaflets, tender and almost tasteless. Parboil, then boil or roast, comparable to asparagus. In dry or moderately dry soil in thick woods, June to August. Generally distributed and abundant.”
Like Fernald, as far as I can tell Prest’s reference is the only reference to Monotropa uniflora’s edibility and perhaps the original that everyone now quotes via Fernald. At least we know Fernald copied it faithfully.
As for Prest, more than a century ago on page 387 of the proceedings introducing his list he wrote: “These notes on edible wild plants of Nova Scotia are the result of my early experience in the backwoods, and are offered with the hope that they may prove of benefit to those whom business or accident may lead temporarily beyond the reach of the resources of civilization. While some of the wild fruits here mentioned, such as the blueberry and cranberry, are of commercial value, others are included because they may assist in sustaining life at a critical time. While lost in the forest persons have perished through a want of knowledge of the resources which nature has bounteously provided in many sections at certain seasons of the year. As these resources are more animal than vegetable, the latter class has been much neglected. Therefore, the result to a lost man, unprovided with weapons or the means of snaring, trapping or catching game of fish, might be perhaps serious. I propose, therefore, to tabulate these edible plants, so far as known to me, and describe as freely and popularly as possible, all that have come under my personal notice….”
That’s another voice reaching across time about food. The next question would be who was Prest and what were his credentials? There might be an answer.
I don’t like articles with “holes” in them, missing bits of information whose absence irritates the reader. Call it the journalist in me but I wanted to know more about our single referencer. As far as I can tell he was Walter Henry Prest, born 1856 in Spry Bay, Nova Scotia, to Edward Isaac Prest and Ann Elizabeth McKinley. He married Maude Tuttle and died in Halifax in 1920. Prest — which is a variation of Priest — got out in the woods because
he collected plants and was either a geologist or a gold prospector or both. He’s probably the author of “The Gold Fields of Nova Scotia: A Prospector’s Handbook” Halifax: Industrial Publishing Company, (1915). His original list of plants was published in 1901 in a small 23-page volume shared with another author on a different topic: Phenological observations in Nova Scotia and Canada, 1901 ; 2. Labrador plants (collected by W.H. Prest on the Labrador coast north of Hamilton Inlet, from the 25th of June to the 12th of August, 1901.) As mentioned earlier Prest was a member of the Nova Scotian Institute of Science and a year before he died read at least one paper there on the 12th of May 1919 “On The Nature and Origin of the Eskers of Nova Scotia.” An ekser is a long narrow winding ridge made up of layers of sediment and marks where there used to be a flowing tunnel through a glacier. Some are hundreds of miles long. That’s also where plants grow above the barren rock and where animals den.
Now we have a more complete picture of our forager. Prest had scientific grounding with a foot in geology, a foot in botany and some peer review. And if he knew about prospecting he was also out in the wilds a lot. Whether a long time without asparagus makes Monotropa uniflora as palatable as asparagus is another issue.
The chlorophyll-less plant is widely distributed throughout most of North American and only absent from the southwest, intermountain west and the central Rocky mountains. Distributed yes but not commonly encountered. I see it now and then and never paid it much attention until I received an inquiry. It lives off fungi that get their energy from trees. Monotropa means “once turned” (the blossom turns before releasing seed) and uniflora means “one flowered.” The entire plant is waxy white. The other species in the genus is a bit of an issue.
Monotropia hypopithys, also called Pinesap, has the same growth pattern but instead of white it is yellow to gold and hairless in the summer, red and hairy in the fall. Dr. François Couplan in his book “The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America” says on page 192 that M. hypopithys “is reported to be edible raw or cooked. It contains two glucosides, one of which yields by hydrolysis an essential oil containing methyl salicylate. The plant is antispasmodic and expectorant.” Sound more like medicine than food to me. It has also been renamed Hypopitys lanuginosa (lan-oo-gih-NO-suh) the latter meaning “wooly” or “downy.”
There is also a spelling issue with it, hypopithys or hypopitys. Books favor with the “H” and the Internet without, which suggests to me the books are right. More so, hypopithys/hypopitys is said to mean “under pines.” Linnaeus, who named the species, always used hypopithys as did Fernald, above, when Fernald rewrote and expanded Gray’s Manuel of Botany, which I have. As mentioned, I think there is something wrong in either the spelling, the translation or both. Then again, timing could also be an issue.
In Greek, modern or ancient, it is difficult to find the “H” sound associated with pines. Written language, after all, just reflects what people say. In Ancient Greek one word for pine was pitus, PEE-tus and one can see how that could be written in Dead Latin as pitys. No “H” as in hypopitys (high-poh-PIE-tees.) I would agree that means “under pines.” However, there was a wood nymph in Greek mythology named Pithys. Wood nymphs were called that because they stayed in the woods, also where Indians Pipes are found, only in the woods. Hypopithys (high-POH-pith-eez) would mean “under wood nymphs.” Linnaeus knew his Latin and Greek and consistently used the “H” in hypopithys. He was also the original dirty old man with a gutter sense of humor (you should read what naughtisms some of those botanical names translate into.) I suspect hypopithys, under wood nymphs, was the original naming, not as it has become referred to, hypopitys, under pines. Thus I think we had first the right spelling and the wrong translation; hypopithys, under wood nymphs mistranslated as under pines. Now we have the wrong spelling but the right translation of the wrong spelling, hypopitys, under pines and translated as under pines. Having read a lot of and about Linnaeus I think hypopithys, under wood nymphs, was more his frisky style.
Both species are reported to be edible but because of the rarity of edibility reports and definite glucosides in the second species I would be careful. There might be a reason why only Prest says they are edible though he died nearly 20 years after writing that. If I find some more locally I’ll let you know.
I should also note the pale plant also drew the attention of Emily Dickinson, pale poet and closet romantic. In 1882, four years before Dickinson died, her neighbor, Mabel Loomis Todd, painted a watercolor of Indian Pipes as a gift to Dickinson.
In a thank you letter to Mabel, Emily said, “That without suspecting it you should send me the preferred flower of life, seems almost supernatural… I still cherish the clutch with which I bore it from the ground when a wondering child, and unearthly booty, and maturity only enhances the mystery, never decreases it.”
In 1890 the same image of the Indian Pipes appeared on the cover of the first posthumous edition of Dickinson’s poems. The image was also reproduced on Mrs. Todd’s gravestone in Wildwood Cemetery in Amherst, Massachusetts.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile: Indian Pipes
IDENTIFICATION: Monotropa uniflora: From 10 to 30 centimeters. The entire plant is a translucent, “ghostly” white, sometimes pale pinkish-white and commonly has black flecks. The leaves are scale-like and flecked with black on the flower stalk (peduncle). As the Latin epithet uniflora implies, the stem bears a single flower. Upon emerging from the ground, the flower is pendant (downwardly pointed). As the anthers and stigma mature, the flower is spreading to all most perpendicular to the stem. The fruit is a capsule. As the capsule matures, the flower becomes erect (in line with the stem). Once ripened, seed is released through slits that open from the tip to the base of the capsule. The plant is persistent after seed dispersal.
TIME OF YEAR: Flowers from early summer to early autumn
ENVIRONMENT: Mature, moist, shaded forests in thick leaf litter.
METHOD OF PREPATION: Monotropa uniflora, parboiled, roasted or boiled. Monotropa hypoythis reportedly raw or cooked. Again, be wary of glucosides.
This original article was written by Green Deane in 2011.
Ulva: Sea Soup & Salad
Ulva is the greenest seaweed you will ever see from shore, or in the sea for that matter.
Ten species, all edible, are found around the world in cool water. Ulva (ULL-vah, rhymes with hull) is commonly found on intertidal rocks, in tide pools, on reef flats, growing on shells, piling, pieces of wood, other seaweed or free-floating. It also favors areas of fresh water runoff that are rich in nutrients (particularly nitrogen) such as the mouths of rivers, streams and run-off pipes (the latter not the wisest place to harvest food.) Ulva can grow profusely in those areas and it is one of the most commonly encountered seaweeds. Here in Florida it is most often seen on jetties at low tide. In fact, there has been a decades long breeding program in the state to develop a variety that can be commercially grown in warmer waters.
Despite looking flimsy Ulva is quite strong for leaves only two cells thick. Think if it as wet wax paper with some resistance. Despite that it can easily be harvested, in or out of the water. Its most common use is to add it to soups and salads. Nutritionally Ulva has 87 mg of iron per 100 gram portion and 700 mg calcium per 100 gram serving. U. lactuca is made of 15% protein, 50% sugar and starch, less than 1% fat. It is also high in protein, iodine, aluminum, manganese and nickel and contains Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin C, sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, soluble nitrogen, phosphorous, chloride, silicon, rubidium, strontium, barium, radium, cobalt, boron, trace elements, ash, fiber and the kitchen sink…
Commonly called Sea Lettuce or Green Laver, it can also used as a substitute for nori (see Porphyra) a seaweed used in sushi. Ulva should be washed well then use or as an option soak it in water for two hours before using to moderate the flavor. Besides soups and salads it can even be toasted over charcoal. When toasted it add yet another flavor to soups and salads. Ulva can be store for two or three days in the refrigerator or frozen for six months without loss of flavor. Further Ulva can be dried and used as a powder. When its blades (leafs) are dried they darken and are brittle. It should be air-dried or pressed into thin sheets. Drying in the sun is best though you can also use an oven. And in the end, if you don’t like it, Ulva can be used as animal fodder. Personally, I like it. A restaurant in Port Canaveral, Florida, used to serve Ulva fresh in a “seaweed salad” that was quite good. One combination for a seaweed salad is Ulva lactuca, Ulva enteromorpha and Ulva monostroma, known collectively as aonori. In texture and flavor Ulva reminds me of shreaded jelly fish… I know that’s not much of a help but I find it tasty. Ulva is also dried, salted and sold in South America as “cachiyugo.”
The most famous species is Ulva lactuca. In Latin Ulva means “sedge.” In this case Ulva was one of the first plants to get a scientific name and Ulva was used in the sense to mean a swamp grass. As it resembled wild lettuce it got the name given to lettuce, lactuca, which means milk bearing. Wild lettuce on land has a white sap. Generally Ulva is called Sea Lettuce. Avoid any seaweed, Ulva or otherwise, that has blue-green algae on it.
Sea Lettuce Soup
4 cups chicken stock
2 sheets Ulva
Salt and pepper
½ tsp sesame oil
1 or 2 green scallions
Bring stock to a boil. Add sea lettuce and
stir. When sea lettuce is soft, stir in well-
beaten eggs and boil for a few seconds then
remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to
taste. Add sesame oil, garnish with onion,
Toasted Sea Lettuce
6 sheets Ulva
½ tsp Salt
1 ½ tablespoon sesame oil
Mix salt and sesame oil and rub a thin coat on sea lettuce. Lay 6 sheets on top of one another, roll them up and let them marinade for 5 minutes. Unroll and cook each sheet separately in a hot pan over low heat until crisp. Cut sheet into smaller pieces and serve with hot rice.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Thin, sheet-like, as tufts or solitary blades, shape varies, to one three feet. Blades (leaves) ruffled or flat, small microscopic teeth on edges. Bright green to dark green, gold edges when reproducing. In some species the blades have holes in them.
TIME OF YEAR: Generally year round.
ENVIRONMENT: Ulva lives attached when young to rocks in the middle to low intertidal zone, and as deep as 35 feet in calm, protected waters. Usually seen in dense colony. It is often offers a hiding place for blue crabs. Older it is free-floating.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Raw or cooked, in salads or soups, chopped as a relish, a late ingredient to stir fries. Can be dried and added as a power to other foods. Or, chop it up, boil for a half an hour, mix with grated cheese and oatmeal, form into patties and fry. Sea Lettuce fritters. The blades can also be used as a wrap, raw or cooked or for cooking, such as wrapping one around a shrimp before frying. Ulva can be microwaved on low power for three or so minutes.HERB BLURB
Ulva has been used to treat burns and gout. It is a natural source of iodine and is an astringent.