Eat the Weeds
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.
Food is where the water is, be it fresh or salt, and one of the waterway foods of North America is Sea Rocket. There are at least five native Sea Rockets and one or two imports.
Cakile species are perennial that can grow upright or spread out. They grow close to the coast, often in dunes. Leaves are fleshy, the flowers are typically pale mauve to white, with four petals about a third of an inch in length. They are rather similar to those of the wild radish, that is, the petals have veins whereas mustards petals do not. Identifying leaves and stems is the way to tell them apart. The leaves are also peppery and have a nose of mustard.
The most common is Cakile edentula (kah-KIL-ee e-DEN-tuh-luh.) It can be found from California to Alaska, Louisiana to Greenland and land boarding the Great Lakes. Florida has its own version, Cakile Lanceolate (lan-see-oh-LAY-tuh) that runs from Texas to Florida and Puerto Rico. C. maritima, from Europe, is found on the west coast, California to British Columbia, coastal Texas and Alabama, North Carolina to Long Island. It is said muh-RIT-tim-muh, Latin, or mar-ih-TEE-muh, British. The point is, if you are near big water, there is a Sea Rocket near you and their ranges overlap. The goal is to learn your local variety or varieties. Not all of the Sea Rockets are used the same though they are similar. So let’s look at these three individually.
Cakile edentula: Leaves and young stems, raw or cooked. The younger leaves are used in salads, the older leaves are mixed with milder greens and used as a potherb. The flavor is similar to horseradish. The root can be dried and ground into powder. That can be mixed with flour and used to make bread. Said bread is a famine food.
Cakile maritima: (European Sea Rocket) Leaves, stems, flower buds and immature seed pods raw. They can be cooked but cooking makes them very bitter. However, they are rich in Vitamin C. Their root can also be dried and used.
Cakile lanceolata: (Southern Sea Rocket) Leave and steams eaten raw or cooked, has a mustard flavor. Young shoots or tips are excellent. No report on the root and I haven’t tried it. Leaves can have an ether taste but I have not encountered it.
Medicinally, boiled leaves have been used to clean persistent wounds.
Cakile is an old Arabic name for the plant. Edentula means without teeth, maritima, of the sea, and lanceolata, lance shaped. Sea Rocket comes from the rocket-shaped seed pods.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: C. edentula, low, fleshy, branching beach plant with pale lavender flowers, not heavily toothed or not at all, found on the above the high-tide line of beaches, seed pods angular, succulent young stems and leaves somewhat like horseradish. C. maritima has very deeply lobed leaves, shiny, fleshy, green, tinted with purple or magenta, long-lobed, white to light purple flowers, sculpted, segmented, corky brown fruits to an inch long. C. lanceolata has long leaves that can be toothed or not or irregular but not deeply lobed. Pods cylindrical. Flowers white to light purple.
TIME OF YEAR: Mid spring to the autumn depending on climate.
ENVIRONMENT: Found on the above the high-tide line of beaches, oceans, Great Lakes and local rivers.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves and stems of all raw, leaves and stems of the C. edentula and C. lanceolata can be cooked. C. Maritima becomes very bitter when cooked. The root pounded and dried and mixed with flour and baked for a famine food.
Coronopus, Descurainia, Cardamine, Erucastrum and Sibara
There are numerous little mustards that show up seasonally populating lawns and fields with spots of green against dead winter grass, and then they are gone. Their variety is rich and variations many. You may never know exactly which one you have. With most, not all, look for the four-petaled flower with six stamen, four long, two short. Blossom can be yellow, white or pink. The seeds pods can be long like tooth picks or short little hearts or round scales.
This quintet of little mustards shouldn’t be dismissed but they are easy to miss. Their season is usually as short as they are. Locally the little mustards pop up in our cooler months, carpet some areas, and then are gone before one gets around to study or harvest them. There are many of them and variations are seemingly endless, which mean you can easily reach the conclusion you’ve got a little mustard but exactly which one it is will be open to debate. Fortunately, in small amounts at least, there are no toxic mustards.
Swinecress (Coronopus didymus, koh-RON-oh-puss DID-eh-mus) is called said because pigs like it. Low growing, it’s usually a bright green rosette against the fading grass of cold weather. Locally it is found at the same time and with wild radishes. Flowers are greenish and minute. The entire plant very pungent when crushed. From a consumption point of view it is a trail-side nibble, a salad addition, and if cooked in at least one change of water, a pot herb. How many changes of water depends upon your tastes and how strong a tummy you have. In small amounts it is considered by farmers to be good cattle food but in large amounts toxic because it upsets their cows’ chambered stomachs. So find out how you and it get along before indulging greatly.
In this particular case, the botanical name is actually helpful. Coronopus is a forced amalgam of two Greek words meaning Raven and foot, or in English “crow foot.” And indeed the three-pointed leaves resemble a three-toed bird foot. Not only does the end of the leave look that way, but the little leaves off the side of the main leaf do as well. Those little leaves alternate, barely. At the end of the leaf they are without stem, near the base of the leaf they have a little bit of stem.
And as is the case quite often, the second part of the name is a bit earthy, though references try to make it politically correct. Didymus is often rendered as Greek for “paired.” That is not linguistically accurate. While there are many words for “paired” in Greek one of the most common is ζυγός, zee-GOS which means “yoke” as in a yoke of oxen. In fact the word for spouse is σύζυγος, SEE-zee-gos. Got the idea? That is not the kind of pairing didymus means. Strictly said didymus means testes. And indeed the seeds of the Swinecress resemble two little you guessed it. Coronopus didymus. Crow foot testes. And you thought botany was sophisticated….
Our next little mustard is the Tansy Mustard because it, yep, resembles the tansy. Apparently botanists, when not thinking up dirty names for plants, aren’t too creative.
Exactly which Tansy Mustard you have will be a bit of a guess as well. Locally, here in Florida, I seem to find the Western Tansy Mustard. (It is called western so not to confuse it with one growing in Europe which is not called the Eastern Tansy Mustard.) And although I sit on the semi-tropical temperate line the tansy mustard is known as a plant found around the top of the world, not the equator. There are also a lot of subspecies so you may never know exactly what tansy mustard you have.
Botanically it is Descurainia pinnata, des-koor-RAY-nee-uh pin-NAY-ta.) In this instance, the name doesn’t help much. The first part honors Francois Descourain (1658-1740), a French botanist, physician and pharmacist. The second part, pinnata, means feather-like, or feathery et cetera and this is true in the sense that the leaves are wispy.
Perhaps I’m not looking for Tansy Mustard, but it does not seem to me to be as common as other little mustards but it certainly likes the same environment, think dry pastures. Six to 20 inches tall or so, fine, delicate, like the other little mustards a nibble, a salad addition and when cooked to tolerability, a green. It’s texture is mealy or hairy… kind of both.
The tansy mustard, also tansymustard, has one to several densely hairy stems, giving it a different texture than most Little Mustards. The basal leaves are divided twice into small segments, very hairy, stem leaves are divided into small segments once, very hairy. The flowers are bright yellow to almost white, fruit stalk long, elongated dark red seeds. If it looks like a tansy but is peppery like a mustard… it just might be the tansy mustard.
Quite common locally is the Hairy Bittercress, or Cardamine hirsuta, kar-DAM-en-neh her-SOO-tuh. Unlike the other little mustards, it likes to grow where it is damp. In northern climes it germinates in the fall and stays green under the snow. Here in Florida we see it popping up in our winter, which is Christmas to Valentines Day. But it can be found in cooler shady wet spots for perhaps nine month of the year.
This little mustard is nearly hairless, stems are green or sometimes purplish in strong sun, not hairy, circular, tapering towards both ends, from a tap root. Usually many stems growing from a tap root. Basal leaves, however, have hairy stems. Leaves can be rounded to wedge-shaped, with little hairs, can flower when very small. Each leaf generally contains 4 to 8 leaflets arranged alternately along the leaf stem (rachis.) Seed capsule is 10 times longer than wide. Unlike other little mustards it looks like something one might grow in an herb garden. Flowers are small, usually a group of them, four white petals, on the ends of wiry stems. The long narrow seed pods (siliques, said sah-LEEKS) and alternating round leaflets are prime elements of identification. The little siliques tend to grow upright.
It is also often found in garden centers because of the watering, or lawns. If you are an organic gardener, aphids love the Hairy Bittercress meaning you can use them as a trap crop. Leaves and flowers – raw or cooked — have a hot cress-like flavor, often used as a garnish or for flavoring. Can be used as a potherb but as with the other little mustards, proceed carefully.
Dog Mustard, also called the Hairy Rocket and French Rocket, is our least common little mustard, and the largest, getting up to a scraggly two feet under optimum conditions. To my eyes it looks like a ratty wild radish. It was introduced into the US and Canada in the early 1900s and spread along the railroads. It can cross with the rape plant (from which seeds we get canola oil.) This is viewed as good and bad. It can cross on its own and change the plant for the worse or it can be a source of genes should the rape need a shot of new genetics.
The Dog Mustard grows upright from a foot to two feet tall, pale yellow to whitish flowers, 4-petals to a half inch wide, petals rounded at on top, narrowing at the base; in a cluster. The seed pod is thin, long, four-angled usually curving up. Lower leaves are oblong, deeply pinnately-divided, end leaflet the longest; stem leaves not clasping, leaves get smaller toward the top. In northern areas it usually begins to blossom in June or so.
Botanically it is known as the Erucastrum gallicum, er-roo-KAS-trum GAL-ee-kum. This time the name tells us little. The first word means resembling the Eruca, which was some ancient plant mentioned by Pliny the Elder. Gallicum means from France. It is used as a pot herb but may need more than one change of water. Try sparingly.
Now we get to the mustard that is coming and going. If you think you have a Sibara (SIGH-bar-ah) , you might actually have an Arabis (ARE-uh-bis or ARE-you-bis.) Arabis means from Arabia (read Eurasia ) and both the genera Arabia and Sibara used to be all Arabias. Then it was decided six species were native to North America, which hardly made them from Eurasia or Arabia. So those Arabis were renamed Sibara, which is Arabis spelled backwards. Ain’t that almost clever. They are Sibara deserti, Sibara filifolia, Sibara grisea, Sibara rosulata, Sibara viereckii, and Sibara virginica.
This is a winter annual from a rosette of deeply dissected leaves, five to 14 divisions on each side of the main leaf stem. The leaves at the base of the plant are slightly hairy. Leaf segments are narrow, the terminal segment though is somewhat larger, or broader. Flowers are white with four small petals. The fruit (silique) is stalked, long, very narrow with around 15 flat seeds. You can tell it from the Hairy Bittercress above (Cardamine hirsuta) by having larger siliques and narrow leaf segments. The rosette overwinters. It likes disturbed, waste ground, unused fields, and roadsides.
Lastly, a common toxic look-alike in the rosette stage is the Senecio glabellus. When dried and fed to rats 20% of their body weight killed them. While the blossom is different than the mustards, the basal rosette can look similar. S. Glabellus leaves are toothy and mild whereas the mustard leaves are not toothy and are usually peppery. It has pyrrolizidine which is a chemical that can clog up small veins in your liver causing fluid retention and death. The Senecio yellow blossom is daisy-ish whereas mustards have a four-petal X or H shape blossom.
Finding greens locally in the cooler months isn’t much of a challenge unless you’re looking for Pellitory . It likes to hide and move.
Pellitory, or Parietaria, is in the greater nettle family and likes it cool and dry, if not shady. It even grow on rocks up to 12,000 feet. Uncooked, pellitory has a hint of cucumber aroma, hence sometimes it’s called the Cucumber Weed. Cooked, it is bland, which suits some palates just fine because you can flavor it as you like. I have friends who just stuff it raw into tacos with other fixings.
Parietaria (pair-ee-eh-TAR-ee-uh) also known as Pellitory Over-the-Wall. It has a reputed split personality you should be aware of. Its purported double life may also explain why so many foraging books skip it. Many years ago I was told by foraging expert Richard “Dick” Deuerling (co-author of Florida’s Incredible Wild Edibles) that half the people who ate pellitory got the itches — like a niacin flush but longer lasting. I don’t get an all-over itchy feeling when I eat Parieitaria so I don’t think about it, but, if a person has allergies they should approach Parietaria with caution. Frankly in the decades since hence I have met only one person who get the itches from eating it. However, Dick, below left, was a stickler for details and I could have easily just met a lot of folks who don’t react to it.
While there is a difference between eating a plant and breathing its pollen, in the Mediterranean area pellitory, in particular Parietaria judaica, is becoming a significant problem. More than 82% of people who are allergic to pollen show an allergy to that particular Parietaria. Some Australian hospitals call the P. judaica the Asthma Weed and warn against it, labeling it dangerous. If you have allergies, or hay fever, Pellitory might be a plant to skip, or at least approach carefully.
That said, besides being an edible salad ingredient and pot herb for thousands of years, Parietaria has been used herbally, with a slight contradiction in constituents. Its attested main feature is that it is a diuretic of significant strength and good for kidney stones, bladder issues, et cetera. Yet, it is high in sodium which tends to make some folks retain water. On the other hand, Parietaria is high in potassium and nitrates, the latter of which a 2006 study showed helped lower blood pressure, which is often done by lowering ones fluids. Ben Johnson wrote centuries ago:
‘A good old woman . . . did cure me with sodden ale and pellitorie o’ the wall.’
There is also some debate if the plant as a treatment herb is more potent green or dried. There are arguments for both. Now, if you are still willing to try pellitory, know the complete plant also cleans glass and copper pots well. It’s botanical name, Parietaria, comes from the Latin word paries, meaning a wall. Of course, if you have been reading a lot of these articles you know by now that Latin is just a combination of stolen Etruscan and mangled Greek. “Paries” in Latin came from the Greek word “parifi” meaning edge. Parietaria likes to grow in the cracks of walls but it can also form large clumps, such as in my garden or under dry road bridges frequented by transients. The local species is Parietaria floridana.
Below is a recipe from the Italian book Piante Selvatiche by Roberto Gamacchio, which specializes in wild greenery.
Pasta with Parietaria
Macaroni or spaghetti, 7 ounces dry
Parietaria 3.5 ounces
Béchamel sauce 2 ounces
Cook the pasta “al dente”. Steam the Parietaria, salt and blend. Add the sauce and chilli to taste. Fold the sauce in the pasta, serve immediately, salt to tasteGreen Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Six inches to a 14 inches tall in Florida, usually unbranched. Central stem is green, four-angled, it can be slightly hairy. The lanceolate leaves alternate. Each flower is surrounded by several green bracts that are longer than the flower. The flowers are green with no petals, four stamen. Grows in colonies. NO TEETH ON LEAVES. If you have a pellitory with teeth on the leaves you have misidentified an Acalypha, not edible.
TIME OF YEAR: Early winter in Florida, lasting just a few of months at best, December to around March, occasionally later in cool winters and very deep shade. Elsewhere usually during cool spring months.
ENVIRONMENT: Walls, fences, edges, cool dry areas, light shade, moist to slightly dry conditions.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Edible raw or cooked. Try a small piece first, it may make some people who eat it raw itch for a while. Raw it is better chopped up in salads. HINT: Even when cooked the stems can be fibrous, so chopping or cutting them into bite-size length before cooking is recommended. The water pellitory is cooked in is considered by chefs to be excellent stock for making risotto.
There are three things irritating about Cereus other than their spines: 1) several botanical names for the same plant; 2) which species do you exactly have, and 3) how you pronounce “Cereus.”
DNA testing may indeed be reducing crime but it is increasing cactuses, or at least changing their names. Many “cereus” are no longer cereus, among them C. undatus, C. pentagonus, C. robinii and C. keyensis, or as they are now known Hylocereus undatus, Acanthocerus tratragonus, Pilosocerus polygonus, and Pilosocereus robinii. Do those name changes clear things up? … Thought so….
The last three are found only in southern Florida or the Keys and are endangered. Just know they are sprawling, usually three sided, and fruit’s pulp is edible raw if you are starving, just spread the seeds around. Also endangered in Florida is the C. eriophorus var. fragrans, C. gracilis var aboriginum, C. simpsonii and C. deeringii. The H. undatus (aka C. triangularis & tricostatus) is naturalized up to coastal central Florida and planted inland, such as at Mead Gardens. It is a commercial crop called “Dragon Fruit.” Also eaten is Cereus giganteus, known more famously by its common name, Saguaro Cactus. (Now that Cereus is called Carnegiea gigantea.)
The fruit of cactus are used in similar ways. The Saguaro Cactus is a good example. It was a staple of the Papago and Pima Indians. They harvested the fruit in July. The fruit can be eaten fresh or dried. When dry they can be pressed into cakes. The juice was used to make moonshine and the seeds ground into a buttery paste. The fruits are also eaten of the C. hexagonus, C., jamacaru, C. pernambucensis, and the C. peruvianus, the latter is perhaps the most common ornamentally grown cactus in the world, if it really exists at all, as a species. An explanation is required.
While many cactus are sold with the name C. peruvianus some people aren’t even sure it really exists as a species and might actually be one or two other species, or some hybrid. The Cereus above has nine spines where as most pictures show them with seven. One Cereus with nine spines is C. jamacaru, but its fruit is oblong and the one above is not. Tis a puzzle. Fortunately, all Cereus fruits are all edible so which one you have is academic (though practical as some have spines and other do not.)
The pronunciation of the genus is also something of a puzzle. You can find SEE-ree-us (like serious.) Or KEE-ree-us, and one British plant dictionary even has KAY-ree-us, which is surprisingly linguistically the most accurate. Most sources cheat and say it comes from Latin or Latin and Greek. But they stop there. The original base word was κερἰ (keri) said ke-REE and means wax (think candle as in the shape which is why some call them candlestick cactus.) When the Romans took a Greek word beginning with a “K” they wrote it with a “C” which then often gets mangled into an “S” sound… KEE-ree to SEE-ree. As the plant is shaped like a candle the genus was called Cereus, so you can call it “SEE-ree-us or KEE-ree-us depending upon your Latin or Greek temperament though it is usually said SEE-ree-us. (Also see “Catus, don’t be spineless.”)Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Stems creeping, sprawling or clambering, branching profusely, or straight up to 30 feet or more, thick; tough with age, wavy. One to three spines on adult branches , .5 to three inces long, grayish brown to black, spreading; skin deep green. Flowers large, night blooming, scented; greenish yellow or whitish, rarely tinged rose. Fruit oblong to oval, two to four inches long, one to two inches thick, red with large bracteoles, pulp white, seeds black.
TIME OF YEAR: Bloom and fruits mainly in August and September
ENVIRONMENT: Can be found on the ground or growing on trees and walls and the like
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Ripe fruit is often chilled and cut in half so that the flesh can be eaten with a spoon. The juice makes a cool drink. A syrup from the whole fruit can be used to color pastries and candy. The unopened flower bud can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. The seeds can be eaten as is or ground up and used as flour. Fruits can also be made into preserves. Pulp food value is water, 92.20; protein, 0.48-0.50; carbohydrates, 4.33-4.98; fat, 0.17-0.18; fiber, 1.12; ash, 1.10%.
The first time you eat an acorn it makes you wonder what the squirrels are going nuts about. As the bitterness twists your mouth into a pucker it reminds you animals can eat a lot of things we can’t… unless we modify them.
A lot has been said about acorns. I’ll try to say a few things that haven’t been said. Let’s start with that fact that the world’s biggest acorn is in Moore Square Park in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. Raleigh calls itself “The City of Oaks.” The “Big Acorn” is ten feet tall and weights 1,250 pounds. I’d hate to meet the squirrel that can carry it away. But, it does remind me of a general rule of thumb about acorns: The bigger the cap on the acorn, the more bitter it will be.
The English word “oak” is some 1,260 years old. In German it was “eih” ending up “eiche” The Dutch extended it to “eychen” or ” eychenboom.” (I went to school with a “Cossaboom” meaning cherry tree.) Oaks are also mentioned in ancient texts. Greeks of old said “dryas.” Modern Greek say “dris.” It was the preferred tree of Zeus. Those faithful to Zeus gathered around oak trees. The Celts preferred to knock on oak wood. One variation of their word for oak was “dair, the fourth letter of the Celtic alphabet and part of the name of the city Kildare (means “Church in the Oaks.”) Often associated with strength, the US military awards gold “oak leaf clusters” for exceptional bravery. Oaks have been a significant part of every culture around them.
The word “acorn” is a combination of “ak” for oak and “corn” meaning seed thus acorn means oak seed. The Greeks say velanidi, the Spanish bellota, the French gland, Italians glanda, Portuguese, glande, and in the forgotten fifth romantic language, ghinda in Romanian. Those Romans got around. All the Romantics come from the Latin word for gland, which also lent itself to the medical term for a certain acorn-like part of the male anatomy. The acorn is also one of the few nuts or fruits that is not directly named in Modern English after the tree it comes from which is why one does not hear of oak nuts… walnuts, beechnuts, hickory nuts, oak nuts… gland… it could all get rather naughty.
At least 450 species of oak populate world wide. Some 30 species in the United States have been used for food and oil. The Live Oak is the most prized, not only for food but particularly ship building. Its very long, graceful limbs were ready-made for boat keels and ribs. In fact, the U.S. Navy once had its own live oak forest just for boat building. Sold off long ago, the Navy began stockpiling Live Oak in 1992 for restoration of the USS Constitution. It got 50 live oaks from Florida in 2002 of 160 that were cleared for a golf course near Tallahassee. Just as 200 years ago, the trees were selected for their natural curves for the ship. In the white oak family, the Live Oak’s acorns are among the mildest one can collect. Botanically the Live Oak is Quercus virginiana. Quercus (KWERK-kus ) was the Roman name for the tree and virginiana (ver-jin-ee-AY-nuh) means North America and usually where the species was first noticed, such as Virginia.
The seed crop from an oak, the acorns, is called a “mast” which means “food” and putting on a crop of acorns is masting. It is tempting to say it is probably related to the word to “masticate” meaning to chew but it isn’t. Mast came from the Middle English word “mete” meaning meat, which at that time meant any food, and we still use it abstractly in that way, as in “Education became his meat and experience his drink.” Mete came from the Italian word madere which came from the Greek word, madaros, meaning to be wet. That takes a bit of explaining. Ancient Greeks divided food into two large categories. “Wet” food was food fit for humans and pigs. Dry food was fit for cattle and fowl. Now you know.
Acorns are quite nutritious. For example, the nutritional breakdown of acorns from the Q. alba, — the white oak — is 50.4% carbohydrates, 34.7% water, 4.7% fat, 4.4.% protein, 4.2% fiber, 1.6% ash. A pound of shelled acorns provide 1,265 calories, a 100 grams (3.5 ounces) has 500 calories and 30 grams of oil. During World War II Japanese school children collected over one million tons of acorns to help feed the nation as rice and flour supplies dwindled.
Oaks fall into two large categories, those that fruit in one season, white oaks, and those that fruit after two seasons, the black oaks and the red oaks. The latter category is far more bitter than the former. The first category have leaves with round lobes and no prickles at the end of the leaves. The black and red oaks have prickles at the end of their leaves. They also have scales on the cups of the acorns, hair inside the caps, and a sheath around the nut (which always throws a color even when the tannin is leached out.) Some times those in the first category don’t need any leaching, or very little. The rest always do. But first, separate the acorns.
To separate acorns dump them into water and remove the ones that float. Take the ones that sink and dry them in a frying pan on the stove or in the oven at 150F or less for 15 minutes, preheated. Or put them in the sun for a few days. You don’t want to cook them yet, just dry them off and shrink the nut inside making them a little easier to shell. The yield, not counting bad acorns, is 2:1. two gallons of usable acorns in the shell will yield a gallon of nutmeat. We must leach out the tannic acid it can damage our kidneys, Most unleached acorns are too bitter to eat without leaching.
There are three general ways to leach acorns. The least common way is to bury them whole in a river bank for a year, which turns them black and sweet, good for roasting. The other method is to grind them into a course meal and soak several days or weeks (depending on the species) in many changes of cold water until the water runs clear. These will be slightly bland but good for making acorn flour. (Sometimes the leached acorns will be dark but sweet afterwards.) The third way — boiling — is least preferred because if done wrong it will bind the tannins to the acorn and they will not lose their bitterness. Also, when you boil the acorns you also boil off the oil with the tannins, reducing their nutrition. That oil, however, is very nutritious. At this writing it is selling for $182 a gallon. You can make it for far less. There is actually a fourth method that requires lye but it is not commonly used nor have I tired it.
The boiling process requires two pots of boiling water. Put the acorns in one pot of already boiling water until the water darkens. Pour off the water and put the hot acorns in the other pot of boiling water while you reheat the first pot with fresh water to boiling. You keep putting the acorns in new boiling water until the water runs clear. Putting boiled acorns into cold water will bind the tannins to the acorn and they will stay bitter. So always move them from one boiling bath to another. Putting acorns in cold water and bringing the water to a boil will also bind the tannin. So it is either use all cold water and a long soaking or all boiling water and just a few hours of cooking. There is one other difference between the two methods.
The temperature at which you process the acorns at any point is critical. Boiling water or roasting over 165º F precooks the starch in the acorn. Cold processing and low temperatures under 150 F does not cook the starch. Cold-water leached acorn meal thickens when cooked, hot-water leached acorn meal does not thicken or act as a binder (like eggs or gluten) when cooked. Your final use of the acorns should factor in how you will process them. If you are going to leach and roast whole for snacking then boiling is fine. If you are going to use the acorn for flour it should be cold processed, or you will have to add a binder.
Personally, I grind mine in a lot of water to a fine meal, let it set, then strain. I add more water to the meal, let set and strain. I do that until the water is clear or the meal not bitter. That takes a few days to a week. Then I dry it in the sun, unless there are squirrels about, then in a slow oven (under 150º F.) I end up with a meal or flour, depending on the grind, that will not crumble when cooked.
There are nearly as many ways to leach acorns as there are opinions about acorns. Another way is to put the shelled acorns in water in a blender or food processor and blend them into a milk-like slurry. Put that slurry in a fine mesh bag and then massage that under running water like a faucet. It works very quickly but of course some meal and oil is lost in the process. But it turns hours of leaching into minutes. Of course, leaching them in an unpolluted stream is the easiest way but you can also arrange for a container to leak slowly. Simply put a cloth on the bottom to hold the meal in and fill the container when it is empty, or run the faucet slowly to maintain the leaching. Another ways is to clean out the tank on your toilet and put the shelled acorns in a mesh bag in there. Every flush will remove tannic water and bring in fresh.
Many Native Americans preferred bitter acorns to sweet ones because they stored better. If after leaching there is just a hint of bitterness that can sometimes be removed by soaking the acorns in milk for a while. The protein in the milk will bind with the tannin in the acorns and can be poured off, if there is just a little. To get oil from the cold-leached acorns, boil them. The oil will rise to the top of the water. Also, charred acorns can be used as a substitute for coffee but really nothing is a substitute for coffee.
Whole leached acorns can be roasted for an hour at 350º F, coarsely ground leached acorns slightly less time. They can then be eaten or ground into non-binding flour. To make a flour out of your whole or coarsely ground acorns, toss them in a blender or food processor. Strain the results through a strainer to take out the larger pieces then reduce them as well. Acorn flour has no gluten so it is usually mixed 50/50 with wheat flour. Since acorn flour is high in oil it needs to be stored carefully and not allowed to go rancid. Remember cold processed acorn flour has more binding capacity than heat processed acorn flour.
Live Oak acorns top the food list for birds such as wood ducks, wild turkeys, quail and jays. Squirrels, raccoons and whitetail deer also like them, sometimes to the point of being 25% of their fall diet. Interestingly, the tannin tends to be in the bottom half of the acorn which is why you will often see a squirrel eat only the upper half of the acorn. Squirrels are also not fools. They will eat all of a white acorn when they find one because it is the least bitter. They will bury the very bitter red and black acorns so over time some of the bitterness is leached into the soil. Raiding a squirrel’s hoard will get bitter acorns. By the way, acorns shells and unleached nutmeat have gallotannins which are toxic to cattle, sheep, goats, horses and dogs.
If you use the boiling method don’t throw away the tannic water. The water has a variety of uses. With a mordant it can be used to dye clothing. The tannic acid also makes a good laundry detergent. Two cups to each load but it will color whites temporarily a slightly tan color. Tannic water is antiviral and antiseptic. It can be used as a wash for skin rashes, skin irritations, burns, cuts, abrasions and poison ivy. While you can pour the tannic water over poison ivy, if you have the luxury freeze the brown water in ice cube trays and use the cubes on the ivy eruption. If you have a sore throat you can even gargled with tannic water or use it as a mild tea for diarrhea and dysentery. Externally dark tannic water can be used on hemorrhoids. Hides soaked in tannic water make better leather clothing. Using the brown water turned hides tan colored and that is why it is called tanning and from there we get the words tannins and tannic. In traditional tanning methods, whole hides are soaked in a vat of tannin water for a full year before being processed.
Oak trees begin to produce acorns at about 20 years years old but usually the first full crop won’t happen until the tree is about 50. The average 100-year old oak produces about 2,200 acorns per season. Only one in 10,000 will become a tree.
Besides dyes paints have also been made from the oaks. It also a dense wood for working and weights 75 pounds per dry cubic foot. The hull of the US warship, USS Constitution, was made entirely of oak, white oak covering over a live oak core. At the waterline she was 25 inches thick. Eighteen-pound cannonballs bounced off the oak, notable in the 1812 battle with the HMS Guerriere. That battle and the subsequent loss of British ships caused the British to issue the order that no ship was to attack the Constitution singlehandedly. The Constitution, as of this writing, is still on duty and berthed in Boston.
Sprouted acorns are also edible as long as they haven’t turned green. I’ve heard from German forager Peter Becker has a slightly different view of what to do with acorns.
“What I do to prep acorns for consumption is let them germinate, so the starches turn into malt sugar. I’ve only just developed a new product with acorns to introduce this precious nut to public because acorns are generally considered inedible here in Germany. NewTella is a sweet bread spread just like Nutella, the famous hazelnut creme, except that all ingredients are locally available, it has less sugar and the only fats are from the acorn. The basic preparation is to roast leached, peeled and germinated acorns, boil 1 part acorns with 3 parts of apple juice, when soft process them smoothly, add 20 % sugar with pectin. This bread spread is also a great way to preserve acorns and can be used for cookies. It’s a great way to promote this gigantic untapped resource and jazz up general nutrition.”
A few exchanges about Peter’s process is below in the comments. He shells them, leaches them (cold water) and sprouts them before using them to make his NewTella. That helps convert the starch to malt, which is sweet. To visit Peter’s site click here.
Lastly you may have a use for those acorns that float. Most of them have a weevil grub in them, the Acorn Curculio. Look for a little 1/8 inch hole. In time that grub will crawl out and burrow into the ground for a couple of years turning into a full-fledged insect. You can use that grub in the acorn as bait for fish. Or, you can let it crawl in to a bucket of dirt or sawdust or a container of oatmeal where it will make a cocoon which you can then open later and use for bait. Store live in the frig. Also, squirrels like the grubs so it is not beyond reason to use them for bait for squirrels. And to answer your question, the grubs are edible by humans raw or cooked.
2 cups acorn flour
2 cups cattail or white flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup maple syrup or sugar
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons olive
Bake in pan for 30 minutes or until done at 400 degrees.
A far more simple form of acorn bread is to make a thick acorn porridge out of cold processed acorn flour. Take a large tablespoon of the porridge and drop it into cold water. This causes the porridge to contract. Take the lump out of the water and dry.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Acorns, small nut with cap. Rough and larger caps belong to the more bitter acorns.
TIME OF YEAR: Usually late summer, fall, tree do not produce every year.
ENVIRONMENT: Oaks inhabit all kinds of environments.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Numerous once leached of tannins.: out of hand, flour, candy.
The tannins have been used as an astringent as well as antiviral, antiseptic and antitumor but could also be carcinogenic. The mold that develops on acorns has antibiotic properties.
Sorrels are like McDonald’s restaurants: No matter where you are on earth there’s one nearby.
That’s because the sorrels, properly Oxalises, comes from a huge family. What’s huge? There are some 850 different species of them, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. No, that’s not a record. The biggest family is the composites, you know, like sunflowers and daisies. There’s over 20,000 in that family, maybe more, no one really knows for sure. Still, an Oxalis (ox-AL-iss) is found at every location on the rotation except at the north and south poles. There are at least four species in Florida, three pink and one yellow, one of which has the good taste to sprout up in my garden. I live mid-state right on the line between temperate and subtropical so many plants said to be in the state are often 200 miles farther north in temperate or 200 miles farther south in tropical.
When you have a family of plants that’s 850-strong, and folks don’t know enough to eat them, you also get the other view: That the Oxalis is not a delicate, pretty little greenerific morsel but a pernicious ugly weed that uses up your water, fertilizer and garden space. Once an Oxalis gets a roothold in a garden, it’s there forever, which brings up a touchy point: Gardeners who complain the most about weeds are also usually the last group to consider eating the weeds. It’s kind of like they are for controlled green but not natural green. To me an Oxalis in my garden is food I didn’t have to plant. As long as it’s growing where I want it to grow there’s no issue. If it isn’t, it’s not a weed. It’s dinner. Sorrel is the first wild plant I saw someone other than my mother nibble on. A childhood friend of mine named Peter Jewett (wrongly) called it “sour grass.” We used to play on a small island in a small brook in the Maine woods and it grew profusely there. It was the fort’s “food supply.”
Here in Florida I have at least five versions of the Oxalis; corymbosa, violacea, intermedia and articulata, large imports with pink blossoms, and the native Oxalis stricta, which is small and has yellow blosoms. All parts are edible including the root bulb, which is succulent and sweet. Above ground it tastes much like rhubarb but not as tart. The C. violacea occasionally has, in the words of Merritt Fernald, author of Gray’s Manual of Botany, “an icicle-like water-storage organ or fleshy root.” In other parts of the world, Oxalis tuberosa is popular not only as a green but as a root vegetable. The same with Oxalis deppei and Oxalis stricta.
Sorrel is from the High German word “sur” meaning sour. Oxalis is from the Greek though the accent is on the end: oxal-IS, base word (Οξύς, pungent) The Oxalis is mildly tangy because of …oxalic acid… now there’s a surprise. Corymbosa (kor-im-BO-sa.) is also from Greek and means clusters, in this case clusters of flat-topped blossoms, but it could also mean growing in clusters as well. Violacea (vye-o-LAY-see-uh) like a violet. Intermedia (inter-MEE-dee-ah) means intermediate. Articulata (ah-tic-you-LAH-ta) is jointed. Stricta (STRICK-us) means upright, errect. The little plant does stick up as high as it can. Tuberosa (too-ber-ROW-sa) means tuber. Oxalises can grow individually or in colonies, and if you have one there will be colonies. They are refreshing to nibble on, are nice additions to salads, and can be made into an ade. Their tart flavor is both positive and negative. A little is good, but a lot when eaten uncooked, to excess, can leach some calcium out of your bones. (Yes, you would have to consume it like a force-fed lab rat for months, but it can happen.)
Cooking plants with oxalic acid reportedly renders them harmless, and that’s what has been done with other plants containing oxalic acid, such as docks and sheep sorrel, both Rumex and in the buckwheat family. This is particularly true if any form of calcium is used — milk for example — or included in other food. A good use for this plant is stuffing that trout you just caught and are cooking over the fire.
Every book on wild foods warns us not to consume too much oxalis acid, but that’s to keep the accursed lawyers happy. ( Shakespeare was right.) It is true that folks with kidney stones, gout and the like should not over-consume oxalic acid. Yet, when was the last time you read or heard of such a warning for tea, parsley, rhubarb, carambolas, spinach, chard, beets, cocoa, chocolate, nuts, berries, black pepper and beans? They all have oxalic acid as well, but no dire warnings are given with them. The French are not succumbing from sorrel soup slurping. As my Greek ancestors used to say some 3,000 years ago, μέτρον άριστον, [ME-tron A-ri-ston] all things in moderation.
Lastly, the Internet calls Oxalies “clover which is completely wrong. Different genus, different shape if you look closely.
Below is an Oxalix Cooler recipe from Sunny Savage
1 quart water
1/2 cup Oxalis leaf/stem/flowers/seedpods
1 Tablespoon agave nectar or honey
dash of salt
Mix all ingredients in a blender. If possible, let sit overnight in refrigerator and enjoy!Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Perennial growing to ix inches, three leaves, some times very delta shaped, other times round or lance shaped, depending upon the species. Pink and or yellow blossoms in Florida
TIME OF YEAR: Grows and flowers year round in Florida, July to September in more northern climes. Very prolific in February and March in Florida.
ENVIRONMENT: Anywhere moist but well drained, lawns, woods, trails, parks.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves and stems in salad, or made into ade or soup. Use as a stuffing for fish and chicken or ferment like a sauerkraut. If you cook oxalis best to use a glass or ceramic pot. Like all plants with oxalic acid should be used in moderation. Some people may be allergic to it. The juice can be used to coagulate milk for cheese making. See my article on rumex.
Cemeteries remind me of Pindo Palms. They are a common landscape plant in Florida cemeteries, and public parks as well. In fact, they are a very common landscape plant in southern climes and most owners are glad to give you the fruit and surprised to learn they are edible.
Banana yellow, sometimes with a rose blush, they are sweet and tart at the same time. Pindo Palms are also lost fruit. They were once the stable of every southern yard that didn’t dip below 12º F degrees or so. Now it’s considered a palm that creates a mess on lawns. Indeed, one of the common complaints about the Pindo Palm is that it produces too much fruit… Think about that: Only a nation with yards of decapitated grass and an obesity epidemic would think a plant produces too much food.
The fruit of Pindo Palms are often called palm dates and were used to make jelly — hence Jelly Palm — because they contain a good amount of pectin. That same pectin makes for a cloudy wine, the other common use and name for the plant, Wine Palm. Its botanical name is Butia capitata (BEW-tee-uh kap-ih-TAY-tuh.) Butia is a Portuguese corruption of an aboriginal term meaning “spiny.” Capitata is Latin, meaning “with a dense head” referring to the seed heads. The name Pindo comes from the town of Pindo in southern Brazil where the palm is native. Its common local name is Yatay. It’s habitat is grasslands, dry woodlands and savannahs of South America. It ranges across northern Argentina, southern Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Besides Florida, it’s a popular landscape plant throughout the Gulf and southeastern Atlantic coastal regions and northern California, places that are subject to only occasional frosts. It is reported in isolated microclimes in North Carolina, Washington DC and British Columbia.
When I was a foreign exchange student teaching in London back in the Dark Ages I took a trip to Cornwall and the Scilly Islands. I still have pictures of Pindo Palms growing there. I suspect the fruit of the B. capitata was made into jelly more often than pies et cetera because eating it is similar to eating sugar cane, in that it is tasty but very fibrous. Some people can swallow the fiber and have no tummy problems, in others it can upset stomachs. So, chewing the fruit and spitting out the fiber is accepted practice. Try only one at first, they don’t agree with everyone. One writer said they have a “terrific taste that starts out like apple and transforms to tart tropical flavors as it tantalizes the tongue.” To me they taste like a banana and a nectarine put together. Of course, once you have juice from the palm many things can be made from it and no southern home should be without a jelly palm. They are inexpensive, hardy, showy and bountiful. Incidentally, the seeds are about 45% oil and are used in some countries to make margarine. The core of the tree is also edible, as like the cabbage palm, but that also kills the tree so reserve that for palms only slated for development execution.
Lastly, don’t confuse the fruit of the Queen Palm with the Pindo Palm. While the resemblance is superficial, and the Queen Palm usually much taller, they make a similar stalk of fruit and lose them the same way. The Queen Palm’s fruit when ripe is always orange to red in color. The Pindo Palm fruit, however, is always yellow, and when very ripe very yellow but not orange. Pindo Palms are also usually squat and not very tall. I’ve never met one that was so tall you couldn’t reach the fruit from the ground.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION:An evergreen tree growing to 20 by 12 feet, a long spike of green fruit — see upper right — turning yellow then dropping, ripe fruit very fragrant. Note the spines on the fronds in the upper right picture. Fronds are very long.
TIME OF YEAR: Evergreen, fruits in late spring in Florida.
ENVIRONMENT: Landscape plant that likes full sun,sandy well-drained soil but needs moisture, grows fuller if in partial shade.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Fresh fruit off the tree, juice made into jelly and wine. The best fruit are usually the ones you fight the ants for. Also the flavor and sugar content can vary from tree to tree.
Pindo Wine is very tropical, takes a long time, and can have clarity issues because of the natural pectin.
About 1.2 kg of ripe pindo fruit
1 Campden tablet
1.2 kg sugar dissolved in 1 liter boiling water and cooled
½ tsp tannic acid (optional – slightly alters the taste and lightens the color of the wine)
½ tsp yeast nutrient
general purpose winemaking yeast
For wine: Cover the fruit with water then use clean hands and rub out the seeds. Mash up the fibrous fruit pulp. Add crushed Campden tablet and leave, covered for 24 hours. Make up the wine starter. Add the pectinase dissolved in a little water and leave for several hours. Add the sugar syrup, tannic acid and yeast nutrient and make up to 5 liters. Add the yeast. Stir 3 times per day for 6 days before sieving into a demijohn. Rack and add sugar as necessary. A final specific gravity of about 1.020.
One would think it would be easy to make jelly out of the fruit of a plant called the “jelly palm.” The answer is yes and no. It is called the jelly palm because the fruits, in a good year, have enough natural pectin to make jelly, barely. So, one should add pectin. The other issue is the seeds. You can cook the fruit with the seeds still in them but I think that can impart a woody flavor to the jelly and reduce its ability to jell (I think cooking the seeds release some of the edible oil and that affects the process.) On the other hand, cutting the fruit off the seed is a chore. Friends make the job go quicker. You can cut the pulp off or try to rub the seed out, your choice.
Since three cups is the standard for Sure Jell, start with six cups of ripe fruit. Cut and scrape as much fruit as you can off the seeds. One would like to say cut the fruit out but it hangs on so tenaciously to the pulp you really have to cut the fruit off the seed. Starting with six or more cups should yield you three cups of cleaned fruit. When you have three cups, cover with three cups of water. Bring to boil and cook until you have about 3.5 cups of infused juice. Yes, measure it. When you have those 3.5 cups, filter the juice and make jelly per the recipe on the box for three cups, adding two or three cups of sugar, depending upon taste. Of course, you also don’t have to filter it, and can use three cups as is, the texture and clarity will be slightly affected, but it is just as wholesome.
Syzygium: A Jumble of Jambul
The Jambul tree makes you wonder what people were thinking.
For a half a century or so the United States Department of Agriculture brought into Florida many species the state now considers problem plants. Jambul is one of them. It was introduced into south Florida as a shade tree, not once but three times, 1911, 1912 and 1920. It took 71 years for the species to become a naturalized pest and now a century later full-grown specimens can be found the warm south of the state to central Florida. Not bad for a tropical tree.
The species has been introduced into most warm areas of the world. However, in Hawaii it probably got there by migrating mynah birds and was first recorded on the islands in 1870. That state is trying to eradicate it. Jambul was also cultivated throughout the Caribbean and got to Puerto Rico in the 1920s, where it’s naturalized as well. Because of its later introduction there it is one of the few genera in the Caribbean that is not used much in local folk medicine (though very present in native India medicine.) As a forager there is little I can do about the genus except my civic duty and eat as many of its fruit as possible to reduce its spread. Actually there are at least two species of Syzygium naturalized in Florida, the S. cumini that bears dark purple fruit, above, and S. jambos, below, which has white to red fruit. Both species are called the Jambul tree (jam-BULL.)
A native of south Asia and Australia Jambul produces food, wood products, and materials for folk medicine. The dark fruit of the S. cumini tastes and smells like a ripe apricot but looks like a stretched black olive, very juicy and to me puckery like a chokecherry. The S. jambos has pearish-shaped fruit that ranges from white to green to yellow to red. Its flavor is more like an apple/green pepper cross with a rose scent and a slightly bitter aftertaste. It’s skin is thin, waxy, and the hollow core contains a small amount of inedible fluff.
Jambul fruit, which are high in vitamins C and D, can be eaten out of hand or made into sauces, tarts and jams. They make a good fruit sherbet, syrup and squash. They can be made into vinegar, wine or distilled, one native spirit being “jambava.” It is also a good honey tree. Harvesting of fruit in its native range is in summer or early fall. Here in Florida it tends to be in spring to summer. The leaves make good livestock feed and oil in the leaves has been used to scent soaps and perfumes. The bark yields a brown dye and has tannin for leather making. The wood is very durable to water. It’s used used to make beams, rafters, telephone poles, oars, ship masts, boats, and water troughs, among many more uses.
Often planted as a windbreak, the S. cumini trees can reach full height in 40 years, which in their native rage is near 100 feet. In Florida it is half that. It can have a crown 18 to 40 feet wide and often has multiple trunks radiating from near the ground. The Jambul can also grow in wet and dry areas as long as it has sun. The bark on the lower part of the tree is discolored, rough textured, cracked and flaking; young bark higher up is smooth and light gray. The paired, opposite leaves have a hint of turpentine when crushed. The evergreen leaves are two to ten inches long, one to four inches wide, oblong in shape, oval or elliptic, can be blunt or tapering to a point at the tips. The leaves start out pinkish then mature leathery and glossy, dark green above, light green below. Each leaf has a yellowish midrib. The S. jambos tends to be shorter, perhaps 45 feet at best in its native range, its leaves are more lance shaped, and the bark a smooth gray.
Medicinally the seeds of the Jambul have been used to control blood sugar levels and the leaves and bark high blood pressure. Incidentally, we regularly used another member of this genus, S. aromaticum. Its dried flower buds form the spice we know as “cloves.”
As is often the case the botanical name is Greek tainted by Latin. Syzygium is said to refer to the tree’s paired leaves, one also sees “twin” leaves. The base word, however, is zygos (zi-GHOS) the yoke. A person’s spouse in Greece is called my Zizigos (ZEE-zee-ghos) my yoke mate. So the Greek speaker would be strongly tempted to pronounce Syzygium as zee-ZEE-ee-yum. Anglicized Latin would have it sizz-ZYE-gee-um.
The species name cumini, said KOU-mee-nee, is from the Greek kyminon (KEY-mee-on) or in modern Greek Kymino (KEY-mee-no) meaning the spice cumin. Jambos (jam-BOS) is the Malaysian name for rose-apple though it comes from Sanskrit’s Jambudvīpa, which means rose apple land.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: S. cumini is a tree to 50 feet, S. jambos smaller, both often multiple trunks, bark on the lower part of S. cumini is discolored, rough textured, cracked and flaking, young bark higher up is smooth and light gray, bark on S. jambos smooth and gray. Paired opposite leaves have a hint of turpentine when crushed. The evergreen leaves of the S. cumini are two to ten inches long, one to four inches wide, oblong in shape, oval or elliptic, can be blunt or tapered to a point at tips, leaves of the S. jambos more lance shaped. Leaves start out pinkish then mature leathery and glossy, dark green above, light green below. Each leaf has a yellowish midrib.
TIME OF YEAR: Summer and fall in native range, late spring and summer in Florida area.
ENVIRONMENT: Likes sun, can tolerate wet and dry conditions, does not tolerate freezes unless full grown then iffy.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Fruit out of hand, or use as any fruit as jelly, sauce, syrup, wine, spirits and vinegar.
If you are a forager, you will be told two things constantly: One is that the plant of your admiration is “poisonous.” Sometimes they are, often they are not. The other thing you will hear is that a particular species is a “trash tree.”
When I first asked about this species I was told by a knowledgeable botanist that it was a trash tree though at the time he did not know what species it was. Over the years I wondered about its identity. It resembled a basswood tree but wasn’t one. It was certainly prolific, growing in hursts everywhere, often in low spots or gullies and ditches. I watched it for several years but it never seemed to fruit. While it did form colonies I also saw an isolated tree now and then. I presumed it could either fruit or reproduce by cuttings and the like. In hindsight, compounding the issue is that a young tree’s leaves look very different than a mature tree’s leaves. Indeed, it was a lone young tree near a bike trail that got me on the track of solving the identity of my mystery tree.
What I discovered was that while it might be an invasive species it is far from a “trash tree.” Also know as the Paper Mulberry, the Broussonetia papyrifera (brew-soh-NEE-she-uh pap-ih-RIFF-er-uh) has been used for thousands of years to make paper and cloth. Young leaves are edible cooked — chewy — and in the right climate it produces orange pom-pom-like fruit. The tree, with extra large leaves, soft on one side, rough on the other, is also a common source of woodland toilet paper.
Native to the cooler regions of Asia they were taken to the Pacific Islands for paper and cloth. Someone had the bright idea of taking only sterile male clones to control their proliferation plus the male trees produce the better bark for cloth and paper. However, they can clone themselves by runners. Big mistake. The Paper Mulberry was in Florida by 1903 with someone also introducing female trees as well. With males and females being able to clone plus seeds from the female the species went gangbusters.
Two things compounded my identification and appreciation of the Paper Mulberry. The first, already mentioned, is that the leaves of the young Paper Mulberry look very different than the adult. They are palmate and very indented, resembling an ornamental, Chinese pitchfork. Older leaves are very large mittens with one or two lobes looking like left or right thumbs, double thumbs or no thumbs. The second issue was the species is from a temperate climate. Florida is not temperate. In my sub-temperate area they never fruit. Eighty miles north of here they do fruit but in years of watching they’ve never fruited locally (They might, however, if we have an exceptionally cold winter producing the necessary chill hours.) It took tid bits of observations over many years to finally sort out the species’ identity.
To call the fruit an orange pom-pom is actually quite accurate. It starts out as a green ball about the size of a large marble on the end of a two-inch stem. The ball is pitted much like a Bread Fruit, which it is related to, and the Osage Orange. Then the ball grows white hairs which eventually make the orange pom-pom part, which is edible. The ball is not edible as far as I know. The fruit is sweet, juicy and fragile. It does not travel well and is best eaten on the spot. Fruiting starts around April and ends by the end of June. Young leave for food are steamed though they do have a texture issue. You can also chop them up and boil them as well. The larger leaves can be used to wrap food in for cooking.
At one time the Paper Mulberry was grouped with other mulberries, and is closely related, but was given its own genus Broussonetia named after Pierre Maria August Broussonet (1761-1807) a professor of botany at Montpelier, France. In the US the tree can be found From Massachusetts south to Florida, west to Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Paper mulberry is deciduous with milky sap to 45 ft. (15 m.). Twigs hairy reddish brown, on young trees zebra stripped, older trees tan, smooth, furrowed. Wood is soft and brittle. Leaves are hairy, lobed or mitten-shaped, alternate, opposite or whorled along stem. Leaf edge sharply toothed, base heart-shaped to rounded with pointed tips, upper leaf surface is rough feeling. Separate male and female flowers in spring. Male flower clusters are elongate, pendulous, 2 ½ to 3 in. Female flowers globular about one inch in diameter. Fruits orange to reddish purple.
TIME OF YEAR: In Florida April to June, summer in northern areas, February to April in warmer climates.
ENVIRONMENT: Open sunny fields but also low areas such as ditched and gullies. Grows very fast and can be fruiting within 18 months.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Fruit out of hand (orange parts only.) Young leaves steamed or boiled. Bark can be used to make paper and cloth (tapa). The fruit (grown in Thailand) is very high in calcium, potassium and magnesium. It also has trace amounts of arsenic (0.62 ppm) as many foods do. Deer like to nibble on the leaves.
Finding your first pawpaw is a thrilling moment.
I can remember exactly where it happened and when. It was the summer of 1987 in Longwood, Florida, in The Springs, a gated community, along a nature walk. I happened to glance over and saw a pair of horribly stunted misshapen green pears. And as is often the case, once one gets the image of the plant in the head by meeting it in person, one begins to see them. Their most common appearance in Central Florida is along the margins of Interstate 4 in the Deland area, and of course, pastures.
Wild pawpaws fall in the same category as gopher apples. The woodland creatures usually find them first so you rarely see a ripe one. The fruit is edible straight from the tree but palatability varies. There are two general types. One ripens early and is large with flavorful yellow flesh; the other is often smaller, ripens later, and has white, milder flesh. You can also divide pawpaws another way, Florida and all others. Florida’s pawpaws tend to be shrubs, if not dwarfs. They are: Asimina obovata, Asimina incana, Asimina reticulata, Asimina longifolia, Asimina pygmaea, and Asimina tetramera. Farther north one can find the Asimina triloba reaching small tree height and in the coastal areas Asimina parviflora. While I have not personally tasted them all Dr. Daniel Austin in Florida Ethnobotany says he presumes they are all edible.
Pawpaws are rich in nutritional value, including high levels of vitamins A and C. The downside is they don’t ship or store well, on par with loquats. Also they severely nauseate some people, can cause a rash when handled, and the seeds contain a depressant. Incidentally, the fruit is the largest native North American fruit and is heavy on the protein side.
Pawpaws are also a little difficult to cultivate. In fact, they are really hard to cultivate. They need a lot of pampering for a few years to get them started, after that they are quite free of problems. They also attract a wide variety of butterflies. Those who champion the cause of pawpaws think that if they can persuade nurseries to pay more attention to the plant it can be a commercial success. It has few pests so it can be grown organically with little fuss. There might be even pawpaws on your grocery shelf in a few years. That would depend upon the lawyers.
Like all plants the pawpaw is a mini chemical factory. The Indians used dried pawpaw seed powder to control head lice and pharmaceutical preparations today still use pawpaws for that. The leaves are diuretic and the bark yields a strong fiber for cordage. It also belongs in a family of fruit trees that are suspected of inducing Parkinson’s Disease. That is currently being researched. Pawpaw has not been indicted but to a lawyer all that might be close enough to keep the fruit off the grocery stores shelves. You might have to forage for pawpaws or grow your own. Which reminds me, historically, the pawpaw was under cultivation by Indians east of the Mississippi when de Soto traipsed through in 1541. Chilled papaw fruit was a favorite dessert of George Washington. Thomas Jefferson planted some at his Monticello. I don’t recall of either dying from Parkinson’s.
As for its usual genus name, Asimina (uh-SIM-min-nuh) nearly any guess is as good as any other. My best deduction is the Indians called the bush Assimin (“min” in Algonquin means food, still found in “persimmon.” ) Assimin would be fine enough but then European languages and writers get involved. The early French inhabitants of Louisiana, called the fruit “Asiminer” from which we get the genus name. This is somewhat close to the Latin word for monkey, simia. That led to an early reference to calling the plant “monin” which was an old French word for monkey. That came from the Greek word for monkey, maimou. It changed through Latin into the romance languages as monin, mouninu, monnino, and monin. That leads folks to think the fruit had something to do with monkeys but I think it was just an assumption of one botanist who thought Louisiana French were referring to a “monkey plant.” Further, the pawpaw is North American and there are no native monkeys.
One Florida version is Asimina reticulata, (reh-tick-yoo-LAY-tuh) meaning the veins in the leaf have a net pattern. It can be found in slightly damp or occasionally damp areas. Another is Asimina obovata (oh-bo-VAY-ta) meaning egg-shaped leaves. It likes it dryer ground can grow twice as tall as the reticulata. The others are more or less reported, not the most common of shrubs. Locally pawpaws are rarely over four feet high whereas farther north the grow into trees. The A. obovata is listed as rare and the A. tetramera endangered.
One would think pawpaws would be a bit easier to explain, but no, and it also points to one of the problems of the cut-and-paste Internet. Many say pawpaw (or papaw or paw-paw) is a corruption of the American Indian word papaya, a version or cognate shortened by the Spanish. That’s not too bad, no great stretch there. And that it came originally from native Americans seems reasonable. Others, no doubt copying the same wrong site, note that it is Indian then make a huge leap across the Pacific and say it is from the Hindi language, you know, near China… and then younger folks wonder why older folks don’t trust the Internet…
Two aspects of the pawpaw I’ve found interesting is first it is in the Magnolia family and is actually much older than the larger magnolias. The little ol’ pawpaw came first first. Next is that it is pollinated by carrion flies and insects attracted to fetid odors. Growers often put roadkill or rotting meat in their groves to attract the pollinating flies. Now there’s a tasty thought…
How to spell it… dictionaries are split, pawpaw, papaw… if you go back to the original it should be “papa” said pawpaw. In that regard papaw seems halfhearted. The USDA says pawpaw, Dr. Austin, ever sensitive to language’s influence on botany, went with pawpaw. Pawpaw eliminates mispronunciation, looks balanced to me and reflects thet balanced sound the ear hears… always the musician…
And in case you wondered since 1994, Kentucky State University http://www.pawpaw.kysu.edu/ has served as the USDA National Clonal Germplasm Repository, for Asimina species, as a satellite site of the NCGR repository at Corvallis, OR. There are over 2,000 trees from 17 states there on 12 acres at the KSU farm. Researchers evaluate the genetic diversity contained in wild pawpaw populations so that unique material can be added to the KYSU repository collection to be used in breeding. And for an unusual recreational and educational opportunity, visit the Annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival in September Lake Snowden in Albany, Ohio for three days of Pawpaw music, food, contests, art, history, education, sustainable living workshops and activities for the kids! http://www.ohiopawpawfest.com/ .Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Shrubs or small trees, three to 40 feet, 15 common, evergreen in southern area, deciduous in northern area. Leaves alternate, simple ovate, smooth edge entire, length varies with species, flowers foul smelling of rotting meat, single or in clusters, three large outer petals, three inner smaller petals, white to purple or red-brown. Fruit like cylindrical pears, misshapen, many seeds; green when unripe, maturing to yellow or brown, flavor similar to both banana and mango.
TIME OF YEAR: End of summer, fall
ENVIRONMENT: Rich bottom lands to rain-watered pastures, open areas, beside open areas. The two most common places I find it is at the base of tall pines or in cow pastures.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Used like a banana, raw or cooked, as in baked desserts, ice cream, pastries, or in making beer. Don’t eat the skin and don’t eat the seeds. Chewed seeds will cause digestive problems, whole seed usually pass through. Try only a very little at first. Some people have a very several allergic reaction to pawpaws.
Long before there were couch potatoes there were couch Loquats.
Loquats are homebodies. Most people who live beyond the growing range of the Loquat usually have never eaten a fresh one, having to settle for canned representatives. Loquats just don’t travel well. They bruise easily and loose their freshness quickly, much like a rose, its distant relative. From the tree to the kitchen is almost the maximum distance they will endure. Tree to tummy is the best. The state of Florida says they will keep several weeks in the refrigerator, but my experience is by then they look like large, lumpy raisins.
Although called the Japanese Plum, the Loquat is not native to Japan nor is it a plum. It’s extremely popular in Japan and has been cultivated there for at least 1,000 years. Despite the name, the Loquat is actually from southern China, where in Cantonese it is called Luh Kwat (hence Loquat.) Translated that means “reed orange” or “rush orange” or in other words it likes to grow where it is wet. That seems more poetic than true because here in Florida they grow where ever a bird drops the seed, wet or dry, hence they have become naturalized. If you have a Loquat tree, you will have dozens of Loquatlings. By the way, at least four different species of fruit-eating bats also do their best to spread and fertilize Loquat seeds.
In Mandarin Loquat is called “Pipa” because its shape resembles a musical instrument, the Pipa, which is pot-bellied like lute. In Japan the same mind set held sway and Loquat is called Biwa, after the musical instrument of the same shape. Pipa/biwa, too close for pentatonic or verbal chance.
The Loquat fruit is more like an apricot than a plum. It’s one of those inexplicable linguisticism that in English we refer to Japan’s apricot-like fruit as a “plum” but their plum –ume—we call a Japanese apricot, which it is not. That does not make a lot of sense. It makes you wonder if a couple of pages of an early botany book book were transposed. Incidentally, the kumquat and the Loquat are not related botanically, but both share an origin in old Chinese names. Kumquat means “golden orange.”
The Loquat tree is unusual in that it blossoms in the fall or early winter, and fruits in early winter or spring. Its blossoms were used to make perfumes in the 1950s. The quality of the perfume was said to be outstanding, but the yield was low and not commercially viable. Some individuals suffer headache when too close to a Loquat tree in bloom, the aroma from the flowers sweet and penetrating.
My Loquat tree blossoms around Christmas and I have edible fruit by St. Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day. It varies. Loquats were introduced to Florida in 1867 and the tree fruits as far north as South Carolina. The wood is pink, hard, close-grained, and medium-heavy. It is good for making rulers and bokkens. Bokkens? In Japanese martial arts the practice sword — the bokken — was often made of Loquat wood because it was hard but also brittle, perhaps a realistic substitute for swords which then could be brittle. Legend says a wound caused by a Loquat bokken will not heal and the victim will die. There is no report of what happen to wounds caused by a Loquat ruler in the hands of an old-fashion teacher, of which I had several.
I planted my Loquat tree some 15 years ago and it has been fruiting heavily for seven years. Following the suggestion of local experts, the tree is pruned to resemble a bowl, which increases production, up to 300 pounds of fruit a season. The sweet/tart yellow pear-shaped fruit is a sign of winter, eh, or spring, depending upon which cultivar you have. Many recipes are included below, or just use apricot recipes. Botanically in the same family with apples, pears, peaches, nectarines et cetera, the Loquat‘s scientific name is Eriobotryae japonica (air-ee-oh-BOT-ree-uh juh-PAWN-ih-kuh). Japonica means Japan and Eriobotryae is bastardized Greek — read Latinized Greek — meaning “woolly bunch of grapes.” Loquats grow on thick fuzzy stems in a cluster like grapes. There is no controversy that the fruit is tasty. The slippery seeds, however, are another issue.
Like many pome members of the rose family, the seeds contain small amounts of cyanogenetic glycosides. That’s almost as bad as it sounds. Said another way, in the gut this can make minute amounts of cyanide that the body can tolerate. This is also known as amygdalin or laetrile, also called B17, a controversial alternative medicine treatment for cancer, usually obtained from apricot pips. This would all be an almost dismissible interesting factoid if all we did was spit the seeds out, or occasionally let an ingested whole seed go on its merry alimentary way. But, then there is flavoring with the seeds, roasting the seeds, and lastly, Loquat grappa, which is made from the seeds. I should say, Loquat grappa is homemade. I know of no commercial Loquat grappa. There are some Loquat-flavored liquors but they have a different taste profile completely. They taste like Loquats. Loquat grappa does not taste like Loquats.
Loquat grappa is made by soaking Loquat seeds in vodka or grain alcohol for one to six months and then adding sugar water to the infusion. The longer you let it sit, the darker and stronger flavored it becomes. The odd part is Loquat grappa made this way has a very strong cherry flavor and aroma. Is Loquat grappa poisonous? That is a good question. Certain Indian tribes would leech cyanic glycosides out of seeds of related plants then eat the ground up seeds. If the glycosides can been leached out by water, then one would think vodka, which is half water, would leech it from the seeds to the vodka, and alcohol is a good solvent. Then again, it might not be chemically possible. If the toxin is an oil — an acid — it might not mix with water or alcohol. Perhaps a chemist will let us know. I can volunteer some Loquat grappa for science. So while some toxicity would make sense in some amount, it is an unknown. I’ve never seen more than four ounces drank at a time. It seems to be tolerated at that level, producing only expected effects. I make two “fifths” a year of it and it lasts until the next season. If you follow either of the Loquat grappa recipes included below and make your own, you’re on your own: No guarantees or promises of safety included. Consume sparingly. Oh, adding a section of cinnamon bark to the final grappa bottle adds some very nice flavor.
That said, the non-bitter roasted seeds are reported to be tasty — I’m not sure I would eat one but there are people who do, apparently — and some folks put a few seeds in the cavity of a chicken before roasting to impart a nice flavor. The roasted seeds when ground are said to be a good substitute for coffee. (I think I’ll pass on that, for two reasons: One is the debatable safety of the seeds. The other is every seed coffee extender or substitute I’ve ever had is awful, including the queen of substitutes, roasted ground persimmon seeds. )
Besides amygdalin, the seeds also have lipids, sterol, b-sitosterol, triglycerides, sterolester, diglycerides and compound lipids; and fatty acids, mainly linoleic, palmitic, linolenic and oleic. Amygdalin is also in the fruit peel, but slightly. The leaves possess a mixture of triterpenes, also tannin, in addition, there are traces of arsenic. (Arsenic And Old Loquat?) Young leaves contain saponin. The leaves and seeds are also used in Chinese medicine, as is the fruit, which has vitamins A, B, and C. The Loquat is still one of the most popular cough remedies in the Orient, and is the ingredient of many patent medicines.
One other warning: Do not eat a green, uncooked Loquats. They taste awful and there is one case on record of several stupefying a five-year old for two hours. Loquat pie made with greenish, not-quite-ripe fruit, however, supposedly taste like cherry pie….Recipes: Loquat Grappa
Soak one to two quarts of clean, whole Loquat seeds in a tight jar with a quart of vodka for one to six months. At the end of soaking time, drain the now flavored vodka and split it evenly between two fifth bottles. On the stove create sugar water by mixing equal parts of sugar and water. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. Top off each fifth with the sugar water. If you want it less sweet use less sugar, or more vodka.
4 lbs fresh loquats
2 lbs granulated sugar
1 tsp acid blend
1 gallon water
1 crushed Campden tablet
1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
1/2 tsp grape tannin
wine yeast and nutrient
Wash fruit and remove seeds. Chop the fruit finely or roughly in a blender. Pour fruit over half the sugar, crushed Campden tablet, tannin, yeast nutrient, and enough water to total one gallon in primary, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. Cover with cloth. After 12 hours, add pectic enzyme and recover. After another 12 hours, add wine yeast and recover. Stir daily, adding half the remaining sugar after three days. Ferment on pulp another four days, stirring daily. Strain through nylon jelly bag and squeeze well to extract juice. Pour remaining sugar into juice, juice into secondary, and fit airlock. Siphon liquor off sediments into clean secondary after 30 days, topping up as needed. Repeat racking every 30 days until wine clears (3-4 additional rackings). Rack once more and taste. If satisfied with sweetness, bottle the wine. If too dry, add stabilizer and sweeten to taste, adding up to 1/4 cup sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup water. Age
Here is a second Loquat grappa recipe from the internet.
Dry 200g of Loquat seeds in sun for a week. Put in a bottle with 400g spirit grain alcohol, a piece of lemon rind and a piece of vanilla bean. Keep covered in sun for 1 month, shaking it occasionally. Prepare syrup of 300g sugar and 300g water. Boil, then when cool mix with spirit, filter and bottle. Keep to season at least two months before drinking.And, Loquat Jam
1 kg loquats, seeds removed but fruit not peeled
200 ml water
Finely grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
Simmer fruit in water till soft. mash well or put it through the blender. add juice and rind and sugar; boil rapidly till a little sets on a cold saucer. Bottle and seal.More Loquat Jam
Wash, remove seeds, and blossom ends from whole ripe fruit. Run through food chopper and measure pulp. Barely cover with cold water. Cook until tender and deep red. Add 3/4 cup sugar to 1 cup of Loquat pulp. Cook until thick, stirring constantly. Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal with sterilized lids. It is best to cook small batches of no more than 5 cups of fruit pulp in one kettle.Loquat Jelly
5 lbs. ripe loquats
1 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice 1 package pectin
5-1/2 cups sugar
Gather Loquats when full size. Wash, remove seeds, and blossom ends. Barely cover with cold water. Simmer covered for 15 minutes Cook slowly until pulp is very soft. Strain juice through jelly bag. Measure 3-1/2 cups Loquat juice and lemon juice in a large kettle. if more juice is needed, fill last cup or fraction of a cup with water. Add pectin. Stir well. Place over high heat and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Add the sugar and mix well. Continue stirring and bring to full rolling boil. Boil exactly 2 minutes. Remove from fire and let boiling subside. Skim carefully. Pour into hot sterilized jelly glasses, leaving 1/2-inch space at top to cover at once with melted paraffin. (Or pour into hot sterilized jars and seal with sterilized lids.)Loquat Jelly
No Added Pectin
Gather Loquats when full size. Wash, remove seeds, and blossom ends. Barely cover with cold water. Cook slowly until pulp is very soft. Strain through jelly bag. Drain and cook until juice is thick then add an equal amount of sugar. Boil rapidly to jelly stage. Pour into sterilized jelly glasses, leaving 1/2-inch space at top to cover at once with melted paraffin. (Or pour into hot sterilized jars and seal with sterilized lids.)
For three pints of sweet pickles, wash three pounds of firm loquats and remove the stem and blossom ends; do not peel them. Drop them into the pickling syrup given below and cook until tender. Remove the fruit. Pour remaining syrup into sterilized jars. Fill almost to overflowing with the hot syrup and seal at once.
3 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups water
1-1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon whole allspice
2-inch stick of cinnamon
Combine sugar, water, and vinegar in a large kettle. Tie the spices loosely in cheesecloth and add. Boil 10 minutes. Put in fruit and cook gently until tender. This syrup may be used for apricots, peaches, pears, apples, crab apples, plums, loquats, and kumqats
Use the kiwi fruit chutney recipe, but substitute peeled, seeded loquats for kiwi fruit
To peel loquats for sauce and fruit cup, blanch by pouring boiling water over loquats to cover. Add 1/4 cup lemon juice to each quart of water. Cook over low heat about 5 minutes, just until skin loosen. Drain and reserve liquid. Cool, peel, halve, and seed loquats (remove seeds).
Loquat Sauce for Ice Cream
Combine two cups juice from blanched loquats with two cups sugar. (see Blanching above) Bring to boil, cook over medium heat until syrup spins a two-inch thread when dropped from a spoon (230 degrees to 234 degrees Farenheit on candy thermometer), about 20 minutes. Cool completely. Add two cups peeled, halved, seeded loquats. Chill, then serve over ice cream. Makes about three cups sauce.
Sugar and Spice Loquats
Sprinkle seeded (peeled if you want) fruit with granulated sugar. Mix cream cheese with powdered sugar and cinnamon and put in cavity. Top with a cut piece of strawberry.
BLOG NOTE: I have made the follow pie without seeds and it it is quite tasty.Loquat Pie
8 cups loquats
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
pastry for a double crust pie
Stem, wash and cut up loquats, leaving a few seeds for flavor, (When the pie is baked, the seeds taste almost like nuts and are really very good). Cook the loquats in water, covered, for about 10 minutes or until almost tender.
Combine the sugar, flour, salt, ginger and allspice. Stir in the loquats. Cook, stirring, until thickened. Remove from the heat and cool.
Pour into a pie plate containing the bottom pie crust. Cover with the top crust and prick with a fork or put a few cuts in the top crust to allow steam to escape while baking.
Bake at 450 degrees “F” for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees “F” for another 45 minutes.
Cool and serve.. With Vanilla bean ice-cream, and a light rum sauce..
The following recipes come from Marian Van Atta, whom I knew in the early 80’s. She had a newspaper column called Living off the Land. She looked home-spun and back to nature long before it was posh, a portly Mom Nature. She has a book, also available at Amazon: “Exotic Foods, a Kitchen and Garden Guide.” Here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1561642150/californirarefru
Fresh Loquat Relish
1 cup of loquats, cut in half and seeded
2 or three calamondins (quartered and seeded)
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup raisins
Put all ingredients in a blender and chop for a minute or so. Put in a covered jar and store in the refrigerator. Will last at least a week.
Martha’s Loquat Pie
3 cups loquats, seeded and sliced
3/4 cups sugar, less if fruit is very ripe
2 tablespoons flour.
Mix loquats, sugar and flour together. Put in unbaked 9-inch pie crust. Cover with top crust and slash for steam vents. Bank at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce to 350 degrees. Bake until crust is browned, about 35 more minutes.
You can also dry Loquats. Cut in half, remove seeds, prick skin with fork, dry accordingly.
Loquat Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Portion
Protein 1.4 g
Fat 0.7 g
Carbohydrates 43.3 g
Calcium 70 mg
Phosphorus 126 mg
Iron 1.4 mg
Potassium 1,216 mg
Vitamin A 2,340 I.U.
Ascorbic Acid 3 mg
Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile IDENTIFICATION:
Evergreen large shrub or small tree, rounded crown, short trunk, woolly new twigs. Leaves alternate, simple, 10-25 cm long, dark green, tough, leathery, toothed edge, velvety-hairy below.TIME OF YEAR:
Culitvars vary, some fruit in spring, some fruit in late summer or fall.ENVIRONMENT:
It likes heat and full sun, will survive said if watered. Naturalized in many areas.METHOD OF PREPARATION:
Yellow fruit raw or cooked, seeds can be used to make a cherry-flavored liquor.
Coronopus didymus/squamatus: Smelly Pot Herbs?
Opinions are mixed on Swinecress. I think it’s a nice walkabout nibble and pot herb. I often find it in lawns in the cooler months of the year. Others think it stinks nauseatingly and you should put a clothespin on your nose while boiling it many times. Now you know the spectrum of opinions…
Swinecress is yet another micro-mustard one finds clinging to life in scattered little patches. Don’t let the size fool you. It is a tenacious plant in will-to-live and flavor. Actually there are two species in North America, neither of them native. Coronopus didymus probably came from South America and Coronopus squamatus (formerly C. procumbens) came from Europe. They both have a moderate to strong mustard flavor and are used the same way. Sometimes the C. didymus is called the “Lesser Swinecress.” No idea why. Their main separating distinction is the fruit of the C. squamatus is lumpy and has ridges where as the C. didymus tends to be smooth.
While both are found scattered in the Eastern United States, C. squamatus is scattered across Europe. It is found from Ireland and southern England over to near my ancestral grounds in Greece, the wetlands of Mt. Parnon in Peloponnisos. C. didymus is also found in Oregon, Arizona and California. In the latter two states it is a noxious weed. It’s also been introduce to South Africa and Australia
Calling these plants micro-mustards is not quite fair. When they live where they are walked on or mowed they indeed become tough little contenders. But, given all the things most plants like such as sun, water, good soil and not trod on they can grow to over a foot hight. Oddly, they take up salt in their roots, to 17 percent. Those roots can be ground up and mixed with vinegar for a type of horseradish. Or they can be cooked an eaten. While I do not know so the roots might also be burned for the salt.
Coronopus (kor-on-OH-puss) is from Greek and means Raven/crow’s foot, presumably because the ends of the leaves look like that. Not too many people look at crows’ feet these days, or Ravens’. Didymus (DID-ee-mus) means found in pairs, a reference to the seeds, as in two testes and indeed that is what the seed pod resembles. Squamatus (squa-MAY-tus) means with scale-like leaves or bracts.
By the way, there are no poisonous members of the mustard family, just pungent.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Coronopus didymus: An annual or winter annual, low, spreading, smooth to mildly hair, stems freely branching, low-growing with upward tips, many leaves, ovate to oblong, pinnatifid, segments narrow, dentate or incised, racemes many, lots of flowers, white petals. Fruit shorter than stalks, seeds in two inflated rounded sections. Coronopus squamatus similar, more leafy, basal leaves obvate to oblanceolate, very condensed flowers. Seeds much rougher than C. didymus which are smooth.
TIME OF YEAR: C. didymus flowers spring to mid-summer. C. squamatus flowers in summer. In Florida, Swinecress a winter annual easily found in January.
ENVIRONMENT: Old fields, roadsides, along streets, vacant lots, disturbed sites, mowed lawns, often locally abundant.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Depends on your taste and perception. Can be eaten raw. Most people boil leaves and stems in several changes of water as a pot herb. Seems excessive to me. I actually never cook it. Can be used to stuff other foods such as fish. Roots can be cooked or ground up and mixed with vinegar to be used like a horseradish. Do not add salt to the root until you taste it.
It’s called the Christmasberry even though it fruits from Christmas to April. And while it is one of several “Christmas Berries” this one happens to have a famous relative, the Goji berry of health food fame.
Botanically the Christmasberry is Lycium carolinianum (not to be confused with a couple of edible Crossopetalums also called Christmas Berry.) As for how Lycium carolinianum is pronounced is a bit of debate. Some say LIE-see-um, others lie-SEE-um. As the original word is from the Greek, λύκειον (LEE-kee-on) as in a Greek school we might argue the genus is more properly LEE-see-um. Carolinianum means central North America and is said kar-row-linn-ee-AY-num.
For most of the year the Christmasberry is an unimpressive shrub that resembles from a distance a rosemary bush. But there are hints of more going on. Its leaves are plump and the shrub is salt tolerant, preferring coastal or inland areas of high saline content. In early winter or late spring the fruit is quite attractive and a welcomed food for woodland creatures particularly birds. Technically the L. carolinianum here in Florida fruits all year but favors the late fall and to early spring. However, I have also found them in abundance in mid-spring and late fall.
While the foliage would not give it away as a member of the Solanaceae clan the blossoms and berries can. The blossoms look very similar to other Solanums and the berries have an ornamental pepper look, if not in color then shape. The seeds are a familiar look as well reminding one of small tomatoes or pepper seeds. Opinions on taste vary, from sweet and tomato-ish to famine food. All the ones I’ve eaten were on the sweet and juicy side, soft if now hollow but there is a bit of aromatic oil or flavor to them as well, nothing dramatic but definitely there.
While most foraging books ignore the L. carolinianum in their line up of edible Lyciums Dr. Fernando Chiang of the National University of Mexico confirms academically that the fruit is edible. Dr. Chiang is an expert on the genus and was consulted on the species for the publication of Florida Ethnobotany by Dr. Daniel Austin. Chiang describes the berries of other Lyciums as “often edible.” At least one, L. acnistoides, found in Cuba, is toxic. In some species the berries and the leaves (cooked) are eaten. With some edible, one toxic for certain, and others unreported it is best to identify carefully.
In North America among the edibles species, besides L. carolinianum, are L. andeersonii, L. fremontii, L. pallidum, and L. torrei. The leaves of the L. halimifolium are cooked and eaten in Eurasia as is the L. chinense. Best known, perhaps, is a Lycium closely related to the L. chinense, and that is the L. barbarum, also called the Goji (GO-gee) berry which oddly is naturalized in England. Also listed as edible is Lycium ferocissimum, which is a pest in Australia. Its native L. australe was eaten by the Aboriginals.
Also called the Wolfberry, L. barbarum is known as a powerful antioxidant and credited with giving you energy, in and out of bed, better metabolism, improved immune system response, blood pressure regulation, cardiovascular health and slowing down aging. Animal research suggest it may be effective against cancer, inflammatory diseases, macular degeneration and glaucoma. It is consumed in the form of pills, juice, dried fruit, powder, teas and the seeds eaten.
The Goji berry is about 68% carbs, 12% proteins, 10% each of fiber and fat. A 100-gram serving is about 370 calories. It has 11 essential dietary minerals and traces of 22 others; 18 amino acids, six essential vitamins, five unsaturated fats, and five carotenoids. Specifically it is high in calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin B2, Beta-carotene, and exceptionally high amounts of vitamin C. It’s also full of antioxidants via its pigment, which I would presume to be lycopene. If your local Lycium lives up to that, it would be quite a dietary addition.
Processed fruits of various species in the genus have also been used to treat diabetes, impotence, and to retard aging. One ingredient, Physalin, is extracted to treat Hepatitis B. Another chemical, Betaine, is taken by weightlifters to bulk up.
As a food Goji berrie (L. barbarum) are usually bought dried like raisins and are cooked before eaten. But the berries are also used to make a tea. Young Goji shoots and leaves are used as a cooked green. The one medical warning associated with Goji berries is they may increase the potency of drugs like Warfarin (making you bleed more easily.) Goji berries also contain atropine in low amounts.
Clearly you cannot assume your local Lycium is as all-around edible as the Goji is. But, identify and investigate. One would presume many of them would have similar nutritional profiles.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
Lycium carolinianum: Shrub to six feet, sprawling, spiny, small, succulent leaves. The four-petaled, somewhat tubular, lavender/blue flowers usually singular, red/orange berries, fleshy. Locally they are often covered with Ramalina, a hairy lichen.
TIME OF YEAR:
Fruits year around in Florida but favors mid-spring
Salt tolerant, coastal areas or inland salty ground
METHOD OF PREPARATION:
Ripe berries, fresh or dried, as fruit or tea.
Chestnuts have done more than just disappear from the landscape: They have dropped out of our lives save for a token appearance at Christmas.
Whether in Eurasia or North America chestnuts were a major staple. Long before the cultivation of wheat entire European populations lived off chestnuts as later populations would depend on potatoes. In North America in the Appalachians Mountains one out of every four trees was a Chestnut (Castanea dentata) which the native relied upon heavily. Chestnuts grew to towering heights often supported by a trunk that had no branches until to 50 to 70 feet up. They had boles six feet through and 22 feet around. Prior to 1900 it was the wood most houses, barns and caskets were made of. All of the original telegraph poles were chestnut as were railroad ties. So what happened?
In Europe the chestnut (Castanea sativa) became viewed as poor people’s food. Why? Because chestnut flour has no gluten and won’t rise when you make bread with it whereas wheat flour takes readily to yeast. Thus the poor had to eat what they called “downbread.” A staple that sustained marching Greeks in 400 BC to nearly all Italian farmers in the 1800s simply became in time ignored. Then in North America a chestnut blight was noticed in 1904 in the Bronx zoo, New York City. Forester Hermann Merkel, who discovered the infection, took a sample to the New York Botanical Garden across the street. There mycologist William Murrill identified the disease, Cryphonectria parasitica, aka Endothia parasitica. Within a few decades it wiped out some four billion trees leaving by 1950 only a few isolated pockets mostly in northwest United States. Like the invasive species the Water Hyacinth, the blight was probably introduced in 1876 when a lot of Japanese plants (and Asian pathogens) were imported to America for centennial celebrations.
With the blight the chestnut moved into the reference notes of history. However there has been a breeding program with remains of North American chestnuts with the Chinese Chestnut to create a 94% American Chestnut that is immune to the disease. It has worked successfully so far in Virginia and a few other areas. In another generation we might begin to know how successful that program is. The restoration website is the American Chestnut Foundation. When you consider it will take certainly a century or much more to bring back the chestnut this is a group of dedicated, unselfish folks with a long-term view. One plan is to plant resistant chestnuts on land made barren by strip mining.
While our edible chestnuts sold at Christmas time come from Europe — which did not suffer the blight — Native Americans made much use of the native chestnut. The first record of them made in North America by a European comes from 1539 by Spaniard Rodrigo Ranjel, secretary on the DeSoto Excursion. He noted Chestnuts trees were similar to the ones back home and mentioned seeing them used in a village near Florida’s Santa Fe river. Thomas Harriot in 1590 said of the Algonquians in North Carolina: Chestnvts there are in diuers places great store: some they vse to eate rawe, some they stamp and boil to make spoonmeate, and with some being sodden they make such a manner of downbread as they vse their beanes.”
The now-famous Captain John Smith of Pocahontas fame wrote in 1612 the Virginia Powhatans boiled chestnuts for four hours making a “both broath and bread for their chiefe men or at least their greatest feasts.” B. Romans wrote in 1775 the Creeks had for food “dry peaches and persimmons, chestnuts and fruit of the chamaerops” (palm fruit.) Merritt Fernald of Harvard (b.1873) probably referring to the Cherokee, said “the nuts were cooked in their corn-bread, or, when roasted, were used like coffee.” We also know the Cherokee boiled the nuts, pounded them with corn (or berries) and wrapped the mixture in a green corn husk to be boiled. Several native nations made bread out of the chestnuts. While the chestnuts don’t have much oil (2%) it was used as a gravy.
Man was not alone in his use of the chestnut. Woodland creatures like them such as squirrels, mice, bear, deer, turkeys and rabbits. In Australia and Tasmania where European chestnuts thrive kangaroos, wallabies and possums can be a problem. The American chestnut was also food for two now extinct birds, the Carolina Parakeet and the Passenger Pigeon. Incidentally, the Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) was probably only one of three birds toxic to eat and the only one in North America. Like the other two toxic birds, the Hooded Pitohui and the Ifrita kowaldi, both of Papua, New Guinea, it is because of diet. The two New Guinea birds eat toxic insects which makes them toxic. The Carolina Parakeet was known to eat the toxic seeds of the Cocklebur. John Audubon himself reported cats died from eating the parakeet.
Chestnuts are the only cultivated and consumed nut that has vitamin C, about 40 mg per 3.5 ounce serving. They have a similar protein content as beans and similar carbohydrate amount as wheat, which is about twice that of a potato. Chestnuts also have a high amount of sugar if they are allowed to ripen (also called curing.) Just-ripe chestnuts are low in sugar but as they cure their starch changes to sugar as much as eight percent. Curing takes three days to two weeks at room temperature depending upon the size of the nut. During this time the nutmeat shrinks some and the texture changes. Half water, they dehydrate quickly when picked which also lends them to long-term storage if dried properly. Average calories per fresh 3.5 ounce serving is 180. Eating a lot of them can cause gas. Edible or “sweet” chestnuts can also be eaten raw anytime but are usually eaten after curing and cooking. Before the American chestnut was wiped out it was a major cash crop with families taking wagon loads of them to trains in October for market in major U.S. cities.
The Native Americans also used the chestnut (Castenea dentata) medicinally. They used it for cough syrup, to treat sores, bleeding after childbirth, to relieve itching, for heart disease, colds, rheumatism, whooping cough, stomach troubles, fever, headaches, blisters, chills even as a baby powder. Francis Porcher, the well-known civil war doctor and botanist, reported in 1863 that the roots are astringent. He said a tea made from the root was good for diarrhea. When boiled in milk it was good for teething. He also said a decoction of the related chinquapin bark could be used like quinine. Chestnut trees had such a high amount of tannin that in 1900 they provided more than half the tannin used in the American leather industry.
There are several “Castanea” species in North America besides the chestnut. How many exactly is debatable because plant characteristics and name changes. Potentially there are the Dwarf Chestnut or Bush Chinquapin, Castanea pumila, also called Castanea alnifolia and Castanea nana. The Ashe Chinkapin, Castanea ashei also called Castanea pumila var. ashei. There is the Florida Chinkapin, Castanea floridana, the Alabama Chinquapin, Castanea alabamensis, the Ozark Chinquapin, Castanea ozarkensis, Castanea neglecta (which might be a hybrid between C. dentata and C. pumila) and “Castanea paupispina” which like the C. neglecta does not seem to have a common name. In fact, I doubted C. paupispina existed because I never saw it referenced any place except Wikipathetica. A learned reader wrote to tell me it is Castanea paucispina — spelled with a C not a P and is a variation of C. pumila in Texas. The misspelling on Wikipathetica has been copied throughout the internet. The proliferation of names is caused in part because the number of prickle density varies on the C. pumila vary leading to naming variations as different species. Castanea davidii, Castanea seguinii, Castanea mollissima and Castanea henryi are from Asia, Castanea creanata, Japan
Closely related to the American Chestnut, damage to the Chinkapins from the blight varied from at least some to badly. To my knowledge all of them have edible nuts but avoid those endangered. I’ve been fortunate enough to see one growing in North Carolina. Besides being spelled Chinkapin and Chinkquapin there is no great agreement on identification. C. pumila, for example, has also been called C. alnifolia, C. floridan, C. nana, and C. ashei. The Ashe Chinquapin a la Castanea ashei, is named for William Willard Ashe, 1872-1932, a prolific plant collector. He entered the University of North Carolina at age 15 in 1891. During his career Ashe wrote some 167 articles and named 510 species (including a couple after his wife, Margaret Henry Wilcox, Crataegus margaretta and Quercus margaretta.)
In early writing the chestnut is also called an “acorn” and is related to the Beech and the Oak. How the species got its eventual botanical surname “Castanea” is a bit of a linguistic conundrum. The American version was named after the European one. European chestnuts grew east of Greece — Pontus Greece now the western Black Sea area of Turkey — and were imported west to Greece in ancient times. There is a Kastania in Thessaly, Greece, which is the agricultural heartland of that nation and where the famous Meteora monasteries are located (churches on rock pinnacles.) Kastania has soil unlike most of Greece, rocky but acidic thus favorable to the chestnut. It was planted there and the town probably picked up the eastern name of the tree. It stuck with the town and the tree. The Greeks call the nut κάστανο (KAH-sta-no) and the tree καστανιά (kah-stah-nee-AH.) Note the shift in accent from the beginning to the end. The Bretons called it Kistinen, the Welsh, Castan-wydden, the Dutch, kastanje, and the French chataigne. Kastania in Greek became Castanea (kas-TAN-nee-uh) in Dead Latin (note the accent now in the middle.) Dentata (den-TAH-tah) means teeth because the leaves have large teeth. The English word “chestnut” also comes from the Greek word. Chestnut came from “chesten” which came the Middle English “chesteine”. That was from Old French “chastaigne” (with an S) which came from Dead Latin “castanea” which came from the Greek “kastania.”
One interesting — some might say almost interesting — aspect of the chestnut blight was to make chestnut weevils nearly extinct. Without their preferred food Curculio sayi Gyllenhal and Curculio caryatrypes Boheman (small and large chestnut weevils) were close to being no more. But, folks started planting Chinese Chestnuts and saved the insects’ day. Like the weevils that infect acorns and palms they are edible raw or cooked. If you don’t want to find weevils in your chestnuts one thing you can do is soak the unopened chestnuts in 140 F. water for 30 minutes killing off the weevil eggs and or larvae. Picking up the fallen chestnuts immediately and cleaning up debris around the drip line of your chestnut tree are also important.
As one can imagine such an important tree made its way into much literature. Most famous is Longfellow’s The Village Blacksmith published in 1841. Under the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands… Longfellow, of Portland Maine, was the descendant of one Steven Longfellow who was a blacksmith and moved to Portland in 1745. The poem, however, was about Longfellow’s neighbor in Cambridge, Dexter Pratt. Years later an armchair was made from the very tree that shaded Pratt and presented to Longfellow. Stained black, it has a brass plaque that reads: “This chair made from the wood of the spreading chestnut-tree is presented as an expression of his grateful regard and veneration by the children of Cambridge.”
The chair is carved with chestnut leaves and blossoms while the seat rail is engraved with lines from the poem. I’ve been to the Longfellow house in Portland, growing up not 20 miles away. It’s in the up part of town but what they don’t tell you is it used to be down on the waterfront about a half a mile away where an iron fitting company named Thomas Laughlin, established 1836, used the real location to store products. There is a plaque there now, a rather sad stone stump closeted by a chain link fence in a drab industrial compound. Longfellow was not the only name of note to mention the Chestnut. Henry David Thoreau of Walden Pond, clearly a sensitive man, didn’t like throwing rocks at a chestnut to knock down its nuts. His journal entry of 23 Oct. 1855 says:
“Now is the time for chestnuts. A stone cast against the trees shakes them down in showers upon one’s head and shoulders. But I cannot excuse myself for using the stone. It is not innocent, it is not just, so to maltreat the tree that feeds us. I am not disturbed by considering that if I thus shorten its life I shall not enjoy its fruits so long, but am prompted to a more innocent course by motives purely of humanity. I sympathize with the tree, yet I heave a big stone against the trunks like a robber—not too good to commit murder. I trust that I shall never do it again. These gifts should be accepted, not merely with gentleness, but with a certain humble gratitude. The tree whose fruit we would obtain should not be too rudely shaken even. It is not a time of distress, when a little haste and violence even might be pardoned. It is worse than boorish, it is criminal, to inflict an unnecessary injury on the tree that feeds or shadows us. Old trees are our parents, and our parents’ parents, perchance. If you would learn the secrets of Nature, you must practice more humanity than others. The thought that I was robbing myself by injuring the tree did not occur to me, but I was affected as if I had cast a rock at a sentient being with a duller sense than my own, it is true, but yet a distant relation. Behold a man cutting down a tree to come at the fruit! What is the moral of such an act?” Thoreau wrote more about the chestnut than any other tree in his journal.
By now you know there are European Chestnuts, and there were American Chestnuts. There are also “Horse Chestnuts.” Just to make things confusing the British call the edible chestnut the “Sweet Chestnut” where as the Horse Chestnut is just called Chestnut. They should have been consistent and called the Horse Chestnut the “Bitter Chestnut.”
And what of the Horse Chestnut? Should the issue ever arise don’t confuse sweet chestnuts with bitter Horse Chestnuts. The latter is a different genus altogether. And while there are reports that Horse Chestnuts, Aesculus hippocastanum (ES-ku-lus hip-o-kas-StAY-num) native to Greece, and Aesculus indica (ES-ku-lus IN-dick-ka) native to India, can be made edible I would do so cautiously. From India one report says: The seeds are dried and ground into flour… This flour, which is bitter… Its bitterness is removed by soaking it in water for about 12 hours. The bitter component gets dissolved in water and is removed when the water is decanted. Other references vary. One reverses the process by soaking the seed, drying, then grinding. Another just says boil the seeds for a long time. Removing the bitterness is important because the chemical(s) destroys red blood cells in humans.
What bothers me is that both Horse Chestnuts aforementioned — Greek and Indian — are not native to North America. They were planted ornamentals. Yet we are told by many reports that the American Indians ate them. It is possible but one would think the natives would have preferred the native chestnut that was not bitter and did not require processing. I think the writers are confusing Horse Chestnuts with Buckeyes which are native and in the same Aesculus genus. We have at least one authoritative report that the Indians on the west coast of America did indeed eat the seeds of Aesculus californicus (yes seeds, not nuts. Chestnuts have nuts but Buckeyes and Horse Chestnuts have seeds, a distinction perhaps more important to botanists than foragers.) According to Professor Daniel Moerman they pounded the seeds, leached them, then boiled them into a mush, eating it with meat. Others tribes roasted the nuts then ground them. The report from the Kashaya (Pomo) is quite specific:
“Boiled nuts eaten with baked kelp, meat, and seafood. Nuts were put into boiling water to loosen the husk. After the husks were removed the nutmeat was returned to boiling water and cooked until it was soft like cooked potatoes. The nutmeat was then mashed with a mortar stone. The grounds could be at strained at this stage or strained after soaking. The grounds would be soaked and leached a long time to remove the poisonous tannin. An older method was to peel the nuts and roast them in ashes until they were soft. They were then crushed and the meal was put in a sandy leaching basin beside stream. For about five hours the meal was leached with water from the stream. When the bitterness disappeared it was ready to eat without further cooking.”
At any rate unprocessed Horse Chestnuts are bitter. Edible chestnuts are sweetish. Edible chestnuts lay on their side. They essentially have a flat side and a round side and a pointed bottom. They are somewhat pyramidal. Horse Chestnuts are nearly round and sit vertically on their round bottom. In their shell edible chestnuts look like green sea urchins, horse chestnuts like green, spiny puffer fish.
Unprocessed — and perhaps even processed — Horse Chestnuts will make you sick. Symptoms are vomiting, loss of coordination, stupor sometimes paralysis. Few fatalities are reported. There’s about 17 reported poisonings per year in the United States caused by Horse Chestnuts. Juice from Horse Chestnuts, however, makes a good fabric bleach. Grind 20 seeds into 1.5 gallons. Let seep, stir then settle. Pour off the water using it for bleaching. Horse Chestnut starch was also used to make acetone during WWII. Now do you see why you should not eat Horse Chestnuts?
Hungarian Cream of Chestnut Soup or Gesztenye LevesIngredients:
- 12-14 ounces cooked and peeled EDIBLE chestnuts, finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 2 apples, peeled, cored, quartered and thinly sliced
- 2 leeks, white part only, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons sweet or hot Hungarian paprika
- 1/2 pound julienne-sliced leftover ham
- 5 cups chicken stock
- 1 1/2 cups whipping cream
- If using fresh chestnuts: Score the bottom or round side of one pound of chestnuts with an “X” and bring to a boil in a large saucepan of water. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes. Cool slightly and peel. Let cool completely before chopping finely. They can have the texture of soap.
- In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, melt butter and saute parsnips, carrots, apples and leeks, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until vegetables are almost tender. Mix in the ham, chestnuts, paprika and cook for one minute. Stir in the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together cream and egg yolks. Temper this mixture with a few ladles of hot soup broth, whisking constantly. Then pour the tempered cream-egg yolk mixture into the soup, whisking constantly for one minute or until soup has thickened. Season to taste. Serve with sour cream, if desired.
Wild Apples are one of the most common over-looked foraging foods. People take one taste, spit it out, and go on their way.
Because of the story of Johnny Appleseed (who was a real person) most folks think apples aren’t native to North America. There were plenty of apples here when Europeans arrived, but they were Wild Apples not cultivated apples. What’s the difference? Taste and size. Most wild apples are small and sour, domesticated apples tend to be larger and sweeter. What most people don’t know is that wild apples can be baked or roasted (as in near an open fire or in an oven) and made very tasty. While some wild apples are too bitter to eat even after cooking many are transformed into good eats.
When I was a kid foraging in the Maine woods wild apples were very common. In fact, of the eight or so feral apple trees I knew of only one had a cultivated heritage. It was a Golden Delicious, and my least favorite. The rest were usually sour raw but wonderful when roasted by a campfire (and no pots to clean.) Unfortunately there are few if any Wild Apples in this area of Florida. It is simply too hot. They like northern climes and people liked wild apples, too. No less a person than New England native Henry David Thoreau wrote a 10,000 word essay on the Wild Apple.
The domestic apple as we know it has been around some 6,000 years and came from Kazakhstan. There apple trees growing to 60 feet were the dominant species of the forest. That is something to think about, apple trees the size of Oaks, a forest of them… Orchards there today are remarkable in that the trees are very resistant to disease, unlike commercial crops. Further, two apples from that area — the Red Delicious and the Golden Delicious — are the parents of 90% of modern commercial eating apples. The Red Delicious was hybridized into the Fuji and the Empire, and the Golden Delicious into the Gala, the Jonagold, the Mutsu, the Pink Lady and the Elstar. The Granny Smith (below right) however, came from a back yard in Australia.
It originated in 1868 from a chance seedling propagated by Maria Ann Smith (née Sherwood) born 1799, died 9 March 1870. Researchers think the now well-known green apple was a chance cross between Malus sylvestris, a European Wild Apple — perhaps from France via Tasmania — with the domestic apple M. domestica. Widely propagated in New Zealand, it was introduced to the United Kingdom around 1935 and the United States in 1972. Each Granny Smith apple today is a clone. Actually every commercial apple is a clone. One cultivated apple that does grows in Florida is the Apple Anna, which was a chance seedling found in the Bahamas and can withstand the summer heat. Worldwide some 55 million tons of apples are harvested annually worth some $50 billion a year. Americans eat on average, as of this writing, 126 apples a year each. Meanwhile wild apples, which are free, feed mostly wildlife.
Often a wild apple’s taste will be moderated because of hybridizing with cultivated apples. There are no hard and fast rules identifying which are edible raw. You just have to taste and experiment with each wild apple tree you find. They also usually have more cholesterol-reducing pectin than cultivated apples thus are added to other fruits and domestic apples when making jelly. Incidentally, there is no such species as a “crabapple” per se. Crabapple, like “pearl onion” is a reference to size. Crabapples, like pearl onions, are small and any small apple can be called a crabapple, any small onion can be a pearl onion. The fascinating aspect of apples is that every apple seed is totally different than the parent. Something like snow flakes no two apple seeds are genetically alike thus what kind of tree each will produce is a mystery. Every named apple you eat came originally from just one seed and one tree. As mentioned above they are clones which is why it takes a long time to get a new apple into production.
Besides foraging for wild apples I used to help my father make pieces of apple wood into tobacco pipes. We’d find a suitable size piece, rough cut and drill it then boil it for a few hours to drive the sap out of it. Then it was carved and sanded, and a bit of bass wood became the stem. I still have one of them around after more than 50 years. You can read about that here. If you are a hunter wild apples trees are a good place to find game. When I roamed the woods as a boy wild apple trees were the prime place to flush partridge in the fall and later find deer. A huge variety of wildlife like the apple, among them foxes, raccoons, bears, coyotes, opossums, rabbits, squirrels, grouse, prairie chickens, and quail. They know good food when they find it.
Malus sieversii (MAL-us see-VER-see-eye) is the botanical title for these wild fruits. Malus is the Dead Latin word for apple, and Sieverrii honors Ivan Sievers, a Russian botanist who discovered the wild apples in 1793 in Kazakhstan but died before describing the species. The name was given by Carl Friedrich von Ledebour, who got there in 1830. The word “apple” is also from Dead Latin and means fruit. All that said what about Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman, September 26, 1774 – March 11, 1845.) While he wore a tin pot for a hat and a burlap sack for a shirt, and went barefoot even in the winter, he was an astute businessman. He bought or got land grants ahead of settlers and started apple tree nurseries so when the settlers arrived he had trees to sell. Then he would leave his nurseries in the hands of a local and set out for the frontier again.
While I am on the topic, what about eating apple seeds? There are two things we know for certain: Eating a few at a time is fine, eating a huge amount can make you ill and possibly kill you. What’s a few? What ever seeds you find in one apple is no big deal. In fact, my mother — who died at 88 — often ate a quarter of a cup of seeds at a time but that was living dangerously. For the average person of average weight the fatal dose would be around 114 average-size seeds thoroughly chewed. And what about the story that a man saved up a cup of seeds, ate them, and died from that?
The story got legs when a prominent expert on toxicology, Dr. John M. Kingsbury included it in his book Poisonous Plants of the United States and Canada, Prentice-Hall, 1964. Kingsbury was an associate professor of botany at New York State College of Agriculture and lectured on poisonous plants for the veterinary college. Everyone presumed Kingsbury had proof. But in 1998 in the Journal of Clinical Toxicology there was a letter to the editor grousing about folklore and “plantlore” specifically mentioning Kingsbury. That got me interested in the veracity of the death-by-appleseed story. To be specific I wanted to know the name of the man who ate a cup of apple seeds, where, and when did he die? Basic facts. After all, Kingsbury’s inclusion in his book gave the story legitimacy and it has been quoted extensively ever since. Kingsbury’s bibliography quoted two authors more than two decades earlier: Reynard, G.B., and J.B.S. Norton in Poisonous Plants of Maryland in Relationship to Livestock. Maryland Agricultural Experimental Station, Technical Bulletin. A10, 1942. 312pp. That would make sense as they and Kingsbury had an interest in plants that were toxic to farm animals.
On page 276 of the 72-year old bulletin Reynard and Norton write about prussic acid harming livestock. (Amygdalin is essentially a sugar and cyanide molecule which is safe until digested where upon it releases hydrogen cyanide which used to be called prussic acid.) The cyanide blocks the uptake of oxygen by red blood cells causing asphyxiation. How much material, how chewed the material is, the liquid dilution of the material in the stomach, and how many stomachs you have and your size all affect the extent of the poisoning. In the listing of plants that can harm animals via prussic acid Reynard and Norton include flax, wild black cherry, wild red cherry, choke cherries, peach (kernels) plums, cherry (seeds) apple (seeds) sorghum, lima beans, arrow grass and manna grass.
They note in the last paragraph (to your left:) “Apple seeds are mentioned, not as having caused stock-poisoning, but because of the fact that one instance was recorded from personal inquiry in which an adult man was killed following eating a cup of these seeds at one time. The seeds had been saved up, apparently thought to be a delicacy in small amounts and upon being eaten developed enough of the deadly prussic acid to cause this tragic death. The instance is recorded here as a caution to others who might attempt to eat more than a few of these seeds at any one time. Previous investigators have reported that apple seeds contain appreciable amounts of amygdalin from which prussic acid is developed, but actual reports of poisoning are rare. “
So rare they didn’t or couldn’t say who actually did die from eating apple seeds if anyone ever did. Their reference — a personal inquiry — is as weak as Kingsbury’s. Without a name, a time and place it is but an early urban legend. It may be that someone indeed did died from eating a cup of apple seeds. It is theoretically possible. I say theoretically because if it did happen it was before 1942 and no one thus far in any professional paper has ever identified who it was if anyone. The best one can come up with is a no-reference warning in a livestock bulletin 72 years ago. A 130-year search by this writer of the New York Times of 437 stories involving prussic acid revealed suicides, murders and a few accidental medicinal deaths. None by an appleseed overdose. I think that would have made the newspaper. The point is the seeds in one apple a day won’t kill an adult. To be on the safe side however, kids, because they are so much smaller, should not eat apple seeds.
For some of the above material I want to give special thanks to Stephanie M. Ritchie, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, National Agricultural Library, 10301 Baltimore Avenue, Room 132, Beltsville, MD 20705Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: A tree seldom more than 20 feet high with a contorted and rigid crown, branches often short and spur like, thorn-like twigs, leaves alternating saw-toothed, obvious network of veins on either side of the leaf. Quintet of pinkish or white petals, scented. If you cut the apple through at the equator you should see a star shaped core where the seeds develop.
TIME OF YEAR: Fall, if not late fall
ENVIRONMENT: Likes all terrain that is not bone dry or sopping wet, often found on the south side of hills.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Jelly, fruit, drink, source of pectin. Often they are improved greatly by roasting near a fire or in an oven.
About the only bad thing you can say about a persimmon is that it has pucker power, if you pick it at the wrong time.
What most people don’t know is that the persimmon is the North American ebony, Diospyros virginiana (dye-OSS-pih-ross ver-jin-nee-AY-nuh.) There are few trees more versatile than the persimmon. The fruit, actually the largest native berry in North America, can be eaten out of hand or cooked in various ways. Its seeds can be roasted and ground for a coffee extender. The leaves are loaded with Vitamin C for a healthy tea, and the hard, closed-grain wood can be worked (often to be made into “natural” wedding bands. )
Persimmons like to grow along the edges of things; fields, roads, rivers, rail roads, fences, trails. They can be anything from a spindly shrub to over 80-feet tall. I can well remember the first time I found a green persimmon fruit on the ground locally. I was hiking in the Wekiva State Park in Florida along Rock Springs Run. What was memorable about the event was I couldn’t find the tree. I turned 360 degrees and still couldn’t see a persimmon tree until I looked up, way, way up. Competing with other trees river side they were incredibly tall, and not nine inches through. They were spindly 70-foot tall trees! Very atypical.
Most of the persimmons trees you will see, especially in Florida, are only eight to ten feet tall, occasionally 15 to 20 feet. Persimmons are found in the eastern half of the United States excluding northern border states. They’re also found in Utah, California and range into Mexico. Oddly, they are not naturally found along the Appalachian Mountains or the Allegheny Plateau.
The Persimmon is usually the last tree to leaf out in the spring and the first to lose it leaves in the fall, a strategy to thwart predatory insects. The champion persimmon tree in the US, as of 2009, is in Yell, Arkansas. It is 94 feet high, 12.5 feet around and as a crown spread of 78 feet. It’s been around since the first English settlers came to North America. One of them, Captain John Smith, wrote about the persimmon in 1608. He said it tasted like an apricot and by 1629 it was introduced into England. In fact that was a main part of Smith’s reason to come to the Americas, find new plants.
While many authors say the ripe persimmon tastes like dates they taste like persimmons to me. Interestingly persimmons can be interchanged in any recipe with bananas, measure for measure, weight for weight. Yellow persimmons will ripen off the tree but the best ones are the ones you have to fight the ants for. There is an old saying that persimmons don’t ripen until after a frost but that’s not true according to researchers nor here in Florida where frosts show up a couple of months after persimmons fruit. Shaking a persimmon tree is the standard way of collecting the fruit. Process them by rubbing them through a colander. The pulp can be used to make jelly, syrup, beer, wine, liquor, bread, pancakes, pudding, molasses, fruit leather, dried fruit and ink. The pulp can also be frozen and eaten like ice cream. A peanut-like cooking oil can be squeeze from the seeds. Each persimmon can have one to eight seeds. Happiness is finding a persimmon with one seed, when there are eight there isn’t much to eat. The seeds, however, were used as buttons by the Confederate Army during the American civil war.
Another use for a persimmon tree is reportedly as a remedy for the itch of poison ivy. Remove a few twigs from a persimmon tree, cover with water, and boil for 20 minutes. Strain and cool the liquid. Several applications are said to dry the rash. By the way, persimmon tea is not universally praised. I have a friend who describes the taste of tea from green leaves as “dirty dishwater.” Tea from dried leaves is better. In fact, the longer the dried leaves are stored the better the tea tastes. Dry the leaves in a slow over for two hours. To make the seeds into a coffee substitute or extender clean them and roast them in the same slow oven. You can also throw the tough fruit skins into a blender, put the slurry on a cookie sheet and dry them along with the seeds and leaves in the same oven.
What Diospyros means is subject to a lot of mistranslation from Greek. The complicating factor is the distortion from Greek to Latin and the different alphabets and pronunciations. (There are five ways to represent the “ee” sound in Greek.) Then there’s the translation into English and its use by those who don’t speak Greek or know Latin. Such is the headache with Diospyros. Briefly it can mean “what God has sown” “God’s Grain” or “God’s fire.” Making it worse, the most common translation “food of the Gods ” does not land well on Greek ears. Ambrosia means “food of the gods. Diospyros does not.
In 300 BC or there abouts, Theophrastus called a local tree, the European hackberry, Diospyros. The fruits were astringent which ripened to sweetness and that is supposedly why Linnaeus called the persimmon tree Diospyros when he was naming plants. With that said lets tackle Diospyros. The disagreement is whether the two Greek words are “dio/spyros” or “thios/piros.” It comes down to Greek spelling. The most common translation is the more unlikely. As mentioned, Diospyros is often translated as “fruit of the gods” or “food of the gods.” That would be very bad Greek. Some translate Diospyros as “the fruit of Zeus” which is just plain silly. There’s also “heavenly plant” “God’s fire” Divine pear” and “Jove’s pear.” Jove’s Pear? That’s expired poetic license. Jove was the Roman equivalent of Zeus, or the Roman name for the top god. Where the pear came from I have no idea though in Texas the persimmon is sometimes called Jove’s Fruit.
A third possibility is Diospyros meaning “God’s Fire” in reference to the astringent unripe berries of the European hackberry but that would require changing a plural to a singular which is not likely in this case in Greek. Carl Linnaeus, the fellow who started naming plants, had the right idea of calling the persimmon after the ancient hackberry because of the way it ripens. He was not good at Greek yet his “food of the gods” has stuck. “God’s Wheat” is the closer translation for ancient Greek, which would mean the Diospyros in the modern vernacular means the “best food” or as Alton Brown says “good eats.”
Virginiana is of Virginia but in botanical terms it always means North America. Persimmon is the Anglicized version of an Algonquin name that means “dry seed” or “dry fruit” referring to the high level of tannins in the unripe fruit. That tannin is a good substitute for oak tannin. Persimmons do, however, come with two warnings. The first one is if you do not digest food well or have had gastric bypass surgery excessive consumption of persimmons can create intestinal blockage called a bezoar. It happens more in farm animals than man but people who consume huge amounts of persimmons or who have gastric issues are at risk.
As for the second warming. While the seeds can be roasted then ground into a black powder to extend coffee there may be reasons not to use it exclusively as a coffee substitute. See the “letter to Green Deane” below. The writer mistakenly made “coffee” out of the seeds rather than using them as a coffee extender, like chicory. It is included here in its entirety should it be important some day.
There is hardly a woodland creature that doesn’t like the persimmon. Its waxy, fragrant flowers help produce honey. The persimmon is also sometimes called “possom wood” because opossums know a good food when they find it. It even has entered the folky and now politically incorrect literature of Uncle Remus:
“B’rer Bear rushed into the patch and shook the persimmon tree. B’rer Possum dropped out from the ripe persimmons, landed on the ground and started running for the fence like a race horse. B’rer Bear chased him and gained with every jump. When B’rer Possum made it to the fence B’rer Bear grabbed him by the tail. B’rer Possum went between the rails on the fence and gave a powerful pull to get this out of B’rer Bear’s teeth. B’rer Bear was holding so tight and B’rer Possum pulled so hard that all the hair came off in B’rer Bear’s mouth, and if B’rer Rabbit hadn’t come along with a gourd of water B’rer Bear would have choked. From that day to this,” said Uncle Remus, knocking the ashes carefully out of his pipe, “B’rer Possum ain’t had no hair on his tail, nor any of his children.”
3½ cups sifted flour
1½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 to 2½ cups sugar
1 cup melted unsalted butter and cooled to room temperature
4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2/3 cup cognac, bourbon or whiskey
2 cups persimmon puree
2 cups walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped
2 cups raisins, or diced dried fruits (such as apricots, cranberries, or dates)
Optional: Orange zest or orange extract
1. Butter 2 loaf pans. Line the bottoms with a piece of parchment paper or dust with flour and tap out any excess.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Sift the first 5 dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
4. Make a well in the center then stir in the butter, eggs, liquor, persimmon puree then the nuts and raisins.
5. Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
2 cups pureed persimmon pulp
1 3/4 cups condensed milk (unsweetened)
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
2 cups flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Stir condensed milk, sugar, butter, flour, and persimmon puree well and pour into glass baking dish. Sprinkle top with chopped walnuts. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes at 375F. Serve warm or cooled to room temperature. Delicious topped with a crème Anglaise or rum.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Tree, shrub size to 80 feet, usually 15 to 20. Leaves are oval, pointed, 3- to 6-inch long, lustrous dark green, sometimes covered with a harmless dark soot that can be washed off. Two handy identifying characteristics of the persimmon is young twigs are fuzzy and on new growth the branch will have leaves of different size. Bark on older trees is broken up into square blocks. D. virginana has leaf tips that are pointed, on D. texana the tip is flat, rounded or notched,
TIME OF YEAR: Fruit ripens in September/October. Fruit is not ripe until the skin is wrinkled.
ENVIRONMENT: Grows along edged of fields, roads, rivers and the like. Will grow in dry ground and partial shade but prefers moist soil and full sun. Slow growing, hardy to Zone 4
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Numerous: The pulp can be used to make jelly, syrup, beer, wine, liquor, bread, pancakes, pudding, molasses, fruit leather and dried.HERB BLURB
The Native Americans had some herbal uses for the tree. The Alabama boiled the roots for a tea used in “bowel flux.” The Catawba used a bark infusion to treat thrush in babies. The Cherokee used it for bowel problems, sore throats, heartburn, liver problems, piles, thrush, toothaches and venereal disease. The Rappahannock used an infusion for thrush and sore throats. The tannic acid in the green fruit was used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, and uterine bleeding.
I received the following letter in 2010 in response to my article on persimmons. The writer says he made two pots of persimmon “coffee” rather than using the ground seeds just as a coffee extender. The first pot — four cups — was made from seeds fresh from ripe fruit off the tree, then roasted. No ill effects reported. The second pot was made from seeds picked up off the ground and/or from rotting fruit (enzyme action?) Then instead of directly into the oven the second batch of seeds were boiled first (taking something away? Changing something?) and then roasted. Two other possibilities are the first pot did not reach some critical chemical level and or he didn’t have an allergic reaction until a certain point with the second pot. And of course something else might be acting as well. I do not know the truthfulness of the account below but it seems reasonable to include it. More so, if it is accurate it is something foragers and researchers should know.
“I just wanted to shoot you a quick note about my experience with Persimmon seeds last fall, sorry it took so long for me to write. I have several of the trees in my yard and near my home, and I always enjoy the fruit in the late fall after frost. But I had never heard of making coffee out of the seeds before. Being the adventurous sort I gave it a try, and my first pot of roasted and ground up seeds taken from the fresh fruit right off of the tree was wonderful, thank you.
“Later I began collecting the seeds off of the ground around the trees where the fruit had fallen off and rotted, carefully avoiding the piles of possum poo of course. When I had about a quart of seeds I put them in a small saucepan and boiled them for about 5-10 minutes to kill any bacteria and clean the residue off of the seeds, then I slow roasted them on about 250 until I could hear them steadily crackling and popping.
“After the seeds had cooled I anxiously ground up a handful for a full eight cup pot of coffee. My first pot from the earlier experiment was only about four cups. I brought my fresh, large mug of coffee (About 3.5 cups) to the computer and I enjoyed it immensely while watching videos. But almost as soon as I began the second mug full I began to feel a little funny. In a few minutes I became dizzy and stopped drinking. A few more minutes passed and I became very ill and evacuated my stomach of any remaining persimmon coffee lol.
“I have a heart condition so I made sure that I was not in cardiac distress, and when everything seemed OK i stumbled off to bed. The next day, after a very sweaty night, I still felt a little peculiar, which is not unusual for me. But I was no longer dizzy or nauseous.
“Now for the really interesting part. I have Cardio Myopathy and severe heart disrhythmias, so I can usually feel my heart skipping and pounding. But for about three months after this incident I was like a normal person, heart rhythm wise that is lol. I have actually been able to feel my heart beat since I was a young boy, and I have only rarely had a steady rhythm for short periods. So not being able to feel my heart beat or detect rhythm problems was phenomenal for me.
“My heart is back to its normal skipping and pounding now, and I have been trying to decide if it was worth the risk to try lowering the dose of persimmon coffee down to a sip or two and see if I get positive results. I am not writing for advice because I know that it would be too much of a liability for you to give me the go ahead on something like that, but I did want someone to know what had happened with my adventure in drinking persimmon seed coffee.”
First the good news: Horsemint makes a nice, intentionally weak tea. Stronger brews are used in herbal medicine. The Indians made a “sweating” tea from it to treat colds. The major oil in Horsemint is thymol. Externally it’s an antiseptic and vermifuge, internally, in large amounts, the plant can be fatal. That’s the bad news. So, as I said it makes a nice, intentionally weak, tea.
Horsemint is one of those plants that you seem to never notice until you learn to recognize it, then you see it every so often. It tends to grow in small colonies and near each other. If you find one, you will usually find another not too far away. They can vary in size from six inches to three feet but always very showy and its extroverted colors can last for months. You can propagate it by seeds or cuttings. I dug mine up and carried it home where it has a very sunny, well-watered spot in sandy soil.
The creamy lilac-spotted flowers (its bracts are pink) attract honeybees, bumblebees, miner bees, plasterer bees, swallowtail butterfly as well as the endangered Lycaenides melissa samuelis (Karner Blue.) Hummingbirds like it as well. Most mammals know enough to leave the plant alone. Horsemint grows from eastern Northern Canada down to Florida, west to Michigan and New Mexico and California, also into eastern Mexico. A southern variety, Monarda punctata var. punctarta, grows south of Pennsylvania and out to Texas. There are about 20 different Monardas in the United States.
Horsemint has the highest thymol content of all the mints. It is more than an antiseptic, mite-killer and cough-syrup ingredient. As a depressant, it is one of the most commonly abused substances among anesthesiologists and nurses. If thymol were discovered today it would be a prescription drug. There have been some thoughts towards regulating the species but it is so common in so many places that hasn’t been done. Thymol, incidentally, is also one of the 600 or so ingredients added to cigarettes to “improve” the flavor.
While thymol has a dark side it also has beneficial aspects. It is one of two chemicals in the horsemint — the other being carvacrol — which prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, the stuff that makes memory possible. One of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease is reduction in acetylcholine. Unlike a drug now used to prevent the break down of acetuylcholine — tacrine hydrochloride — thymol and carvacrol are not as rough on the liver. One could even make a shampoo out of horsemint and perhaps get the benefits.
As for the plant’s botanical name: Monarda is for Nicholas Monardes (1493-1588), a Spanish physician and botanist who mentioned this flower in his 1569 work on the flora of North America called “Joyfull Newes Out Of The Newe Founde Worlde”. Punctata is Latin for point, or in this case “dotted.” The plant’s name is said: moe-NAR-duh punk-TAY-tuh.
Whether as a weak tea, a stronger brew for the flu, or a poultice for arthritis, the Horsemint, or Spotted Beebalm, is a pretty plant to spot while foraging.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Herb, sometimes woody, shrubby, gangly, multi-branched, opposite leaves and square stems. The stems and leaves are hairy. Flowers small, inconspicuous, but arranged in showy heads of pink to lavender bracts. Flower tubes are pale yellow with purple spots, less than an inch long, leaves smells like Greek oregano.
TIME OF YEAR: Can be year round in Florida but favors late summer and fall, in northern climates flowers June to October depending where you are.
ENVIRONMENT: Likes moist but well drained soil and sunny conditions, but can survive on rainwater in old fields and on roadsides.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves and flowers for weak tea, some report the leaves can use chopped up and use to flavor salads. Hanging leaves in the house leaves a nice scent.
Nature fights back.
Much of Florida is giving way to housing. For several years I passed a large abandoned pasture with a dry lake bed. Then it was developed into a subdivision and the lake bottom lowered to accommodate the lower water table. For a while very little seemed to grow in the lake — typical subdivision nudity — and then from shore to shore it was covered with American Lotus, Nelumbo lutea (nay-LUM-bo LOO-tee-uh.) When nature finds the right environment, plants find their way there, or come out of dormancy. Mostly likely the lotus seeds had waited decades to sprout.
American Lotus was a main food source for Native Americans and it is basically found east and south of the Rockies plus parts of California. While the root, shoots, flowers and young seeds are edible, it was the root the Indians counted on to get them through the winter. The popularity of the N. lutea no doubt has also led to its many common names: American Lotus, Yellow Water Lotus, Yellow Lotus, Alligator Buttons, Duck Acorns, Water Chinquapin, Yonkapin, Yockernut and Pondnut. Many of those names refers to the plant’s round, dark brown, half-inch seeds. Even its name is about the seed. Nelumbo is Ceylonese and means “sacred bean.” Lutea is Dead Latin for yellow. The species can produce more than 8,000 long-stem yellow flowers per acre and its empty seed pods are often found in flora arrangements. The stamens of the flower can be dried and used to make a fragrant tea and entire dried flowers are used in cooking.
N. lutea like to grow in shallow ponds and along the edges of slow streams with clean water. It propagates from seed and root. The root is banana shaped and thick, sometimes reaching close to a foot long. When cut it resembles a wagon wheel in appearance. Unlike many “water lilies” the N. lutea leaves are round and not split, with the stem attaching to the middle of the leaf. Some leaves are on the water and some above it. The lotus is a favorite water plant among fishermen because unlike other water lilies the lotus does not grab fishing line in a clef. The unopened leaves are edible like spinach and older leaves can be used to wrap food. Stems taste somewhat like beets and are usually peeled before cooking.
And while the N. lutea is not a day lily it is a two-day flower, the blossoms open one day, close for one night, open the second day then the petals drop off. The center of the flower grows and gets about three-inches across. It develops a seed pod with around 20 seeds and looks like a shower head. American lotus seeds have bloomed after 200 years, some 400 years, and some in China were viable after 1,200 years. The seeds can also be boiled down and made into a paste. When combined with sugar it is often used in pastries. Lotus seeds range from about a half inch in length and third of an inch wide. The inside of the seed has a hollow canal running end for end with a little sprout inside that is too bitter to eat when seeds are mature. Mature seeds also have a good quantity of oil and can be popped. They can be eaten like peas when young. Boil in ample water 20 minutes, push them out of their shell, salt. They are delicious. I think the plump green seeds when boiled taste similar to chick peas, with a little chestnut or corn flavor tossed in. Very, very tasty. Skinny seeds tend to be bitter. If the cooked sprout in the seed is bitter, don’t eat it, or if that doesn’t upset your stomach, enjoy. I seem to have a tender tummy. Older seeds can be ground in to flour.
There are about 1,475 calories in one pound of lotus flour. Lotus flour is approximately: 72% carbohydrate, 7.8% protein, 0.7% fat, 12.2% fiber, 4.0% water, and 3.3% minerals. Per 100 grams there are 63-68 grams carbohydrate (mostly starch), 17-18 grams of protein, only 1.9-2.5 grams fat; the remainder is water (about 13%), and minerals, mainly sodium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus. Calories per 100 grams is about 350. It is also a good source of protein, up to 19% with a one ounce serving of dried seeds providing 5 grams. The seeds are low in fiber and not a good source of vitamins but are a good source of oil. Half ripe seeds are delicious raw or cooked, and taste similar to chestnuts.
Lotus root is sweet and can be eaten as raw, sliced stir fried, or stuffed and is similar to sweet potato. Young lotus roots are good for salads while the starchy roots are good for making soups. The root discolors quickly when cut, so treat like an apple or pear as soon as it is peeled and cut up drop it into water with lemon juice or citric acid. It is often left to soak in water to reduce any bitterness.
There are only two species of Nelumbo, one in the Americas, yellow, and one in Asia, pink. It is probably second only to the cattail as for usefulness and that is for two reasons. The roots can be buried deep and are best in the fall. Also the entire plant can be bitter so while it is edible raw it is far better cooked.
Culturally the lotus has been cited for thousands of years. It is found in the early art of India, Assyria, Persia, Egypt and Greece. In India it was considered sacred. In ancient Greece the lotus symbolized beauty, eloquence and fertility. Idylls, a poem written by Theocritus of Syracuse between 300-250 B.C., described how maidens wove lotus blossoms into Helen’s hair on the day she married. The Egyptians placed a lotus flower on the genitalia of female mummies.
Lastly, in Japan some people think health-giving juices can be extracted from the lotus by cutting leaves with 12-18 inch stems. They then pierce the top center of the leaf where the stem is on the other side, fill the cupped leaf with wine, and holding it overhead drink the wine through the stem. While it might be a picturesque party ploy I would think the bitter raw sap would take away from the moment.
Two pounds of lotus root, trimmed and peeled
Two tablespoons sesame oil
1.5 tablespoons sugar
1 cup sake (or pale dry sherry)
2 tables spoons dark soy sauce (or regular if you prefer)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
One small hot pepper of your choice, mine is one chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
Optional: two scallions
Cut the lotus crosswise in quarter-inch slices. Soak in water, change until water runs clear. Dry. Heat sesame oil. Add lotus roots and toss for a minute. Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir continuously until reduce, about 10 minutes. Good hot and warmed up.Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Large, showy yellow or pink flowers on long stems, leaves round, some floating, some out of the water, stem attaches to the middle back of the large leaf.
TIME OF YEAR: Roots year round though best in autumn, flowers in late spring or summer in Florida, later in northern climes, June through September.
ENVIRONMENT: Shallow ponds, edges of slow rivers, essentially fresh quiet waters.
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Numerous, all parts of the plant raw or cooked, root, seeds, unopened leaves, and stems. HOWEVER, all parts better seeped in water and cooked to reduce any bitterness. Boiled greens, seeds squeezed out of their shell are especially tasty. Dried flowers for tea or added to soups. Lastly, the wilted leaves — held next to a fire — can be used to wrap food in for cooking.