It was my turn to provide the training presentation at our last Master Gardener meeting and as it is my turn also to write this week's article, I thought I would further use my research on edible wild plants and introduce the reader to some unusual tasty treats.
First, however, I must urge you to use caution when trying a new food, and here are the rules:
- Do not gather plants from roadsides due to the pollutants from traffic and pesticide spraying.
- Some wild foods may be toxic when eaten in large quantities and may also be hard on the digestive system due to higher minerals and vitamins than "normal" vegetables.
- Just because you see an animal eat a plant does not necessarily mean you can too!
- Always positively identify a plant before sampling.
- Eat only a little at first to see how your system tolerates the new food.
Let's begin by tasting the beautiful violet one of my favorite spring flowers. There are more than 50 species in the U.S., many are native and most are edible.
The leaves are very high in vitamins A and C and can be added raw to salads or lightly steamed with other vegetables or added to soups. The blossoms are delicious raw and yet when "candied" can be kept for many months. If anyone would like the recipe for "candying" violets and other edible flowers contact the Extension office and I will mail you a copy.
At the other end of the growing season, from August to November, the sometimes much-maligned goldenrod is another edible plant of wondrous qualities. There are a dizzying 75 species of goldenrod, all native to the U.S., and not one of them causes hay-fever (blame instead the inconspicuous ragweed). The Latin name Solidago means to make whole or to heal, and the American Indians and colonists used goldenrod for the relief of stomach cramps, colic and dysentery. To make an aromatic and invigorating tea, immerse the blossoms, foliage and upper stalk in 2 quarts of steaming water for 15 minutes; the blossoms fresh or dried may be added by the cupful to bread, fritter and cake batters. Yum!
Now let's turn to weed control Blooming right now in great profusion is the invasive weed garlic mustard. It is a tall plant topped with small white flowers in a cluster and has heart-shaped leaves that smell of garlic when crushed. It forms dense colonies that crowd out other wildflowers, hence its invasive status, but it has a culinary silver lining. The blossoms, young seed pods and leaves are delicious raw and may also be used as a pot-herb. Muddling (bruising) the leaves and sauteing them in butter is a great basis for a garlic sauce. I expect all good citizens to do their part to eradicate this weed by eating it!
Space prevents me from profiling any other edible wild plants, but the list includes stinging nettles, cattails, dandelions, chicory, elderberry and an incredible staghorn sumac lemonade!
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Tina Clinefelter is a Penn State Master Gardener Volunteer with the Cooperative Extension office (726-0022) and is a recipient of the President's Volunteer Service Award from the Points of Light Foundation.