Category Archives: Edible Plants

Mayapple – Podophyllum peltatum

Mayapple – Podophyllum peltatum

Common names:Mayapple. (Podophyllum peltatum). Other common names: Mandrake, May Apple, May-apple

hogapple, Indian apple, mayflower, umbrella plant, wild lemon (flavor of the fruit), wild mandrake, American mandrake, devil’s apple

Mayapples are unique looking plants that I always consider fun to come across when out hiking. Typically you will not find just one. They usually are found in groupings. All plant somehow attached, even identical, as they can all be grown from a rhizome.


In spring the main stems of mayapple grow upright. These stems can grow 10” – 24” tall. Reproductive plants have 2 or occasionally 3 umbrella like leaves 8” – 12” in diameter with 5 – 9 deeply cut lobes Plants that will not reproduce, sterile, have one umbrella-like leaf. The single flower comes out in spring and is white 1” – 3” diameter with six, sometimes up to nine, petals and is produced at the axil of the two main leaves. The flower is quite showy The flower matures into a yellow-greenish fruit 1” – 2” long. Typically, when you find mayapple you will find a small “colony” since they can grow via rhizomes.

Mayapple, is also called American mandrake. Mandrake - the stuff of magic and legend and dark, stormy nights.Habitat:

Mayapples can be found in moist meadows and open / damp woodlands


Mayapple territory is from Quebec and Ontario in the north, south through New England down into Florida. They are as far west as Texas and Minnesota.


The ripe fruit is the only edible on the plant. The fruit can be eaten raw or even made into jam. The leaves, stem, roots/rhizome and unripe fruit are poisonous – do not eat.

Notes of Interest:

They are a members of the barberry family.
Native Americans ate the berries and used the roots to make a tea.

Yellow Water Lily – Nymphaeaceae

Yellow Water Lily – Nymphaeaceae

Yellow Water Lily

Common Names:The phrase "water lily" is used to describe aquatic plants

Water Lily, Brandy-bottle, pond lily, bullhead lily, spatterdock, yellow cowlily, water lily

My son built a small pond in the backyard several years ago. Along with the necessary koi we bought the flora we added included a plant native to the entire USA – a yellow pond lily. In researching this plant I found out its history and the many ways this wild food is used and useful.


As its name implies, the yellow pond lily is an aquatic plant. It is a long lived plant, a perennial, which grows from spongy rhizomes anchored into the bottom of a body of water. The floating leaves are thick, somewhat heart-shaped and have up to an 18” spread. The stalks connecting leaves and flowers to rhizomes can grow six feet long.

Flowers of the water lily emerge on separate stem stalks. They are cup-shaped, yellow-green, with small scale-like petals. Flowers bloom from May to October. Spent flowers give way to seed heads that burst upon ripening, broadcasting their seeds over the water surface.


Yellow pond-lily occurs in slow-moving streams, ponds, and lakes. The plant pictured here was in Pine Lake, NY, a shallow Adirondack lake. The plant grows in wet, poor sandy soils and grows best in 1’ to 5’ of water in full sun to part shade. It is however tolerant of shade and deep water. There is a boggy area fed by the Normans Kill in Albany, NY that gets choked up with these wild plants by mid-summer every year. This is where the lilies I have come from.


The yellow pond lily can basically be found from Alaska south to California East to Labrador and south to Florida.


The roots (rhizomes) are rich in starch and can be harvested any time of the year and either roasted or boiled. I understand that the root can be dried and ground into a flour substitute. The seeds can also be gathered in late summer into the fall and roasted and shelled. They can be eaten as is, boiled like you would rice or ground into a flour/meal.

Yellow Pond Lilies provides great cover for wildlife, especially fish, aquatic insects, snakes, turtles, frogs, crayfish, salamanders, and other water creatures.Notes of Interest:

Yellow Pond Lilies provides great cover for wildlife, including all types of fish, insects (aquatic, terrestrial and flying), amphibians and reptiles. It is also a food source for beaver, muskrats and waterfowl.

The plant’s use dates back to pre-colonial times. Native Americans used the starchy rootstocks as a boiled or roasted vegetable. Additionally, they harvested the seed for grinding into flour.

Although water lily seeds are produced and deposited on the water surface, the yellow pond-lily reproduces more readily by spreading rhizomes – I can attest to this. The lily in the koi pond has a root system around 4’ long with several spots that stems and flowers grow from. This native aquatic plant can readily take over a body of water – please do not help it spread. It is very difficult to eradicate

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Wild onion – genus Allium

Wild onion (Allium canadense), also known as Canada onion, wild garlic, meadow garlic, and Canadian garlic, is a perennial plant native to North America.Wild onion – genus Allium

Wild onion

The wild onion is a perennial herb that is comprised of a large genus. The one feature all wild onions share is their very distinctive odor and flavor – they all have a mild to strong onion to garlic odor and flavor. The very poisonous death camas can physically look like a wild onion BUT DOES NOT smell or taste like an onion. If you encounter one of these stay away!!

Common names:

Canada onion, wild garlic, meadow garlic, and Canadian garlic, nodding onion


The leaves are slender and can be flat to cylindrical. The flowers are specific to the species you encounter but generally are on central leafless stalks and are globe to umbrella shaped.  The bulbs are generally small.


One variety or another can be located somewhere in North America. Just remember that ONLY IF IT SMELLS LIKE ONION you can try it. Wild onions can be found in woodlots, forest clearings, along roads/train tracks and grasslands

Wild onion (A. validum or A. canadense) is a bulbous herb of the Amaryllis family and is a close relative of cultivated onionSeason:

The plants bloom from April through June, however, there is no real season to wild onions. Leaves may taste fresher and be tender early in the season. Bulbs will grow larger into the autumn.


Leaves and bulbs which mean all parts of the plant are edible. Green leaves can be added to soups or cooked dishes to add some onion/garlic flavor. Bulbs, although small can be used as you would use grocery store onions.


It is best to use a tool to loosen the soil around the plants prior to pulling. Just trying to pull on the leaves usually leads to the plants breaking at ground level. Frankly, any tool will work – everything from a stick to a shovel.

Just like their domestic relatives, wild onions can be kept in a refrigerator for several days. Both leaves and bulbs can be eaten fresh or they can be dried and if kept in a dry place will keep for months. They can also be chopped and frozen

Notes of interest:

Native Americans and early settlers used wild onions for food and medicinal purposes. Onions are said to be high in Vitamin C, phosphorus and iron. Herbalists use onion and garlic for immune system boosters and are reported to lower blood pressure and cholesterol

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Wildlife recipes

Red Mulberry – Morus Rubra

Red Mulberry

Red Mulberry – Morus Rubra

Growing up in the Northeast I had a friend with a fruit tree in his backyard. I was amazed at this one tree that was able to produce so many “black berries”. No one in the neighborhood knew what the tree was but they were happy to eat the fruit. His mother even baked pies with its fruit. It turned out to be a red mulberry (morus rubra) a native plant of the Americas which is a close relative to the white mulberry which is an invasive plant from China. Trying to find out exactly what the tree was led me to a life-long passion to be able to identify wild plants.

Description:Red mulberry is fire intolerant. However, it colonizes post - fire sites when sufficient moisture is available.

The red mulberry is a deciduous tree, growing to 30 – 60 feet tall with a trunk that is 18” -24” in diameter. Its Leaves form in three general shapes: normal leaf shape, mitten shaped (single lobed) and three-lobed. The leaves are simple, alternate, and up to 7″ – 8″ long. The leaves are broad, egg shaped, and lobed. The base of the leaf is square, as if it has been cut off abruptly. The tip of the leaf is pointed. The leaves have sharply serrated margins. The upper leaf surface is rough to the touch. The lower surface is soft and covered with short hairs. The petioles are 1″ to 1 1/2″ long and produce a milky fluid when broken. The catkins that bear stamens are 1″ – to 3″ long. The catkins that bear pistils are 1″ to 1 1/2″ long. Red mulberry has aggregate fruits that are 1″ to 1 1/2″ long. The fruits are juicy and have a dark purple color. The bark of the red mulberry is grayish with flattened, either scaly ridges or smooth. The flowers are relatively inconspicuous: small, yellowish green or reddish-green. Male and female flowers are usually on separate trees although they may occur on the same tree.


Native red mulberry is rarely found away from the shade of mature, moist woods. where it prefers moist, wooded slopes, wood’s edges, and shady roadways. It is very tolerant of shade and is usually found as a small, understory tree. Many times you may find this native tree alongside streams where the soil is moist. Interestingly, because birds absolutely love the small blackberry sized fruit, they eat then scatter the seeds near and far so you may find red mulberry trees anywhere the soil is moist enough for the plant.

Grown in its native habitat and using local seed stock, red mulberry should not be prone to debilitating pests.Range:

Red Mulberry, is native to eastern North America, from Ontario and Vermont south to southern Florida and west to southeast South Dakota and central Texas.


The fruit of the mulberry and young shoots are the edible parts of this plant. The fruit, called drupes, look just like blackberries. They are typically about 1″ long. They ripen between late June through July. The fruit of the red mulberry can be eaten raw, juiced (very tasty) or cooked into pies, breads etc. The one problem there is in picking the fruit is that mulberry fruit in general, (red mulberry, white mulberry, etc) are favorites of just about all birds as well as small mammals. Often times they will get the fruit just before it ripens. The young shoots can be boiled until tender (1 water change in the process) and served with butter.

Notes of Interest:Red mulberry was used by several Native American tribes to treat a variety of ailments.

The red mulberry tree is a native tree of the Americas. The white mulberry tree which is, what I consider an invasive species, readily hybridizes with it. So, many times what you will come across is a hybrid tree – still all good to eat but once again the hand of man screws up nature.

I have read that the unripe fruit should not be eaten because they contain hallucinogens 1

The wood of red mulberry is strong and has been used in furniture and fence posts 2

1. Edible Wild Plants, Sterling Publishing page 200
2. Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants – 2nd edition, Stackpole Books, page144

DAY LILY Information & Facts


Day Lily – Hemerocallis fulva / LlLIACEAE

Other Common Names:

Tawny Day Lily

Description:Daylily flowers come in a variety of forms, including: circular, triangular, double, ruffled, star-shaped and spider-shaped.

The day lily is a showy perennial herb. It grows from fleshy-fibrous roots or tubers. Keeled, sword like leaves grow from the ground. The leaves can be up to four feet tall that grow in clumps from the crown of the plant, at the soil line. The flower grows from a tall naked flowering stem that grows from the base of the plant. The flowers are large yellow to reddish- yellow and either face horizontal or upright. The flower is short lived, it withers and decays after blooming sometimes even after one day. Day lily flowers come in a variety of forms, including: circular, triangular, double, ruffled, star-shaped and spider-shaped.


Day lilies are found in colonies or clumps along ditches and roadsides in damp soil. H. fulva: Western United States. H. flava: Primarily found in the northeastern United States west to Michigan.


Day lily bloom from May through July.


Buds, flowers, tubers.

Preparation:Day lily cultivar flowers are highly diverse in colour and form

The buds and flowers, long a standard vegetable in Asia, have many uses in cookery. Care should be taken not to overcook the flower buds. Boil only a few minutes when prepared as a solo dish topped with butter.

Buds and flowers can both be added to soup or stew a few minutes before removing from heat. The early tubers are good and crisp in a salad, or eaten raw alone. Care must be taken when eating the tubers – I have read they could have carcinogenic compounds. Do not eat the leaves there could be low level poison.1

Notes of Interest:

The day lily was originally a cultivated flower but escaped cultivation and now like certain types of dandelion are considered “invasive”. They are hearty and thrive when thinned where winters are cold.

1. Peterson Field Guides – Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs

Prickly Pear Cactus Facts

Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly Pear Cactus- Opuntia

According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture “prickly pear” in the cactus family is the common name for the genus Opuntia, which contains Prickly pear cactus typically grow with flat, rounded cladodes (also called platyclades) that are armed with two kinds of spinesmany different species found in North and South America and surrounding environs. They are more commonly found in deserts but there are varieties that thrive in the Great Plains and American Southeast. For a list of prickly pear cacti, see below in notes of interest. All have flat, fleshy pads that look like large leaves. The pads are actually modified branches or stems that serve several functions — water storage, photosynthesis and flower production.


Most prickly pear cactus have large spines which grow on the pads and stems from tubercles (small bumps). Around the large spines are clusters of fine, tiny, barbed spines called glochids. Glochids easily detach from the plant and can lodge into skin. Most prickly pear cacti can have yellow, red or purple flowers, even among the same species. They vary in height from less than a foot, such as the plains or hedgehog, to over 6 feet, such as the blind prickly pear or pancake. Pads can vary in width, length, shape and color. While all varieties have glochids, certain varieties such as the blind pear, are regarded as spineless.


While many people associate cactus with the desert, prickly pear cacti varieties can be found in different environments. Englemann’s prickly pear cactus can be found in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts while the coastal prickly pear can be found in California and the grassland prickly pear can be found in the Great Plains in the U.S.


The fruits of most prickly pear cactus are edible. Prickly pear branches and pads can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Prickly Pear Nectar is made with the juice and pulp of the fruits. The fruits and pads of the prickly pear cactus are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibers that may help keep blood sugar stable. According to Web MD, “Prickly pear cactus might lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Watch for signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and monitor your blood sugar carefully if you have diabetes and use prickly pear cactus” Some side effects of eating prickly pear include mild diarrhea, nausea, increased amount and frequency of stool, bloating and headache.

Notes of Interest:

A dye was made by Native Americans and settlers with the blood of cochineal bugs, an insect that feeds on the pads of the prickly pear.

A cactus moth, Cactoblastis cactorum, that is native to South America was inadvertently introduced into the United States in the Southeast and is making its way west. It presents a potential problem since it is largely unchecked by nature in North America. The potential destructive effect will not only be the loss of millions of dollars in revenue to farmers and producers but also to the environment where the impact on animals that depend on the prickly pear for food and shelter could potentially be enormous. This is just another example of human stupidity and carelessness.

Prickly Pear cactus Species: Brazilian prickly pear, semaphore prickly pear, sour prickly pear, California prickly pear, brownspined prickly pear, Tucson prickly pear, Big Bend prickly pear, Graham’s prickly pear, chenille prickly pear, border prickly pear, golden prickly pear, Rio Grande prickly pear, beavertail prickly pear, Trelease’s beavertail prickly pear, Chihuahua prickly pear, Chisos Mountain prickly pear, dollarjoint prickly pear, searchlight prickly pear, grassland prickly pear, erect prickly pear, Edwards’ prickly pear, Texas prickly pear, brittle prickly pear, violet prickly pear, tulip prickly pear, arborescent prickly pear, coastal prickly pear, purple prickly pear, twistspine prickly pear, common prickly pear, chaparral prickly pear, tulip prickly pear, Pinkava’s prickly pear, plains prickly pear, El Paso prickly pear, grizzlybear prickly pear, Navajo Bridge prickly pear, hairspine prickly pear, cockspur prickly pear, roving prickly pear, blind prickly pear, blood-red prickly pear, Santa Rita prickly pear, erect prickly pear, marblefruit prickly pear, bell-flower prickly pear, woollyjoint prickly pear, elephantear prickly pear, turban prickly pear, San Antonio prickly pear, Vasey’s coastal prickly pear, Wooton’s prickly pear

USDA Plants Profile – prickly pear

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