Sunflower Facts & Identification

Sunflowers are annuals with showy, daisylike flowerheads that are usually 2-4 inches across and bright yellow

Sunflower

Sunflower – Helianthus annuus

Common names:Sunflowers are annuals with showy, daisylike flowerheads that are usually 2-4 inches across and bright yellow

common sunflower, Kansas sunflower

Years ago when I would go hiking and find a few sunflowers growing in a field I assumed they were “escapees” from someone’s garden or seeds dropped by a bird. How wrong I was. They are native plants of the Americas. As its name indicates, the sunflower is named for its huge, flower heads, whose shape and image are often used to depict the sun. Additionally, they have long been used by Native Americans as a food source and medicinal aid.

Description:

Frankly, sunflowers are iconic. Once you have seen one you will never make a mistake in identification. But for those that want a description of a sunflower, here goes – Sunflowers are large annual plants that commonly grow to heights between 5’ – 12’. As can be seen in the pictures, they have rough, hairy stems, broad, coarsely toothed, rough leaves and circular heads of flowers. The leaves are mostly alternate, egg-shaped to triangular, and entire or toothed. The heads consist of many individual flowers which mature into seeds, often in the hundreds, on a receptacle base

Leaves of the sunflower can be used as cattle feed, while the stems contain a fibre which may be used in paper production.Habitat:

Many times you will find sunflowers growing along a roadside in a sunny spot. They need full sun for optimum growth. They grow best in fertile, moist, well-drained soil with heavy mulch. However, I have found as long as a seed can germinate in decent soil and have enough sun, it will grow.

Location:

The sunflower is common and widespread. It can be found in all of the contiguous 48 states, all of Canada and Alaska.

Edible:

Sunflower seeds can be eaten raw, roasted, cooked, dried, ground into flour and used as a source of oil.

Native Americans made a meal with parched seeds that were pounded in a mortar and mixed with beans, dried squash and pounded parched corn.

Sunflower seeds can be processed into a peanut butter alternative, sunflower butter.

Roasted seeds can be used as a coffee substitute much like chicory.

Notes of Interest:The stem of a sunflower grows from the plume found inside the seed.

Traditionally, several Native American groups planted sunflowers on the north edges of their gardens as a “fourth sister” to the better known three sisters combination of corn, beans, and squash.

Their seeds are commonly used as a wild bird food.

Purple, yellow and black dyes can be extracted from wild sunflowers.

As is all too often, sunflowers have been exported around the world. Frankly, even though they are beneficial plants, I would consider them invasive in areas they have been introduced.

http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=HELIA3

Strawberry Plant Facts and Identification

Strawberries are in full fruit production in their second year.

Strawberry

Strawberry – Fragaria Virginiana

Common Names:Strawberry - Strawberries are in full fruit production in their second year.

Woodland strawberry; California strawberry, Virginia Strawberry

General

The first time I came across strawberries in the wild, and knew it, I was 18 years old hiking with a friend in the coastal mountains of Oregon. He was the one that identified them. It was one of those times when it was all about camping, fishing for cutthroat trout and eating wild foods – with a lot of it being strawberries along with a smattering of blackberries, thimbleberries and a bit of wild greens. I found it strangely fulfilling camping in a tent for a week really living off the land.

The good news about strawberries is that they are easy to identify and widely distributed. The bad news is that the strawberry fruit can have a limited growing season. This is a perennial plant that spreads by seed, short rhizomes (a thick underground horizontal stem that produces roots and has shoots that develop into new plants) and leafless stolon (a long stem or shoot that arises from the central rosette of a plant and droops to the ground).

Strawberry - Growing strawberries is fun and easy because they'll thrive in many regions.Identification:

If you have ever seen a strawberry plant in Home Depot, Lowes or your local garden center then you know what a wild strawberry plant looks like – only the wild strawberry is smaller. The toothed leaves are thin and basal compound in groups of 3 with a petiole generally 1” – 4”. They are sparsely hairy below. Leaf color is generally a bluish-green. The strawberry flower has 5 white petals with numerous pistils and 20-35 stamens. The flower is typically .25” – .5” wide. The fruit is white then turns red when ripe with the seeds on the outside. The plant is generally 2” – 6” tall.

Location:

Strawberries grow where there’s lots of sun: in meadows, fields, on moist ground, along the edge of woods, and on hillsides. You can find them across the U.S. and Canada except in desert/arid areas.

Edible:

The fruit ripens sometime between June and August. I have even come across strawberry fruit in the wild in late September. Obviously the fruit is edible and if you can pick enough, it can be canned, frozen or dried. The fruit of strawberries are nutritious and are full of essential vitamins and minerals.

The leaves and stems are edible and actually taste good when fresh and young. They are loaded with vitamin C – an important vitamin used to prevent scurvy. One way to enjoy the benefits of the leaves is make a tea with a handful of freshly picked leaves. For winter use you can dry out the leaves and store in a jar.

Notes of interest:The Strawberry has a very high vitamin C content and is versatile as a dessert food.

Native Americans used strawberries as a food source. The strawberry is an important food source for many wild animals from insects to deer and birds.

Growing your own strawberry patch: Strawberry plants are easy to grow if you want free fresh fruit. I like to plant my strawberries in long rows.

They should be planted in full sun in a light, loose soil, about 10” apart in rows 2’ apart. You should plant in an area that has plenty of room for your patch to spread out. Lightly fertilize the plants during the growing season. After 2 – 3 years your plants will spread – mostly from “runners”. Once a runner plant has established its own roots and is healthy I like to move it to avoid overcrowding. Keep the runners pruned back until after you pick the strawberry fruit. This allows the plant to focus on fruit production thus increasing yield. As they age plants will lose “vigor” so you should pull plants over three years old to maintain your patch’s fruit production. Younger plants are more vigorous and produce more berries.

The biggest problems I have in the Northeast are rabbits (they will eat the plant right down to the ground) and gray squirrels (they will sneak in like the rats they are and eat the fruit just as it is ripening). I find the best way to protect plants and fruit is to cover the row with deer netting. It will let in the bees for pollination but keep out rabbits and squirrels.

Dandelion Information & Description

Each bloom is made up of numerous strapshaped florets of a bright golden yellow.

Dandelion

Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale / COMPOSITAE Sunflower family

Other Common Names:

Common Dandelion, Blowball, weed

General:Each bloom is made up of numerous strapshaped florets of a bright golden yellow.

There are a multitude of species of dandelion growing in the temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. Dandelions are a perennial or biennial herb but many consider them an invasive weed. Many consider dandelions to be the worst lawn weed there is, even paying for lawn services and using herbicides to eradicate these lowly plants from the face of the earth. Many of the dandelions you see in your lawn are invasive, brought to North America by Europeans.

Description:

Dandelions have hollow flower stems that ooze a bitter milky liquid if broken. The plants are as short as 2” but can also be as tall as 18”.  The leaves are typically thin, deep green and coarsely toothed. The shiny and hairless leaves are clustered, growing from plant base in spreading rosette. The long, thick taproot typically goes straight down. Each stem has a single flower head or seed head. Plants can have multipe flowers on individual stems.

The flower is bright yellow to orange in color. The flower ultimately turns into a white ball of seed heads.

Location:

Abundant throughout North America; open fields, roadsides and lawns. Any place with enough sun and water can hold dandelions – even the sidewalk cracks in my front yard.

Season:

The plant grows and blossoms in early spring through summer and into the fall. The edibles can be picked from spring through fall.

Edible:

Leaves and root.

Small birds are very fond of the seeds of the DandelionPreparation:

Young leaves harvested before flowers appear can be used in salads or cooked like domestic greens. They are nutritious so if in need, do not pass up. Older leaved have a tendency to be bitter. To remove bitterness, cook the leaves in water, change the cooking water and bring to a boil again. That should remove the bitterness.

Roots are best dug in autumn and should be dried uncut until hard. Like chicory root, dried roots are slowly roasted and ground as a coffee substitute. You can also just scrape the roots and boil in a little salt water.

Notes of Interest:

Superior source of vitamins, containing a large amount of vitamin A; also B, C, and E as well as calcium, sodium and potassium. Dandelion greens are rated very high nutritionally.

Traditionally, dandelion has been used a diuretic, to increase the amount of urine in order to get rid of too much fluid. It has been used for many conditions where a diuretic might help, such as liver problems and high blood pressure. However, there is no good research on using dandelion as a diuretic in people.

http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-706-DANDELION.aspx?activeIngredientId=706&activeIngredientName=DANDELION

USDA, NRCS. 2014. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov , 9 February 2014). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA

Chicory Plant Information & Identification

Chicory is grown and harvested for its root and tender shoots.

CHICORY

Chicory – Cichorium intybus / COMPOSITAE Sunflower family

Other Common Names:

Blue Sailors, Wild Succory, Common Chicory Root, Succory, Wild Chicory, Wild Endive, Chickory

General:Chicory is grown for its roots that chicory coffee can be made from

Chicory is native to Northern Africa, Western Asia and Europe. Sometime in the near past, European settlers brought chicory to North America. After that, like European starlings, the rest is history. It has “invaded” North America.

Each chicory plant has a single, long, thick root (known as a ‘tap root’) which is what most people know chicory for. My first introduction to chicory was a person I worked with who brought chicory coffee to the office and shared it.

Description:

Chicory is an erect, branching, perennial herb that can grow from  1’ to 4’ tall. If dug up, the long, deep taproot can break if you are not careful. The large clustered lower leaves are coarsely toothed (serrated) growing from the plant base in a spreading rosette. Upper leaves are small imitations of the larger lower leaves. The small flower is bright blue and is about 1” in diameter. Leaves at the bottom are usually larger and longer – much like dandelion. Flowers usually close in bright sunlight.

Habitat:

Chicory is usually found in open areas. Driving down roads in the Northeast US in the summer, the straggly looking blue flowered plants you see are probably chicory. The plant can also be found in open fields, farm land, and transitional borders – from forest to field. It will grow in cracks of rock and blacktop. Basically wherever the seed lands that provides enough water and an open enough area without too much competition is where the plant will grow.

Chicory is enjoyed for its roots and its tender shoots. Including this versatile plant in your home vegetable garden will give you plenty of choices

Location:

A native of “Old World, Europe and Africa” now all over North America – USA and Canada as well as other countries.

Season:

Primarily spring and summer.

Edible:

The entire plant is useful. In spring and early summer young greens can be added to salads and/or eaten raw. In spring entire the plant can be cut off just below its rosette and used as potherb. The leaves can also be boiled or steamed much like spinach leaves when they are still young. Older chicory leaves have a tendency toward a bitter taste just like dandelion. Accordingly, they should be “double boiled”, bring the leaves to a boil, dump the water, fill the pot with fresh water and bring to a boil again. This should reduce the bitter taste.

Roots can be dug any time, washed and roasted until they turn dark brown and snap easily. The roasted roots are ground and brewed like coffee. Chicory coffee makes much stronger brew than coffee beans. Chicory root can also be boiled and eaten like any other root vegetable.

Notes of Interest:

Chicory is rich in vitamin A and also contains vitamin C, phosphorous, potassium, calcium and iron1chicory root can be eaten after being boiled or roasted for coffee

According to WebMD – “Chicory is used for loss of appetite, upset stomach, constipation, liver and gallbladder disorders, cancer, and rapid heartbeat. It is also used as a “tonic,” to increase urine production, to protect the liver, and to balance the stimulant effect of coffee.”
“Chicory root has a mild laxative effect, increases bile from the gallbladder, and decreases swelling. Chicory is a rich source of beta-carotene.”

WebMD also issues a warning about chicory: “Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Taking chicory by mouth in large amounts is UNSAFE during pregnancy. Chicory might start menstruation and cause a miscarriage.”

1. Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, Bradford Angier, Stackpole Books

WebMd

Cattail Information and Identification

All parts of the cattail plant are edible. American Indians prepared the different parts in many ways.

Cattail

Cattail latin name – T. latifolia/TYPHACEAE

Other Common Names:

Broad-leaved Cattail

General:

The Cattail is a wetland plant with a unique flowering spike and flat blade like leaves that can reach heights from 3 to 10 feet. They are some of the most All parts of the cattail plant are edible. American Indians prepared the different parts in many ways.common marsh/wetland plants. They are unmistakable in appearance, the flower head is unique and great way to identify the plant.  Once established, cattails vigorously develop into large colonies and have a tendency to overtake or crowd out other plant species. We have a small man made pond in our backyard. Once each year we must cut back the cattail plants. We do that by cutting into the roots and removing a section. Two species are most common in US: broad leaved cattail (T. latifolia) and narrow leaf cattail (T. angustifolia).

Cattails have the ability to sprout from seed and to spread through their root systems (also called rhizomes). I have a small pond in my backyard. I planted a small stand of cattails on water’s edge. Within one year they spread to over three times their original size, all through the growth of the roots.

Description:

Cattails are rhizomatous perennial tall, stiff plants, growing anywhere from 3’ up to 10’ tall. As the pictures indicate, cattail leaves look like long blades of grass, about one inch wide. The flower has two parts; a brown cylinder (the female part), and a yellow spike above (the male part). Cattails flower from May to July. Afterward, the brown sausage-shaped flower head continues to grow and develop. As the pictures indicate, the flower heads are unmistakable trademarks and help in classic cattail identification

Habitat:

Cattails prefer shallow, flooded conditions and/or wet ground. With that in mind, you will find cattails along pond edges and lake shorelines, damp ground near streams or in waters 1 to 1.5 feet or less in depth. They can even be found in ditches, in fact cattails are common roadside plants. Cattails need to have moisture during most of the growing season. They tolerate perennial flooding, reduced soil conditions and moderate salinity.

Location:

Cattails grow in shaded wetlands. You can often find them in marshes, swamps and other areas of stagnant waterCattail can be found in all US states, Canada and Mexico. In fact, cattail plants can be found worldwide.

Edible:

Young shoots in spring – The outer portion of young plants can be broken off at the rootstalk, peeled and the heart can be eaten raw or boiled and eaten like asparagus. The raw young shoots taste like cucumber and can also be made into pickles.

Flower heads – In early summer the sheath can be removed from the developing green flower spike, which can then be boiled and eaten like corn

Pollen can be collected and used as a flour supplement or thickener. Pollen is gathered by shaking flower head gently into a container. Pollen is high in protein. It is a bright yellow or green color.

Seeds from brown heads in late summer can be eaten. Seeds can be harvested by burning the head, then winnowing.

Rootstalk throughout winter – they are nutritious with a protein content comparable to that of maize or rice. The rootstalk can be Baked or roasted. You can also dry out the cattail rootstalk and then pound it into a flour like consistency. Cattail rhizomes are fairly high in starch content; about 30% to 46% and the flour would probably contain about 80 % carbohydrates and around 6% to 8% protein. 1

Plants growing in polluted water can accumulate poison and pesticide residues in their rhizomes, and these should not be eaten

Notes of Interest:

A stand of cattails will provide food, shelter and fuel for your fire – 3 of the 5 basic survival needs at any time of year. The mature flower heads of Typha is a genus of about ten species of monocotyledonous flowering plants in the monogeneric family,cattail have high insulating power. In a pinch, use them in your clothing to keep warm. Additionally, you can beak apart the mature flower head and use as tinder. As a friend once said, “it lights up real good.”

Cattails are important wetland plants for wildlife. In the northeast US it is a common summer site to see red-winged blackbirds flying around or resting on cattails. Cattails are eaten or used as protection/housing by wetland mammals such as muskrats, waterfowl, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects.

The Klamath and Modocs of northern California and southern Oregon make flexible baskets of twined tule or cattail. Cattails or tules were also twined to form mats of varying sizes for sleeping, sitting, working, entertaining, covering doorways, for shade, and a myriad of other uses.1

1.http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_tyla.pdf
2. Clarke, C.B. 1977. Edible and useful plants of California. University of California Press. 280 pp

Bracken Fern Information

bracken fern are found on all continents except Antarctica and in all environments except deserts

BRACKEN FERN

Bracken Fern: Pteridium aquilinum / POLYPODIACEAE Fern family

Other Common Names: Western Brake-fern, Eagle Fern, Pasture-brake, Fiddlehead (in early stage).bracken fern  are found on all continents except Antarctica and in all environments except deserts

Description:

Bracken fern have large, coarse, triangular shaped, light green fronds (Ieaflike organ of a fern) are 3-forked and up to 1 meter in length; mature plant stalk is straw-colored and polished; spreads from creeping root-stalks; hair shoots uncurl in spring resembling fiddleheads; mature plant can exceed 1.5 meters tall; mature spores on the frond undersurface have a velvety brown appearance. Each frond appears singly, and the growth of the plant is the reverse of being tufted. The underground stems or rhizomes are deep, giving it the ability to survive intense fires.

Location:

Common west of the Rocky Mountains, less so east – found in medium to low altitudes in fields, burns, moist coniferous forests, and rocky canyons. Southern bracken is found in most of the eastern United States between Florida and Oklahoma in the south, to Missouri, Illinois, and Massachusetts in the north. Eastern bracken is found between Oklahoma and North Carolina in the south, to Minnesota, Quebec, and Newfoundland in the north. Each winter, Bracken’s fronds die with the frost and fall to the ground. New fronds will grow the following Spring.

Bracken Ferns can reproduce two ways. One is by rhizomes spreading, and the other is by spores. Ferns do not have flowers like most plants. Instead, on the underside of the fronds, there are small objects, called sori. The sori produce spores, which are a lot like seeds from a flowering plant.

Spores travel by wind and grow new ferns in new places.

 Bracken fern are noted for their large, highly divided leavesSeason:

Appears in early spring as fiddlehead shaped shoots. Edible: Young shoots in spring, roots in autumn.

Preparation:

Snap off young shoots about 7 ” from the curled fiddlehead, discarding the head itself. Peel the remaining shoot and eat raw, cooked (boiled in salted water), or steamed. Autumn rootstalks are edible after removing outer covering and roasting.

Notes of Interest:

Consuming quantities of raw shoots can create a vitamin B1 deficiency, causing a reduction in body thiamine. Cooking eliminates this potential. Bracken fern leaves are known to be poisonous to livestock when eaten in large amounts. The toxic ingredient is an enzyme that destroys the animals’ thiamin reserves.Acute poisoning from these ferns is unlikely; their effect is cumulative, and eventually produces a variety of internal cancers.

Repeated ingestions significantly increase the likelihood of developing disease; in Japan, where BRACKEN FERN FIDDLEHEADS are traditionally consumed as food, scientists attribute the high incidence of stomach cancer to the popularity of this risky vegetable.1

Back to edible plants

1. Evans IA, Widdop B, Jones RS, et al. (September 1971). “The possible human hazard of the naturally occurring bracken carcinogen”

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