Category Archives: Edible Plants

Cattail Information and Identification

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

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

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

Plantain – Plantago

Plantain

Common names: ribwort plantain, English plantain, buckhorn plantain, narrowleaf plantain, ribleaf and lamb’s tongue, dooryard plantain, Plantain: The Miracle Plant You Can Find in Your Yardcommon plantain, Englishman’s foot, White Man’s Foot

It is just one of those damned weeds that you fight with every year – that is of course if you care about your lawn. Plantain, a perennial, is a very common “weed” that can be found just about anywhere. Just like so many other plants, Colonists brought it over from Europe with them. So, it is in my opinion an invasive species. Native Americans gave plantain two of its “common names” – Englishman’s foot and White Man’s Foot.

Description:

Leaves spiral on a very short, weakly woody stem. Leaves are broadly lance shaped to egg shaped, hairless or sparsely short haired. Roughly 2″ to 7″ long, leaves have five to seven prominent parallel veins from the base. Roots are fibrous and shallow. Broadleaf plantain can be distinguished from buckhorn plantain, Plantago lanceolata, by its broader leaf and longer flower head spikes.
The leafless flower stalks grow in summer into fall. They will reach approximately 6″ to 18″ tall. As the picture illustrates, the flower stalks grow out of the center of the plant. The flower stalks bear densely packed greenish white flowers each of which will form a seedpod containing 10 to 18 seeds.

Habitat:

Plantain grows in varied habitats. They can grow in moist soil, shade or full sun, poor soil in between sidewalk cracks – take your pick.

Location:

As the map demonstrates, plantain grows throughout Canada and the Coninental U.S.

Edible:

The very young leaves can be added to salads, or cooked as greens. The immature flower stalks may be eaten raw or cooked. The seeds have a nutty flavor and may be parched and added to a variety of foods or ground into flour.

Notes of Interest:

Plantain is very high in beta carotene (A) and calcium. It also provides ascorbic acid (C).

The plant provides food for butterfly caterpillars, rabbits, deer, and grouse. A wide variety of birds eat the seeds.

According to WebMD: Fibers from broccoli and plantain plants may block a key stage in the development of Crohn’s disease…read more

 

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Jerusalem artichoke – Helianthus Tuberosus

Jerusalem artichoke

Common Names: sunroot, sunchoke, earth apple or topinambour, Canadian potato, sunflower root, wild sunflowerJerusalem artichoke

Driving around in upstate New York in late summer you can spot Jerusalem artichoke growing just off the road. Take a walk near old farms and just off the path you can spot small plots of these native plants growing. This edible plant is actually a species of sunflower native to eastern North America – however due to its food value (and probably its flower) it has been introduced worldwide. Just another example of man bringing a new plant to an area to become an “invasive species”. The root system of this wild food is fibrous with thin cord-like rhizomes that can grow as long as 50 inches. Usually apparent at the tips of rhizomes are whitish to pinkish tubers that are irregular in size and shape and resemble a slender potato with knots.

Description:

The Jerusalem artichoke is a tall perennial plant. It can grow up to 10’ in height. Its stems are strong upright in growth. They have “hairs” along the stem. The leaves are opposite or in whorls of three on the bottom and alternately arranged near the top. The top of the leaves are covered with short hairs and are 4 to 10 inches long and 1 1/2 to 5 inches wide broadest at the base and tapering at the tip. All leaves have toothed margins. The flowers are bright yellow as can be seen in the picture. The flower head is a rounded central disc approximately 1 ½” to 2” wide which has approximately 10 – 20 – 1 ½” to 2 ½” flowers rays attached. Each plant will have several flowers on small stems.

Habitat:

You can find Jerusalem artichokes in damp or rich thickets, waste areas, old fields, along roadsides and even in peoples gardens – either as a known vegetable or just a nice yellow flower.

Location:

You can find clusters of these wild flowers growing from southern Saskatchewan south into Kansas and eastward into Quebec down to Georgia. Frankly since many people have attempted to grow jerusalem artichoke as a food source, you can find this plant growing where ever conditions are right – again “invasive”

Edible:

The tuber is the edible part of this plant. If you wait until after a frost the inulin in the tubers will start turning to sugar thus making it sweeter. You can prepare the tuber just as you would a potato – roast, bake, boil, eat it raw, dry and grind into a flour. It is extremely versatile.

“Jerusalem artichokes get their sweetness from a unique sugar called inulin, which the body metabolizes much more slowly than it does other sugars. This makes the veggie a preferred food for diabetics, and for anyone who wants to avoid eating simple sugars and starches. Jerusalem artichokes are rich in iron, potassium and a range of B vitamins.” 2

Notes of Interest:

Jerusalem artichokes were cultivated by the Native Americans, in fact Samuel de Champlain found domestically grown plants at Cape Cod in 1605.

Truly a plant of many uses, the jerusalem artichoke can be grown for: human consumption, alcohol production, fructose production and livestock feed.

“Dehydrated and ground tubers can be stored for long periods without protein and sugar deterioration. Tubers can be prepared in ways similar to potatoes. In addition, they can be eaten raw, or made into flour, or pickled.” 1

A 25-square-foot planting can produce more than 100 pounds of harvested tubers. 2
The sugars from one acre of Jerusalem artichoke can produce 500 gallons of alcohol, which is about double the amount produced by either corn or sugarbeet. 3

1. Alternative Field Crops Manual – University of Wisconsin
2. Mother Earth News
3. Ohio State University – Ohio Perennial and Biennial Weed Guide

 

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Staghorn Sumac – Rhus Typhina

Staghorn Sumac

staghorn sumac

Driving around during September in New York you will eventually come across a group of small trees growing in dense stands. The leaves will be a deep red and large conical red hairy fruits called drupes may be at the end of branches. This is the common Staghorn Sumac which is a deciduous shrub to small tree. It grows quite aggressively. Because staghorn sumac can grow by its roots (rhizomes), and once established it can be a pain to remove.

Description:

Staghorn Sumac grows 10’ – 35’ tall. As can be seen in the picture, the leaves are alternate & compound growing approximately 24” long with 10 – 32 serrate leaflets. Each leaf grows to 12” long. The leaf stalks and the stems are densely covered in rust-colored hairs. Mature trunks are smooth and hairless. Interestingly, only female plants produce flowers and berries. The red berries grow at the end of branches. The plant flowers from May to July and fruit, the drupes, ripen from June to September. As can be seen in the pictures, they grow in upright bunches. Each cluster of drupes may contain 100 to 700 seeds

Habitat:

Staghorn sumac grows in gardens, lawns, the edges of forests, and wasteland. It can grow under a wide array of conditions, but is most often found in open areas which are not already established by other trees.

staghorn sumac branches can have tiny hairsLocation:

Staghorn sumac is found throughout the eastern half of the United States and Canada from western Ontario, south to Oklahoma into the Gulf Coast States and eastward to all the Atlantic States and eastern Canada.

Edible:

The fruit of sumacs can be collected, soaked and washed in cold water, strained, sweetened and made into a lemonade-like drink.

Notes of Interest:

Staghorn sumac spreads by seeds, and by its roots, rhizomes, to form “stands”.

The staghorn sumac derives its name from the countless tiny hairs covering its branches and resembling the tines of a deer’s antler when in velvet.

All parts of the staghorn sumac, except the roots, can be used as a natural dye.

Native Americans used the berries from staghorn sumac to make a drink.

The berries and bark are an important source of food for birds (upland games birds as well as song birds) and small mammals.

Staghorn sumac can form with either male or female plants.

 

Blackberry Information

BLACKBERRY

Blackberry fruit is sweet and tastes great but may be seedy
– Rubus procerus / ROSACEAE Rose family

Other Common Names for Blackberry:

R. procerus: Himalaya Blackberry, raspberry, blackcap

Description:

Blackberry can be a Shrub or bush-like perennial, can have trailing or climbing canes (most usual), thorned or smooth (usually domestic varieties). Blackberry leaves are simple and lobed to compound. Blackberry fruit is a berry generally in multiple drupelets. R. procerus: Bushy, large, dense clusters; stems stout, multiple, arching, thorned, up to 10 m long. As can be seen in the picture, blackberry leaves are divided into 3 or 5 leaflets, sharply toothed, 1.5-3.5 cm. Typically the fruit is black when mature. The flowers of blackberry generally are small and white. Bees are always active during flowering. Once flower petals drop fruit begins to develop. Unripe fruit looks segmented and like small examples of ripe fruit only white in color.

Location:

Blackberries are found throughout North America, generally in uncultivated and burn areas. Their habitat is extremely varied. Many times along roads or on the edge of border areas. This is one of my favorite wild fruits to pick while out on hiking or fishing trips.

Blackberry canes many times have sharp thornsSeason: Blooms in spring and early summer; fruit late summer and autumn. On of the earlier thorned stems to leaf out in the spring.

Edible:

Young shoots in spring; berries ripen in late summer and autumn. The fruit can be very seedy so be careful.

Preparation:

The young shoots can be cut just above the ground, peeled and eaten raw or cooked. Beginning in late summer the berries of most species are available. The berry can be eaten raw, boiled down to a syrup, squeezed for juice, cooked with stews or made into preserves, pies, and even wine. Leaves can be dried and used to make a tea substitute.

Growing your Own:

Blackberry plants are fairly easy to grow. I have gone from “stealing” Blackberry leaves are generally in threes and are serratedwild cane to buying from a garden center. My experience is that domestic varieties are juicy and sweet while wild blackberry is sweet but rather seedy. The only wild blackberry I ever really liked as much as a quality domestic were the blackberries in the Pacific Northwest – Oregon and Washington. Anyway, I would suggest buying your plants from a quality supplier like Burpee. The blackberry should be planted late fall or early spring with room to grow and in a place where ‘pretty’ isn’t super important. The plants will spread through shallow runners. You will need to control the spread by planting in a raised bed or by routinely digging them out.

After harvesting your crop, it would be smart to treat the plants  with a preventative general purpose fungicide. It should help to prolong the life of your patch.

Other maintenance is cutting old canes (big brown) or dead canes back after fruiting.

Notes of Interest:

Noted for its sweet delicious taste. The berries and root have medicinal properties useful for treating diarrhea. Blackberries and strawberries are very high in ellagic acid which is an antioxidant.

Try our blackberry recipes

If you want to grow your own blackberry patch – use a quality company such as Burpee