Category Archives: Survival Guide

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

 

Back to edible wild plant index

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

The blackberry is a widely spread wild food that is easily identified. Not only are the berries edible but the leaves can be used in teas and infusions.

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

Poison Ivy – Toxicodendron radicans

Poison Ivy

General:

Poison ivy is a common North American plant that produces urushiol, a clear liquid compound found within the sap of the plant that causes an poison ivy is widely distributed and can be mistakenitching rash in most people who touch it. The fluids released by scratching the blisters do not spread the poison or the rash. The fluid in the blisters is produced by the body and it is not by urushiol.

Poison ivy likes to grow in suburban areas and many people I know have unwittingly cleaned out “weeds” along neighboring fences only to wake up the next day with the signature itchy rash.

Description:

Poison ivy can be found growing in any of the following three forms

Trailing vine that is 4 to 10 inches high

poison ivy generally has three leaves and white berriesShrub up to 4 feet tall

A climbing vine that grows on trees or some other support. Older vines on substantial supports send out lateral branches that may at first be mistaken for tree limbs.

Poison ivy leaves are deciduous and typical form in clusters 3 on their own stem that are almond-shaped. The leaves grow alternately on the main stem. The leaves are not very large – approximately 1 ½” – 5” long. Like other plants that are deciduous, the leaves of poison ivy change color with age and season starting out often times red in spring then to green then red, orange, or yellow in the fall. The stems are smooth – this easily distinguishes poison ivy from blackberry vines.  The leaves as shown by the picture can have slight serrated edges and as the leaf matures can be shiny.

Vines growing on the trunk of a tree become firmly attached through numerous aerial rootlets. One problem here is that poison ivy grows in the same areas as Virginia creeper, so care must be exercised because you will not be able to clearly identify poison ivy in this situation. Poison ivy vines can have a “hairy” appearance, which can help in identification.
Poison ivy flowers from May to July. The flowers are yellowish- or greenish-white located in clusters approximately 3” above the leaves. The berries mature by August to November and are grayish-white in color.

Location:

Poison ivy grows throughout much of North America, including eastern Canada in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and all U.S. states east of the Rockies, as well as in areas of Mexico. So the lesson here is that you can expect it just about anywhere. When out and about hiking or camping you will likely find poison ivy in wooded areas, much of the time in open areas that receive sun. It also grows in exposed rocky areas and in open fields.

Poison:

Urushiol binds to the skin on contact, where it causes severe itching that often develops into a red rash or flesh colored bumps and blistering. The rash can be treated with Calamine lotion or other over the counter remedies such as oatmeal baths and baking soda. In severe cases hospitalization may be required or if the plant has been ingested.
Urushiol oil can remain active for several years, so handling dead leaves or vines can cause a reaction. In addition, oil transferred from the plant to other objects (such as pet fur) can cause the rash if it comes into contact with the skin.

Pacific Poison Oak – Toxicodendron diversilobum

poison oak Pacific Poison Oak

General:

Pacific poison-oak, a member of the sumac family, is a deciduous plant that grows throughout many parts of west coast. Urushiol, found on the stems, berries and leaves is the main component of the oily resin that causes rashes and blistering. Poison oak can survive under a wide range of temperatures, elevations, soil types, moisture conditions,

Description:

Western poison oak is variable in plant growth and leaf appearance. It can grow as a dense shrub, a tree with a 3” – 8” trunk or as a climbing vine.
When Pacific poison-oak grows as a shrub, it can reach up to 13 feet tall. When poison oak grows as a vine or tree, stems can reach up to 82 feet long. Twigs can be hairless to sparsely hairy and gray to reddish brown.

poison oak berries when ripe will turn whiteLeaves, generally resembling the leaves of a true oak, consist of three, and sometimes up to five leaflets but three leaflet leaves are most common. Leaf edges can be smooth, wavy, or have slightly rounded lobes. The upper leaf surface is hairless, or nearly so, and usually slightly glossy. The lower surface usually has sparse, short hairs. Leaves turn bright red in the autumn.

White flowers form in the spring in leaf axils, where the leaf meets or connects to the stalk, and white or tan berries usually form later in the summer

Without leaves, poison oak stems may sometimes be identified by occasional black marks where its milky sap may have oozed and dried.
Location: as the map indicates, western poison oak is found only on the Pacific Coast of the United States and of Canada. southern Canada to the Baja California peninsula.

Poison:

Urushiol binds to the skin on contact, where it causes severe itching that often develops into a red rash or flesh colored bumps and blistering. Symptoms generally appear 12 to 48 hours later. The rash can be treated with Calamine lotion or other over the counter remedies such as oatmeal baths and baking soda. In severe cases hospitalization may be required or if the plant has been ingested.

Urushiol oil can remain active for several years, so handling dead leaves or vines can cause a reaction. In addition, oil transferred from the plant to other objects (such as pet fur) can cause the rash if it comes into contact with the skin.
Severe respiratory irritation can be induced by breathing the smoke from burning plant material. Repeated exposure often results in increased sensitivity.

Blueberry Plant Identification Information

Blueberry

Common Names:

Northern highbush blueberry, southeastern highbush blueberry, Maryland highbush blueberry, black highbblueberry plant leaves turn a vibrant red in fallush blueberry, American blueberry, New Jersey blueberry, rabbiteye blueberry, swamp blueberry, tall huckleberry, mayberry, whortleberry

Other than eating blueberry muffins and pancakes, I never thought much of the plant. My guess was that blueberries were farm plants and that was it. Then in my early twenties I was trout fishing in Quebec just north of Alma. We were fishing small lakes loaded with native brook trout. I walked down to the first lake and was met with about 2 acres of blueberry plants with ripe fruit. I asked my brother-in-law how they “got there”. Right then I learned a lesson – blueberry plants, in this case high bush blueberry are native plants to North America. That week I dined on brook trout and blueberries each evening and blueberry pancakes with bacon each morning – a great way to live.

Identification:

Blueberry bushes can be small to large shrub like plants. Highbush blueberry plants can grow over 6′ tall with a similar spread. Twigs are yellow-green (reddish in winter) and covered with small wart-like dots. Leaves are deciduous, alternate, simple, elliptic or ovate, 1 to 3½ inches long and slightly waxy above. As the pictures indicate, the leaves are usually a good healthy green. In fall the leaves can turn a vibrant red.
The white or pink-tinged flowers are small and urn-shaped with 5 petals, and occur 8 to 10 per cluster. Flowering occurs February to June, sporadically in the southern portion of its range; fruiting occurs April to October, about 62 days after flowering. Fruits are ¼ – ½” blue-black berries with many seeds.
Habitat: The most common native habitat is in moist or wet peat of moderate to high acidity – in and around marshes, swamps, lakes and flood-prone areas. There are varieties that also grow in drier areas such as dunes and barrier beaches, rocky hillsides, oak woods, and pinewoods.

Location:

With the exception of deserts etc. some form of blueberry can be found somewhere in North America as long as the habitat is favorable. Additionally, because of people using the plants for home, garden or farm the various species have become transplanted wide and far. Birds eating the fruit then disperse the seeds for more plants. The gist here is that it is possible to locate blueberry plants if you look.

Edible:

The berry is the edible part of this plant. Blueberries can be eaten raw, smoke-dried, sun-dried, boiled, and baked in a wide variety of culinary ways. They have one of the highest concentrations of iron of the temperate fruits. Additionally, blueberries are high in anti-oxidants.

Check out our blueberry recipes

Notes of interest:

Blueberries provide important summer and early fall food for numerous species of game birds, songbirds, and mammals – my fight with local animals is a testament to this fact!!
More than 50 blueberry varieties have been developed, primarily for commercially valuable fruit characteristics and seasonality.

Blueberry Growing Guide:

Blueberries combine delicious healthy fruit and ornamental value to the garden. This native plant is easy to grow and requires little care. If a few basic steps are followed your blueberry plants can last for years.
In order for bushes to grow properly, have fruit set and mature and have the plants flourish, you will want to provide as much sunlight as possible. My plants currently have a good 10 hours of sunlight from spring into fall.
These native plants do best in slightly acidic soil, somewhere between a pH of 5.5 and 6.5. When you plant blueberries, make sure you add plenty of peat moss. It will provide a great pH level to start as well as setting a good lose soil for the roots to spread. A periodic feeding regime with an acidic fertilizer such as Mir-Acid is good. I do not believe Mir-acid lowers soil pH but my blueberries do well. If after testing your soil pH it is still too high try sulphur, ammonium sulfate or iron sulfate.

Blueberries do best with a 2-4″ mulch over the roots to conserve moisture, prevent weeds and add organic matter. Bark mulch, acid compost, sawdust, grass clippings, etc. all work well. Repeat every other year.

Do not plant blueberry bushes in wet areas of your property or in clay based soils that will hold water and slow drainage. Blueberries need adequate water, especially when the fruit is maturing you will need to make sure there is plenty of water, if not the fruit will shrivel on the plant. This is what happened to my crop in 2012 when the U.S. experienced drought conditions

Blueberries are like many other fruiting plants, in most cases a single plant will not “self-pollinate”. Most, if not all good gardening guides will tell you to plant two different varieties for proper pollination.

For proper growth, plant blueberries 4-5 feet apart.

My big fight of the year is when the fruit begins to ripen. Maturing blueberries attract birds and squirrels from all over. The only way I know of keeping the fruit is to cover with fine-meshed deer netting. I tack the ends down to the ground to keep animals from getting under the netting to feed. I have walked out too often to find a northern cardinal or gray squirrel trying to get out of the net. When winter sets in upstate New York, rabbits will eat the young branches of blueberry plants. In my area eastern cottontail rabbits are a pain. In a few days they can chew a young plant to the ground. I surround my blueberry plants with chicken wire. This protects the plants.

Blueberry Benefits

Heart health

In a study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, blueberry supplementation in mice with high cholesterol reduced their risk factors for atherosclerosis. Those who took the extract noted a 29 percent reduction in total cholesterol, with bad cholesterol dropping by 34 percent and good cholesterol rising by up to 40 percent, despite consuming a high-fat diet. In addition, triglycerides – a fat that turns normal cells into fat cells – and homocysteine – which causes inflammation in arterial walls – were both reduced by half.

Excellent references and information in growing blueberries:

Local County agents are listed in the phone book or can be looked up online, call up and ask questions

University of Maine – great article with video instructions

Atlee Burpee & Co – what I consider the best seed and plant company around (with a great history)