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Elderberry – Wild Edible

Elderberry – Wild Edible

Elderberry is a native shrub like plant that attracts birds, butterflies and wildlife. It is a prolific plant that can reproduce from seeds, sprouts, planted branches, and root suckers.  It does require stratification at 36-40 degrees F for two months for spring planting.

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Common Names

Arizona elderberry, American elder, sweet elder, wild elder, flor sauco, tree of music, Danewort, Walewort, New Mexican elderberry, velvet-leaf elder, hairy blue elderberry, and dwarf elder. 

Description

Elderberry is a shrub like plant that grows 10 ft- to 15 ft tall.

elderberry compound leaves

The plant’s compound leaves are set oppositely in pairs. The leaf surface is bright green.  They are oval to lance-shaped leaflets are up to 6″ long and 2 1/2″ wide and have finely serrated margins.  They are abruptly narrowed at the tip and lopsidedly narrowed or rounded at the base.  Leaflets are usually held on short stalks.

Flowers open in early summer as small white, roughly ¼ inch each, flowers borne in large, flattened clusters measuring 4″-10″ across. Flowers usually develop in the second year on older canes and are arranged in branched clusters of 5.

Purple-black round fruit appear in late summer and fall. Individual berries are less than 1/4″ across grouped in large clusters. Each berry contains 3-5 small seeds. 

Range & Habitat

elderberry map showing the North American areas this native plant family can be found

As the map indicates, some form of elderberry can be found throughout the US and Canada – from California and all western states, south into northwest Mexico, north to Canada and to the North American east coast.

Elderberry grows on moist, well-drained sunny sites, usually occurring in groupings in moist areas and moist areas within drier, more open habitat. You can find them around streams, open areas with access to moisture.

American elderberry prefers slightly acid soil bordering streams, and in the adjacent bottomlands.  It likes full sunlight.

Harvest

elderberry berries grow in clusters as do the flowers

Elderberry fruit normally matures between mid-August and mid-September and turn a dark purple when fully ripe.

The easiest way to harvest elderberries is to use scissors to snip the entire cluster from the shrub and then remove the berries from the cluster.

The annual average yield per plant is 12 lbs. -15 lbs.

Storage Refrigerate immediately after harvesting or freeze for later use.

Edible

Elderberries right off the bush are usually tart. You should not each too much raw though

The berries are gathered and made into elderberry wine, jam, syrup, and pies.

The entire flower cluster can be dipped in batter and fried while petals can be eaten raw or made into a fragrant and tasty tea.

The flowers add an aromatic flavor and lightness to pancakes or fritters.

Interesting Facts

At least 50 species of songbirds, upland game birds, and small mammals eat the fruit of American elder during summer and early fall as do the White-tailed deer that browse the twigs, foliage and fruit during the summer.

American elder is a nesting cover for small birds.

American elder can be used for erosion control on moist sites.  It pioneers on some strip-mine spoils and may occasionally be useful for reclamation planting. 

Elders can be propagated from 10” to 18” hardwood cuttings taken from vigorous one-year-old canes in which cane each must include three sets of buds. 

Edible berries and flower are used for medicine, dyes for basketry, arrow shafts, flute, whistles, clapper sticks, and folk medicine. 

Elderberries are high in Vitamin C. 

The wood is hard and has been used for combs, spindles, and pegs, and the hollow stems have been fashioned into flutes and blowguns. 

Elderberry branches were used to make the shaft of arrows. 

Birds and other animals disperse seeds as they poop them out after feasting on the fruit. There are about 230,000 seeds per pound.

There are several look alikes you should be careful of. The first is pokeweed, the second is devil’s walking stick and the third is poison hemlock. Learn to identify the differences – especially poison hemlock since eating that by accident will kill you.

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USDA plant guide

Indian cucumber Wild Edible

Indian cucumber

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General

Indian cucumber plant when mature have two tiers of leaves and grows to 3 feet

Indian cucumber is a member of the lily family and can be found in Eastern North America. It grows from seed and spreads by rhizome. It is a long-lived perennial that has been over harvested for many years in certain areas so, please do not harvest unless it is an urgent food need or if it is legal in your area. The plant does lend itself to domestication so if you do find a small plantation of Indian cucumber in late autumn take a few seeds or better yet order online.

Common Names

Indian cucumber-root

Description

Indian cucumber berries are not edible but will help you identify the plant

Stems have two tiers of whorled leaves when mature and ready to flower. The lower tier typically bears between five and nine lance shaped leaves. The second tier is produced when the plant flowers and consists of approximately three to five leaves. When the plants are mature and have the second set of leaves, they will be approximately 30 inches tall.

The green leaves are hairless and have an entire smooth edge. Their size is between 3 inches long (upper) – 6 inches long (lower). Since this is a deciduous plant, leaves will turn purple/red to lavender in the Fall.

Indian cucumber flowers are yellow-green and grow off the top layer of leaves

The flowers, about 1 inch wide, have yellowish/gold – green coloration and are somewhat trumpet like. They appear in late spring into summer and typically point downward like wild onion flowers – they “nod”.

The 1 inch berries are dark blue to purple and appear above the top tier of leaves. The berries mature in early fall.

Range & Habitat

Indian cucumber range map

As the map indicates, Indian cucumber grows from Ontario south to Louisiana east to Florida and north into the Canadian Maritimes.

Indian Cucumber-root is found in hardwood, conifer, and mixed wood forests throughout its range. It grows in shade or partial shade on moist, well drained slopes.

Harvest

The berries are not edible. The root which is choice may be harvested at any time. It is not overly large and will fit within the palm of your hand – so to have a meal you need several. It may be eaten raw or cooked.

Edible

The plant bears edible roots (rhizomes) that have a mild cucumber-like flavor. They may be eaten raw or cooked like root vegetables.

Look a-Likes

Starflower, which is not edible, has similar leaves, but the leaves are only on one level. Also, Starflower has small white flowers that don’t hang down.

Whorled Pogonia – poisonous, but root is different

Interesting Facts

It is listed as an endangered plant in Florida and in Illinois.

Iroquois used the plant both as food and a medicinal herb.

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USDA plant guide

Poison hemlock Identification

Poison hemlock Identification

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General

poison hemlock can be found through out North America

Poison hemlock is a biennial plant – it typically has a two year life cycle. First year plants are low-growing and may resemble carrots. They can be distinguished by the lack of hairs on the stems along with purple-reddish blotches. Second year plants may stretch over 10 feet tall.

Poison hemlock was brought to the United States from Europe as a garden plant. It took a bit less than a few centuries for this noxious plant to populate the North American continent. Just another case of poor thoughts and dire consequences.

Common Names

poison parsley, spotted corobane, carrot fern, devil’s bread and devil’s porridge

Description

Poison hemlock stems are hollow and hairless.

Poison hemlock stems are hollow and hairless. They are green with reddish or purple spots and streaks.

The triangular leaves are green and look like fern leaves. They are toothed on edges and have a strong musty odor when crushed.

Flowers grow on second year plants. They have 5 petals that are tiny and white – approximately 2 to 3 inches across. They are arranged in small, umbrella-shaped clusters on ends of branched stems – much like Queen Anne’s lace. Flowers are followed by green ridged seed cases that turn brown as the seeds mature.

Range and Habitat

As the map shows, poison-hemlock grows throughout the United States.

It likes sunlight and grows along fence lines, in irrigation ditches, and in other moist waste places.

Poison Parts

Poison hemlock range map across North America

Poison hemlock is acutely toxic to people and animals, with symptoms appearing 20 minutes to three hours after ingestion. All parts of the plant are poisonous and even the dead canes remain toxic for up to three years. Eating the plant is the main danger, but it is also toxic to the skin and respiratory system.

The seeds and roots are toxic. Roots of poison-hemlock are poisonous and may be mistaken for wild parsnips.

Poison Effects

The typical symptoms for humans include dilation of the pupils, dizziness, and trembling followed by slowing of the heartbeat, paralysis of the central nervous system, muscle paralysis, and death due to respiratory failure

Toxic Look-alikes

Poison hemlock Flowers grow on second year plants. They have 5 petals

Water hemlock stems may have purple spots, but leaves are not lacy. Highly toxic to humans and livestock.

Giant hogweed, which can cause severe blistering and swelling when the sap contacts human or animal skin, stems may have purple spots, but its leaves are not lacy.

Queen Anne’s Lace has lacy leaves, but stem has hairs and does not have purple blotches.

Wild parsnip does not have purple spots on the stem. Wild parsnip can cause severe blistering and swelling when the sap contacts human or animal skin.

Interesting Facts

Socrates is the most famous victim of hemlock poisoning

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USDA plant guide

Burdock Plant wild edible

Burdock Plant Wild Edible

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General

Burdock plant wild edible, a member of the aster family, is a native plant to Europe and Northern Asia. It was brought into North America by colonists and is now widespread throughout the United States. Like the dandelion, it is an invasive species that competes with native plants.

Burdock plant stems, leaves and root picture

Burdock is a biennial. In its first year it has no large central stem or flowers. It grows only as a basal of rosette leaves that stay close to the ground.

The burdock plant contains minerals and vitamins. This should be considered an important year-round forage plant since most parts can be eaten and different parts can harvested year-round.

Common Names

Common Burdock, Gobo, bur weed, clotburbeggar’s buttons

Description

Burdock is a tall, about 3’ – 7’ in height, weed with burrs that stick to clothing. The basal rosette of leaves stays close to the ground the first year and the beginning of the second. These basal rosettes can grow over 3 feet wide.

Burdock plant flowers bloom between June and October

The plant has purple flowers on tips of a prickly ball of bracts (Velcro like) on long stalks that bloom between June and October. Flower heads are ½” – 1 ½” across.

The lower leaves are broad and lightly lobed and can grow almost 2’ long and about half as wide – as a comparison, they are somewhat rhubarb like. They are dark green and egg shaped.   

Location

Burdock, like many such plants, thrive along riverbanks, disturbed habitats, roadsides, edges of forest, vacant lots, and fields. Except for the southern areas, it grows throughout North America.



Edible

Leaf stems can be peeled and cooked by boiling for about 20 minutes.

Young leaves can be boiled or steamed and eaten like spinach.

Roots should be scrubbed to remove the skin. Chop off and discard the top few inches of root, which can be tough. The root should be boiled until tender.

Immature flower stalks may be eaten raw or boiled, their taste resembles that of artichoke.

Harvest

Immature flower stalks may be harvested in late spring before flowers appear.

The root can be rather long (up to 3’). The best parts are fragile. Dig carefully.  

Leaves and stems are best when picked young.

Grow Your Own

Burdock plant territory map of locations in North America

Sow seeds directly outdoors in spring as soon as the soil can be worked and when the danger of frost is over. Cover the seeds with light soil and lightly tamp down. Because it is a biennial, the first year growth only forms a cluster of large leaves. The large leaves grow from a long tap root that can grow over two feet down. In year 2 a branched stalk with smaller leaves will grow out of the plant and, in the late summer, purple-pink flowers will form. In autumn, these flowers are replaced by round brown burrs that persist into the winter.

Notes of Interest

Cultivated in China, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and in various countries in Europe as a vegetable.

The inspiration for Velcro came from the burdock bur. The inventor, a Swiss electrical engineer named Georges de Mestral, was walking along one day in the mountains and saw burs sticking on his wool socks and his dog’s fur.

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