Tag Archives: wild edible

chokecherry Foraging

Chokecherry – Prunus Virginiana

Chokecherry foraging was a staple for numerous Native American tribes across the North American continent, especially those who lived on the plains and prairies. The Cheyenne used the limbs to make arrow shafts and bows. The Crows used it for tipi stakes and pins. Early trappers washed their steel traps in water boiled with the bark to remove the scent.

The name chokecherry came from the bitter and astringent taste of the fruit.

In their journals, Lewis and Clark recorded that while camped on the upper Missouri River Captain Lewis became ill with abdominal cramps and fever. He made a tea from chokecherry twigs and was well the next day.

The leaves, bark, stem, and seed pit of chokecherry are all toxic due to production of hydrocyanic acid.
The leaves of the chokecherry serve as food for caterpillars and the tree can be a host for the tent caterpillar.

Description

The chokecherry may reach a height of over 30 feet. Its crown is irregular and may spread between 10 to 20 feet. The stems are numerous and slender. The chokecherry’s leaves are dark green and glossy above and paler below. They are alternate on the stem shaped oval to broadly elliptic in shape and are 1” – 4” long and ¾” – 2” wide. The leaf edges are toothed with closely-spaced sharp teeth pointing outward forming a serrated edge. They turn yellow in autumn.

The bark of young trees may vary from gray to a reddish brown. As it ages the bark turns darker, into brownish-black and becomes noticeably furrowed. The bark is distinctly marked by horizontal rows of raised air pores. With maturation the lenticels develop into shallow grooves.
It has perfect flowers which are aromatic and arranged in cylindrical racemes 3 to 6 inches long. The racemes always grow on the current year’s leafy twig growth. Individual flowers are perfect, 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter with 5 white petals. The flowers start appearing before the leaves are fully developed. Flowers may appear from April to July and fruits form a couple of months later.

Location: As can be seen on the map, the chokecherry is widespread across North America. Chokecherry is found in a large geographic area and it grows abundantly in many habitat types

Edible: The flesh of the fruit is edible. Also, jelly and jam can be made from the fruit. Native Americans would mash the fruits and seeds and use it to mix with meat and make pemmican.

Nutritional Value

The small berries are loaded with fiber, vitamin C, manganese, and several other vitamins and minerals. Naturally low in calories and high in anti-oxidant properties.

The berries are rich in quinic acid and work hard to prevent urinary tract infections. The berries are also rich in flavonoids, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanins that help fight against allergies and viruses.

Harvesting Chokecherries

Don’t be too anxious to harvest chokecherries, give them plenty of time to reach maturity so the flavor will be more on the sweet side and less on the tart side. Wait until late summer when the berries are at their darkest color to harvest them. When the berries start turning dark, a taste test done every couple of days will let you know when they are at their peak.

The small berries grow in clusters that hang down from a stem, so just snap off the entire stem at harvest time. The individual berries can be removed from the stems after you get the fruit home.

Chokecherry trees can be grown from seeds or cuttings.

Rinse the berries and allow them to air dry before storing them in the refrigerator. They will keep for up to a week. To remove the seeds and extract the juice, lightly steam the berries to soften them and strain them through a colander or cheesecloth. Fruit leather is made from the berry pulp after the berries have been steamed.

Grow Your Own

Chokecherry trees can be grown from seeds or cuttings. Seeds or seedlings can be purchased from most garden supply centers, or it’s easy to harvest and plant them yourself. To harvest seeds, wait until late fall when the chokecherries are at their ripest. Remove the pulp from the seeds and allow seeds to air dry for 24 hours. Plant seeds in a shallow hole, water and add a 2-inch layer of fallen leaves on top of the soil.

If you want to save the harvested seeds from fall for planting in the spring, place the air-dried seeds in moist sand in a cool location for 60-90 days, then plant outdoors.

To grow your own chokecherry tree from a cutting, cut a length of soft wood from the tree in the summer when the plant is actively growing. Dip the cut end into rooting hormone and plant directly into outdoor soil that has been amended with compost. Keep the soil moist and the cutting will soon develop a new root system and begin to actively produce new growth.

Notes Of Interest

* Chokecherries are valuable plants for native bees. The long-lasting blooms are rich in pollen and keep bees well-fed for several months during the early summer.
* The berries can be poisonous to humans if they are consumed in large quantities.
* Chokecherries have a single seed in each berry – its poisonous look-alike, the Buckthorn, contains several small seeds inside each berry.
* The seeds and the leaves of the chokecherry shrub contain cyanide. The amount is not enough to harm a human unless ingested in large quantities.

Back to Edible Plants

USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Indian cucumber Wild Edible

Indian cucumber

Back to Edible Plants

General

Indian cucumber Wild Edible

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 is a member of the lily family

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.

Indian cucumber flower

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.

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.

Back to Edible Plants

USDA plant guide

Wintergreen Plant Identification

Wintergreen Plant Identification

Back to Edible Plants

General

Once growing, the wintergreen plant, spreads out by its rhizomes. When you find a grouping of wintergreen, chances are there is an underground root system connecting most of the plants together. Plants also start by seed but stratification, a period of cold, is necessary.

Wintergreen is still highly regarded and used by foragers and herbalists for both food and medicine.

Common Names

Boxberry, deer berry, Ground Berry, Spiceberry, wintergreen, checkerberry, tea leaf, teaberry, and creeping wintergreen

 Description

The oval-shaped leaves are green, leathery, shiny, hairless, and slightly toothed and grow on stems that are 3” to 7” tall. They are, broadest beyond the midpoint and coming to a rounded point at the tip, about 1″-2″ long and 1/2″-1″ wide. In autumn the leaves turn reddish.

The flowers are colored white to pale pink, bloom during the later summer (July – August) and are shaped like blueberry flowers. They have five terminal lobes.

Range and Habitat

The wintergreen plant is native to Eastern North America from Georgia north to New England to Newfoundland to Manitoba and south to Mississippi – Eastern US and Canada.

It can be found under white pines or in moss, and in mixed forests. The plants do well in low nutrient soil as long as there is good drainage.

Harvest

wintergreen plants are evergreen

Although wintergreen plants are evergreen the leaves turn reddish during winter months. They can still make a good tea but it will not be as good as fresh greens leaves would make. With that said, you can harvest leaves year-round and use.

The berries will turn red in the fall. This is the time to harvest. They are at their freshest. Just like with wintergreen leaves, you can harvest the berries throughout the winter. Later in the winter they will lose some of the taste and become dryer, but they can still be harvested – they don’t necessarily go bad.

Edible

The berries of wintergreen plants are edible for people and a wide range of animals.

Wintergreen plant leaves are used in herbal teas.

Interesting Notes

wintergreen plant can be found in eastern North America

The volatile oils of winterberry deter most insect pests.

Native Americans brewed a tea from the leaves to alleviate rheumatic symptoms, headache, fever, sore throat, and various aches and pains.

Wintergreen is a common flavoring in American products ranging from chewing gum, mints, and candies to smokeless tobacco such as dipping tobacco

The berries are high in vitamin C and contain wintergreen oil

Wintergreen essential oil is much more concentrated. It is potentially not safe to ingest in any amount – click the link and read the potential issues from NDNR.com

Back to Edible Plants

USDA plant guide

Picture License attribution
English: Wintergreen from Greeley, Pennsylvania in early December.
Date 6 December 2016
Source Own work
Author Bramblehillshaman
CC-BY-SA-4.0 self
3.31MB 2448×3264

Hazelnut Plant Identification Guide

Hazelnut Plant Identification Guide

Back to Edible Plants

General

The Hazelnut is a native shrub to North America. You should be able to, except for the US southwest and Gulf coast, find hazelnut plants growing. Once located, remember where they are since nuts are an important food source. Count yourself lucky if you can forage such a free food. Their leaves, twigs, and catkins (male flowers) are important for wildlife. They are browsed by rabbits, deer, and moose and are winter food for turkey and ruffed grouse to name just a few of the dependent animals. The dense shrub provides cover and nesting sites for many wildlife species.

This plant has separate male and female parts on the same branch. A single shrub will produce some nuts, but as a wind-pollinated species 3-5 shrubs are recommended for optimal nut production.

Common names

American hazelnut, American Filbert, American hazel, America hazelnut, beaked hazelnut, California hazelnut

Description

The shrub is deciduous and grows from 3’ – 15’ tall. Once established, it grows by its spreading rhizomes forming thickets.

The main stems are straight with spreading branches. The coloration is light brown with red-hairs. 

Leaves grow alternate and are broad oval with a heart-shaped or rounded base. They are approximately 3 inches – 6 inches long and 4 inches wide. The leaf edges are doubly serrate, hairy beneath, the petiole with stiff, glandular hairs. The leaves turn orange to red or purple in the fall.

Male and female flowers are separate, but both types grow on each plant. Male flowers, in small clusters – maybe 2 to 3 flowers per cluster, form as catkins that are 3 inches to 5 inches long in the fall. They will winter and open the next spring as yellow. Female flowers form and are tiny and inconspicuous with only bright red stigma and styles protruding from the gray-brown buds near the end of the twigs.

Clusters of 2 -6 of the acorn-like nuts about 1 inch long and a bit wider will grow after pollination. The nuts are enclosed in two toothed leafy husks

Location

Plants can grow in sun or partial shade in moist, well-drained soil.

Hazelnut map

They (several species) are widespread in North America, Maine west to Saskatchewan and North Dakota, south to eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Georgia, not found along the Gulf coast region or Southwest USA

When foraging, look in moist to dry woods and thickets, forest margins, roadsides, and fencerows and other disturbed areas. Also search streamside as long as the soil is not boggy.

Harvest

Hazelnut shrubs flower from March thru May before the plant leaf’s out. The nuts (fruits) form and ripen in the July – October time period. Late summer thru fall is the time to harvest. Be careful if you wait to long you will lose out to wildlife. Visa versa – if you get there first, make sure you leave a good amount for wildlife.

Edible

The nuts of hazelnuts are sweet and may be eaten raw, dried and roasted or ground into flour (gluten free).   

Interesting Notes

The nuts of American hazelnut, which have a higher nutritional value than acorns and beechnuts, also are eaten by squirrels, foxes, deer, northern bobwhite, ruffed grouse, turkey, woodpeckers, pheasants, and deer. 

Plants of American hazelnut may begin producing seed after the first year and produce good seed crops every 2-3 years. 

American hazelnut is not affected by any serious pests. 

Hazel flowers are wind-pollinated, so no bees or butterflies are needed for pollination.

Back to Edible Plants

USDA plant guide