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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

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

Broadleaf arrowhead – Information & Identification

Broadleaf Arrowhead

General:

Broadleaf arrowhead is an aquatic and very cold hardy plant. Grown in ponds and other water features in the home broadleaf arrowheadgarden as well as in the wild. A common wetland plant, the wapato is also known as: broadleaf arrowhead, arrowhead, duck potato and Indian potato. The tubers of broadleaf arrowhead have long been an important food source to indigenous peoples of the Americas. The Lewis and Clark expedition depended on the plant when they were in the Columbia River basin.   The seeds and tubers of are readily consumed by waterfowl, songbirds, wading birds, muskrats, and beaver.

Description:

wapatoThe wapato is a perennial aquatic or marsh plant. The leaves are extremely variable very thin and are from 4” – 10” long. As can be seen by the pictures, the leaves are in the shape of arrowheads. The plants can reach heights of 3 to 4 feet.

Between mid to late summer one or two tapering cylindrical flowering stalks emerge holding 2 to 15 whorls of white, three petaled flowers with yellow reproductive parts. Each stalk is taller than the leaves. From August to October round clusters of seed casings develop. Growth peaks in July and by mid fall the emergent plant parts annually die back to the root crown.

Location:

The broadleaf arrowhead is widespread across North America, but also found natively in Hawaii, the Caribbean and the northern part of South America, broadleaf arrowhead has been introduced in Europe and Australia. As with most man made introductions, it is considered an invasive weed.

The broad-leaf arrowhead can be found along the curves of rivers, ponds and lakes, well marked by the dark green color of the leaves. The plant has strong roots and can survive through wide variations of the water level, slow currents and waves.

Edible:

The roots produce white tubers covered with a purplish skin that are edible. The tubers can be dug from the ground by using your feet, a pitchfork, or a stick. Once loosened from the soil, they usually will float to the surface. Ripe tubers can be collected in the fall.broadleaf arrowhead distribution

These tubers can be eaten raw or cooked for 15 to 20 minutes. The taste is similar to potatoes and chestnuts, and they can be prepared in the same fashions: roasting, frying, boiling, and so on. They can also be sliced and dried.

Picture of plant: Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1992. Western wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. West Region, Sacramento.

Picture of leaf: USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. Vol. 1: 100