Sunday, May 4, 2014

Foraging for wild edibles

Redbud tree

Sunday, May 4, 2014

My friend Edi and I went to Land Between the Lakes, a state park between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley in western Kentucky, on a Wild Edible Hike hosted by state park conservationists a couple of weeks ago.  I had always wanted to learn more about wild edibles.  It was very informative and a beautiful day for a hike to boot.

If you are new to foraging, make sure you take an experienced guide with you as many plants can look alike and some plants are poisonous.

Here is a run down of the edibles that were available in mid April in the park:
Redbud blossoms and pods.  Redbud trees are part of the legume family which includes peas and beans.  The blossoms tasted somewhat like pea sprouts.
Redbud blooms

Yarrow looks like a fern and is used as a tea.

Starry chickweed is edible and has a mild flavor.  This was a green that settlers looked forward to every spring to have something fresh and green to eat.
Spring beauty

Spring beauties or fairy spuds are tiny potato like tubers with tiny white flowers.
Tiny potato

Blue violets have edible leaves and flowers with a slightly minty taste.
Blue violet

Paw paw fruit trees are the largest native fruit tree in the US.  They taste like a creamy yellow banana.  They are pollinated by flies.  Settlers would hang rotten meat on them to attract the flies to have more fruit set.  This time of year they have only the flower with no leaves yet.
Paw Paw trees
Paw Paw flowers
Christmas fern unfurling

Next we saw a Christmas fern unfurling.  They are called fiddleheads at this stage.  You can actually buy fiddlehead ferns in some grocery stores.  When fried, they are said to taste like asparagus.

The May Apple is poisonous until fully ripe.  Box turtles love it and know just when they are edible.  The conservationist shared that she would wait until she thought they were ripe and give it one extra day to be sure, come back and all the fruit had already been eaten.  They are yellow and soft when ripe.  Just the fully ripened fruit is edible.
May Apple

Anemones are not edible.  They have a pretty little flower though.
Unedible anemones

Wild onion, leeks and garlic are all edible.  You can tell what they are by taking off a tip and smelling the greenery; it will have that distinct allium odor.  Garlic is hollow and round stemmed while onions and leeks have solid stems.
Wild onion

Wild mustard
Wild mustard is identified by its four flowers forming a cross.  This is where they get their name as a cruciferous vegetable.
Wild mustard flowering

Wild dandelion
Dandelions are edible from root to flower.  The leaves are great in salads.  When temps rise, they can be blanched to make them sweeter.  Flowers can be used in salads as well or fried.  The root can be dried and used as a coffee substitute.  Dandelions have over 100% of vitamin A and over 500% of vitamin K.  The dandelion is actually a European import.  They were brought over by early settlers.  At one time they were thought to have medicinal properties.  It is likely that it was just getting nutritious greens after a long winter that was the reason for improved health.  You can buy cultivated dandelions from many seed companies that were bred for their large leaves and sweet taste.  I have had Italian dandelion for a few years and it tastes great.  I bought several more varieties this spring, Thick Leaved Improved, Nouvelle, Debelleville, Rugels and Vollherzigen.

Cultivated Italian dandelion, note the large leaves

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