Written by: Rome Marinelli, Naturalist at The Inn
This week, I was tasked with the goal of finding edible plants from our property to host a small wild edibles trail tour. I’ve known of plants that are edible, but I’ve been reluctant to try them. To my surprise, I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve found… and I’m still alive (win-win).
Friendly reminder: It is very important that, if you choose to munch on a wild plant/fruit, you understand the risks involved (contamination of that plant part, possibly mistaken/misidentified for a non-edible plant, etc.). Please do your research and be confident in your decision before consuming any wild plant matter.
1. Riverbank Grape
First up, Riverbank Grape or Vitis riparia. The leaves and fruit are edible. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any fruit, but I did munch on some of the leaves. The taste of the raw leaves was mild, slightly acidic, while the texture was a little more course, but reminded me of a lettuce-spinach leaf hybrid. There are many recipes online that highlight the culinary use of the leaves and fruit of Vitis spp. The leaves contain various compounds including flavonoids and non-flavonoids, which are metabolized as a rich source of antioxidants. Research is currently underway to better understand these compounds and how they can benefit human health. For now, I will get my dose one leaf at a time during my hikes.
2. Yellow Wood Sorrel
Next, Yellow Wood Sorrel or Oxalis stricta. Small amounts of the leaves consumed raw is not dangerous, but this plant does register as a low toxicity plant due to a compound found in the plant. This compound is oxalate and exists in other foods like spinach, beans, and nuts (among others). This dainty plant is as comfortable under a shady, woodland canopy as it is sunbathing in your lawn. Some homeowners despise this shamrock-looking native, but I embrace it. I encourage others to do the same by munching on its tangy leaves and seeing which small native bee visits the bright yellow flower. The flavors found in the leaves are a mixture of a refreshing yet slightly sour taste. I pulverize the leaves with my front teeth and allow the flavor to cascade over my tongue; try it sometime!
Common Elderberry or Sambucus canadensis is found along our OAAM trail. A white, lace-like flower blooms in the late spring and is replaced by small, dark purple berries. These berries seem plump and juicy, but to me, they lack flavor. While lackluster, they are still a refreshing snack to enjoy while on the trail. Once again, we see a wild plant rich in flavonoids, vitamin C, and antioxidants. Elderberry has many different uses from cough medicine to wine.
The last one I’ll leave you with is Jewelweed or Impatiens spp. We have two Impatiens species on our property, capensis and pallida, otherwise known as orange/spotted and pale-yellow jewelweed. The group and I came across a glorious patch of I. pallida (pale yellow jewelweed). These plants are a true crowd favorite; kids and adults alike can have a lot of fun with these. Jewelweeds, also named Touch-me-nots, have explosive seedpods meaning that when gently touched, their seedpod bursts open! The crowd had a lot of fun spreading this species’ seed – I mean, playing with the touchy seedpods… The seedpod hosts small seeds in a green husk. If you use your thumb nail and gently remove the husk, you will reveal a robin egg blue fleshy seed. Chewing with your front teeth, the taste resembles that of walnut!
Check out this video of a jewelweed seedpod exploding!
Did you know your group can come out and enjoy a wild edibles tour, too? It’s true. Give us a holler, and we will get you all set up to explore our wild and wonderful woods!
Until next time,
2 responses to “Edible Discoveries from Our Trails”
I volunteer in the medicinal section of the Herb Garden at Cleve. Botanical Garden
and would caution about eating raw elderberries. We have learned that all parts of the plant are toxic, containing dangerous compounds. The ripe purple berries must be COOKED.
Cooking helps neutralize the toxicity which is why we can eat elderberry pie, jelly, wine, medicinal tonics and infusions made from the flowers. Depending on the amount of ingested raw berries, one can experience digestive upsets, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, and vomiting.
Glad you were able to enjoy the post, and I value the information you have shared with us. Various accounts list raw consumption of the unripe fruits, stems, and leaves of S. canadensis as toxic due to three compounds (although compounds are still present in ripe and cooked fruit – just at lower levels). Toxicity lessens as the fruits ripen (and as the season cools – Autumn) but buildup can still occur at various intervals if significant amounts of the ripe fruit are ingested. The stems and leaves contain the highest levels of toxicity. Our edible tours typically consist of taking the collection to our chef and having him prepare it, or just enjoying fun facts (including toxicity) of wild plants while on the trail. If we do we consume the foods raw, it’s at such an insignificant amount (i.e. 1 small ripe berry or a small nibble of O. stricta leaf – which people usually spit out) that toxic buildup is not likely to occur nor cause any issues. We are always learning new things about plants (happily so), and I appreciate what you’ve shared.