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Edible Plants

I went to visit a friend one beautiful summer afternoon. As we sat on his deck overlooking his huge garden, drinking a cold beer he told me of the awful morning he had spent pulling weeds. He promptly asked me to follow him to his garden, where he proceeded to show me two large lawn waste recycling bags full of in his words, "those damned weeds". I looked in the bag and could not stop the smile from splitting my face. I asked him why he plants a garden. He looked at me like I was an idiot. I asked him to humor me, and answer my question. He said "for vegetables to eat". The "you idiot" part of his answer was implied. I said do you like to eat salad? Again he looked at me like I had lost my marbles, but simply said "yes", humoring me much the way you would a child. I said he had just spent the day pulling what is arguable the best salad green he will ever eat. He just looked at me like I had lost my mind. I continued without waiting for his response. This bag appears to be full of Purselane. He said it is, as a matter of fact the other bag is full of it as well. I reached in and grabbed a handful of the succulent plant, put it in my mouth, chewed it up, and swallowed it. He could not take it any longer; "are you nuts?" "Yes but that is beside the point" I answered. "Purselane is grown across the world as a food crop, and it has been for centuries." It is not native to the North America, but was rather brought here by immigrants as an easy to grow highly nutritious food source. It was not until the early 20th century that it fell from our diet, and was relegated to the status of obnoxious weed. At my insistence, he warily gave it a try. "Hey this is pretty good. It has a really mild flavor." I found out a while later that he then had his wife research Purselane on the internet. He called me to say I was right. That even his sister-in-law knew about Purselane.

Edible wild plants are a tasty, healthful, food source available free for the taking. It bothers me that so many people in this country go to bed hungry each night because they are unaware of the largess available just outside their front door. You may be thinking this all sounds great, but you do not feel comfortable heading out into the forest to look for your food. I completely understand your apprehension. Most Americans have never set foot in the forest. They think of it as that foreboding place described in the fairytales each of heard as a child. The same fairytales which were written to scare European children of the middle ages, and keep them from venturing into, and becoming lost, in the forest. I am here to tell you, there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. With a little knowledge and common sense, you can spend a safe and rewarding day in the forest.

All that aside, you do not even have to go into the forest to find delicious wild plants. Many varieties grow right in your yard, or garden, or that of your neighbors, or local parks, or even roadsides and abandoned lots. It truly saddens me that children have to go to bed hungry because their parents are unaware that a delicious salad is more than likely growing right outside their door. And it is all free for the taking. Lets look at my yard and garden as an example. In my yard I have dandelion, chicory, wild lettuce, Queen Anne's Lace (wild carrot), sow thistle, red clover, white clover, violet, wood sorrel, plantain, creeping charlie, chickweed, pineapple weed, mullein, wild mint, and last but definitely not least purselane. All of that growing on a city lot less than of an acre in area. We are all surrounded by highly nutritious foods, free for the taking.

There are almost as many books available on edible plants as there are edible plants themselves.  While the information many of them provide is top notch, there are those that are written by people who have all kinds of theoretical experience with the plants, but little or no practical experience. For example, I have read that Cattails are a wonderful winter survival food; that their starchy rhizomes, corms, and tubers persist throughout the winter, and provide a bounty of caloric benefit to anyone who simply breaks through the ice to get to them. While this may be the case in more temperate regions, across much of the northern regions of the USA and Canada, this is a real PITA. When I was younger, I read this very thing in a book, and subsequently spent hours hacking through the ice to get to this bounty of winter time sustenance. The amount of root I actually harvested was pretty small. I know damned well that I burned a whole lot more calories getting at the roots than I gained by eating them. This resulted in a net loss. Survival is all about risk versus reward. In this case caloric expenditure versus caloric intake. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that you cannot survive very long if you are burning more calories than you are taking in. While a stand of Cattails is the closest thing you are going to find to a wild mega mart, it is not always as easy as some make it sound.

It is very important that you understand, that if you are unsure about the edibility of a plant, DO NOT EAT IT. With that being said, you can try unknown plants by precisely following the Universal Edibility Test. This test will allow you to determine whether or not a plant is edible. It is important that you are aware of the fact that some plants are edible only at certain times of year, or during certain stages of growth. Furthermore, just because the root of a plant is edible does not mean the leaves or stems are. There are numerous instances of plants where one part is edible, but the others are toxic.

Below is a list of a fraction of the edible plants common to the Great Lakes region. I have chosen these pants because they are wide spread, and aside from Queen Anne's Lace and Milkweed, do not have any poisonous look alikes. I included Queen Anne's Lace and Milkweed because they are both abundant, and quite nutritious, so it is worth your time to learn their identifying characteristics.

List of Edible Plants

Amaranth - Pigweed (Amaranthus spp.)

American Ginseng - (Panax quinquefolius)

Arrowhead - Duck Potato, Indian Potato, or Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia)

Autumn Olive - Autumnberry (Elaeagnus umbellata)

Barberry - Common Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)

Blackberry - Black Raspberry (Rubus L.)

Black Cherry - (Prunus serotina)

Blueberry - Bilberry, and Huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.)

Bracken Fern - Pasture Break (Pteridium aquilinum)

Bunchberry - Canadian Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Burdock - (Arctium spp.)

Cattail - (Typha spp.)

Chicory - (Cichorium intybus)

Chokecherry - (Prunus virginiana)

Cleaver - (Galium aparine)

Coltsfoot - (Tussilago farfara)

Cow Parsnip - (Heracleum maximum.)

Creeping Bellflower - (Campanula rapunculoides)

Creeping Snowberry - Moxie Plum (Gaultheria hispidula)

Curly Dock - Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)

Dandelion - (Taraxacum)

Daylily - (Hemerocallis fulva)

Duckweed - (Spirodela spp.)

Eastern White Pine - (Pinus strobus)

Evening Primrose - (Oenothera spp.)

Ghost Pipe - (Monotropa uniflora) This plant is one of the best pain relievers I have ever experienced.

Goldenrod - (Solidago canadensis)

Great Bulrush - (Scirpus validus)

Highbush Cranberry - (Viburnum trilobum)

Indian Cucumber - (Medeola virginiana)

Japanese Knotweed - (Fallopia japonic)

Jerusalem Artichoke - (Helianthus tuberosus)

Juneberry - Serviceberry (Amelanchier medik.)

Knotweed - (Polygonum aviculare)

Lamb's Quarters - Goosefoot, Pigweed (Chenopodium album)

Lemon Balm - (Melissa officinalis)

Mallow - Common Mallow, Cheeses (Malva neglecta)

Marsh Marigold - Cowslip, Kingcup (Caltha palustris)

Mayapple - American Mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum)

Milkweed - Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca )

Mushrooms - Common widely available edible mushrooms

Ostrich Fern - (Matteuccia struthiopteris)

Pineapple Weed - (Matricaria discoidea)

Plantain - Common Plantain, Broad Leaf Plantain, English Plantain, Narrow Leaf Plantain (Plantago spp.)

Purselane - Hogweed, Pigweed (Portulaca oleracea)

Queen Anne's Lace - Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)

Ramps - Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum)

Salsify - Goats Beard, Oyster Plant (Tragopogon spp.)

Selfheal - (Prunella vulgaris)

Sheep Sorrel - (Rumex acetosella)

Shepherd's Purse - (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

Solomon's Seal - (Polygonatum biflorum)

Spiderwort - (Tradescantia spp.)

Spring Beauty - (Claytonia virginica)

Stinging Nettle - (Urtica dioica)

Trout Lily - (Erythronium americanum)

Turmeric -(Curcuma longa)

White Cedar - (Thuja occidentalis)

Wild Lettuce - Canada Lettuce (Lactuca canadensis)

Wild Strawberry - (Fragaria vesca)

Wintercress - (Barbarea vulgaris)

Wintergreen - Teaberry, Checkerberry, Boxberry (Gaultheria procumbens)

Wood Sorrel - Shamrock (Oxalis spp.)

Yarrow - Soldier's Woundwort (Achillea millefolium)

 
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