Local Wild Edibles

Spanish Needle


This common plant is called by a number of names in addition to Spanish Needle - everything from "Hairy Beggarticks" (yuck!) to "Piquant Noir" (ooh la la!).  Its scientific name is Bidens Pilosa, and I first knew it as simple "bidens" - although I've called it some unsavory names when it kept popping up in my butterfly/herb garden.  It grows like a, ummm, weed, and its root system is a real booger if you don't pull it quick.

However... I learned recently that it's edible.  Susan Marynowski, a local herbalist suggests throwing a handful of leaves into soups, stews, or greens to add nutrients. It has medicinal qualities as well; its leaves are chewed for sore throat or boiled to make a tea that is said to help with upper-respiratory infections. 

It seems to thrive just about anyplace. Walking along the sidewalk off a very busy road, I found a long row of it growing happily in the cracks - and we have had exactly one rainy day during the last six weeks!  It's advised that we don't eat wild edibles growing on the side of the road due to the street run-off, but if you look, you'll probably find it growing around your yard as I did.  It's hardy, persistent, tolerant, and honestly - it's kind of pretty when it's blooming.  Sometimes I try to think of these plants like folk herbalists used to - that hidden in their appearance or their character lies clue to how they might benefit us.  Hardiness, persistence, tolerance, ability to bloom under difficult circumstances - all good human qualities.  Plus I have a cold.


Another Wild Edible Right Outside the Door


I've always liked these little plants. Big ones, with purple flowers are growing by the front door; tiny ones with yellow flowers all over the garden. They pop up in early spring around St. Patrick's Day - like little shamrocks.

Now I know you can eat them!  They are also called Wood Sorrel and taste very lemony - like the French Sorrel growing in the garden. Funny how often I have thrown the pesky things in the compost (their little roots are hard to get at sometimes) while praising and watering the domesticated sorrel.  No more. They are delicious and beautiful - and plentiful in early spring. And they help make a very pretty salad.


Wild Edibles Right Outside My Back Door


The Resilient Smilax Waving Triumphantly

Literally.  There are two large and annoyingly recurring vines on either side of our back door that I continually hack down. Their huge thorns and proximity to the azalea bush roots make it impossible for me to uproot them once and for all.


The Down Side

I always remember their scientific name because when they were first identified for me years ago on a nature walk, the botanist said that anyone would smile at the chance to use an ax on them.  But she neglected to say that their tender shoots taste like asparagus - and that another name for them is sasparilla. Theirs is the famed root of root beer!


The Edible, Tender Shoot

I doubt if I'll ever get at the root of these particular vines, but I will add their shoots to salad tonight and hopefully several times again as I continue to hack back (prune?) this vine of paradox. 

I learned about the smilax' edibility at a class I attended last night given my Susan Marynowski, a local herbalist.  In addition to smilax/sasparilla, I confirmed that we have a number of other wild edibles already growing in the yard - the aforementioned betany and spanish needles as well as oxalis (wood sorrel).  I plan to serve these up soon as well and will let you know what I learn.

What a wonderful thing to know. I am so grateful to Susan for sharing her knowledge with us and very happy that it has been years since I've used herbicides or pesticides in our yard (thus all these wild edibles, formerly known as weeds).  If you're nearby, you can check out classes like these here.  The handout listing local edibles and medicinals is available here.  But Susan gave us much more information than is contained on the handout and warned that some of the plants listed have toxic qualities as well. Good to take the class.

As the weeks go by, I'll highlight each of these plants as they become ready to harvest in my yard. Next up: Wood Sorrel (oxalis).