Dandelions: 31+ Medicinal and Culinary Uses for the King of Weeds

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This article is part of a series on weed gardens and identifying and using the plants you’ll often find there. For other articles in the series, please click here.

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

As you can see, the weed garden is really starting to come to life. I’ve got henbit, sedges, dayflowers, wood sorrel, pokeweed, and a few other visitors. But one weed I would gladly welcome has yet to show up. Dandelions!

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

Dandelions are pretty much the unofficial mascots for foraging and herbal medicine. They can be found on every continent (except Antarctica) and have tremendous value as food and medicine. They invade lawns, fields, and waste spaces despite every effort to control, contain, and kill them.

Dandelions are survivors, and they pass on a little of that to us when we consume them.

Identifying Dandelions

While dandelions do have a few look-alikes, none of them are toxic. Among the common fakers, you’ll find cat’s ear, chicory, shepherd’s purse, and hawksbeard. Here’s your guide to telling the real thing from the fakers.

Dandelions are perennials1)Perennial: Any plant that lives for more than 2 years. that grow in a basal rosette.2)Basal Rosette: A circular arrangement of leaves at ground level. You’ll never find leaves growing from the stem. Leaves are anywhere from 2 inches to over a foot (5 to 40 centimeters) long and have jagged teeth.

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

The jagged pattern of the leaves can vary quite a bit. On some plants, the indentations will go nearly to the midline of the leaf, while others will have fairly shallow teeth. The tips of the teeth tend to point backward, toward the center of the plant. Leaves are virtually hairless at all stages of growth.

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

By the way, the name “dandelion” is said to come from “dent de lion” or “teeth of the lion.” And depending on who you ask, this either refers to the jagged leaves or the flower petals.

The scientific name, Taraxacum officinale, could be translated as “the official cure for every disorder.”

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

The yellow blooms are composite flowers. That is, they look like one flower, but are technically a cluster of tiny flowers. The ends of the petals tend to be flat, rather than tapering to a point, and they overlap all the way to the center of the flower. Blooming happens mostly in spring, and again in fall, with sporadic blooming at any time.

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

These flowers turn into the puffballs that kids love to blow on to make wishes. A single dandelion plant may produce many stems and flowers, but each stem will have only a single flower. The stems are hollow and can range in length from 2 to 18 inches (5 to 45 centimeters).

All parts of the plant contain a white, milky sap. This would normally be a warning sign, but dandelions are an exception to the rule.

Read More: “How to Not Die While Wildcrafting: 15 Rules for Foraging Safely”

There are even some rather useful applications for this sap, which we’ll get into below. Be aware that dandelion sap has occasionally been reported to cause contact dermatitis in some individuals.

Dandelions can be found throughout the U.S., Canada, and most of the rest of the world, especially around people. This is another plant that loves us and wants to be near us. You can find them in lawns, fields, pastures, waste spaces, and disturbed ground. They seem to survive everything from drought, to over-picking, to digging, to mowing, to herbicides. But why would you want to get rid of these happy little guys? They’re beautiful, and they’re trying so hard to help us.

Edible Uses and Dandelion Recipes

If you do an Internet search for dandelion recipes, you’ll find page after page of preparations for this versatile vegetation. Recipes abound!

I, myself, have only scratched the surface of dandelion delicacies. There are just so many!

Nutritional Value

And why shouldn’t there be? Every part of the plant is edible, raw or cooked. And not only are dandelions plentiful, they’re very nearly a perfect food. Dandelions are rich in potassium; magnesium; manganese; phosphorus; sodium; copper; choline; calcium; iron; lecithin; biotin; inositol; chlorophyll; fiber; and vitamins A, B1, B2, B5, B6, B9, B12, C, D, and E.3)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.,4)Peterson, Lee Allen, and Roger Tory Peterson. A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.,5)Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016.,6)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.,7)Gladstar, Rosemary. The Beginners Guide to Medicinal Herbs 35 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use. Storey Books, 2012.,8)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.

That’s quite a mouthful. Literally.

They have more vitamin A than any other green plant—six times more than carrots—and a single cup of fresh greens will meet your daily requirement of beta-carotene, iron, calcium, and potassium!9)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.

That tap root really reaches down to bring up the good stuff. You can see why I call them the king of weeds.

Furthermore, when eaten as a whole (roots to flowers/seeds), the dandelion forms a complete protein, with all 9 essential amino acids.10)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014. That’s a pretty good trick for a plant.

Dandelion also seems to help with the absorption and balance of minerals.11)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

Overcoming the Bitter Taste

But let’s address the elephant in the room. Dandelions are bitter. Very bitter. Involuntarily-spit-them-out-and-go-wash-your-mouth-out-with-ice-cream bitter.

Perhaps I exaggerate. But how is one to get past the bitterness to access those amazing nutrients? I’ve got you covered.

First, you should select the best dandelions. The best-tasting leaves have had the easiest life. Don’t pick any sunbaked, twice-stepped-on leaves. Harvest from a plant in a shady, well-watered location. Harvest younger greens, earlier in the year. Leaves toward the center of the rosette also tend to be less bitter.

Next, choose the right preparation. It’s the rare individual who enjoys eating a handful of dandelion greens raw. It’s a lot easier to moderate their taste by chopping them up and mixing them with other greens. They also pair well with savory dishes.

Of all the cooking methods, boiling does the best job of reducing bitterness. Drop the leaves into boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. If you’ve picked a good plant, it shouldn’t take much more than this. If not, you can always boil them longer. Use plenty of water so the bitterness has someplace to go.

Eating the Roots: Stir-fried, Pickled, and as a Coffee Substitute

The root can be eaten raw, but tastes better when cooked. Try them sliced and stir-fried with other veggies. Cooking breaks down the root’s inulin into fructose, bringing out a much sweeter taste. They’re also a fine addition to soups and stews, and—although I’ve never tried it—they are reportedly quite tasty when pickled.

Dandelions - Uses, Eating. Medicine

Dandelion Coffee Recipe

The root is typically harvested from late fall to early spring. Second-year roots are preferred, but good luck on guessing how old a dandelion is by looking at it. If it’s too old and woody to eat, you can still use it to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute. Slice up the root and slow-roast it in your oven until it turns dark brown and becomes brittle. This should take about 30 minutes at 350°F (175°C). Let it cool, and then grind it up to use like coffee grounds. I’m usually not a fan of coffee substitutes, but this is one I really enjoy.

Dandelion Mocha Recipe

If you’d like to take your dandelion coffee to the next level (and who wouldn’t?), you can turn it into a dandelion mocha. This recipe comes from Rosemary Gladstar, and it is delightful.

Use 1 tbsp each of dandelion coffee grounds and cacao nibs. Simmer in 3 cups of water for 30 minutes. Then strain and add ½ cup milk (or milk substitute), ½ tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. vanilla extract, 1 tbsp. honey (or other sweetener), and a dash of ground nutmeg or cloves.

It’s excellent. I highly recommend you try it.

Eating the Flowers: Sautéed, Fried, and Infused

The flowers make a colorful addition to salads, soups, ice creams, or just about anything else. Two of my favorite ways to eat them are sautéed in butter and as an ingredient in dandelion lemonade.

  • Sautéed blooms are easy. Just melt some butter and sauté away. (Alternately, you could make a simple egg-and-flour batter and fry them. Yum!)
  • To make dandelion lemonade, just add about a quart of dandelion flowers to a half gallon of lemonade. Let the mixture infuse in the fridge overnight, then strain out the blossoms and enjoy.

The less green you have from the base of the blossoms, the less bitter they will taste. Here’s a brief clip demonstrating a super easy way to separate the petals from the bitter greens:

https://youtu.be/fWyA35Cs5e0

The last way to get past the bitterness is simply to build up an appreciation for it. Sure, it’s not the most popular option, but you really can develop a taste for a food by consistently consuming small portions of it. Gradually, your aversion turns into tolerance. And then tolerance can even become a craving. It really works. Try it!

Medicinal Uses for Dandelions

Dandelion’s medicinal effects are not limited to its impressive nutritional profile. It sports a bevy of benefits. Let’s dive in!

As a Digestive Aid

Dandelion’s bitter taste is likely also its best-known medicinal property. It’s a bitter. Bitters are plants that encourage optimal digestion by stimulating the secretion of enzymes and digestive juices.12)Gladstar, Rosemary. The Beginners Guide to Medicinal Herbs 35 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use. Storey Books, 2012.,13)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

Dandelion stimulates appetite, aids the liver in its detoxification duties, helps to regulate the release of pancreatic hormone, is stimulating to the spleen, supports correct bile duct function, and even helps to repair the gut wall.14)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.,15)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.,16)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. It may even help to resist the progression of cirrhosis of the liver.17)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

Dandelion is a remarkable plant!

To Treat Colitis

In one experiment, participants with non-specific colitis were given dandelion along with calendula, lemon balm, and St. John’s wort. Complete relief from spontaneous and palpable pains was reported by 96% of participants, and stools were normalized in those with diarrhea symptoms.18)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

As a Spring Tonic and Diuretic

Dandelion is also well-known as a spring tonic. It helps to flush and tone the body after enduring the rigors of winter.

The entire plant is diuretic, flushing excess water from the body and generally giving us a good cleansing. The leaf is more powerful than the root, and is comparable to the drug furosemide in terms of strength.19)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. Don’t take it right before bed or you’ll be up all night. Trust me. I know.

Dandelion’s diuretic properties help to relieve fluid retention.20)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. It is also used to dissolve calcium stones and to prevent new ones from forming, and can be used safely over long periods.21)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.,22)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

Dandelion’s diuretic nature may also help to explain its effectiveness in relieving arthritic complaints.23)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

With conventional pharmaceuticals, as the body flushes out water, it’s also flushing out our supply of potassium. This can be rough on your heart and cause problems for anyone with a heart condition.24)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. Dandelion, on the other hand, is so rich in potassium that even while it flushes out the body, it still provides a net gain in potassium.25)Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016. This makes it an ideal diuretic herb for people with heart issues.26)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

For Skin Health

The natural latex in its sap is helpful in getting rid of warts.27)Gladstar, Rosemary. The Beginners Guide to Medicinal Herbs 35 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use. Storey Books, 2012. However, this is not a quick process. The sap must be applied several times a day for 2 to 3 weeks. Direct application of the sap can also help with moles, pimples, canker sores, and other skin blemishes.28)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014., 29)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.

To Fight Cancer and Harmful Bacteria

Dandelion may have anti-tumor/anti-cancer properties, though it is not clear whether this would be from a direct action or indirectly through its ability to cleanse and support normal body function.30)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.,31)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. Dandelion also appears to have selective antimicrobial properties, supporting healthy gut bacteria while discouraging unhealthy ones.32)Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.,33)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.,34)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. It even helps prevent plaque buildup on teeth.35)Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.

Other Medicinal Uses

Dandelion is also cooling and drying, and can be used as a fever reducer.36)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. It’s a mild laxative and has an alkalizing effect on the body.37)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.,38)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.,39)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013. Dandelion may also help some people with allergies and food intolerances.40)Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.

In animal studies, dandelion has been shown to have hypoglycemic activities.41)Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003. This may make it a helpful plant for those with diabetes, but could be a contraindication for those with hypoglycemia.42)Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.,43)Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.

Medicinal Formats and Dosages

You can use dandelion via any of the normal methods: fresh, dried, tincture, decoction, infusion, etc. The dried leaves make an excellent addition to green powders.

Outside of some very specific circumstances, dandelion is widely considered to be safe. Recommendations vary from herbalist to herbalist as to how much you should take.

I will present some amounts that I think are reasonable, but you should view them as suggestions, rather than rules. Other quantities/frequencies could be equally valid, depending on your situation.

Root Tincture

1:5 ratio in 60% alcohol. Use 2.5–5 ml, 3 times daily.

Root Decoction

Use 2–3 tsp of root material in 1 cup of water. Simmer for 10–15 minutes. Drink this 3 times a day.

Leaf Tincture

1:5 ratio in 40% alcohol. Use 5–10 ml, 3 times daily.

Leaf Infusion

Pour boiling water over ½ tsp of dried leaf and allow to steep for 10–15 minutes. Drink this 3 times a day.

Long Live the King!

Dandelions are so impressively versatile that I could never fit everything into a single article.

For example, did you know that the sap can be used as glue, or that the stem can be fashioned into a working flute?

What else did I leave out? What’s your favorite recipe or medicinal use? Do you have any dandelion stories (or horror stories about the bitter flavor)? Are dandelions really the king of weeds, or should that title belong to a different plant? Let me know in the comments!

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Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

_______________________________________________________

 

References   [ + ]

1. Perennial: Any plant that lives for more than 2 years.
2. Basal Rosette: A circular arrangement of leaves at ground level.
3, 32. Foster, Steven, James A. Duke, and Steven Foster. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
4. Peterson, Lee Allen, and Roger Tory Peterson. A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.
5, 25. Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: DK/Penguin Random House, 2016.
6, 9, 10, 28, 33, 35. Blair, Katrina. The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014.
7, 12, 27. Gladstar, Rosemary. The Beginners Guide to Medicinal Herbs 35 Healing Herbs to Know, Grow, and Use. Storey Books, 2012.
8, 14, 21, 37, 42. Elpel, Thomas J. Botany in a Day: Thomas J. Elpels Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, 2004.
11, 13, 15, 19, 23, 24, 26, 30, 38, 41. Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.
16, 17, 18, 20, 22, 31, 34, 36, 39, 40. Mills, Simon, and Kerry Bone. Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy: Modern Herbal Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2013.
29, 43. Grossberg, George T., and Barry Fox. The Essential Herb-drug-vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medications and Supplements Together. New York: Broadway Books, 2007.

The post Dandelions: 31+ Medicinal and Culinary Uses for the King of Weeds appeared first on The Grow Network.

How to Not Die While Wildcrafting: 15 Rules for Foraging Safely

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Walking out into the forests or fields and coming back with an armload of food and medicine is a rewarding experience. With every new plant you learn to identify and use, you become more empowered to care for yourself and your family. You also become less dependent on—and less vulnerable to—big, corporate entities. But this expanding freedom also comes with the responsibility of ensuring your own safety.

Poisonous plants exist. Some of them look like the good plants. Some plants are good or bad, depending on the quantity. And even the safest plants can harm if harvested from a contaminated environment.

I want to help you maximize your rewards while minimizing your risks. That’s why I am presenting you with 15 rules for safe wildcrafting. The more experienced you become, the more you’ll see exceptions to the rules and know when to ignore them. But I advise the novice to follow them all, because nobody wants to become a cautionary tale.

 

1) Go Slowly

The No. 1 rule with any new plant is to go slowly. You can have allergies and intolerances to wild plants, just like you can to conventional foods. The first couple of times you sample a plant, use a small portion. Also, you should only try one new plant at a time. This way, if you have a reaction, you’ll know which plant caused it.

2) Talk to a Local Expert

Local experts will often know little tips and tricks that the books and websites won’t mention, and they will have specific knowledge about how the plants look and behave in your area.

If you can’t find an expert in your area, books and websites are an acceptable way to learn wildcrafting. However, they can’t warn you if you’re about to make a mistake. Use caution and consult multiple sources to minimize your risks.

3) Don’t Eat a Plant Just Because Someone Said It Was Okay

I really hope this one goes without saying. If you watch someone harvest it, prepare it, and eat it—and if they’re still alive the next day—then maybe you could try a little.

4) Know Your Environment

Physical hazards include thorns, holes, ledges, wild animals, moving vehicles, quicksand, and volcanoes. Just keep your eyes open and don’t stick your hands and feet anywhere you won’t be able to see them.

Chemical hazards can be a bit trickier to detect. Don’t wildcraft from locations that get sprayed with herbicides or pesticides. (If you don’t know, ask. You don’t want to eat that stuff.)

Avoid foraging beside busy roads. When it rains, the ditches are irrigated by vehicle-waste runoff. Many municipalities will also spray herbicides along the sides of rural roads. Apparently, this saves money compared to running the mowing trucks. But it also ruins many lightly trafficked areas that I would otherwise love to forage from. Areas around trash storage, treated wood, and industrial waste should also be avoided.

Only harvest plants from pure waterways. Streams and rivers can carry dangerous waste for miles.

Respect private property. Don’t go foraging around someone’s house after dark. Getting mistaken for a burglar and shot would just ruin your evening. And why were you foraging in the dark, anyway?

Lastly … you know what poison ivy and poison oak look like, right?

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Poison Ivy

5) Use All of Your Senses    

How does the plant look? What patterns do you see? What colors? What’s the overall shape? How does it feel? (Rough? Smooth? Fuzzy?) What does it smell and taste like? (Ideally, you would be reasonably sure it wasn’t poisonous before tasting it, or even touching it.) Does it have a peculiar sound? Yes, plants can have telltale sounds.

6) If a Plant Doesn’t Match, Don’t Use It

Sometimes you’ll come across a plant that looks ALMOST right, but something doesn’t quite fit. You may have found a subspecies or variation. Then again, it might be a dangerous look-alike. It’s best just to leave that one alone until you can get a firmer identification.

7) Avoid Plants With White Sap

This one has a number of exceptions. Some plants, like dandelions, are perfectly safe. Others might be safe once they’ve been correctly prepared. But as a general rule, if a plant has white sap, leave it alone.

8) Avoid Plants With White Berries

This rule has almost no exceptions. Plants with white berries are plants that do not mess around. Don’t even touch them.

9) Be Humble With Umbels

If you see a plant with umbels,1)Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped, or umbrella-shaped cluster of flowers. you’d better be 110% sure of what it is before you harvest and use it. Elderberry, yarrow, and carrots all form umbels, and they’re great. Poison hemlock has umbels, too, and it will render you in the permanent past tense.

Unfortunately, a lot of these plants will look very similar. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever wildcraft them, but you should probably build up your skills on safer plants first. When you’re ready for the umbels, double-check their characteristics every single time.

No matter how smart you are or how much experience you have, anyone can poison themselves if they get cocky or careless. Do yourself a favor and be humble with the umbles. 

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Umbels

10) Be 115% Sure About Mushrooms

Mushrooms take the term “poisonous” as a personal challenge. Some of them, like the death cap mushroom, reportedly taste good. To make things worse, mushroom look-alikes can be very tricky to tell apart.

On the flipside, mushrooms are delicious and a lot of fun. They can be wildcrafted safely, if you choose the right type. Some mushrooms, like morels and puffballs, are reasonably safe for beginners to gather. Just exercise due caution, research their appearance and look-alikes, and go out with an experienced guide until you get the feel for it.

11) If It Looks Like an Onion AND Smells Like an Onion, It’s an Onion

This rule works for garlic too, but the plant you find has to both look and smell oniony or garlicy. There are some dangerous look-alikes, but none of them are also “smell-alikes.”

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Wild Onion

12) All Mustards Are Edible

You can find mustards (Brassicaceae family) all over the world, and they’re all edible. Great. So what does a mustard look like? The surest way to identify them is by the bloom. All mustard family plants have 4 petals and 6 stamens2)Stamen: The pollen-producing reproductive organ of a flower. (4 tall and 2 short). The flowers are often small, so you may need a magnifying lens. Some members of this family may be too spicy to eat in any quantity.

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Mustard Family Bloom

Read More: “Mustard Greens: What You Need to Know Before You Grow (With Recipe)”

13) If It Looks Like a Mint AND Smells Like a Mint, It’s an Edible Mint

Mints (Lamiaceae family) usually have square stems and opposite3)Opposite: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear in pairs, on opposite sides, of a stem. leaves. These leaf pairs will rotate back and forth 90 degrees as they move up the stem. If a plant looks like a mint, but doesn’t smell minty, avoid it. It might be fine. It might not.

Wildcrafting Foraging Safely - Lemon Balm

14) Seeing an Animal Eat It Does Not Make It Safe

Animals can eat a lot of things that would make us sick or dead. They usually know what’s good for them. They don’t know what’s good for us. Don’t copy the animals.

15) Experience Trumps Theory

It may be very helpful to watch a video or read a book about wildcrafting. But until you’ve actually gone out to harvest and use a plant yourself, you can’t rely on that skill. Issues will often come up that books and videos can’t prepare you for. Theory is great for laying a foundation of knowledge, but experience is the ultimate teacher.

Whether the grid goes down or you just have a kid with a tummy ache, do you want to know that you’ve read about it in a book or that you’ve successfully harvested and used these plants before?

Conclusion

Hopefully, this guide has encouraged you, rather than scaring you off. Wildcrafting is a wonderful way to empower yourself, and it’s just a really fun way to spend an afternoon. If you follow the rules, and use a bit of common sense, you’ll come back in one piece.

What are your favorite plants to wildcraft? Do you have any tips that I missed? Let me know in the comments, and we can get a good plant talk going.

 

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Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

_______________________________________________________

 

References   [ + ]

1. Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped, or umbrella-shaped cluster of flowers.
2. Stamen: The pollen-producing reproductive organ of a flower.
3. Opposite: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear in pairs, on opposite sides, of a stem.

The post How to Not Die While Wildcrafting: 15 Rules for Foraging Safely appeared first on The Grow Network.

You Did WHAT To Those Farkleberries?! (Homesteading Basics)

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Today, I want to talk a little bit about plant communication, a little bit about gratitude, and a litle bit about one of my favorite wild plants: the farkleberry. It’s a blueberry that’s native to Texas.

Actually, some people call them sparkleberries, because apparently the Boy Scouts had too good of a time with the name farkleberry! But I still call them farkleberries. They’re just delicious little berries. They’re a little bit mealy, but a little bit sweet. If you cut sugar out of your diet like I have, you’ll find that it’s very nice to be able to enjoy some sweets like these.

Now, whenever I harvest anything—especially wildcraft—I keep in mind that this is a living plant that has produced things that I’m taking. In fair exchange, I want to express my gratitude to this plant for producing these berries and letting me pick and eat them.

The number one way to do this—the thing that plants would love the most—is to simply urinate at the base of the plant. You have a highly available form of nitrogen in your urine, and plants really appreciate that. Of course, that may not be passable in a lot of places, like public parks or maybe even your backyard. Or you might not be comfortable yet doing that kind of thing.

So, if you have a canteen of water with you and you’re living in dry country, another great thing you can do is use a small bit of water to express your gratitude.

Another thing I like to do every couple of years is grow some tobacco. Tobacco is a plant that has been used historically by the native peoples here in America. It can make a great fertilizer. Just take a pinch, sprinkle it on the soil around the plant, and say, “Thank you so much. I appreciate your fruits.” The plants don’t understand your words, but they get your intent.

Just making an offering of some sort is immensely beneficial in that relationship.

One of the kind of “woo-woo” things that I found out about this is that the more I do it, the more I’m suddenly able to see farkleberry bushes when I couldn’t see them before. It’s almost as if they know that I’m looking for them, and they call to me. Again, a little bit mystical, but isn’t plant communication in general?

I’d love to hear your experiences with this type of thing. Leave me a note in the comments! 🙂

 

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Pokeweed: The Weed, the Myth, the Legend

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This article on pokeweed is part of a series on weed gardens and identifying and using the plants you’ll often find there. For other articles in the series, please click here.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is a milestone plant for many foragers. It’s the first plant that many of us eat that could also kill us.

Don’t get me wrong. Correctly prepared, pokeweed is absolutely safe. It’s also highly nutritious and delicious. But it’s a rare person who doesn’t feel at least a little trepidation when cooking and eating it for the first time.

Pokeweed = Poison?

My most vivid memory of pokeweed isn’t from painting with the berries as a child, or from the smell coming from the boiling pot in my grandmother’s kitchen. It’s from just last year. Our (then) 2-year-old came up to me with a big purple-stained grin on his face.

“Have you been eating elderberries again?” I asked him.

He shook his head and led me to a tall pokeweed plant. I saw that berries were missing. Lots of them. One of us might have said a swear word. I’ll let you guess who.

It’s funny how panic will totally wreck your ability to think. My mind was racing to recall everything I knew about pokeweed, but all I was getting was the word “poison.”

I took several slow, deep breaths to calm myself. Gradually, my brain started to work again. The berry is the least poisonous part of the plant. The juice from the berry is safe. It’s the seed that’s poisonous 1) http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2. The seeds are designed to pass safely through the digestive tract so that the plant can spread. So unless he chewed up the seeds, any poisons would likely remain safely locked away. And at this age, our boy was more of a gulper than a chewer.

My wife and I decided to wait and see if any symptoms developed. As it turned out, he was fine. He never had any problems with the pokeberries at all.

That day, two things happened:

  1. One was that I cut down all of the pokeweed plants in our yard.
  2. The other was that I became skeptical of the oft-repeated claims of 10 berries (or even 1 berry 2)The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.) being enough to poison a child.

One study tried to determine the lethal dose of pokeberries for mice. What the researchers found was that it was impossible to give the mice a large enough dose to kill them. After three doses, one per hour, of as much as the mice’s bellies could hold, some finally died. The equivalent amount for an adult, male human would be about 45 pounds (20 kilograms).3)http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v43/p54_57.pdf Just for the record, 45 pounds of water would also kill an adult, male human.4)http://www.nleomf.org/officers/search/search-results/james-c-mcbride.html

Of course I wouldn’t recommend you eat a big bowlful of the berries. Humans may not be very much like mice. But this study does give credence to some people’s claims of having eaten pokeberry pie.

Let’s Eat Some Pokeweed!

Our grandparents would have thought all this caution and fear was far overblown. For them, pokeweed was a mundane food—a staple of spring. But at some point that familiarity with our wild, native plants began to dwindle, and now pokeweed is something of a daredevil food for aspiring foragers. Let’s take back our horticultural heritage and eat some pokeweed (after preparing it correctly, of course).

This video should help:

Plant Identification

Adult plants are the easiest to identify, so let’s start there. Mature pokeweed (also called poke salad, poke sallet, pokeberry, and others) stands 5–10 feet (1.5–3 meters) tall.

Pokeweed leaf close

The leaves are alternate,5)Alternate: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear back and forth or in a spiraling pattern on a stem. large (4–10 inches or 10–25 centimeters), toothless, oval- or lance-shaped, fairly succulent, somewhat wavy along the edges, and prominently veined.

They also make a neat, rubbery sound when you rub a handful of them together.

The flowers are white, pink, or green; grow on a pink stem; and form a drooping, finger-shaped cluster. Flowers appear in spring through summer and turn into glossy, deep purple-to-black berries toward the end of summer and into fall. The berries are about the size of a pea and are flattened at the top and bottom. A mature pokeweed stem is red or magenta, darker near the base, and has a mostly hollow core.

Pokeweed has a perennial root, with the aboveground parts dying back every winter. The dead stalk can remain through the winter and are one of the easiest ways for beginners to safely ID young plants. Mark the location of a dead stalk and come back in the spring to harvest the new stalks growing where it stood. Once you do this several times, you’ll start to recognize the young leaves by sight even without the older stalk to give it away.

Look-alikes

Overall, the mature plant is very easy to identify, though it might be confused with elderberry. Elderberry does not have alternate leaves, and the berries grow in an umbel,6)Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped or umbrella-shaped cluster of flower. rather than a spike.

The berry clusters resemble wild cherries, though cherries don’t have that garish stem color, their leaves are toothed, and they grow on a tree.

Some people say that pokeweed is a grape lookalike. I don’t see it, myself. But if you’re having trouble, remember that grapes grow on a vine. Pokeweed does not.

Where to Find Pokeweed

Pokeweed is native to the U.S., growing throughout most of the contiguous states, except for in the Rocky Mountain States and North and South Dakota. It can also be found in the eastern provinces of Canada and has been naturalized in the Mediterranean region.

It prefers damp woodlands and open area.

Birds help spread the seeds in their droppings, as well. You can often find pokeweed shoots beneath popular perches. Try fence rows.

Harvesting Pokeweed

The conventional wisdom is to harvest leaves and stems from young plants, no more than 6-10 inches (15-25 centimeters) tall.7)Peterson Field Guides. Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America. Lee Allen Peterson.

Pokeweed young plant

Berries can be harvested whenever they are ripe, from summer into fall.

I do not recommend harvesting the root, as it contains the highest concentration of poison. (However, those who do opt to take the risk typically harvest the root in the fall, after the main stalk has died back.)

Some people harvest from taller plants, even taking the newer growth from mature pokeweed. Depending on your level of sensitivity to the plant and your level of experience, this might or might not be a good idea.

The Pokeweed Boogeyman

And this would probably be a good time to talk about the pokeweed boogeyman.

In my opinion, the poisonous nature of pokeweed has been exaggerated. People tend to repeat warnings about poisonous plants without verifying them. This can cause errors or exaggerations to be perpetuated until they assume the rank of “fact.” This seems to be what has happened with pokeweed.8)http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v43/p54_57.pdf

Don’t misunderstand me. Pokeweed is poisonous and has killed people. You have to respect it, and you have to use it correctly. But the level of fear exceeds the reality.9)Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012.

To further muddy the waters, some people are more sensitive to the toxins in pokeweed than others.

  • For example, the plant juice causes dermatitis in some people (like my wife) and not in others (like myself).
  • Some people get a stomachache if they boil the leaves only once, while others may have no ill effects and always boil once.
  • I’ve even seen a man claim that he saved the cooking water for use in soups. That one’s a bit much for me, but you can see how the claims of pokeweed’s relative toxicity might get confused.

A Common-Sense Caution

So what’s a forager to do?

Go slowly.

Just cook a little bit your first time, and use one of the longer boiling methods described below. The next time, you can cook more.

Just use your own wisdom, listen to your body, and don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. In all likelihood, you’ll be fixin’ a big mess of greens in no time.

Culinary Uses: Cooking and Eating Pokeweed

Nutritionally, pokeweed is a powerhouse plant. It’s a dynamite source of vitamins A and C, and a good source of calcium and iron, too.10)http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2 But how do you get to that nutrition without poisoning yourself?

Poke leaves are boiled before eating. Opinions differ as to how long they must be boiled and in how many changes of water. This is how I do it:

  1. Boil the leaves for 1 minute.
  2. Pour out the water and bring new water to a boil.
  3. Now boil the leaves for another full minute.
  4. Change out the water and boil for 15 minutes.

The whole process looks like this:

Boil 1 minute –> Change water –> Boil 1 minute –> Change water –> Boil 15 minutes

Remember, your timer doesn’t start until the water reaches a full boil. You can keep a second pot of water boiling so that you don’t have to wait for the water to heat up every time.

If you want to err on the cautious side, you can always boil it longer. Two boils of 15 minutes each, or three boils of 10 minutes each, are common cooking protocols.

Serve with salt, pepper, and butter. Some people like to add vinegar or olive oil, as well. I like to add a pinch of brown sugar. My way isn’t the healthiest, but it gets the kids to eat it. Another popular option is to toss the cooked pokeweed into a pan and scramble it with eggs. I like to add barbecue sauce. (Try it, then tell me if I’m crazy!)

Young shoots can be peeled, breaded in cornmeal, and fried. Some people boil them first, but many (including myself) don’t. Another option is to boil and then pickle the stalks. I’ve never tried this one, but it sounds tasty.

Medicinal Uses: Properties and Contraindications

Used correctly, pokeweed is a powerful medicinal plant. However, the margins of safety are smaller than with most popular herbs.

The berry is the safest part of the plant to use medicinally. The root, while a very powerful medicine, is also the most poisonous. Use caution, and get in touch with an experienced herbalist before experimenting with it yourself.

Pokeweed has a wide variety of medicinal uses, both traditional and modern. Most of these likely stem from its antiviral, lymphatic, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Properties

Pokeweed has terrifically potent antiviral properties against a wide range of viruses, including SARS and coronavirus. Pokeweed is a powerful lymphatic-system stimulant, helping to prevent cytokine storms.11)Cytokine Storm: A potentially fatal, hyper-inflammatory, immune response often linked to certain viruses. Isolated compounds from the pokeweed plant have even been used to inactivate the HIV virus in rats, rendering them HIV-negative.12)Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2013. That’s a lot of antiviral potential.

Pokeweed is also strongly anti-inflammatory, and has a long history as an arthritis herb.13)Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Andrew Chevallier. DK Adult. 2000. Some people take 1 berry a day to ease their symptoms. Others use the root in powder or tincture14)Tincture: A preparation in herbal medicine wherein the medicinal components of a plant are pulled into a solution of alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin and administered by dropper. form. One suggested dose of root powder is 60–100 milligrams.15)The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008. A 1:5 tincture of the dried root in 50% alcohol has also been suggested with a dose of 5–15 drops up to 3 times a day.16)Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012. 

Again, use caution and seek a trained expert before putting any of this into your body.

Contraindications

Pokeweed has the potential to interact with drugs that have sedative properties. Possible side effects include lowered blood pressure, confusion, weakness, blurred vision, nausea, difficulty breathing, and death.17)The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008. Pregnant women should not use pokeweed.18)Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Andrew Chevallier. DK Adult. 2000.

If you’re looking for similar effects from safer plants, try skullcap or cleavers as alternatives.19)Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2013. Red root also has some similar properties, though it has safety issues, as well.

Hopefully I’ve scared you just the right amount—not so much that I scared you away, but not so little that you jump in with abandon. Pokeweed is a powerful, nutritious, delicious plant that is safe when it’s given proper respect, and dangerous when it’s not.

What are your experiences with pokeweed? Were they good or bad? Have any of you every tried pokeberry pie and lived to tell the tale? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments.

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Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.
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References   [ + ]

1. http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2
2. The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.
3, 8. http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v43/p54_57.pdf
4. http://www.nleomf.org/officers/search/search-results/james-c-mcbride.html
5. Alternate: A leaf pattern in which leaves appear back and forth or in a spiraling pattern on a stem.
6. Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped or umbrella-shaped cluster of flower.
7. Peterson Field Guides. Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America. Lee Allen Peterson.
9, 16. Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012.
10. http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2
11. Cytokine Storm: A potentially fatal, hyper-inflammatory, immune response often linked to certain viruses.
12, 19. Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2013.
13, 18. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Andrew Chevallier. DK Adult. 2000.
14. Tincture: A preparation in herbal medicine wherein the medicinal components of a plant are pulled into a solution of alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin and administered by dropper.
15, 17. The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.

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Henbit and Purple Deadnettle—The Mischievous Twins

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This article is the second in a series on weed gardens and identifying and using the plants you’ll often find there. For other articles in the series, please click here.

How long does it take for weeds to invade a garden? Not long. But in a weed garden, that’s a good thing!

Checking back in on the weed garden, we find that it’s mostly still a patch of bare soil.

Weed Garden Henbit Deadnettle

But upon closer inspection, we can see several guests starting to invite themselves in. It’s a bit too early to tell what they are at this stage, though I expect the larger leaves to be pokeweed.

Weed Garden Henbit Deadnettle

Plant Identification

While we’re waiting on the weeds to properly introduce themselves, let’s take a look at two weeds that have probably welcomed themselves into your gardens: purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) and henbit (Lamium amplexicaule). The name deadnettle comes from the fact that the plant resembles a nettle, but does not sting. Thus, it is a dead nettle. The name “henbit” comes from farmers watching hens eat it.

These two jokers love confusing people. Like a pair of mischievous twins, they’re often mistaken for one another. I’ll help you put an end to those shenanigans by showing you what they have in common and how they’re different.

Purple deadnettle and henbit are both members of the mint family, with the characteristic square stems and opposite leaves.

Aromatically, they aren’t very well-behaved mints, having no distinct minty smell. They do have an interesting earthy scent, however, that reminds me of Easter Sundays as a child. Your nostalgia may vary. Both also have small, pink-to-purple, tubular blossoms with two lips on the bottom outside edge.

Characteristics                                                                                                                                

Being mints, they naturally want to take over the world, but they’re hoping we won’t notice because they’re fairly low to the ground and have such pretty little blossoms. You can find them all throughout the U.S., as far north as Greenland, and through their native home of Eurasia.

They love cool, spring weather and rain. If you have that, there’s a good chance you have henbit and deadnettle.

Both plants love rich, moist soil … and people, too. They’ve long followed humans around with the intent of moving into any soil we happen to disturb.

Purple deadnettle has triangular leaves with petioles (leaf stems). It has a fuzzier texture than henbit, and the entire top of the plant tends to be shaded purple. Henbit has scalloped, heart-shaped leaves with no petiole, and it’s not noticeably hairy.

Weed Garden Henbit Deadnettle

Toxic Look-alikes

They have no toxic look-alikes, though ground ivy (edible in moderation) is fairly similar. Ground ivy differs from our plants by having larger flowers and by rooting at nodes along the stem.

Culinary Uses

All aboveground parts of purple deadnettle and henbit are edible raw or cooked. The best-tasting bits are the blossoms, which are tender and sweet. I’m not a huge fan of either plant raw, but I love them chopped fine on weed pizzas or mixed in with a stir-fry. They’ll also mix well with a salad, and I’ve snuck them into stews a few times.

Henbit has the superior texture and taste, in my opinion. Both henbit and purple deadnettle are good sources of iron, vitamins, and fiber. 1)http://www.eattheweeds.com/henbit-top-of-the-pecking-order/

As a sidenote, stews are great for introducing people to eating weeds, or for hiding a plant that you’re still trying to build an appreciation for. The weeds in question just disappear into the mix and become part of a happy fellowship.

Medicinal Uses

Medicinally, these weedy relatives have a fair bit of overlap, though purple deadnettle is better known and more widely researched. I’ll be focusing on purple deadnettle here, both to avoid any confusion, and because I have more practical experience with it as a medicinal plant.

Lab tests have confirmed that purple deadnettle has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, comparable to Vitamin C.2)https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292812877_Antimicrobial_and_Free_Radical_Scavenging_Activities_of_Some_Lamium_Species_from_Turkey3)https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037887410800189X

This helps to validate its traditional use as an arthritis herb.

Purple deadnettle can also be used to stop external bleeding and has been shown to have moderate antimicrobial properties.4)http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/l/lamium-purpureum=red-dead-nettle.php5)https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292812877_Antimicrobial_and_Free_Radical_Scavenging_Activities_of_Some_Lamium_Species_from_Turkey

Chew up the fresh leaves and make a spit poultice, as you would with yarrow. I assume this would work with dried leaves as well, though I’ve never done it that way. I’ve always had yarrow at hand.

Read More: “Drying Herbs the Easy Way”

A decoction of deadnettle is also said to be effective for any type of bleeding (internal or external)6)http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/l/lamium-purpureum=red-dead-nettle.php

I’m more familiar with yarrow in this regard, but for people allergic to plants in the Aster family (which includes yarrow), purple deadnettle could be a good alternative plant to try. (But, as with all edible wild plants that you’re trying for the first time, remember to start slowly, in case you have an unexpected sensitivity to it.)

One of the more interesting properties of purple deadnettle is its ability to ease allergy symptoms. This might be linked to its anti-inflammatory properties, or perhaps to its flavonoid constituents. Whatever the reason, it really seems to work.

I don’t have much trouble with allergies myself, but I’ve given dried deadnettle to other people. I’ve got a “plant buddy” (client) using it right now. She tells me that when she drinks a cup of deadnettle tea (1 heaping teaspoon with 1 cup of water) before bed, she wakes up with clear sinuses and no drainage. But on the days that she forgets, she’s wakes up stuffy and coughing. And if she goes ahead and makes a cup, she’ll dry right up. If you want to try it, I recommend adding a little cream and sweetener.

So go gather up some henbit and purple deadnettle, and put these powerful spring weeds to work for you before the weather gets hot and they disappear again!

Do you use either of these plants for something I didn’t mention? Do you have any good deadnettle or henbit recipes you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below.

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Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert.

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References   [ + ]

The post Henbit and Purple Deadnettle—The Mischievous Twins appeared first on The Grow Network.

Grow a Weed Garden! Identifying and Using Chickweed

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“Why in the world would I WANT to grow weeds?” That’s what you were just thinking, right? Either that or, “Is this about marijuana?”

As it turns out, I’m writing on the former. And if you’re still with me after learning that this article isn’t about cannabis, let me answer your question with some questions of my own.

Are you interested in growing your own herbal medicines? Grow a weed garden! Many common weeds are also powerful medicines.

Do you want to grow your own highly nutritious, homegrown food? Grow a weed garden! Most wild edibles are ridiculously nutritious; often much more so than the foods you’re already growing in your garden. (I will admit, however, that a potato is much more user-friendly than stinging nettles.) Plus, you’ll know for sure that these weeds haven’t been sprayed with any (gasp!) weed killer.

Are you cursed with gardening failures? Grow a weed garden! Unless you’re growing it inside a chicken coop or downstream from a glyphosate factory, you literally cannot mess this up. Those weedy little boogers are a hale-and-hearty crew, just chomping at the bit to take over any scrap of substandard, underwatered, compacted, nutrient-poor soil.

Are you preparing for the electromagnetic-zombie-pandemic-peak-water-financial-collapse apocalypse? Grow a weed garden! Looters might make off with your tomatoes, but they’ll never think to steal your thistles. Actually, I think I’d like to see them try that. But my point is that these are food and medicine resources unknown to the majority of the population. You can think of them as your backup-backup food supply.

Getting Started With Your Weed Garden

So I’m going to assume that you’re all fired up and ready for a weed garden, or at least not starkly opposed to the idea, and I’ll move on to the “how to” section. Making a weed garden is stunningly easy. At bare minimum, all you have to do is point to a part of your yard and say, “This is my weed garden.” Done! I’ve got a whole bunch of them out back. I’ll leave it up to you to convince your significant other that it’s time to sell your lawn mower. I mean, who mows their garden, right?

But let’s say you want to be a bit more official.

Sure. I knew I liked you. You want to grow weeds the right and proper way. Good for you.

For a “real” weed garden, do the following:

  1. Prepare a garden bed as you would for any other plant.
  2. Stop.

That’s it. Just loosen the soil, because even weeds like fluffy soil, and remove any pre-existing weeds to give everybody a fair chance to compete.

This is especially true of grasses. If you want a really good weed garden, get rid of the grass. No-good, dirty, rotten, grass (grumble, grumble). I’m slightly prejudiced, in case you couldn’t tell.

This is zero maintenance. No need to fertilize, water, weed (apart from the initial weeding), or sow seeds. Trust me. The seeds are already there, just waiting for their chance to shine.

Here’s a before-and-after picture of a weed garden I just set up:

Weed garden - pre weeding
My Weed Garden, Before

 

Weed garden - post weeding

My Weed Garden, After

This was formerly an experimental garden, set up a few years back and eventually surrendered to the grasses. A morning of TLC with a digging fork and an audiobook brought it back into fighting condition. During the clean out, I discovered a goji berry stem that had snaked its way through the sea of grass and was setting out roots where it contacted the soil.

Weed garden - goji

Goji

I couldn’t bring myself to uproot such a tenacious survivor, so it got to keep its place. Also, I added a wood chip border, because, “by golly I’ve got a big pile of wood chips, and I’m gonna use it!”                                                           

Now let’s take a look at the weeds in the… Oh, right. This is day one. Even weeds don’t pop up that fast. Okay. We’ll come back to this later on. For now, let’s take a look at one of the weeds that was growing in that maelstrom of grass before I cleared it out.

I give you … chickweed!

Weed garden - chickweed

Chickweed

Chickweed is a sweet little plant with a love for cool, wet weather. It can be found in every state in the U.S. and throughout much of the world, even growing as far north as the arctic circle.

Where I live, in the Ozark Mountain region of Arkansas, you can find chickweed in the early spring and often again in the fall. The further north you go, the more it can stretch toward summer. Further south it leans more toward winter. If you have just the right climate (or microclimate), it can grow year-round. If you’ve got cool, pleasant weather, you’ve almost certainly got chickweed.

Chickweed tends to pop up in yards, gardens, pastures, and along the edges of paths. It likes rich, moist soil, and doesn’t seem too particular about sunlight. It must really like people, too, because it grows around us a lot. You’ll also occasionally find large patches growing in entirely the “wrong” place, because plants never read a plant book.

This is a great early plant to identify in your weed garden. First, it’s delicious. Some compare the taste to lettuce or corn silk, though I would describe it more like a snap pea. It’s also highly nutritious. Chickweed is a good source of beta-carotene, ascorbic-acid, magnesium, niacin, calcium, riboflavin, selenium, thiamin, copper, and Gamma-linolenic-acid.1)http://www.eattheweeds.com/chickweed-connoisseurs-2/ It also has more iron, zinc, and potassium than any of your garden greens.2)Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. John Kallas, PhD. Gibbs Smith. 2010 It can be used in salads, soups, fritters, and almost anywhere else you want something green. I’m partial to homemade weed pizzas, myself.

Do yourself a favor. Mix up some freshly rinsed chickweed with flour, salt, and pepper. Form it up into patties and fry it in coconut oil. Then dip the resulting crunchy goodness in honey mustard or barbecue sauce. Delicious!

Identifying Chickweed

By this time, I’m sure you’re practically salivating for some chickweed. And who could blame you? So let’s move on to identification.

Note that I’m focusing on common chickweed (Stellaria media). There are other varieties of chickweed, such as mouse-ear chickweed, that will match some, but not all, of these criteria. For more information on other types of chickweed, you really should look at a more exhaustive guide or talk to a local plant expert.

Common chickweed is a thin-stemmed plant with small (¼” to ½”), opposite leaves. The leaves vary a bit in shape, but are usually oval, and always have a tiny point at the tips. She’s usually a small plant, but can grow stems more than a foot long when conditions are right. The sap is NOT milky. If you pluck a stem and discover white sap, you’ve got the wrong weed. The bloom is white with 5 deeply notched petals, which will look like 10.

Weed garden - chickweed flower

It has two more dead giveaways. One is a single line of hairs growing down the stem. This line will switch sides after every pair of leaves.

Weed Garden_Chickweed Hair Line Arrows

The hairs are tiny, and you may need to either hold it up to the light or use a magnifying lens to see them. The other telltale sign is an inner core. It takes a little practice, but you can bend the stem back and forth, and twist slightly, to break apart the outer stem, revealing a slightly elastic inner stem.

Weed Garden_Chickweed Broken Stem

All of the aboveground parts are edible. On younger plants, the entire stem is tender. As they age, the lower stems become tough and stringy. You can chop them up, if you’re desperate. But I prefer just cutting off the last 2 or 3 inches at the growing tips.

Medicinally, chickweed is no slouch, either. Its primary claim to fame is in skin care. Owing to its wound-healing, soothing, and cooling properties, chickweed is an obvious choice for various skin irritations. It can be used in poultices, sprays, and creams—both as a beauty aid and for the treatment of rashes, bites, burns, and blemishes. It is also a digestive aid, helping to relieve excess gas in the intestinal tract.3)Reference: The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. Katrina Blair. Chelsea Green Publishing. 2014

I hope I’ve gotten you interested in the idea of a weed garden, or at least in trying out some chickweed. Next time, we’ll check back in with my weed garden to see how it’s coming along and choose a new weed to feature.

Meanwhile, let me know in the comments section: What’s your favorite way to use chickweed?

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References   [ + ]

1. http://www.eattheweeds.com/chickweed-connoisseurs-2/
2. Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate. John Kallas, PhD. Gibbs Smith. 2010
3. Reference: The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival. Katrina Blair. Chelsea Green Publishing. 2014

The post Grow a Weed Garden! Identifying and Using Chickweed appeared first on The Grow Network.

The Incredible, Edible, Pindo Palm!

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A friend asks if a beautiful palm has edible fruit:

“There is a palm tree in the front yard of a house we bought in Ocala about 18 months ago. This year, it produced large clumps of a yellow-orange fruit that has a tough skin and a large seed inside each one. Pictures are attached.

pindo-palm-with-orange-fruit-edible

Can you tell us what this is, and how to protect and use it? (The fruits spoil almost a quickly as they ripen.)”

I wrote back:

“That’s a pindo palm! Great fruit. We stew them into an absolutely delicious jelly with sugar to taste and jar them. Best flavor ever. Also makes a great pancake syrup. You can also eat the fruit fresh. In the past, people have made wine from them as well. Butia capitata is the Latin name.”

They really are delicious. And it’s fun to say “Butia capitata.” Try it three times fastI’ll wait.

I planted two in my North Florida food forest because I was so impressed with the flavor of the fruit. You can see one of them here:

FoodForestAfter-Un11

Pindo palm fruit are not great off the tree, but the jelly … incredible. Coconut, pineapple, passion fruityou taste notes of different tropical delights in it. Very, very good.

I once harvested about 50 pounds from the Ocala agricultural extension offices and made jelly with them. The fruits often just fall on the ground unused and are available for the asking.

And the aroma of the fruit is intoxicating.

As Wendy Kiang-Spray writes:

“On the short walk from the pool to the house we rent in the ‘low country’ in South Carolina, Winter picked a berry from the tons of these little palm trees in the community and said, ‘Mom, smell this.’ Well, I’ve played that game before, and it’s not always fun. I was cautious at first, but then quickly began oohing and aahhing over the fragrance that in an instant transports you to the warm sunny place of your dreams. You cannot prevent the immediate inclination to hold in your hand a drink blended with ice and topped with a frilly paper umbrella.”

You’ll also find a recipe for pindo palm jelly in her post.

Pindo palms are often sold in ornamental nurseries across the Deep South. Their silvery foliage and cold hardiness make them very popular. I got my two trees from Home Depot and have encouraged many food-forest enthusiasts to add a few to their plans. You won’t regret it.

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Edible Blewit Mushrooms

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Edible Blewit Mushrooms Foraging is a good time. While some preppers can confuse it with a serious source of food, I would argue that foraging is merely a bridge from one food source to another. It is not a long term food solution that will help keep you alive. You can only really depend on …

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Edible Weeds Growing In Your Area

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A prepper knows that things extreme changes can happen when you least expect them. Conditions might be the stark opposite of what you’ve been preparing for, and they may leave you with almost nothing. Yes, there can be circumstances when your years of preparation may seem insufficient. There can be incidents when people (yes, even preppers) have to leave their place in a hurry and are unable to take their bug out bag or any edibles with them, and hence their preparation seems to be in vain. So what if your house catches fire or a sudden invasion leaves you with no choice but to bug out and survive out in the open, without anything to eat or drink? In a SHTF situation such as this, your local stores could run out of goods in no time.

So, one must know the options Mother Nature has for you, and whether or not they are safe to eat. Here’s a guide to help you learn about some freely available food sources that are either safe to eat as they are or can be made safe to eat. So read all the way to the end if you don’t want to miss out on some great foraging on plants and weeds that can easily be found growing in urban areas.

What Plants Can You Eat in an Urban Setting?

It’s not necessary that you get stranded on an island in a wild forest in order for foraging to become a valuable skill. There are many possibilities that could lead to people being in need for food and water right in the areas where they already live. Yes, entirely urban settings. I’m suggesting that you shouldn’t have your bug out bag ready or that you should stop storing food. But you should also know about your options if plan A, which includes a survival bag and survival food storage, fails. But if your local stores and your own storage options leave you with no food to survive on, you should know about these few edible plants that can probably be found growing right in your neighborhood.

It’s not necessary that you get stranded on an island in a wild forest but there are possibilities of people getting stuck with no food or water in areas they already live—yes, entirely urban settings. Not that we’re suggesting that you shouldn’t have your bug out bag ready or should stop storing food but you should also know about your options if plan A, which includes a survival bag and survival food storage, fails. So if your local store and your own storage options leave you with nothing to survive. Here are a few edible plants, growing in your neighborhood.

Smilax or Catbrier

smilax-rotundifolia-or-catbrier

Image by Fepup – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Catbrier, or Smilax, is an edible plant whose shoots, roots and leaves can all be eaten. The plant is quite prevalent in many urban areas and contains valuable nutrition to help you survive for days. Some species produce blue-black berries. The berries of some species are considered edible, but the seeds are not. To identify smilax, just look for vines that have tendrils and thorns, both. The tender portions of this vine, which are easily snapped, can be eaten either raw or cooked. However, some people have reported experiencing a sour stomach after eating the plant raw, so it’s better to lightly cook or steam the the shoots and leaves before eating. The roots are a good source of calories and nutrition, and the leaves can be served like spinach.

Warning: Catbrier is similar in appearance to Cocculus carolinus, the snailseed vine or Carolina snail vine, which has toxic foliage and berries. To differentiate, note that the snailseed vine does not bear thorns, and produces red berries.

Dollar Weed

the-edible-weed-dollar-weed-or-pennywort

“Water pennywort” by Lorenzarius – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

This coin-like plant, which can be found growing in lawns and gardens, is quite edible. Dollar weed, or pennywort, is widely despised by homeowners who are irritated by its excessive growth and invasive nature. Little do these people know that these “annoying” plants are quite close to celery in terms of taste, and can be served as a raw delicacy if SHTF. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. Dollar weed is a close cousin of Gotu Kola, which is widely known for its use in traditional Asian cooking and medicine. If you consume dollar weed, make sure you wash it thoroughly to avoid the risk of ingesting herbicides which are widely used to control this plant in lawns and gardens.

Dock

dock-an-edible-weed

“Rumex-obtusifolius-foliage” by Sten Porse – Own photo, taken in Jutland. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Many species and varieties of this weed, known as dock or Rumex are commonly sighted in urban areas. Its leaves grow abundantly in spring and are perfectly safe to eat. If you’re eating them raw, you might suffer from a gag reflex at first because of the bitter and harsh taste. Therefore, it is suggested that you don’t eat this weed in large portions. If it is possible, cook the leaves a little, like you would spinach or any other leafy greens, so as to minimize the bitterness in taste.

So, don’t just rely on the most commonly known practices for survival; always keep exploring for more options. A true and smart prepper knows that his/her plan can always backfire, and so there should be a plan B in place to help increase your chances for survival. Share the information you have on other edible plants, available in urban areas and forests, using the comments below.

 

Wild Edibles from the Utah Desert

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I’ve been studying and eating wild edible plants for several years now. I started this research in my local area of Utah, primarily the desert, by accident almost. I was asked to assist in a youth activity for my church to teach what foods might have been readily available to pioneers coming into the area over a hundred years ago. I didn’t know a whole lot at that time but through research I soon found that there were a lot of edible plants even in the Utah desert.

As I struggled to find the names of the plants I was finding and then to determine if they were edible I began putting together all kinds of notes to compile a good list of wild edibles in the west because I was not able to find such a list readily available. What I did find as I worked to understand wild edibles is that there is quite a bit available for food that we can harvest from around our homes and in the wilderness. There is a huge number of plants available and proper research can help identify them.

I found some favorites that grow well in my area. Here are a few of them…

blue-mustard

“Chorispora tenella” by Lee Ferguson. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Blue Mustard
Blue mustard is a delicious spring vegetable. This is a great tasting plant in early spring when it is young and I even like it’s spicy flavor later in spring before it gets too old in the heat. Blue mustard is easy to identify when it blossoms because you will see fields of light purple flowers. It is a mustard, so simply look for the four petals and it’s two short and four tall stamens. The flavor when young is like a sweet radish and the plant gets more spicy as it grows but is never really bitter or too much to take. This is a beautiful wild edible that I look forward to every spring.

lambs-quarters-wild-spinach

“20140812 Chenopodium album” by AnRo0002. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

Lambs Quarters (Wild Spinach)
I like to follow John Kallas on this one and call it what it is, wild spinach. Wild spinach is another great edible with good flavor and this one can handle the heat so it will be available well into the summer months. I have cultivated it in my garden through the entire summer and into the fall. What a great edible. Once again it is easy to identify though it does have some variations to it depending on location and nutrients provided. The white waxy film is a dead giveaway and if it is watered well the leaves have a thick feel to them. This is another of my favorites that nature now provides.

purslane

“Portulaca Oleracea…” by Isidre Blanc. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Purslane
I love to eat fresh picked purslane right in the heat of the middle of summer. This is a prolific plant that will always be around in my yard from now on. This plant is a succulent, and it is said to contain more omega-3 fatty acids than many fish and meats. This is not something you hear often when talking about a plant. Purslane has a pleasant flavor and it makes a great potherb. I enjoy snacking on it while I’m working in the yard or garden, and personally I think it looks very good when used as an ornamental ground cover.

yellow-dock-curly-dock

“Rumex crispus 15052006 rosette” by Henry Brisse. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Yellow Dock (Curly Dock)
I love the dock plants. I have grown yellow dock in my garden for a few years now and I enjoy its young leaves that have almost a lemon flavor to them. I eat it in salad and on sandwiches and I really love this little plant. I have had the seeds in the past after a long winter when they did not taste too bad but most of the time they are too difficult to extract from the shell and are loaded with tannins. The leaves of this plant are delicious, however, and they are a treat that adds flavor to any salad.

All of my research and findings on desert edibles are compiled together on my website at www.WildUtahEdibles.com.


Thanks to Mike Wood for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest.

We have over $2,097 in prizes lined up for the Fall 2015 Writing Contest, including all of the following:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $382 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $288 value
– 1 free 1 year membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $239 value
– A Worm Factory 360 vermicomposting system from Nature’s Footprint, a $128 value
– 2 large heirloom seed collections from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, valued at $103 each
– A Metro-Grower Elite sub-irrigation growing container from Nature’s Footprint, a $69 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $59 each
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $43 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $46 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $33 each
– 4 copies of the Greenhouse of the Future DVD and eBook, valued at $31 each

 

Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 2

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prickly-pear-cactus-opuntiaDrought. A chilling term for a period of less than average rainfall, usually accompanied by times of hot, dry, and often windy conditions. It is enough to drive any gardener stark raving mad. That is, of course, unless you have knowledge of some simple drought gardening techniques.

In the first installment of this series, I covered what steps you can take in your current garden to help make your normal plants more able to tolerate a drought. We also looked at a few simple tips and suggestions for your garden, and a selection of good varieties of common garden favorites for the drought-tolerant garden. In this installment, we will look at some rather unusual edibles for your drought-resistant garden.

Edible Cacti

The first group of genuinely drought-tolerant plants we will focus on are very good desert plants that grow and thrive in the 115 degree temperatures of the great American southwest. Many plant species, such as those in the family Cactaceae (better known as the cactus or cacti family), have developed adaptations like reduced leaf area and waxy cuticles to enhance their ability to tolerate drought. An interesting note about cacti is that the needles of the cactus are actually specialized leaves, and the green is the stem. In cacti the green stem, and not the leaves, is where photosynthesis takes place.

Almost all cacti are edible or have edible bits and pieces, though some taste good while others are downright nasty! I spent my teenage years in Phoenix, Arizona, and my early twenties in the far southern parts of Arizona near the town of Nogales, on the Mexican border. I learned to really love the beauty, hardiness, and ease of the cacti I found growing all around me. One thing I learned was that cactus, like many other plants, go by a ton of different names depending on where you are in the world. This is often confusing when trying to find the exact species you wish to plant. One cactus of which I am very fond is called the ‘Arizona Queen of the Night,’ but is also known by at least 14 other names such as Deer-Horn Cactus, Night-Blooming Cereus, Sweet Potato Cactus, and so forth. This is the case with many plants, but when you are looking at cacti with the thought of eating it, you better use the scientific name or you might get one that looks like the right thing but has a taste that makes you ill! ‘Arizona Queen of the Night,’ if you have the correct variety, has the tastiest fruit around, almost strawberry-like in its flavor and texture. But if you end up with the wrong variety of ‘Arizona Queen of the Night,’ the fruit you get will taste like…

… Well the only way I can describe the horrid taste of other varieties is to say that it would taste much like what you would think a child’s dirty diaper would taste. That is a vast difference in taste! So, in what follows I will use the scientific names so that when you go to find these you will get the exact cactus you have read about! Fair Warning: Lots of Latin scientific names below!

prickly-pear-fruit-at-marketThe most well know edible cactus is the Opuntia, or the prickly pear. Many Opuntia species of varying sizes produce edible fruits, many more than just the popular Opuntia stenocereus. In fact, the truth is that all cactus fruit is edible, but not all are as palatable as the stenocereus. Some are truly delicious, while others are tasteless, dry, or otherwise not very pleasing to eat. Even the tasty ones require some careful work before you can eat them – they have to be de-spined!

One of the more commonly planted large cacti in Florida and California is Cereus repandus, which produces large red edible fruit. Several species of Hylocereus are also very popular – these likely originated in southeast Asia and China, where they have become extremely popular with the indigenous populations. These cacti, though, are very cold-sensitive and can only be grown well in USDA zone 10, in USDA zone 9 with some extra effort, and in USDA zone 8 if you really, really work at it or during severe drought with hotter- and dryer-than-normal conditions. Some very large cacti that produce edible fruit include the Saguaro, or Carnegia gigantea, as well as the Cardon, or Pachycereus pringlei. Two other species of Pachycereus also produce tasty edible fruit – P. schottii (commonly known as Senita), and P. weberi (commonly known as Candelabro).

Getting a headache from all of this Latin yet? Me too, but let’s go on!

I know from personal experience that the fruits of Pachycereus schottii are very tasty; this species is very large. Most literature does not say how large the Pachycereus species must be before flowering, but the Saguaros usually have to be quite large and rather old as well, about 10-12 feet tall and some 30 years old before they will flower, and remember until they flower they will not fruit!

The Arizona queen of the night, Peniocereus greggii (mentioned above), and some other species of such as Peniocereus johnstonii and Pachycereus serpentinus, are also producers of truly tasty edible fruit. Smaller related cacti of the genus Echinocereus are famous for their fruit too, a number of species being known as “strawberry cactus” because of their strawberry (and sometimes almost raspberry) flavored red or green fruit. The most notable of these are Echinocereus engelmannii, E. bonkerae, E. boyce-thompsonii, E. enneacanthus, E. cincerascens, E. stramineus, E. dasyacanthus, E. fendleri, and E. fasciculatus; as well as some lesser-known species like Echinocereus brandegeei, E. ledingii, and E. nicholii. Echinocereus engelmannii’s flavor has been described as “strawberry and vanilla.”

Wow! That’s a load of Latin! Ready for just a little bit more? Here we go…

Among the smaller cacti, a number of species of Mammillaria produce edible fruits known as “chilitos” (they look like tiny red chili peppers) and the species include Mammillaria applanata, M. meiacantha, M. macdougalii, M. lasiacantha, M. grahamii, M. oliviae, M. mainiae, M. microcarpa, M. thornberi, and many others. Also recommended is a related genus, Epithelantha, of which the fruit of all species are said to be edible, tasty, and quite like those of the Mammillaria. Two more cacti with similar fruit are the Coryphantha robbinsorum and Coryphantha recurvata.

A commonly found cactus in many garden centers is Myrtillocactus geometrizans, which grows quite large; it produces edible berries known as “garambulos” which are said to be quite tasty, rather like less-acidic cranberries. Another genus of large cacti is Stenocereus, almost all species of which produce fruits good enough to eat. They include Stenocereus fricii (“Pitayo de aguas”), S. griseus (“Pitayo de Mayo”), S. gummosus (“Pitahaya agria”, said to be quite sweet but prone to fermentation, hence the “agria,” or “sour”), S. pruinosus (“Pitayo de Octubre”), S. montanus (“Pitaya colorada”), S. queretaroensis (“Pitaya de Queretaro”), S. standleyi (“Pita Marismena”), S. stellatus (“Xoconostle”), S. thurberi “Organ Pipe Cactus” or “Pitayo Dulce”), and S. treleasi (“Tunillo”). The genus Harrisia of Florida and the Caribbean also produces edible fruits known as “Prickly Apples”, the endangered endemic Florida species Harrisia aboriginum, H. simpsonii, H. adscendens, H. fragrans, and H. eriophora standing out, although the fruits of all the Harrisia species are edible, including the Argentinian Harrisia balsanae.

What happened there? Now I’m overloaded with both Latin and Spanish!

Some of the barrel cacti such as Ferocactus hamatacanthus, Ferocactus histrix (“borrachitos”), and Ferocactus latispinus (“pochas”) also produce edible fruits and edible flower buds. Many species of South American Corryocactus (also known as Erdisia) produce tasty berry-like fruits, including Corryocactus brevistylis, Corryocactus pulquiensis, and Corryocactus erectus. The large South American complex of Echiopsis/Trichocereus includes a few species with edible fruit also, such as Echinocereus atacamensis (or Trichocereus atacamensis), Echinocereus/Trichocereus coquimbana and Echinocereus/Trichocereus schickendanzii. Epiphyllum, known as the “orchid cactus,” has one such species, Echinocereus anguliger (also called Phyllocactus darrahii), the fruits said to be much like gooseberries. Also like gooseberries are the fruits of the fairly well-known Pereskia aculeata – hence its common name “Barbados gooseberry.” Another Pereskia (which are primitive cacti, and in fact are leaf-bearing trees or shrubs), Pereskia guamacho, also produces edible fruits.

There are no doubt many, many others as well, and if I have missed one of your favorite cacti be sure to mention it in the comments below. For now though, that is about all of the Latin I can stand!

For more information on your favorite cactus, two of the best books on the subject include Cacti of the Southwest by W. Hubert Earle, and perhaps the finest available book on cacti, The Cactus Family by Edward F. Anderson.

Now then, if your brain is not totally fried by now, how about we take a look at a few other drought-tolerant plants you might want to consider for your garden.

Drought-Resistant Herbs

First let’s look at herbs. Since most of us know these herbs and their uses, I will not go into great detail on each specific herb on this list. There are many culinary herbs, but not all of them tolerate drought or low water conditions very well. However, many of the most popular herbs used in food preparation are true drought survivors. All of the herbs on the list that follows grow well from east to west and north to south so if you don’t have an herb garden yet, now is the time to plant one! If you want to learn more about herbs, you will find more information here: Herbs.

Garlic Chives – Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are an excellent choice for the low water garden. They have a slight garlicky flavor and are delicious in just about everything. They also have lovely pompom lilac-colored blooms. If you allow them to bloom, however, keep in mind that they self-sow like nobody’s business, which can be both a good and a bad thing!

Onion Chives – Onion chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are also a great choice for a culinary herb that resists drought. These chives are more onion-like in flavor and are much more common in the United States. The blossoms from this chive (and the garlic chive) can be eaten or used for garnish.

Lavender – Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is another excellent choice, with a number of varieties to choose from and lovely purple to light purple blossoms great for sachets or potpourris.

LovageLevisticum officinale, or lovage, has a strong sweet to salty celery-like flavor. Use this herbaceous perennial in soups and stews or add the young stems to salads. While not popularly used here in the United States and Canada, lovage is very frequently found in European gardens.

Borage – With its beautiful (and edible) flowers, borage is a great pick for a dry location – it will grow well and is stunningly beautiful when in bloom. When the leaves are small, they can also be eaten and some say the taste is like that of cucumbers. Borage does very well with little water. In extremely dry locations, you may find it is also easier to keep control of this hardy herb. Borage loves to re-seed and become a part of your landscape.

Echinacea – Grow it as a backdrop to the rest of your herb garden – don’t worry, it will require very little water. Don’t just settle for pink! Echinacea comes in a rainbow of colors, with orange, white, gold, pink, and reds to choose from. Echinacea should be divided every three years, but if you have a smaller area to garden, feel free to wait longer than that and keep the spread in check.

Fennel – Fennel is composed of a white or pale green bulb from which grow closely arranged stalks. The stalks are topped with feathery green leaves and flowers that produce fennel seeds. The bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are all edible. Fennel belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is therefore closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander. It has a mild licorice taste.

Oregano – Greek oregano, as its name suggests, is native to the Greek Isles and a perfect match for the low water herb garden. Its name means “joy of the mountain” from the Greek oros (mountain) and ganos (joy). It is wonderful when used fresh and can be dried as well. Oregano has medicinal qualities and can be used as an antiseptic, an anti-bacterial, and an anti-fungal too.

Parsley – Parsley is another option for a low water garden. Technically it’s a biennial, but is commonly used as an annual. If you let the plant bolt and set seed in the second year, the leaves turn bitter but you get lots of new little babies.

Rosemary – Rosemary is nearly indestructible and is perfect in a drought-tolerant garden. Over time, rosemary can grow quite large if not restrained by pruning. It can also make an aromatic hedge and does very well in rocky soils.

Sage – Sage is another contender. Salvia officinalis is a hardy perennial sub-shrub. There are several varieties, all of which can be used fresh or dried. Many of the sage varieties have lovely blossoms as well.

Thyme – Thyme is another good choice with some varieties making excellent ground covers. Dry soil actually concentrates the aromatic oils in thyme, making it taste much more intense – and it thrives in rocky conditions.

Drought-Tolerant Wild Edibles

There are several good wild edibles to add to your drought-tolerant garden. What are wild edibles? Just what they sound like – plants that normally grow wild that we can eat and enjoy. We will look at three of my favorites: dandelion, purslane, and Jerusalem artichoke.

Dandelion – While many people think of the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a pesky weed, it is chock full of vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as many phytonutrients, and minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion leaves are used to add flavor to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots are used in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make wines. The dandelion is a perennial, herbaceous plant with long, lance-shaped leaves. They’re so deeply toothed, they gave the plant its name: Dent-de-lion means lion’s tooth in Old French. The leaves are 3″ to 12″ long, and 1/2″ to 2-1/2″ wide, always growing in a basal rosette.

dandelion-leaves

Have no worries when eating dandelions, there are no poisonous look-alikes. Other very similar Taraxacum species, as well as chicory and wild lettuce, only resemble dandelions in the early spring, and those are also edible. All these edibles exude a white milky sap when injured, but chicory and wild lettuce leaves have some hair, at least on the underside of the midrib, while dandelion leaves are bald.

Dandelions are especially well-adapted to a modern world of “disturbed habitats,” such as lawns and sunny, open places. They were even introduced into the Midwest from Europe to provide food for the imported honeybees in early spring. They now grow virtually worldwide. Dandelions spread further, are more difficult to exterminate, and grow better under adverse circumstances than almost anything else on Earth.

Many gardeners detest them, but the more you try to weed them up, the faster they grow. The taproot is deep, twisted, and brittle. Unless you remove it completely, it will likely regenerate. If you break off more pieces than you unearth, the dandelion wins.

“What’s a dandelion digger for?” a dandelion asked.
“It is a human invention, to help us reproduce,” another dandelion replied.

Collect dandelion leaves in early spring, when they’re the tastiest, before the flowers appear. Harvest again in late fall. After a frost, their protective bitterness disappears. Dandelions growing in rich, moist soil, with the broadest leaves and largest roots, are the best. But they are still strong growers and good to eat during a drought.

Purslane – Purslane peeks its way out from sidewalk and black top cracks. It invades gardens and it even gained a bit of bad press from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has classified it as a “most noxious weed.”

purslane

A weed it may be, but “most noxious?” Please! Give this poor superfood a break! Yes, I said superfood. It truly happens to be a “super food,” for not only is it high in heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, but it also has high marks in beta carotene content.

This is one of the few plant kingdom sources of Omega-3 fatty acids and really is as healthy as eating fish! And you don’t have to check the latest health and environmental bulletins before you eat it!

Known formally as Portulaca oleracea, but also called pursley and little hogweed, purslane is a succulent that looks, as one chef put it, like a “miniature jade plant.” A more colorful description can be found in seed catalogs, which note that in Malawi, the name for the fleshy, round-leafed plant translates to “the buttocks of the wife of a chief.” The moisture-rich leaves are cucumber-crisp, and have a tart, almost lemony pepper tang. It grows well anywhere in the world and is a wonderful grower during a drought! Though not as popular now-a-days as it once was, it is gaining in popularity. Martha Washington had a recipe for pickled “pursland” in the Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, the collection of hand-written family recipes she received as a wedding gift, according to sources at www.mountvernon.org.

jerusalem-artichoke-in-bloom

Jerusalem Artichoke – Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is familiar to many as a weed, but has some real potential as a crop plant. Native to the central regions of North America, the plant can be grown successfully throughout the U.S. under a variety of temperature and rainfall conditions. Several Native American tribes used Jerusalem artichoke as food prior to the arrival of European settlers. The Jerusalem artichoke became a staple food for North American pilgrims and was thought of as a new food in a “new Jerusalem.” In recent years, the fresh tubers have been widely marketed in the U.S., but in quite limited quantities. The plant can be grown for human consumption, alcohol production, fructose production, and livestock feed.

jerusalem-artichoke-tubers

Similar to water chestnuts in taste, the traditional use of the tuber is as a gourmet vegetable. Jerusalem artichoke tubers resemble potatoes except the carbohydrates composing 75% to 80% of the tubers are in the form of inulin rather than starch. Once the tubers are stored in the ground or refrigerated, the inulin is converted to fructose and the tubers develop a much sweeter taste. Dehydrated and ground tubers can be stored for long periods without protein and sugar deterioration. Tubers can be prepared in ways similar to potatoes. In addition, they can be eaten raw, made into flour, or pickled. They are available commercially under several names, including sunchokes and lambchokes. But as with most things you just cannot beat the home grown taste of this drought-tolerant vegetable.

Growing edibles for your family is always important but during drought conditions it is even more so. Following the tips, strategies and techniques laid out in the first article in this series, as well as planting some of the varieties mentioned here, will help to ensure your family is well fed no matter the rainfall.


This article is part of a 2 part series by Joe Urbach. You can see the entire series here:

Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 1
Vegetable Gardening in Drought Conditions – Part 2