One of the kids asked me if I’d go on a walk with them last week. Being a great dad, I said yes… but before I left, I had a thought: why not bring a camera and take photos of the many wild edible plants within a couple blocks of my house? Granted, I live in a rural neighborhood. However, even in suburbia there are often plenty of chances to snag something tasty while strolling – particularly in Florida.
And now, for your enjoyment, is a photo tour of the great bounty to be found in the “wild.”
First up – some shepherd’s needle:
Sauteed, boiled, or steamed… these are a good green. They’re also everywhere in Florida. If you can ID them, you won’t starve.
The next plant we came across was a majestic hickory tree:
We got buckets of nuts from that tree the year before last and the kids spent weeks hitting them with hammers and bricks and eating the tasty kernels. Though they’re really a pain, labor-wise, the nutmeats taste as good or better than pecans.
Beneath the canopy of the hickory, there are plenty of these:
What’s that thing, you say? It’s a beautyberry! They’re blooming right now and it’ll be a few months before the berries are ready… but it’s good to ID where they are now so you can hunt ’em up later.
Now… this guy is more of a condiment than an edible, but I’m including him anyway:
Recognize that? It’s a bay tree. One of the multiple varieties that grow here in Florida. Laurel wilt disease has wiped out quite a few, but there are still many healthy ones scattered through the woods around my house. I hope they’re disease-resistant enough to continue.
Anyone know what this next plant is?
If you guessed “wild lettuce,” you guessed right. Though they’re not nearly as sweet as their cultivated relatives, they’re still edible. And I’ll bet they’re a lot healthier than any lettuce you’d buy in the store. Now… speaking of things you’d buy in the store… this next plant is easy to identify:
Aww yeah… wild grapes. There are plenty of blooms this year so I’m hoping for a bumper crop of tart muscadines so we can make jam again. Last year’s turned out great. They’re not very good right off the vine – but for processing? Awesome.
And speaking of awesome… this next wild plant produces one of the tastiest things you’ll ever come across in the Florida woods:
Recognize that? It’s a passion vine, which is where we get passion flowers:
Which is where we get passion fruit… provided these guys don’t eat all the plant first:
That scary-looking thing is a Zebra Longwing Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. Most ornamental gardeners plant passion vines in their butterfly gardens just to get these spiny orange and black monsters to show up – along with the spiny white and orange Zebra Longwing caterpillars. Not me… I want fruit! And, speaking of fruit… recognize this tree?
I wouldn’t be able to pin down the species unless I saw it up close. Maybe this will help you?
See the little green fruits? Wild persimmons! We ate a bunch of persimmons off this and a couple of other trees last fall… and I planted the seeds right afterwards. A few weeks ago I was rewarded with about a dozen sprouts… but that’s something I can share in another post.
This next guy is a nasty plant to run into unawares:
A member of the Euphorbiaceae family, also known as the “spurge family,” that there is a Cnidoscolus stimulosus… the “tread-softly” plant, also known as the “spurge nettle.” It packs a nasty sting… and an edible root… like its cousin the cassava. It’s also related to the delicious chaya… though I’ve never discovered if tread-softly leaves are edible.
Next up, a gourmet edible that’s everywhere right now:
That’s a smilax shoot. Break off the top eight inches or so of new growth, steam or sautee in butter, and the taste is a dead ringer for its cousin… the asparagus. (NOTE: these are also called “greenbriars” or just “brambles.” The vines are covered in vicious thorns, unlike the young shoots. Later in the year they can make the woods almost impassible. My daughter tells me they should be named “frownax” instead of “smilax,” since they’re always scratching you up!).
On the other side of the block, I found this:
Yep – it’s a cabbage palm. They are everywhere here. The fruits are edible and sweet, though they have almost no flesh. Roasted, you might be able to grind the seeds… but otherwise, they’re like buckshot. The heart is edible but that requires killing the tree. If I had plenty of land, I’d harvest them selectively and let the birds replant. They take a long time to get to any size.
Another interesting edible we found was this beautiful plant:
Those are coral bean blooms (it’s also known as the “Cherokee bean.”) The beans it produces are bright red and poisonous – DON’T EAT THEM! However, according to Green Deane, the blooms are good if prepared correctly. You can find details here. I don’t eat them, personally, but I do plant seeds and start plants around the base of my fruit trees to add nitrogen to the soil. Yep, they’re a nitrogen-fixer.
Here and there along the sides of the road, we came across quite a few of these unlikely salad sources:
It looks like a mulberry… but that’s actually a basswood tree. The leaves are excellent food for livestock and people. I just recommend eating the really young leaves when they first appear, otherwise the texture is rather coarse. Your goats won’t care, though, so give them the big tough ones.
Speaking of trees, here’s another tree with edible parts:
That’s the “winged sumac,” a non-poisonous sumac that has clusters of red berries that are filled with vitamin C and make a good drink in late summer. I keep meaning to make some for a barbecue… and speaking of barbecues, look at this delicious edible:
Finally, if you’re lost in the woods and wish you knew your plants better, this book is excellent: