Florida wild blueberries, blackberries, plums and more!

WildBlueberries1
wild berries of the blue persuasion
Wild blueberries!

It’s time for wild berries! In my neck of the woods there are blackberries, blueberries and Chickasaw plums ready for the picking.

I plucked a couple of ripe Chickasaw plums off the multiple-grafted frankentree in my front yard this last week.

Then on the weekend I was out wandering and noticed a weedy lot by the side of the road filled with wild blackberries.

In my food forest I grow thornless improved varieties with large fruit; however, it’s hard to beat the intense sweet-tart flavor of their wild cousins. The thorns are incredible, though – you pay for every morsel!

Here’s a little graphical comparison of types I created:


wild berries vs. cultivated berries

Most cultivated blackberries are at least FOUR TIMES as big but most types just don’t have the full flavor of a wild berry.

Speaking of wild flavor, there is nothing like a wild blueberry. Back in March I posted on spotting blueberry plants in the wild.

That spotting will pay off at this kind of year – the fruit are ripening everywhere and they need to get eaten!

I’ve spotted at least five different species of edible Florida wild blueberries just during this season. All taste good.


Another plant you’re likely to spot growing in blueberry scrub is the weird and wonderful pawpaw. If you’re lucky you’ll even see some with fruit:


I haven’t found any ripe pawpaws yet but they’ll be coming soon.

Fruit foraging and growing in North/Central Florida has a progression to it that goes something like this:


December/January: Citrus
Feb/March: Loquats
March/April: Mulberries, Peaches
May/June: Blueberries, Black Cherries, Blackberries, Wild Plums, PawPaws
July/August: PawPaws, Pears, Apples
September/October/November: Chestnuts, Persimmons, Pecans


Plan your food forest correctly and you’ll be eating fresh fruit year-round. This time of year is great for wild berries, though, so take advantage of them while you can.

One word: cobbler.

(Of course, if you’re in South Florida it’s really easy to eat fresh fruit year-round with little planning since many tropical fruit don’t even follow a regular seasonal pattern!)

 

Today’s post originally appeared in this week’s Florida Survival Gardening newsletter. If you’re not receiving that yet, sign up here!

David-the-good-books-revised

Indian Pipe: A Rare and Beautiful Native

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I was walking through the woods with a few of the children when my daughter suddenly called out.

“Dad! What type of mushroom is THIS?”

She was pointing at a strange cluster of white growth emerging from the ground. As I took a closer look, I realized it was a strange wildflower I’d only seen in guidebooks: the Indian Pipe, also known as the “Ghost Plant”, or most properly, as Monotropa uniflora.

indian pipe

Unlike normal plants, the Indian Pipe doesn’t produce chlorophyll, which means it doesn’t take its energy from the sun. Instead, it seems to be a parasite on specific mycorrhizal fungi that co-relate with certain trees.

That means a tree gets energy from the sun, shares it with a fungi connected to its roots, then the Indian pipe connects its roots to that fungi and steals some of the energy its receiving from the tree.

Now that’s an amazing design – and it’s also the reason you don’t see Indian Pipe plants very often. They like rich soil, mature trees of specific species that must also be interrelating with specific fungi or the plant cannot grow.

I’ve been looking for one for a very long time. In this particular patch of woods I found four or more additional clusters of Indian Pipes after my daughter spotted the first group. Here’s another picture I took:

 
No matter how long I wander the woods it seems there’s always something new to see.
According to some sources, Indian Pipe may edible. Other sources claim it’s medicinal.
 
Since it’s so rare, I won’t be harvesting them for any reason. Instead I’ll just take photos and marvel yet again at the strange wonders of Creation.

To start searching out your own wildflowers, I recommend the Audubon Society’s guide – it’s excellent.

That’s where I first saw the Indian pipe.

 

David-the-good-books-revised

Edible Chickweed: Free and Delicious

ChickweedGardenBed

Check this out:

That’s a close-up of one of my garden beds. All the way to the right is a cilantro plant with a red lettuce behind it… but a lot of the rest of the bed has been overrun by delicate and edible chickweed. That’s the sprawling green stuff everywhere.

This isn’t an accident. We planted this bed with lettuce and other greens… then a few weeks later, I noticed that in between our deliberately planted veggies, we had a lot of little chickweed sprouts coming up. As my wife and I weeded, we went around them.

Why?

Three words: chickweed is delicious.

It’s good in salads where it adds a “sweet corn” flavor, and it’s good in stir-fries or any other dish where a pleasant green provides a nice addition.

Chances are, you have some in your yard right now. For identification keys and lots more info, Green Deane has the lowdown.

If you keep your eyes open and aren’t a weed-Nazi, there’s good food everywhere. When I see something worth nibbling in my beds, I leave it alone (unless it’s going to take over, like Shepherd’s needle will). Purslane, chickweed, dandelions and wild lettuces are always welcome.

This particular patch of chickweed is going to be fueling salads for the next few months until it fades out in the late spring. There’s nothing like free food.

David-the-good-books-revised

Man’s Gardening Frenemy: Nettles

StingingNettle-JohnTann

 

Photo credit John Tann (det)

While weeding my garden beds this spring, I discovered a little
nettle plant in the path and pointed it out to my wife Rachel. Rachel
then decided it would be a good idea to point it out to our children, so
they would know what nettles look like and be able to avoid getting
stung.

I agreed, so we called the kids over and I got to play Dad the Science Lecturer, one of my favorite roles.

DAD THE SCIENCE LECTURER: “See this here, children? This is a nettle, known in Latin as Holicow datstings.”

CHILD #1: “Can you eat it?”

DAD THE SCIENCE LECTURER: “Yes, but don’t touch it! You have to cook it to disable the stings. It would hurt if you touched it now.”

CHILD #2: “I want to touch it!”

MOM: “No, darling – don’t touch it. They really, really sting!”

DAD THE SCIENCE LECTURER: “That’s right. Take a
closer look. See the little hairs on the leaves? They’re like needles –
like going to the doctor for a shot.”

CHILD #3: “I also want to touch it. It won’t hurt me.”

MOM: “Yes it will! Don’t touch it!”

DAD THE SCIENCE LECTURER: “You know, if you really
want to know why you shouldn’t touch it… maybe you should touch it, just
a little – for science – and you can see how bad it stings.”

MOM: “I don’t know if that’s a good…”

CHILD #4: “Look, I can touch it!” (touches it) “OWWWWWWW!!!”

DAD THE SCIENCE LECTURER: “There, now – that’s why you shouldn’t touch nettles! See?”

CHILD #1: (touching the nettle) “OWWWWW!!!”

MOM: “Look, Child #1… you saw Child #4 touch the nettles and get hurt… why did you touch it too?”

(Click here to keep reading)

David-the-good-books-revised

Wild Edible Plants: 2 Blocks, 17 Edibles

ShepherdsNeedle

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:

wild edible plants

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:

That’s Canis lupus familiaris, also known as a “dog.” Dogs are made up of meat and can be served any way you’d serve goat, venison or cat. Unlike cats, though, they’re unlikely to scratch you when you put them in the pot. And, along the lines of getting scratched, here’s a classic edible – the blackberry:
 
Can you believe how much food we’ve seen thus far in one short walk? There are plenty of things that aren’t ready to eat yet, like the blackberries, but I’m keeping my eye on them for later. One plant I really don’t want to miss harvesting this year is this medicinal and edible standby:
Elderberries! There are a couple of dense wild stands just around the corner and they’re in full bloom right now.
The blooms can be made into tea… and the fully ripe berries are edible… but the rest of the plant is totally toxic. So don’t go eating elderberry-leaf salads, okay?
And on that note… my walk is over. Are you amazed by how many edibles we came across? I was. 16 edible plants in two blocks. Before things get tough… make sure you know how to forage. (And keep your dog locked up.)

Finally, if you’re lost in the woods and wish you knew your plants better, this book is excellent:

PetersonWildEdiblePlantsNow get out there and have some fun in the woods!

 

David-the-good-books-revised

Foraging with Green Deane

GreenDeane-DavidGoodman-Perry-Daisy

foraging with green deaneTwo days ago I had the rare pleasure of going foraging with Green Deane and meeting the man in person. His website eattheweeds.com is a treasury of information on Florida’s wild edibles.

How did I meet Green Deane? I took one of his classes. In it, Green Deane conducted a foraging tour through the Jervey Gannt Recreational Park in Ocala. It was a small group, consisting of myself, two of my children, and three other weed-eaters.

As I pulled up to the dead monoculture of the park… seeing grass, tennis walls, playgrounds, oaks, magnolias, pines and concrete I thought, “No way is there much to eat here. No way.”

I was wrong.

Green Deane introduced us to sow thistle, chickweed, oxalis, wild lettuce, smilax and wild mustard… as well as explaining how to find sweet acorns that require less processing, medicinal plants for asthma and memory, how to use hawthorn berries and a host of other interesting tidbits. By the time our four hours or so was up, I was seeing food everywhere. Though I’d known some of the plants were edible, I didn’t realize how many there were – or in what places they might be found. He even found a paw-paw seedling growing near the sidewalk. I have looked for those trees for years without spotting one.

Seriously – I thought I was good at plant ID. This man is phenomenal.

In the case of societal collapse, these skills will be vital. Get an idea of what plants grow near you – and if your garden gets ransacked or you have to bug out, you’ll still have sources of calories and nutrition.

There’s a lot of overlap between what I’m doing and what Green Deane does – many of the plants he finds in the wild would be notable additions to edible food forests and other Florida polycultures. I added a few new species to my yard after Green Deane revealed their palatability.

After seeing the incredibly bounty of food available in a rather boring recreational park, I feel a bit like someone that’s been told there’s oil beneath their doublewide. I’m used to gardening and getting plenty that way – but the back up that’s available is amazing.

Do your research now. Take a class and go foraging with Green Deane. It’s worth it – and it’s delicious.

David-the-good-books-revised