2018 Plant Talk 6 Temperate Wild Food Plants

2018 Plant Talk 6 Temperate Wild Food Plants


Greetings Plant Enthusiasts!

Spring is rapidly coming to a close…

June 9th was Frank Cook’s 55th birthday and June 17th is my 43rd birthday. i will be forever indebted to Frank for his mentorship and inspiration. We made a mead at the 20th annual Food for Life Gathering hosted by the Sequatichie Valley Institute last weekend. The ingredients included three powerful native healing plants and three powerful potential exotic invasive plants. The list included Elderflower, Elecampagne root, Goldenseal root, Jiaogulan leaves, Goumi berries and Ale Hoof leaves as well as a multitude of honeys. At the Food for Life gathering outside Chattanooga, NC. i was also pleased to get to hang and catch up with Sandor Katz one of my primary instructors of fermentation.

Recently i have taught multiple classes at the Medicine’s from the Earth  conference in Black Mountain, NC as well and later this month i will take a couple trips to attend the annual National Rainbow Gathering and teach botany classes with another friend and mentor 7 Song. Needless to say it has been a VERY busy time and I just scratched the surface above…

Things currently blooming around Asheville, NC include Adam’s Needle (Yucca filamentosa) Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa) Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), wild Carrot (Daucus carota) southern Catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides), Chicory (Cichorium intybus), Chinese  Chestnut (Castanea mollissima), Crown Vetch (Securigera varia),  Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis),  Gladiola (Gladiolus sp.), wild Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), Privet (Ligustrum spp.), Roses (Rosa spp.), Sanicle (Sanicula sp.), Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans), Redroot (Ceanothus americana) and Venus’s Looking Glass. Rugosa Rose (Rosa rugosa) is one of my favorites for its lovely smell and big hips though it can be a bit invasive at times. The headily fragrant, sweet flowered invasive and medicinal, Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is in full bloom as well. Winged everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius) has started to bloom too.

Greens of Pigweed (Amaranthus spp.), Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) and Quickweed (Galinsoga) are ready for picking. One of my favorite fruits known variously as  Juneberries/Saskatoon/Serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.) is on the tail end of its season and Cherries (Prunus spp.) are also coming to an end of their picking season. Early Blueberries are just beginning. What’s going on botanically around you?

Without further adieu...

Wild Foods Overview

Below is a modification of a paper i wrote in graduate school almost a decade ago about wild plant food use in Appalachia. The information is mostly germane to the eastern U.S. but can often be extrapolated to other temperate places, especially at the genus level. It is written mostly from a historical perspective as it was originally composed for an Appalachian history class.

However, i intend in this current rendition to weave in ideas i have picked up from other areas along the way in recent years. i would love to do all of this from a Western and Eastern American and ultimately European and beyond perspective blended together. However, the bigger 25 page paper, of which this is a distillation below, took me around 70 hours of research and writing. So i will defer to occasional commentary from a western and also other locational direction.

i discovered in my research the use of approximately 170 wild edible plants in Appalachia in the 1800s and early 1900s. Approximately 175 additional wild edible plants were found to occur within the region that may have been used at some point in time by natives or settlers and could currently be put into use. No doubt others exist that were not found in the literature as well.

The modern cookbooks of Appalachia that cover wild foods typically fall into two categories. Some native sons and daughters have written in a way to celebrate their heritage without falling into stereotypes. The three authors that exemplify this style are Sidney Saylor Farr, Mark Sohn and Joseph Dabney (Dabney, 1998; Farr, 1983, 1995; Sohn, 1996, 1998, 2005). These writers provide a wealth of knowledge about Appalachian cooking in general sprinkled with oral history from their own experiences and also extensive interviews with elders. The famous Foxfire books provide further direct insight into wild food use in Appalachia (Page & Wigginton, 1992; Wigginton, 1972, 1973, 1973). The other type of Appalachian cookbook that features wild edibles plays into stereotypical hillbilly conceptions using vernacular terms for recipes and ingredients while proposing to honor hundreds of years of heritage (Ozark Maid Candies (Osaage Beach, Mo.), 1966; Ryan, 1966; Shelton, 1964, 1973; Tate, 1968). These books are still available in gas stations and other touristic places today and offer interesting cultural insights if not taken literally and out of context.

Even when wild plants are mentioned in contemporary cookbooks diversity is greatly lacking. The prevailing plants are included in a table below

Blackberry (Rubus spp.) Rosaceae

Paw paw (Asimina triloba) Annonaceae

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) Asteraceae

Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) Ebenaceae

Grapes (Vitis spp.) Vitaceae

Poke (Phytolacca americana) Phytolaccaceae

Hickory (Carya spp.) Juglandaceae

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) Amaryllidaceae

Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) Amaranthaceae

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) Lauraceae

 Creasie greens which include a number of genera and species in the Brassicaceae (Barbarea spp., Cardamine spp.,) are popular and nutritious edibles in Appalachia and all over the temperate world.

Poke in the Phytolaccaceae is an outlier in that it is a small mostly tropical American family and can be poisonous if used improperly. The greens are an incredible food that was once even sold commercially. Only the early spring greens prior to turning red can be COOKED IN MULTIPLE CHANGES OF WATER FOR AT LEAST 30 MINUTES before being consumed. It is a spring cleaning ritual green that helps detoxify the body in general and the lymph system in particular. The term Poke salad or salat is confusing as we often think of salad as a raw preparation. Rarely were greens historically eaten raw in Appalachia and salad was most often wilted with some kind of grease before consumption. See more at the link here.

Sassafras is more of an eastern U.S. plant also used in spring cleansing around Appalachia (Nordhaus, 2006; Wigginton, 1977). Some controversy arose about the safety of this plant in the 1970s (Segelman AB, 1976). Dr. Jim Duke discounted the overall concern around the active ingredient Safrole and the small amounts consumed in the average root beer versus the relative toxicity of many other commonly consumed items such as regular alcohol containing beer. According to Master’s thesis work of Kate Cummings (2012), the form of preparation can also affect the Safrole content in Sassafras tea. Safrole is also a compound apparently used in the manufacture of Ecstasy and therefore is looked down upon for that reason as well. However, i have heard that it is a sub-tropical plant that i call the Sassafras Piper (Piper auritum) that is used for these purposes. Interesting that these two genera from different families that seem so different physically come from two ancient and related orders of plants (Piperales and Laurales) and are linked on a separate early branch of the flowering plant family tree along with the Magnoliales! Safrole occurs in a number of other plants as well especially from the Lauraceae and according to the Wikipedia article on the compound it is a Cinnamon species that may be a source for MDMA manufacture as well.

Sassafras aside, lots of folks have something cool from the Lauraceae around them. Think Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.), Bay Leaf (Laurus nobilis), California Bay (Umbellularia californica), Avocado (Persea americana), Red Bay (Persea spp.) and Spice Bush (Lindera benzoin).  The Ambrosia beetle Xyleborus glabratus is taking down some species of the Persea genus in Florida which is of great concern. It is worth noting that the fruits of the California bay above are consumed after roasting but may be toxic prior to that.

Lots of other plants are used in spring cleaning/detox regimes including Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Yellow Dock (Rumex obtusifolius and R. crispus), Burdock (Arctium spp.) and Cleavers (Galium aparine).

Ramps are a special wide leaf member of the formerly classified Onion family (Alliaceae). The Onion family has been subsumed in the newest versions of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group III/IV classification and put into the Amaryllidaceae  (Group, 2009; The Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, 2016). However, it is still helpful to distinguish this group with its aromatic sulfur based smells from other monocot look a likes. Monocots in general have a lot of DEADLY poisonous members especially in the Liliales order. Look a likes for ramps include two types of Lily of the Valley of which one is an introduced European native and one is from America (Convallaria majalis and Convallaria majuscula). Pleated Hellebores (Veratrum spp.) are another potential group that may be confused with ramps at a superficial level.  i have seen a similar version to Appalachian ramps in central Europe (Allium ursinum) and am not sure if others grow around the world. This European species grows all over the continent and the use here by settlers is an example of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) transferred upon the arrival of Scotch, Irish and others in the Appalachia region according to a talk by USDA botanist Jim Chamberlain at a Society for Economic Botany conference in Maryland a few years ago. Whole festivals and large parts of volunteer firefighter budgets are supported by the ramp tradition of Appalachia. However, these plants can grow slow in their upper elevation habitats and sustainable harvest and propagation is a growing concern (Bentrup, Chamberlain, & Kellerman, 2011; Cool, 2013; Facemire, 2009; Facemire & Gray, 2012; Kane, 2013; Lowry, 2014; Nyerges, 2014; Rock, Beckage, & Gross, 2004).

The grass family (Poaceae) is probably the single most important food family in the modern world and has very little toxicity. i have heard of the presence of  cyanide in Sorghum  which is a notable exception. The toxicity of the fungus Ergot (Claviceps purpurea) that can lead to the ailment known as St Anthony’s fire is a notable exception as well in regards to consuming infected members of the grass family.  Aspergillus molds can also affect grains from this family. A lot of wild grains, though small, offer themselves up abundantly all around the world every year and bear mentioning due to the low toxicity in this family in general. Crabgrass (Digitaria spp.) and Foxtail millet (Setaria spp.) are two weedy and wild grass species that have served as grains for humans in times past (François Couplan, 1998; Sturtevant & Hedrick, 1972).

The Rose family is the best family that i am aware of in the temperate world for wild and cultivated fruits. The Rubus genus alone provides hundreds of species including Blackberries, Raspberries, Cloudberries, Wineberries, Salmonberries, Marionberries etc... However many other wild fruit genera occur around the world including Hawthorn (Crataegus), Juneberries (Amelanchier), Mountain Ash/Rowan (Sorbus ), Cherries (Prunus) and many others. Toyon aka Hollywood (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is one of my favorites from California. Tangentially my birth state of California has a great literature on wild edible plants (Balls, 1962; Clarke, 1978; Kane, 2013; Lowry, 2014; Nyerges, 2014; Thompson, 1976; J. Wiltens, 1999; J. S. Wiltens, 1988).

Most regions of the world contain hundreds of wild plants species that are not only fit for consumption but are choice edibles. North America alone has over 4,000 edible species in total (Couplan, 1998). The same author has generated works on wild edibles of Europe as well both in French, Spanish and German though unfortunately not English (Francois Couplan, 1998, 2003, 2007, 2013a, 2013b, n.d.). Much other scholarly work has been done on wild edibles of Europe as well (Cameron, 1917; Hadjichambis et al., 2008; Jman Redzic, 2006; Łuczaj, 2008, 2012; Łuczaj & Pieroni, 2016; Pardo-de-Santayana et al., 2007; Pardo-de-Santayana, Pieroni, & Puri, 2010; Prendergast & Sanderson, 2004; Rivera et al., 2007; Tardio, Pardo-De-Satayana, & Morales, 2006).

In the tropics the palm family (Arecaceae) is another major monocot food group that can sometimes be foraged i.e. Coconuts (Cocos nucifera), Oil Palm (Elaeis oleifera) and Dates (Phoenix spp.) The literature for palms used as food and for various other applications is rather vast. (Balick & Beck, 1990; Bernal, Galeano, García, Olivares, & Cocomá, 2010; Bodley, 1979; Craft, Riffle, & Zona, 2012; Gómez, 1996; Gruca, van Andel, & Balslev, 2014; Haynes & McLaughlin, 2000; Isaza, Bernal, & Howard, 2017; Paniagua-Zambrana, Cámara-Leret, & Macía, 2015; Sylvester & Avalos, 2009; Sylvester, Avalos, & Fernández, 2012). i have personally very much enjoyed foraging for coconuts down in South Florida and other places. The Fishtail Palm (Caryota spp.) is one exception i know of that is not edible although more may exist. A few other food plants also occur in the monocots but it is important to be sure of positive identification.

The use of many wild plants requires an intimate knowledge of plant form (morphology), part to use, method of preparation, time to harvest and other attention to details. One idea i have is that the level of awareness necessary to make effective and safe use of wild edibles may have acted as a barrier to inclusion within contemporary source material at the general cookbook level.

Many books have been written in the last 40 years about the edibility of wild plants. Most of these books are published in the popular press by lay writers with few citations (Angier, 1974; Fernald & Kinsey, 1996; Hatfield, 1974; Peterson, 1978). Few put the edibility of wild plants within a historical context. Recently some more thorough and scholarly resources have become available by several authors (Kallas, 2010; Thayer, 2006, 2010, 2017).

A series of regional guides has recently come out from Timber press for the Southeast, Northwest, California, Northeast, Southwest and the Mountain States as cited in order following (Bennett, 2015; Deur, 2014; Lowry, 2014; Meredith, 2014; Slattery, 2016; Wiles, 2016).

Many others sources for knowledge can be found under the resources section of the Botany Every Day website including a suggested reading list.

Cherokee Ethnobotanical Studies

Some writers on the Cherokee allude to primary sources but do not cite them directly (Chiltoskey, 1951; Hamel, 1975). Banks and Perry (1953; 1974) relied on information directly gleaned from living Cherokee who had historical knowledge. Relatively recent doctorate level research on Cherokee ethnobotany has been pursued by a few authors as well (Cozzo, 2004; Hall, 2006, 2010; Schafer, 1993). There seems to be little doubt that both the Cherokee and early settlers relied heavily upon wild plant foods for sustenance. This was especially the case in the spring time.

Contemporary Cherokee cookbooks tend to include many more wild edibles than other cookbooks from or about Appalachia. Juniper (Juniperus virginiana) wood tea is one example (Sharpe, 1973). Sharpe includes information about 38 other wild edibles in this small volume. Surprisingly, they include flowers of Adder’s Tongue? and Rue Anemone (Thalictrum sp.)?. None of these plants have been mentioned by other sources and some of them are toxic if the wrong part is used. No details are given that warn people away from inappropriate and dangerous preparation. Inadequate information is a common occurrence in the modern literature meant for the lay public.

The Cherokees of the 19th century are listed as having around 800 plants in their repertoire (Mooney, 1992). This from a pool of about 2,400 species of plants to work with represents about a third of the total flora! William Banks (1953) used this list as a spring board to study Cherokee plant use more in depth. Banks occasionally reports radically different uses of certain plants even within the same Eastern band of the Cherokee community. A newer edition of the work of Banks is available as well (Banks, 2004).

Mary Ulmer Chilotskey, Goingback Chilotskey and Samuel Beck provided a great service by taking the recipes of Cherokee elders and writing them down. Swamp potato, Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata), Sochani (Rudbeckia laciniata) and Wanegidun (Ligusticum canadense) are all items not included from other sources. The potential sustainability of any type of large scale harvest of what i call Angelico or Appalachian Osha (Ligusticum canadense) is doubtful to me from what i have observed of its uncommon distribution around the woods of Western North Carolina. It is a perennial however and possibly the occasional harvest of just leaves and keeping the roots in place may be one method of conservation. Also at the USDA plant site its distribution is listed as rather broad. Sumacade made from the fruit Rhus glabra  and Rhus typhina is another novel item mentioned by the Chiltoskey. It is important not to confuse the Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) with the edible ones. Poison Sumac has white fruits and tends to grow by water. Several other species have been used in the western U.S. and the Mediterranean. The edible ones all have red fruits. There is a plant called False Poison Sumac (Rhus michauxii) which is endangered and apparently makes red fruits from a quick Google image search but i have never met it and don't know of its toxicity (Barden & Matthews, 2004).

Paul Hamel (1975) published a synthesized compilation of plants used by the Cherokee with assistance from Mary Chilotskey. The authors cover 511 plants in total of which 86 wild plants are said to have edible uses. The authors used various sources to compile their list. The previously mentioned studies of Banks and Core (1967) were used as well as writings by Timberlake (2007) and Mooney.

The work of Dr. Daniel Moerman titled Native American Ethnobotany (1998) relies mostly on the primary resources mentioned here for the Cherokee section. However, Dr. Moerman offers in depth ethnobotanical treatments both in his book and online for close to 300 tribal groups of North America. What is the indigenous group of your area? It would be great if you could tell us something that they traditionally consume! Do us all a favor and find this out if you don't know it already. Then access Dr. Moerman's database site if you live in North America to look up a few major wild edibles from that group and include them in the comment box below or in an email to me or conversely on the Facebook page for Botany Everyday.

Myra Jean Perry’s master’s thesis (1974) focused on contemporary food use of wild plants by the Cherokee. Interesting wild edible plants that Perry includes which had not been mentioned in literature previous to hers include; Deer tongue (Chelone sp.), Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum), Lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis), “Wild Turnip” (Penthorum sedoides) and Wild Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). i would not recommend the use of any of these plants for food for various reasons although some of them are powerful medicine. Other novel information includes the use of Poke berries for wine and as a colorant for food products. Poke berries are considered toxic in most literature but it may be just the seeds. As an aside Perry’s spelling of scientific names is sometimes in error.

Perry like Banks recorded Cherokee names for plants. However, these names often seem to vary greatly both in actual use amongst the tribe and in visual representation. Perry confirms that the main seasons of wild plant use were during times when agricultural productivity was low i.e. winter into early spring. She states that wild plant food use remained ingrained with the Cherokee despite introduction of European foodways and new agricultural methods. Native Americans are said to have used more wild plants than both blacks and whites.

It is important to remember that Cherokees are still very much alive and inhabiting now two locales rather than one central homeland and at least to some degree continue to carry out their traditions of old. Putting all reference to them in the past tense is in essence to portray them as extinct and thereby in a certain way enacting another genocide. i have steadily been trying to move my word choice away from the typical practice of only framing their knowledge historically when teaching but as i said before this paper came primarily from a history class so there you go. 

A number of good book resources also exist for use of western tribal plant use as well. i have found the most diverse resources for groups from California  (Anderson, 2006; Barrett & Gifford, 2011; Bean, 1974; Beck & Strike, 1994; Castetter, 1935; Chestnut, 1974; Dubin & Tolley, 2008; Funk & Kaufman, 2011; Jacknis, 2006; Margolin, 1981; Ortiz & Parker, 1996; Thompson, 1976; Timbrook, 2007; Vizgirdas & Rey-Vizgirdas, 2009; Welch, 2013).

However, Nancy Turner is a total force of nature as an individual who has worked with many groups in the Pacific Northwest (Deur & Turner, 2006; Ignace, Turner, & Peacock, 2016; Joseph et al., 2012; Pojar et al., 1994; Nancy  J. Turner & Kuhnlein, 1991; Nancy J. Turner, 1981; Nancy J Turner, 1983; Nancy J. Turner, 2010a, 2010b, 2010c; Nancy J. Turner et al., 2011; Nancy J Turner, Davidson, & Enrico, 2004; Nancy J Turner, Deur, & Mellott, 2011; Nancy J Turner, Efrat, & British Columbia Provincial Museum, 1982; Nancy J. Turner, Lepofsky, & Deur, 2013; Nancy J Turner & Royal British Columbia Museum, 2007; Nancy Jean Turner, 1973; Whereat-Phillips & Turner, 2016).

Various other resources refer to indigenous and others wild food practices in the desert southwest as well (Frank, 1991; Hodgson, 2001; Hughes, 1977; Kane, 2011, 2016; Keegan, 1987; Niethammer, 1999; Salmon, 2012).

Categories of Preparation

Often in Appalachia the process of cooking traditionally included boiling and then frying in grease. When greens were boiled the left over liquid was often used as a sauce or dip (Dabney, 1998; Nordhaus, 2006; Tate, 1968). This practice makes the most of water soluble minerals. The left over liquid was most commonly referred to as “pot likker.” Many different types of greens were eaten in combination with each other. Greens were also used in tea preparations either for hydration or with medicinal purposes.

Nuts make up a prime category of wild plants. Hickories (Carya spp.) and Chestnuts (Castanea spp.) are mentioned the most frequently. Acorns are mentioned more in contemporary literature. Chestnuts are more choice than acorns and were a dominant species in Appalachia in much of the Eastern US until the advent of the Chestnut blight in the 1930’s (Dalgleish & Swihart, 2012). Nuts were typically ground up and used in baking or in stews. They can also be used to make a type of coffee. Hickories were used to make a type of milk. This practice is something i have replicated with fellow botanist and good friend Mycol Stevens at his place Finca Mycol in Florida and elsewhere. i also have found a cookbook focused on the use of wild nuts (Jumbalaya, 2006).

Wild Edibles Conclusion

Wild foods in the diets of Appalachian settlers and natives alike largely consisted of meat, nuts, and fruits. Greens, when mentioned were almost always cooked. White Lettuce or Gall of the Earth (Prenanthes syn Nabalus spp.) is one notable exception (François Couplan, 1998). Many wild greens were consumed mostly in the early spring. The concept of a raw salad seems largely foreign to the diet of people in early North America in general. The term salad is often applied to a wilted or cooked greens dish (Hamel, 1975).

Surprising omissions of wild edible plants in the primary literature surveyed for Appalachia in regards to “choice” greens include no mention of Honewort (Cryptotaenia canadensis), Chickweed (Stellaria media), Quickweed (Galinsoga spp.), Violets (Viola spp.), Beggar’s ticks (Bidens spp.) and Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis). Only a few of these vegetables are mentioned later in the literature including Violets (Banks, 1953; Perry, 1974). The Cherokee tended historically to abstain from the use of introduced plants as far as we know. Only seven out of 55 introduced wild edible plants were shown to be used by them in the sources above.

Many plants that were in use have no doubt not been discovered in my research and/or not noticed or reported by early travelers/researchers in Appalachia. The Native Americans seem to have made much more extensive use of wild plants than settlers. Studies of personal histories by settlers might turn up more plants. However, understanding the plants referred to by settlers might be hampered by reliance on varied common names only. Trained scholars with knowledge of scientific names have not published studies of settler diets to the degree that Cherokee diets have been covered.

Many more plants that have not been mentioned are also used regularly by contemporary foragers (Couplan, 1998; Gillespie, 1959). Gillespie lists 185 different plants total as wild foods of Appalachia. Most of all the plants mentioned formerly by others are included. In addition he lists unusual plants such as Clearweed (Pilea pumila), Crab Grass (Digitaria sanguinalis), Quackgrass (Agropyron repens syn Elymus repens) seeds and Trilliums (Trillium spp.). Six informants of Banks (1953) stated that there was no food use for Trilliums. Trilliums are often rare and special wildflowers and i personally eschew and encourage you to never use them for food or anything else for that matter! Harvesting rare plants is a genuine concern both for straight species and particularly limited subspecies and varieties. i hope more and more to disabuse folks of overgeneralization at the genus and species level in regards to what is fit and ethical to harvest when such plants may be present. Natureserv is an excellent resource for assessing what rare plants may be in your area.

The uses of widely naturalized plants from Eurasia with long held traditions might be assumed to have continued with the settlers that came from there (Erichsen-Brown, 1989; Gillespie, 1986; Lovelock, 1973). Some of these plants include Asteraceae members Dandelion (Taraxacum spp.), Chickory (Cichorium intybus) and Burdock (Arctium spp.). Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) Apiaceae, Nettles (Urtica dioica) Urticaceae and various members of the Brassica family were probably used as well. Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) and Borage (Borago officinalis) from the Boraginaceae have been used traditionally in Europe for generations. However, internal use is now often discouraged due to potential liver toxic effects from pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

Fruits and nuts were mentioned in the literature throughout. Barberries (Berberis spp.) and (Viburnum spp.) are notable exceptions that are not mentioned possibly due to their somewhat sour and slightly bitter nature. However, numerous species (though not all) of both genera are said to be edible (François Couplan, 1998). Fruits and nuts also offer the most return on investment of time and energy. Nonetheless, greens are an important source of vitamins and minerals. When greens are mentioned they are often associated with their anti-scurvy properties due to the presence of vitamin C and medicinal value.

Throughout the contemporary literature references are made to plant use that is potentially harmful (Kavasch, 2005; Lovelock, 1973; Nordhaus, 2006; Sharpe, 1973). The skill and ability of Native Americans and settlers at preparing dangerous foods and making them fit to eat is admirable. Aspiring foragers are well advised to remember that people who are sometimes considered primitive had skills that should not be taken for granted. Many foods were also not known in the past to contain the harmful chemicals that have now been identified (Cozzo, 1999; Gillespie, 1959). Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) is an example of a traditionally harvested plant that contains the toxic Aristolochic acid and is also sometimes mistaken for look-alike species of Little brown Jugs (Hexastylis spp.), of which some are very rare (Jones, Jones, & English, 2014; Murrell, 2007; Padgett, 2004). Some species of Asarum are rare in their own right as well (Kelly, 2001; Sinn, 2015; Sinn, Kelly, & Freudenstein, 2015; Vandervort-Sneed, 2008).

The thorough literature review in this study turned up a vast array of plants used by both natives and settlers. Around 170 wild edible plants were mentioned as having use in the primary literature for Appalachia in the 1800s and early 1900s. Gillespie (1959, 1986) mentions an additional 125 wild edible plants. Around 50 other wild plants are known to have food uses from other contemporary literature (Couplan, 1998). Out of the roughly 190 plant families occurring in Appalachia 49 are shown in the primary literature to have provided food. Gillespie includes an additional 27 families. One family that is conspicuously missing from all sources other than Couplan is the Calycanthaceae. The main member of this family in North America (Calycanthus) occurs in the east and the west. The stems have been used for flavoring but the seeds are DEADLY poisonous! The main wild food families in terms of number of species are shown in the table below. The page number in Elpel (2004) and his approximations of world and continental (NA) diversity for each family follow. However, i have found wide ranging totals of family diversity in the current literature (Judd, Campbell, Kellog, Stevens, & Donahue, 2008; Mabberley, 2008; Raven, Evert, & Eichhorn, 2004; Simpson, 2010; Spears, 2006).

Dock/Knotweed (Polygonaceae) Pg 75

40 genera 800 spp. 15 genera NA

Mustard (Brassicaceae) Pg 86

375 genera 3,200 spp. 55 genera NA

Grape (Vitaceae) Pg 121

12 genera 700 spp. 4 genera NA

Oak/Chestnut (Fagaceae) Pg 64

8 genera 900 spp. 5 genera NA

Grass (Poaceae) Pg 179

600 genera 10,000 spp. 230 genera 1000+ spp. NA

Rose/Apple/Cherry (Rosaceae) Pg 100

100 genera 3,000 spp. 50 genera NA

Lily (Liliaceae) Pg 185 (Since Vastly Redefined)

250 genera 3,700 species 75 genera NA

Walnut/Hickory (Juglandaceae) Pg 63

6 genera 60 spp. 2 genera NA

Mint (Lamiaceae) Pg 147

180 genera 3,500 spp. 50 genera NA


Proof that the traditional diet was much more diverse than the modern one and rich in wild edible plants is clearly supported. Most people in the modern world depend on around 35 plants for all their plant food needs (Cunningham, 2007, p. 235). None of these plants include wild edibles. It seems we could stand to learn a lot from history and our elders.

For the next class we will cover major cultivated Plant Food families and it will be posted around Wednesday June 28th

Some families to check out ahead of time include the Apiaceae, Cucurbitaceae, Chenopodiaceae, Fabaceae, Poaceae, Rosaceae and Solanaceae. Below are items to think about/comment on. Please write me directly at marc@botanyeveryday.com or leave information in the commentary under this class. i would really love to hear what you have to say!!!

- Check out more under the entries for any of the families mentioned above as wild edibles.

-Check out the website of Green Deane and start viewing some videos of the most prolifically filmed wild food forager on the web http://www.eattheweeds.com i finally got to meet and walk with Deane at the Florida Earthskills Gathering awhile back and am impressed by his extensive knowledge base. Steve Brill http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/ is another famous American forager with a host of resources online.

-Join over a thousand  people from around the world on the Forage Ahead listserv at Yahoo if you are really interested in the nitty gritty of foraging and want almost daily reports of what is going on around the country. Several PhDs including Peter Gail and John Kallas moderate this site to substantiate the information shared.

- Attend a workshop or a class and write up a brief description of plants or information learned.

- Continue to make a photo album of a certain nature spot as the seasons progress.

- Post any CLEAR photos of question plants to Facebook or send in an email. Make sure to include location, time of year and any other relevant information i.e. site, height, etc that might aid identification. Multiple photos per plant of leaves, flowers, fruit etc can also help.

- Praises to all that have donated to the cause. i encourage everyone to donate as they are able financially, commentarialy, or energetically... Your contributions greatly help me continue this crucial work of ethnobotanical research and education. However, smiles, hugs, words of encouragement and empathy go along way to help as well. More than anything i would love to see more comments of a botanical nature on the website!

Please let me know your thoughts in general and anyway i can help this class serve you best.

Thanks, marc

Literature Cited

Anderson, M. K. (2006). Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources (1st ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Balick, M. J., & Beck, H. T. (1990). Useful Palms of the World. New York: Columbia University Press.

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