Farm to Table: Flower Power
By Kayla Butts
As a species, mankind has been surviving off the fruit, leaves, and roots of nearby vegetation long before donning loin cloths or building fires. In the age of the Cave Man Diet, however, most of us couldn’t forage an edible from our landscape if our life depended on it. The skills and knowledge involved with plant identification, harvesting, and preparation have gone the way of the Dodo bird with all but an adventurous few. And yet, despite the convenience of reliable food sources within biking distance of most, foraging continues to offer participants an explorative opportunity to discover the flavors of our backyard, and even, perhaps, a little adventure.
Benefits of Foraging
Foraging offers more than just free food. Hunting for wild food exposes you to new locales and flavors. Wild plants are local and organic and have a minimal carbon footprint. Better yet, wild plants are very high in antioxidants and many boast antiviral, antifungal, or antibiotic properties. Walking and hiking outside to pick said foods improves mood and boosts vitamin D, serotonin, and dopamine.
Setting off into the wild blue yonder with nothing but a basket, pair of gardening shears, and your zest for life may seem romantic, but a foraging excursion will yield higher fruits with some advance preparation. Studying up on common edibles, such as dandelion, chickweed, thistle, or clover, is a great way to start foraging around your own yard. Delve further into foraging with a field guide, good book or guided tour from an expert or knowledgeable mentor. Before venturing off into a flower-filled meadow off I-35, remember:
- Most state and federal lands prohibit the gathering of plants unless in survival circumstances.
- Gathering plants on private property is considered illegal (and most Texas landowners also carry firearms).
- Avoid high-traffic areas, city parks, property lines, or industrial areas.
- Choose green spaces that are free of litter, pollution, or herbicides/pesticides.
- Dress in long sleeves and pants, comfortable closed-toed shoes, and a pair of heavy duty gloves for maximum comfort on a foraging foray.
Plants have developed incredible mimicry adaptations that are wonderful for stumping herbivorous predators, but painstaking for would-be foragers. A good rule of green thumb is to use three characteristics to successfully identify wild plants: leaf, stem, color, bloom, fruit, bark, location, soil conditions, fragrance, life cycle, or season. If in doubt, leave it behind.
Harvesting edible weeds that grow around us can be an empowering, sustainable, and fun way to supplement a meal. Grab the kids and a can of mosquito spray and venture out to the beach, the plains, the woods, or even, your own backyard. Adventure (and a basketful of tasty treats) awaits.
Resources: Mark “Merriweather” Vorderbruggen, 2006. foragingtexas.com. Learn more from his book, Foraging: Over 30 Tasty Recipes to Turn Your Foraged Finds into Feasts.
Edible: leaves, stems, flowers
Preparation: raw or cooked
Season: available year-round.
- Use as a salty salad topping, added into
prepared pastas, or boiled in soups.
2. Bull Thistle
Edible: stem, roots, ribs of leaves
Preparation: eat peeled stem raw, boil leaves to make tea
Season: spring, summer
- Use gloves and great caution when harvesting this prickly plant. The peeled stalk and stem is a great substitute for celery in gumbo, soup, and stir fry.
Edible: young flowers and seeds
Preparation: seeds can be eaten roasted, raw, or ground into meal; flowers can be steamed, boiled, or petals can be eaten raw
Location: abandoned lots, ditches,
Season: summer to early fall
- The vibrant yellow petals of sunflowers
are a lovely garnish to most dishes.
Edible: flowers, leaves
Preparation: boiled in tea, herb
- The flowers and leaves of horsemint add an astringent mint flavoring to foods, which is delightful when used sparingly.
Edible: Dark blue berries ONLY
Preparation: boiled or raw
Location: fields, common landscaping plant
Season: summer, fall
- The rest of the lantana is extremely poisonous and should not be consumed, but the ripened berries may be cooked or eaten raw.
Edible: young flowers and stalks
Preparation: raw or cooked
Location: sunny patches
Season: Late spring through summer
- The creamy white flowers of the blooming yucca have thick petals and a slightly sweet flavor. They are delicious raw or stuffed with cream cheese, battered, and fried. Pickle or roast young stalks.
7. Purple Sage
Location: dry, sunny patches
- Popular among xeriscaping aficionados, the leaves of the purple sage (also known as Cenizo) make a flavorful cold-fighting tea when boiled.
8. Wine Cup
Edible: leaves, roots
Preparation: cook leaves, roots may be eaten raw or cooked
Location: sunny patches
- Thicken soups or stews by adding leaves of the wine cup to them. The roots of wine cups are tubers that make a great stand-in for sweet potatoes.