In honor of the Baltimore Herb Festival this Saturday, we’ve been thinking a lot about native edible plants. Guest blogger Skylar Gibbons-Reich, manager of Hidden Harvest Farm and Herring Run Nursery edible plant expert, put together this guide of five natives you didn’t know you could eat!
When you think about edible native plants the first thing that probably comes to mind are the classics: blueberries, raspberries, and fruit trees like apple, plum, and black cherry. Most people are familiar with the medicinal benefits of echinacea, it is a popular herbal immune support. Some people might even be familiar with eating plants like Monarda (bee balm), which can be used to make a tea or spice food. However, it is often forgotten that these five plants can be harvested and consumed.
Five Native Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat!
1) Anise Scented Goldenrod (Solidago odora)
The leaves of this goldenrod can be used to make a tea. You can steep the leaves fresh or dried. Solidago Odora tea used to be very popular in America and was marketed as “Liberty tea.”
2) Sumac (Rhus copallina, vernix, glabra)
In the fall these sumac produce a fruit which looks like a cone of small red, hairy berries. These berries are edible and can be used as a spice or made into a drink which is sometimes referred to a “wild lemonade”. The easiest way to use sumac as spice is to dry the whole berry cluster and then grind it to a powder, the flavor will be tangy like a lemon, and is great in savory dishes. To make a drink out of it the fresh berries should be steeped in hot water over-night and then strained.
3) Virginia Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana)
Virginia spiderwort is best known as a reliable, easy to grow, shade tolerant plant, but few people know that virginia spiderwort can also be eaten. All above ground parts of the plant can be eaten. The leaves are popular in salads and soups, the flowers are often used as a colorful garnish or candied, and the stalks can be cooked like asparagus.
4) Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
Wintergreen, which is commonly grown as a shrubby ground cover, is a source of the flavor wintergreen. The leaves can be used for tea, but are best when fresh. The leaves and berries can both be eaten fresh. The fruit is best when picked in winter.
5) New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)
As the name suggests, New Jersey tea plant can be used for tea. It’s a great caffeine free substitute for black tea. The leaves should be harvested when the plant is in full bloom and then dried in a cool shaded area. The root of the plant can be used medicinally to treat digestive and respiratory problems, and may have antibacterial properties.
We recommend checking out a book like Peterson’s A Field Guide of Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America or something similar for more information about preparations, toxicity, and additional ideas. Always be certain that you have properly identified the plant before consuming. (NOTE: not all parts of these plants are necessarily safe for consumption, so please research them before ingesting).