Here in southern Maine, Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is blooming, which makes now a great time to notice this widespread shrub. Black Elderberry typically grows in moist soils, so look for the bright white flower clusters lighting roadside gullies and the edges of small streams. Many of these clusters will produce forage-able purple/black fruits by September, but the flowers themselves can also be tinctured or dried for tea.
In Holistic Herbal (1990), David Hoffman writes that preparations of Black Elderberry flowers are "ideal for the treatment of colds and influenza" (p. 197). Consult his book or another trusted herbal reference for more details on making medicine with this plant.
Field marks for Black Elderberry include large, flat-topped flower clusters with hundreds of tiny 5-petaled flowers*, pinnately-compound leaves arranged oppositely along stems, toothed leaflets, and young stems and older bark with obvious freckles (technically lenticels). These features are shown in the following images. (To view them in full-size, click here.)
*Warning: Do not confuse Black Elderberry flowers with those of Spotted Water-hemlock.
Note: See the comments section for a discussion on Elderberry toxicity and the edibility of Red Elderberry flowers and fruits.
The list of leguminous tree species (members of the Fabaceae family) I've encountered is short. I've seen Kentucky Yellow-wood (Cladrastis kentukea), Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Silk-tree (Albizia julibrissin), and Honey-locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), but for the most part they've been ornamental plantings found along roadsides or near homes. The notable exception is Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), a species who while not native to New England has naturalized in a variety of disturbed habitats throughout the region.
In winter, Black Locust trees can be recognized by their persisting pods, which split open to reveal small dark seeds. Bark and twig characteristics are also useful. Branches often have pairs of sharp spines at each leaf node. Winter buds are mostly hidden, sometimes peeking out from under leaf scars. Small trees can be decorated with formidable thorns. Black Locust bark develops deep ridges with age. (To view the following photos in full-size, click here.)
Young trees can be well protected
Pods can persist on trees through the white season
Pods split in half revealing brown legumes
A twig with paired spines at a leaf node
Paired spines vary in size and shape and are sometimes absent
Bark on old trees is deeply grooved
Black Locust bark with a type of lichen
A close-up of lichen on a Black Locust tree
Black Locust can grow quickly, even in poor soils, and has wood that is rot-resistant and energy dense. These features, along with an ability to re-sprout after being cut, make this species a valuable renewable building material and firewood source.
The edible flowers are worth seeking out in spring (see Foraging Wild Flowers: Black Locust), and Haines reports that immature pods and mature seeds (removed from their pods) are edible when cooked. (He notes that mature seeds should be soaked prior to cooking to deactivate antinutrients -- read pages 59-60 of Ancestral Plants for more details). For more uses of Black Locust, visit Temperate Climate Permaculture.
Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) is a weedy plant of European origin who thrives in disturbed soil. Here in southern Maine, I most often find Wild Radish at the beach, growing above the high-tide line alongside American Sea-rocket, Saltwort, Beach Rose, and Beach Vetchling. Flowering plants stand about 2 feet tall and are topped with yellow, 4-parted flowers. On sunny days, Cabbage White butterflies frequently visit the blossoms. Continue reading Foraging Wild Greens: Wild Radish
The six tepals (referring to the three sepals and three petals that are similar in appearance) of Orange Day-lily (Hemerocallis fulva) may not look like lettuce, but their flavor is similar, which makes them a perfect bright addition to summer salads. Flower buds and withered flowers can also be incorporated into cooked dishes. Continue reading Foraging Wild Flowers: Orange Day-lily
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), a native perennial typically found growing in colonies, offers several different wild vegetables, depending on the season. In June and early July, the flower buds appear at or near the tops of plants, and these fuzzy green clusters can be gathered for food. I take no more than half the clusters per plant, making sure to leave plenty to flower and produce fruit. Foragers will notice that milky sap oozes from detached bud clusters. Continue reading Foraging Wild Flowers: Common Milkweed