Over the weekend, on the way to check on some Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) pollen cones, I noticed a few Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) trees covered with bunches of fragrant blossoms, many of which were within reach. Here in eastern Massachusetts, the last week of May is prime time for the white flowers of Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Blackberry (Rubus spp.) and Black Locust – but only the latter has sweet, tasty flowers. Samuel Thayer describes their taste as “something like sweet peas with a hint of vanilla”, but don't take his word for it – find and try some for yourself.
The young, heart-shaped leaves of American Linden (Tilia americana) -- also known as Basswood -- can be eaten like lettuce, straight from the tree. Indeed I sometimes call this species the Salad Tree. Lindens often send up shoots near the base of old trunks, making tender leaves easy to gather. Older leaves are not harmful, they simply develop a less desirable texture. By late June or early July (in New England), the tree's fragrant flowers can be gathered and used fresh or dried for a medicinal tea.
This spring, I've been monitoring a stand of Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) near my home, and when I checked the trees on mid-day Tuesday, I found nearly all the pollen cones at the perfect stage for gathering -- almost open. A couple days later and much of the pollen would have literally blown away.
As with the cones I gathered last year*, I've tinctured some and frozen the rest to add to meals in the coming months. If you've never tasted a pine pollen cone, now just might be your chance. Look for them on the light-green, growing branch tips, and be sure to sample cones before they open, release their pollen, and dry up.
*Those were from Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus). The pollen cones of Pitch Pine are larger and therefore quicker to gather in quantity, and (at least this year) P. rigida cones are ready earlier than P. strobus.
These are the leaves of Sheep Dock or Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella). The plant's pinky-sized leaves feature flared lobes and pack a sour punch (other names include Sour-weed and Sour Grass). They can be added to salads and soups, or dried and steeped for tea. For a thorough discussion of Sheep Dock, consult Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate by John Kallas. He devotes a dozen pages and more than a dozen vibrant photos to today's featured wild food. Among other tips, he recommends removing the stringy leaf stalks before chowing down.
Violets (Viola spp.) are familiar garden and lawn plants with edible leaves and flowers. Russ Cohen, a wild edible plant and mushroom forager who leads walks all over Massachusetts, writes in his book that all violets are edible, but my experience is limited to the common blue violet of lawns known as Viola sororia. Young leaves can be added to salads; older, tougher leaves can be lightly cooked and incorporated into meals.
I like to pinch the dark greens from their long petioles one by one and periodically pop a flower into my mouth. The flowers can be gathered in quantity for a decorative garnish or salad component, or can be used to flavor honey. For the latter, simply pack a jar with fresh blossoms, cover with raw honey, and let the combination meld for a few weeks.