Category Archives: Shoots

Foraging Wild Shoots: Goat’s Beard

Photo of Fistulous Goat's-beard flower bud shoot
Flower bud and peduncle of Fistulous Goat's Beard

This week, I added two new wild foods to my diet: the immature flower shoots of Fistulous Goat's Beard (Tragopogon dubius) and those of Meadow Goat's Beard (T. pratensis). The two plants are similar but can be told apart easily by the length of the bracts that surround their flowers. Fistulous's bracts extend well beyond the yellow ray flowers, whereas Meadow's bracts are about as long as the rays.

Both species produce flowers over the course of several weeks, and individual plants may feature flower buds, open flowers, ripening fruits, and dispersing seeds all at the same time. The flexible, immature flower shoots (or, flower buds and peduncles) are mild tasting and can be easily snapped off (notice the milky sap) and eaten raw, tossed into salads, or added to soups and stir-fries.

To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Note: Purple Goat's Beard (T. porrifolius) -- the only other Tragopogon species in New England -- is similarly edible, but I've not yet had the pleasure of meeting this plant.

Tiny Flowers: Shepherd’s-purse

Photo of Shepherd's-purse flowers

Now that the green season has taken hold and a handful of wildflowers are blooming, it's time again to break out Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. I noticed a plant with tiny (<1/4") white flowers last week in Wells and was pretty sure I knew who I'd found. Keying out the plant confirmed my hunch.

I began by determining the plant's 3-digit code:

Flower type: 4 Regular Parts (4--)
Plant type: Wildflowers with Alternate leaves (43-)
Leaf type: Leaves Toothed or Lobed (433)*

Then, on page 4, under group 433, the key asked if the flowers were yellow (no) or white, pink, or purple (yes), and if the leaves had an arrow-shaped base, which clasped the stem (yes, though this is not well depicted in my photos) or were not arrow-shaped (no). The key then pointed to page 136.

Of the six plants described on that page, only one description fit my mystery plant. Basal leaves deeply lobed; pods triangular (to me the pods are triangular/heart-shaped). A drawing of the plant on page 150 provided visual confirmation. The plant I'd located was Capsella bursa-pastoris, known as Shepherd's-purse, a member of the Mustard (Brassicaceae) family.

Shepherd's-purse is a widespread, weedy species who typically grows in disturbed soil in full sun. The flowers, immature seed pods, and tender leaves and shoots are edible, especially for those who enjoy a spicy mustard flavor (boiling can reduce the flavor, if desired). The mature pods can also be used as a spice. Arthur Haines documents many medicinal uses for this herbaceous annual in Ancestral Plants (Vol. 2, 2015, p. 126-27). You can find more photos of Shepherd's-purse at GoBotany.

To view the following images in full-size, click here.

*Note: Looking at the basal leaves (instead of the stem leaves), you might wonder whether they're considered divided or toothed/lobed. Newcomb's guide accounts for this confusion by directing you to Shepherd's-purse whether you choose the former or the latter.

Tiny Flowers: Hairy Bitter-cress

Photo of Hairy Bitter-cress

Hairy Bitter-cress (Cardamine hirsuta) is another early blooming, tiny member of the Mustard (Brassicaceae) family. Native to parts of Europe and Asia, this weedy annual now grows in much of the United States. At just a few inches tall, you'll benefit from the use of a magnifying glass when trying to observe the features of this plant.

Photo of Hairy Bitter-cress leaf

Early in the year, from a cluster of pinnately divided, basal leaves, this hairy plant pushes up a stalk with alternating leaves and terminal white flowers which bloom and then develop into slender seed pods. The leaves, tender young shoots, flowers, and seeds are all edible and packed with a spicy-bitter, peppery punch. Eating just a single inch-long leaf left an impression on my palette for over an hour. This strong flavor makes Hairy Bitter-cress a good candidate to be mixed with other flavors as a salad component or treated as a wild condiment.

Photo of Hairy Bitter-cress flowers

Foraging Wild Shoots: Curly Dock

Photo of Curly Dock shoot

In years past, I've foraged the roots (for herbal vinegars and tinctures) and young leaves (for eating) of Curly Dock (Rumex crispus), and this spring I finally sampled the shoots of this perennial plant. When stalks are 1-2' tall, but before they contain flower buds, I use the bend-test to select stalks with thick, flexible tops. Once peeled, the vegetable looks much like a Wild Carrot shoot. Don't be alarmed if you encounter some slime during processing, that's normal. In my experience, these are mostly available in late May and early June. Jenny and I enjoyed them raw and found them to be crisp with a slight sour fruitiness similar to Smooth Sumac shoots. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Foraging Wild Shoots: Common Evening-primrose

Photo of Common Evening-primrose peeled stalk

Common Evening-primrose (Oenothera biennis) has several edible parts.* In June, plants who are sending up a stalk in preparation for flowering and fruiting are the source of tasty edible shoots. Similar to the shoots of many other plants (e.g., Wild Carrot, Common Burdock, Common Greenbrier), I snap off the growing tops where they bend easily. For raw eating of this species, I peel off the hairy outer part of the shoot and most of the leaves. If cooking, I simply remove the large leaves, and prepare as desired. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

*I've previously discussed the roots, flower buds and flowers, as well as how to recognize this species in the white season.