Common Burdock (Arctium minus) is a biennial well known for having sticky burs and an earthy, edible taproot. As is typical with biennials, the root of this species becomes tough and woody when the plant moves stored energy reserves up to a developing flower stalk (typically in the spring of year two). The result is a leafy stem with flowers and ultimately seeds. In late spring and early summer, the tender, rapidly growing portion of Common Burdock's stalk can be harvested, peeled and eaten raw or cooked. I peel these shoots by hand, then touch them up by scraping them clean with a sharp knife. Continue reading Foraging Wild Shoots: Common Burdock
Back in May, while out gathering the fleshy leaves of American Sea-rocket on a beach in Biddeford, I noticed some tiny plants with thin, spine-tipped leaves. I was pretty sure the plants were edible, but, alas, pretty sure just isn't good enough. So I did some research and figured out that these small specimens are called Saltwort (Salsola kali). In previous years, I've seen Saltwort on beaches in late summer, but by then, as the following photo shows, the plants are wildly bushy and covered in well-developed spines.
When young and tender, the leaves of Saltwort make a crunchy, pleasing snack, as long as you remove the small spines or eat them carefully. Entire growing tips (see below) can be pinched off, cooked, and enjoyed as a tasty seaside vegetable. For more on this salt tolerant, sandy soil specialist, see Green Deane's Salsola kali plant profile.
A few months ago, I noticed some dead vines of Carrion-flower (Smilax herbacea) along a road I often travel down. At the time, I recognized the plant by the rounded clusters of dark berries. At this point in the year, the once-dense clusters are now rather sparse, but at the base of last year's withering growth, thick, beautiful 1-2' tall shoots have emerged.
The shoots look a lot like Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) and taste similarly delicious. Tender tops can be eaten raw or cooked. One cluster I noticed had green shoots (above); another clump was purple-tinged (below). In June or July, I'll visit these patches again to confirm the reportedly foul scent of this plant's flowers (hence the name Carrion-flower), and in late summer I'll be back to sample the edible, hopefully not foul-tasting, berries when they are plump and fresh.
Summer 2014 Update: I did revisit the patches in late July and found insects busy visiting the flowers. I can verify that the flowers, at least up close, are foul smelling.
The following photo shows a dead stalk of Carrion-flower from the 2013 growing season, as well as new flowering shoots.
Plants have many ways of catching our attention. Some have strong scents, others have bright and showy flowers, and then there are those who quite literally grab us. For instance, take Common Burdock (Arctium minus). The seed heads of this biennial are composed of hundreds of bracts tipped with sharp hooks, which cling tenaciously to animal fur and many types of human clothing and thereby help the plant's seeds disperse across the landscape. This strategy, along with the fact that many people enjoy eating Burdock's taproots and peeled stalks, has helped this European/Asian plant to become widely established throughout the United States. In addition to being a food source, Common Burdock is a widely used medicinal.
Several times a week, I drive past this plant whose dark, round clusters of fruit stand out in the snowy landscape. Up close, this plant is recognized as a branching herbaceous vine, bearing tendrils and a few withered simple leaves. This is Carrion-flower (Smilax herbacea), a prinkle-free, non-woody relative of the heavily armed, woody stemmed Common Greenbrier (S. rotundifolia).
Carrion-flower's fruits are born in umbels, which are composed of short stalks radiating from a central point (the nearly fruitless example below provides a look at the umbel's structure). Note the location of plants you find in the white season, and you can return in the spring to observe the new green growth. In fact, you may want to sample the rapidly growing tips of this plant, which are edible both raw and cooked.