Nature Wisdom

With Pat Tuholske, Naturalist

Nature’s Pantry of Flavorful Flowers and Luscious Weeds

The annual weed war is upon us. All too often, homeowners and gardeners battle against weeds in the landscape that are incredibly vibrant and offer tremendous health benefits. Edible weeds can play an important role in satisfying your body’s daily vitamin and mineral requirements. These nutritious weeds can be a great homegrown addition to meals.

Each year I watch for new plants arriving at my doorstep and make a special effort to greet them. We moved a year ago so it’s exciting to see which ones followed from our old home and which ones are new… violets, dandelions, plantain, lemon balm.

And purslane for the first time ever. I was so very happy to find the high-in-omega-3-fatty-acid purslane growing in the cracks of the sidewalk at our new home.
Check your landscape this month for violets, plantain, chickweed, dock, spring beauties, dandelions. In June look for wood sorrel, daisy, clover, rose petals, elder flowers, day lilies, grape leaves, purslane, lamb’s quarters.

Our bodies are hungry for the sustenance and utilize every nutrient in wild edibles. Rich in vitamins and minerals, wild native plants tone and purify and are key to a robust immune system.

How to eat: raw or cooked, juiced, added to salads, soups, eggs and baked goods.
Parts to eat: leaves, flower petals, flower buds, and some roots.

Railroad tracks, roadsides and vacant lots are good areas to practice your identification skills but never gather and consume plants from these areas due to high concentration of chemical pollution and pesticide use. Best to learn in the field and go hunt your own yard and garden for wild edibles. Harvest only what you need and leave the plants to recover and reseed for bounty in future seasons.

Be sure you have a solid identification before you consume any plant! Get a field guide, smart phone app, or research on the computer. Take a walk with a naturalist or herbalist familiar with wild plants for an in-depth experiential encounter which will awaken your wild palate.

Most field guides are based on the color of the flower and the progression of the seasons. I recommend The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers Eastern Division; Missouri Wild Flowers by the MO Conservation Department; Peterson’s Field Guide to Edible Plants by Lee Allen Peterson. And, of course, any of Euell Gibbons books you can find.

The Missouri Conservation Department is a significant resource. Wild Edibles of Missouri is out of print but is available on their website as a PDF. Go to mdc.mo.gov click on “Discover Nature”. Choose “Field Guide” from the dropdown menu and select “Edibles” at the bottom of the page. Also check out the link “Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants”. The MO Wildflowers book is available at www.mdcnatureshop.com. It’s the first field guide I used and still the first one I go to when I need an answer.

Some of the new smart phone apps will identify plants by their leaves and not just flowers. Each have their limitations. I’ve tried Leafsnap, Garden Answers but Like That Garden is the one I use the most.

If you are on Facebook, check out the Wild Edibles of Missouri group full of friendly helpful folks. I’ve tried several websites with identification keys and have yet to find one that is easy and accurate. I turn to the internet only if I can’t find the plant with my usual references. I google the flower color, leaf description, and the growth pattern of plant. For example: an unknown-to-me low mass of yellow flowers were growing out our back gate. I googled “yellow flower violet leaf low growing”. Then I looked carefully at all the images until I found a look-alike: lesser celandine. The description and growing location matched perfectly.

It may take several different references to hone in on identification. A combination of books and other resources. It’s like following a treasure map. Keep searching until you’ve reached your goal — identifying flavorful flowers and luscious weeds to enjoy the bounty of health and nutrition that Nature’s pantry offers.

See Pat Tuholske’s Wild Wreaths, Wheels and Bundles crafted from Ozark native plants at willowrainherbalgoods.com. Check out her “Nature Chronicles” for musings on the Human-Nature relationship at pattuholske.com and wild plants walks.