Wild Onions/Garlic and Spiderwort growing along the road near Ocala Florida. Photo by Green Deane

Wild Onions/Garlic and Spiderwort growing along the road near Ocala Florida. Photo by Green Deane

Allium canadense: The Stinking Rose

Your nose will definitely help you confirm that you have found wild onions, Allium canadense, AL-ee-um kan-uh-DEN-see. Also called Wild Garlic and Meadow Garlic by the USDA, walking through a patch raises a familiar aroma which brings me to a foraging maxim:

Wild onions/garlic, set bulblets on top

If a plant looks like an onion and smells like an onion you can eat it. If a plant looks like a garlic and smells like a garlic you can eat it. If you do not smell a garlic or an onion odor but you have the right look beware you might have a similar-looking toxic plant. For example, we have a native lily here in Florida that looks like an onion but has no aroma. It is toxic.

All parts of this particular Wild Onion/Garlic are edible, the underground bulbs, the long, thin leaves, the blossoms, and the bulblets on top. The bulblets are small cloves the plant sets where it blossoms. Harvesting them is a little easier than digging for bulbs but those are easy to find also. They’re usually about four inches underground. The bulblets are on the tippy top of the plant. It’s called both an onion and garlic  because while it is a wild onion it has a very strong garlic aroma.

Onions and garlic belong to the Lily family. The most common wild one is the Allium canadense. It has flattened leaves and hollow stems. On top there can be bulblets with pinkish white flowers or bulblets with sprouted green tails.  When it sets an underground bulbs they will be no bigger than pearl onions.  (See recipes below the I.T.E.M. panel.) They were clearly on the Native American menu though our local natives didn’t refer to them much.

Ramps have wide leaves

It is often said the city of Chicago’s name is from an Indian phrase that means “where the wild onions grow.” That is quite inaccurate. Chicago is actually a French mistransliteration of the Menomini phrase Sikaakwa which literally means “striped skunk.” We would say ‘the striped skunk place.”  The skunks were there because Allium tricoccum (Ramps)  were growing there. Skunks know good food when they smell it (and are bright pets. Very common where I grew up.)  The nearby Des Plains River was called the “Striped Skunk River.” Incidentally because of man’s intervention that river now flows backwards from it original direction.

While northern Indians used the Allium species extensively there are few records of southeastern Indians using them, though various southern tribes had names for the onion.  Some of the tribes considered onions not edible. Ramps, A. tricoccum, (try-KOK-um) photo upper right, are also in the onion family, and very common in Appalachia. Farther north they are called “wild leeks.”  Unlike onions and garlic, ramps have wide leaves but are used the same way.

Allium was the Latin name for the onion. An alternative view is that it is based on the Celtic word “all” meaning pungent. “Alla” in Celtic means feiry. Canadense means of Canada, but refers to north North America. Tricoccum  means three seeds. Roman’s called garlic the “stinking rose.”

Allium canadense in large amounts can be toxic to cattle. Lesser amounts can flavor the milk as can salty fodder near the ocean.

 Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile: Wild Onion

IDENTIFICATION: Allium canadense: Grass like basal leaves, small six-petaled flowers, odor of onion or garlic, stems round, older stems hollow. Underground bulbs look like small white onions. Ramps, however, have two or three broad, smooth, light green, onion-scented leaves. Also see another article on a European import, the dreaded Garlic Mustard.

TIME OF YEAR: Depends where you live. Ramps in spring, onions through the summer, bulbs in fall. Locally we see bulblets in April then into the spring.

ENVIRONMENT: Like most plants onions like rich soil and sun but can grow in poor soil with adequate water. Leeks like rich leaf-losing woodlands and can grow in dappled shade. Locally all of the Wild Onions I’ve seen grow in damp places, or, places where run off gathers before seeping in.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: The entire plant is edible raw or cooked, in salads, seasoning, green, soup base, pickled. You can pickle them using red bay leaves, peppergrass seeds, and some vinegar

Recipes adapted from “Wild Greens and Salads” by Christopher Nyerges

Onion Soup On The Trail

Two cups onion leaves and bulbs

Two cups water or milk (or from powdered milk)

1/4 cup chia seeds (optional) or grass seed

four bottom end tips of cattails

A Jerusalem artichoke

Two table spoons acorn flour (or other flour)

1.4 cup water

Put chopped onions in 1/4 water and boil for five minutes. Add the rest of the liquid, cattail and Jerusalem artichoke. Cook at low temperature. Do NOT boil. When artichoke is almost done add flour and chia seeds. Mix. Salt and pepper to taste. Serves three.

Camp Salad

One cup onion leaves and bulbs

1/2 cup Poor Man’s Pepper Grass or Mustard leaves

One cup chickweed or other mild green

Two diced tomatoes

Juice of one lemon

Tablespoon of oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Collect onions, dice, add other green items torn into small bits, added tomatoes and other ingredients, toss.




Little Mustards are seasonal like this Hairy Bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta. Photo by Green Deane

Coronopus, Descurainia, Cardamine, Erucastrum and Sibara

There are numerous little mustards that show up seasonally populating lawns and fields with spots of green against dead winter grass, and then they are gone. Their variety is rich and variations are many. You may never know exactly which one you have. With most, not all, look for the four-petaled flower with six stamen,  four long, two short. Blossom can be yellow, white or pink. The seeds pods can be long like tooth picks or short little hearts or round scales.

This quintet of little mustards shouldn’t be dismissed but they are easy to miss. Their season is usually as short as they are. Locally the little mustards pop up in our cooler months, carpet some areas, and then are gone before one gets around to study or harvest them. There are many of them and variations are seemingly endless, which mean you can easily reach the conclusion you’ve got a little mustard but exactly which one it is will be open to debate. Fortunately, in small amounts at least, there are no toxic mustards. Huge amounts of any mustard, however can upset the human digestive system (and cows, too.)

Swinecress has distinctive seed pods.

Swinecress (Coronopus didymus, koh-RON-oh-puss DID-eh-mus) is called said because pigs like it. Low growing, it’s usually a bright green rosette against the fading grass of cold weather. Locally it is found at the same time and with wild radishes. Flowers are greenish and minute. The entire plant very pungent when crushed. From a consumption point of view it is a trail-side nibble, a salad addition, and if cooked in at least one change of water, a pot herb. How many changes of water depends upon your tastes and how strong a tummy you have. In small amounts it is considered by farmers to be good cattle food but in large amounts toxic because it upsets their cows’ chambered stomachs. So find out how you and it get along before indulging greatly.

Tansy Mustard

In this particular case, the botanical name is actually helpful. Coronopus is a forced amalgam of two Greek words meaning Raven and foot, or in English “crow foot.” And indeed the three-pointed leaves resemble a three-toed bird foot. Not only does the end of the leave look that way, but the little leaves off the side of the main leaf do as well. Those little leaves alternate, barely. At the end of the leaf they are without stem, near the base of the leaf they have a little bit of stem.

And as is the case quite often, the second part of the name is a bit earthy, though references try to make it politically correct. Didymus is often rendered as Greek for “paired.”  That is not linguistically accurate. While there are many words for “paired” in Greek one of the most common is  ζεύγος, ZEE-ghos which means “yoke” as in a yoke of oxen. In fact the word for spouse is σύζυγος, SEE-zee-ghos.  Got the idea? That is not the kind of pairing didymus means. Strictly said didymus means testes. And indeed the seeds of the Swinecress resemble two little you guessed it. Coronopus didymus. Crow Foot Testes. And you thought botany was sophisticated….

Hairy Bittercress like to grow in damp areas.

Our next little mustard is the Tansy Mustard because it, yep, resembles the tansy. Apparently botanists, when not thinking up dirty names for plants, aren’t too creative.

Exactly which Tansy Mustard you have will be a bit of a guess as well. Locally, here in Florida, I seem to find the Western Tansy Mustard. (It is called western so not to confuse it with one growing in Europe which is not called the Eastern Tansy Mustard.) And although I sit on the semi-tropical temperate line the tansy mustard is known as a plant found around the top of the world, not the equator.  There are also a lot of subspecies so you may never know exactly what tansy mustard you have.

Botanically it is Descurainia pinnata, des-koor-RAY-nee-uh pin-NAY-ta.) In this instance, the name doesn’t help much. The first part honors Francois Descourain (1658-1740), a French botanist, physician and pharmacist. The second part, pinnata, means feather-like, or feathery et cetera and this is true in the sense that the leaves are wispy.

Dog Mustard is perhaps the least common of the little mustards.

Perhaps I’m not looking for Tansy Mustard, but it does not seem to me to be as common as other little mustards but it certainly likes the same environment: Think dry pastures.  Six to 20 inches tall or so, fine, delicate, and like the other little mustards a nibble, a salad addition and when cooked to tolerability, a green. Its texture is mealy or hairy… kind of both.

The tansy mustard, also tansymustard, has one to several densely hairy stems, giving it a different texture than most Little Mustards. The basal leaves are divided twice into small segments, very hairy, stem leaves are divided into small segments once, very hairy. The flowers are bright yellow to almost white, fruit stalk long, elongated dark red seeds. If it looks like a tansy but is peppery like a mustard… it just might be the tansy mustard.

Quite common locally is the Hairy Bittercress, or Cardamine hirsuta, kar-DAM-en-neh her-SOO-tuh. Unlike the Tansy Mustard, it likes to grow where it is damp. In northern climes it germinates in the fall and stays green under the snow. Here in Florida we see it popping up in our winter, which is Christmas to Valentines Day. But it can be found in cooler shady wet spots for perhaps nine month of the year.

Sibara virginica

This little mustard is nearly hairless, stems are green or sometimes purplish in strong sun, not hairy, circular, tapering towards both ends, from a tap root. Usually many stems growing from a tap root. Basal leaves, however, have hairy stems. Leaves can be rounded to wedge-shaped, with little hairs, can flower when very small. Each leaf generally contains 4 to 8 leaflets arranged alternately along the leaf stem (rachis.) Seed capsule is 10 times longer than wide. Unlike other little mustards it looks like something one might grow in an herb garden.  Flowers are small, usually a group of them, four white petals, on the ends of wiry stems. The long narrow seed pods (siliques, said sah-LEEKS)  and alternating round leaflets are prime elements of identification. The little siliques tend to grow upright.

Shepherds Purse is another mustard clan of spring.

Shepherds Purse is another mustard clan of spring.

It is also often found in garden centers because of the watering, or in lawns. If you are an organic gardener, aphids love the Hairy Bittercress meaning you can use them as a trap crop. Leaves and flowers – raw or cooked — have a hot cress-like flavor, often used as a garnish or for flavoring. Can be used as a potherb but as with the other little mustards, proceed carefully.

Dog Mustard, also called the Hairy Rocket and French Rocket, is our least common little mustard, and the largest, getting up to a scraggly two feet under optimum conditions.  To my eyes it looks like a ratty wild radish. It was introduced into the US and Canada in the early 1900s and spread along the railroads. It can cross with the rape plant (from which seeds we get canola oil.) This is viewed as good and bad. It can cross on its own and change the plant for the worse or it can be a source of genes should the rape need a shot of new genetics.

Poor Man's Pepper Grass can be short or tall.

Poor Man’s Pepper Grass can be short or tall.

The Dog Mustard grows upright from a foot to two feet tall, pale yellow to whitish flowers, 4-petals to a half inch wide, petals rounded at on top, narrowing at the base; in a cluster. The seed pod is thin, long, four-angled usually curving up. Lower leaves are oblong, deeply pinnately-divided, end leaflet the longest; stem leaves not clasping, leaves get smaller toward the top. In northern areas it usually begins to blossom in June or so.

Botanically it is known as the Erucastrum gallicum, er-roo-KAS-trum GAL-ee-kum. This time the name tells us little. The first word means resembling the Eruca, which was some ancient plant mentioned by Pliny the Elder. Gallicum means from France.  It is used as a pot herb but may need more than one change of water. Try sparingly.

Mustard Blossoms, regardless of size, have four petals and six stamen, four long two short. Here the short ones are on the sides.

Mustard Blossoms, regardless of size, have four petals and six stamen, four long two short. Here the short ones are on the sides.

Now we get to the mustard that is coming and going. If you think you have a Sibara (SIGH-bar-ah) , you might actually have an Arabis  (ARE-uh-bis or ARE-you-bis.) Arabis means from Arabia (read Eurasia ) and both the genera Arabia and Sibara used to be all Arabias. Then it was decided six species were native to North America, which hardly made them from Eurasia or Arabia. So those Arabis were renamed Sibara, which is Arabis spelled backwards.  Ain’t that almost clever. They are Sibara deserti, Sibara filifolia, Sibara grisea, Sibara rosulata, Sibara viereckii, and Sibara virginica.

This close up shows the female part of the flower in the middle, four tall stamen and two short ones.

This close up shows the female part of the flower in the middle, four tall stamen and two short ones.

This is a winter annual from a rosette of deeply dissected leaves, five to 14 divisions on each side of the main leaf stem. The leaves at the base of the plant are slightly hairy. Leaf segments are narrow, the terminal segment though is somewhat larger, or broader. Flowers are white with four small petals. The fruit (silique) is stalked, long, very narrow with around 15 flat seeds. You can tell it from the Hairy Bittercress above (Cardamine hirsuta) by having larger siliques and narrow leaf segments. The rosette overwinters. It likes disturbed, waste ground, unused fields, and roadsides.

Senecio glabellus often grows the same time as mustards and is toxic. It has a yellow daisy-like blossom.

Senecio glabellus often grows the same time as mustards and is toxic. It has a yellow daisy-like blossom.

Lastly, a common toxic look-alike in the rosette stage is the Senecio glabellus. When dried and fed to rats 20% of their body weight killed them. While the blossom is different than the mustards, the basal rosette can look similar.  S. Glabellus leaves are toothy and mild whereas the mustard leaves are not toothy and are usually  peppery. It has pyrrolizidine which is a chemical that can clog up small veins in your liver causing fluid retention and death.  The Senecio yellow blossom is daisy-ish whereas mustards have a four-petal X or H shape blossom.



Chickweed Thrives in Cooler Weather. Photo by Green Deane

Chickweed Connoisseurs

You never know where you’ll find Chickweed but locally you know when: Winter. When I owned a lawn it showed up gloriously every December. (If you live up north, think soon after the snow goes.) 

Chickweed has a stretchy inner core. Photo by Green Deane

Of course, few lawn owners view Chickweed as glorious. Decapitated grass has given chickweed a bad rap.  Instead of lawn lovers pulling out a clump of chickweed and having it for dinner, they spend a lot of green to get rid of the green. Killing chickweed is a million-dollar business which is a large expense and a waste of food.

Chickweed has a side-shifting single line of hair down the stem.

Chickweed tastes good and is good for you with ascorbic-acid, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, niacin, potassium, riboflavin, selenium, thiamin, zinc, copper, and Gamma-linolenic-acid.  That’s a win win as they used to say. Raw, it tastes exactly like corn silk, if you’ve ever tried that. Cooked it is similar to spinach though the texture is different. It can be added to soups or stews but in the last five minutes to prevent overcooking. Unlike many wild edibles, the chickweed’s stems, leaves, flowers and seeds are all edible. It does hold nitrates and people with allergies to daisies might want to pass it by. Only the Mouse-Ear chickweed should be cooked because of texture issues. The rest of the Chickweeds can be eaten raw but I think they tastes better cooked.

The incised five-petaled blossom looks like ten petals. Photo by Green Deane

The species scientific name is Stellaria media (Stel-LAY-ree-uh MEED-ee-uh which means “little star in the mist.” Probably from Eurasia, it is now found around the world even in the arctic circle and Greenland (as are thistles, mustards, clover, and blackberries.) Chickweed is also a back yard barometer. Its leaves fold up when it’s going to rain. The leaves also fold up at night. Cute. Also, chickweed is not an early riser: The blossoms open late in the morning. And it’s called chickweed because chickens love it. There are some reasonably close look-alikes, but three things separates chickweed from poisonous pretenders. First, it does not have milky sap. Next, it has one line of hairs on its stem that changes sides at each pair of leaves. And if you bend or crease the stem, rotate each end counter with each other, and pull gently the outer part of the stem will separated but the elastic inner part will not and you will have a stretched inner part between the two stem ends. See picture above right.

Richardia scabra is mistaken for Chickweed.

If you have chickweed but it doesn’t quite fit the description, look at my article on Drymaria coradata, a Chickweed cousin that shares some characteristicsA second plant that is commonly mistaken for Chickweed is Richardia scabra. That always surprises me as Richarda is rougher and ranker. Folks get thrown off by the species’ blossom. Richardia is generally consider not edible and at least one species will make you throw up, Richardia emetica (also called Richardia brasiliensis.) Can you eat R. scabra? I know some people who have mistakenly done so. They didn’t eat a lot of it but none reported any immediate ill effects.  

Chickweed Bread

2 cups of chopped chickweed leaves and stems.

¼ cup minced onion

2 tablespoons oil

2 tablespoons honey, fruit juice concentrate, or sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups wheat flour

¾ cup warm water

1 packet yeast

Sauté onion and chickweed until tender (not brown). Dissolve honey and yeast into the warm water and then the salt. Mix the yeast mixture with the cooled sautéed chickweed and onions and slowly add the flour until the dough no longer sticks to your fingers Form into a ball and let it rise to twice its volume. Shape into loaves and let rise again. Bake at 375 .F for 40-45 minutes.

 Chickweed And Bacon Pie is best hot; it will keep one to two days in the refrigerator and can be reheated.

One 10-inch pie crust

3 cups chopped chickweed

1 cup diced slab bacon

½ cup finely chopped onion

3 large eggs

1½ cups sour cream

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 10-inch pie dish with crust and make a raised border around the rim to prevent filling from overflowing during baking.

To prepare chickweed, remove all leaves, twigs and root ends, reserving only the greenest, leafiest parts. Rinse thoroughly in a colander and gently dry with paper towels. Bunch the chickweed together into a ball and chop it with a sharp knife until reduced to a confetti texture. Measure, then put chickweed in a large bowl.

Fry diced bacon in a skillet until it begins to brown, then add onion. Cook about 3 minutes, or until onion wilts. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon and onions to bowl with chickweed. Discard drippings from pan.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs until lemon colored, then add sour cream, flour and nutmeg. Add egg mixture to chickweed, onions and bacon. Spread filling evenly in the pie shell and pat down firmly with a spoon. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until pie has set in center and top looks golden.

—Adapted from Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking by William Woys Weaver (Abbeville Press, 1993).

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile


Annual herb with slender, smooth stems to about a foot long, one row of tiny hairs growing in a row on one side of the stem, switching to other side at each pair of opposite, oval pointed leaves. Old leaves have stalks, young leaves do not. Flowers, small, white with five petals so deeply notched that they look like ten petals.  Does NOT have milky sap. If you have a plant you think is chickweed and it has milky sap you have the wrong plant.


During the cool weather of spring, which in Florida is February.  Dislike heat, germinates in the winter.


Likes moist soil and or shady areas.


Numerous, usually chopped and boiled or fried, or added raw to salad.  Chickweed can be stringy so it is often  chopped.   Has many herbal uses, too numerous to mention. 

Chickweed in mulch going out of season. Photo by Green Deane




pyracantha coccinea

Pyracantha coccinea berries. Photo by Green Deane

Firethorn: Pyracantha Coccinea, a member of the Rose Family.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that “Ho Ho Ho” bellies and Pyracantha jelly jiggle into the season just before Thanksgiving.

While there is no explaining plump Santa, the Firethorn in Florida, Pyracantha coccinea, (pye-rha-KAN-tha cok-SIN-i-a) puts on its second crop of red berries about the same time the frozen Tom turkeys are being delivered to grocery stores. Firethorn’s two fruitings are thoughtful, feeding beast and man, spring and fall. Incidentally, Pyracantha comes from Greek and means literally “fire thorn.”  Coccinea means scarlet.

A thorny evergreen, the Firethorn has been under Western cultivation since 1629 when it was first introduced into English gardens. Its native range is from southern Europe to the Caucasus Mountains. The Firethorn can make a very showy stand-alone small tree, a stunning hedge, an espalier to crawl along walls, or be potty trained as patio topic of preoccupation. It can also be a natural barrier grown outside windows that few trespassers would cross to get inside. You’ll also probably get a birds for entertainment because the species’ thorns keep predators of birds away.

Decades ago when I first saw the lanky Firethorn I asked about it and was told it was poisonous. “All red berries” the person said, “are poisonous.” That clearly is not true, nor is “all black berries are edible” true.  These sayings are almost always wrong, but one, for practical purposes is close to true: Almost all white berries are toxic. There are a few white berries that are edible but they are so uncommon one might as well think all white berries are poisonous. Just avoid them

pyracantha coccinea

Firethorn blossoms resemble apple blossoms

There are references to Pyracantha as a famine food, and that might be true. However, the seeds, like the apple seeds, should not be eaten in quantity. My mother, who lived to 88, ate every seed of every apple she ever ate. She also ate the core as well: The entire apple was hers. When she is done there was nothing left. So a few apple seeds at a time appears to be fine. I asked her one time why she ate the entire apple. She said that’s what her mother did. Her mother also saved the seeds of virtually every fruit, dried them, cracked them and ate them, a few at a time. Back then they never heard of avocados or loquats, so don’t try it with those. However, loquat seeds, also in the Rose Family, can be used to make a cherry-flavored liquor. For that story, look at the article for Loquat Grappa.

The berries of the Firethorn — high in Vitamin C —  are actually pommes which is a fleshy fruit with seeds at the core, like apples. They are greatly favored by Black Birds and Cedar Waxwings, which have been know to strip a tree of all its berries. To the human pallet, the berries are soft and mealy — like an apple that should have been eaten last week.  They are mild flavor and have several seeds. The seeds are shaped like tiny angular Brazil nuts. Some report the berries are bitter but that has not been my experience. They are, however, sometimes slightly astringent. Like many soft berries they don’t keep well and that’s probably why they service man as jelly.

If you do any research on the internet for Pyracantha jelly you will find the following recipe:

Place 7 cups washed Pyracantha berries in a very large pan with 5 cups of water. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Strain through a cloth. Measure 3 cups berry juice, 1/2 cup lemon juice and 7 cups sugar into a very large pan. Over high heat, bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Immediately stir in one bottle liquid pectin, bring to a full rolling boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, skim off foam and pour into sterilized glasses. Cover With 1/8 inch melted paraffin. Prepared berry juice may be refrigerated or frozen prior to making jelly.

Firethorns puts on a brilliant dispay of fruit. Photo by Green Deane

While that’s a good starting point I have not found it a satisfactory recipe. It produces an edible but weak-flavored jelly with anemic, runny texture. Here is what I do: I start with two quarts of cleaned and washed berries (no leaves, minimal bugs.) I boil them in six cups of water for at least 30 minutes. Then I mash the berries and cook for five minutes more. Strain.  That gives you six or so cups of infusion. I put that in a new pot and bring to boil. I premix eight cups of sugar with TWO — not one — but  TWO packages of Sure Jell (twice the standard portion in other words) and I add one half teaspoon of citric acid. A half cup of lemon juice also works but I like to thoroughly mix my dry ingredients together ahead of time. It reduces clumping. Once the infusion is boiling, I add the dry mixture and then bring to boil again and boil for two minutes. This will make 12 to 13 cups of jelly. Then I can it the usual way using sterilized jars and paraffin.  I haven’t tried it but I am tempted sometime to add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the infusion because the jelly has a hint of apple flavor. Here’s my video link to making Firethorn sauce: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obZkfO3tKt0

Of  course, making Firethorn jelly is more than just making jelly. While there have been many changes since the days of our grandparents, or great grandparents, one of them is we have become removed from the dynamic of food. Ask kids where milk comes from and too many will say a bottle. Food is the intimate link between us and the earth and in our preprocessed, prepackaged world we lose a bit of our grounding when everything comes off a shelf, or worse, out the drive-in window. It is surprising how many of us actually don’t eat much food these days but rather preprocessed food substitutes that proudly state what has been removed. When you identify a fruit grown by nature, not man; harvest it, prepare it, and then let it help sustain your life, you realize you are part of this planet and very dependent upon it. I would also add our ancestors got along quite well without nutritionists or botanists. Fortunately, artificial food has been around less than a century.  If the ingredients reads like a chemistry set, you might want to consider not eating it.

One of my grandfathers who lived into his high 80s liked two things and had them nearly every day of his adult life: A pint of cream and a piece of homemade jelly roll. Owning a succession of cows took care of the cream, and my grandmother was constantly making jelly and jam out of most conceivable and inconceivable things:  Hawthorn jelly, Chokecherry jelly, and Gooseberry jam come to mind. I think she even made tomato jelly (and why not? After all, tomatoes are actually fruits, not vegetables.) Besides putting a little nature in one’s life, jellies and jams that you can’t buy can be come seasonal events, family traditions and tastes that last from generation to generation. I can hardly wait until spring to make pindo palm jelly.

Pyracantha Sauce

by Green Deane


3 pints ripe pyracantha pommes

Water to cover

Juice and zest of one lime

One (or more) minced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce

Sugar to taste

Two tablespoons corn starch

Salt optional

Put whole pommes and water in a sauce pan, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and simmer for 30 minutes, mash. Add lime juice, zest, and chipotle pepper, simmer 30 more minutes. Filter the liquid, discarding all solids. Reserve 1/2 cup liquid. By simmering again reduce liquid down to about two cups. Taste. Add sugar to desired taste. Mix the corn starch in the now cool reserve liquid then mix that a little at a time into the sweetened sauce until thick. Use or refrigerate.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Thorny evergreen shrubs with serrated leaf margins and numerous thorns. They have white flowers and either red, orange, or yellow berries.

TIME OF YEAR: In northern climates the flowers come out in late spring and early summer; the berries develop from late summer, and mature in late autumn. In Florida this happens in spring and fall, sometimes continuously throughout the year.

ENVIRONMENT: Not particular about soil, refers full sun but will grow in partial shade. A common landscape plant

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Berries can be used for jelly. They can also be used for a sauce, marmalade, wine and extender. The seeds are not edible in quantities more than a few.




The ornamental Firebush in bloom. Photo by Green Deane

Hamelia patens: Edible pharmaceutical

The Firebush is probably one of the most commonly planted unknown edibles. They are usually arranged in the landscape to attract butterflies and migratory or resident humming birds. However the fruit is edible — with precautions — and the plant has a long history of medicinal and industrial uses.

Red berries ripen to black. Photo by Green Deane

It would be difficult to make a better consumer lawn shrub than the Firebush. It is showy, fast-growing, evergreen, stays small, attracts birds and insects and provides an edible fruit.  It blossoms all year with tubular flowers, reddish-orange or scarlet. Even the stems of the flowers are red. The fruit is a juicy berry with a lot of little seeds. It ripens from green to yellow to red then black.  It can be eaten out of hand — more on that in a moment — made in to a syrup or wine, a particular favorite in Mexico.  It can fruit nearly all year unless damaged by cold. The berry is deceptive raw. It has an initial sweetness and grape-like texture that yields a sticky, lingering, slightly bitter aftertaste in the back of the mouth. Try one first, not a lot. See if you like it. Some people don’t taste that so it might be a genetic trait. Cooking eliminates that aftertaste. 

The Mayans called it, Ix-canan, or “guardian of the forest.” In Belize the Firebush is  used to treat a variety of skin problems including, sores, rashes, wounds, burns, itching, cuts, skin fungus, and insect stings and bites. For topical use they boiling two handful of leaves, stems and flowers in two gallons of water for 10 minutes. Once cool, it is applied liberally to the affected area. This same liquid is drank as a tea to relieve menstrual cramps. The Choco Indians in Panama drink a leaf infusion to treat fever and diarrhea; the Ingano Indians make a leaf infusion for intestinal parasites. Tribes in Venezuela chew on the leaves to lower body temperature to prevent a sun or heat stroke.  In Brazil the root is used as a diuretic, the leaves for scabies and headaches. Cubans use the leaves externally for headaches and sores while a decoction is taken internally for rheumatism. In Mexico it is used externally to stop staunch to flow of blood and heal wounds.

In the lab animal studies with Firebush leaf extracts showed analgesic, diuretic, and hypothermic actions. External use showed significant anti-inflammatory activity. The bush also antibacterial and antifungal properties against a wide range of fungi and bacteria in several. Also, incisions bathed with plant juice healed faster and stronger than no bathing or application of petroleum jelly.

The industrial use of the plant comes from it high amounts of tannins.  The hard, brown wood has also been used. Firebush’s botanical name is Hamelia patens. Hamelia honors French botanist Honri Louis Du Hamel du Monceau and is said: huh-MEE-lee-uh.  Patens, said PAY-tenz, means spreading.

Firebush Catsup

2 cups ripe berries
½ cup mild vinegar
2/3 cup water
1 cup brown sugar
½ tsp each of clove, ginger and paprika
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
Put into a saucepan the berries, vinegar and water. Boil the berries until they are soft (5 minutes). Put through a blender or food processor. Then add the sugar, spices and salt. Simmer for 3 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Carambola and Firebush Chutney

4 cups carmbola, peeled and pipped, cut into small pieces
¼ cup ripe berries
2 cups vinegar
2 cups sugar
¼ cup finely chopped ginger

Put in a heavy saucepan vinegar and sugar and bring to boiling point. Add the carambola and ginger. Cook on low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking to bottom of can. Add berries in the last 10 minutes of cooking to allow then to retain their shape.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Shrub or small, bushy tree to 12 ft. Young branches reddish. Leaves elliptic, oblong or elliptic-ovate, pointed, 3 to 7 in. long, more or less flushed and dotted with red or purple, and with red stalks; soft-textured, hairy. Flowers scarlet, tubular, with dark linear stripes, slender, to 1 1/2 in. long, in tassel-like, branched clusters. If the flowers are more yellow than red and without stripes it is probably the H. patens var glabra from Mexico, presumed to be edible.  Fruit ovalish, five-pointed calyx, seedy, distinct nipple.

TIME OF YEAR: Flowers and fruits year round.

ENVIRONMENT: Common in hammocks and landscaping. It prefers damp to dry. Native to Florida but can be grown along the southern gulf coast and up the west coast to southern oregon.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Ripe fruit is black, edible raw, can be made into a syrup or wine.