Early season edible roots of the Stachys floridana

Stachys Floridana, Culinary Pretender

I have read from a good source that all Stachys are edible. I politely doubt that for three reasons. First there are 300 to 450 of them depending on who’s counting. It’s doubtful all of them would be edible. The roots of one defintely are not edible. Next, many were used for medicinal purposes which also suggest some are not edible, and even if they were medicine often tastes bad. Lastly, and perhaps the most compelling reason, is that who’s in the family and who’s out is in flux. Botanists are a fickle lot. It could make things more iffy particularly if a non-Stachys non-edible was included as a Stachys.  But, what I do know is our local Stachys is edible and bears an underground resemblance to a relative that commands high prices.

Leaves can be dried and used for tea

Stachys floridana, (STAY-kis flo-ri-DAN-ah) the Florida Betony, is one of the most common urban plants found in Florida. Sun and a moist lawn are magnets for the versatile weed. The above ground parts — read young plants and leaves — can be cooked like greens. They are, however, musty in flavor. Think of them as a famine food. Tea can be made from the dried leaves and the seeds are edible. But, the crowning glory of the Florida Betony, so to speak, is its root, actually a tuber. These cunchy, tasty treats look like big, fat, white grubs. Others think they look like the noisy  end of a rattle snake hence the other common name, Rattle Snake Weed. Pictured above are some small, early season roots. The Florida Betony puts on a tuber in spring and then kind of takes the hot summer off to return in the fall. In late spring the tubers are often stark white. In the fall they can be tan and in time get soft and not palatable.

Young plants and leaves can be boiled as a potherb

These humble tubers infest many a southern lawn and literally millions of dollars are spent every year to get rid of them: Read a lot of herbicide use. Another family member, Stachy affinis, aka Crosnes, does not have that problem. They sell for about $150 a pound. Actually, I’ve never seen a crosnes growing in Florida. It was originally from China, went to France in the town of Crosnes, and from there to the fancy Paris restaurants. That brought it to cultivation in and around New York City.

Tubers of the Stachys affinis

In restaurants of stars, Stachys affinis, also called Chinese Artichokes, are hard-to-get gourmet delicacies. It makes one wish Florida Betony could be substituted. I’d like the idea of having a few thousand dollars of these in my lawn. Maybe it’s a totally untapped market.  Someone should let the chefs know there is a possible alternative. No doubt a good price break could be worked out, say… $100 a pound.

The Florida Betony is a good example of attitude and knowledge. First is a willingness to eat the weeds, a theme dear to the author’s heart. The other is benefiting from that knowledge. The Florida Betony is the poor root of the pair, not able to command $150 a pound. It even has a different number of chromosomes than the S. affinis (this genus is in flux.) But, the Betony is good eats. I don’t have to pay $150 a pound for the S. affinis when I can get the S. floridana for free. Pass the salt and pepper please.

Stachylos

There is also one other known use for the Florida Betony.  It is a source of a sugar called Stachyose, according to its manufacturer, Schuttl et Benth. It is less sweet than sugar and is used as a bulk sweetener. It is also not completely digestible.  Stachyose promotes friendly bacteria in the gut and — according to research — can inhibit the growth of bacteria that can cause some pneumonia and vaginal infections. Tasty and healthy. That’s a win win.

Vettones’ Region

Stachys is from Greek meaning  “stake” or in this case a flower spike. Floridana means of Florida. “Betony” has a long linguistic history. And for this it helps to remember that in olden days letters were not pronounced the same way as they are now. Even today in Greek the B has a V sound.  The original name for Betony was Vettonica. It was named after an Iberian tribe, the Vettones (living in now what is northwest Spain.) The Vettones, however, were Celtic — read proto-Irish — and lent their name to Breton, Brittany, Britain and even the encyclopedia no one buys anymore. The Vettones were thought by the Romans to posses special medicinal magic that drove away bad spirits. A common Roman proverb for someone troubled was, “sell your coat and buy betony.”  Most of the plants in the mint family that were named Betonica are now called Stachys.  Affinis (ahf-EYE-niss) is Latin for “similar to.”

No one does nutritional research on the Florida Betony. However, nutrition for the S. affinis per 100 grams is:  Calories 75, total fat  0, dietary fiber 2 grams, protein 2.6 grams, carbohydrate 17 grams, cholesterol (mg) 0, sodium (mg) 4, sugars (g) o.

Stachys palustris of northeast North America

Incidentally, if you live in a northern clime two other another Stachys with edible tubers are available. The first is  Stachys palustris, the Marsh Woundwort.  It can be found in the northeast quadrant of North America, basically the Maxon Dixon Line north and as far west as Illinois and Manitoba. The tubers can be cooked in a variety of ways, or dried and made into bread, and the young

Stachys hyssopifolia

shoots are cooked and eaten like asparagus. The second, according to Dr. Francois Couplain, is the Stachys hyssopifolia, the Hyssopleaf Hedgenettle (say that 10 times fast.) It’s found in states that border the Atlantic as well as Kentucky, Indiana, illinois, Iowa and Michigan. Seeds of the Stachys scopulorum were eaten by natives in the desert southwest of North America and Stachys sylvatica is consumed in Europe, and about New York City.

The roots of Stachys officinalis are not edible. They are bitter and can make you throw up.

 

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Florida Betony is square-stemmed, erect, hairy; tubers are segmented and resemble a rattlesnake’s rattle, usually little finger long; The stems up to 18 inches tall. Simple leaves opposite on the stem.  The flowers occur in clusters of 3-6,  sepals fused, forming a tube which is hairy, with 5 lanceolate lobes. The petals are fused, 2-lipped. The upper lip is somewhat erect. The lower lip is 3-lobed.

TIME OF YEAR:  The best roots are fat and ready to eat before Florida’s hot summer begins.  Roots near surface usually many found together. During the hot months the plant can disappear to reemerge in fall. In northern climates the roots are harvest in the cool of fall.

ENVIRONMENT: Moist yet well-drained areas, such as lawns.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Roots raw or cooked, crispy in salads, great in stir fries. Leaves and shoots of the plant can also be eaten raw or cooked. They are, however, rather musty tasting and best mixed with other greens.  The Indians reportedly ate the seeds as a famine food. Some say the flavor of the tubers are like cauliflower where as I lean toward jicama. The texture, however, is like a radish. Lastly, the leaves of some Stachys species were smoked like tobacco. The roots of the Florida Betony also have chemicals which have “antioxidant activity. “

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Melissa Hudson April 1, 2012 at 10:45

Hello – as a native of florida, i am really enjoying this blog. Your writings have shown me a new appreciation of nature. As a child in central florida, i found these betony roots in the yard when i was playing, and curiosity got the best of me. I ate one of them, and it tasted like a radish….they look like a grub worm but taste like water chestnut, with a bite. Every year, I would go out to the garden and find a few poking out of the ground, brush them off, and munch on them for old time’s sake. Thank you for this blog!

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2 Michal Dz April 1, 2012 at 22:51

What timing. My bf and I were doing yard work, he had mentioned this weed a couple times as it’s taught in boyscouts to be edible in case you are lost in the wild in Florida. We were working on the yard, digging up a dirt pile covered in these weeds. Salvaged about 10 tubers while digging, washed and in the fridge.

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3 Sharon April 29, 2012 at 23:52

I just dug about 500+ of these tubers out of my yard today ..and that’s only from about a 40-50sf area. My yard is completely infested w/this stuff. Hmmmmm…so I guess I should go outside and bring these in, wash them off and put them in the fridge ??

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4 Keith November 16, 2013 at 19:53

no no! you should leave them where they are and harvest them as you need them. It’s food.

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5 Lesli April 21, 2012 at 12:48

My husband’s side of the family calls these plants chewfus for some reason. We have them everywhere here (southeast NC) and it is a battle to keep them from taking over our grass. Just found several GIANT tubers while weeding my flower beds and discovered that they are a bit tough when larger and so not as tasty. But they are really delicious when small and tender. Kids and I always have a nice snack after weeding.

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6 Carl March 3, 2014 at 01:18

Which county in NC? I’m near Raleigh, and can’t find them growing anywhere around here…

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7 Pat May 13, 2012 at 16:06

I just came in to do some online research, because I have discovered the Stachys Floridana (Betony) in my back yard, quite accidentally, because I have a wild hog that’s been coming in at night at the back yard and digging big time, and guess what he’s eating???? The Betony! I found several of the tubers in the holes that the hog dug, and, picked one up and cleaned it off, because it looked almost parsnip white, and it looked edible, broke it, and it was pungent, and I tasted it. Slightly spicy and musty. I’m going back out and dig up a bunch of them! These are located about 10 miles outside of Bushnell Fla off of a partly dried up canal.

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8 xMachineC0r3x June 29, 2013 at 05:41

i wander if this is what my friends dog is smelling underground and digging for in his backyard. its a hound

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9 Andi Houston July 24, 2012 at 10:46

I have harvested 5+ pounds of Florida betony root from my front yard in Gainesville, FL so far this year. I’ve stir-fried it, added it to beef stews, and made bread-and-butter pickles out of it.

I really would love to know what the flavor difference is between crosnes and Florida betony root.

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10 Green Deane July 24, 2012 at 20:29

There’s no appreciable flavor difference.

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11 Keith November 16, 2013 at 19:55

If there is no difference, how would a buyer know if you substituted one for the other?

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12 Daniel L. Levy August 31, 2012 at 17:41

I really want seeds! The large herbaceous perennial species of Betony we have here in Israel are all either extremely rare and protected of really patchy and hard to find, and nobody in the local botanical community has ever thought it worthwhile to have a look at their underground parts! I am pretty confident that the Florida Betony will not become a weed here, as it will never be able to stray very far from from the drip irrigation line!
Can someone collect seeds for me? I have quite a lot of interesting species with which to pay back! My e-mail: c-dl@zahav.net.il

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13 SAM October 24, 2012 at 00:40

WE MOVED TO OUR CURRENT HOME AND BROUGHT OUR BOXWOOD HEDGES WITH US AND ALONG CAME THIS TYPE OF PLANTS,IT HAS THE SAME KIND OF WHITE LARVA ROOTS THAT SMELL KIND OF EARTHY AND NUTTY,IT SPREADS LIKE MINT.WE LIVE IN SOUTH CAROLINA AND IS THERE ANY POISONOUS LOOK-ALIKES.LOVE THE PLANT KNOWLEDGE YOU SHARE,KEEP IT UP.THANKS.

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14 Diane April 16, 2013 at 12:21

I was very happy to come across this article because in my garden this plant grows in abundantly. I felt in my spirit that this plant and roots could be eaten so I went on a search to find out for myself. I am thankful that the great spirit and my ancestors give me wholesome food to eat right outside of my door. I will be able to survive when the food shortage really gets short.

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15 Ariana May 5, 2013 at 12:05

I found some Florida Betony in my yard and dug up some of the tubers. After washing it off, I tried a bit, and it tasted quite good, but then my tongue started feeling a little bit numb. Do you know anything about this? I wasn’t sure if it was just part of how it tasted or something else. Thanks!

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16 Green Deane May 5, 2013 at 14:10

I have never heard of that happening to anyone with this plant.

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17 Keith November 16, 2013 at 19:57

is it the first wild food you tried? maybe you just psyched yourself into believing that the thing you ate might have been toxic?

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18 Heather May 16, 2013 at 17:45

Is there anything else that has tubers that look like these? We found quite a lot of them in our yard while raking leaves (very soft, sandy soil so raking with a hard rake digs in), but no plants seem to be coming off of them. I read that they should have already been growing by May, but the grub looking roots look quite nice and crunchy. Just want to make sure before we give them a taste.

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19 Jane June 13, 2013 at 10:27

It’s a right of passage for our spring garden bed preparation to dig out the “rattlesnake roots” and throw them to the side of the weed pile for later use in salads, pickling or stir frys. After we got bee hives however, I make sure that I leave plenty for the bees. At that time of the year thereis not much blooming in my garden and it’s one plant the bees are constantly coming to!
For salads I often put the Betony tubers in a small bowl and shake some ume plum vinegar (brine from the Japanese pickled ume plums-nice and tart and good for digestion) over them, letting them sit for about a half hour before adding them to a salad. Apple cider vinegar makes a nice quick pickling for them as well and they do add a nice crunch as previously mentioned if added towards the end of stir fry dishes.
P.S. A Japanese turtle brush made from palm fibers works great for scrubbing the dirt out of all those little creases or any root vege! http://www.naturalimport.com/inc/sdetail/7924

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20 A DEAN August 23, 2013 at 21:09

Can someone send me some tubers- i want to grow them in my neighbors yard ton11111@live.com

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21 Green Deane August 23, 2013 at 21:16

Have you tried Andy Firk on facebook?

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22 Keith November 16, 2013 at 19:59

i hope your neighbor knows!!! lol

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23 pam January 25, 2014 at 12:14

I live in eastern PA, and around here we have quite a bit of wood betony, Stachys officinalis. It seems to be an acclaimed medicinal herb, but I see nothing mentioned of its edibility. I’m wondering if that is generally overlooked, or if it is one of those species you mention whose use is restricted to medicine. Have you given it a try?

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24 Green Deane January 25, 2014 at 14:05

I know of one reference and it says no: The gardeners dictionary – Philip Miller – 1835, Page 645. The author states in his entryfor Betonica officinalis the following, to quote:

The roots are bitter and very nauseous; in a small dose they vomit and purge violently.

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25 Tim February 28, 2014 at 14:36

I only recently found out what this stuff was – recently it started taking over EVERYTHING in my yard – it’s growing right up to my blueberry bushes and HOW do we get it out of there? Blueberries are shallow rooted and these things go deep! May try eating them but still – don’t they compete with everything. Where we are, 5 acres on a dirt road, we really aren’t too obsessed with lawn and trying to keep it alive except in the very front of the house but I really hate that this stuff took over the flower beds I carefully dug (and found the tubers and took them out) and planted last year and now I’ll have to move the mulch and re-dig it all and next year they will be back! Between those and the vines with spines (smilax or something?) it’s a scourge!

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26 Nancy fritz March 27, 2014 at 18:57

Place 6 to 8sheets of newspaper under a 4 inch layer(approx) of wood mulch to exclude sunlight to starve weeds. The newspaper will break down feed the soil and will need to be replaced probably at least once a year. It’s easier if you wet the newspaper sheets first prior to mulching.

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27 TC March 18, 2014 at 14:34

Sound like a Wonder of a plant. low key, hardy, edible. Anyone down there interested in putting a bunch in a box and sending it to Ohio? They are not listed as a noxious weed here, so no problems with legally getting them here, and I am pretty sure our weather will kill them every year, so I will have to pot some up and keep them inside to keep them alive. I would send someone a money order for the shipping costs if we could work this out. VERY interested in having some in captivity up here!
Hit me up to talk about it. Thanks. TC ( Tcairns 67 @ yahoo. com)

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28 Tricia March 31, 2014 at 16:25

How do I get rid of it once it has infested my flower bed?

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29 Green Deane March 31, 2014 at 17:19

Eat it.

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30 Judy April 3, 2014 at 00:03

Interesting article on this rattlesnake weed. I live in Woodville,Texas and I am constantly finding these bright white tubular shaped roots in my yard. They look like artificial plastic lures to me. I always wondered what they were. I brought some to the County Extention center but they were not able to identify them for me. They tend to shrivel up overnight to nothing. So is there a particular name for the ones found in Texas?

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31 Mary Grace Allen April 3, 2014 at 07:52

How do I get rid of this stuff? I don’t like it at all: it’s talking over my flower beds and yard.

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32 Green Deane April 3, 2014 at 09:13

Eat it.

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33 Carolyn Presley June 18, 2014 at 12:08

Greene Deane,
Your article was a big help. I live in Broxton, Ga., We found the stuff in our garden and in our yard. We asked someone at the feed and seed store and he told us that it was Florida Betony. We had already figured out that it was edible. We are gathering some for a salad even as I post. I live close to Jacksonville, Florida, about two hours away. We never noticed the Betony before 2013.

Carolyn

Carolyn

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