Fragaria virginiana: Be A Strawberry Sleuth
Fragaria do not like Florida. Only one northern county in the state reports having wild strawberries. But that’s all right. I ate more than my fill growing up in Maine.
In fact, the best strawberry patch was across the dirt road, in a pasture in Pownal, just beyond a huge and well-armed Hawthorn tree. The strawberries were typical of the wild version, small… but what flavor! I raided that patch annually for some 15 years.
One of my successful moments as a foraging teacher came years later when a native Floridian friend traveling through New Hampshire found strawberries and identified them on her own. Not bad coming from a state nearly bereft of wild strawberries. Oddly, however, Florida grows literally tons of strawberries and has an annual Strawberry Festival in Plant City that draws hundreds of thousands and big named entertainment.
While growing up, as kids are wont to do, I found the strawberry patch on my own. I simply presumed they were edible. It’s rather surprising kids don’t make more mistakes than they do. Most plant poisonings involve very young children (and young pets.) Julia Morton, a botany professor at the University of Miami and an expert on toxic plants, said young children and young animals will chew on anything regardless of the flavor. Older kids won’t eat things that taste a bit off to them, as many a parent can confirm. Morton also said women are poisoned more often than men because they are curious about plants and will sampled them. Perhaps that’s an echo of their gathering ancestral history. That said men comprise about 66% of my video viewers. The argument is men do more things that bring them into contact with wild plants, such as fishing, hunting, hiking and the like.
The botanical name for the common strawberry in eastern North America is Fragaria virginiana, frah-GAY-ree-uh vir-jin-ee-AY-nuh. Fragaria is from the Dead Latin word “fragans” meaning sweet-smelling. Virginiana essentially means of North America. The European strawberry is F. vesca (VES-kuh) meaning thin or small. The Greeks call them fraoules (frah-OU-less) where the Dead Latin “fragans” came from. Beside the usual delicious uses strawberries can settle an upset stomach, the juice from the plant is good for face sores, red eyes and excessive tears. Root decoctions soothe liver problems, staunches menstrual flow, and firms the gums. Nearly every Indian tribe had a medical use for the entire plant. For some 700 years it has also been used as an ananaphrodisiac, that is, to dull the libido. (Hmmm, I think I’ll skip the strawberry shortcake, thank you.) And a tea can be made from fresh or dry leaves, but not semi-dried leaves.
Strawberries played a significant role in the lives of American Indians, both as medicine and food. Since strawberries have too much moisture to dry easily for winter use they were consumed in season. The Seneca Indians of the Iroquois Confederacy viewed strawberries as proof of their god’s beneficence and had a Strawberry thanksgiving ceremony. The Dakota called June the “red month” because strawberries were ripe then.
There is a second native strawberry in North America, interestingly called F. chiloensis (kye-loh-EN-sis) meaning “of Chile.” The F. Chiloensis is larger than the F. virginiana and is found in the western United States and up the west coast. The two natives were hybridized to make the modern garden strawberry. (See some unusual recipes below.)
The name “strawberry” comes from “strewn berry” meaning the berries were strewn on the plants. That in time was shortened to strawberry. In the rose family strawberries aren’t really berries or fruit. They are enlarged ends of the plants’ stamen, the male part of the flower. The seeds are on the outer skin of the strawberry rather than inside. There are around 200 seeds per berry. If you find a tasteless strawberry in a northern area it is probably the F. vesco, also called a woods strawberry. In Florida that tasteless strawberry is not a true strawberry but the Indian Strawberry, low on taste but good on nutrition.
While many states like Florida have a Strawberry Festival perhaps the most famous strawberry consumption is at Wimbledon, England. There strawberries and cream are eaten between tennis matches. (Your author has been to Wimbledon while an exchange student to the University of London, Whiteland’s College, but preferred Waltney’s Brown Ale to courtside strawberrying.) Lastly, the name of Fraser/Frazier means strawberry… You remember the world heavyweight boxing champ, don’t you? Smoking Joe Strawberry…
Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile
IDENTIFICATION: Small plant with five-petaled white flowers, leaves of three, toothed (poison ivy usually does not have fine teeth.) Blossoms to an inch across, on separate stalks; familiar fruit drooping, small. Ten small green sepals at the base of the fruit. Plant spreads by horizontal runners.
TIME OF YEAR: Late spring, early summer
ENVIRONMENT: Full sun in pastures, fields, moist ground, edges of woods, by sidewalks. Throughout North America. There are no similar looking toxic plants. (See Indian Strawberry.)
METHOD OF PREPARATION: Numerous, only limited by time and imagination. A trail side nibble, pies, jelly, jam, cakes, drinks, deserts, the list is nearly endless. See recipes below. Strawberry leaf tea is laxative. Do not use wilted leaves. Only fresh or totally dry leaves.
Champagne Sorbet with Berry Medley
* 1 (750 milliliter) bottle champagne
* 1/4 cup white sugar
* 1 pint strawberries
* 1 pint blueberries
* 6 fresh mint leaves (optional)
1. Pour champagne into a shallow metal pan or bowl, and stir in the sugar. Cover with plastic wrap, and place in freezer. Freeze for four hours, whisking every 30 minutes. The frozen mixture will be firm and granular.
2. Spoon the sorbet mixture into a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Return to the metal container, cover, and re-freeze for up to 48 hours.
- 3.Combine strawberries and blueberries in a small bowl. Spoon berries into the bottom of champagne flutes or wine glasses, and top with sorbet. Garnish with mint sprig if desired.
* 2 cups mascarpone cheese
* 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1/2 cup whipped cream
* 16 large strawberries, washed and dried well
* 1/4 cup coarse granulated sugar
* 2 teaspoons lemon zest
1. Beat the mascarpone cheese, confectioners sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. Fold in the whipped cream. Spoon cheese mixture into a piping bag fitted with a star tip.
2. Leaving the stem end in tact, cut off the tip of each strawberry, and carefully remove the core using a small, thin knife. Stand strawberries upright (stem end down), and slice through the tip toward the stem. Do not cut completely through. Repeat, slicing a total of four times. Each strawberry will have eight sections. Roll the strawberries in the sugar.
3. Gently open each strawberry and fill each with the cheese mixture, using a circular motion. Arrange strawberry roses on a platter, and sprinkle with lemon zest.
The roses are easier to form if strawberries are at cool room temperature when filling.
Strawberry Spinach Salad
* 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
* 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
* 1/2 cup white sugar
* 1/2 cup olive oil
* 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
* 1/4 teaspoon paprika
* 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
* 1 tablespoon minced onion
* 10 ounces fresh spinach – rinsed, dried and torn into bite-size pieces
* 1 quart strawberries – cleaned, hulled and sliced
* 1/4 cup almonds, blanched and slivered
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sugar, olive oil, vinegar, paprika, Worcestershire sauce and onion. Cover, and chill for one hour.
2. In a large bowl, combine the spinach, strawberries and almonds. Pour dressing over salad, and toss. Refrigerate 10 to 15 minutes before serving.