Strawberries of Spring

by Green Deane

in Beverage, Edible Raw, Fruits/Berries, Medicinal, Plants, Recipes

Wild Strawberries can be tart to very sweet.

Wild Strawberries can be tart to very sweet, photo by All Wallpapers

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.

Wild Strawberries eeking out a living

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.

Wild Strawberry blossom, note white not yellow

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.

The "wood strawberry" helped sequence the strawberry's genome.

The “wood strawberry” helped sequence the strawberry’s genome.

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.)

There's even strawberry wine.

There’s even strawberry wine.

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.

Heavy Weight World Champion Joseph Fraizer.

Heavy Weight World Champion Joseph Fraizer.

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)

DIRECTIONS

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.

  1. 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.

 Strawberry Roses

INGREDIENTS

* 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

DIRECTIONS

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

INGREDIENTS

* 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

DIRECTIONS

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.

If you would like to donate to Eat The Weeds please click here.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Gaius Iulius August 8, 2014 at 02:57

LINGUA ROMANORUM NON EST MORS

Reply

Green Deane August 8, 2014 at 06:55

It most certainly is. No native population speaks it. And among those who do learn Latin it is not evolving. Greek, however, is older and very much alive.

Reply

jim adams June 23, 2014 at 13:11

aside from the berries, how do we tell the difference between Potentilla and Wild Strawberry?

Thanks,
jim

Reply

Green Deane July 7, 2014 at 16:35

The leaves look different.

Reply

Andrew September 6, 2014 at 13:33

In what way do they look different? Shape? Size? Fuzz?

Reply

Barry November 20, 2013 at 15:50

I have wild strawberries everywhere here in southern Va. The down side, they have little to no taste at all. I know, i know, they are very nutritious, but I want to taste what everyone is talking about, ya know, how wild strawberries taste so much better than domestic ones. I will not give up, because when I was a kid, I tasted great wild strawberries, so that kind must be around here somewhere, just not at my golf course, where I have been observing an abundance of wild, tasteless strawberries. If anyone knows what all species are here in the Piedmont of Virginia, please let me know.

Reply

Green Deane November 20, 2013 at 17:16

Perhaps what you are finding are Potentilla indica rather than real strawberries.

Reply

Barry K Jordan November 21, 2013 at 10:03

Thanks for the “heads up”. I just searched it online, and sure enough, that’s what it is. Glad it turns out to be edible, ’cause I ate some, lol. Thanks for the info.

Reply

Green Deane November 21, 2013 at 12:16

I have an article about the Potentilla indica on this site.

Reply

Deborah Zappa July 11, 2013 at 07:57

Oh my gosh! This article brings back fond childhood memories of picking wild strawberries in Wisconsin. Amazing taste and nothing like domesticated strawberries. Our wild strawberries were very sweet but were growing the in duff under a forest mixture of birch, oak and pine trees. Probably very low pH.

Here in southern New Mexico we have a lot of wild purslane and amaranth. Both are tasty and nutritious. And both are also very attractive plants although one of the varieties of amaranth is considered a noxious weed in New Mexico. Maybe it should just be harvested instead of battled as an undesirable weed?

Reply

Roger Agness June 28, 2013 at 21:15

FRAISE = strawberry, in French

Reply

Cyn June 27, 2013 at 23:42

Oh, you don’t know how you just brought me back to my childhood days and the taste of real strawberries! Oh I’m so jealous. I live in the desert. we don’t have these growing anywhere around here. Thanks for the memory. Maybe I’ll have to take a trip to some other state to and make sure to pick wild strawberries while I’m there! 🙂

Reply

Beau April 19, 2012 at 09:04

Oh my goodness! I purchased my home in December and have been waiting with anticipation to see what grows up into my “weedy” yard. Turns out I have a huge wild strawberry patch that grows along the edge of my house in the backyard and extends about 30 feet into the yard! mmm…. snacking time!

Reply

Green Deane December 3, 2013 at 05:46

My strawberry medicinal reference is Florida Ethnobotany by Dr.Daniel Austin, page 312.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: