From the Village Green
If you are seeing a bright lime-green ground-hugger in your lawn now that looks kind of frilly it’s Swinecress (Coronopus didymus, koh-RON-oh-puss DID-eh-mus.). I’m finding it dotting landscapes everywhere. One local park with a lot of it is Lake Lilly in Maitland ( Fla.) southwest side.
For those who don’t live in Florida lawns here stay green in the winter if watered but don’t grow much if any between November and April. This gives a lot of winter annuals plenty of space to grow and not get mowed down. Our winter annuals are usually what pop up in the northern spring. Swinecress is so called because pigs like it, four-footed and two. Also unusual is its color, a bright green. Green plants in The South tend to be washed out or even yellow green. The deep green of a northern forest is rarely seen here save for the some of the little mustards that sprout up in the winter. Lime green is even more rare. The entire plant is pungent and ranges from a trail-side nibble to a pot herb. As for the species and particularly its botanical name means … well… you will have to read about that here.
♣ I have so many pet peeves I could start a petting zoo. One of them is how doctors are rather poor regarding dietary advice. Now perhaps the Federal Drug Administration has to be added to the malfeasance list.
One reason why many people prefer wild foods is they are more nutritious than commercial varieties. They are also not under the purview of the FDA, or at least not yet. Consider the possible future of the walnut.
Some three dozen studies indicate that walnuts are good for your health. (Here’s one.) And Blue Diamond, who sells walnuts, was including some of those scientific findings on their packaging. That prompted a letter from the FDA to Blue Diamond saying among other things:
“Because of these intended uses, your walnut products are drugs within the meaning of section 201 (g)(1)(B) of the Act (21 U.S.C. section 321(g)(B)). Your walnut products are also new drugs under section 201(p) of the Act (21 U.S.C. section 321(p)) (and) may not be legally marketed with the above claims in the United States without an approved new drug application.”
Here at EatTheWeeds we take journalism seriously and tracked down the original letter from 2010. There is no follow up on the FDA website. Then again, governmental agencies turn the regulatory screw slowly. You can read the full letter here. The FDA counters that it has allowed some comments regarding walnuts and heart disease to be made on products but that Blue Diamond’s claim that walnuts prevent, treat or cure heart disease does not meet FDA requirements.
One could launch a rant into several different directions over that from nutritional nescience to bureaucrats looking for things to do to justify their paychecks. (Put a hammer in a man’s hands and he will start looking for nails to pound.) Perhaps, as one of my students suggested, we will need a prescription for walnuts … maybe even a doctor’s permission to make Baklava. Now that is serious!
Ridiculous you say? We are already moving towards prescriptions for some supplements. In fact potassium, which you need a lot of, is already controlled so you can only buy a little. Prescriptions vitamins can’t happen? It’s too silly? Consider: In mid-November a European commission ruled companies that bottled water can’t say on the labels that water prevents dehydration. You can read about that brilliant conclusion here. To read an editorial about making supplements prescription only click here. To read the FDA’s guidelines on New Dietary Ingredients to control supplements, click here.
♣ Speaking of water…. Did you know snow is essentially distilled water? It should have no minerals in it and in theory no contaminants. Whether to drink or to avoid distilled water is something of a debate. Some say it leaches minerals from your body others say preposterous. But at least now you know where to get some water for your car battery or steam iron. The only significantly potential problem I know from eating snow, beyond contamination issues, is that it take calories to change it from snow to water. You may not want to lose calories that way, and you may want to stay warm. I have it… let’s write.. THE SNOW DIET.. just in time for the post-holidays…. Eat Snow and Lose Weight, our pure snow diet will melt off pounds as you melt snow liquidizing fat the natural way…. we could make up a couple of fake studies and make a few quick million… as diet books go it should be fairly safe though every few years someone dies from water intoxication. I first heard about water intoxication decades ago when a local newscaster succumbed of said. It actually happened. Here’s a reasonable round up of the topic even if it is from Wikipedia, which I usually detest.
♣ Botany Builder #10: Axil is a word you’ll read often in plant descriptions. It is the upper point where a leaf petiole (previous botany builder) meets the stem or where a branch meets the stem. They should have called it a juncture rather than an axil. We wouldn’t be too interested in that rather unremarkable location except plants often sprout branches, blossoms and fruit from that spot. In the Brazilian Pepper, above right, the fruit is on the small green stem goes back to where a larger stem and a leaf meet. Where the larger stem and the leaf meet is the axil. Another member of this family grows toxic white berries out of the axil. A third member, however, does not. It grows berries at the very end of a branch rather than at the axil. When the berries are in a bunch at the end of a branch it is called a terminal cluster. Thus berries growing out of an axil are in a far different location than a terminal cluster. Brazilian Pepper berries have been used as spice.
♣ Happy New Year. Classes this week: There are two scheduled. The class January 7th at John Chestnut Park is nearly full, January 8th in Winter Park is light at the moment. I will schedule another at John Chestnut in February, which will be a good time for the permaculturists to get an idea of what’s available. We had some bright folks on the class on New Year Eve’s day. We spent more than five hours wandering are Mead Garden. Experiences ranged from discovering the flavor of Blue Porterweed blossoms, to the heat of Smartweed, to helping rid the park of some invasive winged yam bulbils. Detailed information about the classes can befond on my “classes” page listed in the navigation menu on my home page.
Saturday, January 7th, John Chestnut State Park: 2200 East Lake Road, Palm Harbor, FL 34685. 9 a.m.
Sunday, January 8th, Mead Garden: 1500 S. Denning Dr., Winter Park, FL 32789. 9 a.m.
♣ How many wild edibles should you know? My answer is usually ten to 12. In any given area there are about a half dozen prime edibles, usually less. Toss in a couple of medicinals worth knowing and a few of your local really deadly plants and you have your dozen worth knowing. A dozen is quite doable.
Foragers tend to fall into one of three categories, sometimes all. There are folks who want to know what’s growing around their homes and in their neighborhood. Many foragers are outdoors people, hunters, fishermen, kayakers, hikers, campers and the like who like the idea of finding food on the trail, less to carry and all that. And there are those who take a survivalist view that if society falls apart how do we eat. They have different wants and needs. I teach survivalists to go from staple to staple, picking up incidental greens while going from staple to staple. Hunter/gatherers have to be extremely efficient to survive, a point some don’t consider. Foragers depending upon what they forage can’t waste time or energy on hunting down greens. They need staples harvested at the peak of nutrition.
For folks who want to know what’s around their home that’s fairly easy. They usually live in suburbia and it’s seasonal weeds and an occasional landscape plant or two. Spend a little time each month looking at the edibles around your home and you’ve got it. A year of study and your yard should hold few mysteries.
It’s the adventurers who have the greatest challenge because they encounter different environments at different times. Still, they can be selective. I have read that 90% of wild edible plants are greens, not the most nutritious of species but certainly the most common. That’s what they will encounter the most. Perhaps the greatest challenge of the adventurists is spotting the edibles in different environments. Unlike a yard where the weed will favor a spot, out in the wild knowing what grow in what environment is important.
Some folks are all three, or a combination of a couple. But it is an adventure of sorts and no shortage of plants to learn about. I think there’s at least 700 edible species locally, if not 1,000. One of these days I might get them all mentioned in one place. From a hierarchy nutritional/energy point of view the list is roots nuts/fruits then greens. Nuts and fruits can change places depending upon where you are and time of year. But usually nuts are rated higher than fruits because they have fat which is more necessary than the empty carbohydrates of many fruits. Local nuts, besides myself, include acorns and hickories then basswood and blue beech, to a lesser extend sugarberries and silverthorns. In the southern end of the state coconuts and cocoplums would be superior.
What are the prime local plants? For staples yams (Dioscorea alata) milkweed vine (Morrenia odorata) spurge nettles roots, bull thistle roots, groundnuts, cattails, acorns, crowfoot grass seed. Papaya might be added in that nearly the entire plant can be eaten at some time in some way including the root. For quick food sand spurs should be added, just burn the spines off and consume.
Fruits are numerous and some are in season nearly every month of the year depending where you are. Locally the Firethorn fruits nearly continuously save for a freeze as does the Natal Plum. The Silverthorn fruits in February then elderberries, mulberries, citrus, palms, figs, maypops, blackberries, blueberries, podocarpus, seagrapes, ground cherries, grapes, saw palmettos, persimmons, and more.
There are scores of greens, usually seasonal favoring winter then the rest of the year. Bidens are year round, as are amaranth and chenopodium. Crepis are nearly year around as is the bitter gourd leaf. Sow thistles, pellitory, chickweed, and most of the mustards are seasons. There’s actually too many greens to mention here.
The medicinals are many as well… Willow for crude aspirin, plantains for wound control, usnea for infections, blackberries and camphor shoots for digestive upset, bitter gourd for diabetes, sida and mullein for asthma, dollarweed and water hyssop for blood pressure, maypops for menstrual issues, mint for indigestion, camphor steam for colds, Bidens leaf for sore throats, and scores more.
As for the deadlies, read little hope of surviving and a very painful exit: Poison Hemlock, Water Hemlock, Rosary Pea, Oleander, Yew, Pokeweed root, Castor Beans… and several more…. All very deadly. There are many toxic plants, in fact probably the majority, but most tend to be survivable if you get thee to a hospital. Most plants that are going to disagree with you will do so within an hour, excluding mushrooms. They can take a week to liquefy your liver.
♣ Next newsletter: Stinging Nettles. There is also one other think I have to decide. Keep the newsletter weekly or go bimonthly. Any thoughts?
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