Newsletter 7 March 2017

A native and an ornamental Gammagrass is widespread. Photo by Jim Allison. 

The odd thing about Gammagrass is that while it is a native I rarely see it in the wild. It’s almost always — locally — a planted ornamental grass. Thus Gammagrass is fairly easy to find in landscaping. We saw some blossoming in Port Charlotte during a foraging class last Sunday. It’s odd to think of grasses as blossoming but they do and that is one of the things

Tripsacum dactyloides at Willowbrook Reach

that makes Gammagrass stand out (see photos above.) Gammagrass also has, if not a boatload of names, then a hayload of names, around a dozen. Perhaps the oddest is “Ice Cream Grass” because cattle like the grass so much it’s like ice cream to them. In landscaping Gammagrass is usually a border species with several large clumps in a row. It can get quite tall — nine feet — and flowing but in landscaping Gammagrass is usually trimmed to a couple of feet and bristly. Unlike cattle we humans are usually interested only in either the unusual “blossom” or the hard, yellow grain. Best use is to pop the grain like popcorn or used like wheat berries. You can read about Gammagrass here.

Time Change Misery

Now is the time for my semi-annual rant about time change. I’ve written two article about it. I will freely admit I do not like time change and that I ignore it. For eleven years I have refused to “spring forward” or in autumn “fall backwards.” I stay on standard time. I do not change my clocks, my eating habits, my animals’ eating habits or my bed time. Why? I am out of sorts for weeks if not months. (I have the same long-term problem with travel. When I lived in Japan it took me nearly two months to get used to the 13-hour difference.) For the next several months I just have to remember that when I need to interact with the outside world they think they are an hour ahead of me. That is one reason why my foraging class this week is on a Saturday, to avoid on Sunday first-day problems time changes cause.  One article is Daylight Slaving Time and the other is It’s About Time. 

Classes are held rain or shine.

Foraging Classes: Except for hurricanes foraging classes usually are held as scheduled. We’re hungry when we are cold and wet so foraging classes are held when it is wet, when it is cold, and when it’s hot.

Saturday, March 11th Blanchard Park, 10501 Jay Blanchard Trail, Orlando, FL 32817, 9 a.m. We meet at the tennis courts next to the WMCA building.

Sunday, March 19th, Dreher Park, 1200 Southern Blvd., West Palm Beach, 33405. 9 a.m. We meet just north of the science center.

Sunday, March 26th, Florida State College, south campus, 11901 Beach Blvd., Jacksonville, 32246. 9 a.m. We will meet at building “D” next to the administration parking lot.

Sunday, April 2nd, Red Bug Slough Preserve, 5200 Beneva Road, Sarasota, FL, 34233. 9 a.m.

Sunday, April 9th, Wickham Park: 2500 Parkway Drive, Melbourne, FL 32935-2335. Meet at the “dog park” inside the park (turn right after entrance, go 1/4 mile, dog run on right, parking at run or on previous left.)

Saturday, April 29th, Bayshore Live Oak Park, Bayshore Drive. Port Charlotte. 9 a.m. Meet at the parking lot at the intersection of Bayshore Road and Ganyard Street.

To read more about the foraging classes go here.

Perhaps Caesar Weed has more uses than we knew.

Foraging is treasure hunting for adults. It’s also constant learning. One is always adding little bits of knowledge here and there. Recently three tid-bits came my way. At the Florida Herbal Conference I was chatting with Andy Firk about the ginger family. He had an impressive presentation on said. I knew the leaves of the Alpinia zerumbet (Shell Ginger) were dried, powdered and used to treat high blood pressure in areas such as India. I learned from Andy that food is cooked in the leaves to add a cardamom-like flavor. That was a factoid I needed to store away.  Later this week I received an email for a lady here in Florida whose house is covered with Creeping Fig. It barely makes it into the edible realm. However she reports the vine reduced her summertime electricity bill by 50%. Interesting though I wonder what the vines tendrils might do to the structure it is hanging on to. Then I heard from Joshua Buchanan who mentioned reports of using Caesar Weed seeds for flour. That was new to me. I checked one of my book references and indeed the seeds have been used to thicken soups and the like. Not sure that stretches to other flour uses. Publications that often mention that something is edible don’t report how that is made so. Caesar Weed seeds — just a few millimeters long — are arranged like a small cocklebur. They catch on your clothes (and fur.) So, I’m not sure how the seeds are extracted. It’s something new to investigate.

The Nine-DVD set includes 135 videos.

Now’s the time to get a jump on spring. All of Green Dane’s videos available for free on You Tube. They do have ads on them so every time you watch a Green Deane video I get a quarter of one cent. Four views, one cent. Not exactly a large money-maker but it helps pays for the newsletter. If you want to see the videos without ads and some in slightly better quality you can order the DVD set. It is nine DVDs with 15 videos on each. Many people want their own copy of the videos or they have a slow service and its easier to order then to watch them on-line. They make a good birthday gift for that forager you know. Individual DVDs can also be ordered. You can order them by clicking on the button on the top right of this page or you can go here.

Mayflowers. Photo by Christie Orr

It’s unusual to smell Mayflowers in March. At least that’s what I thought in 1977. I moved from Maine to Florida in January of that year and it snowed in Florida the day I arrived. What a welcoming present. And then in March I smelled Mayflowers… but they weren’t Mayflowers. It was citrus blossoms. To my nose the aromas are very similar though I doubt I could ever get a Mayflower and a citrus blossom together to compare. Mayflowers blossom in May, at least in New England.

My springtime as a child was measured by three plants: Pussy Willows, Mayflowers and Lilacs. Lilacs always blossomed about two weeks before school let out for the summer. Exactly when that was depended on how many snow days we took off from school that year. A few were always built in. But did get a full 90 days off. As for Lilacs, they are edible. Nearly everyone had at least one Lilac planted in their yard. They won’t grow in warm Florida so Crape Myrtles are the landscaping substitute.

Lilacs meant school was out soon.

First to “blossom” in the spring were Pussy Willows. So called because the blossom can remind someone with an imagination of the pads on cat’s feet. They were always out even when there wasn’t green leaf to be seen or there was some snow here and there. Mildly medicinal and a famine food, when you saw Pussy Willows (Salix discolor) winter might not be over but then was in sight.

Pussy Willows were always the first to brave spring.

Pussy Willows were followed by mud season. That when the frost in the ground melts during the daytime making dirt roads a mire of mud that froze into ruts at night. That’s also when we’d go picking May flowers on local hill and mountains. The normally green slopes would be covered with leafless trees making the rocks easier to see when walking. And the Mayflowers would be in the leaf litter and on mossy rocks.

My mother, Mae Lydia Putney, learned to forage from her mother. Photo by William L. Putney.

My mother picked Mayflowers because her mother did because her mother did and so forth on back no doubt. Yet somewhere along the line the part about them being edible must have been forgotten, not mentioned, or became secondary to their fragrant statement of spring. My mother said she liked to pick them because they were the first spring flower and sign the winter was over. No doubt some hungry people thought the same about them in the past. And perhaps because they were edible Mayflowers were also the only flowers my mother would allow in the house. She had a superstition about flowers inside the house and folks dying. Somehow Mayflowers were excluded from that ban. You can read about them here.

Can you identify these edibles? You would if you read the Green Deane Forum.

Want to identify a plant? Looking for a foraging reference? Do you have a UFO, an Unidentified Flowering Object you want identified? On the Green Deane Forum we chat about foraging all year. And it’s not just about warm-weather plants or just North American flora. Many nations around the world share common weeds so there’s a lot to talk about. There’s also more than weeds. The reference section has information for foraging around the world. There are also articles on food preservation, and forgotten skills from making bows to fermenting food. You can join the forum by clicking on the button on the upper right hand side of this page.

EatTheWeeds Time Capsule: 2010

Smilax Syntax

From thefe roots while they be new and fresh being chopt into fmall pieces & ftampt, is strained with water a juice that maketh bread, & alfo being boiled, a very good fpoonmeate in manner of a gelly, and is much better in tast if it bee tempered wih oyle.

While that is close to my spelling the report was written by astronomer Thomas Hariot in 1590 about the root of the smilax (bona nox.) Thom was the fellow who introduced the potato to Ireland. He was in Virginia with Sir Water Raleigh’s expedition to have a look around some 420 years ago. Translated he wrote:

From these young, chopped and crushed roots you get a liquid to make bread, and after being boiled, it’s a good jelly-like soup, too, but it tastes better if oil is added.

Smilax tip. Photo by Green Deane

That the tips of many smilax is a tasty green is well-known. And a starch can be settled out of the root, but it requires far more energy to get the starch than calories one gets out of it. Ten pounds of mature roots produce one pound of starch after many hours of work over several days. A better guess by the ethnobotanists is the Amerindians — or who I like to call the First Foragers — used the starch not to make bread but as a thickener, like corn starch. In that case it was the use not the calories that was important.

Few folks, however, know you can also eat the very young roots cooked as is. Simply roast or boil them. As they age they get woody and tough. But when young and tender they make, as Thom said, very good fpoonmeate.

This is issue 247.

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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Herbert March 9, 2017, 10:07 am

    Dear Green Deane,
    I am a longtime follower of your newsletter and enjoy it very much.
    Thank you!
    I have two questions:
    1. Do you know somebody or off somebody in the Eureka/CA area?
    2. Do you know somebody in or around Hilo/Hi?
    Thank you for your attention and response in advance.

  • Herbert March 9, 2017, 10:11 am

    I mean of course who does similar things as you do in
    Silly me!

  • Andrew M March 9, 2017, 8:48 pm

    Regarding creeping figs…I work with landscape architects a lot. They tell me that their roots are tiny and do not penetrate into the material hardly at all. Nothing like Boston Ivy which can quite easily pull the mortar out of brick walls.

    • Green Deane March 15, 2017, 8:42 pm

      Thank you, that’s interesting to know.

  • farouk March 14, 2017, 3:57 am

    About time change, I’m against because it diverts from mother nature. My people are at present arguing against it;one noticeable disadvantage is mismanagement in regular time on taking the usual meals. Let me comment on the innocent look of foragers in general and on that of lady Mae Lydia Putney as seen from the photo. It has to do with being close to mother nature. Has’nt this to do with foraging!?

  • Brian O March 21, 2017, 2:42 pm


    enjoy your newsletter each week ….and even though i live on the other side of the Atlantic, it gives me lots of ideas for foraging adventures – thank you.

    The story about Thomas Hariot introducing potatoes to Ireland is almost certainly a myth….read all about it here:

    …an article that i think you will enjoy….

    …happy hunting and thanks again,

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