Amaranth: Grain, Vegetable, Icon

22 July 2013

 Amaranth, the forgotten food A book could be written about amaranth, and probably has, if not several. A grain, a green, a cultural icon, a religious symbol… amaranth is colorful plant with a colorful history. It’s also nutritious. Amaranth was a staple of pre-Colombian Aztecs, who imbued it with supernatural powers and made it part […]

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Strawberries of Spring

20 June 2013


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Thistle: It’s That Spine of Year

15 June 2013


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Garlic Mustard, Jack-By-The-Hedge, Sauce Alone

1 May 2013

Gather Garlic Mustard now for pesto or it may disappear presto… well… maybe not immediately but if one university succeeds Garlic Mustard will become hard to find or extinct in North America. It all started on this continent sometime around 1868 when Garlic Mustard, a native of Europe, was found on Long Island, no doubt […]

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Tropical Almond, Sea Almond

18 April 2013

I went to Ft. Myers one Friday to look at plants on an 11-acre monastery. On the property there was a large tree they didn’t know nor did I. The following Sunday while teaching a class across the state in West Palm Beach two students knew a tree there that I didn’t know. It was […]

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4 April 2013

Brookweed is an edible plant few know a lot about these days. Even Professor Daniel Austin, who managed to write 909 pages about ethnobotany, could only scrape up one paragraph. Moerman does not mention the Brookweed in his book on Native American Food Plants. It escaped entry in Cornucopia II, the Encyclopedia of Edible Plants […]

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Queen Palm

17 March 2013

The Queen Palm and I got off on the wrong frond. Before I met one I had read it was toxic. There are a few toxic palms but the Queen Palm is not one of them. A rain forest native to Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina, Queen Palms, Syagrus Romanzoffiana, are more a landscaper’s delight […]

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4 March 2013

One could easily write a book about Birches because they are so valuable to foragers. While I grew up with white birches in Maine Birches don’t grow locally though if you plant one about 100 miles north of here as an ornamental it will survive. The Black Birch, Betula nigra, however is a native and […]

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Chocolate Vine, Akebi

28 February 2013

Any plant with “chocolate” in the name is sure to get attention. And when it’s also called an invasive species then even more so. Oddly the Chocolate Vine reminds me of the Camphor Tree. They are not even remotely related but when  you read about the Camphor Tree it seems to have arrived everywhere from […]

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23 February 2013

I am often asked can we eat Hydrilla? The answer is no, and yes. There is only one species of Hydrilla, verticillata. The Hydrilla you buy in the health food store is the same that clogs lakes around the world. Can you take it out of a lake, cook it up, and chomp it down? […]

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Mahonia Mélange

13 February 2013

When I first heard of the Mahonias it was a bit irritating. They’re widespread shrubs in the western United States and here I was in Florida. But as time revealed, we have a Mahonia here, just not a native. The berries of several Mahonias are edible in various ways including Mahonia aquifolium, Mahonia haematocarpa, Mahonea […]

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10 February 2013

Some 18 generations ago — 600 years ago give or take a few centuries — some Natives Americans stopped cultivating a particular crop and may have moved on to maize. About 150 years ago — five generations — American farmers were raising crabgrass for grain when they, too, moved on to corn, the descendant of […]

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Liatris, Dotted Blazing Star

6 February 2013

If you study ethnobotany one thing you will learn is that natives often used several species in a genus without making any distinction between them. This was quite true of several “ground cherries” found in Florida. They used them interchangeably.  This may also be true with some Liatris of which there are 43 species, all […]

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Tuberous Sweetpea

31 January 2013

Anyone who has mowed fields for hay hates vetch… wild pea.  It binds up the machinery and a lot of livestock won’t eat it. That’s a lose lose all around unless the vetch is Lathyrus tuberosus. A decade of my life was spent haying with just such a mower above. I know every part of […]

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Velvet Leaf: Fiber and Food

28 January 2013

Velvet Leaf is a commercial failure but a successful foreign invader. A flop as a fiber plant and cursed for its infiltration of food crops, it was first cultivated in China some 3,000 years ago. From there Abutilon theophrasti made its way nearly everywhere on earth. First the Mediterranean area, then Europe. It was introduced […]

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Bottlebrush Tree

17 January 2013

I’m often asked during my classes why I mention many plants that can be used to make tea. There are two answers: One is that different teas can be pleasurable if not healthy. The other answer is more practical: Leaves that can made into tea can often be use for flavoring like a bay leaf, […]

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Water Chestnut, Water Caltrop

1 January 2013

The Water Chestnut is a plant of contradictions. It is rare in parts of Europe where it’s native thus “endangered.” Europeans want to see more of it. But it’s “invasive” in North America where officials want to eradicate it. In its native range it’s rare because people ate most of it. Where it’s invasive officials […]

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Wild Ginger

17 December 2012

Wild Ginger is cantharophilic, sometimes myophilic or sapromyophilic. If that’s all Greek to you it should be because it is Greek bastardized via Dead Latin into English. Canthrarophilic means pollinated by beetles, myophilic or sapromyophilic pollinated by flies. I suspect bees (melittophily) occasionally get in there as well. Wild Ginger grows close to the ground […]

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14 December 2012

Che is not the tree it used to be. At one time there were just he and she Che trees. Then a few decades ago along came a self-fertile seedless Che then Ches grafted onto a close relative the Osage Orange. The he’s and she’s have also escaped from cultivation in North Carolina and coastal […]

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Corn Smut, Mexican Truffles

12 December 2012

Mexican Truffles. Corn Truffles. Corn Smut. Raven Scat. Ustilago maydis gets more unappetizing the further one goes down its list of names. The Aztecs called it huitlacoche.  The Mexicans call it a delicacy. Corn smut is a fungus that grows on young maize. When the corn is in silk kernels become infected. They swell to […]

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