Monday, June 09, 2008

Wild Edible Plants of Houston

To learn more about wild edibles check out my Edible Wild Plants Blog

I had the great pleasure of another edible wild plant tour over at Jesse H. Jones Nature Center last weekend. We spent almost three hours munching our way through the woods of north Houston. It was nice for once being the eater rather than the eaten out in the borderlands.

I took plenty of notes and pictures for y'all. Note: a lot of the pictures aren't very good. It's HARD to take pictures of plants so that others can safely ID them later on. View this post as a list of edible plants you can easily find in the wilds of Texas. Most books on the subject have hundreds of plants and it's easy to get overwhelmed. In comparasion, I suspect many of you will find this list to be underwhelming. I have included links to better pictures and more information for each plant, so hopefully you'll get a better idea of what to look for.

So, here's the menu for a summer day in the piney woods of Texas:


The tour started first with some steamed greenbriar in Hollandaise suace and tea made from horsemint flowers/leaves (bergamon), yaupon holly leaves, and linden flowers (basswood flowers).
After devouring the greenbriar it was off into the woods.

Day flower / Spiderwort
Spiderwort is found in shadey, moist areas. The leaves and flowers can be eaten in salads and the steam can be cooked like asparagus.

Flowering Pear / Asian Pear
Asian pears were originally brought over from Asia as ornamental trees and as disease-resistent rootstock for other pears. The fruit are small, only about the size of grapes, but they can be eaten. They have a pear flavor which isn't suprising. Sadly, there's not a lot of information available about these trees on the web.

The white flowers make a good tea.

The root tubers and seeds (nuts) of nutsedge are edible, both either roasted or eaten raw. Nutsedge stalks are triangular in shape as opposed the the round stems of the poisonous Tuberous Vervain (verbane)

Poisonous verbane
Don't eat this.

Turk's Cap
Turk's Caps are in the hibiscus family. Flowers, fruit, and seeds are edible. The flowers can also be made into a drink similar to pink lemonade.

Redbud tree
Redbud seedpods are edible when young (May-April here in Houston) though you need to sautee them. The early spring flowers are also edible.

The red berries of sumac can be made into another pink lemonade drink. The berries pictured are too far past their prime though. Sidenote: white sumac berries are poisonous.

Shepard's Purse / Poor Man's Pepper
This plant likes sunny, dry areas. In the spring it's young shoots are greens best served cooked. The roots can be eaten but they aren't very good. Cooking helps with that, but not much. The seeds have a strong pepper taste and are easily collected in the summer.

Sweetgum Trees
The sap of sweetgum trees can be boiled down into a sweet gum (hench the name) but it's best use is as a soothing ointment for fire ant bites and as an antibiotic. Chew a few of the leaves into a paste then smear it on the bite or wound.

Indian Strawberry
These are tiny, tastless strawberries that grow in great numbers in well drained, partially sunny areas. They are high in nutrients.

American Basswood (aka Linden)
The young leaves of this tree make an excellent salad, the flower bud can be munched raw while the flowers can either be eaten raw or made into a great tea. The inner bark has been used in cordage-making for centuries and can also be eaten! This is probably one of your most useful wild plants in East/Gulf Texas areas so learn how to identify it.

American Elm.
A similar looking but much less desirable tree is the American Elm. The flowers are edible and if you want to put the work into it you can make cordage from the inner bark fibers, but it isn't a s easy as making cordage from basswood. The American Elm is also often mistaken for yummy beech trees.

Toothache Tree/Devil's Walkingstick/Hercules' Club
Oral-numbing leaves of the toothache tree (light green/yellow leaves directly right of the notepad).

Spikey/thorny trunk of toothache tree.

The leaves of the toothache tree releases a powerful numbing agent when chewed and can be used to dull pain in the mouth and throat. Of course, these leaves taste horrible, luckily you only need to chew a small peice then spit it out. The spines on the trunk and branchs of this tree are conical and end in very sharp spikes, unlike the pseudo-spines of the Maple, which are made of overlapping scales.

The maple can develop trunk/branch lumps that look like the spines of a toothache tree but the leaves are different. The seeds of a maple can be roasted for a tastey snack. Remember to peel them out of the "helicopter" seed pod first!

Mustang Grapes
Edible, though unripe in this picture, fruit.

Mustang grape leaves are fuzzy and have a white underside. The fruit can be eaten raw or made into jelly and wine.

Muscadine Grapes
Another wild grape. Its leaves aren't as fuzzy as Mustang grapes nor do they have white undersides. The fruit is edible and can also be used to make wine and jelly. Both Mustang and Muscadine grape vines can be used as an emergency water source in the woods. Cut through a thick grape vine as high up as you can reach, followed by cutting through it again at the very bottom. To collect the water which drips out support the top end up in the air and place the bottom end below it in a container. Once the water flow stops cut two feet off the top and more water will drip out of the vine. Repeat the cutting off of the top two feet every time the water stops flowing until no vine is left.

Frost Grapes
Frost grapes are called this as they usually don't ripen until the fall. As with the previous two grapes these can also be made into jelly and wine.

Dewberries and Blackberries
Dewberry vine growing along the ground.

Upright blackberry cane.

These sweet, wild berries can be invasive in their growth, but very yummy. The fruit usually ripens in the spring and is worth every thorn-stab recieved while gathering them. It's a favorite of the Wether-household.

The dried or roasted flowers and leaves of this wildflower make a wonderful tea. It's flavor can be somewhat overpowering so use only a little of the plant material.

Okay, there you have it. In combination with This Post you'll have a good idea of what to eat in the wilds of Texas.

Sidenote: I forgot probably the yummiest thing in Texas wilds - feral pigs!
Damage done by rooting pigs. Huge numbers of feral pigs are everywhere in Texas, causing huge amounts of damage. Luckily they can be hunted year-round.

Peace be with you.

To learn more about wild edibles check out my Edible Wild Plants Blog


Wildcat said...

oh yeah, you saved the yummiest food in east Texas woods for last. oink, oink.

good write up. i'm sorry i missed it. we'll have to have a PWPSG meeting at Peckinpaugh so you can school us on what you learned.

Lone Star Chris said...

hey look at that, you turned over 50,000 hits on the site... Congratulations!

Merriwether said...

Over 50,000 hits...Pretty amazing, huh? I remeber watch for it to hit 1,000 and then 10,000.

The Houston Chronicle linked to this edible plant post. That sent quite a few eyes my way. Very cool.

Yet no company wants to sponser me with cash, gear, or trips down the Amazon river. Grrrr!

Ruthie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

are most or any of these plants found in the austin area?

Merriwether said...

Yes, most of these plants can be found around the Austin area, especially near sources of water.


Richard the Forester said...

Nice site. The photo labeled "Maple" appears to be misidentified. The warty bark pictured appears to be sugarberry, unrelated to maples.

Anonymous said...

Great photos and nice idea--the seasonal tour....Makes this gatherer of the NE anticipate a move to the SW.

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Gabby Green said...

What do the insides of sumac berries look like? because if its white then I have some in my backyard.

Merriwether said...

Hi Gaby. The seed inside the sumac berry is white. However if the outside of your berry is also white you have a poisonous sumac.

Gabby Green said...

Cool! The inside of the berries are white but the outside is red so it not poisonous awesome!!!!!

Leisure Learning Unlimited said...

I heard you on Pat Greer's program this morning and am hoping that you'd like to teach for Leisure Learning Unlimited in the fall.

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Anonymous said...

I'm surprised to not see wild elderberries mentioned...I had been noticing the plants for many years, commonly seen growing in fencerows (suggesting seed spread by birds!) along roadways, with their attractive foliage, lovely big umbrels of white slowers, followed by berries, without knowing what they were. When a clump of them colonized a corner of my rural Liberty county property, I decided to incorporate the pretty plants into my landscaping, and it was only then I did research to find out what they were. I've made a couple small batches of jelly now,not wild about it, but it's not bad. The blooms (elderbloom) is also edible.

Anonymous said...

Hi my name is Jennifer, I would love it if you could find the time to call me. I have very limited access to the internet and no email. I would like to know of any tours or classes on edibles in the Weatherford Fort Worth area. My number is 940 452 7183. Thanks a bunch