Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Native Berries

I grew up indoctrinated with the notion that all berries not sold at the grocery store must be poisonous. This, I'm sure, is something that I was taught as a very young child to prevent me from sampling unknown plants. There are enough poisonous plants around that uneducated sampling could kill you.

This, for example, is Ilex Verticillata, Winterberry holly. Most members of the holly family have poisonous berries. It is unclear whether these berries are poisonous, or just inedible to humans. The wildlife loves them, however.

If you are close enough to get a good look at these berries, you're already too close.

This is Toxicodendron vernix, otherwise known as poison sumac. The birds will enjoy these berries late in the winter, when other food sources have been depleted.

These are the berries of jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum. I have read that when chewed, a chemical they contain will cause your mouth to immediately feel like it is full of needles. These are poisonous to humans and livestock.

Much to my surprise, Plants for a Future lists the bulb of this plant as being edible, when it is prepared properly by being thoroughly dried.

These are the flowers and unripe berries of pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, a perennial herb, and it is a classic example of a common, poisonous berry that you want to keep out of the hands of toddlers. The entire plant is poisonous. But like jack-in-the-pulpit, parts of the plant are edible if prepared properly.

Plants that are safe to eat only after some specific preparation tend to have interesting stories behind them. Pokeweed greens, for instance, were commonly eaten by the poor in the Southern United States because it is one of the first edibles to grow early in the Spring. After a winter of eating nothing but beans, cornbread, and bacon, I would eat this plant with enthusiasm, too.

Pokeweed was actually sold canned up until about a decade ago. The last company to carry it discontinued the product not because there weren't people eating it, but because they were having trouble finding workers willing to harvest it. Aparently they were hiring people to collect this plant from the wild, rather than cultivating the stuff.

To my great surprise, Plants for a Future lists these berries as being edible both raw and cooked. These are Cornus amomum, silky dogwood. I haven't tasted them yet.

[Update: they taste awful. But perhaps they weren't yet ripe.]

This dragonfly was clinging to the dogwood berries, too cold to fly away from my nosy camera.

Lastly, this is Vaccinium corymbosum, northern highbrush blueberry. They grow in our wetland but have only produced a few berries this summer. On Frye Island, Maine, we ate our way along the road from similar blueberry bushes.


Becky said...

Native berries can be good. Wintergreen is great. Partridge berry are a bit bland. Elderberries good when cooked are a bad idea raw.Identification is the important thing. Mom used to tell us "Don't eat those, they are bird berries". If you don't know what it is it could hurt you so leave it for the birds.

Michelle said...

Thanks for the info Becky!

michael said...

i chewed on a holly berry and it was sweet and slimy then i spit it out that.

and stag-horn-sumac tasted sour & sweet but ok for us to drink.

acorns are very very bitter you need water after tasting them.

the yew-berries on my evergreen bush was as good as the holly but i had to spit them out because their not safe for us to eat.

juniper shrub berries are good they had a tiny bit of sweetness in them.

silver-maple seeds i guess are ok they were kinda like green-bean tasting.

poke-weed tasted bitter.

Indian straw berries are ok they are like water their not sweet at all so if you ever need any water eat some of thos

and beach-nut tree seeds are ok they didn't really have a taste this is all that i have tried so far...