Spicebush, A Warm Fall Woodland Spice


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If you can’t find Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) in the wild you can purchase seeds or plants here:
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) – 25 seeds
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) – 10 plants (1′-2′ tall bare root)
Spicebush berries and leaves
Spicebush berries and leaves (Photo By: Cody Hough, college student and photographer in the Michgian area)

Spicebush(Lindera benzoin) is a shrub native to north eastern United States.  It is a common woodland shrub that can be identified easily by the fragrance of its crushed leaves.  The leaf shape is difficult to distinguish, especially for beginners.  This plant produces red berries in summer which is a prized item for wildlife.  The species is dioecious which means that male and female plants exist and berries only form on female plants.

Edibility and Culinary Use

The leaves and berries of this plant can be eaten raw or cooked.  A tea can be made from all parts of this plant, most commonly twigs and leaves, it has a refreshing flavor and texture.  Also the berries that ripen in early fall have a taste similar to allspice, it is a warm spice that can be used in baking and pies.  They are usually used fresh or frozen for later use.  The leaves can also be eaten raw, usually as a condiment, and the young bark is said to be good to chew on.

Health Benefits

This plant is known for its use in the treatment of colds, fevers, dysentery, and internal parasites.  This safe plant with no knows hazards is a traditional medicine of the Native Americans and is known for its powerful health benefits.  This plant should be studied more for its beneficial compounds.

Conclusion

This is a safe and delicious plant that is typically hidden away in the forests of the North East.  But it is easy to find in the under story of the woods since it only grows about 5’ tall.  Yet another plant that is often underappreciated and undervalued by most people, adding this plant to your diet will be a great experience with good health benefits.



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Wild Violets Are A Versatile Edible Plant


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Wild Violets

Wild Violets
Leaf Shape and growth pattern are 2 good ID features

Johnny jump ups, hearts ease, pansies, wild violets, and a host of other names all point to plants in the Viola genus. There are 400-500 species worldwide and they can be found in almost all temperate climates.  In the North Eastern United States Viola sororia is a common wild violet.  This information also applies to most other species of violets and certainly the common pansy that can be purchased in early spring at any garden center.

Edibility and Culinary Use

The whole wild violet plant is edible.  Leaves and flowers can be eaten raw or cooked, raw leaves are nice and crunchy with a slightly mucilaginous texture.  The flavor of wild violets is mild, not overwhelming so you can eat a whole bunch at one time.  They are commonly used as a lettuce substitute in salads and sandwiches. The roots are one of my favorite spring snacks, right when the leaves start coming up in early spring, you can uproot the entire plant and find small edible tubers on some species, such as Viola sororia. Wash the tubers then lightly boil or steam these to soften them up a bit before they are served.

Health Benefits

Historically wild violet leaves and flowers have been used for a number of ailments from headaches to asthma, to sore throats, even whooping cough, just to name a few.  It has also been used as a breath freshener.  The plant is valued for its anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties.  Wild Violets and Pansies also contain salicylic acid, which is a pain reliever.

Blue, white, yellow and purple are common colorations together or apart
Blue, white, yellow and purple are common colorations together or apart

Identification

Wild violets are difficult to identify when flowers are not present. The primary factors that can be used for easy identification of this plant are the timing and shape of flowers.  Wild violets can be identified by the flowers appearing in very early spring.  These plants are common in untreated lawns and planting beds.

Once you see these very early spring flowers you can confirm the identity of the plant by the flower shape.Wild violet flowers vary greatly in shape. size and color but their petal pattern is always the same. They all have 5 petals arranged a specific way, 2 up top, then 2 in the middle on either side, then a single petal on the bottom. For extra confirmation of correct identification search online or in reference guides for wild violet species in your area and attempt to identify plants by species.  Leaves are often heart shaped but sometimes are irregularly shaped or rounded as is the case with many pansies. The maximum height of the plants vary by species but are usually less than 8″ tall.

Conclusion

Violet flowers always have a lower center petal in front.
Violet flowers always have a lower center petal in front.

Wild violets are a great foraging plant.  Flowers and leaves pop up in very early spring, and the plant sticks around throughout the entire growing season.  Throw some pansies or violets into your next meal to give some color.  Violets are one of the first things to come up in the spring so to celebrate the first few weeks of warm weather eat violets for taste, texture, and color.

Read our Article on: Safe Foraging



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Bittercress, a Nationwide Herb


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Bittercress
Bittercress, notice the small leaves and upright flower stalks

Hairy bittercress(Cardamine hirsuta) and similar species such as pennsylvania bittercress (Cardamine pensylvanica) are small annual or biennial herbs that are prolific native plants in almost every state in the US. It is a winter annual so it germinates in the fall, stays alive throughout the winter then flowers and puts out seed in the spring. Despite the name it is usually not bitter, It’s a delicious herb and the best part, its free, you can find it almost anywhere.

Edibility and Culinary Use

The leaves and flower stalks can be eaten raw or cooked.  The root can be grated and used as a flavoring.  The flavor of this plant is similar to broccoli rabe but much milder.  It’s an often overlooked wild edible, but the herby flavor can add some spice to any type of food.

Health Benefits

Being in the brassica family bittercress has many health benefits.  It contains glucosinolates which are known to help remove carcinogens from the body.  It also contains, vitamin C, beta-carotine, and possibly lutein which is known to help reduce vision problems including cataracts.

Key ID Features

Bittercress is a lawn weed that is green early in the spring and late in the fall.  This is when it is easiest to spot. Here is a list of some of the identifying features of this plant:

1) Circular to 3-lobed small leaves toward the base of the plant which are arranged in a very orderly row along the stem. narrower leaves toward the upper part of the flower stalk which are also arranged in an orderly row along the stem.

2) Leaves and stems come from a single point.

3) Flower stalks with small white flower clusters which turn into small elongated seed pods later in the year.

The best way to identify a plant like this is once you think you have found it, pull it up by the roots and bring it inside to compare to this picture or other pictures from credible sources.

Conclusion

This small plant can make a big impact for anyone who loves to forage for wild food, or anyone who wants to add another herb to their pantry.  It is easy to spot once you know what to look for, and very easy to harvest since there is usually an abundance of plants in one area. Next time your walking through your lawn or garden in the spring or late fall, look for Bittercress, and try a little, you might like it.

Read our Article on: Safe Foraging


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