US Department of Agriculture(USDA) Hardiness Zones

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The USDA Hardiness zone Map is an attempt to divide the country into zones that give us some idea weather certain plants can be grown in any given area.  The primary piece of data used to delineate the zones is the average annual winter temperature experienced in that area.

 

A Good System but Not a Perfect One

The USDA Hardiness zone Map is a good system because many plants are limited by minimum winter temperature, but many plants are also limited by other factors which are not considered in delineating the USDA Hardiness Zones. These factors include: maximum summer temperature, humidity, rainfall, snowfall, soil ph, soil moisture and urban heat increase.  So these factors must be considered independently of the USDA Hardiness Zones. Abnormal and infrequent heat or cold snaps may also kill certain plants in zones that they are normally stable in.

Versions

There are a few versions produced at different times based on different data periods. 2 Maps are include here. The older version(1990) includes Canada and shows areas as being slightly cooler. The latest map(2012) does not include canada and should be the most accurate for our time but shows areas having warmer temperatures than earlier maps.  Therefore many of the zones are slightly higher in latitude that previous maps.

(You may have to download and zoom in to see the descriptions of the zones)

USDA Hardiness Zone Map 1990
USDA Hardiness Zone Map 1990
USDA Hardiness Zone Map 2012
USDA Hardiness Zone Map 2012


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Kousa Dogwood Fruit, Tropical Flavor in Temperate Climates

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Cornus kousa, Kousa Dogwood Flowers and Leaves
Cornus kousa, Kousa Dogwood Flowers and Leaves (Photo By: Valerie75 / Wikimedia Commons)

Kousa Dogwood fruit is the primary edible part of Kousa Dogwood Cornus kousa), which is a small tree or shrub native to Asia that is now a very popular landscape plant in the US. It is also called Japanese Dogwood, Korean Dogwood, and Chinese Dogwood, there are many cultivated varieties in existence.  The only place it has naturalized  in the US is New York state but it can be grown reliably in many other states in the US.  It currently has no major disease or insect problems in the US and is hardy down to USDA Zone 5.

Kousa Dogwood Fruit and Leaves Edibility and Culinary Use

Cornus kousa, Kousa Dogwood Fruit
Cornus kousa, Kousa Dogwood Fruit

The primary edible part of the Kousa Dogwood is its red berries which are usually produced in abundance in late summer.  The taste is very good and unique for a temperate climate fruit.  I always said it tastes like a cross between a mango and pumpkin.  The fruits are about the size of a strawberry but round.  The problem is there are usually a lot of seeds inside the fruit so you often don’t get as much of the edible part as you want.  Good thing the trees usually have a lot of fruits.  Selecting the best, ripest fruits makes a big difference as far as taste and texture goes.  The fruit should be bright red and slightly squishy or soft to the touch.  If it is hard then it’s filled with more starch then sugar and doesn’t taste nearly as good.  The best way that I have found to eat Kousa Dogwood fruit is pull off the stem and suck the pulp right out, then spit out the seeds.  It’s a great shot of flavor.  The skin is edible but rough and grainy, so it’s usually best to avoid eating that part.  The fruit is often used in pies and jelly.  The young leaves are also edible when cooked but I have never eaten them.

Kousa Dogwood Fruit Health Benefits

Cornus kousa, Kousa Dogwood Flowering
Cornus kousa, Kousa Dogwood Flowering (Photo by: Frank Vincentz / Wikimedia Commons)

More research should be done on the health benefits of the Kousa Dogwood fruit.  It is known to contain calcium and fat similar to avocados. Check out BodyNutrition.org to learn more about where to get good natural calcium supplements.  They also contain anthocyanins which are antioxidants but research is being done to determine weather we get any benefit from these anthocyanins after consumption and digestion of the fruits.

Conclusion

Kousa Dogwood is a reliably grown small tree.  It gives us northerners a taste of tropical flavors.  Not to mention the plant is primarily grown for its flowers which completely cover the tree in spring.  For backyard foragers, find a kousa dogwood and keep an eye on it in late summer.  It will soon be a favorite spot for a late summer snack. You can also purchase saplings HERE if you are interested in growing your own.



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Chicory, Street Side Salad Greens and Tea

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Cichorium intybus, Chicory
Cichorium intybus, Chicory (Photo By: Nova / Wikimedia Commons)

Chicory( Cichorium intybus ) is a perennial herbaceous plant that grows throughout all of the US except for Alaska and Hawaii.  It also grows in most of Canada except for the far north. Chicory is native to Europe but has naturalized in The US and Canada. Chicory is known by a few other names including blue dandelion, blue weed, coffeeweed, horseweed and cornflower(not to be confused with Centaurea cyanus which is also called cornflower). The best way to identify this plant is by its dandelion-like leaves and bright blue flowers. It is commonly seen growing along roadsides and in sunny areas.

Edibility and Culinary Use

Although the plant does grow commonly along roadsides as a weed I would recommend walking a ways away from the road before collecting to avoid pollution and contamination.  Chicory is a relative of Lettuce, Dandelion, and Salsify.  It is a wild version of Radicchio and Belgian Endive.  With all these plant relatives you might have guessed that Chicory is very bitter tasting.  Blanching the plant(growing it in low light conditions) will help to remove the bitter taste but also will remove much of the nutrients.  The plant can also be blanched in water( cooking in water then discarding the water).  If the leaves are eaten in early spring they are much less bitter. Refer to our Chicory Root Tea Recipe for more information.

Cichorium intybus, Chicory Flower
Cichorium intybus, Chicory Flower (Photo By: Tony Hisgett / Wikimedia Commons)

All parts of the plant are edible. Leaves are eaten raw or cooked and the flowers are usually used as a garnish for salads. I like eating the flowers because for some reason the bright blue looks tasty until I eat it, then I remember how bitter it is, but I still like to forage for them often. My favorite use for the plant is to make a tea of the leaves, flowers, stems or roots.  The tea tastes much better then you might imagine if it’s made properly, the bitter taste should be diluted to point of being pleasant to drink. A tea made with the roots is a good coffee substitute, the roots are baked and ground into a power.  The roots can also be boiled or baked and eaten as a vegetable. Chicory can also be used as a hops substitute in beer.

Health Benefits

Cichorium intybus, Chicory Lower Leaves, Upper Leaves, and Flowers
Cichorium intybus, Chicory Lower Leaves, Upper Leaves, and Flowers

Chicory is loaded with vitamins and minerals. It’s a very healthy addition to any meal.  It contains: Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamins B1,2,3,5,6,9, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, Zinc.

Conclusion

Chicory is a very common wild edible weed.  It’s nutritional value alone is a good reason to include it in your diet.  Chicory can be foraged on the go or harvested for preparation at home. Chicory leaf or root tea is a healthy alternative to caffeinated drinks. Chicory plants can be placed in low light conditions to blanch out the bitter taste, but this will also take out some nutrients as is the case with Belgian Endive, which is still a nutritional food, but not as much so as its wild counterpart, Chicory.  So as your driving along the road this summer keep an eye out for those bright blue flowers 1’-2’ off the ground.



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