I took some time and walked around our local, near the interstate, very busy shopping area to see what was there. This is typical of many areas. You just have to know what you are looking at.
I parked in front of Aldi and began a walk.
Oak tree, probably a red or black oak due to the pointed nature of the leaves. If you research how often Oak trees produce acorns you will see a huge difference in opinions. Here is what I believe. White Oaks, softly rounded leaves, produce acorns more often and are milder in taste. Red and Black Oaks take longer. About every three or four years there will be a huge production of acorns. Some trees produce consistently every year, others do not. Most Oaks will not produce acorns until they are at least 20 years, but a few are fast growers and will produce after five. Some believe that acorn production is a result of past weather, some believe it is a result of future weather and plants communicating among themselves. Regardless, some years are good, others not so much.
Acorns need to be leached of their tannin. It is not a difficult process. The result is a wonderful nut that is excellent in baking. It is also a nutrition powerhouse with some very necessary items that just eating greens will not provide. A typical acorn contains about 50% carbohydrates, 35% water, 5% fat, 4% protein, 4% fiber, 2% ash.
Continuing my walk through the parking lot, there are some Honey Locust, Gleditsia triacanthos, trees with pods. When earlier in the season, the pods are lime color and grow 12 -14 inches long. Honey Locust bark is brown or grey in color. Honey Locust trees may or may not have thorns (commercial trees most likely not). Black Locust, another wonderful tree, and often confused with this tree, has pods that are about 4 inches long and may be poisonous to humans (there are discrepancies on this account). The bark of Black Locust is dark with grooves that resemble intertwining rope.
The tender young pods of the Honey Locust can be cooked and eaten. The young seeds in the pods can be eaten raw or cooked, and though I have not tried them at this stage, it is reported that they taste like raw peas. Deer love them. The seeds can also be dried and ground and used as a high protein flour. Older seeds can be roasted, ground and used as coffee (tastes like bitter chocolate). The pods, when green, have a pulp which is thickest along the inner curve that is green and sweet. Sugar can be extracted from it. I have tried it and it reminds me both in texture and taste of sweetened avocado.
At the stage above, you can use it to make Honey Locust Beer or roast the seeds for a coffee like drink.
Honey Locust Beer Recipe
Long black Honey Locust pods
Ripened persimmons or sliced apples
2 cups molasses or honey
Break pods into pieces. Place layer in keg or crock. Add persimmons or apples. Cover with boiling water. Add sweetener, let stand at least four days before using.
|Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum|
|Amur Maple, Acer ginnala|
|Silver Maple, Acer saccharinum|
Maple leaves are also edible. Young leaves are preferable because as they age, they contain a chemical that causes anemia. In the spring and and early summer, you can safely eat a cup every few days. See this article about Deep Fried Maple Leaves which are popular in Japan.
Inner bark of the Maple can be eaten raw, boiled or roasted.
grind for flour. It is one of the easiest wild edibles to find and identify in my opinion. The plant most often confused for clover is wood sorrel and also edible (tastes lemony). Wood sorrel is about the same size but the individual leaves are heart shaped rather than round.
Salix nigra. The bark contains salicylic acid, a chemical compound similar to aspirin. The bark can be used also a poultice. Black willow roots are very bitter and have been used as a substitute for quinine in the past. The leaves are high in vitamin C and can be eaten fresh or dried but they are bitter. They are more of a famine food.
Bradford Pear, Pyrus calleryanna, is a relatively new addition in the United States. It is mostly used as a landscaping tree and was sterile when it was introduced in the early 1900's. However, with competition came the addition of more differing genetics causing many trees, particularly escapees to the wild, to produce tiny "pears." These have a pear flavor but are very tart. They can be used to produce a jelly, wine and even a sweet and sour sauce. The size of the tiny pear produced will vary depending on the genetic make-up of the tree. I have seen them this size and also nearer to the size of a quarter. It would be a famine food eaten raw, but cooked, it has a lot of potential.
Not only is pine needle tea tasty, but it has 4-5 times the vitamin C of fresh squeezed orange juice and is high in vitamin A. When the first European colonist arrived in the new world, many were suffering from Scurvy, often with teeth falling out due to the disease. The Indians introduced them to the use of Pine needles as a remedy and saved many lives. There are also historic references to sailors adding Pine needles to their beer on long journeys to prevent Scurvy. It has been a popular herbal remedy for preventing and relieving the symptoms of colds and flues. Pine needles also contain shikimic acid (Tamiflu). The inner bark of the tree can also be used as a food source if times are truly tough.
The leaves, berries, and flowers of hawthorn are used to make medicine.
Poke weed, Phytolacca americana, is a much loved and hated plant. Primarily, this is because if prepared incorrectly, it can poison you, causing vomiting and diarrhea. The compounds thought to be problematic are oxalic acid, saponins (phytolaccotoxin and phytolaccigenin) and an alkaloid (phytolaccin). On the other hand, it's early spring appearance has saved many a settler from starving and even today it is being studied for it's cancer and virus fighting ability. It is high in Calcium, Phosphorus, Iron, vitamin A, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin and vitamin C.
I have to admit, I love it. The early spring greens have a flavor like no other. You would think that by boiling it in two changes of water and then frying it that it would be mush, but it is not. The leaf is sturdy. The bottom photo is what it looks like when you can pick it. The top photo is the berries that are often confused with Elderberry. Once you have seen them, you will never confuse them.
The berries and the roots have been used in folk remedies to treat arthritis, lime disease and even poison ivy. See Amish Folk Remedies.
berries grow in branched clusters, like the flowers. The leaves of Poke grow in an alternate pattern while the Elderberry leaves grow opposite of each other. When looking for Elderberries, the bark is smooth and dotted, see photo.
Another look alike is Devil's Walkingstick, Aralia spinosa,which has similar berries but has a telltale sign as it has thorns.
Cercis canadensis. I include this because if it were spring, the purple buds would be edible (great in salads or baked goods) or early summer the seed pods would be edible. You have to catch the seed pods at the right time or they quickly become too tart (before the seeds begin to grow). They look similar to snow peas.
sauteed with bacon! It can also be used to make a wonderful salve to treat bug bites and other skin conditions. It is actually one of the best I have ever used.
Taraxacum officinale, are one of the best eating greens available. They have more calcium and iron than most cultivated greens. The roots can be roasted, ground and used as a coffee substitute. The flowers can be made into wine...surprisingly good wine! I dry the leaves and add them to soups and stews all year.
It can be used as a mouth rinse for inflammation of the mouth and throat. It can be applied directly to skin to improve wound healing.
Other sources indicate that it lowers blood pressure and fights infections. Contrary to what many believe, it does not cause seasonal allergies. It blooms at the same time as Ragweed but its pollen is too large. It does cause contact allergies in some people.
All above ground parts can be dried and used for a fragrant tea.
As we wind our way around Home Depot, this is what we find! Also a favorite wild edible, though many hate it with a passion. This is Kudzu and everything but the seeds is edible. The leaves are particularly good at being dehydrated. I eat them raw as well, but they are a little chewy. I add them to soups and sauces all year. It's a great way to sneak in nutrition. The flowers make a wonderful jelly. The roots can be ground and used as a thickener but I have yet to try it. If you live near a site such as this, you will never starve. It takes five minutes to pick enough to fill two dehydrators.
Sawtooth Oak, Quercus acutissima, is in the same family as the first photo, but as you can see, the leaves are completely different. This tree is a native of Eastern Asia, introduced in the US in 1920. It is fast growing and produces acorns in as early as five years. Sawtooth oaks are not red or white but from a group called "cerris" which has traits that are somewhat between white and red. Deer love these acorns. These can be leached of their tannin and ground for flour.
A little tip about acorns, usually the cap is an indicator of tannin strength. The bigger the cap the more tart the acorn.
Eastern Cottonwood, Populus deltoides, in the willow family, has bark that contains salicin, a glycoside that decomposes into salicylic acid (aspirin). It has been used to treat inflammation, rheumatism and fever. The inner bark, known as cambium, can be eaten raw or cooked. It is usually dried, ground into powder, and used as a thickener in soups or to make bread. Not only was it used by Native Americans but also by people of Europe and Asia. It is high in vitamin C.
The leaves are rich in protein and have a greater amino-acid content than corn, rice, wheat and barley. A poultice of the leaves has been used to treat rheumatism, bruises, sores and boils. The sap of the tree can also be enjoyed as a drink.
That ends our tour of a typical commercial shopping area! Hopefully you have found enough to eat to avoid the zombies!