Wild Arkansas

September 6, 2010

Five common edibles anyone can find

duck potato

Fall is here, and some of us who forage regularly begin looking less at the herbaceous leafy stuff and more to the branches of trees (nuts) and roots. The following five edibles are ready right now.

Good luck and have fun.

1. Despite lack of a first frost, chicory root can be dug early. Though related to dandelion, the whole plant is much less noxious than its bitter cousin.

Try digging some of the root and test for taste. If it’s too bitter, wait another month. Chances are, it’s going to be sweet tasting.

All parts of the chicory can be consumed, but at this time of year it’s best to just use the root.

2. Maypops can be found on disturbed ground. The egg-shaped yellow-green fruit is sweet when ripe, but very seedy. People of the Appalachians reserved the fruit almost exclusively for creating a maypop drink by pouring boiling water of the fruit and straining, but the fruit is a good trailside nibble despite the seeds.

3. The duck potato or Sagitaria latifolia was early this year, but in ponds throughout NW Arkansas there is an abundance of the plant.

Get your shovel out, because these babies are not coming out without a fight. I’ve tried repeatedly stomping for the prize with no results. This is one you’ll have to work for.

4. Ahhhh…the sweet smell of chamomile. Sweet dreams come with this bouquet. Not only is chamomile great for soothing the worried mind, but it tastes great and smells even better.

If you’re not going to make tea with it, pick for just the sweet smell or use for pouporri.

Find this near lakes, ponds, rivers growing on the drier ground. Moist environment without being soggy. The herb has been spotted in several public parks from Rogers through Fayetteville.

5. Oh nuts!

Yes dear readers, it’s time to look up. Those wonderful, protein-packed nuggets of nutrition are here once again.

Black walnut, hickory, pecan and acorns too. They are all here for the picking (up).

The black walnut you want to husk yourself. Do not wait for it to dry, because by that time the worms have gotten into the meat.

In some areas the acorns are falling, in others they are still green. Just take a look around and see what you can find.

I gathered red oak acorns in Springdale that were green and had to boil several times before they were palatable. Be sure to leach the tannins from these babies, because they have a very acrid taste without the proper preparation.

If you travel further west toward Siloam Springs, you may find more white oak that has a less bitter acorn. I’ve been told the white oak acorn is sweet, but have yet to experience it myself.


July 28, 2010

Lake Wedington

Filed under: Edible plants, foraging, Sagittaria latifolia — Tags: , , , — WildArkansas @ 4:37 pm

Mid-Summer photos of some edibles at Lake Wedington

Sagitaria and Cress

The year before last, I found a small patch of Sagitaria and attempted to harvest. This year, Lake Wedington is offering another challenge.  The waterscape is abundant with the plant, so there’s plenty of opportunity.

Red-Belted Polypore?

I’m not a shroomer , but this looked a lot like the artist conk or the red-belted polypore. We left it where it grew, because we didn’t want to harvest what we felt unsure about.

Butterfly on fruit

Though I’m good with berry fruits, I was at a loss when I ran across this fruit. A reader identified the species as ‘Buttonbush’ or Cephalanthus occidentalis.

November 4, 2008

Wild Arkansas: Wapato Stomping

Filed under: Edible plants, foraging, Sagittaria latifolia — Tags: , , — WildArkansas @ 12:48 am

As a traditional native food and a choice tuber among foragers the wapato held a special place in my imagination.

The Sagittaria latifolia a.k.a. duck or Indian potato is an aqueous plant growing in water or very wet soil throughout North America. According to literature the plant was a primary food source for natives, before the coming of the more popular tuber, Solanum tuberosum, or the common potato.

After spotting a stand of the arrow-shaped foilage in a nearby pond, I attempted a bit of online research. There is very little in the way of telling one how to harvest the tuber, but I was guided to one article by a fellow forager written by John Kallas in which he tells of a wapato gathering experience on Wapato Island in Oregon.

The article is an excellent reference, because it tells how the tuber was gathered traditionally and how the author managed to uproot it.

I envisioned native women stomping around in small circular motions, smiling, conversing about family while little tubers popped up everywhere around them. With barely a wink, they would pop the tubers into backpacks while tending to small children and making stamping motions in the wet clay beneath their feet.

Traditionally the tuber was gathered by wading into shallow water and displaced by stomping. Kallas explains that the continual stomping loosens the root (which is naturally buoyant) and once it becomes loosened, the continual stomping breaks it free from whatever else is holding it down.

The first day Jack and I went out, I mistakenly held the notion that a little stomping would pay off with great bounty. I could stomp, maybe wiggle my feet a bit and tubers would begin to rise and I would have a tasty side-dish for the evening meal.

Instead, the water was freezing and it took some time and courage wondering if there were water snakes (possibly cottonmouths) in this particular pond. I used a broken limb to poke around in the water a bit and thought that maybe I could get something that way, but quickly realized if the tubers floated upward, I would still have to wade in to obtain them.

Finally I did wade in just barely above my ankle and Jack reacted immediately. I’m not sure what he thought I was doing, but he began barking in a high screeched tone that made me think (initially) that he knew something I didn’t. I came back out of the water and sharpened my eye, looking for the cottonmouth.

After I assured myself there were no such creatures in the muck, I went back in again. I was not barefoot. I didn’t know what was in the pond, so decided to keep the shoes. It didn’t take long for the shoes to accumulate gravel and in combination with my stomping activity, there was an uncomfortable feeling of small pebbles nicking at my tender feet.

I first stomped about a foot away from where the plant was emerging from the water in a circular motion for approximately twenty minutes with no results. I then decided to expand the area I was working in and started depth testing with a fallen stick I had found.

In an area approximately three feet wide and three feet in length I stomped. An hour passed and resulted in nothing but pressed clay under my feet.

I quit for the day, resolving to find another way.

The second day was much of the same, but I didn’t stay quite as long. And since then, I’ve read that an easier harvesting method, and one probably much preferred, is to dig the darn things out.

I will get the wapato. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but soon.

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