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.


August 4, 2010

Re-post: summer edibles w/parts

Filed under: Edible plants, foraging, fruit, herbs, summer — Tags: , , , , , , — WildArkansas @ 5:37 pm


A couple of readers expressed an interest in viewing the list with the information on which plant parts should be harvested. Here it is.

A Short list of common edibles currently in season (summer) for Northwest Arkansas, though some can be found throughout the year.

Common name                         Binomial                                What’s Edible?

American Elder             Sambucus canadensis        Berries (prepared)

Asparagus                       Asparagus officianalis        Tips

Black Cherry                 Prunus serotina                   Berries

Cattail                            Typha latifolia                      Root, stem, flower, pollen

Chicory                        Cichorium intybus             Every part of plant is edible

Chufa                            Cyperus esculentus            Tubers; raw or cooked

Dandelion                  Taraxacum officianale        Every part of plant is edible

Docks                          Rumex (acetosa,longifolia…)    Leaves; raw or cooked

(There are several varieties of dock/sorrel in the area; including curly, spinach, broad leaved and the dooryard. All are edible.)

Ground Cherry       Physalis pubescens                    Ripe fruit; raw or cooked

Ground Nut              Apios americana                          Tubers; cooked

Lambs quarters      Chenopodium album                  Leaves; raw or cooked

May apple                 Podophyllum peltatum             Ripe fruit; raw or cooked

Mulberry (red, white) Morus rubra/alba               Ripe fruit; raw or cooked

Oak (Red, White)    Quercus rubra/alba                  Fruit; raw (alba) or prepared (rubra)

Passionflower          Passiflora incarnata                All parts are edible; raw or cooked

Pawpaw              Asimina triloba        Ripe fruit; raw or cooked

Peppermint          Mentha piperita        Leaves; raw or cooked

Pickeral weed       Pontederia cordata        Leaf stalks/fruit; raw and cooked

Plantain/Plantago   Plantago major, asiatica…    Leaf; raw and cooked

Purslane            Portulaca oleracea        Leaf/leaf stalk; raw and cooked

Quickweed           Galinsoga parviflora        Green tops; cooked

Smilax              Smilax rotundifolia        Vine tips/berries; raw and cooked

Smooth Sumac        Rhus glabra            Fruit; cooked

Spearmint           Mentha spicata        Leaf; raw or cooked

Sweet Flag          Acorus calamus        Young stalks; raw or cooked

July 1, 2010

Forager’s herbarium

Though I’ve been around Lake Fayetteville several times, last night I participated in my first field class with a tracker and former Alaskan ethnobotany teacher, Patrick Monroney.

The lesson included learning how to build an herbarium.

This particular preservation method is not the same used by botanists who collect, label, dry and press the plant material before mounting.
[read Wikipedia article about how to build a formal herbarium http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbarium]

It is meant to build identification and collecting skills in the field.

For newbies to plant identification techniques, the herbarium consists of collected samples placed on plain index or card stock and held in place with clear contact paper. Once mounted, the plant data is entered on the card.

Despite fading daylight, we managed to put a couple of hours into collecting.

Lake Fayetteville is one of the best botanical classrooms in the area, because of the diversity available. In the two hours collecting, I came away with ten mounted samples.

Following is a project on how to start your first herbarium for identification purposes.

If you are going to mount in the field, you may want to prepare your contact paper beforehand, cutting pieces down to size.

What you need:

Scissors or an exacto knife
5×8 index cards (preferably white, unless you collect white flowers. In that case, Patrick uses colored stock.)
Contact paper cut into 4×7 pieces. (Comes in rolls that can be found in the housewares section at Wal-Mart.)


1. Cut your collected sample/parts down to size. Make sure all parts are clean and dry. (If moist, pat with paper towel).

2. Peel contact paper from backing, place sticky side UP on an index card and center it.

3. Lay plant (parts) as flat as possible on contact paper. Some are impossible to flatten, just do your best to flatten enough to mount.

4. Place another index card, white side down (white side facing plant)

6. Turn it around to inspect. You may have to clip or cut, but now you can label the card. 


If you need additional help putting together your herbarium, shoot me an email. I can send photos. The photos I tried to use in the post didn’t work very well. 🙂

June 30, 2010

Upcoming Ethnobotany Class

Filed under: Classes, foraging, herbs, OTS — Tags: , , , , — WildArkansas @ 1:23 pm

The Ozark Tracker Society is offering August 27-29:

Art of Wandering: Knowing Your Plants and Finding Your Way

Ethnobotany is more that just knowledge of edible and medicinal plants, it includes appreciation of culture as well as harvesting, processing and caretaker ethics. What do the herbivores eat and how can we model their behavior? Develop your identification skills and learn to use local wild plants for foods and medicines. Learn to find your way with aidless navigation as we wander diverse landscapes of the Ozark highlands. Core routines include “Wandering”, “Mapping” and “Mind’s Eye Imagining.”

The price for this class is $95. and due one week before the class begins.

For more info. visit the website at:


December 13, 2008

A Bitter Dande to Swallow

Filed under: dandelion, Edible plants, herbs — Tags: , , — WildArkansas @ 2:41 pm


Dandelion has been at the top of my list for a long time as one of the best healing herbs available. However, no matter what I did with the dande, I could not mask the bitterness to make it more palatable.

Yesterday I gave it another try and dug some root from the side of the house.

Everything I’ve read has said to dig the root during the fall and I have, with disappointing results. I’ve boiled, baked and roasted the dande. I’ve tried juicing it with lemon and putting it in salads. No matter what method of cooking or ingredients used I’ve had the same result—a terrible tasting dish or juice with that ever-present bitterness of dande coming through.

Though it’s probably one of the most widely distributed herbs, I suspect it’s also probably one of the least used, simply because of the awful taste.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve avoided the dande for the past few months.

In August I started experimenting with Taraxacum and wrote a short article about it. I avoided admitting then that the dandelion was one of the worst tasting bitters I’ve had to deal with. Yes it was healing, and a healthy addition to any dish, but…

It was a bitter dande to swallow.

Perhaps the full moon would have a beneficial effect. I remembered reading something about gypsies digging herbs during a full moon for potency and effect and after reading about the moon in its apogee, I had to try.

I dug, cleaned and sliced it and before placing it in the oven for roasting decided to try a bite. What a difference! I had to check the leaves again to make sure it was dandelion.

I found out later, by another forager that sugars bound together in the cells of the dandelion are broken and released by freezing and thawing. The fructose is released and moves through the root. This process also breaks down the cell walls so the root becomes tender.

After roasting I tried a bit added to my coffee and found it as a sweet and pleasant addition.

The root will also become a regular winter vegetable for me. I can enjoy the benefits without the bitterness.

There are some great dandelion recipes at Steve Brill’s website and dandelion fritters at Learningherbs.com

Bon apetit!

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.

October 21, 2008

Wild Arkansas: Smilax

Filed under: Edible plants, foraging, Smilax — Tags: , , — WildArkansas @ 1:49 am

Crocus and Smilax may be turn’d to flow’rs,
And the Curetes spring from bounteous show’n

I pass a hundred legends stale, as these,
And with sweet novelty your taste to please.

Ovid, Metamorphosis

Historically, the Smilax and Crocus are bound together by myth and geography. The myth of Smilax and the Spartan youth Krokos takes many forms, but one of the most common is that of the two falling in love and in typical Greek fashion tragedy befalling the couple with the death of Smilax as witnessed by her lover, Krokos. The gods, having pity for the grief-stricken boy changed him into a flower—the saffron crocus and Smilax into the bindweed, forever entwining the two.

The Smilax-Saffron bouquet was used regularly in Roman weddings and the genus has been written about throughout history, as far back as Discorides, (Materia Medica, 65 A.D.).

Though I have found second-hand references to the plant being a poison preventative according to both Discorides and Pliny, I have found no such reference from either author at the original sources. Looking through the translated version of De Materia Medica (Book II, pg. 300), Discorides says that the berries are eaten as a vegetable with the seed, but produce urine and bad dreams.

Pliny’s reference is much the same with the author stating that, “This plant is looked upon as ill-omened, and is consequently banished from all sacred rites, and is allowed to form no part of chaplets; having received this mournful character from the maiden Smilax, who upon her love being slighted by the youth Crocus, was transformed into this shrub. The common people, being mostly ignorant of this, not unfrequently take it for ivy, and pollute their festivities with its presence; for who, in fact, is unaware [p. 3403] that the ivy is used as a chaplet by poets, as also by Father Liber and Silenus. Tablets are made of the wood of the smilax, and it is a peculiarity of this wood to give out a slight sound, if held close to the ear. It is said that ivy is remarkably efficacious for testing wine, and that a vessel made of this wood will let the wine pass through it, while the water will remain behind, if there has been any mixed with it.” [See reference].

There are twenty different species of Smilax growing in North America, with the most common varieties being the rotundifolia and the tamonides, though the Jamaican variety, S. regelii (used in sarsaparilla) is also grown throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas.

Human civilization has a long history of use of Smilax in its various forms (species), but the most common use has been that of its medicinal properties which range from asthma treatment to syphilis.

Many of the species are difficult to tell apart, because they are similar in appearance, with only chemical constituents or minute details being accurate indications of differences between the plants.

When I first came into contact with the plant and received help with identification, there was a toss-up on whether the species was a California native (californica) or the more common rotundifolia, because of the similarities between the two.

I have since come to the conclusion that the species growing locally (Lowell, AR) is the rotundifolia, simply because the californica species is restricted to regions of California and the rotundifolia is most common in this region.

Edibility for this plant is quite high with most parts of the plant being edible. The young shoots can be eaten raw or cooked in stir-fry or boiled and the roots have been used dried as a flour substitute.

An Oklahoma herbalist wrote in an email that her grandmother had used the flour of Smilax and the leaves as wound dressing and for their drawing purposes.

According to most references, the smilax shoots are used in the same way as asparagus, in fact Discorides mentions this in his writings on the plant.

Green Deane of Eat the Weeds fame also has an article and video about the Smilex bona-nox with a bit more culinary information than what’s provided here.

Bon apetit!

Some additional references:

Wild Plants of Malta article

Reference from Perseus: The Natural History, Pliny the Elder

October 18, 2008

Wild Arkansas: The Ever Evasive Apios

Filed under: Apios americana, Edible plants, foraging, nuts — Tags: , , , — WildArkansas @ 2:39 pm

Photo courtesy of kgnaturephotography.com

I want to say our walk was fruitful, but that wouldn’t be exactly true. It was a bit nutty and very, very rooty.

We found sassafras, black walnuts (huge ones!) and hickory on our walk yesterday while looking for the well hidden Apios americana.

The Apios has also been dubbed the groundnut (along with other plants including the peanut), the Indian Potato, hopniss and the potato bean.

Sam Thayer likes the name Hopniss, because “Hopniss is short, pleasant, one of the better-known names, and has never been applied to any other plant.”

Apios is a legume like beans and peas, but also has an edible tuber that foragers have craved throughout history. Thayer had a romantic vision of Hopniss before he found it, but after his first encounter the relationship between him and the plant became life long. He’s experimented in preparing the tuber several different ways and his field experience with hopniss is pretty impressive.

The bean and the tuber both contain high amounts of protein with the tuber also consisting of large starch content. The tuber has about three times the amount of protein as a potato and in tests with the plant it appears the tuber is more easily digestible when cooked.

The bean is native to North America and was used for centuries as a staple in the diet of many native Americans. It was boiled, roasted, dried and powdered for flour. Though it was used as a food crop extensively by natives it never became a cash crop, most probably because it takes two years for the plant to mature and produce a large harvest.

Some people say the taste is a bit sweet and akin to sweet potatoes, but I wouldn’t know—still haven’t found one.

Though the Apios is supposed to be rampant in NW Arkansas and is considered an invasive weed by some, it has mysteriously avoided my detection and it’s not because I haven’t looked. According to the Plants for a Future database Autumn is the best time to harvest the Apios.

Despite my lack of the wild bean in hand, we came home happier and healthier, not only for the walk, but because we had a brand spanking new sassafras seedling to plant in the yard along with a few leaves for tea and some monster black walnuts with sweet meats.

But yes, I’m still keeping my eye out for the ever evasive Apios.

One of the monster walnuts.

Hopniss Article by Thayer

October 12, 2008

Wild Arkansas: Fast food in the backyard–The common mallow

Filed under: Edible plants, foraging, health, herbs — Tags: , , , — WildArkansas @ 10:18 pm

No one told us when we were young not to eat the little green cheese wheels off the mallow plants growing in the backyard.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned the whole mallow is edible and used as a medicinal herb in many parts of the world.

Malva neglecta or the Common Mallow has been used for at least six thousand years (that we know) as a staple food and a medicinal herb in Africa, Eastern Europe and parts of China, but has only been reported in the United States beginning in the early 19th century.

Mallow grows nearly everywhere and is a hardy perennial, or annual in cold climates. The plant cannot survive in climates that dip below 28˚F, but does manage to seed so that it returns in close proximity to the mother plant in following years.

In Turkey the common mallow is used to treat stomach disorders, ranging from peptic ulcers to heartburn to stomach ache. In Britain crushed and bruised shoots have been used as poultices for sores, abscesses and boils, with the small cheese-wheels being eaten whole as a gentle laxative.

The Iroquois used a poultice of the mallow plant to treat swellings of all kinds and a decoction for childhood colic.

We ate it, because we liked the way the fruit looked (cute cheese-wheel shapes), it was fast food, tasted good and we thought it was cool to walk around being able to gather food wherever we went.

As another invasive, Malva can be found nearly everywhere. It thrives in full sun and partial shade and can be found in waste areas, as well as, tended lawns. Most people fail to notice the plant because it is so common and is often mowed with other grass.

Despite its invasive nature, Mallow is another benevolent plant that can be used medicinally with no ill-effects listed.

The only warning I did run across in the research is that of plants growing in agricultural areas. These plants should be avoided because of the high selenium and nitrate content.

September 14, 2008

Wild Arkansas: Free health food

Filed under: Edible plants, foraging, health, nutrition — Tags: , , , , , — WildArkansas @ 3:51 am

With the rising costs of groceries and incredibly higher prices of produce in Arkansas, there is little relief for struggling families wanting healthier diets.

Last year in one study by the American Dietetic Association, researchers found that healthier food really does cost more.

…junk foods not only cost less than fruits and vegetables, but junk food prices also are less likely to rise as a result of inflation.NY Times

Foragers, or wild food gatherers are hobbyists fighting the trend and winning. Not only do they find natural, healthy food, they find it free.

Online, foragers help each other identify and educate one another about the different varieties of edible plants available around the country; and this includes, berries, nuts, fresh greens and more.

Unfortunately, NW Arkansas has no such group. People are still going solo while foraging for wild food and though this is still enjoyable, it’s better to have a second or third opinion when attempting to identify wild edibles. Never eat a plant you are not sure of.

A few local plants can be found in plentiful supply and trim a bit off not only the grocery bill, but the waistline as well.

There are several different varieties of Rumex available in NW Arkansas. These are edible greens with high fiber and nutrient content.

Common Sorrel

The common sorrel or dock plant can be found virtually everywhere. It’s best to take the youngest leaves, because as the leaves age they also become a bitter. It can be boiled, stir fried or used in salads, just as spinach or any other green.

Curly dock (or yellow dock) is a common plant known as an invasive weed. The plant is high in oxalic acid and should be cooked in a few changes of water before consuming.

The plantago is another common weed, inconspicuous for the most part, but plentiful and quite tasty if you cook it right.

Watch Green Deane’s video about Plantago.

Once you start foraging, the activity becomes addictive. It’s a healthy addiction that not only cuts down on your food cost, but gets you out into the fresh air and if your lucky, allows you to interact with other members of the community.

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