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JennyC
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Is is possible to garden for food using native plants?

Not a simple question, I know, and easier in some areas than others. Is it really possible to feed yourself with native plants in most of the US, though? I'd like to, but I also like potatoes, for example. I noticed that most of the conversations in this forum are about landscaping plants, and that makes complete sense (I'm winning the battle against the English Ivy that was growing *into* this old farmhouse when we moved in, but it's an ongoing war).

So, if we insist on native plantings for landscaping, doesn't it make sense to also do as much as we can to do the same with our food crops? But how do I even find information on what's native? And how do we define "native" for food crops?

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That's a great question. Potatos and corn are native to the Americas, for instance. But I think you'd have to significantly alter your eating habits to go to an all native diet from your backyard.

Nowadays what people are moving toward is urban farming and sourcing food that is locally derived. Buying local produce, in theory, helps cut down the amount of pollution created in transporting produce from one location to another. Although this isn't encouraging native species or biodiversity, in theory it is lessening the impact on the earth from the activities of feeding yourself.

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It would be possible to subsist on all native plants; the Native Americans did it for a few thousand years before Europeans arrived. Here in the Pacific Northwest, they used the starchy tubers of cattails and great camas like potatoes, made flour from dried and pulverised acorns, and ate a variety of wild greens (eg, miner's lettuce) and fruits (wild crabapple, berries). It depends on how "native" you want to go, 100% or simply incorporate more native plants into your regular diet.

When I was in high school, I did a project for my biology class on food from native plants, and my conclusion was that just because a plant was edible, didn't mean it was palatable. :) Some of the native plants just didn't taste "right" to me. However, I grew up in a small town where the most exotic food available was kumquats; I might appreciate the tastes more now that my taste buds are better educated.

To find out what's native to your area, find a local chapter of the Native Plant Society and join it. You can find this into on line. A local community college might offer classes on native plant identification. Your local library can be your best friend; if they don't have a book on their shelf, they can get a copy from any other library in North America through interlibrary loans. Information is more available now than ever before; you just need to start looking for the info you want, and be persistant.
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JennyC
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Boy, info on origins of vegetables is hard to come by! Since I'm in Georgia, I went to the University of Georgia horticulture site and there's some vague info there, if you sift through the (interesting) write-ups on the different vegetables.

Pumpkins -- North America
Lima beans (inclusive of butter beans) -- Mexico and Guatemala
Turnip -- western Asia
Beets -- Mediterranean Europe and North Africa
Cucumber -- India
Spinach -- Iran
Watermelon -- central Africa
Squash -- North and Central America
Sweet pepper -- central America
Tomato -- South America, esp. Peru
Potato -- Peru and Bolivia
Carrot -- Middle Asia

All of which I either have growing in my garden now or plan for a fall crop. Moral of this story: I think I'll forcus on killing off the English Ivy for now, and maybe figure out how to eat on native species once I conquer that (which should keep me safe from a diet of squash and pumpkin for a good long while). Maybe I'd better start cultivating all that poke salat out there... :eek:

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JennyC
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Argh. I just lost a post in reponse to you, Garden Spider. I think we were posting at the same time.

You got me thinking about things I ate as a child, which I think were native to this area: poke salat, crabapples, persimmons, fiddlehead ferns, wild strawberries, muskadines, skuppernons (sp?), blackberries, wild roses (petals and hips). Not many staples in that list, though. Corn? It's native somewhere in North America. It's a heavy feeder, though.

Good ideas on the research, though I think the native plant group here is heavily wildflower-focused.
Jenny C

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There's a surprising number of edible plants and wildflowers. I found that out looking for forage for my guinea pigs. Lots of things we wouldn't think of are quite edible. That's not to say everything will taste the greatest and most people aren't used to a diet full of greens. It might be a bit hard if you aren't already a vegetarian that's big into salads. If you do love a salad I just basically mixed a giant 4lb salad out of edible mostly native plants from the yard and CRP land for my guinea pigs because I'm leaving this weekend. Add a few squashes, tubers, and berries/fruits and technically you could survive on it for quite awhile. However some vitamins such as b12 cannot be produced by humans and are not found in plants. They must be acquired from herbivorous animals (meat or products like milk). Reason many vegan societies fail and one of the reasons we have fortified foods so you could not survive indefinitely eating only local plant life.

Long before I existed this land used to be the main food source for our entire family across the country. Giant vegetable gardens would be planted and every fall the family would gather from nearby states like nebraska, kansas, arkansas, ohio, etc... to harvest, can/preserve, and haul their portion back with them. There are remains of the gardens gone wild and mixed about the yard and fields. Much of it native plants that were put to use. I've been spending alot of time taking pics and IDing things. You definitely could survive on my section of land if you had to.

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JennyC
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Hi, aqh88. I've been reseaching the edible wild plants around here, and we've been eating a fair amount this week. Greenbrier (some species make poky, scratchy parts on smaller plants than others!) and tons of wild strawberries around here now, plus yellow sorrel for flavor. Young violet leaves are good in salads. My radishes have bolted in the heat, so we've been eating the greens and what tiny roots I get (spicy doesn't bother me, my husband even less). I intend to try boiled clover; it's supposed to be a good protien source. Not native, but I have southernpeas and lima beans in the garden, and I'll grow soybeans this fall.

I've been vegan, but I was a teenager and not interested enough in cooking to keep myself healthy; I added back the dairy products after some alarming weight loss. Now I could probably do it, but I'm actually thinking toward goats for milk, though not this year.
Jenny C

TheLorax
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Wasn't aware Euell Gibbons had authored a book on this subject. Check out "Stalking the Wild Asparagus".

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JennyC
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Hear of that one, but I haven't found it yet.
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TheLorax
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Here ya go-
https://www.amazon.com/Stalking-Wild-Asparagus-Euell-Gibbons/dp/0911469036

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JennyC
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Got Stalking the Wild Asparagus at the library, along with his very similar Stalking the Good Life and Stalking the Healthful Herbs. Have read Good Life and most of Wild Asparagus so far, and I like them. They don't have much info on plant ID -- I'm cross-referencing heavily with the Peterson field guide for that. But they do have lots of info on preparation and recipes, and a nice conversational style that makes the books fun to read. A few blasts from the past, including a little mini-rant about how beverage bottlers are beginning to use no-deposit, no-return bottles and what a bad idea that is (led me to check the copyright date --- 1964).

I've been looking more into the foraging. Not everything I've found so far is native, but a whole lot of it is. I've discovered three nut-bearing shagbark hickory trees down by the creek. We also have a lot of what I think must be either elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) or American Mountain-Ash (Pyrus americana), but I'm not sure of that ID. Anybody know either well enough to ID from a picture? The plants are blooming now.

Just finished a salad of violet leaves, dandelion greens, and sheep sorrel. Cooked with daylily flowers last night.

I've learned an important lesson as well, though: just because you could eat it, as in it won't kill you, doesn't mean your mouth will thank you. Don't ever try to substitute wild muscadine leaves for domesticated grape leaves as lambas. Trust me on this and save yourself several hours of trying to get the clingin bitterness out of your mouth. I think I'd rather eat that than starve.
Jenny C

TheLorax
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We also have a lot of what I think must be either elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) or American Mountain-Ash (Pyrus americana), but I'm not sure of that ID. Anybody know either well enough to ID from a picture? The plants are blooming now.
Possibly, the elderberries can get tricky so you'd need good photographs of the leaves and twigs. The Pyrus is now Sorbus. I can probably tell you how to figure out whether or not you have Sorbus americana or S. decora but you could very well have S. aucuparia.

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OK, I'll try to get good pictures tommorrow. I've been looking at pictures online, and I'm thinking it's probably not mountain ash. Having the new genus name helps in finding pictures!
Jenny C

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It is entirely possible to thrive on native plants alone , I've done it much of my adult life. However, as an early responder noted, taste has a lot to do with how much you like doing it.

As with any other food, how you cook it makes a lot of difference. Out this way apparently the preparation of balsamroot Balsamorhiza sagittata by the local aboriginals was a 24 hour deal, with big holes in the earth, and much juju and culinary reputation being involved. I can see why, as none of my personal recipes are worth passing on. I've tried over 3/4 of the plants in Nancy Turners book (much the best for bc, wash, N Idaho) and at this time would only seek out 20% of them. The natives here concur, as they eat even less of them than I do.

Problem number one, if you are serious, is grease. You can't go traipsing around looking for all this leafy stuff and digging those cattail roots without your daily grease quota. For that you require fish (salmon, kokanee, ooligans), bears, or beavers, or in season, Marmot. There are trails worn in the earth, that are still visible, by feet walking from the pacific through the rockies to the plains. All to deliver concentrated, much prized grease. The trail from Bella coola is named just that, the grease trail, it goes to edmonton. Check that out on a map, for an annual jaunt, consider packing more than 1 buffalo hide back, you can see why grease was valued.

The second hurdle is storeable vegetable food for winter. Dried foliage, and berries go a long way but the real deal is carbs in the form of roots, dried or buried. Here, south of the Boreal we have cattails, sedges, wild potato, thistle and a host of others but the further north you go the more you are restricted to meat. The few eskimos I've known personaly were meat and potatoes men, like 4 steaks and a potatoe. The camp we were in didn't serve muktuk but they may well have prefered that if it was available.

Practicaly speaking, if in your particular place you can be sure where your grease is going to come from (along with it's protein), and be equally sure of an adequate supply of starchy storeables you have it made. The leafy greens, dried berries (soaked in fish oil) and ambulatory amino acids are icing on the cake.

I wish you luck in your study, check out:

Food plants of British Columbia Indians Nancy J Turner (2 parts coastal and interior peoples) Originaly by Royal BC Provincial Museum but I'm sure it is still in print and it's a classic, and could well be a lifesaver.

yours

douglas

The future has a way of arriving unannounced.

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Reading over my post I see I left out an important item.

If you grow carrots in a sunbaked rocky clay soil they will end up stringy and otherwise less than satifactory. Wild plants are the same. For 20 years I ate wild potatoes the size of dime and quarters, then I found a whole mountain where they grow as big as golf balls, even bigger some of them. (in windblown volcanic ash from 1250 years ago) You think I'm going to spread the word as to exactly which mountain?

So, you have to get to know your range, and Cultivation techniques can be applied with good results.

If you do get stringy bisquitroot or whatever, cut them thinly across the grain and spread them out in the stew. That way you won't have a big wad in your mouth to deal with.

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Thanks, Douglas. I can see you've spent a lot of time thinking about this!

Down here, I think it might be possible to meet the needs for oil and protein with nuts -- our native black walnuts are very oily, and there's always some oil to be had from the hickorynuts and pecans. Animal options are varied, but there are squirrels, deer, possum, rabbit, etc, not to mention freshwater fish. I actually don't know if our wild turkeys are native to this area or not, but there are a lot of them.

We have cattail native here, and I think groundnuts (same as your wild potato, isn't it?), though I haven't located any nearby. What we have in abundance is wild carrot, though I don't really think of that as a starch. Oh, and daylily tubers, also in abundance.

There's also the advantage of a much shorter, milder winter to contend with! I might well be able to "store" my root vegetables by leaving them in the ground (assuming they don't rot). The ground will be hard frozen some days, but not most, even in winter. I fully intend to try this with some of my (non native) potatoes this winter.
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JennyC, I envy you having nuts readily available in your neighbourhood. From where I live it is a 60 or 80 mile trip to the Marble range mountains, plus a two or three thousand foot climb to find White bark pine Pinus albicaulis nuts. they are much like pinyon nuts, maybe better. Unfortunately to remove them from the cones is a major chore involving fire and good timing. Finding them in quantity before the Clarks Nutcrackers, squirrels and grizzlies stash them away is problematic as well.
Our wild potatoes are Claytonia lanceolata (probably var ) multiscapa one of the purslane group. They truly are like a small rich potatoe and will grow well at lower elevations but as the foliage vanishes very early when the plant goes dormant they are hard not to lose in a normal garden, I kept some going for 4 years once. I suspect those golf ball sized individuals I mentioned are several years old to be that big. There is probably a species down your way, as the Claytonia derives from a Mr Clayton, a Botanist in late 15th century Virginia.

I haven't visited your part of the usa but my son now lives in S caralana and has produced a grandchild so that may be remedied in the future.

I believe some people try ground nuts in their gardens up here but it's not native and I understand it's iffy

I think the nutritional quality of native plant foods is invariably better than most domesticated plants but I would have to think it would take considerably more land to grow an equal quantity of them.
Cattails are an exception if you have the mineral soil based wetland but they sure are a lot of work to harvest in the fall. At least the mosquitoes are frozen off by then though. I would rather dig clams, or trap geese.

Are you solitary in your stalking the wild whatever or is there a group involved? If it is solitary then i have to ask repectfully, whatever possesed you to begin the endeavor?
douglas

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TheLorax
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I have problems enough beating the critters to the wild strawberries around here. I'm afraid I'd probably lose a considerable amount of weight if I was forced to play survivor woman up in your neck of the woods.

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When I lived up island, it was a short bike ride into the forest via the logging roads where I would find: Salal, hucklberries (the size of a small grape!), 4 varieties of wild raspberry and 3 varieties of blackberries. Slimmer pickings down on the Southern Island but, still good.

But, yes there are tonnes of native fruits and vegetables in North America. I went to a native plant sale this spring and there were the above listed berries, saskatoon berries, crab apples (I really like crab apples and even though they are native to the coast have yet to find a tree in the wild. The search continues.) There are all sorts of edible flowers out there and I am currently writing an article on that topic for the site.

But, a lot of stone crop flowers are edible, you can eat cow parsnip but, it has to be prepared so don't go out and harvest and take it right to the table. Giant and common camus are edible but, DO NOT eat the white variety known as death camus. You can understand why from the name. Incidentally, death camus is the one flower that 100% for sure, deer won't eat.

Pansies aren't native (to my knowledge) but, they are edible.

Every part of a dandelion is edible except the stem. Really nice too. Well, when the plants are young. They get bitter once they are old.
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JennyC
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Opabinia: I'll look forward to that article!

TheLorax: Maybe foraging is an even better diet secret than the tomato-leaf diet you guys were joking about over in the tomato forum. :wink:

Douglas: The forging is a new thing (well, new/old -- more on that in a minute) for me, really started by this conversation here. So, yes, I'm solo, and I haven't gone off this farm with it except for one big patch of dayliles along a dirt road on the way back from a workshop last weekend.

I really like the idea, and there's so much right here where I am -- all the nut trees I mentioned are on the farm, there's an old crabapple, field greens are plentiful, blackberries (the best bushes are in a neighbor's field -- I owe him a cobbler), wild roses (blossoms and hips), amaranth (whether I want it or not -- you should see my garden!) -- you get the idea. Curly dock, which it seems horses won't eat. Cattails down by the stream.

My husband and I put a lot into relocating here from the city (saved up, left good jobs we loved, etc) and I want to make the most of it. It's wonderful so far, almost a year in, and I feel like I'm just beginning to appreciate everything that's here. I haven't quite seen it through a full turn of the seasons yet, and the drought was so extreme last year that I haven't seen anything like a "normal" fall, anyway.

And foraging isn't a totally new idea to me. My parents taught me a lot of the edible plants growing up, and we ate them on many occasions. We'd have eaten more poke salat if my father had had his way, I imagine, but my mother's not as fond of greens as he is. So I come to it without the prejudice against "stuff that just grows" that many urban/suburban dwellers have.

I'd like to meet others with similar interests near me, and one of the organizers of the workshop last week mentioned someone I should talk to. I also have a friend who's an herbalist about twenty miles away. So it looks like I can make more contacts, which is good -- I'm not great at recognizing new plants from pictures, so I've been sticking mostly to ones I already knew. My mother taught me yellow sorrel as a toddler. I remember gathering hickory nuts with my father. The pecan I don't remember from my parents, but they'll take away your Southerner membership card in Georgia or Alabama if you can't recognize a pecan tree!

Anyway, that's what possessed me. :)
Jenny C

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Jenny

I think you picked a good time, in a historic sense, to make that move and I doubt you will every really regret it. Foraging and learning it's intricacies is a timeless thing that anyone who is actualy of a place does as a qualification of membership. You can always tell the real natives (rural), they might not go out of their way to harvest wild food any more, but they will surely know where to find it. Besides, it is one of those combined physical, spiritual, and intellectual pursuits that builds substance as you go yet never finishes. Always something new to learn.

I'm approaching my geezerhoodness rapidly, and am quite happy transferring past decades of rambling the mountains, plains, and tundra; hmmm jungles, deserts, oceans, into creating a garden of forage-ables. So, I'm still at it.

By your descriptions, you live in a foragers promised land, good luck and good foraging

douglas

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I forgot to mention Highbush cranberry, saskatoon berry (I had the best saskatoon berry pie at the native plant sale!), burdock and the list goes on and on and on. Whole books are written on the topic. Check out your local library.

Look for tittles like there:

The Forager Harvester


Edible Wild Plants


Edible Plants of the Rocky Mountains
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TheLorax
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Comment- Burdock is not native. It has naturalized over most of our continent but it's anything but native.
https://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ARCTI
It's in the league of noxious weed and invasive species.

Similar deal with the edible Amaranth, (Amaranthus tricolor) and a few other naturalized species. They've been around so long many people assume they are native species.

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JennyC
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Sorry, TheLorax. I know you're right about the amaranth (middle eastern originally, right)? But I think there will be no eradicating that one, or even really controlling it other than in isolated patches. So make a virtue of necessity?
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TheLorax
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No easy answer to that one. I've successfully eradicated two species of burdock from my property but I do have to be on the look out for new comers. Like my friend ChemicalFree always says, one weed at a time. Miss an entire patch, no biggie... it'll be there waiting for us next year.

You know, if you're going to remove them why not eat them? The roots are supposedly very tasty and I bet they could be prepared similar to the way Jerusalem Artichoke roots are prepared. Supposedly the leaves can be tossed in salads. Next time I miss one that gets a chance to mature, I'm going to try to locate a recipe online. When life gives lemons, make lemonade and all.

They're definitely indigenous to Europe but some are also indigenous to Africa while others are additionally indigenous to Asia.

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JennyC
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I just looked up a picture of burdock (in All About Weeds by Edwin Rolling Spencer), and I have not seen that around here. Given its size, I think I would have noticed it, but then, I did miss a 30-40 foot apple tree!

I'm a big fan of making lemonade. Hence the cultivated half a bed of yellow sorrel in my garden -- silly me, I thought that was going to be onions! And it's one reason I take such pleasure in eating greenbriers, though I can't see myself going far enough as to cultivate them.
Jenny C

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organic dairy products

JennyC wrote:Hi, aqh88. I've been reseaching the edible wild plants around here, and we've been eating a fair amount this week. Greenbrier (some species make poky, scratchy parts on smaller plants than others!) and tons of wild strawberries around here now, plus yellow sorrel for flavor. Young violet leaves are good in salads. My radishes have bolted in the heat, so we've been eating the greens and what tiny roots I get (spicy doesn't bother me, my husband even less). I intend to try boiled clover; it's supposed to be a good protien source. Not native, but I have southernpeas and lima beans in the garden, and I'll grow soybeans this fall.

I've been vegan, but I was a teenager and not interested enough in cooking to keep myself healthy; I added back the dairy products after some alarming weight loss. Now I could probably do it, but I'm actually thinking toward goats for milk, though not this year.
I buy organic milk which does not have the hormones and antibiotics found in most supermarket dairy. I found vegan quite difficult as well.

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Rose, you resurrected a long dormant, but really interesting thread I'd never seen before. Thanks! It's a direction I'd like to go in a little more. Being pretty city bound, I can't really forage, but there are plenty of edibles on my own property, like the early spring poke weed shoots, that I haven't tried yet!

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Ozark Lady
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You haven't tried Poke!
Do you like asparagus? Just get them real young and tender, and wash them good. Then gently steam them... Serve just like asparagus, same dressings and all... At my house that is simply melted butter, and maybe a twist of lemon.

Then when the leaves grow some (before stalks turn red) pick the leaves, you can boil and taste these... if they are too strong, pour off the water and boil them again, until... you have spinach.

Then later, use the stems... not the hard ones! You want your thumbnail to be able to penetrate them... wash and peel the red off of these.

Pare boil them, just a bit, not till soft.

Drain them, I slice them into a dish of cornmeal with salt and pepper added, then just fry them up like okra... not the same but a fair substitute, and much earlier...

Knowing how to cook the wild foods is alot of it. I don't care for asparagus, hence, I don't like Poke this way.

But, I do like spinach and okra... so I prefer poke this way!
Talk to your plants.... If your plants talk to you... Run!

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Pokeweed is a delicacy and premium prices are paid for it in some cultures. It is quite tasty, but it can also be dangerous to eat if you don't know what you're doing. I would say that not everyone would like it, but for those of us who enjoy strong-flavored vegetables...

Caution: Poison! Pokeweed is edible only when very young and with proper preparation. Red stems. Alternate, smooth, pointed oval leaves. Sometimes leaves are crinkled. Towers over you at full height. Dark purple poisonous berries hang from stem stalks, first as white flowers, then green berries turning purple. Every part of the plant is poisonous, especially the root.

Harvest young shoots in spring before they reach 8â€

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