Tag Archives: wild edible plants Texas

Sow Thistle

(Sonchus oleraceus)

Come find  out how to identify, harvest and eat sow thistles and other wild edibles at my upcoming plant walk on Saturday, February 25th! See the classes page for registration details.

Prickly Pear Flowers

They’re some of the most beautiful wild edible flowers available this time of year. Pluck off the petals and eat them raw in salads, on sandwiches or anywhere else you’d like a colorful, crunchy, nutty nibble.

Wood Sorrel

Be on the lookout for wood sorrel (Oxalis spp.) emerging on the edges of your garden, in the woods, along streams and especially in sidewalk cracks. (Though be weary of eating anything growing out of the sidewalk!) All the above ground parts of this plant are edible and make a wonderful addition to salads, sandwiches or soups. Some species even have edible underground tubers! The heart-shaped leaflets are easy to see and the taste is distinctly sour-tangy-lemony-sweet.

Farkleberry Forest

 

How does that saying go – You’ll find what you’re looking for when you least expect it? Or stop looking and you’ll find it…? Well, the hike we took on our land near Smithville was intended to be just that – a hike. But we stumbled upon a grove of loaded farkleberry trees and snacked until our bellies were full. I often talk about how cool it would be to walk around the forest all day eating wild berries – well, that’s exactly what we did!

Joe Henry finds some lower limbs

The berries were undiscovered by birds and still hanging from the tree! They were slightly dried with a subtle sweetness. The farkleberry or sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) is related to blueberries and is similar in sweetness and texture though the berries are smaller than cultivated blueberries. The small understory tree or shrub grows east of Austin in the lost pines and in east Texas.

Garner finds even lower limbs

Handful of Farkleberries

Henbit

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

Eat the stems, leaves and flowers raw or cooked

Henbit growing in my garlic patch

Acorns

Burr Oak Acorn on Nutcracker

There are thousands of wild edible plants that grow in Texas and the folks over at Useful Wild Plants of Texas Inc. are working hard to document them all in their multi-volume, groundbreaking work titled  Useful Wild Plants of Texas, the Southeastern and Southwestern United States, the Southern Plains, and Northern Mexico. The focus of my much-smaller book is simply on the wild edible plants of Texas that are:

  • easy to find;
  • abundant and not endangered;
  • tasty;
  • useable in everyday cooking;
  • relatively easy to identify (and therefore difficult to mistaken for a toxic plant);
  • found in urban and rural areas; and
  • present in at least half of the state.

Acorns definitely make the cut. However, making them tasty does require a bit of work. Here’s a quick rundown on how to process them:

1. Shell them and discard the rotten ones

Burr Oak Acorn – 1. Shelled & 2. With Cap

2. Boil or soak them in hot water to leach out tannins. The quickest method is to boil the acorns, changing the water every 15 minutes or so, for a few hours or until they taste less bitter.

Acorns boiling on stove – the yellowish-brown water is a good indication that it’s time to change the water

3. Once leached, the acorns should taste sweeter (though they might still have a slight hint of bitterness) and can be eaten or dried in an oven and then roasted, stored or ground into acorn meal for cooking.

After boiling, the acorns will turn brown

For a slightly longer article on processing acorns, check out my Edible Austin column from last winter at this link.

Wild Persimmons

Watch out for Diospyros virginiana this time of year! These persimmons are gorgeous and perfect for your holiday baking or your Thanksgiving table. I found this American persimmon (also commonly known as eastern persimmon or common persimmon) near the University of Texas campus in Austin. Over the next month or so, you might notice the orange fruit clinging to the branches of this medium-sized tree. Here in Austin, these trees are shedding their beautifully colored leaves for the Fall. Wild persimmons can be used in cooking or eaten raw but make sure they’re squishy-ripe when you eat them since unripe persimmons are very astringent.

Persimmon Leaves changing colors

Though not a great shot, here’s the tree I found

American persimmons in the canopy

 

Eat your Mesquite

 

Apple Tart with Mesquite Crust

Mesquite beans are one of my favorite wild edibles. They are widely available in Texas, easy to collect in large quantities, and make a delicious flour (or mesquite meal) that is perfectly sweet and can be used to create some fabulous dishes and baked goods. Here’s how to process the beans:

1. Collect mesquite bean pods in late summer and fall. Be sure to taste the pods to make sure they’re sweet before collecting since the tastes vary from tree to tree. Approximately 4 cups of bean pods will produce 1/2 c mesquite meal.

2. Spread the pods on a baking dish or cookie sheet with sides and dry in your oven at 175º for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. Once dried in your oven, the pods should be brittle and easy to snap apart. At this point, you can store the dried pods in an airtight, bug-proof container in your pantry for future flour-making.

3. If you are making a small amount of mesquite meal, a coffee grinder works great. (For large amounts, you might want to use a food processor or heavy-duty blender. A grain grinder also works but not everyone has one of those sitting around their kitchens.)

Dried mesquite pods in grinder

4. Once the pods are ground up, sift out the hard debris using a colander or sieve. You can re-grind the mesquite meal for a finer flour.

5. Use the mesquite meal to prepare a variety of dishes. Here’s a link to some mesquite recipes. Yum!

Wild Harvests

Mexican Plums (Prunus spp.)

Honey Mesquite Beans (Prosopis glandulosa)

Prickly Pear Fruits (Opuntia engelmannii)

Dandelion Greens (Taraxacum officinale)

Hackberry Jam

Hackberry trees have a bad reputation in Texas mostly because they grow really well and they are everywhere. Since they are fast-growing, they are also fast-dying which means that they easily drop limbs (on cars and houses, unfortunately) and topple over in storms. Birds also love to eat the berries. When the birds finally poop out the seeds, they are usually sitting on fencelines which means that hackberry trees tend to take over our fences as well. I often hear people talk about hackberries and trash trees in the same sentence. Even my husband Chris, a die-hard naturalist, wants to cut the one in our backyard down. Boooo.

I love hackberry trees. For one thing, their bark is gorgeous; its deep ridges and knotty texture really stands out in a native landscape. And they provide fabulous shade and an abundance of leaves for mulch in the fall. One of my favorite things about the hackberry tree is the berries – they’re edible and super easy to find. Even though they are small, you can easily collect a couple of cups of berries off of one tree. They turn a deep, dark red color when ripe and they are hard, like little tiny jaw-breakers. Now is a good time to collect the ripe berries. You can nibble on them raw by gnawing and sucking the skin and pulp off around the large seed. Once you spit the seed out of your mouth, take some time to wonder about the taste – it’s unique. Chris thinks it tastes like sweet tea. I recently made a hackberry jam to spread over acorn biscuits and venison — Yum!

How to Make Amy’s Hackberry Jam

1. Wash the berries, remove the stems and place them in a saucepan with enough water to cover the berries. It’s a good idea to start out with at least 1 c of berries. One cup of berries will eventually yield about 1/2 c of jam. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Once the skin has softened a bit, you can use a masher to begin removing the skin and pulp from the seed.

2. Pour the water and berries through a sieve or strainer into another saucepan to strain out the seeds. Push as much of the pulp through the strainer as possible using a wooden spoon. At this point, you might realize that a lot of the pulp and skin is still on the strainer. Take about 1/4 c of the hackberry water in the saucepan and pour it back through the strainer to wash extra pulp into the saucepan. You can also pour another 1/4 c or so of water through the strainer into the saucepan.I also pulled a lot of the skin pieces off the seeds and threw them into the saucepan. This added some flavor and texture to the finished jam.

3. Add 1/4 c sugar (for 1 c of hackberries) and 1 Tbsp. lemon juice to the saucepan and boil. Then simmer and stir the liquid until it thickens – about 15-25 minutes.

4. Pour the thickened jam into a bowl or jar and serve with biscuits, crackers or meat.