crunchy thistle midrib with cheddar and crackers
Collecting bull thistle is not for the faint of heart (or tender-fingered.) But if you’re willing to brave the spines, the payoff is delicious and one of a few crunchy, mild-tasting wild vegetables that you can eat raw. Of course you can cook it too, but the leaf midribs are sure to be a hit (and a huge conversation piece) on your next veggie party plate. Here’s how to get to those wild, crunchy slightly-fuzzy veggie sticks:
Bull Thistle (Cirsium horridulum)
1. Find a good patch of bull thistles with large leaves. Wearing gloves (or not if you don’t mind a prick or two), cut the leaves as close to the basal rosette (where they appear to branch out of the center) as possible – you can use scissors but might find that small garden pruners work better. The larger leaves will provide the longest, thickest midribs though the smaller leaves will have the tenderest. Throw the leaves in a bag for processing – paper or cloth bags are best to avoid getting poked through the bag.
2. Use scissors to strip the spiny parts off the leaf until you are left with a stiff, light-green colored veggie stick that you can wash, chop and set out on a plate for dipping. You might want to strip the leaves while you’re out in the field to avoid bringing all the spines into your kitchen.
Bull thistle midribs stripped of the dark green, spiny part of the leaves
note: All true thistles are edible and have many edible parts though some will be more palatable than others.
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.
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
Prairie Tea (Croton monanthogynus)
Each day this year, I am eating something from the wilds of Texas. It may be small and symbolic or it might be a whole meal, but it will always be something I find, something tasty and something wild. Usually, it will be from my own average urban yard – I haven’t transplanted any wild edibles into it but I have let several places go wild. Dining (er, at least nibbling) options in my own yard include wild onions, Turk’s Cap, wood sorrel, dandelions, dayflowers, hackberries, chile pequins, acorns, and prairie tea.
Ah-ha, it is prairie tea season! When you’re out hiking these days, you might catch a whiff of something very aromatic, almost sage-y, as your legs brush against plants along a trail. Most likely, you are smelling prairie tea. The leaves of this plant are edible and can be used as spices, in teas or as a basil substitute in your pesto. But always be sure to properly identify this spurge family plant as some plants in this family are toxic. Also, be sure you are not allergic to or irritated by this plant before harvesting a load for your next meal!