While working with my grandsons on a Boy Scout survival project, I came across an interesting book by the Department of the Army, ”The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants”.
It got me thinking about how our frontier travelers used some of vegetables, plants for spices, and medicinal purposes. This book answered many of my questions.
It’s most important that I preface this blog with a warning directly from the book:
Very important, please read this before you continue with the blog.
Warning: The critical factor in using plants for food is to avoid accidental poisoning. Eat only those plants you can positively identify, and you know are safe.
Plants are valuable sources of food because they are widely available, easily procured; and, in the proper combinations, can meet all your nutritional needs. Absolutely identify plants before using them as food. Poison hemlock has killed people who mistook it for its relatives, wild carrots and wild parsnips.
Chicory: I think one of the most popular plants used throughout history is Chicory. The base leaves resemble those of the dandelion. The flowers are sky blue and stay open only on sunny days. Chicory has a milky juice. It can be found in old fields, along roads and weedy lots. All parts are edible. Eat the young leaves as salad or boil to eat as a vegetable. Cook the roots as a vegetable. I wasn’t aware that the plant are edible and had so many usages, but of course, coming from the South, Chicory used as a coffee substitute is well known. Roast the roots until they are dark brown and then pulverize them. I just image the frontiersman kept a look out for this plant.
Dandelion: Believe it or not all parts are edible. I’m not gonna describe this plant, as we all have to deal with it during the spring and summer. The roots are high in vitamins A and C, as well as calcium. Like Chicory, you can roast and ground the roots for a good coffee substitute. Another use is the white juice in the flower stems can be used as glue.
Sassafras: Everybody has heard of Sassafras tea in historical stories. This shrub bears different leaves on the same plant. The spring flowers are yellow and small, while the fruit is dark blue. The plant parts have a characteristic root beer smell. The young twigs and leaves are edible fresh or dried. Small dried young twigs and leaves can be used in soups. Now for the tea…dig the underground portion, peel off the bark, and let it dry. Then boil in water for tea. Of interest, shred the tinder twigs for use as a toothbrush. Now we know how the frontiersman cleaned their teeth!
Here’s a couple of popular, yet dangerous, common flower garden plants.
Trumpet Vine or Trumpet Creeper: The last two very dangerous plants I want to tell you about are ones that almost everybody have around them. The first is the Trumpet Vine, which climb all over fences and are intentionally planted. The trumpet-shaped flowers are orange to scarlet and climb to 15 meters high and spreads like a wild weed It has pea like fruit capsules. The caution on this plant is that it causes contact dermatitis, so be very careful working around this plant. If pruning, I’d make sure I had long sleeves and gloves on. And, I’d suggest you be very careful touching your face and be sure to wash your hands very good.
Lantana Plant The second is a very popular plant. The Lantana is a shrub like plant that may grow up to 45 centimeters high. The color varies from white, yellow, orange, pink or red. It has a dark blue or black, berry like fruit. A distinctive feature is its strong scent. The caution on this particular plant, again very popular, is that it is poisonous if eaten and an be fatal. It also causes dermatitis in some individuals, so if you’re working with this plant, I’d follow my suggests for the trumpet plant.
Again, I’m going to warn our readers that all or part of many wild plants, once used, can be very dangerous. Always, always be very careful about eating or cooking any wild plant unless you know for certain it’s safe. Cautious is best! When in doubt, don’t eat!
Now my question to you, really two of them: Do you think the frontiersman used the edible part of wild plants? The second, do you think people died coming west due to consuming or coming into contact with dangerous wild plants?
To one lucky winner who leaves a comment, I am giving away an eBook of my newest western contemporary romance “Out of a Texas Night”.