Bagful of big fruit plums Photos courtesy of Scott Woodbury
PLUM PERFECT: The big fruit plum that grows in the wild makes for a tasty preserve. Consider searching them out and adding them to your summertime treats.

Native plants provide summer treats

Add native plants to a summer picnic for a unique eating experience.

One of my favorite books and titles is "Stalking the Wild Asparagus," by Euell Gibbons. In it, he says that a half-cup of chopped violet leaves has the vitamin C content of four oranges — not bad for a weedy native plant.

This is the time of year to harvest violet leaves, because they get tough in summer. Small tender leaves are delicious added to salads or wilted in a stir-fry. Violet flowers are also edible and really dress up salad in spring, as do the blossoms of redbud. Another yummy spring green for fresh salads is spiderwort. Again, gather leaves in spring when they are tender and tasty. The flavor is similar to romaine lettuce.

SALAD COLOR: The flower of the native violet plant can add a little color to any summer salad.

Early settlers gathered spring greens growing wild in prairies, woodlands and river bottoms. Plants like pokeweed, golden glow, fiddlehead ferns and common milkweed were harvested, steamed and eaten. I’ve tried them all, and like the poke and milkweed stems the best steamed and served with butter.

Time for tea
A favorite spring pastime for me is gathering wild strawberry leaves and sassafras roots for tea. Both are steeped in 180-degree water. The strawberry leaves are best dried before steeping. The color of the tea is yellow, and the flavor is delicate.

Although there are warnings against drinking too much sassafras tea, I drink a cup or two a year. Roots about a half-inch thick are dug up, washed and cut into thin slices. At this point, they can be steeped to make a wintergreen-like tea. Later in the spring, linden trees bloom, — and if you can reach them — the flowers dried make an aromatic tea that reminds me of jasmine blossoms.

Fun with fruits
Over the years, I have enjoyed mayapple and violet jelly, and black chokeberry, blackberry and black raspberry jams, but wild plum preserve always ranks No. 1 in my book. I can’t keep enough.

Wild plum preserve can be made from any of the American plum species, but the big fruit plum is the easiest because the fruits are bigger than other wild plums. I use three-quarters of the amount of sugar in whatever recipe I use, or I add fresh quince because I like extra tartness.

The Grow Native! program emphasizes that proper identification of any native plant is critical before consuming it. This article is for information purposes only; Grow Native! makes no warranties as to the safety of consuming any wild foods, and accepts no liability or responsibility for any consequences resulting from the use of or reliance upon the information in this article. Horticulturist Woodbury is curator of the Whitmire Wildflower Garden and is an adviser to the Grow Native! program.

TAGS: Conservation
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