I spent Earth Day 2018 marveling at the beauty and abundance of the natural world around us.
Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are blooming amidst the more readily recognizable pink and white blossoms of cherry and pear trees. The oddly shaped flowers grow directly from the branches as seen in the photo below. The flowers taste like spring vegetables, like peas or new asparagus – not sweet per se, but fresh and eager. They would make a fabulous garnish on a salad of pea shoots and other young greens.
I found wild ginger (Asarum spp.) in the woods entirely by accident. The leaves remind me of violet, only more so – heart-shaped, but more so; shiny, but more so; green but more so. The rhizomes smell like earth and faintly of Zingiber officinale, or “real” ginger like you would buy in the store. (The two plants are unrelated except by name.) The flavor is mild enough you can munch directly on the rhizomes… after washing them, of course!
Dead white stalks, talk despite being bent and broken, indicate where last year’s pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) stood. Since asparagus was peeking up through the dirt in my garden, I wondered if pokeweed shoots might follow a similar timetable? Indeed, at the base of the dead stalks I found signs of life. I haven’t decided yet how – or even if – I will try pokeweed this year…this is one of those plants where timing makes all the difference between tasty and toxic. Stay tuned for future posts!
Under the forest cover, mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) plants blanketed the ground. This one even had a budding flower. Mayapples are my tragic foraging story of 2017. I had located them in the spring (just like this year!) but when I returned to harvest the fruits the plants had completely disappeared – maybe due to spraying, or being choked out by wine berries, roses and other plants which dwarf the tiny mayapples. This is another plant which straddles the line between life and death for humans; all parts are poisonous except the completely ripe fruit. (And some sources advise they can still be poisonous if consumed in large quantities.)
Last but not least – I found several patches of spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) large enough I knew that harvesting a few for their corms would not endanger the local population. The corms are tiny – this picture shows a closeup of about 1/3 cup – and so much work to find and dig that I probably won’t bother again. Once cleaned and trimmed of roots, I steamed them in the microwave for 3 minutes and coated with butter. They tasted like teensy tiny potatoes (they are also known as “fairy spuds”) except sweeter. I meant to photograph the handful of cooked corms, but they were devoured before I had the chance!