Remember Euell Gibbons? He was famous as a naturalist and connoisseur of wild foods in the 1960’s. His best known works were the book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” and the commercial where he asked “Ever eat a pine tree? You know …some parts are edible.” Well, I made fun of him when I was little, but now I understand that Euell was right. There’s good eating out there—and plenty to munch on in Utah. A word of strong caution for beginning trailside snackers: Take along a professionally written plant guide or preferably a plan expert before chowing down.
If you’re in the mood for something with a bit of a punch, then wild onions are for you. They are found in open meadows especially moist ones. Wild onions feature multiple flowers on a single stalk which create a globe shaped inflorescence. Identification is confirmed by the pungent onion aroma. All parts of the plant are edible: flower, leaves and root.
While difficult to harvest, stinging nettle can be pretty tasty. The stinging nettle has minute hollow hairs filled with formic acid–the same toxin produced by red ants,–which causes a painful, red rash when the plant is touched. Early season nettles have a sweeter taste and the very top of the plant has the tenderest leaves. Pinch leaves firmly between fingers and thumb; this will crush the hairs and prevent any stinging. Saliva neutralizes the effects of the acid, so leaves placed carefully into the mouth won’t sting.
Watercress is sweet yet with an acidic aftertaste. It’s found in moving or still water and has white or pink flowers typical of the mustard family. The peppery leaves are wonderful –it’s great as a snack or on salads with other greens. It is important to rinse off watercress leaves well with clean water before eating to avoid ingesting microorganisms such as giardia.
In late summer and fall you’ll find a number of berries to eat. Eat the tangy purple elderberries as the red ones will make you sick if they aren’t cooked; Thimbleberries resemble raspberries but with more seeds—they taste like raspberries too. The thimbleberry bush is thorny with large five-pointed leaves. Oregon Grape is a low-lying plant recognizable by its yellow flowers and holly-shaped leaves. Its sour berries are edible either raw or cooked—but sweet tooths might want to add sugar. Don’t forget the juicy, purple serviceberry which is common in riparian habitats on moist, wooded hillsides up to alpine elevations.
These are just a few examples of the many edible possibilities out there. Remember to double check with an expert or a reliable guide before eating any plants that are new to you. From all of us at Stokes Nature Center: Bon Appétit!
Photo: Courtesy WaterwisePlants.Utah.Gov: http://www.waterwiseplants.utah.gov/default.asp?p=PlantInfo&Plant=313
Text: Stokes Nature Center: Cassey Anderson
Sources & Additional Reading
Tilford, Gregory L. Edible and Medicinal Plants of The West. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Montana, 1997.
Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Museum of New Mexico Press, New Mexico, 2003.
The Basic Essentials of Edible Wild Plants and Useful Herbs Jim Meuninick. Globe Pequot Press, Connecticut, 1988.
Jack Greene – Many different educational hikes 2000-2008
Euell Gibbons advertising GrapeNuts, YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XJMIu18I8Y (accessed July 16, 2008).
Euell Gibbons in the Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. “,” http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/GG/fgi38.html (accessed July 16, 2008).
Hi, I’m Dick Hurren from the Bridgerland Audubon society in Cache Valley.
Isn’t it interesting how shopping centers and housing developments are named after things that used to be: Fair Meadows Court, Rustic Drive, White Pines Lane, Riverwoods, Apple blossom Circle. There is one place that is named for its current occupants: Robin Street.
The American Robin is one of the most adapted birds to human development. It is also one of the most recognized. Robin redbreast is found not only by the stream, but in back yards, and city parks. We see them hopping across lawns, cocking their heads to see close up and picking out juicy worms. They also feast on cherries and other fruits. They can be seen and heard high in trees or on house peaks identifying their territory. Think about how they were in the past, pulling worms from a meadow and eating native berries. They actually have it better now.
They interact near us most often during breeding season. Robins build nests in trees or on sheltered ledges and platforms on buildings.
Both parents work to build the nest from sticks, thread, mud, and other available materials. The grass inner lining is soft against a woven-mud-covered bowl. Nest building is completed about 10 days before eggs are laid. The eggs are laid, one per day until a clutch of 3 or 4 fill the nest. The eggs define the pale blue-green color “Robin’s egg blue”.
The female sets on the eggs about two weeks until the young hatch blind and featherless. Mother and more often the father feeds the young. In another two weeks they are fully feathered and trying their wings. While the male feeds the young the female can be building another nest. Robins can produce 2 or 3 broods a year.
The robin’s size and shape is so well known that they are used as a standard to compare other birds.
But its a rough life being a robin. Only 40 percent of the nests built successfully rear a brood. Of the young hatched, 25 percent live through November. Although a robin may live up to 14 years, in any given year, only about half of the robins alive will live until the next year. Lawn chemicals and uncontrolled pets are part of the robin’s equation of life and death. The population of robins turns over on average every 6 years.
Robins roost in groups, except during the season when the females are setting on the nest. Males always roost in groups. After breeding, the nestlings and females join the male flock. Flocks of robins don’t frequent backyards as much in winter as they do in the nesting season. Some robins migrate, but some also live year-round in the same location. Robins remain in flocks until the spring nesting season when they again divide up into pairs and return to parks, back yards and Robin street.
For Wild About Utah I’m Dick Hurren.
Photo: Courtesy of National Park Service, US Department of the Interior www.nps.gov/prsf/naturescience/american-robin.htm
Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society
For More Information:
Complete Birds of North America, Jonathan Alderfer, ed. National Geographic, 2006