More of North Florida’s Edible PlantsNov 27, 2020 09:29AM ● By Katie Tripp
Last month’s article reviewed some of the fruits native to our region. The flowers, leaves and/or roots of many of our native plants can also be eaten, with some providing healthy doses of antioxidants. It’s important only to eat plant material from areas that are free of herbicide and pesticide treatments.
Peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum) has edible leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds, in addition to being a larval host for Checkered White and Cabbage White butterflies. Peppergrass is in the mustard family, being neither related to culinary pepper nor a true grass, and has a fragrance similar to horseradish when crushed. The upright peppergrass is several inches tall, resembling a bottle brush from a distance, and could mix in easily as part of a native landscape.
The vivid flowers and heart-shaped leaves of the common blue violet (Viola sororia) contain antioxidant vitamins A and C. The leaves can be eaten raw, sautéed or dried, and used as part of a tea mix. Flowers can be added into salads or dipped in sugar water and used to adorn pastries. Eat only small quantities to avoid nausea and enjoy the rest in your yard as a groundcover. The leaves and stems of spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) resemble asparagus in their flavor, and the beautiful purple flowers, like those of the common violet, can be dipped in sugar syrup and used as an edible adornment.
Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) leaves are dried to make North America’s only native caffeinated tea. For decaffeinated tea, use the leaves of gallberry (Ilex glabra) or dahoon holly (Ilex cassine). Georgia calamint (Calamintha georgiana) and wild pennyroyal (Piloblephis rigida) leaves can be dried and used to add mint flavor to tea mixes. When flowering, calamint and pennyroyal are very popular nectar sources for bees. The flowers of trailing porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis), too, can be used in tea, and are wildly popular with pollinators. Porterweed flowers possess a mild mushroom flavor and have long been used in commercial teas and to make beer (a bitter porter) in certain parts of the world. If wine is more to your liking, ferment the flowers of Spanish needles (Bidens alba), or eat them raw along with tender leaves that can also be sautéed. To incorporate lemon flavor to your beverage, use the roots, leaves and/or flowers of woodsorrel (Oxalis corniculata).
Young leaves and stems of dollarweed (Hydrocotyle spp.) (yes, THAT dollarweed) are edible, too. If you run out of oregano to season your kitchen creations, substitute the leaves or flowers of spotted bee balm (Monarda punctata) to mimic the flavor. As its name implies, bee balm is a magnet for nectaring bees, so don’t remove too many of the flowers. Meadow garlic or wild onion (Allium canadense) is another source of vitamins A and C, which can be obtained by consuming the flowers, leaves, bulbs and seeds. It has grass-like leaves and a cluster of white-pink flowers atop a central stalk, making it an attractive garden wildflower. Florida betony (Stachys floridana) is a common wildflower whose roots are white and bulbous and have similar taste and texture to a very mild radish. They can be included fresh in salads or pickled.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn how many native edible flora there are in our region. Perhaps the only thing more exciting than learning to identify new plant species is being able to eat them, too! To find more edible natives, read Peggy Sias Lantz’s book, Florida’s Edible Wild Plants: A Guide to Collecting and Cooking, and visit EatTheWeeds.com.
Katie Tripp, Ph.D., is the owner of Natural Beauty Native Florida Landscapes, LLC. She created her business to educate Floridians about the importance of utilizing native plants and to help residents create wildlife habitat. Tripp is an active member of the Pawpaw chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and a member of the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Connect with her at 727-504-4740 or [email protected]