Nature Nerd Presents Wild Edibles

Redbud tree in bloomThey say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach but I’ve found it to be equally true with children, especially if the food you are offering is exotic or intriguing in some way.  Kids are strangely drawn to disgusting and/or weird foods if they’re presented in the right way.  They may turn up their noses at mom’s brussel sprout special but if Nature Lady takes them outside and plucks something off the ground, they’re totally happy to eat it.

Part of the trick is peer pressure – there’s always one kid who will eat it and if he/she has any sort of strong reaction, everyone else has to try it too.  It’s kinda like that old stand up routine about the guy in every office who comes around saying “Man, this coffee is terrible!  Try it!”  The other trick is to  give kids just a small taste so it’s not like they’re eating a whole plate of it.  This time of year is great for sampling redbud tree blossoms.  Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are beautiful trees, one of the early spring bloomers, and they also have heart-shaped leaves that are pretty easy to identify.  The flowers are edible and were allegedly eaten by pioneers who were eager for some fresh vegetables.  The taste is, well, plant-like.  I think it tastes like grass or maybe a strong variety of lettuce.  A couple of kids told me it had a minty flavor.  Several descriptions I’ve read claim it has a nutty flavor.  I guess I should disclaim that I have a pretty uneducated palate; I’ve never been good at describing the tastes of wines or cheeses much beyond “I like it!” or “I don’t like it!”

Spring is my second favorite season (after fall) and I love introducing kids to frog calls and spring wildflowers but I find myself returning time and again to edible plants.  I did a presentation today with some kids at Unionville.  They were very excited to sample the redbud flowers and wild onions growing in the schoolyard and immediately began bringing me plants asking if they were edible.  I told them that I think of plants as being in three categories – edible, neutral (like grass; you can swallow it with no ill effects but you can’t actually digest it), and poisonous.  I can identify between 30 and 50 wild edibles and tend to leave everything else alone.  One of the boys was very disappointed and gestured around the schoolyard saying “You can only find two edible plants here?”  I pointed out a number of other plants that either weren’t ready or weren’t very kid-friendly –  red clover (flowers), wild black berry (fruit), autumn olive (fruit), dandelion (bitter greens), pine tree (tea from needles), sassafras tree (tea from roots), violets (flowers) – and he changed his tune.

“You sure know a lot of things,” he told me, shaking his head in awe.  It’s nice to be admired.

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