Red Clover

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is a common weed in Central Virginia that I have eaten since I was young. It’s pink, roundish flowers are so tempting and pretty and conjure images of Thumper in Bambi and his desire only to eat the blossoms. I used to take a pinch of the flower petals and bit the white, sweet tips off, wasting the rest. I had no idea what I was missing!

I didn’t think to eat the leaves as a kid, but they are bursting with nutrition, just as Thumper’s mother told him. They contain vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, and C, plus calcium, chromium, cobalt, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, silicon, sodium, and zinc. They even contain protein, since it is a legume. How’s that for a free, local vitamin pill?

But, wait! There’s more! The flowers can be dried and used as a tea that helps prepare women for pregnancy. There are a few precautions. Eating a lot of it may cause bloating and there are discrepancies about whether pregnant and nursing mothers should consume it. Some say it’s extremely healthy and others say to avoid it completely.

Nonetheless, it’s a great, local, easy source of vitamins worthy of our attention and deserves a place in our diet.

If you like this post, please sign up for our free e-book, “10 Delicious and Easy Wild Edible Plants in Central VA.” Also, check out the Adult Courses and Kids’ Courses for upcoming courses in the Greater Richmond Area!

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Milkweed

Milkweed (Family Asclepiadaceaeis) another plant native to central Virginia. It’s POISONOUS and edible. How does that work? Well, you have to cook them enough to remove the toxins. WARNING: DO NOT EAT IT RAW!!!
The sap of milkweed is white and milky, hence the name milkweed and has cardenolides that make it poisonous to humans and cause the insects that eat it to be poisonous too! It has broad, smooth, rubbery leaves and forms broccoli-like flower buds that turn into whitish-pinkish flowers.
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The boiled young shoots, leaves, unopened flower buds, flowers, and young pods are delicious, but don’t harvest too much because it’s also an essential habitat for four insects (they would go extinct without it) – Monarch butterflies, milkweed leaf beetles, milkweed bugs, and milkweed tiger moths.
 
However, I highly recommend planting it in your yard to help these animals along and have a food source at the same time for yourself.
To learn more from your central Virginia, wild edible plant experts, attend our next Wild Edible Plants 101 course in September 2017!

Wood Sorrel

Wood sorrel (Oxalis spp.) is a common weed in central VA. It has 5-petaled yellow flowers and a delicious, lemony flavor that even kids love and can work as a lemon replacement in recipes. It’s best raw and works as a great addition to salads that might just eliminate your desire to include a high-calorie salad dressing!

Although eating a lot of it may interfere with calcium absorption, it is rich in vitamin C. It also is mildly antibiotic!

To learn more wild edible plants, please sign up for our next Wild Edible Plants 101 course!

Chicory

Chicory is a neat plant for coffee and tea lovers. It doesn’t contain any caffeine, but it tastes similar. To make a tea/coffee substitute, collect the roots. After washing them thoroughly, roast them on a low temperature in the oven. Then, grind the roasted root into a powder. Finally, use it like you would tea leaves. You can buy cheesecloth so you don’t have to drink chunks of powder.

 

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Alternate branching with multiple flowers on one stem
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Narrow, lancelet leaves.

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5 Reasons to Teach Your Kids Wild Edible Plants

    1. My kids started learning what to eat from the forest as soon as they could walk. At the same time, I taught them what NOT to eat.
    2. Luckily, in our yard, there was only one poisonous plant – pokeweed. You can eat pokeweed only if you boil the shoots in 3 changes of water, which we would do in the spring. I told my kids not to eat the pokeberries – they were yucky. I also took out my field guide, pointed to mushrooms, and mimicked being unable to breathe and falling over dead to get my point across to stay away from all mushrooms. I told them not to touch mushrooms either. I was cautious and kept my eye on them, but not overly paranoid.
    3. The surprising thing was, they never made a mistake! They would always ask me if they weren’t sure if they could eat a plant I hadn’t taught them. My older daughter then helped teach and watch my younger one!
    4. Why did I teach them what could be eaten outside so young, you may ask? Wasn’t I afraid they’d eat the wrong plant? Well, here are the 5 perks to teaching toddlers wild edible plants that made it worth the inherent risks to me:
          1. It Encourages Kids to Eat Their Veggies

      All toddlers will have food riots from time to time. If my kids are rebelling against their veggies, all I have to do is get them back outside, eating delicious wild greens such as greenbrier, sassafras, violets (in photo above), shepherd’s purse, or sheep sorrel. Most of these veggies are available year yard in our yards and particularly palatable to young kids as well as grown-ups.

          1. It’s Free!    

      Gardening takes work. Buying organic greens also takes time and money. Wild edible plants, on the other hand, often can be eaten raw on the spot, or simply washed and eaten in a salad.

          1. It Motivates More Outside Time

      Kids love running around, gathering plants. It’s something humans are wired to do as a carry-over from our ancestors. Putting a handful of wild greens or flowers in their mouths to eat just makes sense to kids – much more fun than trying to force them to sit and eat a salad at a table.

          1. It’s Easy!

      Buying, washing, cooking, or munching on a salad takes time. Why not forage outside while you’re on a walk, playing, or reading a book outside?

          1. A Varied Diet is a Healthy Diet

      Hunter-gatherer diets used to be incredibly varied with hundreds of plants eaten each year. Although hunter-gatherer people had to experience many hardships, such as war, weather pattern changes, and disease, most agree their diet was healthier and studies suggest they had fewer rates of colds and allergies, were physically stronger and faster and had better vision. Striving to move closer (although, without the hardships) to a natural, human diet and lifestyle is better for everyone and grows stronger kids!

       

    5. Obviously, you might be wondering HOW you can teach them wild edible plants when you don’t know them yourself! Well, please check out my free guide to wild edible plants in Central Virginia or attend my next Wild Edible Plant Course in Forest Hill Park in Richmond, Virginia. 

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