Violet

Scientific name: Viola species
Abundance: uncommon
What: Leaves, flowers
How: Leaves and flowers raw (great in salads), tea from flowers
Where: small, heart-shaped flowers in shady, moist areas
When: Winter (in Houston), Spring, early summer
Nutritional Value: very rich in vitamin A,C
Nutritional Value: Violets contain the chemical Violine which, in VERY large doses, can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Wild violet plant.
violet.jpg
WildVioletRuler

Wild violet seed pods.
WildVioletBuds

Close-up of wild violet flower.
VioletFlower

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
WildVioletTX

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
WildViolet

Wild violets are a wonderful winter/spring nibble. They are loaded with vitamin A & C which help keep many an Appalachian child nourished. The leaves and flowers are eaten raw or mixed in any sort of salad or green smoothie. Look for clumps of them in the dappled shade of woods/forests with moist soil.

A reader of this blog wrote me of a bad experience after eating a bunch of wild violets sautéed with butter and garlic. Later that night she was struck by horrible stomach distress and spent the night in the bathroom. This issue had never come up in my experience or in any reference books I own. Further research turned up a record in an old Indian (Asian subcontinent) herbal book that the violet compound "violine" is an emeto-cathartic (makes you purge from both ends!) in large doses. The fact that this isn't mentioned anywhere else suggests it is an extremely rare issue and not one I'm concerned about when eating reasonable amounts of violets.

Water Hyacinth

Scientific name: Eichhornia crassipes
Abundance: plentiful
What: young leaves, stems, bottom "flotation pods"
How: boiled, fried
Where: marshes, water
When: all year
Nutritional Value: Vitamin A
Dangers: Raw and cooked plants may cause itchiness in some people. Also, these plants collect and concentrate any toxin/pollutants in the water, so only collect them from areas of know high water quality. Water hyacinth is very prolific and invasive which has resulted in many places outlawing its transport. This means you might get arrested for taking some home to eat. Water hyacinths are a free floating plant that can be very invasive.

Cluster of water hyacinths.
WaterHyacinth1

WaterHyacinth1

Closeup of water hyacinth air bladders.
WaterHyacinth2

Full plant removed from the water.
WaterHyacinth2

Closeup of water hyacinth flowers.
WaterHyacinthFlower

WaterHyacinth

More pictures of water hyacinths.
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Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
WaterHyacinthTX

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
WaterHyacinth

Sadly, the invasive Water Hyacinths are choking Texas waterways. They quickly reproduce from just a small bit of root, easily covering entire lakes in a few months. Imported from Asia as a decorative plant due to their beautiful flowers, these floating, bulbous plants are an ecological nightmare. Due to their incredible ease and speed of reproduction, it is illegal to transport Water Hyacinths even if your plan is to eat it.

In Asian countries the "heart" of the Water Hyacinth is cooked up and used in a manner like artichoke hearts. They must be cooked to kill any waterborne, infectious microbes. To prepare, cut away the leaves, flowers, and fine roots from the core of the water Hyacinth. Boil this heart or thinly slice it for use in a stir-fry dish.

Water Plantain

Scientific name: Alisma plantago
Abundance: uncommon
What: rootstock, young leaves
How: boiled, roasted
Where: sunny water
When: roots - winter, spring, early summer
Other uses: carbohydrates
Dangers: Must be cooked to be edible otherwise it is too bitter and somewhat toxic.

Water plantain in pond.
water plantain.jpg

Water plantain along edge of stream.
WaterPlantainPlant

Water plantain flowers.
WaterPlantainFlowers

WaterPlantainFlowers2

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
EverywhereTX

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
WaterPlantain

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
EverywhereTX

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
WaterPlantain

Quickly appearing in just about any shallow water, from streams and lakes to roadside ditches, the somewhat spearhead-shaped, palmately-veined leaves of Water Plantains are easy to spot. The white, three petaled flowers on a stalk add a certain beauty, in my eyes. They are very common across Easy, Central, and the Gulf Coast regions of Texas but more rare in the drier West Texas lands.

The thicker roots contain starch which becomes edible/digestible after boiling or roasting. They are quite bitter so often boiling THEN roasting is the recommended way of preparing them.

Wax Myrtle/Bayberry

Scientific name: Myrica cerifera
Abundance: plentiful
What: leaves
How: seasoning herb
Where: woods, landscapes
When: leaves are present all year, though they are most aromatic in late winter/early spring.
Nutritional Value: flavonoids/anitoxidants
Other uses: The small blue berries have a wax coating which can be used to make bayberry candles.

Wax myrtle/Bayberry berries
waxleafmyrtle1.jpg

Wax myrtle/Bayberry leaves
WaxMyrtleRuler

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
WaxleafMyrtleTX

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
WaxleafMyrtle

Allow leaves to dry or force-dry the leaves in an oven, then crumble into food. These are one of the key seasoning for Cajun seafood boils.

Bayberry candles are made from the wax found on the outside of the small, blue berries. Boil the berries in some water and collect the wax that floats to the surface. This wax is brittle and doesn't mold well. Combine the bayberry wax with beeswax or other soft wax for better results. Yes, I know bayberry candles are a key component of pagan money spells. No, I don't sell bayberry candles.

Wild Bergamot

Scientific Name(s): Monarda fistulosa
Abundance: uncommon
What: flower
How: tea; flavoring
Where: shady, moist areas
When: late spring, summer, early fall
Nutritional Value: unknown
Dangers: bees love these flowers

Wild Bergamot flowers.
BeeBalm3

BeeBalm1

BeeBalm2

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
COMING SOON

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
BeeBalmNorthAm

Stands of Wild Bergamont flowers dot the Texas countryside during summer. They prefer shade and moist soil so look for them under trees along drainage ditches and near ponds. What looks like a single big flower is actually a cluster of many long, tubular flowers...usually swarming with bees! Being a mint, they have the mint family's square, hollow stem and opposite, alternating leaves.

The flower makes a great tea with a sweet, herbal flavor similar to its smell. The flowers can be dried for later use but I prefer them fresh off the plant. A tincture (alcohol extract) made from Wild Bergamot is supposedly an excellent oral treatment for yeast infections. It also is used medicinally in the same manner as other mints.

Wild Lettuce

Scientific Name(s): Lactuca spp.
Abundance: uncommon
What: young leaves, shoots, flower buds/stalks
How: leaves & shots raw or boiled; flower buds/stalks cooked
Where: woods, fields, disturbed areas, moist areas
When: spring
Nutritional Value: fiber, some minerals

There are twelve different wild Lactuca species, of which I've only found three. These are Lactuca serriola (aka prickly lettuce), Lactuca canadensis, and Lactuca floridana. Lactuca floridana and Lactuca serriola are fairly common in the Houston area while Lactuca canadensis appears more frequently in areas north and east of Houston.

Lactuca canadensis. Note the lobed leaves at the base and unlobed leaves up higher.
WildLettuce

Young Lactuca floridana. All leaves are lobed.
WildLettuce1

Mature Lactuca floridana.
WildLettuce5

WildLettuce6

Lactuca floridana flower.
WildLettuceFlower1

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
WildLettuceTX

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
WildLettuce

Both the tasty Lactuca canadenesis and the somewhat bitter Lactuca floridana can grow 7-9 feet tall.

How to tell the two apart:
L. canadenesis
Leaves: deeply lobed at base of plant but much more un-lobed, grass-like at top of plant.
Sap: white at first but quickly turns dark yellowish as it dries.
Flowers: yellow.
Height: 5-9 feet

L. biennis
Sap: stays white even after drying.
Leaves: deeply lobed from base of plant all the way to those at top.
Flowers: blue-white.
Height: up to 16 feet.

The young leaves of L. canadenesis have a slight bitterness, even less than some arugulas, and can be added to salads raw. The flower stalks are tender before the flowers open and can be snapped off and cooked similar to asparagus.

L. biennis is extremely bitter even when very young. Boiling in multiple changes of water helps but most people still don't like it. On the plus side, the plants produce a LOT of leaves, so you can get a lot of food from it.

There is some record of wild lettuces being smoked for medicinal purposes but it is supposedly a very harsh smoke and must be mixed with other herbs to reduce this harshness.

Willow

Scientific name: Salix spp.
Abundance: plentiful
What: twigs, inner bark
How: tea made from chopped up twigs; inner bark is an emergency food and is eaten raw or dried and ground into flour
Where: woods, water, sunny fields, landscaping
When: twigs highest in salicylic acid in early spring; inner bark any time
Nutritional Value: inner bark contains carbohydrates
Other uses: Willows contain salicylic acid which is a precursor of aspirin.
Dangers: Salicylic acid can cause stomach upset in high doses.

Mature willow tree.
Willow

Medium-sized willow tree.
Willow

Close-up of leaves.
WillowLeaves

Willow trunk
WillowBark

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
WillowTX

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
Willow

The long, wispy branches of willow trees give them an appearance unlike any other tree. They require a lot of water so look for them along wet areas. Their high demand for water can cause problems when used in landscaping as their roots will invade and clog sewer and water pipes.

The inner bark (cambium layer) can be shredded and chopped then boiled into a porridge to obtain calories. The outer bark of young branches is shredded then made into a tea which contains the precursor of aspirin and will give all the medical benefits (and dangers) of aspirin. The best results are achieved using pencil-thick branches harvested in late winter before the leaves begin to bud.

Willow branches are high in a chemical called Gibberellic acid which is a plant hormone responsible for triggering root growth. The rooting powder and solution purchased in stores to help propagate plant cuttings is this chemical. You can make your own rooting solution by grinding up willow twigs in a clean pencil sharpener then soaking these willow shavings in water for 5-7 weeks. When you want to propagate a plant via a cutting dip the cutting's stem in this willow solution first.

Wine Cups

Scientific name: Callirhoe involucrata
Abundance: uncommon
What: Leaves, tubers
How: leaves cooked, tubers raw or cooked
Where: Sunny areas, ditches, abandoned yards, dry sandy fields
When: All year though tubers are hard to find in the winter without the flowers marking the spot.
Nutritional Value: carbohydrates in tubers

Wine Cup flower
WineCup2

Close-up of flower
WineCup3

Wine cup "fruit" (do not eat).
WineCup1

Whole plant in Spring
WineCup1

Plant in Fall/Winter
Winecup2

Whole plant in Fall/Winter
WineCups1

Winecup2

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
WineCup

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
WineCup

Wine cup tubers can be found in dry, sandy fields, especially in the Texas Hill Country. The leaves are best cooked where their okra-like tendencies can be used to thicken stews. The tubers taste like sweet potatoes and can be eaten raw or cooked. The tubers are biggest in the winter, but are very hard to find then without the wine cup flower showing their location.

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