Stinging Nettle

Scientific name: Urtica chamaedryoides, U. dioica, U. urens
Abundance: common
What: leaves and young stems
How: cooked greens, tea
Where: woods, borders, abandoned areas, woods, sunny and shady areas
When: spring, early summer
Nutritional Value: Rich in vitamins A,C,D,K, many minerals, and high in protein.
Dangers: can cause skin irritations, handle while wearing leather gloves. Cook to remove stingers before consuming.

Close-up of stinging nettles (Urtica chamaedryoides).
StingingNettle1

Patch of stinging nettles (Urtica chamaedryoides).
StingingNettle2

Young stinging nettles (Urtica chamaedryoides). They are tender and tasty while still this small.
stingingnettle

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.
StingingNettle

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

Stinging nettles are known throughout the world as a very nutritious and highly medicinal plant though you must be careful when harvesting them. The stem and leaves are covered with tiny hollow needles filled with formic acid. Touching any of these needles will inject you with the formic acid which causes an extremely painful burning sensation.

These plants are easy to identify by their hairy, square stems and the burning sensation they cause when grabbed with the bare hand. Sidenote: don't grab them with your bare hand, it really hurts! If you do grab them with your bare hand the sting can be soothed by rubbing curled dock, plantain, or other astringent leaves on the area.

The young stems and leaves should be boiled approximately ten minutes to remove the formic acid before eating young nettle plants. Alternatively, seeping the leaves in hot water creates a very healthy tea loaded with vitamins and minerals.

Sumac

Scientific name: Rhus lanceolata, Rhus glabra, Rhus copallinum
Abundance: uncommon
What: red berries
How: lemonade, tea, seasoning
Where: fields
When: early summer
Nutritional Value: minor traces of vitamins and antioxidants
Dangers: white sumac berries are very toxic

Sumac shrubs.SumacGrove

Closer look at sumac shrubs.
Sumac

Sumac2

Ripe sumac (Rhus glabra) berries.
SumacBerries

Close-up of sumac berries.
SumacCloseup

SumacBerries

Another view of sumac berries. The white/gray coating is responsible for the tangy flavor.
Sumac

Topside of Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) leaf.
SumacLeaf1

Underside of Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) leaf.
SumacLeaf2

Close-up of winged sumac leaf. Note the "wings" along either side of the main leaf stem.
SumacLeaf3

Young sumac flowers which will eventually turn into berries.
Sumac1

Sumac in the fall (Rhus glabra or Rhus lanceolata).
SumacFall

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.
SumacTX

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

Often forming beautiful stands along roads, in fields, and at the edges of woods, these small trees rarely grow more than 7-8 feet tall. They are a very "open" tree with single, narrow trunks that don't branch out until close to the top, giving them an elegant appearance in my opinion. The trunks are gray and pockmarked while the branches become reddish and fuzzy near the leaves. The crushed leaves have a very distinctive odor...of sumac.

The dried berries are a traditional Middle Eastern seasoning used primarily on chicken and fish. Place the dried berries in a peppermill and then grind them over the food either before or after cooking, giving it a tangy, desert flair.

A pleasing "pink sumacade" is made by soaking the berries in cold water for at least ten minutes though overnight in the fridge maximizes the flavor, then filtering the liquid to remove berries and fine sumac hairs before drinking.

Making two quarts of sumac-ade.
Sumacade1 Sumacade2

Sunflower - Wild

Scientific name: Helianthus annuus
Abundance: plentiful
What: young flowers, seeds
How: seeds can be eaten raw, ground into flour, roasted, or crushed for sunflower oil, the shells can be roasted then used as a coffee substitute; young flowers are boiled
Where: Sunny areas, ditches, abandoned yards
When: Seeds ripen in late summer, early fall
Nutritional Value: carbohydrates, protein and oils

Wild sunflowers
SunBig

Close-up of flower with immature seeds.
SunFront

Back of sunflower.
SunBack

Sunflower leaves ranging from 2" to 6" in length.
SunLeaf1
SunLeaf2

Close-up of stem. Both leaves and stem have fine hairs.
SunStem

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.
SunflowerTX

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

Running rampant just about any sunny place mankind has torn up soil, the tall, gangly sunflowers seem to thrive in every wasteland. The flowers are much small flowers, only 2-3 inches across, are plentiful on each thick, tall stalk.

The young flowers, when green and before they've opened are quite good when boiled until tender then served with butter. The mature seeds are an excellent source of high-calorie oil which birds and other animals love. Humans can eat them, too but they are very small and are hard to get before animals do.

Sweetgum

Scientific name: Liquidambar styraciflua
Abundance: plentiful
What: seeds; sap; leaf buds
How: Break apart large seed pods to get to the sweetgum seeds then rub the seeds to free them from their outer shell before eating or grinding into flour; sap can be dried for chewing gum substitute; the young leaf buds raw
Where: woods, urban & suburban landscapes
When: leaf buds in spring; seed pods in fall; sap in spring
Nutritional Value: seeds contain calories and protein
Other uses: leaves can be mashed into a poultice for antibiotic and sting-bite relief
Dangers: stepping on seed pods while barefoot hurts

sweetgum.jpg

Sweetgum seed pod
SweetgumPod

More sweetgum pods
Sweetgum

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.
SweetgumTX

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

The green pods contain small, aromatic seeds which, when chewed after a meal, help with digestion. The somewhat sweet sap was allowed to dry some and then used as a chewing gum. In its fresh, liquid form it was used to flavor chewing gum up into the 1920's. The young buds are actually tasty, raw nibble.

The leaves contain natural antibiotics and were used to pack wounds. Crush or masticate (chew) the leaves some first to release these antibiotic compounds. Some of the seeds inside the green, spikey pods contain shikimic acid, which is used to make the active ingredient in the flu-fighting medicine Tamiflu. Tea and alcohol extracts of the crushed seed pods have beentraditional flu medicines in several different cultures.

Texas Dandelion

Scientific Name(s): Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus
Abundance: common
What: root, young leaves
How: root as tea, coffee; leaves as bitter greens
Where: fields, disturbed areas, roadsides
When: spring
Nutritional Value: minerals, vitamins C & A
Dangers: don't mistake for Common Groundsel

Open flower and never-opened flower buds.
False Dandelion (Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus)

Open flower and previously-opened flower.
False Dandelion (Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus)

Close-up of flower. Note the dark stamens.
False Dandelion (Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus)

Backside of flowers. Note the tan sepals.
False Dandelion (Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus)

Base rosette and stem. Note the base leaves lack deep serrations.
False Dandelion (Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus) – Version 2

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.
FalseDandelionTX

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

As more and more people move into Texas from lesser desirable states the fields of our yellow Texas Dandelion leads to confusion in late spring and early summer. The flower looks like a true dandelion, except for the dabs of brown on the stamens. Closer observation shows multiple flowers and leaves growing off the thick, green stem that grows up to nearly three feet tall. The leaves lack the sharp spearpoint and backwards pointing pointy lobes. These signs should indicate you don't have a true dandelion. But that's okay! You can use the Texas Dandelion the same as true dandelions.

The flowers of Texas Dandelion make an okay tea, perhaps not quite as rich in flavor as true dandelions. Remember to remove the green "collar" from the flower just as you must with true dandelions. You can also make jelly from these flowers which actually tastes pretty dang good.

The leaves of Texas Dandelion are used in the same manner as true dandelion leaves but unfortunately they aren't quite as nutritious. Texas Dandelion roots can be dried for tea or roasted for a coffee-substitute. The bitter flavor of the roots are becoming popular with high-end bartenders making their own concoctions where these roots replace traditional bitters.

Edible Dandelion Mimics:
Dandelion
Cat's Ear
Chicory
Japanese Hawkweed
Salsify
Sow Thistle
Texas Dandelion
Wild Lettuce

Sycamore Tree

Scientific Name(s): Platanus occidentalis
Abundance: common
What: sap
How: boiled down to give a syrup
Where: sunny edges of woods, along banks of rivers and lakes
When: sap flows best in winter just before leaf buds appear
Nutritional Value: calories, water

Sycamore bark has a distinctive flaking, mottled look.
sycamorebark

Sycamore leaves are similar in shape to their relative, the maple.
sycamoreleaves

Mature sycamore leaves are huge, easily reaching more than 12" across.
Sycamore

In the winter the deciduous sycamores lose their leaves leaving behind inedible seed pods.
Sycamorewinter

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.
SycamoreTX

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

The sycamore is a relative of maples and so can be tapped in late winter for sap. Sycamore syrup is much lower quality than maple syrup and takes approximately 50 gallons of sap to produce 1 quart of syrup. Generally this not considered to be worth the effort. However, this sap flows strongly and can be used as an emergency source of water throughout most of the year.

Thistle, Bull

Scientific name: Cirsium species
Abundance: uncommon
What: stem, roots, leaf ribs
How: peel stem then eat raw or cooked; tea from leaves, stem; roots are boiled; large center leaf ribs are stripped from leaf and eaten raw.
Where: fields
When: spring, summer
Nutritional Value: some vitamins and minerals
Other uses: cordage from stem fibers
Dangers: Very prickly

Young bull thistle
Thistle.jpg

BullThistle.jpg

BullThistle2.jpg

Harvested mature thistle. Wear thick gloves.
Thistle1

The hollow stem. You want to peel away the stem's outer red-green layer.
ThistleStem

Partially-peeled stem. The outer reddish-green layer easily splits away from the delicious inner light-green layer.
ThistlePeeled

I'm told you can boil, peel and eat the thistle heads like artichokes but I have not tried this yet.
ThistleHeads

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.
ThistleBullTX

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

A bane to many landowners, Bull Thistles stand tall and spikely menacing across Texas fields. They can reach over four feet tall in ideal growing conditions with multiple purple flowers on each stalk. The spines along the edges of the leaves and flowers are stiff, sharp, and very painful. Few animals will eat these plants due to the daunting spines and so without any enemies to keep them in check Bull Thistles can overrun a field in just a few years.

Bull Thistles are an absolutely delicious treat if you know the trick. When the very first flowers appear cut down the thistle as close to the ground as possible and cut off the leaves, discarding them. Peel the outer, stringy layer off the stem which is easy to do. Get your thumbnail under it and pull the outer layer off, it'll come off easily. The peeled stalk tastes like sweet celery and I love it raw and used in salads. You can also cook it in any dish which calls for celery such as stews and Asian stir-frys.


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