Redbud

Scientific name: Cercis canadensis (and other Cercis species)
Abundance: plentiful
What: open flowers, young seedpods
How: flowers raw or cooked, young seedpods cooked
Where: often landscaped or wild
When: flowers spring, young seedpods after flowers
Nutritional Value: Flowers contain assorted vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Seeds have protein.

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Edible flowers
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Close-up of open flowers and closed flower buds.
RedBudFlowersRuler

Edible seed pods
RedbudPods

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.
RedbudTX

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

Often used as a landscaping plant, Redbuds can be found more often in urban/suburban locations but they can also be found in the wild. They are unmistakable in the early spring when the are sheathed in a cover of purple flowers and no leaves.

The flowers of redbud trees are wonderfully tasty with a fresh, slightly sweet flavor. The opened flowers are sweeter than ones still closed up in a bud. They add a wonderful dash of color to salads and other dishes.

The young seedpods, while still purple in color, can be used as peapods raw or better yet in stir-frys. They mature quickly and become become stringing, tough, and somewhat bitter.

Retama

Scientific Name: Parkinsonia aculeata
Abundance: common
What: young seed pods, mature seeds
How: cooked
Where: sunny, arid, limestone soils
When: summer, fall, winter
Nutritional Value: calories
Dangers: thorns are sharp


A young Retama tree.
Retama

A profusion of flowers appear in the spring and in lesser numbers throughout the rest of the year.
Retama

Close-up of Retama flower.
Retama

The green, somewhat scaly trunks have sharp thorns.
Retama

Retama branches are also wickedly thorny.
Retama

Retama

Cooked seedpods are edible when young, tender, and green. Generally the flatter the better. These are already a bit thick.
Retama

Brown, dried seedpods contain edible beans.
Retama

Close-ups of mature seedpod.
Retama

Retama

Close-up of seeds.
Retama

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.
Retama TX Map

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
Retama NA Map

Dotting the arid areas of southern and west Texas, the wispy, green, multi-trunked, alien-looking Retama tree is truly a marvel. Also known as "Jerusalem Thorn Tree" and "Tree of Life" this tree lives up to both those names. While young its bark is relatively smooth, green, and like many desert plants, it has many thorns. The leaves grow in long, almost pine needle-like fronds that many small, alternating, oval leaflets. In the springtime these trees are covered with yellow flowers which also appear the rest of the year in smaller numbers. Each flower turns into a small, flat, green, edible seedpods that mature into up to 8" long, brown, lumpy seedpods. The dried seeds are a mottled brown-gray color.

When still young and tender, the Retama seed pods can be cooked like green beans. The hard, mature beans have been ground into flour or cooked like domestic dried beans. The flavor is improved if the bean's outer coat is removed before use but due to the size and hardness this can be tricky. Soaking the beans overnight may help soften their coat making it easier to remove.

The leaves and young seedpods make excellent food for most grazing animals.

Native Americans used tea made from the leaves and young branches of Retama to treat pain, fevers, urinary tract infections, and also for lowering blood sugar in diabetics.

Rose

Scientific name: Rosa species
Abundance: common
What: flowers, fruit at base of flower
How: both flowers and rose hips can be used in tea, jelly, additions to soup, stews, and salads
Where: yards, abandoned farms
When: fall
Nutritional Value: rose hips contain vitamin A,C,E,K and minerals
Other uses: good for giving to women after you've done something stupid
Dangers: remove seeds before using rose hips

Domestic roses
Roses1

Domestic rose hips
RoseHips.jpg
RoseHips

Wild rose flower.
WildRoseFlower

Wild rose stems.
WildRoseStem

Wild rose hips.
WildRoseHips

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.
RoseTX

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

Wild roses can be found growing along fences (barbwire or other types) across the Texas prairie and on old homesteads. They make a formidable barrier or security fence once well established. They are pretty much impervious to droughts, blistering heat, and cold winter frosts.

Rose petals make a colorful and flavorful addition to salads as well as a delicately-flavored jelly. Rose hips are a wonderful source of vitamin C and can be made into jam, jelly, or tea. The seeds inside these hips are covered with tiny, stiff hairs. You must remove the seeds before consuming the hips otherwise these hairs will cause irritation to you bum the next day...

Salsify

Scientific Name(s): Tragopogon dubius, Tragopogon porrifolius
Abundance: uncommon
What: root, young leaves
How: root cooked, pickled; young leaves cooked
Where: sunny, disturbed areas, borders, fields
When: fall, winter, spring
Nutritional Value: calories, vitamin C
Dangers: don't mistake poisonous Groundsel for Salsify

Salsify flowers look like dandelion flowers but with brown markings on their stamens and several green, radial spikes.
Salsify

Salsify

The plants themselves grow to over two feet tall with narrow leaves partially clasping the stems.
Salsify

Salsify

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.
SalsifyTX

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

Every summer I drive from Texas up to my parent's place in Minnesota and see pale, green Salsify lining the ditches the whole way. They are another "nurse plant" who's job is to rapidly expand across bare soil, covering it to keep it from being washed away in rain and adding organic matter back into the soil with its thick, long taproots. These "weeds" need full sun, even in Texas and so won't grow if shaded. Like dandelions, Salsify forms a "puffball" when it goes to seed but these puffballs are massive, being three inches across. My mom used to collect Salsify puffballs and spray paint them for use in floral arrangements.

The leaves of Salsify are used like dandelion leaves to handle their somewhat bitter flavor. The yellow flower petals have a pleasant, mild flavor similar to dandelion flowers and can be eaten raw or brewed into tea.

Salsify taproots are the best part, with Tragopogon porrifolius being preferred over Tragopogon dubius. These pale, who roots can be eaten raw or cooked like carrots. Harvest them when the above ground portion has just turned brown. These roots lose their flavor relatively soon after harvesting so use them right away.

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

Rusty Blackhaw

Scientific Name(s): Viburnum rufidulum
Abundance: uncommon
What: fruit
How: raw, jelly, wine
Where: woods
When: late fall, winter
Nutritional Value: calories
Dangers: none

Ripe fruit of Rusty Blackhaw.
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Close-up of Rusty Blackhaw fruit. Note the single large, flat seed.
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Close-up of Rusty Blackhaw flowers (picture taken in March in Houston, TX)
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Unripe Rusty Blackhaw fruit (picture taken in September in Houston).
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Leave are arranged oppositely, have finely-toothed edges, and an oval shape.
RustyBlackhaw1

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.
RustyBlackhawUSDATX

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

Hidden among the woods of east Texas one will find a true treasure, the Rusty Blackhaw. This small tree lives its life in the shade of much larger majestic oaks, sweetgums, hickories, and hackberries. In the spring Rusty Blackhaws announce their presence with large clusters of small, white flowers similar to Elder. After these flowers do their job and drop away odd, football-shade drupes (fruit) appear. These fruit start out green but shift through shades of blue, red, purple through the summer until by late fall they are black and ready to eat. In the fall the leaves turn deep red and begin to drop off but many leaves remain even as new ones begin appearing. The bark of the trunk and branches of this tree have the same brick-like pattern and reddish-tan color of its close relative, the Farkleberry.

The mature fruit of Rusty Blackhaws is sweet and delicious. Even in late winter when they've dried into wrinkled raisin-like fruit they are often still quite edible. The large single seed isn't edible but as you eat the fruit save the seeds to plant in other likely spots. This wonderful tree is a native and needs to be spread.

When making jelly, these fruit usually have a large amount of natural pectin but the amount can vary quite a bit from tree to tree. It's good to have a bit of extra pectin on hand in case you fruit is low.

Sassafras

Scientific name: Sassafras albidum
Abundance: uncommon
What: twigs, roots, leaves
How: drinks, candy
Where: forest edge
When: all year though roots are most flavorful if harvested in late winter
Nutritional Value: none
Dangers: Recent studies suggest a liver cancer link with drinking excessive amounts of sassafras tea.

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sassafrass2.jpg

Three types of leaves.
Sassafras

Small sassafras tree.
SassafrasTree

Sassafras tree bark. As they mature the bark turns from green to grayish.
SassafrasBark

Here's a bunch of seedlings (greenish trunks) around a mother sassafras tree (brown trunk).
Sassafras Suckers

Close-up of Sassafras flowers, which appear in the spring before the leaves. (Picture taken end of February in Houston).
Sassafras flowers

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.
SassafraTX

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

Easily identifiable small tree, just look for the three types of leaves all on one tree. One leaf has three lobes, one has two lobes that look like a mitten, and the third leaf will be unlobed.

Root beer was originally flavored by the roots of sassafras harvested in late winter. Twigs collected at this time will also supply the root beer flavoring chemical "safrole". The most concentrated amounts of safrole is found in the roots of "suckers" growing around the base of the tree.

Young sassafras leaves are dried, then pounded into a fine Filé powder used in gumbo and other Cajun cooking. Filé powder shouldn't be boiled when cooked as this makes it stringy and alters the flavor. It is better added to the meal in a small serving dish for people to add to the already-cooked gumbo.

Euell Gibbons used to smoke a daily pipe mixture of peppermint, betony and sassafras in hopes that the medicinal properties of these plants would help undo damage done by his daily smoking of tobacco.

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