Scientific Name(s): Liatris spicata and other Liatris species
Abundance: uncommon
What: root/tuber
How: roasted
Where: open fields, landscaping
When: fall, winter
Nutritional Value: calories

Edible gayfeather tuber.

Young gayfeather plant (early June in Houston).

A stand of gayfeather plants.

Close-up of gayfeather stand.

Close-up of gayfeather flower.

Close-up of gayfeather flower before opening.

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.

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

There are quite a few different species of Gayfeathers growing in stands across the fields, prairies, ditches, and woodland glades of Texas and North America. All are considered non-poisonous but only a few of them produce tubers big enough to be worth eating. Their tall, unbranching spikes start green, then erupt with many small, purple flowers, followed by browning as they dry. During the winter months clusters of these old stalks are easy spot, even through snow on the central plains. The drought-resistant Liatris spica are becoming popular in low-water xeriscapes and can often be found at big-box home improvement stores.

Gayfeather tubers continue to grow larger year after year but only the latest-year's portion is tender enough to eat, with the common species Liatris spica being considered the best. Memorize the location of the summer-blooming purple flower stalks for harvesting the tubers in the fall and winter. Once harvested, use these tubers as you would potatoes. They do well boiled or roasted.

Giant Puffball Mushrooms

Scientific Name: Calvatia gigantea
Abundance: rare
What: white flesh
How: cooked
Where: woods, fields,
When: winter, spring
Nutritional Value: minor
Dangers: Always be 100% certain on your identification of mushrooms


Giant Puffball in woodland clearing.
Mushroom - Giant Puffball

Underside of Giant Puffball. They have no gills, pores, or stem.
Mushroom - Giant Puffball

Cutting the above mushroom in half top to bottom, the yellowish interior reveals it's past time to eat it.
Mushroom - Giant Puffball

Another Giant Puffball. This one is lumpy and misshapen but still really big!
Mushroom - Giant Puffball

Cutting it open reveals the entire interior is a uniform, creamy white color so it's still good to eat!
Mushroom - Giant Puffball

This is what it should look like inside if you're going to eat it.
Mushroom - Puffball

Check out this monster!
Mushroom - Puffball

An old Giant Puffball, already going to spore stage.
Mushroom - Giant Puffball

Tearing open the old Giant Puffball. It released a big cloud of spores.
Mushroom - Giant Puffball

Walking across a field or woods you spot what looks like a somewhat deflated soccer ball...or a bleached human skull laying in the grass and leaf litter. Touching it reveals a rubbery surface over a spongy interior. You've just found a Giant Puffball! These are pretty rare in Texas, being only found in a few counties in central Texas. They prefer cool weather so look in winter and early spring.

Texas has plenty of smaller puffballs such as Vascellum curtisii, Scleroderma texense, Gymnopilus spectabilis, Lycoperdon pyriforme, and others but none of these get much bigger than a lime and most are smaller than that. Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea) is in a humongous size class all its own.

When collecting a Giant Puffball to eat you must always cut it in half top to bottom to make sure:
A. It's creamy white all the way through. No sign of yellow or brown which indicate it's already making spores which will make you ill.
B. There are no immature gills or an outline of a traditional mushroom hidden in the mushroom. Seeing either indicates you do NOT have an edible puffball but rather a young, deadly Amanita or other dangerous mushroom that looks like a puffball but matures into a normal "toadstool" shape.

This looked like a puffball but cutting it in half revealed immature gills as described above in B. This is NOT an edible mushroom!!
Mushroom Deathcap

When cooking Giant Puffballs think of them as a chunk of tofu-like matter. The favored way of preparing them is cut them into 1/2" thick slices, batter them with milk, salt, & flour, then fry them in hot oil until golden brown. You can also thinly-slice them followed by sautéing them in butter and some garlic. Good Lord, y'all have no idea how hungry I get when working on this blog!

Giant Reed

Scientific Name(s): Arundo donax
Abundance: plentiful
What: roots, leaves, young shoots
How: roots raw, cooked, ground into flour; leaves boiled; young shoots raw or cooked
Where: sunny wet ditches, moist areas
When: spring, summer
Nutritional Value: calories, minerals
Dangers: contains small amount of alkaloid gramine which is more toxic to dogs than to humans

Stand of Giant Reeds. These are over seven feet tall.
Giant Reed

Slightly closer view of Giant Reeds.
Giant Reed

Giant reeds in later spring. The green ones are this-years growth.

Young giant reed shoot.

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.

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

Giant reeds look very similar to bamboo, especially towards the base. The reed is hollow like bamboo and structurally can be used in many of the same ways as bamboo though it does not have the full load-bearing strength of bamboo. Giant reeds are considered to be invasive plants and can quickly swallow any location where they get enough sun and moisture.

The roots (rhizomes) are the main edible portion of giant reeds. They contain some calories in the form of starch and even sugars, especially when still young and tender. As the roots age they become fibrous/woody. The young roots can be eaten raw, boiled, steamed, or baked. They can also be dried then ground into flour.

The leaves are edible though quite bitter. Their flavor can be mellowed by boiling. A change of water during boiling usually isn't necessary except with the most bitter of leaves.

The young shoots, when available, are used like bamboo shoots and/or asparagus.


Scientific Name(s): Ginkgo biloba
Abundance: rare
What: leaves, nuts
How: leaves raw, tea; seed/nut roasted
Where: woods, landscaping
When: leaves in spring, summer, fall; nut in summer
Nutritional Value: leaves are medicinal, nuts have calories
Dangers: the fruit STINKS and contains assorted, somewhat dangerous chemicals. Do not let the raw fruit pulp come in contact with bare flesh, mouth, or eyes.

Ginkgo leaves.

Close-up of Ginkgo leaf.

Ginkgo trunk.

Young Ginkgo tree.

Unripe Ginkgo fruit (female trees, only).

Close-up of Ginkgo fruit. When yellow/orange, soft, wrinkly, and falling from the tree it's ripe.

Ginkgo fruit (ripening in the fall).
2014-11-02 12 13 29 Ginkgo foliage and fruit during autumn at the Ewing Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Ewing, New Jersey
By Famartin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Ginko nuts after removing outer fruit (female trees only).

Ginko trees, native to Asia, are now common landscaping plants. Due to the mess and smell of the ripe nut outer coating, usually only male forms of the tree are used. Ginkgo are ancient trees dating back 270 million years and is considered a "living fossil" and a single tree can live 1,000 years. Individual ginkgo trees are either male or female, with only the female producing fruit. The fruit ripens in the summer as approximately grape-sized yellow fruit. This fruit pulp smells really bad, something like a cross between dog poop and vomit. This pulp is discard because the real treasure is the large seed it contains. Wear rubber gloves when digging the seed out of the ginkgo fruit or else your hands will stink for days. Scrub any pulp off the seeds with plenty of running water. The seeds/nuts are then roasted as the unroasted seeds are still somewhat toxic.

Ginkgo leaves have a long history of being used to treat issues with blood circulation, memory, and dementia. The easiest way to use them is to chew a leaf into a pulp and then suck on this pulp for 10-20 minutes. Tea can also be made from the leaves.


Scientific Name(s): Salicornia bigelovii
Abundance: rare
What: whole plant; oil extracted from seeds
How: raw
Where: coastal beaches
When: spring, summer, fall, winter
Nutritional Value: salt, assorted vitamins, calories from seed oil
Dangers: raw seeds contain toxic saponins and should not be eaten whole.

Glasswort along the beach.



Closer view.

Another view. As Glasswort ages it turns reddish in color.

Old, dried-up glasswort looks like small stalagmites.

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.

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
GlasswortNorAm 2

Looking like some alien lifeform, Glasswort adds an interesting appearance to coastal beaches. Some say it's name comes from the sound it makes when stepped upon as it cracks like breaking glass. However, the burned ashes of Glasswort were used as a flux in glassmaking, lowering the temperature needed to melt sand into glass so I think that's where the name came from. Glasswort has the amazing ability to grow even when watered with salty sea water.

The young, tender tips of Glasswort are eaten raw in salads or even just as a snack on the beach. As the plant matures these stems turn reddish and woody. Boiling the pinkish woody stems may give you a bit of tender, edible outer sheath with a more inedible woody core.

The seeds contain a coating of toxic saponins and can not be eaten raw or cooked. However, the oil pressed from these seeds is quite edible, tasty, and useful as a cooking oil.

The ashes left after burning Glasswort are high in mineral content including salt and are used to flavor foods.


Scientific Name(s): Solidago spp.
Abundance: plentiful
What: young leaves, flowers
How: tea and small addition to salads
Where: fields, borders
When: late summer, early fall
Nutritional Value: low

Goldenrod in the fall.
Goldenrod IGFB

Close-up of goldenrod flowers.
Goldenrod Flowers

Goldenrod flowers are usually bees last source of nectar before winter hits.

Goldenrod seedlings appear in mid-winter to early spring.

The easiest way to recognize them when young is finding them where last year's brown, dry goldenrod stems stand, such as in this photo.

Young goldenrod plant (with more in the background) in late spring. These the young leaves make a tasty tea.

Close-up of goldenrod leaves. Note also, the stem is relatively smooth and hairless.


To properly harvest goldenrod leaves snip just the last 3"-4" where the leaves are lighter green.

By mid-summer many goldenrods have developed these round "galls" in their stems. Each gall is the home of a single, small grub of the Goldenrod Gall Fly. Note, these grubs are edible and also make good fishing bait.

Flowers before they bloom.

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.

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

Goldenrod can be found lining the roods and standing in fields in every US state and Canadian province. Most of the year they go unnoticed, their green stem and leaves acting like camouflage against the background of green grasses. Come fall, they explode like golden fireworks of deep yellow, pyramidal-clustered flowers. At this time they often get blamed wrongly for hay fever and allergy problems when in reality Ragweed, with it's almost invisible flowers, that is actually to blame.

The youngest, most tender leaves, when used in moderation, add an interesting dimension to the flavor of salads. There is often a noticeable color difference between the top 1"-3" of the stem (lighter) and lower parts (darker). Cut the goldenrod off at the point where the light color turns darker. These top leaves are the best for both raw snacks and dried tea.

The leaves can be collected and dried for tea any time from seedling until the flowers bloom. Once the flowers bloom the leaves begin deteriorating and usually are no longer worth collecting. For a black licorice-flavored tea, cut the young leaves or flower stalks off the plant in late morning after dew has evaporated but before the hot sun bakes them. Gather the flowers within the first few days of them opening for the richest flavors. Hang the flower stalks upside-down to dry inside a brown paper bag to dry. Steep one teaspoon of the dried flowers in hot water to make an anise-flavored tea.

Please note though that Goldenrod is the last flower of the season for bees to collect nectar. If you take many of the flowers you may prevent a bee hive from getting enough nectar to get through the winter. This is why I only take leaves.

Many goldenrods will form round galls on their stems. These are caused by a fly grub which is also edible by humans though most prefer to use the grub as fishing bait.

Dried goldenrod leaves can be smoked as an herbal tobacco replacement.

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