Showing posts with label Brown Fruit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brown Fruit. Show all posts

Balloon Vine

Scientific Name(s): Cardiospermum corindum
Abundance: uncommon
What: young leaves; vine tips
How: cooked
Where: fields, borders, dry, moist
When: spring, summer, fall, winter
Nutritional Value: minor
Dangers: none

Ballon vine plant in the fall.

Balloon vine leaf.

Balloon vine leaf and green seed pod "balloon". Seed pod/seeds are NOT edible.

Dried balloon vines seed pods.

Balloon vine seeds.

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

Across fields and disturbed areas of Texas and the South, Balloon Vines are taking hold. Keep an eye out in sunny fields, especially along ditches and other areas where water may collect. Balloon vines are easily spotted by their small, puffy, pointed seed pods. These pods are mostly air with the fruit located in the center. If the weather stays warm these vines can produce these balloon-like seed pods all year long so you may see white flowers, young, green pods, and dried, brown pods all on the same vine.

Balloon vines are an invasive species from Asia and can quickly cover and kill native plants. This makes a good argument for eating them! The edible parts are its young leaves and vine tips. These are cooked before eating, though to be honest I don't know why. That's how they do it in Asian countries, which is a good enough reason for me.

The puffy seed pods are not eaten, nor are the seeds contained in these "balloons". However, both the leaves and seeds were used medically in India and Asia, along with the roots. Leaf poultices were used on skin wounds and infections as well as minor muscle and joint problems like strains, sprains and arthritis. Tea made from the leaves was traditionally used against stress and bronchitis. Tea from the root was applied topically to treat hemorrhoids. The seeds were crushed for a tea given to relieve fevers and joint pain.


Scientific Name(s): Cuscuta species
Abundance: common
What: stem/vine; seeds
How: stem cooked, seeds roasted

Where: sunny fields, borders
When: spring, summer, fall
Nutritional Value: contains carotenoids

Dodder covering plants along Spring creek.

Close-ups of dodder vines.



Close-up of dodder vine tip.

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.

Dodder vines are a fascinating example of plant parasitism. They contain only minimal amounts of chlorophyl and survive by sucking all their necessary nutrients from host plants. Chemical receptors on the dodder vine allow it to "smell" he presence of preferred host plants, causing the dodder to grow towards it's host like a slow, orange plant vampire.

In light of dodder's orange color it should not be surprising that it contains B-carotene and other carotenoids. This makes it a good nibble for your eyes...though ingesting it via the mouth is the better method. Trying to eat something with you eyes usually ends badly.

Sorry, I couldn't resist. I've been working too hard lately.

While dodder vines are rich in carotenoids, there is little in literature about eating these it. Steaming it like a carrot would probably be best but I haven't tried that yet. Studies confirm that the darker orange the stem/vine the higher the B-carotene concentration. In the fall the seeds were collected, roasted, and pounded into a flour by Native Americans

Dodder seeds supposedly have medicinal properties according to Chinese and Japanese herbal lore. Seeds from the Asian dodder Cuscuta japonica are used as an anti-aging drug, reversing many of the common weaknesses brought on in old age, especially for men. Western medicines have not confirmed any of these effects.

Link to scientific paper about dodder carotenoids.

Because dodder absorbs many chemicals from its host plants, it itself can become toxic. Only eat dodder harvested from plants you can positively identify as safe to eat!

Grape - Mustang

Scientific name: Vitis mustangensis
Abundance: plentiful
What: fruits, leaves, young tendrils
How: fruit raw (very tart), cooked, dried, preserves, wine; leaves and tendrils cooked,
Where: Edges of woods. Mustang grape leaves are fuzzy and have a white underside.
When: summer
Nutritional Value: calories, antioxidants
Other uses: water can be obtained from the vines (see technique in grapes- muscadine post), wild yeast from the fruit
Dangers: Mustang grapes are very acidic and handling/eating large amounts of the raw fruit can cause burns to hands and mouth.

Mustang grape vine with unripe fruit. Note that the top of the leaves are green while their underside is white/gray. Both sides of the leaf are fuzzy to the touch.

Almost-ripe Mustang grapes.

Mustang grape leaves start out deeply lobed but over the summer the lobes fill in until the leaf is shaped like the traditional grape leaf.
Grape - Mustang

The lobed leaves can get quite large before filling in, depending on growing conditions.

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.

Mustang grapes are easy to tell apart by their leaves from other wild grapes. The topside are dark green and smooth while the undersides are gray and fuzzy like the nose of a horse. These grapes are the first to ripen in the summer here in Texas. Their skins are thick and tough, surrounding a very tart, gelatinous interior containing several small seeds. This acidic tartness makes them unpleasant to eat raw and can result in acid burns on your mouth and fingers. However, this acid gives them a complex flavor when made into jam/jelly or wine. When making jelly include some skins of green/unripe grapes as a source of pectin.

Due to their fuzziness, the leaves aren't used in cooking like other grape leaves.


Ground Cherry

Scientific Name(s): Physalis species
Abundance: uncommon
What: fruit
How: raw, cooked
Where: fields, borders, woods
When: summer, fall
Nutritional Value: Vitamin A, B3, C
Dangers: unripe berries can cause stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea

Top view of ground cherry (Physalis pubescens) plant.


Side/under-leaf view of ground cherry plant with unripe fruit pods.

Close-up of ground cherry flower.

Close-up of unripe ground cherries still on the plant.

Ground cherries in November in Houston, TX. Notice how long and pointy the edges of the leaves have become.
Ground Cherry

Ripe ground cherry fruit.

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.

Ground cherries are members of the nightshade family, just as are their close cousins and similar tasting tomatillos. Ground cherries straddle that fine line between fruit and vegetable, and can be used both as a somewhat sour berry in tarts and other desserts as well as to make tangy sauces, salsa, and other tomato/tomatillo type foods. My mom preferred to use them as a berry in desserts, but I never really like them served that way. I think they are better in Mexican and Italian style foods.

Ground cherries easily reseed and are effortlessly grown in gardens. They do best in dappled sunlight but not full shade. If near a steady source of water such as a pond or stream they can handle full Texas sun. Loose sandy soil works best. Once the plant begins fruiting in the summer it will continue to produce up to 300 of the small, yellow berries until frost kills the plant.

They plant usually drops the fruit pod before the fruit inside is ripe. Simple pick the pod off the ground and store it in an open container on your counter until the outer pod turns from yellow to a orangish sort of color. At that point you can remove them from the husk and use them. You can leave them in their husks/fruit pods for up to three months if stored at 50F in a mesh bag.

As part of the nightshade family, these fruit have a small amount of toxicity when unripe. If eaten before they are ready they will cause very bad stomach distress.

Honey Locust

Scientific name: Gleditsia Triacanthos
Abundance: common
What: buds, flowers, young seed pods, seeds
How: raw or cooked in soups and stews, tea/drink
Where: sunny, arid land
When: Spring, summer.
Nutritional Value: sugar, protein, minerals
Other uses: extremely hot and fragrant firewood
Dangers: These can occasionally contain toxic, bitter tasting compounds. Only use sweet-tasting honey locusts.

Honey locust spines on trunk of tree. Note how the spines have spines!


Honey locust leaf, compound in structure. Each of the ovals is a single leaflet portion of the full leaf.

Honey locust spines on branches along with flowers.

Close-ups of very young honey locust seed pods.


Close-up of honey locust spine.

Mature honey locust seed pod. Eat the yellow/orange "goo" between the hard seeds.

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.

Growing to almost 100 feet tall and living up to 120 years, Honey Locust trees are distinguished...and wicked protectors of wooded areas. Their trunks and mature branches are covered with sea urchin-like clusters of spines up to four inches long! They have a broad crown that offers lovely, dappled shade during the summer. Come fall it's compound leaves turn yellow and then drop leaving the dark gray, bumpy bark to stand stark against the winter sky.

These tall, spiky trees are often found on the edges of woods and to a lesser extent in the interior. In either case it's likely they'll be surrounded by many small honey locust saplings. The springtime flowers are beloved by bees and make an excellent honey. The young, tender pods can be cooked like green beans. The yellow/gold "goo" between the seeds inside both green and mature seedpods is sweet and tastes like honey. The hard, mature seeds can be ground into a calorie rich, gluten-free flour after removing them from the long, flat pod.

Honey Mesquite

Scientific name: Prosopis glandulosa
Abundance: plentiful
What: young leaves, seed pods, seeds
How: seed pods raw, cooked; mature beans pounded into flour, made into tofu or tea. Young leaves in salad or cooked like spinach
Where: arid fields
When: late summer, early fall
Nutritional Value: carbohydrates, protein, calcium
Other uses: excellent firewood
Dangers: up to 20% of mesquite pods are infected with very dangerous aflatoxin-producing fungus. Only pick pods that are still on the tree and have not been attacked by boring-beetles.

Honey mesquite tree.

Honey mesquite bark and spines.

Honey mesquite trees have compound leaves consisting of many leaflets.

Just-opened honey mesquite flowers.

More mature flowers transitioning into seedpods.

Young mesquite seed pods.

Pods almost mature.

Mature honey mesquite seed pod.

A mesquite pod picked from the ground. The hole indicates a beetle has infected it with dangerous aflatoxin fungus, rendering it unusable.

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.

Dotting (or perhaps creating!) the arid regions of Texas, mesquite trees are becoming nuisance thickets. Their huge demand for water sucks the land around them dry, preventing the growth of most other plants. The dense, aromatic wood has a long history of being used to add the distinctive taste to grilled foods. This wood burns extremely hot and can destroy chimneys and melt metal fire rings so be careful with it. Historical note, the underground roots of dead mesquite trees were considered to be an excellent source of firewood.

Mesquite seeds/seed pods are rich in protein, minerals, and fructose. This fructose makes them an exceptionally good food source for diabetics as the body does not use insulin to break down the fructose. The hard, shucked beans can be dried for storage and ground into a calorie-rich flour as needed. Be warned thought that these beans are extremely hard and require a very high-quality grain mill to crush them.

The dried beans can be roasted to make a tea/caffeine-free coffee substitute. Roast them for a few minutes at 400F then crush them before boiling to make the tea.

Pods that have fallen to the ground or which have bore-holes in them have up to a 20% chance of being infected by a aflatoxin-producing fungus. However, undamaged pods still on the tree are unlikely to have this problem. Most adults are quite resistant to aflatoxin effects but small children can be at risk. Very large doses of aflatoxin can eventually cause liver cancer.

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