The following post was published by Discovery Channel on a web site for their urban survival TV show “The Colony.”
The summertime is a dry period in much of the country, so it can be helpful to know of an edible plant that has high water content. It could come in especially handy if you’re ever without access to clean water.
Hens and chickens (Sempervivum sp.) is a cactus-like succulent that looks a bit like a swollen artichoke. It’s known as a stonecrop, which appropriately means it grows in dry, rocky crevices. The Latin word “Semper” means “always” and “vivum” means “that which is alive,” a reference to its hardiness.
Hens and chickens is native to the Middle East and Africa but grows across North America and is cultivated as an ornamental in landscaped yards, though it sometimes escapes gardens to become feral.
The leaves are fleshy and have a crunchy texture. The flavor is mildly sweet with an astringent kick. It’s surprisingly drying for such a water-rich plant, which creates the odd experience of quenching your thirst while puckering your tongue. Still, it’s tasty raw. You can also use the plant medicinally to soothe skin irritations: squeeze the leaves to apply juice on insect bites and minor skin irritations.
July is a great time to get edible flowers, too. One of the easiest to spot and most common is the everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius). The bright pink blossoms taste sweet and crisp, just like the peas you see in the grocery store. In Portland I find it all over alleyways, along chain link fences, on highway sides and in vacant lots. You can eat more than just the blossom — the whole top of the plant snaps right off. This one is native to Europe, but many first peoples of North America ate related Lathyrus species.
As with most wild food, moderation is a safe way to go. One book, Thomas J. Elpel’s “Botany In a Day,” reports that some kinds of Lathyrus could cause nervous disorders if eaten “excessively” over time. That said, I haven’t seen this claim made directly in relation to this particular species. In general, I wouldn’t be worried unless you expect to eat tremendous quantities, such as if you were thinking of living off it alone.
Another edible flower is day lily (Hemerocallus fulva), which shares the same habitats as Everlasting Pea. You’ve likely noticed the distinct orange flowers before, but did you know you can eat them? They taste pleasant and mild. You could pull them apart and put them in a salad mix or fry them into fritters. You could also eat the starchy part of their stems that grow underground, called tubers, or roast them like you would corn.
Most people can eat day lilies with no problem, but a few people do get stomach trouble from eating them. They’re not toxic, but could cause nausea or diarrhea, so tread carefully if you suspect you might be sensitive.
Other edible blossoms you could find right now include rose, mallow and dandelion.
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