Edible Plants of Central Florida

A Sampling of Native Edible Plants
of the Central Florida Region

by Eileen Szuchy, Florida Native Plant Society and Douglas H. Kutz, University of Florida's Brevard County Extension Service


Introduction:

Many wild and wonderful Florida Native plants can be found growing right in your back yard, or an undisturbed area. There are hundreds of herbs and shrubs that can be used in your favorite recipe or eaten raw. This section in the web page highlights 9 species that may be found in or around central Florida.

Please be cautious about collecting plant imitators that may be toxic, and be aware of laws preventing the removal of native plants from state parks and nature preserves. Many plants can have toxic effects, so we suggest that you rely on an experienced botanist, or naturalist to help you identify edible plants at first. A booklet from the University of Florida Extension Service can be a helpful tool for identifying poisonous and irritant plants of Florida, by Perkins and Payne (Circular # 441).

When exploring for edibles, but please leave these marvelous beauties intact for the next keen eyed student to discover.

Contents:
Cabbage Palm - Sea Grape - Red Mulberry - Purlsane - Dandelion - Spanish Bayonet
Blackberry - Jerusalem Artichoke - Dogwood - Gallberry - Beautyberry


Cabbage Palm, Swamp Cabbage Palm -- Sabal Palmetto

Sabal Palm State tree of Florida (protected by law)

Quick ID: Tree up to 60 ft. tall, with long spreading leaves to 9 ft. long. Yellow-white flowers in many branched clusters; fragrant. Fruit 1/4" wide. Many of these trees are planted along highway overpasses. Radical, improper pruning weakens the root system, promoting disease

Range: South east coast of U.S. from North Carolina to Florida, west to Texas and in the Bahamas. Prefers moist ground of marshes and swamps.

Human Uses: Leaves are used to make weave baskets and hats. Also used as for thatched roofs. Flowers are a source of honey. The "heart" has been used as a salad delicacy, however removing the heart causes the tree to die and is not encouraged unless the tree is part of a land clearing.

Recipes from Cross Creek Cookery by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings 3
Swamp Cabbage Salad: -- Strip the core to the ivory-white heart. Julian slice. Soak in ice water for one hour. Serve with your favorite salad dressing.
Swamp Cabbage: Strip the core to the ivory-white heart
Cross Creek Style: Julian slice. Add two tablespoons of butter and half a teaspoon of salt. Cook in very little water until dry and tender.. Add 1/2 cup of heated cream. Heat to simmering and serve.

Recipe from Wild Edibles by Marian Van Atta 1
Swamp Cabbage: Cut hearts of palm fine or shred into fine pieces
Slaw: Mix with mayonnaise and 1 or 2 teaspoons pickle relish. Season to taste


Sea Grape

Sea Grape, Hopwood, Horsewood -- Cocoloba Uvifera

Quick ID: Tree up to 40 ft., but generally small tree or large shrub. Leaves are thick and heart-shaped from 3 to 10 inches. New foliage is smooth and brown or bronze in color. Flowers grow in clusters. Fruit resembles grapes and are dark red or purple and ripen throughout summer.

Range: Florida, Bahamas, West Indies, Central and South America. Coastal dune plant, vital to erosion control and as a wind and salt break. Can be grown inland, where they may reach 50 ft.

Human Uses: Food. Wood can be used for carving
The most common way to eat seagrapes is as like all other grapes. Rinse and pop in your mouth.

Recipes from Wild Edibles by Marian Van Atta 1
Seagrape Jelly: Wash fruit and remove stems and leaves. Pour through cloth jelly bag. Put 4 cups juice back in kettle. Add 4 cups sugar and keep stirring.. Boil rapidly to 228 degrees F. Pour into sterilized jelly jars and seal.


Red MulberryRed Mulberry -- Morus rubra

Quick ID: Tree up to 30 or 50 ft., dense, bushy, with drooping branches, milky sap. Deciduous leaves, ovate with pointed tips. Flowers "minute in spikes, male spikes 2 to 3 inch. Fruit in oblong clusters 1 to 2 inched long. Dark purple and very juicy when ripe. Fruit ready in late spring through fall.

Range: Found in low hammocks on the mainland.

Human Uses: Food

The best way to eat mulberries is fresh from the tree when fully ripe, but many enjoy mulberry wine, jam or pies.

Red Mulberry Recipes from Living off the Land and Wild Edibles by Marian Van Atta: 1
Mulberry Pie: One baked 9" pie crust. 4 c. Stemmed mulberries. 1/4 c. Cornstarch. 3/4 c. Sugar. 1/2 c. Water. 2 T. Lemon or Lime juice. -- Add sugar to mulberries in a saucepan. Mix cornstarch with water. Add to berries. Add juice. Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens and juice becomes clear. Pour into bake pies shell. Cool and serve.

Mulberry Vinegar: In a large bowl, place 3 quarts clean mulberries. Mash and pour 3 cups of boiling-hot white vinegar over berries. Cover with a towel and for 3 days, mix fruit with a wood spoon. Strain juice trough jelly bag. To each cup juice add one cup sugar. Boil together for 5 minutes. Pour into sterilized jars and seal. When ready to use, pour 2 T. Mulberry vinegar in an 8 ounce glass. Fill with water and ice.

Mulberry Sauce: Add 1 1/2 c. Brown sugar, 1 t. each of cloves and allspice, to mashed berries. Bring to boil. Simmer until thick stirring often. Bottle and seal.


Spanish Bayonet

Yucca, Spanish Bayonet, Spanish Dagger -- Yucca aloifolia

Quick ID: Shrub- tall, straight stem growing to 25 ft., with pointed, dagger-like leaves, which are a dark green. Flowers are a waxy tulip like, white bloom, in clusters. The fruit is cylinder shaped to 5" long, with purple skin. There are many small seeds.

Range: Beaches, sand dunes and the mainland. Yucca grows throughout the North American continent.

Human Use: Though fruit is edible, it is often bitter even when ripe. The flowers are used in salads, once the bitter center is removed. The flowers can also be batter dipped and fried.

Recipe from Wild Edibles by Marian Van Atta 1
Baked Yucca Fruit: Wrap still-green Yucca fruit in foil and bake about 30 minutes. Serve with butter, salt and pepper. Remove the hard little seeds.


Blackberry

Blackberry, Dewberry -- Rubus flagellaris

Quick ID: Bramble- among the many varieties of blackberry, some are ground creepers, although most grow upright, then arch downward. The Leaves have three or five leaflets. The stems have thorns. The Blooms are white with five petals and the fruit is black, with many juicy lobes, which grow in clusters. Mid to late summer is the harvest time.

Range: Blackberries love bright light and fruit best in open. They can be found throughout North America.

Human Use: Berries are wonderful eaten fresh, but can also be made into jams, pies, and jellies. The leaves are used in teas.

Recipe from Wild Edibles by Marian Van Atta 1
Blackberry Leaf Tea: 1 handful fresh green blackberry leaves. 2 cups water Honey for sweetening. Cook green leaves for about 10 minutes on simmer. Strain into cups and add honey.

Recipe from Cross Creek Cookery by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings 3
Wild Blackberry Jelly: Mash Fruit with wooden masher, without crushing seeds, barely cover with water and boil until fruit is disintegrated. Strain through cheesecloth, pressing, then through flannel without pressing. Bring juice to a boil, and to every cup of juice add one cup sugar slowly, stirring. Boil rapidly until jellying point is reached.


PurslanePurslane -- Portulaca oleracea

Quick ID: Ground cover - once considered a weed, this colorful, flowering succulent has stems 3 to 6 inches long and is often found in nurseries. The bright yellow or orange flowers are small with 5 petals. The fruit is a round capsule with many small black seeds.

Range: Mainland, hammocks, pineland, sandy fields, cultivated grounds. Grows worldwide.

Human Uses: This is a wonderful ground cover, that is generally used in salads. Purslane may be eaten raw or steamed . The Van Atta family says that they taste like green beans.

Recipes from Florida's Incredible Wild Edibles by Dick Deuerling and Peggy S. Lantz 2
Potherbs Greens: Purslane leaves and stems may be boiled well with just enough water to cover the herbs then discard the first water and pour a smaller amount of hot water over the greens and again boil them. Reduce heat and simmer until tender. Finely chop the herbs and add salt, pepper, vinegar, cinnamon or nutmeg. You can add oil, butter, or bacon fat, and mix with diced hard boiled eggs and put them in a casserole with cheese and bread crumb topping, then bake until cheese melts.


Dandelion

Dandelion -- Taraxacum officinale

Quick ID: Generally considered a nuisance weed, this ground cover is also known as an beneficial herb. The Latin name means "official remedy for illnesses". The dandelion, may not be a native plant, but should be considered naturalized. It has deep saw-toothed leaves, with yellow flowers on a single stem. The seeds are a fluffy white ball.

Range: Found world over, except tropics. Can grow in most soil conditions.

Human Uses: The greens are used in salads, as a cooked vegetable, and made into teas. The roots of young plants are also used in salads. The flowers may be batter dipped and fried. The blossoms are known for wine and can make a non-alcoholic drink.

Recipe from Florida's Incredible Wild Edibles by Richard J. Deuerling and Peggy S. Lantz 2
Dandelion Soft Drink: Fill a quart measure firmly with fresh dandelion blossoms. Rinse and cut off stems very close to the flower heads. Cover with 2 quarts of boiling water and set aside to cool. Combine 2 c. of cold water with 3 c. sugar and bring to a boil to make 3 c. of syrup. Thinly slice 2 lemons and 2 oranges. Add them and the syrup to the flowers and let stand for 2 to 3 days. Strain and serve over cracked ice. To keep longer, the strained mixture may be bottled and corked tightly, or should be refrigerated. Makes two quarts.

Recipe from I Eat Weeds by Priscilla G. Bowers 4
E. Thrasher's Dandy Salad
Dandelion salad, washed and drained. Fry 4 slices of bacon. Remove from skillet and drain. Keep grease in skillet. In small bowl, combine 1/2 c. sugar, 1/2 t. salt, and 1 T. cornstarch. Add 1 beaten egg, 1/2 c. vinegar, and 1 c. water, mixing well. Add to grease in skillet. Cook over medium high heat until mixture thickens. Cool and pour over greens. Stir a bit. Sprinkle bacon over top. Garnish with 2 hard-boiled eggs.


Jerusalem artichokeJerusalem artichoke -- Helianthus tuberosus

Jerusalem artichoke Quick ID: Course shrub up to eight feet tall with rough leaves and stem. Flowers are daisy like, yellow; leaves are alternate arranged ovate and tapering.

Range: Established from old gardens or naturalized in many areas of Central Florida.

Human Uses: This plant is native to the eastern U.S. and was considered as a food of trade for American Indians. This trade and modern cultivation has permitted escape from cultivation. The carbohydrate insulin, is digestible, by persons who can't digest other starches, harvest in spring before new sprouts grow.

Recipe from I Eat Weeds by Priscilla G. Bowers 4
Usage : Use the tubers as a potato substitute, eaten raw, pickled or sliced into a salad. Most health food stores sell artichoke spaghetti, macaroni and noodles, which are every bit as tasty as regular pastas, but not as starchy.


Dogwood

Dogwood -- Cornus florida

Quick ID: Small tree with opposite leaves and branches. If you break the leaf in half, thread of vein will be continuous between the halves. Plants are deciduous and clusters of white flowers, bloom early in spring.

Range: Found in Eastern U.S. and Florida usually grow in moist hammocks but will adapt to a variety of landscape.

Human Uses: Historically the young branches were stripped of bark and chewed by Indians to clean their teeth. The juice of the twigs was useful in preserving gums.


Gallberry

Gallberry -- Ilex glabra

Quick ID: A rhizomatous shrub, 1-2 meters tall with small black fruits. Leaves are evergreen, 2-5 centimeters long, with a few blunt teeth at the tip.

Range: Grows throughout Florida in a wide variety of habitats such as low open sandy areas, savanahs, and flatwoods.

Human Use: Three hollies make good tea with out caffeine: Dahoon, American, and Gallberry.

Recipes from Florida's Incredible Wild Edibles by Dick Deuerling and Peggy S. Lantz 2
Recipe: Prepare leaves of gallberry must be dried, then roasted in an oven until golden brown. Steep the leaves in boiling water for two minutes and enjoy!

Imitator: Lyonia lucida "shiny lyonia" has a similar type of simple leaf and it grows in the same habitat range. To distinguish the "Lyonia" observe the margin of the leaves , because there is a vien running along the outer edge of the vein.


Beautyberry

Beautyberry - Callicarpa Americana Beautyberry Jelly
"1 ½ qts. of Beautyberries, washed and clean of green stems and leaves. Cover with 2 qts. water. Boil 20 minutes and strain to make infusion. Use 3 cups of the infusion, bring to boil, add 1 envelope Sure-Jell and 4 _ cups sugar. Bring to second boil and boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand until foam forms. Skim off foam, pour into sterilized jars, cap.

UPDATE (insect repellant): One of my students, Fred, does a lot of foraging and has lived his life in mosquito-ladened Florida. He reports: [Beautyberry's] "jelly is awesome but I really love the beautyberry for its insect repellent properties. I pretty much chopped up a plant (leaves and stems) and boiled it in a pot and let it cool and strained the brown liquid into my blender, about 1 ½ cups.
In a separate pot I warmed some organic neem oil (1 cup) with
1 ounce of beeswax until melted.
Then you turn the blender on and pour in the oil mixture very slowly and it becomes a cream.

I have to say hands down the best insect repellent ever! Because its a creme on July/August days one application is all you need for the entire day even when your sweating." 2

Jacob Summerlin: "King of the Crackers" built a hotel in the late 1800's, Punta Gorda. He claimed there were no mosquitoes in his hotel. Further he would pay anyone 10 for every mosquito killed in his hotel. Unfortunately, his secret went with him. I wonder if Beautyberry was in the formula?" - Editor
Contributed 9/14 by David Humphrey of the Sea Rocket Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society.


REFERENCES

  1. Van Atta, M., Living of the Land, B & B Reproductions, Inc, 1973.
  2. Deuerling, R.J., Lantz, P.S., Florida's Incredible Wild Edibles, Florida Native Plant Society, 1993.
  3. Rawlings, M. K. , Cross Creek Cookery,
  4. Bowers, P. G., I Eat Weeds, Buttercup Press, 1996.
  5. Bell, R. and Taylor, B.J. Florida Wildflowers and Roadside Plants, Laurel Hill Press, 1982
  6. Colvin et. al. , Weeds of Southern Turfgrasses, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Serv.
  7. Nelson Gil, The Trees of Florida, Pineapple Press Inc. Sarasota Fl., 1994, photo #46, pg. 172.

 


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