Unmistakable Beauty

by Bernard Cook

I remember feeling a little overwhelmed when I was first interested in wild plants. There were so many different shapes and colors, so many things listed in the field guides that I didn’t know where to start. Well, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Learning just one plant was the entry point that I needed. I think it was chickweed, Stellaria media. Everywhere I went, my eyes would gravitate towards it and I would remember the name, eat a few leaves. I soon learned a few more – henbit, dead nettle, violet, speedwell. I would see them all over the place and identify them as I went, or pick a salad. Before long, I gained a sense of what conditions these plants tend to grow in – I could be somewhere unfamiliar and my gut would tell me where to look.

I talk to people all the time who are intimidated or even scared of wild plants, thinking that everything is poison and that there is no good reason to eat “weeds” when we have blessed flora like iceberg lettuce readily available. Well, the difference between a weed and an herb is knowledge. For anyone who is afraid they may accidentally eat some deadly toxic look-a-like, here is a wondrous beauty that is unmistakable: Maypop, passionflower, Passiflora incarnata.

These perennial vines are very common in fields, gardens, sunny woodland edges, and with a flower like that, you can’t miss it. It is one of my favorite edibles. It can be cooked, but I prefer it raw in salads, with its distinct nutty flavor. Right now (throughout spring and summer), the young tips will break off in your fingers at just the right, tender spot before it becomes too hard and fibrous. The flowers are great, and the buds before they open are a nice crunchy vegetable.

Later in the year, a fruit will form that looks like a green egg hanging from the vine and goes POP! when you step on it. It’s ripe when it’s really soft and the inside contains globs of sweet flesh with an intense, tropical flavor and seeds that you can crunch right up and eat. YUM.

See if you can spot this lovely plant growing and give it a try. Notice where it is growing, the smell, the shape of the leaves, its particular shade of green that will stand out in dense growth of other plants. Put that flower right up to your face and look at the amazing details in the structure and detail of each element. Ahh…. Now this is food!


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