These Florida natives are close relatives of blueberries, and people graft blueberry cuttings onto sparkleberry rootstock to make them hardier. The sparkleberry berries are edible, but not as juicy as blueberries. People used to make pies and jams from them.
Having sparkleberries growing wild on our land is great for a few reasons. First, it means we have an edible already producing fruit for no work at all. Second, it’s a really good indicator that we could grow rabbiteye or highbush blueberries with very little work. Third, the wood is really good for carving. And lastly, I get to use the old name for this plant and make kids laugh: farkleberry!
Camphorweed is a north American native. It can be used like arnica to treat bruises, aches, and sprains, but its method of action is directly opposite that of arnica, numbing and calming the inflammatory response rather than increasing the white blood cells like arnica does.
Florida betony, also known as rattlesnake weed, is a member of the mint family with the characteristic square stem and spade shaped, scalloped leaves. It’s edible and grows like a … wait for it … weed. Seriously, people in the southern US spend way too much time, effort, and money to remove this plant when they should be eating it!
It’s very happy in places where we’ve cleared taller plants, but it likes some shade. In full sun, it is tough and small, but in indirect sunlight, like under our shipping containers, it gets lovely, juicy, light green growth. It’s reasonably tasty, too.
The whole plant is edible. The leaves and stems can be eaten raw or cooked. I’ve only tried raw so far. They have the tiniest bit of cress flavor but are otherwise bland with a touch of sweetness. Unlike many mints, they aren’t furry.
The tubers attached to the long white roots are also edible both raw and cooked. When fresh and firm, the tubers taste like mild jicama. They are pretty good in soup, too. Those roots are why it’s so hard to eradicate. The smallest chunk of root or tuber will grow you a new plant.
No one does nutritional research on the Florida Betony. However, nutrition for the S. affinis per 100 grams is: Calories 75, total fat 0, dietary fiber 2 grams, protein 2.6 grams, carbohydrate 17 grams, cholesterol (mg) 0, sodium (mg) 4, sugars (g) o.
As stachys affinis is related, we can assume similar values, but this situation reminds me of a pet peeve of mine: how hard it is to get nutrition information on food you grow (or forage). I mean, seriously, who has thousands of dollars to spend on each plant to get its nutritional profile? I’d really love to see a study funded that lets people send in plants prepared for eating, does a nutritional analysis, and tells us if our home cooked, home grown food is actually good for us.
Anyway, this stuff grows well here and I’ll be embracing that instead of try to evict it.
Smooth rattlebox is an odd looking perennial member of the legumes. It caught my eye immediately. Like most legumes, it’s good for the soil and makes good compost. Unlike the other members of the crotalaria genus, this one is considered somewhat edible…I think.
Wikipedia claims the flowers can be eaten and the seeds used in two ways: fermented or roasted & boiled. Of course, I always take Wikipedia with a large lump of salt, so I went looking for original sources. Wild South Florida has almost the same information, but no citation. The Wikipedia citations lead to an Australian publication and a French publication. Je ne parle pas français. Anyone want to help?
The Australian publication states
The species is suspected of being poisonous to stock, the foliage containing a toxic alkaloid which is lost when the plant is dried. The seeds have been used as a coffee substitute, and although they contain an alkaloid, they may be eaten after careful preparation. The half-ripe seeds are boiled for 2 hours, washed, wrapped in a banana leaf and left to ferment for a couple of days, subsequently being used, either directly or fried, as a flavouring for rice. It has also been used as a green manure on tea and rubber plantations.
We have at least 3 chestnut trees that are bearing their spikey fruits. Sadly, the local wildlife have nabbed all the fattest ones that have fallen. I’m not sure what variety these are. If anyone knows, comment and I’ll update this entry.