Backyard Foraging: Edible Native and Invasive Plants With Ellen Zachos

Kim Eierman

Kim Eierman

Founder of EcoBeneficial!

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Backyard Foraging: Edible Native and Invasive Plants With Ellen Zachos

The phrases: “grow local” and “eat local” take on a whole new meaning when you add native plants and invasive plants into the picture. Many of our native plants, such as Serviceberries (Amelanchier species) and Pawpaw (Asimina species) provide beauty in the garden while offering delectable fruit picked right off the plant.

Some of our edible native plants are also incredibly healthful, including Chokeberries (Photinia species, formerly Aronia), a fact which has not escaped the attention of folks in Eastern Europe who sell Chokeberry juice as high antioxidant, tasty beverage. Admittedly, Chokeberry is one of our native fruits that does need a dose of sugar to become palatable.

With our overabundance of exotic invasive plants in the U.S., what better way to reduce their populations, than to start eating the ones that are delicious, and often nutritious? In her new book, “Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat,” author Ellen Zachos explores many common native, exotic and invasive plants that we can eat.

To help novice foragers, Zachos explains the details of each plant, how to harvest it and how to eat it. She reassures us that we don’t have to denude our yard as we fill our plates, and offers advice about foraging safely, protecting both ourselves and our plants.

Zachos explores some of our native plants such as Groundnut, Passionfruit, Wild Ginger, and Common Milkweed, and the wonderful ways to prepare and enjoy them. Why not plant an large expanse of Common Milkweed this year for Monarch caterpillars, and share a few tasty pods, sauteed to perfection?

For those of us worried about the invasive plants taking over our landscapes, Zachos gives us a utilitarian way to deal with some of them – eat them! Garlic Mustard, Autumn Olive and Japanese Knotweed all deserve a place at our dinner table, as we try to eradicate them from our yards. Autumn Olive Pie, anyone?

A bonus chapter in Zachos’ book teaches us about 5 common mushrooms to harvest including Hen-of-the-Woods and Black Trumpet Mushrooms. Zachos provides important safety tips on mushroom foraging, and even explains how to grow your own mushrooms, the foraging equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.

Whether you are an avid gardener or a hungry apartment dweller, Backyard Foraging will inspire you to get outside and start looking for dinner, at least a vegetarian one.

Enjoy my video or podcast interview with Ellen Zachos as she takes us on an edible journey through our yards and landscapes.

Bon Appetit! From Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!

Photo: Passionfruit
Photo credit: Ellen Zachos

2 Comments

  1. Carol Gracie on February 26, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Common milkweed grows in large clones that are difficult to eradicate if you wish to use the land for another purpose. However, now in particular, I hesitate to encourage its consumption as a wild (and delicious) food. This past year saw a steep decline in the eastern population of monarch butterflies in the eastern U.S., the Midwest, and Canada (I saw two monarchs in my flower-filled garden and the local preserved areas last summer). While the overwintering population in Mexico has fluctuated over the years, the trend has been downward, and the lowest numbers ever were recorded this winter. Western populations have also declined.

    The reasons for the decline are many, from climate change, to the use of herbicide resistant crops, to habitat destruction. These are big problems requiring big solutions on the part of governments, NGOs, and industry.

    But individuals can contribute in smaller ways that may help monarchs on a local scale. I’ve been encouraging gardeners to plant milkweeds in their gardens (they can be planted in containers or surrounded by a sunken barrier to prevent spreading too aggressively). Not only will milkweeds provide a food source for monarch caterpillars, but their flowers provide nectar for many species of butterflies and other insects, and their dried fruits (once the seeds have dispersed) are lovely additions to fall arrangements. My next book on summer wildflowers will provide a lengthy chapter on milkweeds, but for more information now, visit Monarchwatch.org for a blog on up-to-date information about monarchs.



  2. Kim Eierman on February 26, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Thank you for the great comments Carol! We all look forward to your take on Milkweeds in your upcoming book, which no doubt will be as wonderful as your latest book: Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History http://www.amazon.com/Spring-Wildflowers-Northeast-Natural-History/dp/0691144664/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393428890&sr=8-1&keywords=spring+wildflowers

    I do want to encourage readers to get involved in helping Monarchs by planting several Milkweed species this spring. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) can be aggressive in a home landscape, although very useful in areas invaded by invasive exotic plants. There are many other Milkweed species which are terrific for typical yards and gardens, such as Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed), Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed), Asclepias purpurascens (Purple Milkweed – which looks like Common Milkweed, but has better manners), Asclepias exaltata (Tall Milkweed), Asclepias verticillata (Whorled Milkweed), etc.

    And, readers, don’t forget that we need to be planting host plants for our many other butterfly species, as well. While Monarch caterpillars are obligate feeders on Milkweed, other caterpillars need other plant species. Think biodiversity in your plantings!



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