Some Florida Wild Foods
While visiting the state I grew up in, I’ve made the acquaintance of a few delicious wild foods that I’d like to introduce to you.
Sea purslane grows on sunny beaches and salt flats, often near mangroves. It is a low-growing groundcover with fleshy, succulent leaves. It takes up salt from the soil, giving its leaves a pleasant, salt taste and crunch that will delight pickle lovers. It propagates easily from cuttings and prefers sun and sandy soil. Since it is a very salt tolerant plant, it can be used where salt is a problem. Growing it and removing it (by eating it, for example, rather than composting it in place) may help remediate salty soils. Just remember that plants that take up salt may also take up other minerals, some of which may be dangerous. Use it sparingly as a treat or a garnish.
This plant, with its cute mini-watermelon-like fruits, is widely listed as toxic. When the fruits ripen to black, they may have a laxative effect, but even the ripe fruits have been eaten by people of the West Indies and Central America. The unripe fruits are safely eaten by many people—including me—who find their cucumber flavor tasty. Many people add them to salads. The vines can be vigorous and can take over a large area if not pruned back regularly. It will thrive along your fences, especially in sandy, low-lying or marshy areas. The vines are said to be suitable livestock forage, however.
This is actually a South African plant, an exotic that can sometimes escape cultivation in South Florida. It is often grown for its glossy ornamental foliage and pretty, fragrant white flowers that resemble jasmine, but it is also thorny and makes a good hedge to deter intruders, if you’re in need of that sort of thing. It tolerates partial shade but does better in full sun. Its fruit is reputed to be delicious—I had my eye on one growing along a sidewalk, but before the fruit were ripe, the homeowners pruned back all the branches drastically and I missed my chance to ask them for one. The plant has a milky latex, and all parts other than the fruit are said to be poisonous.
As always, if you decide to try new wild foods, try a little bit at a time first to detect if you’re sensitive to it, and eat only plants growing in uncontaminated soil that have not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.Tweet