Greetings, and thanks for your interest in this site, and for stopping by to explore the world of edible and medicinal plants.  The focus of this post centers on plants that can be found in your backyard.  More on plants found deeper in the wilderness at another time.  With the plants shown here, just a few steps out the door, and you have a vast selection of plants, aka weeds that you can eat. FOR FREE!!!

Before I get started with the actual material, I want to express a few words of caution.  Even though all the plants I am listing here are known to be edible, and I have sampled them all myself with no ill effects, I advise you to exercise caution as I did at first by sampling only small tastes to make sure my own body doesn't react or show an allergic response to a new food.  I want to state as firmly as I can that you are never to so much as taste a plant that you don't know about, or have been taught by someone who does.  Study all parts of a plant.  Some parts may be edible, and other parts toxic.  A plant may be edible in Spring, but toxic at all other times.  Study, and come to know the plant intimately before ever eating it.  I have included a standard universal edibility test to follow specifically to the letter when investigating a new plant that you want to integrate into your diet.  It is a good idea to study plants and cross reference them with a number of sources.  Be careful, and be sure of what you are dealing with.

Now that I have gotten all that out of the way, I invite you to check out the following plants I have been enjoying in my own neighbourhood in Lexington, Kentucky.  Please feel free to email me at any time should you have questions or comments.  A comments form can be found on the "contact" page of this site.  Thanks, and enjoy.

How to Test Plants for Edibility

 
There are many plants throughout the world. Tasting or swallowing even a small portion of some can cause severe discomfort, extreme internal disorders and even death. Therefore, if you have the slightest doubt about a plant's edibility, apply the Universal Edibility Test before eating any portion of it.
Before testing a plant for edibility, make sure there are enough plants to make the testing worth your time and effort. Each part of a plant (roots, leaves, flowers and so on) requires more than 24 hours to test. Do not waste time testing a plant that is not relatively abundant in the area.
Remember, eating large portions of plant food on an empty stomach may cause diarrhea, nausea or cramps. Two good examples of this are such familiar foods as green apples and wild onions. Even after testing plant food and finding it safe, eat it in moderation. You can see from the steps and time involved in testing for edibility just how important it is to be able to identify edible plants.
To avoid potentially poisonous plants, stay away from any wild or unknown plants that have --
    * Milky or discolored sap.
    * Beans, bulbs or seeds inside pods.
    * Bitter or soapy taste.
    * Spines, fine hairs or thorns.
    * Dill, carrot, parsnip or parsley-like foliage.
    * "Almond" scent in woody parts and leaves.
    * Grain heads with pink, purplish or black spurs.
    * Three-leafed growth pattern.

Using the above criteria as eliminators when choosing plants for the Universal Edibility Test will cause you to avoid some edible plants. More important, these criteria will often help you avoid plants that are potentially toxic to eat or touch.



THE UNIVERSAL EDIBILITY TEST:
1 - Test only one part of a potential food plant at a time.

2 - Separate the plant into its basic components — leaves, stems, roots, buds and flowers.

3 - Smell the food for strong or acid odors. Remember, smell alone does not indicate a plant is edible or inedible.

4 - Do not eat for eight hours before starting the test.

5 - During the eight hours you abstain from eating, test for contact poisoning by placing a piece of the plant part you are testing on the inside of your elbow or wrist. Usually 15 minutes is enough time to allow for a reaction.

6 - During the test period, take nothing by mouth except purified water and the plant part you are testing.

7 - Select a small portion of a single part and prepare it the way you plan to eat it.

8 - Before placing the prepared plant part in your mouth, touch a small portion (a pinch) to the outer surface of your lip to test for burning or itching.

9 - If after three minutes there is no reaction on your lip, place the plant part on your tongue, holding it there for 15 minutes.

10 - If there is no reaction, thoroughly chew a pinch and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes. Do not swallow.

11 - If no burning, itching, numbing, stinging or other irritation occurs during the 15 minutes, swallow the food.

12 - Wait eight hours. If any ill effects occur during this period, induce vomiting and drink a lot of water.

13 - If no ill effects occur, eat 0.25 cup of the same plant part prepared the same way. Wait another eight hours. If no ill effects occur, the plant part as prepared is safe for eating.

CAUTION: Test all parts of the plant for edibility, as some plants have both edible and inedible parts. Do not assume that a part that proved edible when cooked is also edible when raw. Test the part raw to ensure edibility before eating raw. The same part or plant may produce varying reactions in different individuals.

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Common Redbud, Cercis canadensis blooming in early Spring
The Redbud has striking bright pink flowers that stand out in the early Spring landscape.  The flowers are edible and have a nutty flavour.  They can be eaten raw, mixed in salads, fried into fritters, and even made into a pickle relish.  Later the tree produces pea like pods that are also edible and when boiled taste much like peas. When harvesting this or any plant take care to just pick a little in many different places so as not to damage the plant, or alter the balance of its habitat.
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Maple seed pods
The maple tree is a very common tree and has many useful and edible elements as well as being home to urban wildlife.  Early in Spring Maple trees can be found laden with seed pods often seen spinning to the ground with their helicopter like wings.  The seeds in these pods are edible and can be nibbled raw when they aren't too bitter, or they can be eaten in larger quantities when boiled in a change or two of water until the bitter tannins are washed away, and they can be roasted in the oven at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 or 10 minutes, salted and eaten. They can also be dried, and ground into flour if you like. 
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Henbit in the mint family is one of several types of lamium.
Henbit, shown above is a very common plant of early spring and like its close relative, Deadnettle, are aromatic members of the mint family and are quite edible.  Look for a plant with square stems, opposite leaves and probably a strong scent and you probably have a member of the mint family.  Try collecting the tips of Henbit with flowers and leaves.  Eat them raw, in a salad, or steam in just a little bit of water, season to taste, and enjoy.  I want to add that even though the plants listed here are edible, some people may have sensitivity or allergies to certain plants so care should be taken to sample only very small quantities first, working your way up to full servings. 
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Spring Beauty, Claytonia
Spring Beauties are one of the earlier flowers of Spring, and can be seen blanketing lawns with delicate white flowers with pink veins.  When found in abundance, you can dig down about 3 to 5 inches to find small potato like corms that can be boiled, peeled and eaten like potatoes. You can also mash or fry them.  The corms can also be peeled and eaten raw.  It is ok to taste the flowers, but they aren't good to eat in any quantity.

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Violet, Viola
Another common edible flowering plant of early Spring and on into Summer is the common violet.  They are usually a rich purple coloured flower, however they are also sometimes white or yellow.  The yellow ones I don't consider edible, and in my opinion, the purple ones are the best.  Both the leaves and flowers are edible and can be eaten raw, or you can cook the greens.  The flowers are often dipped in sugar water and candied or they can be used to make violet syrup or jelly.  Just a note here that applies to all plants foraged, especially in urban areas.  Make sure your harvest hasn't been sprayed with any chemicals, or harvested too near a road, and then there is the posible issue that a dog may have found it a good spot to mark his territory on.  Just be careful when harvesting especially in populated areas.  Take care to harvest the leaves only when the plant is in bloom as there are non edible lookalikes.
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Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale
Dandelions grow much of the year, and are the nemesis of many lawn purists, but this plant is among the most nutritious to be found by the suburban forager.  The entire plant is edible, leaves, crowns, roots and flower petals.  Dandelion leaves are best in early spring before they flower and can be eaten raw or cooked. Older leaves can be bitter but may be improved by soaking them for awhile in a bowl of water with a little baking soda. Dandelion leaves are high in vitamins A, C and B. The crown of the plant, the whitish area just below the leaves and above the roots can be deep fried with batter to make dandelion fritters.  Dandelion tea made from cleaned, roasted roots has been used as a coffee substitute and is a mild laxative, blood purified and diuretic.
 


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