Edible Wild Plants class on April 30

I’m co-teaching a two-hour class on Edible Wild Plants on April 30th at the Morris Arboretum, along with horticulture staff member Tom Bishop. Tom is one of the Arboretum’s best-kept secrets and has been nibbling on wild plants for most of his life!

I’ve included he course description below; to sign up, please contact the Arboretum at (215) 247-5777 x 125. More coure info is available at morrisarboretum.org.


Morris Arboretum


In his 1966 book Stalking the Healthful Herbs, Euell Gibbons called stinging nettle “one of the finest and most nutritious foods in the whole plant kingdom.” Now, the Eat Local movement is bringing wild edible plants into the mainstream. Whether you’re a roadside forager gathering nettles, or a farmer’s-market shopper wondering what to do with pokeweed stems or lamb’s-quarters, you will enjoy this hands-on class.

During the first hour, you will learn about the native and introduced edible plants that grow wild in our region’s parks and neighborhoods, as well some as tasty ornamental garden species you never knew you could eat! A foraging tour of the Arboretum’s Natural Areas will follow, during which you will identify and harvest some of these wild edibles. (Some sites can be muddy, so please wear appropriate shoes.) Tom Bishop joined the Arboretum’s Horticulture Staff in 1997 and is a lifelong forager and observer of the natural world. Anne Brennan is a former Arboretum horticulturist who most recently managed the Natural Areas, where wild edible plants abound.

Cost: $25 for members, $30 for non-members.


Raspberry Research

Raspberries sit high atop my list of favorite kitchen-garden staples. What’s not to like about a perennial, shade-tolerant plant that only requires minor annual pruning and a few visiting bumblebees to produce sweet, juicy berries? They’re literally one of the easiest edibles to grow. Unless you have deer in your garden. But I don’t.

My 2 x 6-foot raspberry patch began as a few offshoots received from a friend, so unfortunately I don’t know that variety’s name. Since it produces a small crop in late spring and a second, larger crop in early fall, I do know it’s an everbearing type, ‘Heritage’ being a good possibility due to its popularity. [Update 3/8: I found my original plant label while raking leaves; these plants are in fact ‘Heritage.’] In contrast, summer-bearing varieties ripen all of their fruit within a few weeks during July in our area.

Because raspberries are so easy to grow, I wanted to add more varieties to the garden for comparison. (It’s like when you buy a pair of purple shoes, fall in love with them, and decide you really must have not one but FOUR pairs of purple shoes in slightly different shades because purple shoes are awesome.) Last summer, I picked up a single potted ‘Caroline’ raspberry plant at Whole Foods; it was marked down to 50% off and therefore jumped into my shopping cart unbidden.

‘Caroline’ ended up in the front yard and got broken off near the ground this winter beneath a mountain of shoveled snow, but I’m optimistic it will re-sprout from the base as spring arrives. This is another everbearing variety.

Three more varieties joined my collection unexpectedly this week when I walked through the door at Home Depot to replenish my leaf-bag supply, only to come face to face with a display of spring bulbs, seed packets, and yes, raspberry plants! What’s $5.95 x 3 compared to the joy of fruit-topped cereal and yogurt come July? I chose two black raspberry types, ‘Logan’ and ‘Cumberland,’ plus a red-fruiting type called ‘Latham.’ I know very little about these yet but will report on their progress in a few months.

By the way, raspberry plants do send up root suckers that lend themselves to transplanting and sharing with follow gardeners! So stick around, and I’ll let you know when some daughter plants from my original raspberry patch are in need of good homes.

Horseradish harvest

Jars of grated horseradish

Last Sunday was the first 60F-degree day near the end of a long, cold, snowy winter, so I was in the mood to dig in the dirt. Several friends had requested divisions from my five-year-old horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) clump, so I figured I’d start there.

I never ate horseradish growing up. My only recollection of its existence was as an ingredient in Arby’s “Horsey Sauce,” which I never actually tasted, having been warned by my seasoning-challenged parents that it was “too spicy!” As an adult, realizing that horseradish is the essential second ingredient in shrimp cocktail sauce, I decided it deserved a place in my herb garden.

However, in four years, I’d harvested horseradish roots for consumption exactly one time; the suggestion is to wait until winter for best flavor, but then there’s the problem of frozen ground covered with snow. And who eats shrimp cocktail in the wintertime anyway? The horseradish didn’t need me and I didn’t need it, so we ignored each other and did our own thing.

Last spring, I decided I was “over” horseradish and needed its sunny location for something more exciting, so I tried unsuccessfully to dig the whole clump out. Ha! Some roots were as thick as my wrist and extended downward toward infinity, so I hacked at them as best I could.

Not surprisingly, the surviving roots produced a thick flush of new foliage a few weeks later, so I cut the leaves off at the ground. (The small, new leaves are edible, with a spicy taste much like the roots’.) Had I continued to harvest the leaves, I might have eventually exhausted the roots’ energy reserves, but the next thing I knew it was mid-summer, and the clump was every bit as vigorous as in past years. Anne – 0, Horseradish – 1.

So, back to sunny, sixty-degree Sunday. I wouldn’t want to deprive my gardening friends of some root-wresting adventures of their own – hey, they asked for divisions! – so I cut off some of the crowns, shortened each attached root to 2-3 inches, and potted them up. I felt like a kid who cuts the green top from a carrot and plants it to see if a new carrot will grow.

Oh, and I dug up a few huge root segments there were too grotesquely large to pot up, so out came the box grater and the vinegar. Summer’s coming… bring on the shrimp!

As always, feel free to email me with comments or questions.