Most to all native plants have edible or medicinal uses. After all, before the original immigrants arrived in North America there were no grocery stores or pharmacies — just the great outdoors and nature’s bounty.
There is a wealth of information available on the medicinal and herbal uses of native plants, and we generally don’t dip our toes into those waters. But when it comes to yummy berries, fruits, and nuts we don’t shy away from offering suggestions on edible uses of our native plants.
Here are just a few of the native edible plants.
Black Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
Use them in jams, syrups, or wine. Try making fritters from the flowers!
Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.)
You may need to beat the birds to the harvest, but its worth the battle for a snack fresh from the tree. You can also make pies, jams, and cakes with them. We currently have Canada Serviceberry/Shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis), Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), and ‘Autumn Brilliance’ Apple Serviceberry (Amelanchier x ‘Autumn Brilliance’).
Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
Yes, blueberries, the kind you buy at the grocery store, are native. You do need acidic soil for these so get a soil test if you aren’t sure if your soil is appropriate. (pH of 4.5 to 5.5). As of 9/9/21 we have the selections Duke and Elliot available.
Red Raspberry and Black Raspberry (Rubus sp.)
Selections of Rubus ideaus, recognized by pollination experts as providing nutrition for bees, as well as nesting material. Birds and butterflies will also visit your plants. Raspberries are easy to grow. Keep black raspberries at least 75 feet away from other varieties to prevent the spread of viruses. For more on care and planting of raspberries and the various selections we carry, see https://edgeofthewoodsnursery.com/raspberries
American Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)
Yup, the same cranberry that we make the sauce out from! A dainty, low growing plant with leathery, evergreen leaves. 2 to 6 inches high, 2 to 3 feet spread. It will grow in a garden in full sun to part shade, with moist to wet, acidic soil. Ideal placed in wetland or bog, but can also be grown easily in a container! Try it in a hanging basket too! Its small pinkish flowers in late spring and early summer become tart red edible cranberries in autumn.
Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)
Chokeberry may not sound appetizing, and trust me, they are not when raw. However, the juice of chokeberries is used to make jellies, jams, juices, and wines! Aronia products are popular in Europe, though not as popular in the U.S. where the plants are originally from! Black chokeberry grows 3 to 8 feet tall with an equal spread. In spring, clusters of white flowers decorate the plant, and black berries ripen in late summer. Fall color ranges from orange to scarlet to intense red.
Corylus Americana (American hazelnut)
Two are needed for best berry set. These nuts are rich in protein and flavor can be used in any recipe calling for filberts or hazelnut
Carya ovata (Shagbark hickory)
The nuts are similar to pecan and can be used similarly. Plant this one for your children or grandchildren. It’s a majestic tree that bears nuts starting at about 10 years of age but doesn’t bear large crops until 40 years. Our trees are about 7 years old. Worth the Wait!
Prunus American (American plum)
The fruit is used in jams or jellies and the sweeter ones can be eaten raw. (Sorry, as of 9/9/21 we don’t have this one in stock.)
Diospyros virginiana (common persimmon)
–These sweet fruits, when ripe, taste similar to date. (Be sure to wait until they are ripe, they can taste bitter otherwise.) Try making puddings or cakes with them, or drying them.
Asimina triloba (PawPaw)
Yes, the Pawpaw is native to Pennsylvania and grows happily on bottom lands and floodplains. Native Americans used the fruit fresh and made it into cakes and sauces, or dried and used it as winter food. You should plant two genetically different plants for cross pollination and fruit set. Our seedlings are seed grown and genetically diverse.
TUBERS AND LEAVES
There are several species of native mints. Some are sweet and some are savory. All are definitely ‘minty’, each with their own characteristic. A nice change from the non-native spearmint and peppermint. Read more about the native mints here.
Helianthus tuberosus (Jeruslaeum artichoke)
An important food for native Americans prior to 1600. This is the popular ‘sunchoke’. Each plant typically produces 2-5 pounds of tubers per year. Raw tubers have a nutty flavor. Grate them raw and add to salads, or boil and mash like potatoes. Try roasting them and adding soup! (Sorry, as of 9/9/21 not in stock) Read more about it here.