Saturday, July 4, 2015

Grapes, Daylilies, and Mallows A-Plenty

I am brimming over with stories to share with y'all since I have left Hornell, hiked the Bristol Hills Trail and am now presently 18 miles into the Crystal Hills Trail...I am however, delivering this blog to you from the seat of a Burger King booth off of Victory Highway NY 415. It has been days since I have had a decent internet signal and I've been making the miles.

I wrote this post up about 4 days ago while taking a half-day at the Outback Shelter. I felt like a kid on Christmas with a new pair of shoes, a giant sub in my hand, and a pile of cookies for later all courtesy of  two incredible trail angels that sadly you will have to wait to hear all about.  I want to get a post to you while I can! A post that will give you some idea of just what plants have been showing their faces along the trail and what I've been filling my hiker belly with besides sub sandwiches and Nutter Butters.

Bagel with a thick spread of cream cheese, sundried tomatoes, and River Grape (Vitis riparia) young leaves and tendrils
This has been a first for me along this trail. It dawned on me one day as I sat eating a dolmas, which is a steamed grape leaf soaked in olive oil wrapped around a spoonful of bulgar and raisins, and is a typical find on a Greek menu, if I could use wild grape leaves the same way. I did a little bit of research and sure enough…Wild Grape (Vitis) may be used interchangeably!
A young River Grape (Vitis riparia) leaf

It also turns out that I happened to start this trail right about the same time the young leaves were beginning to unfurl on the woody vines that string themselves from tree limb to Honeysuckle bush to fencepost. However as you can see out here, when preparing on the fly, I have to get a lil untraditional with how I use my wild edibles. I have found that the tendrils are sour like Catbrier (Smilax spp.) whereas the leaves range from equally sour to no sour at all, but all are tannin rich and so leave your tongue with that fuzzy feeling. The young leaves are best because I have found these to most often still have a sour flavor and they also have a pleasant texture and crunch, whereas the older leaves are papery.

Mature River Grape leaf (Vitis riparia)

All species of Grape leaf may be used this way, however I have been experimenting with Riverbank Grape (Vitis riparia) as this is the only I’ve stumbled across thus far. Grape leaves will be heart-shaped at base with toothed margins and can range from just an inch across to the size of your hand depending upon age. Riverbank Grape has just a few small hairs along the midrib to none at all, although some species may be wooly or white beneath. Vines are without thorns and may be green to greenish-red and supple when young to thick and woody with shredding bark with age. Tendrils are forked.
Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) leaf - NOT EDIBLE 

Do not confuse with Moonseed (Menisperum canadense) which does not have toothed margins (outer leaf edge) and whose berries will have just one flattened crescent seed unlike the typical 1-4 tiny seeds of a Grape. Also do not confuse with Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum duclamara), whose leaves are dramatically different being arrowhead shaped with two ear-like lobes at the base; flowers are also very different being purple with backward-bending petals exposing long yellow anthers. Both of these possess poisonous berries and so I am assuming the greens would not be so smart to consume either. There are many other vines in these woods that I could speak on such as garden escapee Ground Ivy to Poison Ivy, so be certain your leaf possesses all the appropriate characteristics before plucking!

Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) in full bloom

These beauties have just begun to bloom and have seemingly overnight arrived to line the roadsides and meadows. Daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) is an ornamental flower gone wild. There is no disputing it’s beauty but it’s also not going anywhere having made a home for itself from grassy open woods to the side of the highway. That means…eat up. Also, each flower only blossoms for one day and then closes again, so if you pick a closed flowerpod its possible that it has already had its day in the sun.
Alfredo pasta with Daylily unopened flowers topped with black pepper and parmesan cheese

Pretty much all parts of this flower are edible. However for several reasons, I have only sampled the flowers thus far. Being a common roadside plant, this is not a good place to harvest underground parts, such as its crisp white tubers that may be eaten raw when young or boiled like tiny potatoes when older. If you happen to have these in your garden or yard and know the soil they have been growing in, then by all means have at it. The leaves may even be and shoots may even be steamed when young and eaten like a green vegetable. However, again I advise you to only consume these parts from plants that you have come to know on your own property. Daylily shoots could too easily be confused with other Lily shoots which are very poisonous. But the flowers….oh the flowers….these may be easily identified and then plucked and eaten raw or cooked. Eat the open flowers petal by petal or if you are home with a full kitchen, stuff them full of whatever you like and bake them till warm. The unopened flower pods are crisp and hearty and fun to eat with all their flowerparts and may be added raw to rice, pasta, or salads, or they will even hold up to cooking if you’d prefer them softer. There crunch and fresh flavor reminded me of green beans.

Again, be careful not to confuse with other Lilies that have similar leaves. Also, there are over 60,000 different cultivars of Daylily and many of these may indeed be edible however nowhere have I found that lays out an study of which are and which are not. Therefore, stick to this one species (H. fulva), when nibbling. Flowers are funnel shaped, 3-4” wide, with 6 petals, orange with a darker center, with 6 conspicuous brown-tipped stamens and one even longer-stalked pistil. Leaves are basal only, long and lance-shaped with an obvious midrib. Entire plant can reach 5 feet tall, although I most often find them somewhere just over a yard tall.

Musk Mallow (Malva moschata) flower - these can range from bright pink to white or somewhere in between as you see here

Here is another newbie for me along this trail. Musk Mallow (Malva moschata). This plant eluded me for sometime as I knew it to be a mallow but not a species I had ever before encountered or at least noticed. After consulting a guide specifically about New York flowers, I finally identified it, although I have since found it in other guides as a common waste place plant throughout the northeast. I was even more pleased when I learned it was edible!
Musk Mallow (Malva moschata) leaf

The leaves may be eaten raw and honestly have just a bland green crunchy flavor about them, perfect for getting in your greens dose but without being offensive in any way. This is how I have been eating them however they may also be added to soups and stews and are said to be a good thickener (perhaps like Sassafras leaf). Flowers are also edible and with these being so delicate I believe they would never hold up to cooking. They are simple and sweet and would make a nice adornment to any dish. Me, I just pluck ‘em and pop ‘em in my mouth.

Ramp, as or as the Northerners call them, Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum) beginning to flower

Oh my….there’s also been virtual fields of Broad-Leaf Water Leaf which I have never seen in such abundance before, as well as thigh-high forests of Wood Nettle and just below their canopy, stalks of just flowering ramps that go on for miles. The Wild Strawberries are in fruit hanging hidden beneath their 3-leaf foliage, and the Blackberries are just beginning to ripen. As for herbs, Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris), Wild Basil (Satureja vulgaris) and Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) are on the scene, lining the trail nearly everywhere I go.


  1. I should totally let Claire help me pick some daylilies for a snack- she'd LOVE that! thanks for the inspiration dear friend! xo