August means the greenery of summer is beginning to wane. A great way to get out and explore these last moments of summer is to search for edible plants. For edible plant enthusiasts, August means harvest time! Many delicious and nutritious species become “ripe” for the picking – so to speak – during the month of August. While not necessarily found in our grocery stores, wild plants have been a source of food, medicine, and recreation for humans over the course of millennia. There are several great resources here at the library to help you explore safe and delicious foraging options in the area:
Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide by Kelly Kindscher
Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate by John Kallas
Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to over 200 Natural Foods by Thomas Elias
When foraging for edible plants, location is key! Be careful to avoid places with lots of pollution or run-off, like along highways or on pesticide-treated lawns. Additionally, many edible plants can look eerily similar to inedible or poisonous plants. If you are unsure as to whether the plant you have found is the edible plant you are searching for, do not consume it. Find a helpful field guide or friendly botanist that can assist you in identification. Lastly, do not take more than what you need from any one area. A good rule of thumb is to only harvest a plant if you can visibly see 20 or more individuals of the same species in a given area.
If what you read makes you excited to give edible plants a shot, check out these plant species whose fruits, seeds, leaves, petals, or roots are edible in the month of August:
- Yellow wood-sorrel, Oxalis stricta
A favorite snack while gardening, you can find yellow wood-sorrel in gardens, fields, and forest edges all over Kansas City and across the Midwest. The leaf is made up of at least three heart-shaped leaflets. It normally produces a 5-petaled yellow flower, sometime between spring and fall. The plant’s leaf has a sharp lemony taste due to the oxalic acid present in the plant (also found in spinach and rhubarb). One common use of yellow wood-sorrel is as an addition to a salad or steeped for tea. You may even try creating a delicious tart with this recipe. Be careful not to consume in excess since it contains lots of oxalates.
- Smooth Sumac, Rhus glabra
Smooth sumac is characteristic in the fall for its bright red fall leaves. It is also pretty famous for colonizing just about any soil or habitat you can think of. It has an extensive range in the contiguous 48 states, and you are bound to find it around town or in your neighborhood. It belongs to the same family as cashews and mangoes, so if you are known to have an allergy to either plant, then sumac is NOT the edible plant for you. In the fall, the fruits of Smooth sumac are a vibrant red and can be prepared to make lemonade (check out this recipe). Please note that the close cousin of smooth sumac, poison sumac, has white berries and is not native to the Kansas City area.
- Wild Rose, Rosa arkansana
One of the most dashing specimens in the prairie, wild rose is a delicious addition to many teas, jams, and salads. The fruits of wild rose are known as rose hips and are a false berry. Rosehips can be boiled to make a nutritious rosehip tea, which is high in Vitamin C. Check out this recipe. The usefulness of this plant doesn’t end with the fruits, as the petals can be boiled to produce a sweet syrup or added to salads raw.
- Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
Pretty notoriously found along roadsides and disturbed soils, curly dock is an inconspicuous yet nutritious plant for edible foraging—the only non-native (or naturalized) plant on this list. The leaves of curly dock are long and narrow with curly or wavy edges and are best consumed in the early spring when leaves are crisp and fresh. However, the fruits turn brown in the early fall and can be made into a flour suitable for crackers. Check out this recipe.