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in 2010 with funding from 

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The Edible Backyard 


A ~ field guide for kids 

to edible plants of Mount Desert Island 

Cassandra Sisco 


Illustrated Glossary 
Edible Botany 


Wild Strawberry 





Beach Pea 

American Beech 

Beaked Hazelnut 
Cold Drinks 

Staghorn Sumac 

Highbush Cranberry 


Giant Puffball 

Chicken-of -the- Woods 

Recipes and Tips 
My Map 

My Field Journal 
Suggested Reading 


A world of possibilities 

A lot of kids today think that food just comes from the grocery store. What 
you may not realize is that there are many wild edible plants free for the 
eating all around you. With this guide and an adventurous spirit, you can turn 
the natural world - from seashore to roadside and even your own backyard - 
into your own personal supermarket. 

Wild plants and people 

Plants and people have shared this planet for a very long time and man has 
utilized the plants around him for many purposes, including shelter, fuel, 
medicine, and food. It is estimated that throughout history humans have 
used about 3,000 species of plants as food sources. Our ancestors learned 
over time which plants were most nutritious and which were dangerous and 
passed that knowledge on to successive generations. This process was very 
important because for most of our existence, about 90% of it, humans 
survived by hunting animals and gathering wild plants. As people began to 
cultivate certain plants and produce their own food by farming, the number 
of species they ate dropped to around 200. Today, there are only about 20 
plants in the world that are considered major food crops. 

A few words about safety... 

Curiosity is essential to learning new things, like how to forage for wild 
foods, but you should always use common sense when looking for edible 
plants. You shouldn't eat anything you find out there if you are not absolutely 
sure you know what it is. Animals and people both seek the primary 
compounds in plants like sugars that are used for growth. Plants produce 
fruits and flowers to attract animals to help pollinate them and spread their 
seeds, but they also make chemicals called secondary compounds to protect 
them from predators and parasites. This is why there are plants that can 
make you very sick if you eat them, so it's a smart idea to bring a helpful 
adult and some other books along with you on your explorations to assist 
with plant identification. See the back of this guide for reading suggestions. 


...and a few more about respect 

When collecting plants, you should not only think of your health but also of 
the health of the land. All living things are connected in ways you can't 
always see. You might not be aware of the negative consequences that your 
actions have on the environment. Plants live in communities just like you do 
and you should respect them. Be careful not to take too much from one area. 
A good rule is not to take more than you will use and to leave enough for the 
next person or animal that comes along. Also try to cause as little 
disturbance to the area as possible by being careful not to squash delicate 
plants or to leave behind any trash. It is also important to keep in mind that 
you are not allowed to take plants from Acadia National Park. 

How to use this guide 

This guide is organized into sections based on the types of wild foods you 
will discover, from familiar fruits to more mysterious mushrooms. Every 
plant is illustrated and you can color the parts in based on their descriptions. 
You'll learn where to look for edible wild plants and how you can spot them. 
At the back of the guide there is a field journal where you can record all the 
details of your adventures as well as a recipe section. Happy hunting! 


Illustrated Glossary 

Most of the plants that we eat are flowering plants, 
also called angiosperms. This illustration of a tomato 
plant shows the major organs of a flowering plant. 
These basic vegetative structures are roots, stems, 
flowers, ovaries, and seeds. 

Scientists estimate 
that there are 
about 350,000 
species of plants on 
the planet. 


Edible Botany 

Roots absorb water and nutrients from the soil and keep plants firmly in the 
ground. The taproots that people typically eat are sweet or starchy because 
this is where plants store the food they need to grow, sometimes over the 
course of several years. Some roots that we eat are carrots, sweet 
potatoes, and beets. 

Food circulates downward through the stem while water and minerals travel 
upward. Stems provide the plant with structure, holding leaves up for 
maximum sun exposure and displaying fruits and flowers. Some stems we eat 
are asparagus and potatoes. Yes, potatoes. Potatoes are really special 
underground storage stems also called tubers. 

Leaves get their green color from chlorophyll, a chemical that is essential to 
photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants make food 
from light. Generally, the darker the leaves, the more packed with vitamins 
they are and the better they are for you. Some leaves we eat are spinach 
and lettuce. Surprisingly, onions are leaves. The onion bulbs we eat are the 
fleshy leaf bases of the plant. 

People appreciate flowers because they look and smell nice, but this is also 
very important for the plant. Animals such as insects and birds are 
attracted to certain flowers because of their particular form, color, and 
odor. The animals then get tricked into pollinating the plants, picking up 
sticky or powdery pollen from one flower and carrying it to another. 
Broccoli and cauliflower are flower clusters that we pick before they have a 
chance to blossom. 

The fruit of a plant is the ovary. Ovaries hold the seeds of the plant, 
protecting them and providing a means of dispersal. Technically many 
vegetables we eat like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and peppers are fruits. 

A seed is really a vessel that contains ar\ embryo, stored food, and a 
protective outer coat. A seed has everything the plant needs to germinate 
and grow into a seedling, which is why seeds are very nutritious. Some seeds 
that we eat are beans, peas, popcorn, and peanuts. 


We have already learned that a fruit is 
technically the ovary of a plant. The plants in 
this section are fruits in the traditional sense 
of the word - sweet berries that you can pick 
and eat fresh or make into pies and jams. Fruits 
are great for the beginning forager because 
they are easy to find and identify and don't 
require much preparation, aside from removing 
stems. Rinsing fruit well is also recommended, 
especially if you collected from a busy roadside. 
This section features some common and tasty 
fruits that are abundant throughout the island 
during the summer months. 


Scientific name: Vaccinium ssp. 

Habitat: Blueberries particularly like acidic and disturbed soils, including 

places where there has been fire. They are usually found in bogs, open 

woods, and clearings. 

Description: Low shrubs to high bushes. Flowers look like bells and are 

whitish. The berries are blue to black and can look waxy or powdery. The less 

showy outer part of the flower, called a calyx, will still be visible on the 

berry after the petals are gone. It is shaped like a star. 

Flowers: April - June Fruit: June - September 



Wild Strawberry 

Scientific name: Fragaria virginiana 

Habitat: Wild strawberries are found in fields and open places. 

Description: Low fuzzy plants. They have long leaves with 3 toothed 

leaflets. Flowers have white petals and yellow centers. Fruit will be lower 

than the leaves. They are smaller than what you find in the grocery store, 

but much sweeter! 

Flowers: April - June Fruit: June - September 


The first part of the 
scientific name for 
strawberries is 
Fragaria. Does this 
word look familiar? 
Strawberries got their 
name because they 
have such a sweet 



Scientific name: Rubus ssp. 

Habitat: Blackberries grow in sunny thickets, or dense shrubby areas. 
Description: Shrubs reaching heights of up to 10 feet. Leaves have arching 
stems and typically 3 toothed leaflets. The plant is prickly, so be careful 
when picking fruit. Flowers are showy and white with 5 petals. Fruit is pale 
red to dark bluish black. Blackberries are glossy, soft, and juicy. 
Flowers: April - July Fruit: June - September 


Scientific name: Rosa rugosa 

Habitat'- Seashores and roadsides are good places to find these roses. 

Description: A large coarse and bristly shrub. Leaves commonly have 7-9 

wrinkled leaflets. Flowers are large with 5 petals and range in color from 

pale to deep pink. Fruit is also called the hip. It is large and smooth and 

reddish orange with 5 calyx lobes at end. 

Flowers: June - September Fruit: July - October 


*. hi P 


This section is all about variety. This chapter 
includes plants that you prepare as vegetables, 
from salads and cooked greens to substitutes 
for asparagus and potatoes. You will see plants 
with edible parts from all of the major plant 
part categories like roots, leaves, and even 
flowers. You will find these plants in different 
types of habitats around the island. The first 
plant is the easiest in the whole guide to find... 
and probably in your backyard right now. 


Scientific name: Taraxacum officinale 

Habitat: Dandelions pop up everywhere, including lawns, roadsides, and 

most other open places. 

Description: Low weedy plant with solitary yellow flowers. Seedballs are 

fluffy and white (you've probably made a wish on one). Leaves have sharp 

irregular lobes and the stems are hollow and milky when broken. 

Flowers: March - September 

Though most gardeners 
might not agree, this plant 
is an excellent wild green. 
The leaves are a rich 
source of vitamins A and C 
and have more calcium and 
iron than spinach. 



Scientific name: Typha fati folia 

Habitat: Cattails are found in dense stands in marshes, which are shallow 

bodies of fresh or slightly salty still water. 

Description: Familiar plants are tall, from 2 to 9 feet in height. Leaves 

swordlike and up to six feet long. Stems are stiff and f lowerheads are 

shaped like sausages, green first and brown later. 

Flowers: May - July 

Beach Pea 

Scientific name: Lathyrus japonicus 

Habitat". The beach pea is found not surprisingly on sandy or gravelly 

shores and beaches. 

Description: A low plant, about 1 or 2 feet in height. Leaves have curling 

tendrils at the ends and arrowhead-shaped stipules at the base with oval 

leaflets. Flowers are pink to purple. Seedpods look like garden peas, but 


Flowers: June - August Fruit: August - September 


Unlike peanuts or almonds, which are seeds, 
these plants produce true nuts. A nut is a 
fruit characterized by a hard or stony ovary 
wall. Nuts are a rich source of protein and 
also of healthy fats. Nuts can be stored for 
later use, like during the winter when edible 
plants are scarce, as many animals know. 
They keep best when stored in a cool, dry, 
dark place or in your refrigerator. Nuts can 
be eaten raw or roasted. They are great 
snack food. For a simple trail mix, combine 
nuts with your favorite breakfast cereal and 
dried fruits. This will give you lots of energy 
when you go out on collecting trips. 

American Beech 

Scientific name: Fagus grandifolia 

Habitat: This tree likes rich moist soils and is often found on slopes and 
upland forest, sometimes near maple and birch trees. It can tolerate shady 
spots better than other trees. 

Description: Tall trees with smooth silvery or bluish-gray bark. Leaves are 
long and toothed with pointed tips. They are thin and papery and bright 
green in the summer, turning copper or gold in the autumn. Nuts are inside 
bristly burr-like husks. You can open the husk easily with a thumbnail and 
each contains 2-3 triangular brown nuts. The nuts are very sweet and are 
tasty both raw and cooked. Beechnuts drop from their trees and can be 
collected from the ground after the first few frosty nights of the fall. 
Fruit: September - October 

I ///. 



Beaked Hazelnut 

Scientific name: Corylus cornuta 

Habitat: You will find this plant growing in thickets and on the edges of 

woods, along streams, and roadsides. 

Description: A tall shrub, reaching heights of 10 feet. Leaves are coarsely 

toothed with heart-shaped bases. Twigs are very smooth. The nuts are 

completely surrounded by very bristly husks, which are beaklike with long 


Fruit: August - September 


Cold Drinks 

Many refreshing beverages can be 
made from wild plants. These plants 
provide cold drinks that are good for 
cooling down on summer days. They are 
rich in vitamin C, which the body can't 
make and must get from the diet. 
Drinks from wild plants were 
important to Native Americans and 
early settlers for this reason. On long 
trips, these drinks were sometimes 
the only source of vitamin C, which 
prevented them from getting scurvy 
and loosing their teeth. 

Staghorn Sumac 

Scientific name: Rhus hirta 

Habitat: This plant grows in fields and other open places. 

Description: A shrub or small tree that can grow to be 10-20 feet tall. The 

bark is dark and smooth but the stout twigs are covered in soft velvety 

hairs. The fernlike leaves are 1-2 feet long with many toothed leaflets that 

turn a deep red color in the fall. It has distinct clusters of red berry-like 

hairy fruit. 

Fruit: June - September 

Staghorn sumac was 
named for the way it 
resembles antlers in 
the winter. It is also 
called the lemonade 
tree because it 
makes a tart 


Highbush Cranberry 

Scientific name: Viburnum trilobum 

Habitat: You will find this plant growing in thickets in cool woods and rocky 

slopes or along sea shores. 

Description: A tall shrub that can grow to a height of 17 feet. Leaves are 

toothed and have 3 distinct pointed lobes. The small whitish flowers grow in 

clusters on the plant. The bright red berries also grow in clusters and are 

juicy and ripe. 

Flowers: May - July Fruit: September - October 



Scientific name: Gaultheria procumbens 

Habitat*. These little plants are found in poor or rocky soils and in woods, 

usually under the shade of evergreen trees. 

Description". Small plant, about 2-5 inches from the ground. Leaves are 

evergreen and shiny. The smooth and leathery leaves smell like wintergreen 

when torn. In small white bell-shaped flowers hang below the leaves and the 

small red berries remain on the plant almost all year. 

Flowers - . July - August Fruit: August - next June 


We generally buy mushrooms from the store and cook them in our 
homes. Mushrooms make a yummy and hearty addition to many meals, 
especially for vegetarians because of their meaty texture and rich 
flavor. But most people will advise against gathering wild mushrooms 
because they are afraid that they will mistakenly eat a poisonous 
species, getting sick or worse. As with all wild foods, common sense and 
a good field guide are essential. There is no reason to fear mushrooms 
if you keep a few rules in mind and stick to a couple easily identifiable 
species. First, never eat a wild mushroom raw. Second, mushrooms will 
often grow in clusters and while they may look like they are all the same 
species, it is possible that they are not. So, check each mushroom 
individually for positive identification. The two mushrooms in this 
section are very easy to recognize and can be simply prepared. They are 
also very tasty. See the suggested reading section for a good reference 
book on mushrooms. 

Giant Puff ball 

Scientific name: Calvatia gigantea 

Habitat: You will find these large fleshy mushrooms growing directly from 
the ground in late summer to fall. They can be found alone or in groups in 
open fields, pastures, wood clearings, hillsides, and roadsides. 
Description: These mushrooms are hard to misidentify as long as you 
gather specimens that are at least as large as a basketball. They should be 
eaten when they are young and firm. When you slice them open, the flesh 
should be pure white and look like a marshmallow. 


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Chicken-of- the- Woods 

Scientific name: Laetiporus sulphureus 

Habitat: This grows clusters on dead stumps and logs. You will find it in the 

late summer and fall. 

Description: This fleshy shelf-like fungus is bright pumpkin orange above 

and usually yellow underneath. The undersides also have tiny holes or pores. 

It should be gathered and eaten only when young. The flesh should be thick, 

soft, and watery. Collect only the outer edges as they are most tender. 

Recipes and Tips 

So this is the point where you might be 
wondering how to prepare some of the wild 
plant foods you've gathered. There are 
recipes, tips, and suggested methods of 
preparation on the following pages to help 
you out with that. The recipes are all simple, 
but you might want to ask an adult to assist 
you with the cooking. Once you become 
familiar with these wild plant foods, you'll 
probably think up lots of other ways to use 
them. Go ahead and get creative. ..playing with 
your food is okay sometimes. 

Fruit Recipes 

Blueberry Pancakes 

Add a teaspoon of cinnamon and the zest of one lemon to your usual 
morning pancake batter. Drop 1/2 cup of pancake batter onto a hot, 
greased griddle. Sprinkle a handful of fresh blueberries over each 
pancake. When the pancake shows little bubbles, you know it is ready 
to flip. Turn over and cook a few more minutes until golden brown. Top 
with butter, maple syrup, or whatever you like best on your pancakes! 

Wild Strawberry Jam 

For really great peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, try using your own 
homemade wild strawberry jam. Stir 4 cups of mashed strawberries 
and 4 cups of sugar in a large pan and bring to a boil. Stir the mixture 
until sugar dissolves and keep at a rolling boil for 14 minutes. Skim off 
and discard white foam from top of mixture and then seal in hot 
sterilized glass jars. You'll have the taste of summer all year long with 
this jam. 

Blackberry Custard 

Blackberry custard is a simple and quick desert. Bring 4 cups 
blackberries, 1 cup sugar, and a | cup hot water to a boil in a saucepan. 
Lower heat and cook just until fruit starts to break down and mixture 
becomes juicy. In a separate bowl combine 2 tablespoons of 
cornstarch with 4 tablespoons of cold water and then stir in about i 
cup of the hot blackberry mixture. Add the contents of the bowl back 
into the saucepan with the blueberry mixture. Simmer until thickened, 
about 2 minutes. Let the mixture cool before eating, if you can wait 
that long! 

What to do with rose hips 

Rose hips have a delicate flavor similar to apples and are good fresh 
or cooked. Rose hips make an especially yummy jam or jelly. You can 
also eat the flower petals. They can be steeped in hot water to make a 
tea, added to salads for color, or candied. 

What to do with dandelions 

The young leaves, collected before the plant flowers in the early 
spring, can be eaten raw like a salad though they are somewhat bitter. 
To make them less bitter, blanch them in boiling salted water for 5 to 
10 minutes. They make a good addition to many soups or try adding 
them to scrambled eggs or egg salad. Young dandelion roots when 
peeled and sliced can be used as a boiling vegetable like carrots or 
parsnips. The young closed flower buds (gathered when they are still 
tucked down in the rosette of leaves) can be prepared similarly, lightly 
boiled in salted water and served with butter or margarine and salt 
and pepper to taste. The mature yellow f lowerheads even make tasty 
fritters. For an easy fry batter, combine 1 cup plain all-purpose flour, 
1 tablespoon cornstarch, and a pinch of salt with 1| cups ice cold 
seltzer water (the carbonation makes the batter light). Whisk all 
ingredients together, making sure there aren't any lumps, until the 
mixture reaches the consistency of a thin pancake batter. 

What to do with cattails 

There are many ways you can prepare this wild veggie, depending on 

what time of the year it is. 

In the early spring, the tender white insides of the first 1 to 1 § feet 

of the peeled young stems can be eaten raw in salads. They can also be 

lightly boiled in salted water for about 15 minutes, similar to 


In the late spring, the plump greenish yellow immature flower spikes 

can be gathered and eaten just like corn on the cob. Husk off the thin 

sheaths and submerge in rapidly boiling water for a few minutes until 

tender. Spread the hot cooked stalks with butter or margarine. 

In the early summer, the same flower spikes become filled with lots 

of thick golden yellow pollen. Gather the pollen by shaking or rubbing 

the flower spikes over bags or buckets. Sift the pollen to clean it. You 

can replace half of the needed flour with the cattail pollen in your 

favorite recipes. This pollen and flour mix is a good way of adding 

protein to bread products. 

What to do with beach peas 

Gather the peas from inside the pods when they are young. They 
should be bright green, small, and tender. When they get older, they 
dry out and don't taste very good. Also, do not eat raw beach peas. 
Boil the peas in lightly salted water for 15-20 minutes and serve with 
butter and black pepper. 

Nut Recipes 

Roasted Nuts 

Spread shelled nuts out on a sheet pan and put them in a 300°F oven 
for about 15-25 minutes. Stir the nuts several times to make sure 
they aren't getting dark. When you can smell the nuts, they're done. 
For salted nuts, toss the nuts in oil before cooking, about a tablespoon 
for each cup of nuts. Sprinkle the nuts with salt as soon as they come 
out of the oven. Cool on paper towels. 

Hazelnut Candy 

Once the nuts have been roasted, this easy hazelnut candy can be 
made without any additional cooking. In a medium bowl, whisk 1 egg 
white and 2 cups powdered sugar. Add 1 tablespoon softened butter 
or margarine and stir until creamy. Mix in 2 cups chopped roasted 
hazelnuts and form into bite-size balls. Enjoy! 

Cold Drink Recipes 

Staghorn Sumac "Lemonade" 

This drink tastes and looks like pink lemonade. Collect the whole fruit 
cluster of the plants and rub the berries gently to crush them and 
release the juices. Soak the berries in cold water for 15-20 minutes 
until you have a pink liquid. Remove the berries, trying to keep the 
cluster intact, and pour the juice through cheesecloth to sort out the 
tiny hairs. Sweeten to taste and serve with ice. 

Highbush Cranberry Juice Cocktail 

Put fresh berries in a saucepan and add just enough cold water to 
cover them. Crush the fruit and simmer over medium heat only until 
the fruit is soft. Strain the juice through cheesecloth so that it is 
clear. The juice will be slightly sour. Mix the juice with sparkling 
water and desired sweetener for a festive summer drink. 

Iced Wintergreen Tea 

Wintergreen leaves are readily available all year and make a 

refreshing minty iced tea. Simply tear the leaves and add to boiling 

water, using a teaspoon of leaves for every cup of water. Let the tea 

cool and serve over ice. This tea is also good hot, especially after 


What to do with a giant puff ball 

One giant puffball can be a meal in itself! Cut mushroom into cubes or 
strips. Dip the pieces into raw eggs that have been lightly whisked. 
Let the excess egg drip off and then dredge the pieces in flour that 
has been seasoned with some salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Fry the egg 
and flour coated puffball pieces in butter or margarine until golden 

What to do with chicken-of-the-woods 

This mushroom is named for its mild flavor and texture, which is 
similar to white meat chicken. They can be sliced and fried in butter 
and garlic. When cooked this way, they make an excellent vegetarian 
sandwich. Try adding them to omlettes. They can also be simmered for 
30 minutes and added to soups and stews. 

My Map 

Bar Harbor 

Mount Desert Island is 13 
miles wide and 19 miles long, 
making it the third largest 
island on the east coast. The 
way the island looks today is 
a result of the movement of 
a huge glacier that flowed 
over the land for at least 
10,000 years. 


Where I went 

What I found 

My Field Journal 

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Suggested Reading 

Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America 
by Lee Allen Peterson (The Peterson Field Guide Series) 

Free for the Eating by Bradford Angier 

Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora 

3 5105 00087 7023