Whether you’re writing fantasy, historical fiction, or a modern-day story set in the woods, it’s good to know what’s edible in the forests and meadows you plunk your character into. Green leafy things can be hard to identify, and sometimes your character just doesn’t want to take a chance and accidentally ingest something that’s not life-affirming. Blooming flowers are easy to identify, making mealtime a little safer.
This beauty is a violet and is known to grow wild pretty much everywhere in the Pacific Northwest. The leaves and flowers can be eaten raw like a salad. Sometimes bakers candy the flowers and use them as cake decorations, but the flowers can also be used to make vinegar, butter, and jelly. The leaves can be used to thicken stews or brewed as tea. They’re tiny, so it’ll take longer to harvest enough to satisfy a big hunger, but they’re worth the effort.
Historically, the flowers and leaves have been used as home remedies to relieve coughs and lung congestion. I have no medical training, so please don’t try this out at home without further research. Feel free to have your protagonist try it out, though.
This is fireweed, named so because if often takes over areas that have been burnt. It also grows in my backyard, where nothing has burned, and it’s a hardy plant. My kids can stomp this baby into the ground and it keeps coming back. It’s also edible, but the kids don’t know that. The leaves are great raw in a salad, although they’re best when they’re new and tender. They get bitter and tough as they age. The stems can be peeled and eaten raw or steamed. The roots are pretty bitter, but if they’re harvested before the plant flowers, the roots are palatable. The flowers produce nectar which can be made into sweetener, candy, honey, syrup, jellies, and ice cream. The flowers themselves are edible. I can’t vouch for the taste, but the internet says it they have a slightly spicy, buttery taste.
This versatile plant also has other uses than a stomach-filler. Soak the stem fibers in water then twist into twine or rope. The seed fluff is great for weaving, padding, or pillow stuffing. The cooked leaves can be added to meat scraps and served to the dogs (yes, they’ll eat it). It also had medicinal value (again, don’t try this on yourself without further research): raw stems placed over puss-filled cuts or boils keeps the wound from healing too quickly. Tea made from fireweed was traditionally used to treat coughs, asthma, and stomach ailments. Or so I’ve heard.
One other edible flower is the dandelion, which I covered in a previous post. They’re easy to identify, and the entire plant is good eating, so your protagonist doesn’t have to worry about starving in a field of these. Plus, he can make wine from the flowers and have an after-dinner beverage after a hard day of being a hero.
Stay tuned for my next post on edible plants. It’s sure to be useful if not interesting.