If you’re like us, we have been going on lots of walks around our neighborhood during the Shelter-In-Place order. It’s been really fun to discover new places just blocks away and many quirky aspects of living in the Vickery Place historical district. Not sure if it’s all in my head, but with the drastic decrease in street traffic, I’ve noticed nature exploding everywhere. It’s is all around us! And in the midst of all the trees, plants and wildlife, you can find hidden jewels of edible plants right in your own neighborhood if you know what you’re looking for.
Firstly, I think it goes without saying that YOU SHOULD NOT EAT ANYTHING THAT YOU AREN’T SURE ABOUT. There are tons of poisonous and toxic plants out there so be smart and educate yourself. There are many resources available for free that can help you identify edible plants. My personal favorite is the Google Image search which you can access using your smart phone. We also have a great book called Foraging with Kids that is available on Amazon. Also, don’t trespass onto private property. Anything on the street side of the sidewalk is fair game but if you aren’t sure, just knock on the door and ask permission. Most people don’t mind if you pick a berry or two from front yard shrubbery and most people aren’t even aware of the edible plants in their own yards. Just be kind and use your common sense. Below are a few edible plants found in our neighborhood that could very well be in yours… if you know where to look!
Mulberries are delicious berries similar to blackberries but less sour. There are surprisingly a lot of mulberry trees in our neighborhood (two on our street alone) and I have to keep Jake from scooping up handfuls off the sidewalk and shoving them into his mouth. You can use mulberries for pies, jams, yogurt toppings, or just eat them by themselves. They are easy to pick and easy to eat!
In Texas, you can find pecan trees literally everywhere. We have one in our backyard and have a neighborhood who invites Jake to pick them off her lawn (free child labor). They are ready to eat when they fall on the ground. Just don’t wait too long to pick them or they will start to rot. You can roast them, make pecan pies, or add them to homemade trail-mix. As you can see, Jake is annoyed with me because I’m not cracking the pecan open quick enough… calm down child.
Just across the street is a Mexican plum tree. When the fruit is ready to pick, it’s covered with a dust which is actually yeast that you can use to make all that sourdough bread you all have been making during quarantine. Just don’t eat the pits. They are toxic.
“But Ali, there are no fruit trees or nut trees in my neighborhood!”
Well, my friends, those dandelions that your kid picks and blows are edible. EVERY PART OF IT, even the flower. So grab some dandelions and throw them into your dinner salad. They taste like arugula so they add a nice punch to your otherwise boring run-of-the-mill salad.
Everyone uses rosemary. EVERYONE. This herb grows great in Texas climate and is a shrub often used in xeriscaping or native landscaping for homes and businesses (we even have rosemary in our front yard). You can use it to season pasta sauce, meat, in salad dressing, use it to make your bathroom smell nice…. Just one sprig goes a long way and we happily invite anyone to come forage some of ours…. PLEASE. IT’S TAKING OVER.
Cactus (Prickly Pear)
Cactus. It’s spiky but apparently delicious! Now, we have never eaten cacti, mainly because we don’t know how to prepare it, but cacti is actually used in many different cultures’ cuisines. You can eat the pads and you can eat the cactus blossoms (purple bulbs), which are commonly called prickly pears. Cacti is another plant that is commonly used in Texas landscaping. There are many in our neighborhood including our front yard. We have seen multiple people drive up and chop off pads. Our neighbor was nice enough to actually ask us for some which we happily gave him. Just a perfect example of why you should ask permission. It can be scary when someone shows up with a machete and is hacking at your cactus. Not so scary when you know them and know what they are doing.
Figs are underrated fruits. Joe and I never ate them until we took a fig cooking class at Central Market which was a GAME CHANGER. Figs are great and super versatile! You can make jams, fig bars, stuff them in a chicken with goat cheese, dry them for trail mix, eat them raw, and many many other things! I was shocked to find so many fig trees around Dallas and a lot in our neighborhood. There was a large fig tree on the corner of Greenville Avenue and Belmont Avenue that we used to pick fruit off of but sadly it was demolished when they developed that corner into a restaurant… However, there are a few scattered throughout our neighborhood and in other neighborhoods around Dallas, even one on the Katy Trail. We have one in a pot in our backyard that we haven’t quite found the perfect place for.
So how do your forage in your own neighborhood? Honestly, just start exploring. Look up and around. Take in your surroundings. Ask questions… do you know what kind of tree that is? Look it up! See a berry? Google it. I bet you’ll be surprised to see what you can find. In fact, let me know what you find in the comments below!