Useful Wild Plants of the United States and Canada

Sep 17, 2012 by

Here is a very fascinating and incredibly useful book.  Useful Wild Plants of the United States and Canada was first published in 1920 and is a goldmine of information regarding wild edible plants and “useful” wild plants in both the United States and Canada.

Here are a few paragraphs to get you gungry:

“The Nightshade family, to which we owe the tomato, the potato and the eggplant (as well as the tobacco and some very poisonous fruits), is represented in our wild flora by a number of plants bearing edible fruit. Of these the red berries of two shrubs of the deserts and semi-deserts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah resemble tiny tomatoes and go among the Spanish-speaking population under the name of tomatillo, that is, little tomato. They may be eaten raw, if perfectly ripe, or boiled and consumed either as a separate dish or used to enliven stews and soups. Dried, they look like currants and may be stored away for winter use. Botanically the plants are Lycium pallidum, Miers, and L. Andersonii, Gray. They are more or less spiny shrubs, with small, pale, narrowish leaves, bunched in the axils of the branchlets, and bearing funnel-form greenish or whitish flowers — those of L. pallidum nearly an inch long; of L. Andersonii much smaller.

To the Navajo Indians, the berries of the former have a sacred significance and Doctor Matthews states that in his day they were used in sacrificial offerings to a Navajo demi-god. Similarly among the Zufiis the plant is sacred to one of their priestly fraternities, and treated with reverence as an intercessor with the gods of the harvest. When the berries appear, certain individual plants are sprinkled with sacred meal and this business-like prayer proffered: ”My father, I give you prayer meal; I want many peaches.”  To the same family belongs the genus Physalis, some, perhaps most, species of which yield fruits that may be eaten. They are distinguished by a bladdery calyx which loosely envelops the small, tomato-like berry. These plants are known to Americans as Ground Cherries, and to the Spanish- speaking residents of our Southwest as tomates del campoy that is, ”wild tomatoes.” Of the score or so of species indigenous to the United States, Pliysalis viscosa, Pursh, is one of the best known — a hairy, sticky perennial, common in fields east of the Mississippi from Ontario to the Gulf. The nodding, greenish-yellow flowers have a purplish-brown center; and the yellow fruit is reported on excellent authority to be the best. A species producing red fruit (P. longifolia, Nutt.), found wild from Nebraska to Texas and westward to Arizona, has been thought worthy of cultivation by the Zuni Indians, who used to grow it, and perhaps still do, in the women’s quaint little gardens on the slope of the river Zuni.”


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