Many Parts Are Edible

Ground NutPoor Euell Gibbons (See wikipedia). First, a counter-culture pop icon for his back to the land menus made most visible in Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962). Then lampooned everywhere. Sitting at a picnic table on Saturday Night Live (maybe?) he takes out a pocket knife and begins to carve off and eat the shavings. “Many parts are edible.”

I have him to thank (or blame) for turning my children against me as a cook. Was it the hidden stink bugs in the lemonade made from sumac flowers? The grotesque green of the spiny milkweed pods that looked like sea urchins in the pot? Or the cookies with the rock-hard touch-me-not seeds that made you hesitate when dad put on the apron?

I have Mr. Gibbons to thank for making me aware of the green history, the ethnobotany of the world around me, now ever so much around me, embedded as we are in this sea of plant life in the hinterlands of northeastern Floyd County.

This plant–ground nuts–I first became aware of in Gibbons’ book. I ran across it every few years–a vine here or there. And we’d seen one or two along our pasture margin in our 14 years here.

Maybe it is because of the incredible rainfall this year (we reached our usual annual amount in July!). The books say this plant likes moist sandy soil. We have aplenty, and ground nut is taking over. Ann was alarmed. Is it invasive?

Well under the right conditions, it grows aggressively, but it’s been here a long time before white men set foot on the shore. Another name for ground nut is “Indian Potato.” We could do worse than to have it in our natural cornucopia of wild edibles. And edible in this case does not just mean you can chew and swallow and it won’t kill you. This plant is actually worth harvesting nutritionally.

For those few interested in knowing more, this Orion article is a great place to start. Consider this one quote below, and then I’ll hush. Just be forewarned, little children, that I’ll likely be putting on the apron again after first frost and sampling ground nuts. Many parts are edible!

Plants for a Future, a British organization that educates the public on “edible, medicinal, and useful plants for a healthier world,” ranks Apios americana as the fourth-most-important plant in its database of seven thousand.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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