Some Plants Are For Eating
April 22, 2016 11 Comments
Happy Earth Day! Before I get to my main topic, I’ve got some special offers to tell you about…
- First, instead of buying anything, check out the beautiful photographs in the Capture Conservation photo contest sponsored by the Student Conservation Association!
- UPDATE: The sale on PlanetBox stainless steel lunchboxes has ended, but check out our review of PlanetBox–Nicholas is now finishing fifth grade and still using the same PlanetBox he got at the beginning of kindergarten!
- Grove Collaborative is having a one-day sale on 42 different Earth-friendly cleaning and hygiene products. UPDATE: The sale is over, but if you’re new to Grove (formerly ePantry), you still can start your order here to get an additional $10 discount, and I’ll also get a bonus! Here’s my article explaining what Grove Collaborative is all about, with reviews of many of the fine products they carry.
- GreenLine Paper Company will donate ALL profits from today’s orders for paper products toward the planting of trees. UPDATE: That special is over, but still, check out their wide selection of office paper, household paper products, and janitorial paper products. Buy by the case and save! (If you live in Pennsylvania, like I do, or nearby, note that GreenLine is in York, PA, so the shipping distance is short–better for the environment than shipping a long distance.)
As spring settles in and you begin to spend more time outdoors, you may have access to some edible plants. It’s fun to graze on fresh food that happens to be growing right there in your yard! But if there’s a young child with you, doesn’t that set a bad example? You don’t want the kid to think that we can just grab parts off of random plants and eat them–he might eat some nightshade berries or poison ivy and get sick or poisoned or itchy!
Here’s my daughter Lydia on her first birthday, last spring. Our yard was at just about the stage it is now, with spearmint poking up through the mulch of autumn leaves as the tulips, lilacs, and dandelions are blooming. Lydia was very interested in all the new, colorful things, and once she had seen me break off some mint leaves and eat them, she wanted to do that, too!
I was surprised how easy it was to teach her that some plants are For Eating while other plants are Not For Eating. In our yard, spearmint, chives, sourgrass (yellow oxalis/wood sorrel), dill, and purslane come up every year. Lydia was very pleased with the mint and chives, which are abundant, and within a month was showing us that she recognized “mihtt” and “hifes” as she named them while picking them. She was rarely incorrect in her identifications, even at first. Apparently recognizing a particular leaf shape is not so difficult a skill as we might think.
Being able to recognize some plants that are For Eating didn’t stop her from wanting to experiment with others, though! We did have to watch her carefully and redirect her many times. It’s a lot like learning to stay out of the street–which has required surprisingly fewer reminders than I expected, actually.
As spring turned into summer, we grew two tomato plants in planter-bags…and a third one came up from the ground, apparently from a seed in the compost we’d spread on the yard! Lydia was enthralled with picking her own tomatoes and eating them right away!
This brought us to another lesson, which proved more difficult: Just because a plant is For Eating and you understand which part of it is the edible part doesn’t mean that that part is ready to eat now. We spent a lot of time restraining Lydia while saying patiently, “Red or yellow tomatoes are ready to eat.” By 15 months old, she was showing us in many contexts that she understood the names of colors, so that wasn’t the problem–she just couldn’t resist the impulse to pick those little green tomatoes and pop them into her mouth! We hoped that letting her discover that green tomatoes are hard and sour would deter her, but it didn’t, much.
Another plant in our yard is Not For Eating but is great for touching! Lamb’s ear is soft and fuzzy. Because it grows so well in our yard, we let the kids pick the leaves. Did this teach Lydia that she can just snap the leaves off any old plant and rub them all over her face?
Not at all! We also practiced Gentle Touches with plants. At left, you see Lydia exploring a neighbor’s plants that are not only Not For Eating but also not to be plucked, smashed, bent, folded, spindled, or mutilated. She did very well with them.
One of the most fascinating things about children one and two years old is long-term memory: Sometimes they forget all about things they knew a year ago or last month or even yesterday, yet other things stick with them through many months without being seen or mentioned. When the first sprigs of spearmint were visible a few weeks ago, my almost-two-year-old Lydia exclaimed, “Mihtt!” and ran over to pick a leaf and put it in her mouth. “I go in my garden, eat a mihtt,” she explained happily.
She recognized the chives as For Eating, too, but didn’t seem to recall their name at first…and when we walk around the neighborhood, she sometimes identifies other, similar-looking plants as chives and wants to eat them. Usually, she’ll say, “Chive?” in a questioning tone as she plucks a piece of tall grass, and that alerts us to look closely and tell her if it’s Not For Eating.
Her older brother Nicholas wasn’t quite so interested in plants when he was little (and our yard was different then, with no mint at all) but I remember that he was very good at resisting the allure of the nightshade that used to grow along the sidewalk edge of our next-door neighbor’s yard. The berries are so red and shiny…but we called them “poisonberries” and explained that we must never eat or even touch them because they will make us very sick. Nicholas always stayed away from them.
I grew up grazing on spearmint, tomatoes, snow peas, scarlet runner beans, lettuce, green onions, parsley, and nasturtiums in my mother’s huge garden. My kids are growing up with a much smaller yard, but I’m glad we can grow some edible plants and glad that Lydia is so readily learning about them.
Helping my kids learn about edible plants works for me! Visit Real Food Friday and the Hearth & Soul Hop for more thoughts on how to get everybody eating what’s good for us! Visit Simply Natural Saturday for more articles on a variety of natural-living topics!