Tuesday, May 03, 2011


I have to confess – I didn’t know what a mayapple was until a few days ago. I had been walking around the property and noticed that I had them – in abundance – and just thought they were cool. I even noticed that some of them were flowering (no mean feat as the flower is under the umbrella of the leaves), and filed them away in the back of my head under the “ask the neighbor what they are the next time you see her but who am I kidding you’ll forget to anyway” category.
And then when my mom came out and we were walking around, she exclaimed “We have Mayapples!!” with a healthy dose of enthusiasm, and she proceeded to show me what they were.
Of course my first reaction to her telling me about them was simply “are the edible?” She thought she remembered eating them as a child, but couldn’t remember, and me being me, I looked them up on the interwebs on my phone on the way back.
Every plant and animal falls into one of two categories (with a few sentimental exceptions): edible, and therefore useful, and non-edible, and therefore pretty much meaningless to me unless they aid in the flourishing of an edible variety of something, items. I like it when things fall into the former category. I’m also trying to grow only edible items – down to the flowers I’m growing. The exceptions in my garden currently are the lilac and the wildflowers. And the wildflowers I really planted to hold the topsoil down (since I raked up the 50 years worth of composting leaves off the top to use in my garden) and to help keep the (as of yet un-acquired) bees around. So I guess they do fall in the useful category. Yay!
Mayapples are, in a word, edible sometimes. More specifically, the plant is toxic at all times, and the fruit is only edible when ripe. Otherwise it’s classified as ‘toxic’, but really just seems to be quite an effective purgative. And is still used medicinally as such (also there’s cancer fighting properties, evidently, that is being researched). It’s also called “American Mandrake” and had I know that I probably would never have asked if it was edible.
But. There is quite a tradition of Mayapple jelly and whatnot in this country, so come late summer/early fall when they (in theory – we shall see) ripen here I will embark upon a mayapple jelly adventure. Thankfully this is an easy fruit to tell if it’s ripe (like most are actually, if you pay attention to them!), and so not particularly worried.
I had begun to get slightly sad as I don’t know anyone out here who’s really into foraging (new generation) or still knows the flora and fauna well enough to forage (older generation), and the east coast plants (and trees…) are a mystery to me mostly. There are a few things I know and recognize – wild strawberries, dandelions (of which I really don’t have any) and the like. So very excited to have learned this one! 
Mayapple leaves are the big umbrella looking ones, the little jaggedy edged ones are wild grapevines.

Doesn't it just look like an apple blossom? The plants with only leaf do not flower.


Jennifer Fais said...

I was thrilled, too, this spring to see that the mayapples, that I had bought from our local native plant society and planted in my rain garden last fall, actually survived the harsh winter we had in Corning NY. I had also planted Solomon's Seal and a Jack-in-the-Pulpit. The Solomon's Seal is up and there is another, unidentified spike which I hope is the JitP. Isn't spring the most fun, especially when you don't know what you'll find???

caitlinvb said...

Spring is the best. Especially in a place you've never spent spring in ;) evidently jack in the pulpit's are native here, but I haven't seen any. I have pond and lake and all sorts of wetland-esque places, but none. Flowering mosses and such have been the coolest surprises so far, I think.

Steve said...

One of the houses I lived in as a kid growing up in Maryland had a wooded yard that would sprout copious may apples every spring, forming a canopy about a foot or so off the ground. I loved watching the cats slink around under there hunting voles, with their tails popping up from beneath the leaves.

caitlinvb said...

Cool! I don't remember if we had them in CT, and I KNOW we didn't have them in Japan. Or at least not where I was. After living in NorCal for 8 years, it's amazing how much of the east coast flora and fauna I don't know. It's kinda fun ;)