Greenbrier – Winter and Spring Wild Edible

eattheplanet.org is an affiliate marketer. We may earn commission from links to products and services on this page.

our facebook page for additional articles and updates.

Follow us on Twitter @EatThePlanetOrg


Smilax rotundifolia - Greenbrier Leaf
Smilax rotundifolia – Greenbrier Leaf

The roundleaf greenbrier(Smilax rotundifolia) is often underestimated as a wild edible. Even most of the published literature I have seen doesn’t hightlight the full utility of this plant as a wild edible. In reality this plant is an extremely useful wild edible at the right times of year. The roundleaf Greenbrier is plentiful in the eastern half of the US. The information in this articles likely applies to other species in the genus but Smilax is a diverse genus so there could be exceptions. Greenbrier is a visually unassuming plant especially when it’s mixed in with other prickery vines and shrubs such as multiflora rose, blackberry, raspberry, and barberry. roundleaf Greenbrier is a native plant and was likely a commonly used wild edible by native american people.

Edibility and culinary use

Smilax rotundifolia - Greenbrier Berries
Smilax rotundifolia – Greenbrier Berries

Most literature highlights the use of the roots as a starchy substance that can be added to foods. In my opinion this is somewhat of a secondary use compared to the other parts of the roundleaf greenbier that are edible. The new growth in the spring is an abundant and delicious vegetable. The texture is reminiscent of small asparagus but the taste is very mild with a hint of acidity. The new greenbrier growth can be eaten raw or cooked, just make sure it is new growth that hasn’t aged to the point that the thorns have hardened. The leaves are also edible in the spring and summer but they get tougher in the summer. The leaves too have a pleasant mild taste and can be eaten raw or cooked. There is another characteristic that is not often highlighted in most published literature and that is the edible berries that persist through the winter. There is not much substance to the berries since there are large seeds inside but any berry that persists throughout the winter and tastes good is something I add to my list of forageable foods.

Health benefits
This plant must be a truly wild edible because it does not have a common grocery store counterpart as is the case with plants like wild mustard greens and wild chicory plants. This fact makes it difficult to get good nutritional information. The good news is that according to www.pfaf.org there are no hazards associated with this plant. That and the fact that it doesn’t have any strong bitter components indicates that this is likely a very nutritious plant(extremely bitter flavors can sometimes indicate toxins). The mild acidic flavor could be ascorbic acid(Vitamin C) which is present in many wild edibles such as pine trees. Greenbrier has some history of medicinal use. A tea made from the leaves was traditionally used to sooth upset stomach and a poultice made from the leaves was used to sooth different types of external pain.

Identification

Greenbrier Vines
Greenbrier Vines

Once you know what to look for this plant is nearly unmistakable. There are a few main characteristics to look for. This is always a climbing vine with almost no growth toward the width of the vine, in other words it mostly grows longer, not wider. The width of the vine is usually not much bigger than ¼ of an inch in diameter. The vine is always solid green color, even in the winter although it may be speckled with dark sooty mold in a few places. The vine grows in messy bushy masses on wooded edges up to around 10′-20′ high. You should start being able to spot these masses from a distance once your familiar with the growth habit of greenbrier. The thorns have a characteristic shape and growth pattern. They are not crowded on the stem, they appear clearly separated , sometimes by a few inches. The thorns grow straight off the stem at roughly 90 degrees, they are not curved or tilted in any way. this will help you distinguish greenbrier from wild rose which has large curved thorns. Small tendrils can be seen on the vine assisting with it’s climbing behavior. The black greenbrier berries develop in loose bunches in the fall and persist through the winter, I have seen them stay on the vine all the way into march. You can see them from a little bit of a distance so you won’t need to climb through looking for them, but you might need to climb through to get to them.

Cautions
The only caution with this plant is the thorns. You can get your legs tangled up when you’re climbing through to get the berries.

Smilax rotundifolia - Greenbrier Thorns
Smilax rotundifolia – Greenbrier Thorns

Conclusion
Roundleaf greenbrier is an often underutilized native wild edible. This plant has edible parts that are available during much of the year, even in the winter when there are not a lot of other wild edibles available. Always practice responsible harvesting practices when foraging but with this plant You can harvest a substantial amount of new growth and berries because harvesting the new growth and berries does not kill the plant and it is a common and resilient plant so you don’t need to worry too much about hindering plant growth or reproduction. So this winter and spring take a look at wooded edges for the messy vine masses that are characteristic of roundleaf greenbrier, they are perennial so once you find them you can return year after year.


Featured Videos - eattheplanet.org

Many of our readers find that subscribing to Eat The Planet is the best way to make sure they don't miss any of our valuable information about wild edibles.

Subscribe to our mailing list

our facebook page for additional articles and updates.

Follow us on Twitter @EatThePlanetOrg



Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) White Variant
Yarrow, a Delicious and Nutritious Panacea
Read more.
Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis) Blooms
Wood Betony, a Fascinating Herb with Many Benefits
Read more.
St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) Flowers
St. John’s Wort, a Vibrant Edible Great for Depression
Read more.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
Motherwort, Calming and Relieving the Anxious Mind
Read more.
Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis)
Marsh Mallow, the Sweet Edible that Inspired the Candy
Read more.
Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
Marjoram, an Aromatic Herb with Many Medicinal Uses
Read more.
Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), also known as American black elderberry or common elderberry, is a shrub that can easily be found throughout North America. It’s known for its delicious, dark purple berries and lacy white flowers. Elderberries and elderflowers are famous for their culinary and medicinal uses. Edibility and culinary use Almost all parts of this plant are poisonous, except for its flowers and ripe berries. Elderflowers are delicate and fragrant with a slightly tart flavor. These cream-colored flowers are typically used as an edible garnish or to flavor desserts and beverages. Elderflowers can also be made into jelly or deep-fried to make fritters. Dried elderflowers can also be brewed to make medicinal herbal tea. Much like elderflowers, elderberries taste tangy and tart, although stronger. These dark purple berries should never be eaten raw as it might cause stomach aches. Elderberries are usually made into jam, marmalade, pastry filling, juice, wine, tincture, and syrup. Elderberry tincture and syrup are often used for medicinal remedy. Health benefits Elderberry is packed with important nutrients. Both the berries and flowers are rich in vitamin A, B, and C. The tiny berries even contain more vitamin C than oranges. They’re high in dietary fiber which can promote a healthy digestive system. Elderberries and elderflowers also contain a lot of antioxidants like anthocyanins, flavonols, and phenolic acids. This means they’re great for reducing oxidative stress in the body, preventing cancer, and reducing inflammations. Elderflowers and elderberries are often used to treat and prevent cold. They’re also great for alleviating cold symptoms, such as cough, nasal congestion, and fever. Elderberry is also said to be good for treating allergy and asthma symptoms. Its anti-inflammatory property also makes it great for alleviating pain, treating mouth and gum inflammation, reducing toothache, and treating digestive problems. Lastly, consuming elderberry can improve cardiovascular health as it helps lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels. Cultivation Elderberry is not very hard to cultivate. With some work and patience, you’ll be able to grow some elderberry shrubs in your own garden. While it loves moist, fertile, and well-drained soil, this plant can tolerate almost every type of soil. But, it can’t tolerate drought at all. So, be sure to water the plant regularly. Plant elderberry in a location with full sun for a better harvest. Before planting, prepare the soil by incorporating manure or compost. Plant elderberry bushes in the spring, after the last frost date has passed. Plant each plant 6” to 10” apart, make sure the roots are well-covered. Water them once or twice a week to ensure they don’t dry out. Get rid of surrounding weed regularly, especially when the shrubs are young. Let the shrubs grow wild for the first two years. Don’t prune them or harvest the flowers and berries. This way, they’ll grow nicely and produce a lot of berries. Then, starting from the third year, prune the shrubs each spring and remove all the dead areas. The berries will start to appear at the end of summer and they will ripen around mid-August to mid-September. Make sure to pick them before the birds finish them off. Cautions Common elderberry leaves, stems, and roots are poisonous. Ripe elderberries are generally safe, but unripe elderberries contain toxins that can only be destroyed through cooking. Eating unripe or uncooked elderberries may result in nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Elderberry may cause the immune system to be more active, so people with autoimmune disorders should avoid consuming elderberry. Also, be careful not to confuse elderberry shrubs with the toxic water hemlock. These plants look somewhat similar, moreover, they typically grow in the same area. Elderberry has opposing leaves while water hemlock has alternating leaves.  Water hemlock doesn’t grow berries, but they do grow flowers. Water hemlock flowers look similar to elderflowers, but they have a firecracker-like formation. Do not touch or ingest water hemlock flowers at all. Conclusion Elderberry can be a valuable source of food and herbal remedy if you know how to prepare it. This plant’s tiny berries and dainty flowers definitely pack a punch when it comes to flavor. They’re versatile and can be used in a lot of delicious recipes. And their health benefits are undoubtedly amazing as well. It’s not a surprise to find that Native Americans have been using elderberries and elderflowers to make traditional herbal medicine.
Elderberry, Tasty and Packed with Nutrients
Read more.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) Flowering Meadow
Echinacea, the Gorgeous and Useful Purple Coneflowers
Read more.
Blue Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
Blue Skullcap, a Small Medicinal Herb that Packs a Punch
Read more.
American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
American Witch Hazel, an Underrated Herbal Remedy
Read more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>