Disclaimer: I am not an expert forager, so please do not take my word for it. Always do your research and be 100% sure you have properly identified a plant before consuming wild edibles. There are many poisonous plants and plant parts to be aware of, so never be nonchalant about what you pick and put in your mouth.
As Spring arrived this year, our forest floor came alive with a new and mysterious plant. I don’t know if they’ve been here before in lesser numbers and I just never noticed them or what, but you certainly can’t miss the carpet of green foliage that covers our creek banks right now. They’re EVERYWHERE!
But what in the world are they?? They aren’t a flower, or a fern, or a mushroom, or a tree… I had no idea how to even go about looking up what they’re called.
I noticed that the plants didn’t all have the same number of leaves. Some had six, some had seven or eight.
Some were solid green, and some were splotched.
For weeks I’ve been dying to know what they are, and yesterday through another online search I finally identified them.
That was cool to know. I’d never in my life heard of Mayapples. Are they good for anything? Are they edible, or medicinal?
After doing a little more digging, I learned that Mayapples ARE edible! At least, they produce a fruit that’s edible. The leaves and stems are poisonous, so definitely don’t eat those. With this revelation, I took another trip into the woods to examine the plants a little closer. I gasped with excitement when I discovered that some of the plants already have flower buds forming.
This little beauty ought to ripen into a lovely yellow fruit around June-ish, I believe. The trick will be getting to it before the forest critters do. Green, unripe Mayapples are mildly poisonous, so you must wait until they’re fully ripe to pick them. As the fruit ripens, the umbrella shaped leaf dies away, leaving only a stem and a dangling fruit. I read that it can be hard to find them because by then the other plants have grown up around them, hiding the fruit from plain view. The forest will smell like lemons when it’s full of ready-to-pick Mayapples. Some suggest that it’s easiest to just follow your nose to find them. I’m thinking I might cover a few with a wire cage before they go into hiding, so that I might just beat the squirrels to at least one or two fruits.
Another interesting thing to note is that the fruit only grows on the plants that have two leaves. I’m guessing these are the female plants. See how this one splits into two leaves, with the blossom in the crotch of the stems? Now look at this one…
This guy only has one leaf and no flower. So, it’s the two-leafed plants I’ll be keeping a close eye on.
I’ll try to remember to post updated photos as the fruits ripen. It’ll be so fun if I can get my hands on a few ripe Mayapples.
Eat The Weeds has a great article on Mayapples, with more information and precautions.
July 13th, 2014: I took a walk into the woods this morning, to check on the progress of the Mayapple fruits. They’re still green and hard, not even close to being ready to harvest. I’ll keep checking back with the hopes of collecting at least one ripe fruit to sample.
Do you have Mayapples growing nearby? Have you had a chance to taste them?