Mild Wild Greens:the Siberian elm


There are some plants for which I have an intense and personal dislike, and the Siberian elm is close to the top of the list. It’s one of our more common trees, because it’s so highly adapted to invade and crowd out more desirable trees. The seeds come up everywhere, and their hold on life is astoundingly tenacious. Even as tiny seedlings, they have a deep root system. If you don’t get the whole thing out, they will come up from the root, they spread by root, and they produce, by scientific measure, a trillion skillion seeds per tree per season.

But this time of year, they have two good qualities. The first is that they cover their branches early in spring with bright lime green samaras, the casing within which the seed develops. They look fresh and green before anything else, which lifts my spirits toward spring. And, the samaras are edible and quite good, and available in mind-bending quantities. The samaras are round and paper-thin. Just pull them off the branches by the handful and add to salads or eat on the spot for a quick snack. Be sure to get them young, when fully expanded and a little over half an inch across but before the edges have started to dry and lose their intense greenness. Taste a few. If there is a “papery” feeling in your mouth, they’re too old. Use only those that are tender. The flavor is pleasant, mild, a little “green,” and very slightly sweet. They don’t have the texture or character to endure cooking. Just eat all you can, and if you have chickens, goats, etc., give them some too. There’s plenty.

Whenever you eat a food that is completely new to you, use good sense. Eat a little, wait a day, eat a little more only if you had no reaction to the first try. It goes without saying that you don’t put any wild plant in your mouth unless you are 100% sure what it is. For more on wild foods and foraging common sense, read anything by Samuel Thayer or John Kallas. Please don’t use my blog to identify plants, since identification is not my emphasis. You need a couple of good field guides for that. Start with Thayer’s Nature’s Garden and Kallas’s Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate and you may end up with an intriguing new hobby.

Addendum: when I wrote this post 6 years ago, I forgot to mention that the samaras are a great addition to spring salads, too. I had a little more to say about them this year, and you can read it here.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by wild child on April 14, 2011 at 9:19 am

    I read of the edibility of the elm samaras in Samuel Thayer’s great book, and have sampled them this week. They are tasty indeed. I have plenty of trees and each day fight the seedlings. Here is a chance to get an early start on that! I’m planning to take a samara salad to a group dinner tonight, and go harvest a bucket full for my hens right now.

    I recommend their flavor and texture as a great snack. I hope the salad is not disappointing.

    Reply

    • Posted by wooddogs3 on April 17, 2011 at 10:01 am

      This is a good chance to plug both of Sam Thayer’s great books, Nature’s Garden and The Forager’s Harvest. If you are interested in wild foods, get these books. For my local readers, many of the plants he writes about don’t grow here in central New Mexico, but you will want his comprehensive information on the ones that do occur here.

      Reply

  2. This is great. I have a number of siberian elms coming up and neighbors with mature trees… since we just got chickens this will be great to be able to have free feed in the spring from the samaras… thanks!

    Reply

    • Posted by wooddogs3 on June 23, 2011 at 9:48 pm

      I have no idea what their nutritional content is; I don’t know that it’s ever been analyzed. Certainly, they could provide fresh green bulk. My goat loves the leaves more than anything else that I feed her, so we’re consuming a lot of elm indirectly.

      Reply

  3. Posted by Paul G on May 4, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    I believe the samara seed to be very high in protein. At least 20% based on some reading on the web. Maybe much higher. And that’s plenty of nutrition for egg layers.

    The samaras are still edible after they dry, do I can’t help but think it could be a very significant food source for chickens throughout the year.

    I’m looking forward to experimenting with it.

    Reply

    • Posted by wooddogs3 on May 4, 2014 at 7:19 pm

      That’s most interesting. My chickens love the green samaras, but I haven’t tried feeding them the dry ones. I’ll be intrigued to hear about any and all experiments with them as a food source. God knows we get enough of them.

      Reply

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