Gardentalk — Harvesting and using wild celery and devil’s club

Wild celery
Yéilk’ Vivian Mork points to a wild celery plant’s new leaves, which along with the stalks, are edible. She says the plant usually tastes best when new, young growth develops in the early spring. She recommends picking wild celery – sometimes known as cow parsnip – during cloudy, cool days to avoid an allergic skin reaction to the photosensitive chemical furanocoumarins that are part of the plant’s sap or found on the hairs. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

You may not realize it, but there may be plenty of edible plants already growing in your yard or off the trail. Just be sure that you already know what it is that you’re picking.

“Don’t harvest what you don’t know so you don’t die,” said Yéilk’ Vivian Mork, a traditional foods and medicine educator.

In this week’s edition of Gardentalk, Mork explains that a good starting place for new harvesters is going after edible invasive species like the dandelion.

Broadleaf avens
Roots of broadleaf avens can be used as a flavoring for wild game or as a tea. Yéilk’ Vivian Mork does not recommend eating plants growing in parking lots or near roads, and even suggests washing plants found off a trail. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

“Of course, take it home and wash it off if you’re harvesting next to a trail,” Mork said.

She does not recommend eating plants growing in a parking lot or near a road.

Other common edible plants in the Juneau area include broadleaf plantain, broadleaf avens, chickweed, sourdock, tips of fireweed, salmonberry stalks, and wild celery.

“You actually have a pretty great salad in a very short amount of space,” Mork said.

Mork said you can eat wild celery’s stalks, leaves, flower buds, and even use the seeds as a seasoning. She says older plants are usually pretty fiberous and not quite as tasty.

“All spring greens taste better in the early spring,” Mork said.

Edible weeds
Broadleaf plantain, broadleaf avens, and chickweed are fairly common edible plants that are usually dismissed as weeds. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

If someone wants to learn more about identifying edible plants, Mork suggests seeking out knowledgeable, local experts.

She tells people to avoid online blogs that may contain misinformation.

Instead, she recommends publications from author Janice Schofield Eaton or from any reputable institution like the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Cooperative Extension Service or the U.S. Forest Service, especially if they cite their sources.

When it comes to devil’s club tips or buds, Mork said they have enormously more medicinal value than any nutritional value as a food item.

“I’m hoping that this foodie trend for harvesting devil’s club tips and sautéing them and pickling them and harvests (of) large quantities starts to fade a little bit and it gets respected for the medicinal plant that it is,” Mork said.

Mork said each tip or bud can produce as many as ten leaves, and picking the tip actually deprives the plant of the ability to photosynthesize and survive.


Devil's club plant
The devil’s club stalk in front has at least seven leaves at the top. Yéilk’ Vivian Mork says each devil’s club tip can produce as many as ten leaves, and picking the tip actually deprives the plant of the ability to photosynthesize. She says it is more suitable as a medicinal plant rather than as a food item. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

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