Edible Native Florida Plants

As a teenager, I learned about edible wild plants through Eulle Gibbons’ books and trips to the nearby woods. My family and I enjoyed many fruits, nuts, greens and even mushrooms that I prepared for them. This was where my interest in plants started and continues to this day.

As your children grow older and understand not to put everything into their mouths, it might be a good time to show them which plants are not only attractive to birds, but can be eaten by humans as well. I suggest reading the books by Eulle Gibbons and Julia Morton. Never put anything into your mouth until you are sure of what it is. Always start with just a little.

Many parents are terrified when their child puts a berry into its mouth. The following is a starter list of native plant berries that your kids and the local birds will like and that I have eaten for many years. Make sure that you wash the fruit first and that sprays aren’t being used on them.

Cocoplum is used as a hedge and has sweet white or purple fruit. The nut inside has an almond-like flavor. Purple seagrape berries make great jelly and are hard to stop eating fresh off the tree. Native mulberry, wild blackberries, wild grapes, persimmon, pond apple, Simpson stopper, and native strangler fig fruits are fun to eat as they ripen in the yard. The olive sized fruit of the satinleaf tree tastes like sweet prunes and will leave a wad of chicle in your mouth. This is the same gum once found in Chiclets chewing gum.

Other less tasty yet edible berries include beautyberry, wild coffee, marlberry, wild cherry, black ironwood; and white, redberry, and Spanish, stoppers. Even the one-inch fruits of the native saw palmetto are edible when black and juicy in September through November, yet have a funky flavor like sweet balsamic vinegar. I personally find them delicious.

Now you can make your yard into a haven for birds and a safe place for your kids to try new natural treats. Don’t forget some sweetened elderberry juice during the summer and persimmon nut bread at thanksgiving.