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Wild South Carolina

I was asked to write an article about wild herbs in my area of South Carolina. With the Carolinas humid subtropical climate many amazing things grow wild here but as I am new to South Carolina, only having moved here in May and not a horticulturist or an herbalist I couldn’t seem to find what is out there. I grabbed my phone and Google Lens and headed out on a couple nature adventures which were awesome because I love hiking but Google Lens gave me a few options for everything I was looking at and some were so very similar that I couldn’t be a hundred and ten percent certain if I was looking at something good or something that could cause harm, plants and not knowing about them are tricky like that. I contacted friends from the area to go on my hikes with me but their lives didn’t have any free time.

I do have a tree to tell you about and a great recipe you can use with the fruit from that tree in the spring but first let’s discuss some of the great things you can find growing wild in South Carolina so you can find a horticulture expert or an herbalist and head out on your own hike to find these things.

Before we get to the trees though, let’s spend a few minutes going over the other deliciousness that can be found growing wild in this beautiful state.

Chickweed can be eaten raw or cooked the same way you would cook your other leafy greens. When looking at the nutritional value of chickweed, it’s very similar to spinach with vitamins A, B complex, C, D, calcium, potassium and more. It likes growing in yards so before you get happy mowing, you may want to check if any of this yummy green is growing wild.

Small’s Purslane is a lot like chickweed in its nutritional value being high in both vitamins A and C and is much akin to spinach when eaten raw but when cooked it has a texture similar to that of cooked okra. While purslane can be found in gardens and barnyards, it actually prefers greatly disturbed areas like sidewalk cracks and can often be found in the more run down areas of cities.

Wintercress should only be eaten if grown in a garden or found far from streets as it readily absorbs toxins and contaminates. When eaten raw as part of a salad it adds a cool nippy flavor and is also rich in Vitamin C.

South Carolina also has wild fruits. Muscadines are a favorite, they look and taste similar to but are slightly more tart than grapes and come in both green and dark purple varieties. They are used in wines and I personally eat them raw, I have put them in ice cream and made jam.

Cranberries can be found in the wild as well, housed by marshes and bogs. These can be eaten, cooked and juiced the same way you would a store bought cranberry.

Partridge Berries (teaberries) can be found on their shrub in the forest and eaten raw. The shrub’s leaves and branches can be seeped for tea. All the parts have a nice mint flavor.

Now for the various trees with edible parts, including the one I told you about at the beginning of this article.

Persimmon trees grow fruit high in Vitamin C that has a creamy texture and a slight tangy flavor. The fruit can be eaten raw or used how you would other berries, in jams, desserts and so forth.

Sassafras grows here and it grows tall!! It can reach thirty to forty feet. WOW!! Sassafras is very fragrant in both its leaves and bark. The bark, leaves and root husk are all used in teas and the leaves can give soups a spicy flavor. This is something to use very sparingly though as high concentrations and extended use may cause some health issues.

If you like nuts, South Carolina has you covered. We have two types of hickory tree, one for the dry hillsides (Mockernut) and one for the moist lowlands (Shagbark), both have a sweet nut similar to a walnut.

Chestnut, which like hickory, is in the walnut family and can be found in dry forests. Chestnuts are good raw but can also be cooked up by roasting, grilling or boiling.

The tree you’ve been waiting to hear about is the Mulberry. The “berry” from this tree looks a lot like a blackberry but it’s not actually a berry. The mulberry is long and oval and depending on the tree can range from nearly tasteless to quite tart. The unopened leaves from the tree itself provide a very mild flavor when boiled. This past spring when the trees were in bloom, I seemed to always find the tart offerings so I used them in sweeter items such as muffins, jam, ice cream and pancakes. Here is my recipe for Mulberry Ice Cream, no ice cream maker needed.

3 eggs

2 egg yolks

1 tsp extract of your choosing (I tend to use vanilla or almond, you may want to use a berry flavored for this)

16 oz heavy cream

1 cup sugar

Your berries

Put eggs, yolks, extract and sugar in top of double boiler with simmering water beneath and beat 6-8 minutes with a handheld mixer until it’s thick and creamy. Remove from heat and let cool.

While it’s cooling, beat heavy cream until stiff peaks form.

Fold the egg mixture into whipped cream then fold in fruit.

Put in a freezer safe container and freeze 6 hours minimum.


Mulberry Photo

Jo L – we discussed the various plants and trees on our street. We have a mulberry in our shared driveway but it’s not presently in bloom.

Joe T. – we discussed the list of wild things and where in the area I could go on nature walks in an attempt to find some of the items listed there. We also discussed things not listed, such as poke salad. I didn’t discuss poke salad because once the leaves turn color, it is actually poisonous.

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