A little more than a year ago, I happened to notice that dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) had a listing in Peterson’s Field Guides, Edible Wild Plants. Since that stuff grows in abundance in my wood lot, I went out to find some and try it out. But I was too late! This plant dies back pretty quickly after it flowers, and I couldn’t find any trace of it when I went looking. But there’s always next year, right?
Well that would be now. They are finished flowering now, and many have gone to seed, so I figured if I wanted to try this edible wild food, I’d better strike while the iron was hot. I dug up these six tubers after about five minutes worth of effort.
The first one I pulled up didn’t seem to have a bulbous tuber, so I went to the next one and dug a little more carefully. I wasn’t sure if it was too early for the plant to put its energy into the tuber, or if I had just lost it in the dirt. I struck gold with the second plant, and after digging up the third, I went back to the first and probed around in the soil – and found the tuber.
The part of an edible plant that you eat, depends on where the plant is storing its energy. In late fall through early spring, the food energy is stored in the roots. Then as the plant sprouts, the energy goes from the root to the shoot, then to the flower, and then to the seeds. Finally, the energy returns to the roots (for perennials, anyhow).
I brought my catch into the house, washed it off, and then got out my copy of Peterson to make sure I remembered how to prepare these for consumption. There are two options – eat them raw (as a nibble), or boil them for 5-10 minutes. Half a dozen tiny tubers hardly seemed to justify the energy necessary to bring even a cup of water to a boil, so I opted for the former.
I thought they were pretty good! They have the texture of radish, and are quite reminiscent of that domestic tuber – but with a hint of carrot. I don’t think I’ll plow up my woods in search of a bushel, but I will take another nibble next spring for sure.