growing and eating trees with edible leaves
Growing, eating, and developing my relationship with rare tropical fruits and vegetables has been my life's work since 2010. I have come close to eating deadly plants species three times. Once I almost bit into the fruit of the most poisonous plant in the world, the machineel, while collecting fruit in food forest in Homestead, Florida. I was saved by that internal voice that said, "don't eat it unless you are 100% sure you know what it is."
Once, I sat in an emergency room for five hours waiting for my blood to begin coagulating because I thought that I accidentally swallowed a rosary pea that ended up in a mulberry smoothie. On another occasion I learned about poison sumac by almost confusing it with elderberry. The key word here is ALMOST. Learning poisonous plants comes hand in hand with learning about edible plants because all plants exist on a beautiful spectrum of edibility, especially in the tropics. Recently, the memories of my poisonous plant encounters from years ago surfaced in a project that challenged me to confront my fears and employ due diligence so as to not once again come close to poisoning myself.
In June of 2021, the well-known researcher and author, Eric Toensmeier, contacted me about getting involved with his new project writing about trees with edible leaves that are nutritional superfoods. He asked if I would collect the subtropical and tropical plants that are included in the book that he was working on and taste them. I was thrilled to be invited to work on the project, and began researching the list that he sent me. I reached out to contacts at the Edison Ford Estates, the Naples Botanical Garden, and the Fruit and Spice Park, who compared the list to their plant inventories. I had access to about 20 of the species in book. Many of them I had heard of as ornamental plants, but had no idea that they were actually edible. There were six of them that I had known to be edible and had eaten before. I spent the next year collecting and growing out the trees with edible leaves that I had access to. Most of them came from cuttings from the botanical collections. Some of them I found in nurseries being sold as house plants, or from local plant dorks such as the legendary Andy Firk.
Matthew Herman, Tropical Fruit Specialist from the Naples Botanical Garden with Sesbania grandiflora
Debbie Hughes, Director of Horticulture at the Edison Ford Estates with ficus pseudopalma
After the cuttings had been growing for about a year, and the house plants that I had purchased had been in the ground for a while, I found myself hesitating to actually eat them. Instead, I was rereading the draft of the book that Toensmeier had sent me, and sifting through citations to convince myself that I would not, once again, end up in the emergency room awaiting my impending doom. It brought me to confront that primal fear of eating unknown and potentially poisonous plants. That feeling of panic and dread while repeatedly saying ARE YOU SURE I SHOULD EAT THIS????
Some of my trees with edible leaves collection were destroyed in hurricane Ian, which hit us directly in 2022. Some are definitely invasive and have begun taking over my garden. Some taste absolutely terrible. However, there are a small handful of trees with edible leaves from the book that I eat daily, and are absolutely delicious and extremely nutritious. I believe they will shift our understanding of what it means to grow edible greens at home. I can confidently say this project has expanded my understanding of what I thought of as food.
Follow me in these blog posts as I introduce the trees with edible leaves that I collected for this project. Subscribe and follow to learn about the delicious and nutritious species that I recommend for growing at home. Remember, I went through this so that you don't have to. lol
Erica Lynn klopf
I'm one of those people that's an introvert until you bring up plants. I've been completely obsessed with learning about, growing, and tasting edible plants since 2010. This blog is about my journey to understand the tropical home garden and what my role is in it. Its new, so please stay tuned as I learn how to blog and share my experiences.