Foraging Fireworks

Ah, the Fourth of July! Sure, it’s hot outside but that just makes the beer colder, the water balloon fights wetter and grilling smarter, while turning our picnic tables into neighborhood social centers. There’s something about the founding of America that draws people together at the ends of driveways to share fireworks and food. And as the local forager, you can combine both in a wild manner.

Edible flowers have a long history of spicing up food, both in flavor and visual appeal. A bit of care must be taken — not every flower is edible and some, such as lantana and hemlock, can be fatal if eaten. Luckily, East Texas has a variety of wild, or at least rogue flowers, that can turn an ordinary salad into a bright, edible fireworks display of red, white and blue.

OK, so we’ll cheat a little with red. The native Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus) is the right shade, as is its foreign cousin, red hibiscus. Both are members of the mallow family. Now for some rocket flame orange, add some peppery tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium) blossoms.

There’s a plethora of white flowers available. Elderberry blooms can be found along the edges of sunny, wet areas. In the waters of East Texas lakes and slow-moving streams, gather the delicious, three-petaled, white flowers of wapato (Sagittaria species). And if you’d rather not get wet, Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) abounds along the roadsides ... just make sure you learn how to tell it apart from poisonous hemlock (Cicuta species).

Truly blue flowers, other than the three-petaled spiderworts (Tradescantia species), are rare so let’s include purple. Did you know the midsummer-blooming kudzu flowers have a grape-like flavor? Picking these prevent kudzu from producing seeds, so gather a lot of them. Finally, in shaded woods you can find the purple, lemony flowers of wood sorrel (Oxalis species). They’ll give a nice tangy zip to your salad, similar to a vinaigrette dressing.

And if the taste isn’t enough for you, there’s one more reason for including wild foods in your Independence Day celebration. These were the food eaten by soldiers as they fought for the right of self-rule, freeing us from the tyranny of a government that only took and didn’t give. These were the foods eaten by the families left behind as well as the ones too weak, ill or infirm to fight. The bounty of our wild foods gave America the independence that still draws people from all over the world, almost 250 years later.