My sister Mary laid on the bed we shared, reading a book. She giggled as she read and turned the pages. I snuggled close to her on the mattress and looked at the page she was reading. To my disgust, there were no pictures of Donald Duck or any other cartoon character on it. Annoyed that I was breathing in her face, Mary sat up and threw down her book. I glanced at the book’s name. It was, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” by Jean Kerr. My opinion of Mary’s cartoonless book skyrocketed as I thought, “What a funny title! Who would try eating Daisies? They smell like they’d taste bitter.”
Agnes and Rosie, my two older sisters had moved out of the house and were recently married. Their old bedroom, with its blue ceiling dotted with silver stars, was now my bedroom to share with Mary. She was sixteen-years to my nine years of age, so I annoyed her on a regular basis. Despite that, she was mostly patient with me.
Mary suggested, “Let’s go for a bike ride.” I jumped to accept her invitation. Who knew how long would it be before she was the next sister to move out of the house and get married? As it was, she already didn’t want to ride bike very often any more.
When Mary and I pedaled back into the yard, she wanted to go back to reading. Finding a shady spot for a lawn chair, my sister opened the book and disappeared into it.
I drifted around the yard, looking at Mom’s flowerbeds. When I spotted the huge phlox flowerbed in front of Grandpa’s garage apartment, I noticed they were all in full bloom. Wading into the chest high flowers, I took a deep breath. Their sweet scent filled the air. Paying little attention to me, bees continued to buzz happily among the flowers. As I had done many times before, I pulled out a delicate five petaled pink blossom and put the end of it into my mouth. The taste of sweet nectar on the tip of my tongue made me smile and when I remembered the unusual title of Mary’s book, I laughed out loud, “Please don’t eat the phlox.”
The title of Mary’s book probably resonated with me as much as it did because I knew that my family valued foraging and took advantage of nature’s bounty whenever we could. However, by the age of eleven, I realized we were merely amateurs in the use of nature’s pantry. I had heard of Euell Gibbons, the father of modern foraging. During a 1960’s Grape Nuts commercial he asked, “Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible.” While recommending that his audience eat Grape Nuts cereal, Euell commented how Grape Nuts tasted like wild hickory nuts.
In recent years, a man named Samuel Thayer wrote a guide to edible wild plants titled, “The Forager’s Harvest.” My daughter Tammie was a librarian in charge of adult library programs at the time, so she invited Mr. Thayer to give a presentation. He brought several wild dietary treasures with him for people to sample. The milkweed pods were most notably popular with Tammie. She gushed that evening, “Mom, you have to try milkweed pods. They are delicious.”
I hemmed and hawed before finally explaining, “There are many edible wild plants, and it’s a good thing to know about them. During a depression when food is scarce, the knowledge could save your life. I read about a woman who fed lamb’s quarter weeds to her family because that’s all that grew in her garden during the 1930’s. But there isn’t a shortage of food right now. Just because half the flowers and weeds in my yard are edible, that doesn’t mean I have to eat them. I also have beans, cucumbers and zucchini rapidly spitting out of my garden like water droplets from a sprinkler. I need to take care of them first, before I start chewing on pine trees or daisies!”