A Field Guide to Common Edible Plants
Species: Chamaemelum nobile
Habitat and Distribution: Species of Chamomile are native to Europe, North Africa, and temperate regions of Asia. For centuries women have cultivated it in gardens around the world, and for as long as you can remember it’s grown in your mother’s garden in the Pacific Northwest. The soil content is mostly clay, rock, and compost, and you will notice the patch of yellow flowers sprouting on the side of your childhood house every summer.
Description: The chamomile plant grows up to 9 inches tall and is composed of lanky green stems that branch out to form a small bush. Chamomile spreads quickly. The seeds sprout slowly in early spring, then shoot up fast, just like you grew before the other sixth graders in the first year of middle school, like your mom bought a bra to hide your new breasts, making it quite a noticeable plant, a centerpiece to the early harvest.
Preparation and Uses: Chamomile is commonly used in tea for its calming effects. For example, at eating disorder clinics in the waiting room on tables with pamphlets that say “You and Your Body” and a canister of hot water, white paper cups. Chamomile is also used as an aid for anxiety and insomnia. Clinical studies show that ingestion contributes to a feeling of well-being, and during the week of your lowest weight you will sleep 4 of 7 nights and clutch a cup of chamomile tea. Recommended dosage is 2 teaspoons of dried herb infused with boiling water for 5-10 minutes, steep to taste. Chamomile should be harvested between late spring to late summer, before the rain makes the flowers too wet.
Species: Trifolium pratense
Habitat and Distribution: Many species of Clover grow in varied habitats throughout the West, and you will find a patch of them near a cedar grove when coming off psilocybin in college. The purple flowers will be soft in your fingertips. You will pick a handful of sprigs and declare that you will never buy food at a store again, at least not in the summer when edible plants can be picked for free. It is important to note there won’t be food money anyway. The clover grows in unlikely places: parking lots, grassy hills, the corner store, and alleyways. Clover is common and its growing season lasts from early spring till first frost.
Description: Clover leaf is herbaceous with palmate leaves, divided into 3 leaflets with flowers of white, yellow, pink, and purple. It is common to walk through a patch from the parking lot to the outpatient building. You will often feel tension and guilt on this walk; you and your mother will before the appointment. It is normal to note “3 clover flowers” in the food diary your therapist makes you keep, and to close buds in your palm when you walk to the little hot room to wait.
Preparation and Uses: Can be eaten raw. It is possible to smoosh multiple flower buds into your mouth at the same time and chew on the sweet petals, to believe you’ll never again eat pumpkin pie or fried rice. The high protein content of clover is best digested when boiled or soaked in salt water, and a large volume of clover can be consumed after either of these processes to get the most nutrition. It is recommended to gather a handful for your pocket to eat on the walk home.
You can expect to spend time picking tiny petals from the gaps in your teeth.
Species: Mentha piperita
Habitat and Distribution: Mint species are native to Europe, however species are cultivated in all regions of the world for its medicinal value. As an inhalant, peppermint oil stimulates the brain in moments of lethargy, for example when nodding off in class from low blood sugar. Mint is highly distributed throughout North America and prefers to grow in wet ground, though is hardy and will flourish in many climates. At every place you will ever live, wild mint will grow in abundance. You will look forward to the process of clipping the herbs and hanging bundles upside down from a string laced between the kitchen cabinets.
Description: Herbaceous perennial with opposite, oval leaves. Deep green. From July through September it bears violet flowers, flowers you won’t really remember after the harvest because they’re small and unimpressive, in and out so fast. Your boyfriend will remind you of them in passing. You wanted to be small and unimpressive once. The peppermint leaves emit a strong scent, one you will inhale every summer when you squat in the dirt in old shorts to pull weeds away from the bushes.
Preparation and Uses: Can be made into a concentrated oil, which you will rub into your temples and waft under your nose daily. Peppermint extracts are used as flavoring agents, medicine, and perfume. After three nights on amphetamines, writing, no sleep, it is recommended you step on the scale. These half-awake multi-day experiences are crucial. Steep fresh leaves or a heaping teaspoon of dried herb in boiling water for 10 minutes for the best results. You will feel as though your toes hover just above the tile floor. You will experience a feeling of transcendence. Sudden energy. Step on the scale a second time to account for an inaccurate first reading. If your hair is wet, slump it over the towel rack, head bowed, so the weight of water is removed from the total weight. Peppermint also helps nausea; it will come on in waves. Sip peppermint tea until the symptoms are relieved.
Habitat and Distribution: You encounter them when jogging through the woods, along school fences, the water’s edge. You will get deep scratches on your legs from blackberry brambles when you jog through the arboretum at night and get dizzy. Blackberry is found in mountainous regions and all throughout the West. It thrives in high altitudes. By the time wild blackberry is in season in early August you won’t have brought new food into your apartment for at least a month, maybe more. Time will slip away. Expect a daily ritual of gathering breakfast in your purple-stained palms and blowing the little green worms off before eating them where you stand.
Description: Blackberry consists of a tall, thorned cane with palmate-compound leaves. The 5-petal flowers are radially symmetrical, white. The blackberry sends shoots underground that sprout up around the original, creating a large bush, often invading whole areas, twisted and impenetrable.
Preparation and Uses: The Wild Blackberry is a perennial, one you’ve watched ripen since your grandpa let you step onto his knee to get the highest, largest berries. Blackberries are also used for pie, which you will admire at eye level, smell. Be cautious. Eating any amount over 1/3 of the total slice will divert comments from friends and family.
Species: Rosmarinus officinalis
Habitat and Distribution: Rosemary is found in the Mediterranean in areas with dry rock, and in your mother’s hands when she first gave you a trowel, pink gloves, and rosemary sprigs to plant in terracotta. Your mother’s hands have always held thick bundles of rosemary, fragrant oils strong on her fingertips as she strips the stems of their leaves.
Description: Hardy perennial shrub with needle-like evergreen leaves; can turn into bushes that look like trees when left to grow thick branches, like the ones your mother and grandmother cut off and place in plastic bags to go. They will perform this ritual each time you return and leave again. You will chop the fresh leaves into tiny pieces and inhale the scent of its medicine.
Preparation and Uses: Rosemary is a circulatory and nervine stimulant that calms digestion and psychological tension, it’s what your mother puts on the roasted potatoes she warms in the oven while you drive home from college. She made food even when there was no audience for it, your father body building, you not eating; but her fingers were always covered in the sticky oily resin; the smell of childhood, the smell of your mother scratching your head to calm you to sleep and rubbing your sore limbs with her gentle cold hands.
Alternate: Usually in reference to leaves when veins are not directly opposite, but situated singly along the stem. Sometimes used in accordance with the word “methods” to indicate different approaches to treatment when formal treatment is ineffective.
Apex: The tip, or end, of a plant part. Also a high point, climax. For example, the apex of the disorder: the scale, the psychoactives, the acceptance, the delusion, the mania, the detachment from body, the cops, the call, the drop-out, the psychiatrist, the pharmacist.
Basal: Situated near or at the base. Usually in reference to “base weight”, the healthy weight the body settles at without forced dietary restriction; a natural weight. Often the base weight will seem like an impossible weight at the time of your disorder, but one day will be a reasonable place to exist.
Deciduous: A cyclical falling off of plant parts such as flowers, fruits, leaves, etc. after a definite period of growth or function—growth that came when the old leaves were so dry and tired they crumbled off the branch, and in downward dog at yoga class you won’t mind that your spandex pants are caught between the leg crease and thigh bulge. You will leave it there bunched up and focus on the posture, present in the body, cyclical, reaffirming the belief in your ability with each inhale, each time you show up for class.
Lateral: On the sides. Periphery interests that calm the mind, exist on the outside of the disorder. You will bring them into your life again and remember that you are not a disorder.
Linear: Long and narrow, for example a grass blade that you hold in your hand while lying on your back letting thoughts go.
Petiole: The stalk of a leaf, the strong part that holds up the meat of the plant, much like your legs, now thick with muscle and sweat when you climb mountain trails and cycle between cities.
Radiate: Spreading outward from a common center rather than folding inward. To open the body up to the world, to radiate your presence within it.
Natassja Traylor is a freelance writer and editor from Seattle. In 2013 she graduated cum laude from Western Washington University’s creative writing department. Her creative work has appeared in Crack the Spine Literary Journal. In her spare time Natassja walks through the woods, makes magazine collages, and studies the birds of the Pacific Northwest.