This week's wild edible is Early Saxifrage!
Early Saxifrage goes by many names including Everlasting Lungwort, Sweet Wilson, Virginia Saxifrage, and Lettuce Saxifrage. Often overlooked by passersby, this inconspicuous flower used to be quite sought after in early spring salads.
What it looks like.
At first glance, Early Saxifrage looks like every other tiny white flower in the forest. Upon closer inspection, you'll start to notice key characteristics that will help you safely identify this tasty wild edible.
Early Saxifrage grows to be about 18" tall, but it begins blooming at around 4" tall in early spring. The stem is moderately thick and coated with a generous amount of white hairs. This gives it sort of a "fuzzy" appearance. At the bottom of each stem is a basal rosette of toothed, "scalloped" shaped leaves. Those leaves get narrower towards the base of the stem and are the only leaves on the plant. Usually, there is only one stem per basal set of leaves.
Early Saxifrage's stem holds a cluster of up to 30 tiny white flowers at the top. Each flower has 5 solid white petals and also 5 green sepals (petal-like structures). The are also usually 10 stamens at the center of each of those flowers. These flowers start out few in numbers and clustered closely together, but as the plant matures, more flowers appear and the rest start to spread out a bit.
There are a number of poisonous plants out there with tiny white flower clusters. When identifying this plant, double check to make sure there are no leaves on the stem (only at the base), the stem is coated in quite a bit of white hairs, and the flowers have 5 petals, 5 sepals, and 10 stamens on average.
When and where to find it.
The name saxifrage is derived from a Latin root word that means "rock-breaker". This gives us a clue as to where it can be found. Although you may not find this fragile little plant busting up boulders, it's often found growing in rocky outcrops, rock crevices, and rocky soil. The main reason for this is because it is a tiny plant that can survive on a small amount of water.
Early Saxifrage may be able to survive on little water, but they are usually more abundant where there is moist soil. Look on rocky outcrops, overhangs, and rocky soil that get a good bit of moisture for the best chances of seeing this plant. Don't be surprised to see one growing between two bone-dry boulders either though.
This plant starts popping up in early spring through summer, but once the larger this plant get the more bitter its leaves become.
Sadly, the only edible part of Early Saxifrage is the basal leaves. Young leaves are the most sought after since they are tender, full of flavor, and lack the bitterness of more mature plants. If at all possible, pick the leaves before the flowers bloom for the best taste.
You can use these in fresh salads, green smoothies, or anywhere else you would normally use regular lettuce.
Historically, Early Saxifrage is said to have very few medicinal properties. Those include (but are not limited to): preventing scurvy, being a diuretic, helping with diseases of the kidney and bladder (although there is no proof for this).
**Warnings, Disclaimers, and Precautions**
Please be sure to read ALL of this section!!
**Always wash mushrooms and other wild edibles before cooking or eating.
**When identifying plants you are unfamiliar with, please use as multiple references, as well as help from experts when available. Unless you are 110% sure what a plant is, it is best to avoid it completely.
**If you plan on using any plants for medicinal uses, consult a healthcare professional, as well as botanist familiar in the field of wild plants. And as always, use as many references and expert opinions as possible when identifying a plant.
**Be sure to avoid any plants growing near roads, around chemicals, other poisonous plants, or polluted/contaminated water.
**As always, be sure to use the Universal Edibility Test to ensure the plant is the correct plant and to help identify any unknown allergies you may have.