My most recent book, Good Berry Bad Berry–Finding and Identifying the Most Common Wild Berries of North America features GOOD BERRIES–those that are edible, BAD BERRIES–those that are poisonous, and GOOD BERRY BAD IDEA–featuring edible berries but ones that need certain precautions. Here’s an example:
GOOD BERRY/BAD IDEA
Plant Type: Herbaceous rhizomatous perennial.
Berry: Large green, egg-shaped, un-ripened fruit, turning yellow when ripe. Can be up to 2 inches long, but typically one inch.
Taste: Tasty and exotic. Like none other. Must taste for yourself.
Uses: Jam and jelly. Needs pectin. The fruit can be eaten fresh but don’t swallow the seeds; they’re toxic. Also makes into a nice cold drink, pies, and a sauce similar to applesauce. Mayapples can be canned and they freeze well. Over-eating can be mildly laxative, and they should be avoided by women who are pregnant.
It’s a bad idea because…the fruit must be completely ripened to eat safely. All parts of the plant are POISONOUS except for the very ripe fruit. The seeds are toxic.
Berry season: Late July through September, depending on climate.
Flower: Self-fertile, single, nodding, waxy 6-8 petaled, light purplish-pink flower that blooms in the spring. Flowers form at the leaf axil on 2-leaved plants. Note: A flower will not form (and thus berry) if there is only one leaf.
Leaf: Leaves resemble a duck’s foot, with one or two, deeply-divided, palmately-lobed, umbrella-like, pale green leaves up to 12 inches in diameter.
Plant size: 1-1 ½ feet tall by ¾-1 foot wide.
Native to: Eastern North America from Quebec to Florida, west to Texas and Minnesota.
Habitat: Moist forests, meadows, flood plains, forest openings. Will naturalize in part sun to full shade, with average to medium moisture and well-drained soil. Will self-seed under the right growing conditions. Goes dormant in summer.
Hardiness Zone: 5-8
More about Podophyllum peltatum:
During the spring, look for mayapples along shady greenways and walkways so you can remember where to return to find ripe fruit in the mid- to late-summer, depending on your area.
While the only safe mayapple is a fully ripe one, it’s not unusual to find foods with an edible part and portions that are inedible. Did you know that rhubarb, green potatoes, apricot kernels are poisonous? So don’t let a poisonous seed keep you from trying this lovely-tasting ripened fruit.