The afternoon sun filters down through a canopy of new leaves as the mockingbird chirps his happy song from some hidden perch. As I round the curve in the trail near the hilltop I can see the clusters of white pea-like flowers hanging down from twisted gnarly branches. The flowers are guarded by formidable thorns that are capable of piercing even my thick leather boots. I have reached the stand of black locus at long last.
The only part of tree that’s generally considered safe for human consumption is the flowers. They’re used to make fritters. The cluster is dipped in batter and deep fried. Like most country kitchens everyone seems to put their own twist on the recipe. Most of them incorporate a generous amount sugar. The flowers themselves are mildly sweet with a vanilla undertone.
The season is short but a productive stand can produce a surprisingly large amount of bloom.
The leaves, bark and fruit are listed as toxic in all of my reference books.
Black Locus seed pods might look peas but they are poison.
Outside of the flowers no other parts of the tree are edible. However, foraging for food doesn’t always mean plants and that’s where the black locus can really help.
The Eastern Woodlands tribes of Native Americans valued the wood for making hunting bows. Black Locus wood is dense and challenging to work but it’s very springy. I have seen chainsaws struggle with the wood so I can imagine how time consuming it was to tiller out a bow with a chip of flint. But the results are a bow that shoots fast and is very resistant to rotting.
The rot resistance of black locus makes it prized for fence posts. When I was a kid almost every farm was surrounded by two strands of barbed wire held up by weathered locus posts. The posts eventually rotted at ground level but above and below ground the post was solid. Often times fixing the fence was as simple as loosening the wire and sharpening the post where it was solid again and driving it back into the ground. Locus posts were always cut a little longer than needed so this could be done.
The flowers are probably gone by the time I publish this post and I was just a little kid when I tried the fritters but from what I remember they were definitely worth trying.
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