Please remember that Forage Friday is only intended to be a conversation starter and all of the information is presented as trivia. Medicinal uses of the featured plant is historical and not an endorsement of treatment.
On a cool crisp October morning last year I was strolling the perimeter of my yard her I spotted something familiar. A three lobed leaflet attached to dying vine that twisted and curled around the stem of Joe Pye Weed. Most of leaves were gone and all but a few of the remaining leaves were a pale yellow. At first I thought it was poison ivy and since I am not allergic to poison ivy I reached down to take a leaflet and get a better look. That’s when I noticed the pods hanging from a dried out piece of the vine.
Image Titled “Hog Peanut 81520” showing the leaflet and dried seed pods.
Tracing the vine from the dry pods to the live leaf confirmed that it was all part of the same plant. This spot was once a garden and I began to wonder if the former owners had planted peas or beans here that for some reason spontaneously germinated while I wasn’t looking. The flat pods reminded me of snow peas so I was a little mournful that I’d missed out. I could have collected a few and planted them in the Spring but since they had volunteered I wondered if they would come back again on their own. So I left nature to do what she would with the vine. In meantime I snapped a picture of the leaflet that was so vigorously clinging to life.
I spent the winter occasionally looking over photos on the internet and had almost settled on a wild bean variety. I should note here that while different types of garden beans and peas are a staple of civilization throughout the world other types are poison. For example, Red Kidney Beans contain a chemical called Phytohaemagglutinin which in high doses is considered to be toxic. In Red Kidney Beans the process of soaking and cooking removes the toxins so we can enjoy them in chilli. Other plants that are commonly called beans like castor bean produce deadly toxins like ricin. So it’s wise to not just grab a pod off of a vine and chow down.
When I found out that the plant which just turned up in this spot was a Hog Peanut I was thankful that it is in fact edible. But it’s not the bean part of Hog Peanut that’s eaten. It’s the underground nut.
Hog Peanut produces two types of flower. The upper flowers become the pods that are seen in tonight’s feature image and then there’s a different flower that’s near or even sometimes just under the soil that provides a larger single seed that enclosed in a fibrous husk like a peanut. And just like the peanut it’s normally boiled before eating.
According to the USDA the Chippewa gathered the and consumed the “fruits and the roots”. Which I find a little confusing since so many other sources say that the pods are not eaten.
Image Titled “Hog Peanut 71420a” showing the climbing habit of Hog Peanut vines.
Native Americans also made medicine from hog peanut. The Chippewa used it as a digestive aid and the Cherokee used a tea made from the roots to wash snake bites.
The nuts are harvested in winter and with the flowers not appearing until August ( mine has not bloomed yet ) it makes sense that they wouldn’t be ready until late in the year.
I would also be amiss not to mention that the sources which do say that the pods are edible say to harvest them in the fall. They also say that the pods need to be cooked.
Some of non-food benefits are that Hog Peanut is good shelter for beneficial insects like lacewings and parasitic wasps as well as a host for skipper butterflies. Cutleaf bees also seem to prefer Hog Peanut leaves to use in their nests.
I’ve been so impressed with this gift of God through nature that I believe I’ll save a few of these seeds to plant in a designated area. Evenif I find that the “fruits and roots” are not to my liking it is beneficial to Wildlife.
Before I close I wanted to share my segment on the West Virginia Public Broadcasting documentary “Edible Mountain” working with producer Chuck Kleine was a real pleasure and I believe the start of a lifelong friendship. As I have reviewed the videos in the series I’m honored to be included with such a group of people who are keeping the skills and traditions of foraging alive.
If you would like to learn how to make Sumac Lemonade here’s the video and please continue on to the whole series and learn from the other presenters.
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