Delicious Autumn-olive (Eleagnus angustifolia, not a true olive) pâte de fruit that Cathy Herms made for our October ArborEatUm at Secrest Arboretum years ago. Brined white fringetree (Chionanthus, actually in the olive family) that Mark Hoenigman made for ArborEatUm last year. White pine tea served and dandelion greens written about by my students in Sustainable Landscape Maintenance this past semester. Vinaigretted elm fruits and goldenraintree shoots I enjoyed in China several years ago. The ethereally hued violet (Viola) jelly that my wife Laura made this May. Backyard edible landscaping is quite the amuse-bouche for the adventurous diner in any year, but perhaps especially now.
Which brings us to Cathy’s classic line for her quite tart and tasty invasive Autumn-olive delicacy: “Controlling invasives – one bite at a time.” Well, today’s post is not of a non-native invasive, but rather of a native plant, which nevertheless has a weed (unwanted plant) context, certainly in the ChatScape. Laura has scooped up bushelfuls of red maple, silver maple, and “rilver” maple (silver & red hybrid) fruits (“helicopters, “keys”, samaras) this year, valiantly attempting to forestall garden bed seedling maple trees.
So, the inevitable Springtime of the Plague question: can we make use of these helicopters in some way? Hmm, what about the seeds inside? Can they be eaten? Are they in any way toxic? Onward to the references. Obviously we eat maple sap processed into syrup. Sap not toxic, but it turns out that dried red maple leaves and leaves of a few other maple species are quite toxic to horses, goats and other animals. Do not eat the leaves.
But we could not find indications of maple seeds being poisonous, and a number of people do eat the seeds. So, Laura proceeded with caution and in moderation. Peeling off the papery parts of the fruit covering is quite laborious, so you may not be inclined to do it in usual springtimes, but it is certainly easier than trying to crack walnuts or hickory nuts with your bare fingers. With raw seeds there was not much flavor, although some report red maple seeds to have a sweet taste. But sautéed in olive oil with a little bit of salt, and you will have a nutty, pumpkin seed-like flavor that will soothe your foraging heart. The things you learn.