Wild Food School USA ™

Edible Palms around the Southern US

Parts of the southern US are fortunate enough to have some species of palms which have edible parts. Around the world there are more than 2,400 palm species and many hundreds have a role in human nutrition.

Below is a typical example of the coconut palm, perhaps the world's best-known palm species... apart from the African Oil Palm, a major source of Palm Oil.

Edible palms and palm products - coconut / Cocos nucifera.


Coconut shoots cooked in a coconut cream sauce.


For most folks coconut is linked to candies, coconut flavored ice cream, cookies, palm sugar and such like. However parts of the coconut palm are cooked as a vegetable. The example pictured left comes from the Philippines where coconut shoots are regularly cooked in a shrimp, flaked fish and coconut cream sauce.

Slightly fibrous, the coconut shoots are akin to the palm hearts or palm cabbages that are harvested from other palm species in the tropics of both the Old and New World.

Some other palms with edible qualities that you may find around the southern States...

Jelly / Pindo Palm - Butia capitata
This palm is found in Brazil, southern coastal US and south-west Europe. The yellow fruits have a pineapple-apricot taste and are turned into jellies or wine.

Canary Island Date Palm - Phoenix canariensis
Pictured right, this palm tolerates sandy soils, drought and moderately high salt aerosols. The sap of this palm can be turned into syrup, and at a push the fruits can be consumed but they are not overly palatable when compared to the dates of the true date palm [Phoenix dactylifera].

Cabbage Palmetto - Sabal palmetto
Harvesting the 'heart' of this palm (which is the new terminal bud) kills it off, however palm cabbage was a regular type of vegetable when stocks of the species were once plentiful. It is found in seaside localities in the south-eastern States, Cuba, Bahamas and West Indies.

Royal Palm - Roystonea regia
This species was native to Cuba and was also harvested for its palm hearts.

Chilean Wine Palm - Jubaea chilensis
Planted as an ornamental in the southern coastal US, the sap of this palm can be fermented. In its native Chile the species is only found in limited localities.

USDA-ARS Sapote


And a sprinkling of non-palm tropical / sub-tropical edibles that you may find around the southern US...

Sea Grape - Coccoloba uvifera
The purple, acid flavored, berries of this species are usually used in making jellies and conserves. It is a coastal species of tropical America and the West Indies.

Sapote - Pouteria sapota (pictured left)
This is native to southern Mexico but is cultivated in south Florida, the Caribbean and Central America.
The flesh of the fruit is sweet and creamy.

Mesquite - Prosopis juliflora
The pods of this spiny tree have a sweet edible pulp and were once ground into flour. Found from the south-west US to Mexico, Caribbean islands, Venezuela and Colombia.

Purple Mombin - Spondias purpurea
The plum-like, sour, fruit of the mombin is used raw or cooked. It is found in many of the Old World tropics but also in Florida, the West Indies, Mexico, Peru and Brazil.

Now if we REALLY want to get tropical, as opposed to the sub-tropical parts of the US, then there are a huge amount of edible fruits, plant greens, sugar saps and nuts available to the forager... The tropics present one of the most luxurious foraging grounds available to any person looking for food in the wild, although they present challenges in terms of bugs and pathogens on the ground (some, or none, of which may be also be edible).

For example, below left is sliced breadfruit [Artocarpus altilis] cooked in coconut, and on the right the chopped leaves and stalks of taro [Colocasia sp.] cooked with chili, ginger and coconut. Normally it is the roots of Colocasia antiquorum and C. esculenta that are eaten, but the young leaf greens also serve as a vegetable. Breadfruit is also a straightforward vegetable which, according to some tastebuds, has the taste of new potatoes. Personally I don't that comes near it...

Learn more about tropical foods with the Wild Food School .FORAGING in the TROPICS E-book

Breadfruit (Atrophyllus altilis) cooked with coconut cream. Taro leaves cooked with chili, ginger and coconut.

Cristophene, baked and stuffed with meat. Fruit curry with fresh dates, guava and physalis fruits.
Above left: stuffed, baked, cristophene. Right: experimental fruit curry with fresh dates, guava and physalis fruits.

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Text Copyright © M. Harrison 2012