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If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em! 'Edible invasive' program offers culinary spin on invasive species awareness

A summer picnic table with invasive edible items, including muffins and spreads made from invasive species.
Vermont Land Trust, courtesy
While we can't "eat our way out of" the problem of invasive species, a Vermont Land Trust program is increasing invasive awareness with tips for eating the problematic plants, including Japanese knotweed muffins, garlic mustard pesto and hummus, Japanese knotweed squares, and dried barberry berries.

You’ve heard the saying, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Well, the Vermont Land Trust is employing a version of that age-old wisdom when it comes to invasive plant species: if you just can’t beat ‘em … eat ‘em! They're hoping to put the invasive plant issue in perspective one bite at a time.
Our guests are:

  • Pieter van Loon, Vermont Land Trust lead forester
  • Rose West, ECO AmeriCorps service member

Broadcast at noon on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022; rebroadcast at 7 p.m. Find an excerpt of the conversation below, which has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Connor Cyrus: Rose, as we head into the fall season, what are some of these delicious plants that we can eat, and should be eating?

Rose West: Yeah, one I would have to highlight is going to be your autumn olive, it is easily identifiable by having silvery speckled undersides to its leaves, and the fruit itself, there are going to be small clustered berries that appear red, but they are also are called silverberry, because they will also have silver aspects to them. So they are one that you can competently ID and kind of collect copiously, because one plant can produce up to eight pounds of fruit.

It makes a great wild invasive edible for returning into jams and fruit leathers, or being creative however else you want.

And then how do we cook these? I mean, you said jams and fruit leathers, how do we start to cook these safely?

I would have to start off by saying I am an aspiring ecologist first, and maybe cook second. But I would definitely recommend boiling them, because that will neutralize all the seeds. And then depending on seed size, you might have to put them through a food mill to kind of get out all that extra debris. And then it is just adding the amount of sugar you want. And maybe a little apple slices, because some of the berries don't have high pectin for your jams, and apple can be a great substitute for that.

And then from there, if you want fruit leather, you can just dehydrate it all. Or put it in your oven for maybe like, an obscene amount of time, like 10 hours or something. And yeah, so there's a lot of different great resources online and websites to look up, and I would definitely check a recipe before just diving into it.

I'm just really excited about the idea that other people may be using invasive edibles as a gateway to even just exploring and connecting to the outdoors. And go have fun with it and be creative!

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vermontedition.

Connor Cyrus was co-host and senior producer of Vermont Edition from 2021-2023.
Matt Smith worked for Vermont Public from 2017 to 2023 as managing editor and senior producer of Vermont Edition.