Thursday, May 21, 2009

Woodland Gardening - May Apples

When we bought our property, I spent a lot of time wandering around, looking at the different plants and wondering what they were. I have some books on plants, mushrooms, and wildflowers, so when I looked them up, I found they were called May Apples. "May Apple" seems an unlikely name for a plant whose fruit ripens in September and isn't an apple.

In spring, the plant reaches about 18 inches, is capped by one or two leaves. The leaves are deeply lobed and held parallel to the ground.

So where are the apples?

If you come across a colony of May Apples during a spring stroll, peek under the leaves. Where the stem divides to make two leaves, you might find a May Apple flower -- a single waxy, white bloom about 2 inches across. Fruits are supposed to follow flowers, which are blooming about now, in Michigan. Don't be surprised, however, to find far fewer fruits than there were flowers. In fact, you may find no fruit at all.

If you do find a fruit, take care before biting into it; that is what my reference material advised. This plant is strong medicine, too easily taken in toxic doses by those unfamiliar with its use. All parts of the plant are toxic, except the ripe fruit. Unripe May Apple fruit is toxic, as are the seeds; don't chew them. May Apple's roots, when processed correctly, contain an ingredient which can be used to induce vomiting. Other compounds in May Apples inhibit cell division, and a modified extract of the plant is used to make an anti-cancer drug. The resin from May Apples is used for treating warts, too, I read.

Folklore: (let's get back at the men, now, shall we???) This plant was once called 'the witch's umbrella' and thought to be used by them as a poison. The English version of this plant has much lore told about it, being called Mandrake ("man root") and believed to be alive - its screams when pulled from the ground would render a man permanently insane!

Keep that in mind, Ladies! Have a great rest of the day!


Marie Reed said...

I didn't know that a Mandrake was also know as a May Apple: that is fascinating! How wonderful that you bought a field guide and have actually read and used it:)I need to wipe the dust off of mine and get to it too!

Angela said...

A couple months ago I was trying to find a good book that would show me pictures of all edible plants in our woods. I didn't have much luck but I was only looking on the net. I do know that there is ginseing, yellow root, blackberries, and mountain morels on our property. I only know the whereabouts of the blackberries!!!!

Isn't the Mandrake the name of the plant that screams on Harry Potter?


^..^Corgidogmama said...

Huh! We saw loads of Mayapples during our recent drive on the BlueRidge Parkway. I never knew, that there was a blossom hiding underneath that umbrella top!

Elizabeth said...

They have mandrakes in the Harry Potter books and they all put earplugs in to garden with them!

Olde Dame Penniwig said...

GOOD HEAVENS millions of men have evidently pulled up mandrake roots!!!


What a strange plant!

Chatty Crone said...

Hey, want to sell some of that on Esty? teehee

ocmist said...

Mandrakes are talked about in the Bible starting in Genesis 30:14... Wonder if they are the same plant?

I got a book on edible Californian plants many years back and use it every year or two to make Seaweed pickles which I LOVE!! I have tried a lot of it's suggestions. Had some Mallow (Broadleaf) peas the other day.

Finding out about edible and inedible plants is very interesting to me, and I think it could come in handy if you are lost somewhere for some reason.

We've got a lot of cattails coming up around the area of our waterleak (someone else's line is leaking there, too... ours has been turned off) and I tried some of the shoots the other day... Not bad at ALL!!! Want to try more of the edible parts soon.

ocmist said...

ARGGGhhh! I can't believe it ATE my comment post! When will I learn to copy before hitting the post button so I'll have it if it eats it!!!

Let's see... I mentioned that mandrakes are found in the Bible, starting in Genesis 30:14 and wondered if it is the same plant?

Also, I bought a book several years ago that was on Edible and Useful Plants in California, and have made Seaweed Pickles every year or so since. (I love them!)

I made some Mallow (Broadleaf) "peas" the other day from it and tried some cattail shoots which are pretty good. The other person's waterleak that helped break our waterline (ground sank)has made it like a small swamp out there... THAT is why we haven't had the money to pay for a big backhoe to dig it out so we can fix it for the past 3 months or so.

I've always been fascinated with this kind of info! Thanks for posting this. Linda (OC's Mom)

ocmist said...

Ooops... Just saw/remembered you have to approve the comments so it probably didn't eat it... Sorry 'bout that. :) (sheepish grin)