Wild, wild strawberries

In my family, the beginning of June spells strawberry season. The fruits of our small backyard plot are augmented by those sold to us in large Ziploc bags by a farmette-owning friend. For several weeks, we gorge ourselves on strawberries and whipped cream, strawberry crepes, strawberry shortcake, strawberry smoothies, and strawberry and rhubarb crisp. Whatever berries aren’t instantly devoured are frozen for enjoyment in later summer months.

Less certain than the pleasures of garden-grown strawberries has been the answer to this question: are the tiny wild strawberries that grow outside our garden beds edible? After years of evading my children’s queries with the answer “better safe than sorry,” I decided to dig up the truth.

Fragaria virginiana

Fragaria virginiana

Turns out that the native Fragaria virginiana, sometimes referred to as Virginia strawberry or just plain wild strawberry, is indeed edible. Characterized by a white, five-petaled flower, this strawberry has a noticeably sweet, fruity smell when crushed. Despite its small size, foragers extol the superiority of the wild strawberry over its store-bought counterparts.

There is, of course, a caveat. The delectable Fragaria virginiana is easily confused with the non-native Potentilla indica, a look-alike fruit hailing from India. Also known as false strawberry or Indian mock strawberry, Potentilla indica boasts a yellow flower

Potentilla indica

Potentilla indica

and a berry that is scentless when crushed. Foraging field guides range from describing this fruit as “toxic” to simply “edible but tasteless.” My opinion on the merits of sampling the false strawberry? Better safe than sorry, of course.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

 

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