I spent a few of my formative years in the south, and though it took me some time (and lots of swimming pools and iced tea) to adjust to the heat, humidity, and slower pace of life it enforces, I miss it. I miss that the very air has a weight to it, slowing you down as you move through a day that I can only describe as “soupy.”
I find ways to revisit the south, through literature—the stories of Flannery O’Connor, or television—if you haven’t seen the first season of “Rectify,” watch now to live inside a gothic southern story. So when I saw that “Mud” was streaming on Netflix, I settled in to be transported to the dark waters and swamps of the Arkansas Delta, a region of the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain, sometimes called the Mississippi embayment. In it, Matthew McConaughey pays a man who is known as Mud. On the run from the law, Mud befriends two 14 year old boys. It’s a beautiful story about the belief in love, the friendships that can sustain you, and what to do in case of snake bite. (Spoiler alert – but really? The foreshadowing is pretttty heavy-handed for that one.)
Watching Mud struggle to survive on a deserted island of the Delta, I began to wonder. If he’d just been a Boy Scout, might he have foraged his meals from the land, and not have to convince kids to steal cans of beans for him?
Googling edible plants in the Arkansas Delta, I discovered Osmunda claytoniana, the “Interrupted Fern,” named for the gap in the blade that wither and fall off. “Fragmentary foliage resembling Osmunda claytoniana has been found in the fossil record as far back as the Triassic,” Wikipedia tells me. So clearly the plant is a survivor. But could it help our man Mud survive his time in the wild, as his bag of sandwich bread runs low?
They’re beautiful ferns. I recommend planting them, if you live on the eastern side of the U.S. And a bonus, they’re deer-resistant. But. “Unlike those of the Ostrich Fern, the Interrupted Fern’s fiddleheads are not readily edible, due to their bitter taste and a tendency to cause diarrhea. The base of the stipe and very young buds are edible.”
They lost me at diarrhea. A man on the lam does not need that. Moving on.
Not surprisingly, dandelions grow on the Delta, and as I previously posted, dandelion greens are the fountain of youth, and would have kept Mud supplied in iron and vitamin E.
Camellias are edible as well – and since they often bloom in the late fall, they can double as garnish for your holiday meals. Mud was a man of faith, in the power of love, in the curative properties of bonfires, in the luck inherent in certain objects. I think he would have boiled some camellias into a tisane. The flowers are used for teas, and known for their antioxidants, they may also play a role in treating cancer. Though the studies are inconclusive, green tea from the camellia plant contains polyphenolics that may inhibit the formation of tumors.
Sassafras – Trails.com notes that sassafras is a main ingredient in the making of gumbo, and the small bush has black colored berries that have been used in the United States for over four hundred years. If Mud could procure molasses, the roots of sassafras, when boiled, could be made into his own, artisanal, criminal-on-the-run root beer.
If you were deserted on an isle, would you know what to eat? Check out my previous post on growing edible gardens. I’d love to know what you forage from your garden, or from your morning walk – leave us a note in the comment section, or on Twitter @TheCityFarm & @RebeccaSnavely.