Saw the earliest flower of Spring-time,
Saw the beauty of Spring-time,
Saw the Miskodeed in blossom.
And just what flower is this Miskodeed, that Longfellow writes of? In the appendix at the end of the poem- Longfellow says that the Native American translation for Miskodeed is Spring Beauty.
The Spring Beauty (or Claytonia virginica, for you scientific types) has long been viewed as a harbinger of Spring- as it is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in many parts of the country. In the South- it is preceded by several flowers- Henbit, the Daffodils, Chickweed, Bird's Eye, and several others- but there's a catch- most of those flowers bloom in the Winter. The Spring Beauty seems to wait right up to the first day of Spring to bloom- so perhaps it really is one of the first of the wildflowers to bloom in the Spring.
It is a shame that such a lovely plant could be eaten. But, edible it is. The roots are said to taste like radishes and were highly prized by Native American children. (source). Even the Eskimos are known to eat the leaves and roots of a closely related species that grows in the Arctic. (Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants; Bradford Angier)
Perhaps, like me, you are curious and so you want to know how to prepare this lovely plant to eat. The leaves are said to be edible raw in the early Spring (and vitamin rich). The roots (which may be difficult to dig out) need to be cleaned and then boiled in salt water. Simmer for 15 minutes or until a fork can be inserted easily into the larger bulbs. Peel and eat. Bradford Angier in his excellent book Field Guide to Edible Plants wrote that the taste has "overtones of cooked chestnut."
Still not impressed by this delicate plant? Consider this: Spring Beauty is in the Purslane family of plants. It is closely related to Green and Golden Purslane. In ancient times, Purslane was viewed as having anti-magic elements to it. Placing it around a bed was said to protect against evil spirits. It was also attributed to being a sure protection for lightning strikes and burning of gunpowder. (A Modern Herbal; Mrs. M Grieve).
The Spring Beauty was named after John Clayton, a naturalist from Virginia who published a book between 1739 and 1762 titled Flora Virginica- a two volume set on the plants of Virginia. Sadly- the manuscript was lost during a fire during the Revolutionary War. (source)
I made these two photographs of the Spring Beauty yesterday at Bay Village, a lovely community on the Tennessee River located between Rogersville, AL and Athens, AL. To see more of the nature at Bay Village visit my friend Debi's blogsite at http://giraffeheadtree.blogspot.com/.