Any Polish-Americans who can help ID wild edible?

cecilia_md7a(7a/Baltimore,MD)March 12, 2008

My father grew up in coastal Connecticut during the Great Depression, and his family used to forage for wild edibles out of necessity (he mentions that my grandmother, like most of the Polish women he knew, was an excellent mushroom hunter). In addition, he says that he would gather fiddleheads, sweet flag, dandelion greens, and something that he only knew by its Polish name, Komosa. From his description (arrow-shaped leaves an inch or two in length, tasting like spinach), I believe Komosa was probably Chenopodium bonus-henricus (Good King Henry) or a similar Chenopodium. I don't think it was lambs-quarters because Dad says the leaves weren't fuzzy. His mother used to prepare it the way she prepared all of her greens - boiled with salt pork.

Strangely, my late mother, who came from a different part of Poland from my grandmother, had never heard of Komosa.

Do any of you know what Komosa is, or can you give me some suggestions? Should I cross-post this on the herbs forum?


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The wonders of google:

fwiw, I was betting on water cress. It is gathered where I grew up and was arrow shaped.

Here is a link that might be useful: komosa link

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 3:41PM
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I grew up in western Detroit Mich in the 50s & 60s and remember the mostly Polish neighborhood along US12, Michigan Avenue and Lonyo. Most of the old people knew no English and would comb Woodrow Wilson park for greens. What you are talking about sounds like Arrowhead or Wapatoo, Saittaria variabilis, also called Duck Potatoes. These didn't grow around Detroit that I knew of. It grows in wet areas and has arrow shaped leaves and edible tubers. It was eaten by American Indians. I don't know if the leaves are eaten also.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2008 at 8:30PM
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Thanks, everybody, for your comments. I ended up emailing Sophie Hodorowicz Knab, who writes for the Buffalo-based Polish-American Journal, and is the author of a fascinating little book called Polish Herbs, Flowers & Folk Medicine. Much to my delight, she responded to my inquiry. Here's what she had to say:

Hi Cecilia! Thak you for owning my book! I appreciate the support. My book on herbs was not all inclusive as a publisher imposes page limitations but I looked up komosa on a Polish website and indeed, it exists and very likely what you are looking for. If you keep scrolling down on the website you will see that there are two types of komosa: komosa biala(chenopodium album) and komosa strzalkowa (chenopodium bonus-henricus). The leaves of both are edible and native to Europe. The people of Poland foraged the land and were expert at finding herbs and plants to eat especially during times of famine and hardship. It's wonderful that you have this wonderful memory of your family. Plant it in your garden as a memory to your family and heritage.
Best of luck to you. Sophie Hodorowicz Knab

Here is a link that might be useful: Polish plant website showing Komosa

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 8:24AM
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ahhhhh wild mushrooms. you havent had a mushroom until you have had a morel. oh yum. Its about that time of year here in PA. Oh and BTW I work in Baltimore. :)

There is another wild edible that is really common around here. And for the life of me I can remember the name. It grows in wet area along streams and is similiar to leeks. Ahhhh memory is failing.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2008 at 11:56AM
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Hey, Bill - I think you're referring to ramps. They're also known as Appalachian wild leeks. I know in they have a Ramp festival in West Virginia each year.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2008 at 12:40PM
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