A Botanist Tackles Spurge Nettle for Lunch

The latest issue of Palmetto, the quarterly journal of the Florida Native Plant Society, has an amusing and informative article by Francis Putz, Ph.D., about Cnidoscolus stimulosus, a much-despised plant for Floridians hiking about in sandals. Every part of this plant has protective needles save the well-hidden root, which can be as deep as three or four feet. And the sting lasts for hours.

Note: Rubbing a bit of plantain (Plantago spp.) on the irritation often relieves the burning itch. Luckily, plantain is usually abundant at the same time of year as Cnidoscolus.

Several years ago, when we invited southeastern herbalist Doug Elliott to present a day-long foraging seminar here in north Florida, he was so excited by the abundant C. stimulosus (also called spurge nettle and tread softly) that he insisted we dig some up for lunch. Well dig we did. He kept promising we soon find the root. Paul went to find a sturdier shovel. After what seemed like an hour, we uncovered an ugly, jointed tuber. That, Doug told us pointing at the monstrosity, could be lunch!

Cnidoscolus stimulosus
Spurge Nettle

We tried it under his instructions: Boil until very soft–two or three times changing the water each time. Mash through a sieve and serve with butter. Actually it was quite tasty. But the effort to obtain it? My husband and I agreed: definitely a survival food!

Dr. Putz and his son Antonio came to a similar conclusion in their experiments to prepare the prickly leaves as a pot herb, although he writes favorably about C. acontifolius and C. chayamansa, related species that he sampled in Costa Rica.

Read “Trying to Eat Tread Softlies” in the current issue of Palmetto, which is available to members of the Florida Native Plant Society, and also more than likely in your public library.


2 Responses

  1. Spurge nettle also makes a pretty landscape plant in the native garden, although it’s hard to transplant. Your best bet is to go for the very young plants that haven’t yet developed the long tap root. Last year, I dug up a number of straggling ‘tread softly’ youngsters in my yard and transplanted them next to a trio of Baptisia alba (white wild indigo) plants under a lone black cherry tree (Prunus serotina). The white flowers look pretty against brown fallen leaves, and the fuzzy leaves sparkle with condensation when the air is moist. I had no idea, though, that the root could be eaten. (With butter no less.) I’m going to try it!

    Posted on February 10th, 2010 at 1:32 pm

  2. Thanks Nevil! That great to know because the stuff is ubiquitous and awfully difficult to get rid of, so it good to learn to live with it and make it a create part of garden. Hope you enjoy the “potatoes.”

    Posted on February 10th, 2010 at 2:35 pm

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