Roadside edibles on my run

Apart from botanical pursuits, another hobby of mine is running, and on Sunday mornings I can generally be found toiling along the San Francisco Bay trail somewhere between the Emeryville marina and Point Isabelle.  It’s flat and paved and pretty, and it’s also just about drowning in edible CA wild plants.  Granted, a fennel, sorrel, and mustard green salad isn’t generally what I’m craving on a long run, but it’s still nice to know that if one of my legs spontaneously dropped off (which sometimes feels possible, in the later miles) I wouldn’t starve.  This Sunday I was feeling sluggish, so I took the opportunity to take a few breaks and snap some plant pics.

Pretty nice view, right? If you squint you can see the Golden Gate bridge along the left.

Bermuda buttercup, Oxalis pes-caprae (aka buttercup oxalis, yellow oxalis, or yellow sorrel)

Buttercup oxalis. Light and lemony.

Without the flowers, oxalis looks very like oversized clover, with shamrock-shaped leaves.  There are several varieties of oxalis/wood sorrel that grow in CA (we have some red sorrel in my backyard), but this is the most ubiquitous, and sun-loving. The leaves and silky flowers have a nice lemony taste.  The long stems under the flowers are more sour and fleshy, as kids my brother and I used to chew on them.  Buttercup oxalis generally flowers in early spring around here, but it’s been eerily dry and mild this winter, so they’re coming out precociously.  The flowers are also strongly phototropic, so I kept getting in my own light trying to take pictures.

Two brassicates:

Wild mustard (Hirschfeldia incana, formerly Brassica geniculata)

Wild mustard. The flowers are a bit sparse at this time of year, but the plants are everywhere.

Not actually native to California, mustard was probably introduced from Europe in the missions era, and now it’s widespread, verging on invasive.  The young leaves have a peppery flavor (a bit like arugula) that’s nice in salads, although the older leaves are a little too tough to enjoy.  They’re also good cooked, like you would for beet greens or spinach.

Wild  radish (Raphanus raphanistrum and R. sativus hybrids)

Wild radish

These greens are also edible (at least when cooked), but I’ve never tried them so I can’t advocate for their palatability.  The plants (especially without flowers) look very similar to those of mustard, but a bit more bushy, and the flowers (which can be yellow, white, pink or purple) are larger, and come up on sturdier stems than the long wispy ones of mustard.  I think the roots are edible (if the plants are young and the roots haven’t gotten too fibrous)–they’re the same genus and sativus is the same species as store-bought radishes–but I’m not totally sure on that so unless you’re feeling adventurous and forgiving don’t go digging up a whole bunch of them for lunch.

Fennel (Anise) (Foeniculum vulgare)

One of a few thousand fennel plants I passed on my run. These big ones are too woody for eating, except for the youngest leaves.

Newly sprouted fennel leaves are the tastiest!

This is the same stuff you would buy in the store; it was introduced to California from southern Europe at least 120 years ago and now is an invasive weed (in some places, like Catalina Island, it has spread rampantly and outcompeted most of the local flora).  Despite its ecological bad rep, the feathery young leaves are delicious IMO, with a sweet, slightly licorice flavor.  I nibble on them a lot when I’m outside.  The bulbs from younger plants can be cooked just like store-bought fennel (old plants will be too tough and woody).  The seeds have a very strong licorice flavor, and are nice to chew on if that’s a taste you like.

Manzanita (Arctostaphylos sps.)

Honey-flavored manzanita flowers

A closer look at manzanita flowers.

These particular bushes are almost certainly planted, but manzanita grows wild in mountain and chaparral regions of CA.  The clustered bell-shaped flowers are pink or white and have a sweet honey-like flavor.


I know I know; not wild, but rosemary likes our warm dry weather, and flourishes around here.  The bushes along the trail have an orangey-yellowish tinge (maybe from all the salty bayfront wind?) that contrasts prettily with the light purple flowers.  I sometimes steal a few sprigs for cooking at home.

Enough rosemary to flavor a farmful of chickens!

Blackberry (Rubus armeniacus, see David’s comment below…)

A lonely blackberry flower in January (also kinda hard to see. I'll have to get better at this plant photography business)

This proliferates all over northern California (although I will own up and say that I’m not totally clear on my blackberry/marionberry/loganberry/ollalieberry subtypes, so I’m very open to clarification or correction about which type grows wild in Berkeley/Oakland…anybody know for sure?).  There are a couple of thick tangles near the Berkeley marina.  It’s not at its best in winter, with the canes all died back and bare, but I found an anachronistic flower.  I’ve made pies and crisps from these over the years—when they have plenty of sun and water the berries are lush and sweet, but on under-developed plants they can be small and kind of flavorless, with the seeds being too noticeable to really enjoy.

Here’s an approximate map of where I found today’s collection.  I left out oxalis, fennel, mustard and radish, because they’re basically everywhere.  Cesar Chavez park is full of all of them.

An approximate guide to roadside edibles (minus the ones that grow everywhere).

Anybody found any other notable edible plants out along the trail, or near the parks?  I’d love to be introduced to new ones!


5 thoughts on “Roadside edibles on my run

  1. Pingback: Roadside edibles: missed one! | A bouquet from Mendel

  2. That’s Rubus armeniacus (Himalaya Berry), not ursinus. R. ursinus has narrower petals, smaller flower clusters and different leaves (mostly only 3 leaflets) R. armeniacus also has (like other eastern american and eurasian blackberries).deeply ridged and grooved stems, unlike ursinus.

    • Hey David, I’m so pleased someone followed up on my blackberry taxonomical uncertainty! R. armeniacus it is–I’ll double-check the stems next time I go by them. Is there a good binary guide for blackberry characters? (This is also a good reminder for me to more consistently include something for scale to make it easier to tell how large the features are in my photos–if I’m going to hit the community up for identification help, I ought to provide better/more informative pics).

  3. Pingback: April showers bring fruitful foraging! | A bouquet from Mendel

  4. Pingback: Berries in Redwood Park | A bouquet from Mendel

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