Along with new growth and vibrant colors, Spring is also a time for some plants to start dispersing their seeds far and wide. While some plants rely on the elements such as wind to spread their genes, other plants rely on animals for seed dispersal. And what better way to attract these foragers than to enclose the seeds in a fleshy, edible fruit.
This week’s “Plant of the Week” Mahonia trifoliolata — more commonly known as Agarita — producs bright red berries that are an important food source for turkey, quail, small mammals and even humans. Ever since I learned about these deliciously sweet, slightly tart berries, I’m eager to point them out for friends and family to try. People visiting the gardens share stories of collecting these berries and turning them into jellies and wines. I was even told that the seeds of the agarita plant can be roasted and ground for a caffeine-free coffee substitute. But like all good things in life, these berries aren’t easily accessible. Agarita leaves are a greyish-green color and consist of three stiff, spinetipped leaflets joined at a central point. The sharp points of the leaflets can make harvesting the agarita fruit a painful job, so you should always use caution.
In recent years, landowners have recognized the value of these thorny leaves as loafing cover for quails, protection for many songbirds, and even a safe haven for young grasses and shrubs to germinate and grow. And if that isn’t enough to impress you, this plant has multiple medicinal uses as well. The leaves can be chewed (fresh or dried) or made into a tea to relieve nausea. The yellow inner wood of the roots, containing anti-bacterial and anti-viral compounds, can be made into a tincture to aid in digestion and other stomach ailments, reduce fever, or treat open wounds.
Many Native American groups also used the yellow bark of the agarita plant as a dye to color buckskins, basketry and hides. Come on by this week to take a walk through the gardens and get a little taste of the wild. Remember the agarita in the gardens are there as a display and the berries should not be eaten off these plants. Also, medicinal uses of the plants as described in the article rely on anecdotal records from a variety of sources. Please do not try and recreate these remedies yourself.
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Republished with permission of the Goldthwaite Eagle. By Savannah Lane.