Each spring, I eagerly anticipate the perfect formula of patience and warmth to produce a succulent, slightly sweet tuber beneath my garden beds of the bountiful Florida Betony, aka Florida Radish, Wild Artichoke, or Rattlesnake Weed.
I first learned of Betony from my dear teacher Peggy Lantz, and the moment I first tasted them in a wild salad in her garden, I was hooked. As a child, I had grown up digging these prolific and oft-labeled “pesky weeds” out of the garden with my grandfather, marveling at the grub-like shape of their tubers. If only Gramps knew how delicious these delicacies were, he’d likely have grumbled far less in his quest to eradicate them from the turnip patch!
Perhaps the most famous Betony among the Stachys genus is Stachys officinalis, or Wood Betony, which grows heartily in climates to the north. Our local variety, Stachys floridana, can also be used herbally in similar ways to its temperate cousin – aerial parts used for headaches, anxiety, and nervous system health in tisanes and tinctures – with a slightly more mild effect than the European herb. I favor the leaves of our Florida Betony in a daily tea to give my body and mind peace and a sense of grounding.
The leaves of either northern or southern species are prized for their nervine properties, while the tubers of our local species can be harvested when ripe, which can fall late March to mid-May depending on the season. The snake-rattle-shaped tubers hide an inch or two beneath the surface of the soil where Betony grows aboveground. For years, I simply sprinkled these tasty treats on salads, used them to scoop hummus or guacamole, or ate them right out of hand. A related species, Stachys affinis, bears the common name Crosnes and can fetch $150 a pound, according to Green Deane, in restaurants in Europe and Asia. No wonder – the tuber has a crisp, watery nature to it, much like a radish, but without the peppery bite. Think a lighter, crisper water chestnut. They are great out of hand, or make a mean pickle.
Latin name: Stachys floridana – Lamiaceae (Mint Family) – Florida Betony
Stachys officinalis – Lamiaceae – Wood Betony
Common name: Florida betony, wild radish, rattlesnake weed, Florida hedgenettle
Usage: The tubers of S. floridana are used as food and have a crisp, sweet taste. They can be eaten raw in salads and also make a stellar pickle. Harvest the tubers from late winter until spring. If the season has been dry, the tubers may not be as abundant. Once the weather heats up the tubers die back and become soft and brown. S. floridana is a relative of Stachys affinis, or crosnes, whose tuber is sold and utilized as a gourmet food. The leaves and flowers are used in a similar way to close European relative Stachys officinalis (Wood Betony). It is said that S. floridana has a more mild effect than S. officinalis, but both are used to for grounding the mind, relief from headaches & anxiety and to soothe the nervous system. The aerial parts can be infused in a tisane, or extracted into a tincture.
Growth/Habitat: FL betony is a perennial herb native to Florida whose range spans the Southeastern US. Like other members of the mint family, this herb has a square stem, opposite leaves with labiate flowers. S. floridana , however, is lacking in a strong aromatic scent. Leaves are oblong with scalloped edges on a long petiole. Flowers are showy, light pink to purple with dark dots. Stachys, derived from Greek meaning “stake”, is indicative of the growth pattern of the flowers on a spike. This herb can grow to about a foot tall. Though a heavy producer of seed, this plant primarily reproduces vegetatively by rhizomes. These rhizomes terminate into tubers that some say resemble a rattlesnake’s rattle, others say large insect larvae. This plant will grow readily in disturbed, relatively moist soil, as well as openwoods and uplands. It’s resilience and abundance have gained S. floridana a reputation as a nuisance weed. Instead of spraying toxic herbicides, dig up and munch on the tubers in your yard instead! (Always remembering to never harvest wild plants in areas that may have been sprayed with pesticide/herbicides or collect runoff from roads! )
Recipes: Use your favorite brine recipe and pickle the fresh tubers! The following recipe is recommended for overnight “refrigerator” bread & butter pickles.
- Slice a medium onion and combine this with your tubers in a clean quart jar.
- Combine 1 ½ cups sugar, ¼ c brown sugar. 2 cups apple cider vinegar, and 3 teaspoons of mustard seeds in a sauce pan over medium heat. Cook until sugar is dissolved.
- Pour brine over the tubers and onion, let cool, seal & label, place in the refrigerator and let sit at least 12 hours. Enjoy!
Deane. “Betony: Rich Root, Poor Root.” Eat The Weeds and Other Things, Too, 23 Apr. 2018, www.eattheweeds.com/florida-betony-150-a-pound/.
Lantz, Peggy Sias, et al. Florida’s Edible Wild Plants: a Guide to Collecting and Cooking. Seaside Publishing, 2014.
by Emily Ruff with contributions from Samantha JOhnson