Even though Florida has ideal, year-round gardening conditions, nearly one-third of children in Florida are food insecure. Food is very likely growing wild in these children's backyard; yet, their parents lack the knowledge of how to harvest what's freely available. This is heart-breaking to me.
Food insecurity and climate change are growing concerns across the world, and yet... Food is all around us.
In fact, many edibles grow with such fervor, they are deemed, "invasives." Many are categorized by "official committees" and targeted for removal from public spaces.
An edible invasive will very likely to find its way into your food forest. When this, happens, I suggest researching the plant. I like the free app, SEEK by iNaturalist. It's an easy way to identify wild plants but use several references to carefully identify any wild plant.
Once identified: Find out the cultural and historical uses of the plant. You may be able to harvest the plant material for food, building, or fodder, which is a good way to remove it without waste. If safe, then consuming the plant will help to introduce a natural control that is otherwise lacking.
If a plant valued in one culture is brought into another culture where the mainstream population does not use it, then the unchecked growth cannot be contained.
Take, for instance, kudzu (Pueraria montana) - a highly edible and nutritious Japanese plant. It was introduced into the U.S. in 1876 as an inexpensive livestock forage but is now a prohibited plant. Because no one in Florida is harvesting kudzu as a food source, it is growing out of control, creating sprawling patches, 100 acres in some cases, covering and killing trees and growing up to 1 foot per day up 60 feet.
Interestingly, kudzu is a staple food in Japan. The peeled root contains 27.1% carbohydrates and is a good source of calcium and iron. The flowers can be cooked or made into pickles; the stems and young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked; and overall, kudzu is considered a very nutritious food.
Considering this plant’s edibility and the widespread food insecurity in Florida, one may conclude that the problem is not the plant itself but the lack of education that could result in commercialization and marketing of the plant as a food source. Where there is profit, there is a solution. Kudzu may be a missed economic opportunity for someone, which leads to other important ethical questions:
Should growing food be easy?
Do all plants require toxic chemicals to grow and thrive?
Which low maintenance plants could we be growing organically instead?
Why do we spend state and local tax revenues to destroy food rather than harvest it?
How can edible invasives (like kudzu) be better commercialized to feed an increasing population?
Cultural knowledge and revival is necessary for sustainability; we must strive to use what is abundant. Food is more than something to eat; it is a reflection of a culture, a way of life.
Below are notes on the invasives in Florida. I've highlighted some of the plants with the highest edibility ratings cited on PFAF.org. The 5-point rating indicates the score PFAF gives the plant for its value as an edible.