Kansas Homesteaders Watched the Cows to Determine Edible Wild Plants

From fried cactus to Russian thistle "spinach" and more, one family of Kansas homesteaders took their edible wild plants cues from the cattle.

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While we were proving up our Kansas homestead, we had a battle to find enough food. Someone told Mother that anything a cow would eat would not poison us – these were edible wild plants. So we watched to see what the cows ate, then we tried the plants.

Here are some of the delicious dishes we kids were crazy about. Boiled soapweed blossoms. The flowers were carefully picked just before they opened; open blossoms were rejected because insects flew into them. The blooms were boiled until tender, then covered with cream and salt and pepper.

Creamed morning-glory. It was great fun to hunt for the wild morning-glory. From the time it came through the ground until it was about 6 inches high, it was as tender as asparagus. The shoots were washed, boiled, and covered with cream sauce. Since this was an early spring plant, the dish was especially welcome.

Fried cactus. There was an abundance of round cactus plants. They were so covered with stickers that Mother had to pick them. She skinned off the spines and fried the center in butter, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Russian thistle "spinach." The wild Russian thistle was picked when it was young and tender, washed about a dozen times, boiled, then seasoned with bacon and salt and pepper. Served with vinegar, the thistles made the best "spinach."

Mrs. Virginia Tucker
Elkhart, Kansas

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.