Skunk Cabbage: When Foraging Goes Array

Read this first –>

Written some time back, this post is now an archived record of how I may have eaten a poisonous plant. There may be more reason not to eat it than I described in the original post. This is a “western skunk cabbage” that may or may not have been used by Native Americans. What is not in the story (besides my brush with death) is that the reason I even knew we had skunk cabbage here is based on a discussion some years back from a ranger who described some of its uses by Native Americans; the nutrient database jarred that memory of that discussion. It’s possible that the ranger was confused but if you have information on its local use, I would love to hear about it. Having tasted it, I’m skeptical but interested nonetheless.

In the meantime, casual Internet users looking for cabbage for soup or for cabbage rolls should pass up this particular leaf because not only will it make your kitchen smell like skunk, it might even kill you if you can get past the gag reflex.

I got a wild hair to eat skunk cabbage this weekend and actually foraged it, cooked it, and tasted it. Maybe I am crazy, but I really wanted greens.

Since late April, my mom and I have been eating “green soup” at least every other day. We have felt great as a result and intend to eat our green soup for as long as we have greens available. We have cooked the soup by the two-gallon batch and estimate the market value of ingredients to be about $100 per batch. Of course, our ingredients come entirely from our garden and foraging projects. It is the decline of the green season in the garden that inspired my skunk cabbage foraging.

Skunk cabbage is an edible green that grows wild in much of the United States. Here in the Sequoia National Forest it grows right alongside the Giant Sequoia trees. As I toiled over the database for the calcium rich foods website, I noticed the nutrient profile of skunk cabbage and thought, “If it’s in the database and grows nearby, it’s fair game for soup.”

I did a quick Internet search for skunk cabbage to see if people were actually eating it:

  • It was eaten by native Americans in times of famine.

  • It is so high in calcium oxalates that it burns your throat as you eat it. (You may have to boil it many times and discard the boiling water to keep it from burning your throat.)
  • It smells like skunk.

I moved from bullish to bearish on the skunk cabbage but I was determined to try it. We REALLY like our soup regimen.

As I left home for my foraging, my mom pleaded: “Don’t bring home too much skunk cabbage! You can always get more!”

As an aside, though skunk cabbage grows alongside Giant Sequoia trees, if you forage for plants in a protected area and you get caught, you will get strung up by your toenails after getting a four-digit fine. It is a far better idea to go to the grocery store and buy spinach than to forage for dinner in a protected area.

As we drove to the skunk cabbage source, I kept reassuring the family: “Oxalates and skunk smells vary so much by location. This stuff could taste like spinach. Come on, guys, we’re about to taste skunk cabbage!!!”

Frederick smelled skunk cabbage in a meadow and reported no smell whatsoever.

“This stuff really may be just like spinach,” I reminded everyone.

I picked a small bag of skunk cabbage, lugged it home, and boiled it for about twenty minutes noting its extremely high fiber content. While our kitchen is usually packed with three generations of eaters, the kitchen was strangely quiet as I poured the water from the skunk cabbage pot. My face was steamed with a strong smell of greens as I poured the boiling-hot water out of the soup pot and through a colander in the kitchen sink. There was another smell I could not quite pinpoint but before thinking about it all too much, I tore off a piece of cabbage and popped it into my mouth.

It turns out that I was right: Oxalates vary by location and this cabbage did not burn my throat.

Or perhaps I didn’t notice the burning oxalates in my throat because, in fact, I suddenly had a mouthful of skunk.

Native Americans had the opportunity to eat this nutritious green and yet they chose to eat it only during famines. Those generations before us named this green “skunk cabbage.” Personally, I have a new reason to pray that we never face famine.

Some of us are slow learners and need more experiential-based educations. If that is you, go forth and eat a green that tastes like skunk. About three glasses of red wine will cover the flavor, but you might want something stronger on hand just in case.

Nutrients in Skunk Cabbage

We have not posted a food profile here on the Traditional Foods site in a while and know you have been waiting for another greens profile. With data provided by the USDA, this green is high in magnesium, calcium, iron, and folate. For all of its folate, incorporate it into your pregnancy diet because I’ll bet it tastes especially choice during that special time.
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Macronutrients

Component
Amount
% Daily Value*
Calories
19
Protein
2.6 g
5%
Fat
.2 g
0%
Carbohydrate
3.14 g
1%
Fiber
2.1 g
8%
Potassium
312 mg
9%
Sodium
113 mg
5%
Water
92.47 g
Ash
1.6

*The daily value is based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.

Vitamins

Vitamin
Amount
% Daily Value*
Vitamin C
55 mg
92%
Thiamin – B1
.03 mg
2%
Riboflavin – B2
.1 mg
6%
Niacin – B3
.9 mg
4%
Pantothenic Acid – B5
.14 mg
1%
Vitamin B6
.1 mg
5%
Folic Acid
0 mcg
Food Folate
57 mcg
Vitamin B12
0 mcg
0%
Vitamin A – IU
6300 IU
126%
Vitamin A – RAE
315 RAE
Retinol
0 RE
Vitamin D – IU
0 IU
0%
Vitamin D – mcg
0 mg

*The daily value is based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.

Minerals

Mineral
Amount
% Daily Value*
Calcium
77 mg
8%
Iron
1.67 mg
9%
Magnesium
71 mg
18%
Phosphorus
39 mg
4%
Zinc
.18 mg
1%
Copper
.02 mg
1%
Manganese
.16 mg
8%
Selenium
.9 mg
1%

*The daily value is based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.