Cooking Wild Plants with Leslie Bush


Hot Acorn Bread Fresh From the Oven

Hot acorn bread fresh from the oven

My guest blogger today is Dr. Leslie Bush, (, an expert in edible wild plants. In her day job, she identifies plant remains from archaeological sites. But at home she like to cook with wild plants that she gathers or even finds online.

Dr. Leslie Bush analyzing ancient plant remains.

Dr. Leslie Bush analyzing ancient plant remains.

Leslie: My interest in wild cooking comes from history and archaeology, from wanting to understand what common foods of the distant past tasted like. I also wanted to share the dishes with archaeologists and native plant enthusiasts here in central Texas.  Acorn-producing oak tress are common in many parts of  Texas, and acorns were used extensively as food by ancient people.

Boiling acorns

Boiling acorns

Friends and the Internet both told me I should make recipes that mix acorn flour or mesquite flour with wheat flour and leavening, to give people a chance to taste the unique ingredients in a form they’d enjoy. Despite their advice, I decided to be a purist in my first attempt. I harvested acorns from the red oak tree in my front yard.  I discarded acorns with obvious worm holes and those that floated in water. After an hour’s soaking, I shelled the acorns by cracking them with a river cobble on my concrete porch. I wasn’t  particularly careful about removing all the thin film of inner husk that clings to the acorns. I also used fresh acorns, not ones that had aged for at least a year, as she recommends. Once the acorns were shelled, I boiled them to remove the tannins. I was careful to make sure they never cooled down, transferring them from pot of simmering water to another. I used ten(!) changes of water, and the nuts were still fairly bitter.

Many people recommend grinding the acorns into flour before leaching out the tannins, so working with whole acorns is

Roasted acorns

Roasted acorns

probably another reason my acorns were bitter. (Apparently, you can wrap the ground acorn flour in cheesecloth and leach out the tannins by placing it in running water. I’ve heard putting the flour in the back tank of a toilet is great because the water isn’t wasted and gets changed frequently, but I couldn’t bring myself to try it.) For the final step, I rubbed the acorns in oil to replace what they’d lost in boiling, then roasted them in the oven. They had the taste and texture of bitter corn nuts.

Mary: I learned that acorns are high in carbohydrates and fat, which is good if you are living entirely on native plants and animals, as native peoples did. One hundred grams of acorns has about 387 calories, 41 g carbs, 24 g fat, and 6.2 g of protein.

Acorn Bread

Acorn bread

Leslie: After that first round of acorn adventures, I knew I should order acorn flour to make acorn bread this spring. Even processed by a pro, the flour still has a slight tannic bite, but it bakes up wonderfully. I can see how people crave the taste of acorns! This is the recipe I used:

I also want to share my recipe for yaupon tea. Our native Texas yaupon is a species of evergreen holly with the ominous botanical name Ilex vomitoria. It’s a close cousin to the plant that makes yerba mate, Ilex paraguariensis. Both plants have caffeine in their leaves and make excellent tea. In its strongest form, yaupon tea is the Black

Leslie Bush explains edible wild plants

Leslie Bush explains edible wild plants

Drink that Native ancestors used in ceremonies across much of what is now the eastern United States. I like to make yaupon as a gentle green tea. The taste is very similar to yerba mate, but the homemade yaupon is much fresher – and it’s free!  Yaupon may be harvested at any time of year. Cultivated dwarf yaupon and pencil yaupon varieties are also acceptable. Any fruits should be removed prior to toasting. Here’s my recipe:

Yaupon Tea

Toast yaupon leaves and small branches in shallow pan or baking sheet for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F. Higher temperatures will result in a darker tea with more caffeine. Leaves should fall from most branches during the toasting process. Remove any remaining leaves from all but the smallest branches and discard bare branches.

Toasted leaves may be cooled and placed in a sealed container for up to three months.

Boiling ilex, or yaupon

Boiling ilex, or yaupon

Measure 1 part tea to 4 or 5 parts water. Boil water and pour over tea leaves. Steep until tea reaches desired concentration. Tea leaves may also be brought to a boil in the water, although this produces a harsher tea.


Recommended Resources

Parker, Julia F. It will live forever: Traditional Yosemite indian acorn preparation. 

Buy acorn flour



2 thoughts on “Cooking Wild Plants with Leslie Bush

  1. Interesting yaupon preparation method. I’ve processed yaupon many ways and I’ve never tried roasting with the leaves still on the twigs. We’ve always removed the leaves first and then roasted. Goes to show you how there are so many types of tea from China all from the same plant (Camelia Sinensis)… it’s all in the processing! I think there’s a yaupon renaissance happening right now. There was even an NPR story on yaupon recently. We (Lost Pines Yaupon – are one of a handful of companies bringing yaupon back. We sell light and dark roasted yaupon loose leaf tea.

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