Have you ever eaten eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)?
I’ve always wanted to try it, and recently I finally did.
Pictured above are the flowering structures of eastern skunk cabbage, which appear before the leaves develop.
Experts recommend only harvesting skunk cabbage for the table when the unfurled leaves (not the flowering structures) are no more than 8″ high. Once the leaves open, they’re past their prime.
Here is a picture of the leaves, which appear after the flowers develop.
I boiled the leaves in 4 changes of water (bringing water with leaves to a boil for at least 5 minutes, discarding water, adding new water, repeating a few more times). Why is this necessary? Skunk cabbage contains a very high concentration of calcium oxalates which will burn and inflame the mouth. Rapid boiling can be used to dissolve the calcium oxalate crystals.
After 4 changes of water, the skunk cabbage showed no signs of having any detectable calcium oxalate crystals. The greens shrunk a whole lot, and if I were to do it again, I’d use more greens. They were mild (what else could I have expected after 4 changes of water?), though they had a soft texture… almost like wilted spinach.
As I write this, the last week of April is upon us. The prime stage for harvesting skunk cabbage, unfortunately, may have already come and gone. Keep this information handy for next year though, and you’ll have some new greens to sample (though certainly not to overindulge in) between the weeks of March and April.