Historical Society member talks edible plants at open house

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published September 15, 2016

 Jim and Gwynne Cherfoli discussed edible plants, like the chokecherry, found along Pontiac Trail.

Jim and Gwynne Cherfoli discussed edible plants, like the chokecherry, found along Pontiac Trail.

Photo by Cari DeLamielleure-Scott


ORCHARD LAKE — Could edible plants be growing in your yard? 

According to Orchard Lake residents Jim and Gwynne Cherfoli, the answer is yes. 

During the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society’s museum open house Sept. 11, the plant duo brought in a display of edible plants that grow in the wild, including chokecherry, sassafras, wild grape, Queen Anne’s lace (wild carrot), chicory, peppermint, spearmint, daylily, plantain, wild lettuce, rose hips, milkweed and cattails. All of the plants were found along Pontiac Trail, near Arrowhead Road.

“If you’re really starving, go get some cattails,” Jim Cherfoli said, explaining that the roots and growth shoots are edible.

When Jim Cherfoli was a kid, he said, his dad used to take him through the woods and point out plants like wild strawberry vines and cherry trees. Over the years, he researched edible plants on his own as the topic ties in with his interests in Native Americans. Now he and Gwynne Cherfoli find the plants together.

Their go-to guide is A Field Guide to Edible Plants, by Lee Allen Peterson. If anyone is interested in the topic, Jim Cherfoli recommends that people start with that book. 

“We’re excited to have members share their interests, which are interests to others in the community. Sharing local history is what we’re all about. It’s nice to see the museum busy,” Historical Society President Gina Gregory said.

Gregory noted that the Cherfolis give tours to the second-grade classes when they visit Apple Island, and they participate in many Historical Society events. The two have been with the society for about 20 years.

Farmington Hills resident Patricia LaPat and her husband, Joe, heard about the event through an email blast from the society. 

“We actually developed an interest in native planting because there were some lectures at libraries around, and then when I saw they had this display here, I thought it would be interesting to go see it because it’s local plants,” Patricia LaPat said. 

The LaPats have a wooded area behind their house, and Patricia LaPat said the edible plant display taught her to identify what’s in the area and what plants she should add, like milkweed. She also had the opportunity to taste test the wild grapes, which she said were bitter.

As community members trickled into the museum, the Cherfolis showed the difference between peppermint and spearmint and discussed how each plant can be consumed. Jim Cherfoli said that the wild grapes grow all around the Orchard Lake/West Bloomfield area, and it’s very common to see Queen Anne’s lace and chicory. 

“Ancient man used to eat all of this stuff, but our palate has changed so much,” Jim Cherfoli said, explaining that the milkweed pods are edible, and rose hips have been used to make candy. Chicory root can be roasted and used in coffee. 

“If you think about it, the first plants ever cultivated were sunflowers. … A sunflower is just so simple. You just take the seeds out, put them in the ground, and you have a sunflower patch. And the seeds are very nutritious. They have a lot of protein in them and a lot of calories, so (Native Americans) would make a mash out of the seeds,” Jim Cherfoli said.

During the event, attendees also had the opportunity to check out the museum’s permanent exhibits that showcase local history and culture.

For more information about Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society events, visit www.gwbhs.org. The museum is open 1-4 p.m. the second Sunday of each month.