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Mayapple - Dangerous and Delicious

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Mayapple - Mandrake, Ground Lemon (Podophyllum peltatum)

Mayapple shoots
Young shoot emerging from the ground with leaves tightly furled around the stalk - Photo by Dyson Forbes

About ten years ago, we planted five small Mayapple rhizomes on our property two hours north of Toronto. Now we have about 44 plants and counting. Every year we get closer to being able to pick some of the fruit, though contending with the local wildlife is a struggle. Most of the time the fruits vanish.

Mandrake, mayapple, groundlemon
Newly unfurled Mayapple leaf  - Photo by Dyson Forbes

In early spring, when not much is up yet, the newly unfurled Mayapple looks particularly lush with its bright vibrant green umbrella-like leaf. Nearby the leeks and trout lily are just getting started as well. 

Mayapple, Mandrake
A modest stand on Mayapple early in the season 

Mandrake (also known as the mayapple or ground lemon) is so named because of the golden fruit that appears under its massive tropical looking leaf in late May. The fruit ripens by late June or July. 

Mayapple flower
Each plant has one hidden flower - Photo by Dyson Forbes

Mandrake flower turning into fruit
The flower gives way to the fruit. - Photo by Dyson Forbes

Mayapple just starting to fruit
Young fruit emerging . - Photo by Dyson Forbes

The entire plant, apart from the ripe yellow fruit, is deadly toxic. Even the seeds are toxic, and you can only eat a little bit of the ripe fruit as a serving.  While it may have some medicinal uses and folklore associated with it, there have been many accounts of mayapple poisoning so it's wise to be careful with ingesting it. 

Mayapple fruit unripe
Young growing lemon shaped unripe fruit in late spring - Photo by Dyson Forbes

Still, it has a wonderful exotic flavour that seems out of place in the North. It is a fascinating native plant that is a wonderful midsummer treat. The pungent odor attracts lots of critters; consider it a victory if you get to the fruit before the raccoons do. The fruit will become soft and yellow as it ripens. It is possible to ripen a near-ripe fruit off the plant, but it should be starting to turn yellow already.  

unripe mayapple
- Photo by Dyson Forbes

Waiting for the fruit to ripen can take longer then one wishes, then boom, some animal has taken it. You can put a net over some of the plants to try to keep pests away. 

- Photo by Dyson Forbes

We are pleased as punch that the Mayapple has become so prolific where we reintroduced it. The woods have grown in over the ten years since they were planted and the area has become much shadier, so we are going to try to spread some more in a few places nearby in hopes of more fruit in a sunnier location. Mayapple often grows on the edges of woodlots in moist soil and partial sun where it gets lots to feed on. 

- Photo by Dyson Forbes

A ripe Mayapple will be soft to the touch. The skin can become slightly wrinkled and it will have a strong odour that rubs off on your fingers (and attracts raccoons). 

Mayapple, Ground Lemon, Mandrake
- Photo by Dyson Forbes

Cut your Mayapple in half to scoop out the seeds. While some people will eat the seeds, we recommend removing them as they do contain some of the toxins found in the plant. 

Ripe halved mandrake
- Photo by Dyson Forbes

The flavour of mayapple is unique, sweet and tart with a grape-pear flavour that has hints of citrus. Like Fugu or wild mushrooms, mayapple has that thrill factor when prepared: a delicious, dangerous food that delights. You can use Mayapple much like you would a fresh over ripe plum. When cooking or preparing dishes with Mayapple, use sparingly, the ripe fruit can still have a laxative effect on some people.

Ripe halved mayapple
- Photo by Dyson Forbes


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