The Brazilian Pink Peppercorn
Tampa Bay was the site of another example of an urban forage, and this time with an exotic invasive that produces more food than I could ever hope to harvest.
Branches bowed under the weight of pinkish-red berries as I sped across the highway on a recent trip to Southern Florida last December. Hour after hour I burned to know and meet the species who's berry drupes splatter painted pink the otherwise indistinguishable wall of sub-tropic greenery that lined the highway 75. Was it edible, and if so could I make the time to harvest some of it before my flight home? Finally curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to do what any avid forager would — I pulled over to have a taste. I know what your thinking, shouldn't I identify the plant before I taste it? Probably, but I didn't. I have a good sense of the tastes of poisons, and this strategy has rarely failed me ( I will spare you the tale of the time I tried a taste of "Jack-in-the-pulpit". Ooops!) The exotic sweet and spicy aromatic flavor of these brittle pink berries was well worth the risk, and I was certain I was on the trail of a new wild food ally.
It only took a few moments of internet research to discover the identity of this wildly successful invasive. It was Schinus terebinthifolius, the Brazilian Pink Peppercorn, and while not a true peppercorn, it is the pink berry we all have seen in the high end peppercorn blends and fancy see-through peppermills.
This plant, once planted ornamentally is now Southern Florida's most noxious invasive, and today is illegal to plant, sell, or transport within the state! It is quickly claiming more and more habitat for itself, displacing native species from their long held habitat.
And while this presents ecological issues in Southern Florida, it produces a tremendous surplus of wild food for the keenly aware forager. One of the great things about a plant like this, is there there is no concern of over harvest. Due to its status as Florida's floral-enemy-number-one, we can harvest its berries with a kind of impunity that is rarely experienced by the modern forager.
Having harvested several pounds of these beautiful pink peppercorns, they are now dried and jarred, and have become a staple of my ever increasingly wild food rich diet. They provide an exotic spiciness to any dish, from sweet to savory, and they come with the added percieved benefit of being from my own personal harvest.
While I hadn't had personal experience with this plant before, I do have plenty of experience with the principles of wild food identification, harvest, and processing, and each of these skills translate well from biome to biome, from one eco-system to the next.
If you are interested in developing this skill set as well, or if you have experience but are ready to go deeper please check out my Ancestral Plants workshop this May in Southern Maine! It is 3 days long, catered by Chef Frank Giglio with all local organic and wild food, and taught by myself and wild food expert Arthur Haines. It is the wild food apprenticeship you have been waiting for! I hope to see you there!
In the meantime, check out the video below to see the harvest and processing of these beautifully blush bunches of berries!