Each fall, my husband and I head to property in eastern Oklahoma for a mental health break. It’s incredibly beautiful out there, and the eastern side of the state where we are is green, lush, and hilly, not dry and dusty. There are two mountain ranges nearby, the Sallisaw Mountains and the Ouachitas. It’s the land of the Choctow Indian nation, and many tribal people live there.
I’m always looking for wild edibles to forage, so on this trip I decided to hunt for persimmons. They are a yellow to orange fruit, shaped like a slightly flattened tomato. These trees grow in the south and southwest, and can grow as high as 25 feet. I had heard from the locals that persimmon trees were common, and could be harvested for a delectable treat. (In fact, the word “persimmon” is Latin for the “food of the Gods”). These trees originally came from China and the seeds were introduced here by Commodore Perry in 1856. I’m so glad they were! They have amazing medicinal and health benefits associated with them. More on that in a bit.
I went out into a wooded area, wearing long pants, boots, and my hair pulled up into a ponytail. Good thing. There were so many burs, insects, rough terrain, and snakes that I probably would have come back on a stretcher. But, I found what I was looking for.
As the wooded area opened up to Lake Robert Kerr, I found a whole grove of persimmon trees! They had already lost most of their leaves, but the fruit was unmistakable. I found them in all the colors from green, yellow, orange, and orange-red. The green ones aren’t ripe, but can be picked and ripen at home for a month in the fridge. You can also place them in a plastic bag with a banana to speed along the ripening process. The banana emits ethylene gas that ripens the persimmon more quickly.
The yellow persimmons are turning ripe and can be harvested, too, but the orange ones that are dead ripe need to be eaten within a few days. I tried one that was almost ripe, and it started out tasting sweet, but that gave way to a very astringent taste that made my mouth pucker.
I later found out there were two kinds of persimmons: astringent and non-astringent. The non-astringent type can be eaten green, but tastes even better when fully ripe. The astringent type needs to be fully ripe to avoid that bitter astringent taste. Oh, when you find them, be sure to harvest them early because the wildlife love to eat them, too.
Not only do ripe persimmons taste good, they are packed with nutrients. I’d consider it a “Superfood”. Here’s a list I’ve compiled of all the good things persimmons have to offer:
- Vitamin A
- Helps maintain healthy skin and can reduce wrinkles. Persimmons provide 55% of your daily requirement.
- Vitamin C
- Helps boost your immune system to fight the flu, colds, and infection. Persimmons provide 21% of your daily requirement.
- Persimmons provide high amounts which are used as co-factors for the enzyme “Superoxide Dismutase”, which acts as free radical scavengers.
- Helps prevent constipation and moves things through the G.I. system
- Neutralizes free radicals and helps repair damaged DNA
- Have antioxidant powers associated with reduced risk of many diseases.
- Helps prevent night blindness, eye problems, skin disorders, enhances immunity, and slows the aging process
- Is an antioxidant and has properties that may prevent tumor growth. May reduce cancer risk.
- An antioxidant which destroys free radicals, found in high concentrations in they eye, which leads us to believe it is crucial to good vision.
- It’s a carotenoid that can be directly converted into Vitamin A and is associated with a reduced risk of polyarthritis. It may also protect against prostate cancer.
- Protects the eyes from UV rays, helps the light filtering function of the eyes, and protects against age related eye diseases.
- An electrolyte and mineral that triggers your heart to beat, , your muscles to move, kidneys to filter blood, nerves to work, and can reduce blood pressure.
There are a variety of ways to enjoy eating your persimmons. Dried persimmons can be used in cookies, baked goods, salads, oatmeal, or cereal.
LEARN MORE: Want to learn how to home-dehydrate fruits and vegetables? Read this tutorial.
They can be eaten whole, except for the seeds and calyx (very top of the fruit). The pulp can be spread on parchment paper and dried into fruit leathers. Just use your imagination! Maybe in a smoothie? I’m going to try them all. I have a new found respect and admiration for this unusual and praiseworthy fruit.
Persimmon hunting adventures, the downside
Even though I dressed for my wild woods adventure, I did end up with chiggers and ticks from my self guided tour of the woods. I was horrified to see HUNDREDS of tiny ticks swarming all over my body. My friends told me I must have run into a “Tick Bomb”. I had no idea what that was.
Apparently these tiny, tiny ticks swarm in a ball on tall grass or weeds & explode on you when you make contact with them. Even though I wore long pants & boots, it didn’t help. They were inside my socks that were inside my boots. I couldn’t get them picked off fast enough. It was so bad, we had to buy a used vacuum cleaner, vacuum out the entire truck where I had been sitting, throw the bag away, launder our clothes at a laundromat, double shower, double hair wash, and they were still there. We had to manually pick them off, one by one. (Later I found out, many people use wide tape and apply it over their skin. It removes dozens at a time.)
After I blow dried my hair, they reappeared. An army of them were crawling off my scalp downward, so the manual removal began again. It was 2 days before I stopped finding ticks. Some vacation!
For all my chigger and tick bites, I used my Lavender, Frankinsense, and Melaleuca oils to relieve the pain and itch. It really helped. At home I made a hot bath with a half cup of my homemade Apple Cider Vinegar, and my previously mentioned essential oils. I figured the ACV was a meat tenderizer, so maybe it would kill any remaining chiggers.
It’s been a week now, and I’m almost better. The bites have scabbed up and have stopped itching. I just wanted to warn people that foraging is not always fun, it does have its risks. Plan appropriately and expect the unexpected.
READ MORE: I love to forage! In this article, “Learn the Art of Foraging“, I share with you more of my adventures.
A special thanks my friends, Lisa Hazelwood and Sherri Long-Hamilton for their advice on identifying and treating this infestation.
Want to learn more about foraging?
- The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants by Department of the Army
- Foraged Flavor by Tama Matsuoka Wong
- The Forager’s Harvest by Samuel Thayer
- Foraging.com — A round up of classes, websites, and more.
- Foraging Texas website
- Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Wild Edible Plants by Samuel Thayer
- Stalking the Healthful Herbs by Euell Gibbons
- Tree Finder by May Theilgaard Watts
- Wild Cards: Edible Wild Foods (playing cards)
- Wild Edible Fruits and Berries by Marjorie Furlong and Virginia B. Pill