Wild Strawberries Versus Mock Strawberries
The wild strawberry (Family: Rosaceae [Rose family], Genus: Fragaria; Fragaria virginiana in North America and Fragaria vesca in Europe) is rather small. It normally grows to a height of about 2.5 to 3 inches tall, but can grow taller. The wild strawberry is the sought after prize of strawberries. Though they are much smaller than their commercial cousins we all most accustomed to, they are much sweeter! The fruit ripens around late spring to early summer in meadows, fields, lower mountain regions, open areas in woods, stream banks, and can be found in undisturbed areas as well as urban and suburban areas alike.
Some people grow wild strawberries as part of their garden. The flowers of the wild strawberry are white with five petals. The roughly even toothed leaves grow to about 1/2 inch to an inch across and about 2 to 3 inches long. The stalk grows separately from the leaves. The leaves grow in groups of three like poison ivy, but they do not irritate the skin like poison ivy.
The wild strawberry is a perennial herbaceous plant, and can be found throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere. Like ivy, strawberry plants produce runners. Runners are sideways growing stems grow along the ground and find rooting. Once the roots manifest themselves a new strawberry plant begins to grow, and the runners continue to spread more plants.
The wild strawberry is known by several other names, too. You may hear them referred to as European strawberry, Virginia strawberry, the Alpine strawberry, and perhaps others, too.
Besides the fruit of the strawberry being edible, the roots and leaves are used to make tea. The tea of the leaves has been used for cases of diarrhea, ailments of the lungs and stomach, and can be used raw or dried for skin irritations. Like the dandelion, the whole plant of the wild strawberry is edible and usable. There has been writings of other uses, but I will not mention them here due to not personally having any documented proof.
The mock strawberry (Genus: Duchesnea indica) grows much to the same size as the wild strawberry, but with two very obvious differences. The flower has 5 petals like the wild strawberry but is yellow instead of white. The berries themselves are a bit more round with hard little seeds that protrude from the berry's fleshy part.
The mock strawberry has a bad rap, but I'm here to assure you it's not as bad as it may seem. Upon eating a mock strawberry, you're going to first notice the lack of juice; they're rather dry. The taste is hard to describe. When you first bite down on a berry it has an unpleasant taste. I wouldn't say it's exactly bitter, but that the closest I know to explain it. The seeds are crunchy, and you'll eventually get a momentary flavor of cucumber or watermelon However, this goes about as fast as it came and your mouth is left with the unpleasant taste again.
The mock strawberry plant is originally from southeastern Asia. Hence the name "indica" meaning "from India". But they can be found in Japan, China, and the Indies. They were introduced to the United States as an ornamental flower. But because of their rapid growth and expansion of territory, they quickly became a formidable weed.
The mock strawberry grows in similar conditions as its wild cousin. They can usually be found in areas with clover, woods, shaded areas, and open fields. Their leaves are very close in relation to those of the wild strawberry. You'll notice, too, the tip of the leaf is more blunt than that of the wild strawberry.
The mock strawberry is also known by other names, such as: the woodland strawberry, she mei (snake berry in Chinese), Indian strawberry, false strawberry, and there are others, I'm sure.
Like the wild strawberry, the leaves and roots of the mock strawberry can be used for much of the same purposes...just not as tasty. When I was growing up, my grandmother use to tell me not to eat them for they were poisonous. This seems to be the general consensus of most people, but it isn't true.
Here is what the FDA had to say about them:
AUTHOR(S): Jenkins, R. A.; Matyunas, N. J.; Rodgers, G. C.
TITLE: Are the mock strawberries toxic?
YEAR: 1986 CITATION: Vet Hum Toxicol, 28(5), 479 [English]
FDA #: F07935
"ABSTRACT: Abstract (no other info in issue): Mock, or Indian, strawberries (Duchesnea indica) are similar in appearance to the edible wild strawberry (Frageria virginiana). Both grow abundantly in lawns and fields. Mock strawberries are considered inedible, however, toxicity is not documented. Due to the incidence of exposures reported to our center, an investigation was undertaken to determine the toxicity, if any, of mock strawberries. Exposures involving strawberries from June through October 1985 were included. Identification of the berry was determined through questioning about flower color, growth and berry description. Therapy consisted of observation, with telephone follow-up at least 24 hours following exposure. Forty-one strawberry exposures were reported. Twenty-seven cases (65.8%) involved mock strawberries. Ages ranged from 12 months to 27 years; 74% were less than 5 years of age. In 19 cases, 3 berries or fewer were ingested, with an undetermined number ingested in 8 cases. Twenty-six patients were asymptomatic initially. One child displayed hives which resolved following antihistamine therapy. Delayed symptoms were not reported as 25 patients remained asymptomatic, with two lost to follow-up. Mock, or Indian strawberries, while possibly less delicious than wild strawberries, do not produce toxicity when ingested. Allergic reactions are rare."
- FDA Poisonous Plant Database
Introduction, Disclaimer, and Search Function for the Poisonous Plant Literature Database
I have an interest in edible wild plants. The mock strawberry was one that I have long neglected for obvious reasons. Though there are several wild red berries that are edible, there are several more that are not. Couple this with the stories of the berry being foul tasting, I have long put it off. But not every wild edible has a pleasant taste or smell, so I've decided to give it a go. My personal experience with the little buggers is what inspired me to write this article. Though it isn't in depth in some ways, I hope this writing has given you a better insight to those curious little red things growing in your yard or along your favorite hiking trail. Whether or not you decide to try your hand at eating them...well, that's for you to decide!