Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) is a native of the Appalacian mountains of North America yet it thrives in most lands it has been introduced to.

The tree was introduced to the UK in 1636 and can now be found hidden in plain sight in many parks, municipal borders and even deep in some semi natural ancient woodlands. In many woodlands it’s overlooked by all who do not look for it – slipping in to the subconscious as if simply a native Ash.

Given it’s name by Jesuit missionaries due to its likeness to its relative the Spanish Locust, otherwise known as the carob tree, the Black Locust is actually much more toxic.

A member of the pea family and also leguminous, this tree fixes it’s own nitrogen in the soil, suckers like mad and produces an abundance of seeds – added to the the vicious thorns it can grow if grazed or pruned and you end up with a formidable tree.

The tree bears straight-ish main trunks with often zig-zagged branches and deeply furrowed grey bark.

In many areas (including states within its home country) the Black Locust is considered to be incredibly invasive.

However, as with many invasives they are often very useful in other ways. In this case the wood is outstandingly longlasting in the soil, even if untreated.

The heart wood has such a high level of flavinoids in it that it can last in the soil for a century! That’s a long time for a fence to last!

There are few snippets of folklore associated with this tree – one of which suggests that under the Black Locust is where one should bury secrets. I wonder if this originally meant under the timber and not under the tree – after all, a body or item buried under a century lasting fence post wouldn’t be discovered for a long time! No one would have need to disturb it…

The grain is often straight in the upright trunks and although fresh wood has an unpleasant and bitter odour (like if excessive tannins in bad red wine were a smell). This scent fades as it’s aged. These qualities are leading many furniture merchants to consider this wood instead of rare tropical imports – easier on the planet and the pocket.

That straight grain, dense wood and readiness to coppice also makes this tree an ideal firewood – even one that will burn while still green.

Like many trees which are relatives of the pea and bean, many of their parts will kill you if you eat them.

In this case almost all of the plant is toxic – when eaten by horses it requires immediate veterinary treatment and causes depression, cardiac arrhythmia, colic and incontinence…. I wouldn’t recommend you find out what it does to a human… unless you have a salad loving enemy.

There is, however, one part of the plant traditionally eaten – the freshly opened flowers.

These are beautiful and have a mint/citrus / bleach kind of smell and are picked and separated from all green bits apart from the small flower stalk before being eaten.

These flowers are also the primary source of ‘acacia honey’ in France (despite it’s scientific name outing it as a ‘false acacia’). The varying presence of the quantity of flowers annually means that only around one in five years gives a good honey crop.

There are some reports that the seeds are also edible. … but I find more reports that they are rather toxic…. so use caution if trying.

The flowers are only available for a little over a week each May/June are either eaten raw or fried in batter – see recipe below. This is seasonal eating at its finest.

Black Locust Flower Fritters

– Pick only the freshly opened flowers and take all green parts off other than the small stalks that attach to the flowers.

– mix a thick sweet batter – flour, water ( or milk), sugar and an optional egg, plus a little nutmeg or similar if you like.

– pour the batter on the flowers and stir in well until they are covered.

– Place spoonfuls of the mixture in to hot oil and cook until browned on both sides (a minute or two per side).

– Lift out with a slotted spoon and set to drain excess oil on a towel or paper.

– Dust with sugar and eat…. say ‘nom nom nom.’

– Congratulate yourself for not eating the toxic bits before panicking that you left too much stalk on and maybe you did eat the toxic bits….

– Enjoy a second time if you picked the right bits 🙂

Those daring enough to try should remember that they are eating flowers and thus preventing seeds of an invasive species forming as well as eating a food known to Native Americans for centuries but thousands of miles apart.

I hope you are all daring enough – go on…. be adventurous.