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One of several plants known as Goat’s Beard, Aruncus dioicus– also known as Buck’s Beard and Bride’s Feathers – is an long-lived, clump-forming, herbaceous perennial, used as a vegetable in parts of Europe and Asia.It is an easily grown, architectural plant, with attractive green foliage that turns various shades of yellow and orange in autumn. In late spring plants send up long tapering spires, which by early summer open up to create large showy plumes, covered in frothy, cream-coloured blossoms. These are loved by bees, butterflies and hoverflies, and have also, apparently, been used, like those of its smaller cousin Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), to make a tasty herbal tea. However, we only learned of this use recently, so haven’t tried it yet.In its native range it grows in mountain woods and along shaded streams, and it therefore prefers a moist spot in partial shade.The part of Aruncus dioicus most used for food has been the young spring shoots, which are usually boiled, although we like them par-boiled and then fried. In Northern Italy they are considered something of a spring-time delicacy, and are typically cooked and served with eggs and/or cheese. They are also used in the traditional wild vegetable dish Pistic. The subspecies, A. dioicus subsp. kamtschaticus (sometimes treated as a distinct species, A. sylvester) is used similarly in parts of Korea and China. There are also records of Aruncus shoots being preserved in oil or water, or blanched then dried, for use later in the year.Like many members of the Rose family, later in the year the leaves start to accumulate cyanogenic glycosides, similar to those found in uncooked Lima and Kidney Beans (Phaseolus lunatus and P. vulgaris respectively), but presumably in higher concentrations as most sources suggest that they should not, therefore, be eaten at this stage.
Image credit: Nickolas Titkov (Wikicommons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Цветущая_волжанка_(16092405276).jpg)