Honewort is an unassuming plant commonly occurring in mesic or alluvial forests. It is characterized by alternate leaves with sheathing bases that clasp the stem and with blades that are divided into three, coarsely-toothed leaflets. Tiny white flowers are borne in the spring in compound umbels with both the stalks of the umbels and the stalks of the individual flowers varying greatly in length. Propagation is readily accomplished from seeds that have been stratified under cool, moist conditions for 4–6 weeks. Cryptotaenia canadensis is completely edible and the roots can be eaten in the manner of parsnips; young, tender shoots can be added to salads; and the leaves can be eaten raw as a seasoning like parsley or lightly steamed for a minute or two and eaten as a vegetable. Because it grows well in the shade, it is recommended as a leafy vegetable for shady sites where few other vegetables will grow; however, beware that honewort can be very weedy in wildflower gardens.
Honewort is generally a common plant throughout much of the eastern half of the United States; however, it becomes rare towards the edges of its natural range and it is a state-listed endangered species in Florida.
A very similar plant, Cryptotaenia japonica Hasskarl, occurs in eastern Asia and the Asian plants are readily available from American seed companies and herb nurseries under the common name mitsuba. Because the two species are so similar, care should be taken not to confuse our native honewort with mitsuba and gardeners should obtain Cryptotaenia canadensis only from native nurseries that can vouch for the provenance of the plants.
Map courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture Plants Database.
© 2009 Rufino Osorio (exclusive of the USDA map).