by Ellen Zachos
Rudbeckia laciniata is known by many names. You may hear it called cut-leaf coneflower, tall coneflower, green-headed coneflower, golden glow, or sochan. Historically, sochan has been gathered by Cherokees and other Southeastern tribes, although the USDA shows it growing all over the United States. Despite the fact that this plant is both very common and very tasty, there is little in the foraging literature about eating sochan, outside of the Cherokee Nation.
Sochan is native to New Mexico, and in the wild, you’ll find it growing along stream banks and in moist forests, in both sun and shade. I remember hiking through the Pecos in the summer of 2001 and seeing sochan poking up through the charred earth left behind by the Viveash fire. At the time, I admired the persistence of this perennial, but knew nothing about its edibility. Even many foragers are unaware of this native, edible plant, but once you’ve tasted it, you won’t forget it.
A member of the sunflower family, the deeply lobed leaves of Rudbeckia laciniata give it part of its botanical name. Laciniate means divided into deep, irregular segments, and the leaves of sochan are deeply and irregularly lobed. Leaves in the basal rosette are larger and more prominently lobed than the leaves produced along the flower stem as the plant matures. The flowers of sochan are similar to those of black-eyed Susan (an inedible Rudbeckia cousin), but with several differences. The petals of sochan droop downward, where black-eyed Susan petals are held horizontally, and the center of the flower is greenish brown rather than dark brown or black. It also grows much taller than the black-eyed Susan, reaching six to ten feet high.
To the untrained eye, sochan can be difficult to identify when nothing but young leaves are visible. The flowers make it easier to identify, so keep your eyes open July through September. Then make a mental note of where you see it growing. Next spring, check back to gather your harvest.
The greens of sochan are best gathered young. Leaves that are just beginning to emerge and are still partially furled can be sautéed or steamed and eaten whole. Slightly older leaves, in the basal rosette before the plant flowers, make excellent cooked greens. Once the flower stalk begins to grow, the leaves become tougher and more fibrous. In fall, after the plant has finished blooming, it often puts out another round of tender leaves at the base of the plant.
The flavor of spring sochan is gently spicy. Its taste resembles that of a mild bok choi or celery. Fall leaves may have a stronger flavor than spring leaves; I like their flavor even better than the milder spring greens. And while Native Americans traditionally fry the greens in fat, sochan greens can be used in many other ways: in soups, casseroles, quiches, and this twist on spanakopita.
If you fall in love with the flavor of sochan, add some to your garden. It’s a dependable, low maintenance perennial, a tasty green in the kitchen, and makes a great addition to any permaculture landscape.
Try making our recipe for Sochan in Phyllo Dough.