Rudbeckia lacinata is a prolific plant in prairie areas, especially near lakes and marshes, all around the Madison area. Sochan has been an important food plant for the Cherokee in particular, and, once you get to know it, it’s easy to see why. Young sochan shoots are delicious raw, and even better prepared simply, gently cooked in olive oil or bacon fat with a tiny amount of garlic and a little salt. The flavor reminds me of green beans, but better, with a hint of the slight pepperiness (it’s not the right word–I’m searching for a good description) characteristic of its other edible cousins in the Aster family.
Each plant provides plenty of tender leaves, and cutleaf coneflower tends to grow in large clusters. Later in its life cycle the leaves change shape and get pretty large, and cutting off the flower heads in the summer will bring on a fresh, secondary crop of leaves. The larger and later leaves have a more pronounced “aster” flavor, and require more chopping and longer cooking, but they’re still delicious, and at this stage provide a lot more bulk.
In the spring, look for last year’s distinctive dried stalks and their seedheads. If you get to know the plant later in its season one year, it becomes easy to recognize it at the beginning of the next season. Sochan is great in soups and quiches, with eggs, or as a side dish on its own. It’s a mild but flavorful wild green, well worth introducing to your diet.
For more on sochan, check out the Forager Chef’s site, and–as he’ll recommend–Samuel Thayer’s extensive account in his unsurpassed Incredible Wild Edibles.