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Elm Samaras: The Tree’s Winged Seeds Are Edible and Easy to Collect Right Now


Elm Samaras: The Tree’s Winged Seeds Are Edible and Easy to Collect Right Now

Marie Viljoen April 29, 2024

If there ever was a time to learn how to identify elm trees easily, it is in their brief, green samara season. Samara are winged seeds, and the wafer-like seed cases of elm trees are distinctive, as well as tenderly edible. They appear in mid-spring, with each seed wrapped neatly in a soft chartreuse package, which later dries and acts as a wing, to help carry the seed when it is mature and ready to be dispersed. Clusters of spring-green samara give elm branches a plush, ruffled appearance. When they are young, elm samara are a deliciously succulent treat, easy to collect, and often very abundant.

Here are eight ways I like to eat them.

Photography by Marie Viljoen.

Above: Siberian elm samara in New York City.

Like other fruit, nut, and winged seed trees (like maples), elms can have mast years, or a bumper crop, where branches appear to be bursting with samara. The seeds appear before the trees leaf out, so collecting a couple of handfuls is blissfully easy and does not impact developing foliage.

Above: Camperdown elms have a weeping form.

All elms produce edible samara. The trees I see most often in New York City are the long-time landscape favorites Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila) and Camperdown elm (the European native, U. glabra). While Siberian elms are widely planted in parks, they are also considered invasive in parts of North America. I’d say we’re doing wild areas a favor by collecting their seeds before they mature and are dispersed, but there is no forager capable of denuding a mighty, 80-foot tree. Native American elms (Ulmus americana) have slightly fuzzy winged seeds, and the trees are better-known for having been decimated by Dutch elm disease, a fungal infection spread by elm bark beetles. (For quick identification of four elm species by their samara, the linked iNaturalist post is very helpful.)

Above: Elm samara are juicy, sweetly nutty, and a little starchy.

Whether you have bagfuls or a handful (which you should nibble on the spot), elm samara can easily be included in a quick meal. At home, wrap or cover them before storing them in the fridge, where they will keep very well for at least a week. Wash them just before using them (or they spoil more quickly).

Above: A burrata island in a sea of samara—just add balsamic vinegar, olive oil, pepper, and salt.

The samaras’ texture when raw is succulent, almost-but-not-quite-sweet, and delicately starchy (in a nut-like way). Use them in abundance as a pillowy filling for summer rolls, alongside crunchy vegetables and edible flowers in a salad, as a foil for a soft cheese, or scattered across gentle, spring-adjacent toast toppings.

Above: Atop chickpea and ramp leaf crackers with labneh and ramp leaf salt.
Above: Ramp leaf oil, labneh, peas, ramp leaf salt, and elm samara on seed bread toast.

Keep it simple. For the most modest of samara forages, make the most of your micro-season. Season toasted seed bread with a light slick of pungent ramp leaf oil, slather it with tangy labneh, add the sweetness of just-cooked peas, fleck that with raw elm samara, and finish this treat with ramp leaf salt.

(The ubiquitous ramp leaf recipes are in Forage, Harvest, Feast – A Wild-Inspired Cuisine,  $20 from Chelsea Green Publishing.)

Above: Avocado, elm samara, extra virgin olive oil, and Maldon salt.
Above: Eight-minute eggs in a nest with field garlic, sesame oil, shoyu, and Aleppo pepper.
Above: …or just add avocado.

Cooked very lightly, the texture of the samaras becomes very silky. I blanch or sauté them for no longer than a minute

Above: Cook samara no longer than a minute.

For a quick noodle bowl I add a cupful of elm samara to thin udon noodles boiling in dashi, for the last minute of (the noodles’) cooking. I strain the noodles and samara, holding the strainer under cold water to chill. A quick shake, then a simple dressing of toasted sesame oil, shoyu (or dark soy sauce), Korean chile flakes (or other), and toasted seeds. It is a fleetingly exquisite spring lunch.

Above: With chilled udon noodles, soy, sesame, and chile.
Above: A fermented black bean and samara sauce for scallops is ready in a few minutes.
Above: Six-minute scallops with quick black bean and samara sauce.

A happy find of exceptional sea scallops from Pura Vida Fisheries at our local Brooklyn farmers’ market inspired this memorable light lunch (or appetizer, or…) . The scallops sear gently and briefly and are seasoned with a spoonful of salty black bean sauce brightened with orange juice and just-cooked samara.

Scallops with Elm Samara and Black Bean Sauce

Serves 4 (2 scallops each)

The black beans here are the salty, fermented soy beans (douchi) available at Chinese grocers or online.


  • 2 Tablespoons fermented black beans
  • 2 Tablespoons avocado or neutral oil
  • 3 Tablespoons orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 packed cup tender elm samara


  • 2 Tablespoons avocado or neutral oil
  • 8 sea scallops

For the sauce: In a small bowl (or pestle and mortar) mash the beans lightly, to crush some of them. In a small pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the beans with the orange juice and cook gently for 3 minutes. Add all the other ingredients except the elm samara and cook for another 2 minutes. Turn off the heat.

For the scallops: In a skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the scallops, whirling each one around in the hot oil before you add the next, so they don’t stick. Cook for 1 minute, then cover the pan or skillet with a lid for 1 minute. Lift the lid and turn the scallops. Cook for 1 minute, then cover and cook for 1 more minute, for a total of 4 minutes, or slightly more (you may have fatter or smaller scallops—the key is not to overcook them; undercooked is better than over-).

To finish: When the scallops are almost done, turn the heat back up under the sauce and stir in the elm samara. When they have turned a vivid green (after about 30 seconds), carefully drizzle each scallop with small spoonful of the sauce. Serve at once.

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