“Happy snacking, don’t die.”   

That is the great advice for newbie foragers from Alexis Nikole Nelson, and it is her signature sign-off. Also known as BlackForager, she has become Internet famous and woven her way into my foraging heart with her educational and entertaining social media videos about finding and eating wild plants. 

In a recent video, Alexis extols the values of grape hyacinth, an enchanting little purple spring bloomer. She sings (sometimes literally) its praises for its ease in collecting and its fascinating qualities. It is popping now with its bunch of mini grape-like flowers in yards Islandwide. 

Grape hyacinth is not related to grapes or hyacinths. A member of the genus muscari, it is classified in the family asparagaceae which, yes, is the same family that includes asparagus. Though not a native to the Island, grape hyacinth is common and because of its perennial bulbous nature, it can spread and so has become naturalized here. This flower hails from southern Europe, Greece and Asia but has made a home in this country. 

It is always important to positively identify your plant before eating it, thus Alexis’s advice. Don’t mistake true hyacinths for grape hyacinths. In the case of grape hyacinth, look to the foliage, which resembles long blades of grass. Also observe plant size, since grape hyacinths are much smaller than the eight-to-ten-inch true hyacinths. Note, too, that those larger true hyacinths are toxic to humans and dogs and can produce a skin irritation in some.    

The buds and flowers of the little grape hyacinth are the edible part of the plant. Resist using any other bits, as they contain saponins that are bitter and slightly toxic to humans, and very toxic to cold-blooded animals. This is not a nibble for your pet snake or lizard.  Collect flowers or buds, strip them off the plant’s stem, and infuse these gorgeous little globs in hot water or in alcohol. Add sugar to make a simple syrup or colorful cordial. Any infused product will become a stunning blueish-purple potion. 

However, this purple concoction will become a horse of a different color when mixed with other solutions. Grape hyacinth contains anthocyanins, which act as a pH indicator. When added to an acid, it yields a red or pink hue; a neutral host gives a purple-red color and an alkali or basic substance will turn green.   

Be sure to leave some of the flowers for others to enjoy, especially bees that rely on this early spring flower for forage. And look closely at the flower’s blooming and spacing. The individual flowers on the stem open sequentially from the bottom up. The space between the flowers also tells a tale. As the flowers age, they are more spread out.   

Alexis used her grape hyacinth syrup to make lemonade turn pink. Call it #blackgirlmagic, kitchen science or maybe just charismatic chemistry. Try it yourself and see the awesome color-changing miracle of muscari. 

Suzan Bellincampi is islands director for Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown and the Nantucket Wildlife Sanctuaries. She is also the author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.