Edible Plants in the Wild
June 22, 2013
We all know our store bought fruits and vegetables are safe to eat, but what about wild plants?
Here are a few common North American plants that can be found in the wild, taste good, are healthy and are safe to eat if you find yourself stuck in the wild with no alternatives for nutrition:
Acorns are usually bitter. they are highly recognisable as well, they should be eaten cooked and a limited amount.
The asparagus you find in your local market has a thicker stalk than the wild varieties of asparagus. You can eat it raw or cook wild asparagus just like store-bought. Asparagus is a source of vitamins C and B6, potassium and thiamin.
Also called Scotch lovage, sea lovage, wild celery, and petrushki, the leaves of the lovage plant can be used raw in salads and salsas or cooked in soups. Beach lovage has a strong, sometimes overpowering flavor, so it should be used more as a seasoning than the main course of a dish. Lovage has the best flavor before its flowers appear.
The leaves of the wild bee balm plant can be boiled for tea, used as seasoning, or eaten raw. The flowers are edible and, when dried can be mixed with the leaves to create an aromatic tea. Bee balm tastes citrusy with a mix of mint and oregano. The red flowers have the minty flavor. Anywhere a recipe calls for oregano, you can replace it with bee balm blossoms. The leaves can be dried to produce a tea that is similar to Earl Gray.
There are a lot of wild berries that are not safe to eat, and it is a good idea to stay away from them entirely. However, blackberries are safe and really easy to recognize. They have large saw-edged green leaves and red stems with long thorns.
In the spring months they sprout white, five-pointed blossoms. Blackberries ripen some time between August and September.
Black Locust Flowers
The black locust tree is native to the Appalachian Mountains, and is usually thought of as invasive species in other places. It grows very fast and dominates other plants with it's aggressive growth patterns. Most parts of the black locust tree are toxic and cause digestive problems. The flowers, however, can be eaten safely.
Wild blueberries are common in North America. The flowers are edible as well.
Also called herb robert, the entire bloodwart plant is edible. It's fresh leaves can be used in salads or to make tea. The flower, leaves and roots can be dried for use as a tea or as herbs for cooking as a nutrient booster.
Rubbing fresh bloodwart leaves on your skin can repel mosquitoes, and the plant is known to ward off rabbits and deer - in case you have that issue with your garden.
As with all herbs, pregnant women and breast-feeding woman should talk to their doctor before they use it.
Burdock stalks, when stripped of their rinds before the flowers open, can be boiled, and taste kind of like asparagus.
Cattails, or 'punks', bullrush and reedmace, these plants are found in freshwater wetlands. Most of a cattail is edible and you can boil or eat it raw. You can eat the roots, stem and leaves of the plant raw. The best part of the stalk is the white section that is closer to the bottom. You'll probably want to boil the leaves to remove the bitterness.
Cattails were a staple food of many Native American tribes.
Chickweed leaves can be eaten raw or boiled. They are high in vitamins and minerals, and usually appears between May and July.
Pregnant or breast-feeding woman should avoid consuming them unless they have already talked to their physician to find out whether they can safely eat them.
Clovers are found just about everywhere there are open grassy areas. You can spot them by their distinctive leafs. You can eat them raw, but they taste better if they are boiled.
Curled dock is distinguished by a long, bright red stalk that can reach heights of three feet. The stalks can be raw or boiled. You will want to peel off the outer layers first and it is recommended to boil the leaves with several changes of water to remove its bitter taste.
In the spring and summer, dandilions show up pretty much everywhere. With its yellow buds it is one of the easiest edible wild plants to recognize. Dandelions can be eaten raw or cooked, and you can eath the entire plant from roots to flower. Cooking dandelions will take away the somewhat bitter taste they have. Dandelions contain vitamin A, C, and beta carotene.
Unlike easterlilys and tigerlilys, which are toxic plants, daylilys are safe to eat. They have bright orange, six-petalled blossoms that grow straight out of the ground with no leaves. Daylilys can be eaten raw or cooked and go well in a salad.
The dogtooth violet is also called adder's tounge or trout lilly. It has bright yellow flowers that bloom in the spring and has small pointy leaves. They are found in forests and both the flowers and leaves are edible.
Elderberries grow on shrubs that can get to 10 feet in size. Their leaf is 7 long round leaves with jagged edges on a long stem. They are some of the easiest berries to identify in the spring because their white clustered flowers resemble an umbrella. They flower in the spring and ripen near the month of September.
These berries can help to heal colds and flus and are very sweet.
Fiddleheads are a type of fern. There are many different ferns that are edible as fiddleheads, but Ostrich Ferns are the best. These are only edible in their early growth season during the beginning of spring.
On a side note, rubbing the leaves of these ferns on your skin helps relieve the pain of minor cuts, stings, burns and stinging nettles.
You can identify fireweed by its purple flower and unique structure of the leavess veins, which are circular rather than terminating on the edges of the leaves. It is best eaten young when the leaves are tender. Matured plants have tough and bitter tasting leaves. The stalk of the plant can be eaten as well. The flowers and seeds of the fireweed have a peppery taste. Fireweed is a great source of vitamins A and C.
Garlic chives, wild onions and wild chives grow in fields. It comes back every year once it's been established in your yard. The entire plant can be chopped into salads or cooked into soups or stews. There are some studies that demonstrate eating wild garlic or wild chives may lower your blood sugar level and even help with reducing blood pressure.
Garlic grass, or wild garlic, is an herb often found in fields, forests and pastures. It closely resembles standard store-bought garlic or spring onions, but the plant shoots are very thin. It can be used for salads and sandwiches, pesto or cut up for us in main courses like you would use scallions.
The leaves of the garlic mustard plant can be eaten year round. In hotter weather, the leaves will be bitter. The flowers can be put into salads. The roots are very spicy, are similar to horseradish, and should be collected in the early spring and late fall when they are not producing flowers. Additionally, in the fall, the seeds can be collected and eaten.
These red berries have grey branches with long red thorns. Their leaves have five sections with rounded edges, similar to the leaf of a maple tree. Gooseberris flower in the spring, and their flowers are bright red and hang down. These berries ripen between late May and early June, making them some of the earliest berries nature provides in a year.
Also called Seashore Plantain, goose tongue leaves can be used raw in salads, cooked in soups, or in any recipe that uses cooked greens. It is best in the spring and early summer, before its flowers appear. It can often be confused with poisonous Arrowgrass, so if you intend to seek out this plant, be sure you are able to identify both of these plants - so you don't end up eating the one that can make you sick.
Hazelnut trees are short and grow to between 12 and 20 feet in height. Hazelnut leaves have pointed edges and the actual nuts grow in long pods and ripen in September and October.
Hickory trees grow to between 50 and 60 feet tall. They have large green, spear shaped leaves with pointed edges. A hickory nut is round and ripens in the months of September to October.
Jerusalem Artichokes have small tubers on their roots. It is not at all related to artichokes, nor does it grow in Jerusalem, so it's name is misleading.
Almost the whole kudzu plant can be eaten. It is known to have medicinal qualities. Kudzu leaves and roots can be eaten raw or cooked.
Kudzu is an herb, so women who are pregnant or breast-feeding will want to stay away from it unless they've already talked to their doctor to see if they are safe for them to eat.
Cooks up like spinish and is very nutritious and easy to harvest. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, and even dried to make tea. The plant appears to be covered in pollen, which appear to be the seeds.
From the roots to the flowers, all parts of the mallow plant are edible, even the seeds. Because it is a weed that easily grows in neglected areas, mallow has been used as a survival food during times of crop failure or war throughout human history.
Mallows have mucilage, a sticky material that makes them have a slightly slimy texture, like okra. Mallow has a nutty flavor and can be used as a salad green or cooked in soups and sauces. The larger leave can be stuffed, like you would stuff grape leaves.
As with all herbs, pregnant women and breast-feeding woman should consult their doctor before consuming this plant.
Mayapples have single large white flowers under their leaves. The leaves are large and thick. They produce a yellow fruit and are one of the first plants to come up in the spring. Found in the forest, their fruit is usually covered by their large leaves.
The fruit should not be eaten until it is ripe. The ripe fruits are soft and yellow. Before they ripen, they are green in color and are not soft - and are poisonous. Once they ripen to yellow, they are safe to eat.
Milk thistle is usually used for medicine to prevent and repairing liver damage. Most parts of the plant is edible. Its leaves can have the spines removed for use in salads or in cooking. The stems can be prepared like asparugus, roots baked or boiled, and flower heads can be used like artichokes.
The flowers, leaves and root of this plant are edible. The leaves can be either be eaten raw or cooked. The young leaves of the plant are the best to use because older leaves get bitter. The leaves are fairly small, but they grow in large quantities and are easily picked.
The miner's lettuce bulb, flowers and stalks can all be eaten raw. The roots of this plant can be boiled and peeled and taste like chestnuts.
Monkey flower leaves can be used in salads, cooked in soups, or used in any recipe that requires cooking greens. It is best before the flowers appear, although the flowers are edible and can be used in salads or as a garnish.
Mulberris have two types of leaves. One is a five section leaf and the other is spade shaped. Both leaf types have pointed edges.
This hairy biennial plant can grow to six feet tall or even higher. Its leaves and flowers are edible. The flowers have a sweet taste, and the leaves have a bitter taste. This plant is used to make tea. Mullien contains vitamins B2, B5, B12, and D, choline, hesperidin, para amino benzoic acid, magnesium, and sulfur. Tea made from mullein is an effective treatment for coughs and lung disorders.
The entire pigweed plant is edible, even the seeds. Also called Amarath, and fat hen, it's seeds are small and has a reddish-pink tint to the stem, very nutritious and easy to harvest. You can even make baking flour out of the seed grain. You can roast the seeds can enhance their flavor, and can be sprinkled on salads and sandwiches to add seasoning. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, and even dried to make tea.
Not only can the food be used as a supply of nourishment but, also can be used for medicinal purposes. Simmer a bowl of water and add some pine needles to make tea. Native americans used to ground up pine to cure skurvy, its rich in vitamin C.
Pecan trees are mature when they reach 20 to 30 feet tall. These trees can get as tall as 100 feet. Their leaves are long with smooth edges and the pecan itself grows in green pods. When the pecans become ripe, the little pods open and the seeds inside them fall to the ground.
Pineapple weed flowers and leaves can be eaten right from the ground or used in salads. Its flowers can be dried and crushed and used as flour. Pineapple weed is very good as a tea. Native Americans used a leaf infusion (prepared by steeping flower or leaves in a liquid without boiling) as a laxative and to help with stomach gas pains.
Plantain seems to thrive right on the edge of gardens and sidewalks. The green, rippled leaves can be blanched and cooked the same way you would cook any tough green, such as kale.
Grows around 6 feet tall with purple berries. Berries should be picked before the stem splits/forks - when it is 1 to 1 1/2 foot tall, because it can make you sick after that point. Is a good lymphatic cleanser if eaten one per day. It is a diarhetic and can cause flu symptoms if your system is high in toxins.
Prickly Pear Cactus
The prickly pear cactus is a nutritional plant that can help you survive if you are stranded in the desert.
As it's name suggests, the fruit of this cactus looks like a purple or red pear.
Before you eat it, you will want to remove the small spiked spines or you probably wont be able to eat it. The young stem of the prickly pear cactus is also edible, but should be boiled.
Also known as 'self heal', the young leaves and stems of prunella can be eaten raw in salads. You can boil the whole plant as a soup, and parts of the plant can be dried and then used to make cold tea. The prunella contains vitamins A, C, and K, as well as flavonoids, omega and rutin.
You can make a mouthwash from an infusion of the whole plant which can help to treat sore throats and gum infections.
You can make tea from the leaves that can be used to treat diarrhea and internal bleeding.
Like all herbs, pregnant women and breast-feeding woman should consult their doctor before using this plant.
While this plant is considered a weed in the United States, it provides you with much needed vitamins and minerals in a wilderness survival situation. It is a small plant with fat smooth leaves that have a sour taste. It grows throughout summer until the beginning of fall.
It can be eaten raw or boiled. Boiling the leaves removes the sour taste if it is too strong for your pallate.
The blossoms of red clover can be eaten fresh or steeped in hot water for tea. You can also toss both the green leaves and blossoms into a salad.
A common weed in grasses, fields and woodlands, sheep sorrel grows well in highly acidic soil. It has a reddish stem and can reach 18 inches high. It contains oxalates and should not be eaten in large amounts. The leaves can be eaten raw and have a lemony flavor.
Pregnant and breast-feeding women should consult a doctor before using.
Also known as Dame's rocket, the sweet rocket is often mistaken for Phlox. You can tell the difference because phlox has five petals, and sweet rocket only has four.
It's flowers are deep lavender, and can sometimes pink to white. These flowers are edible, but taste bitter, and can be added to salads.
The plants young leaves, picked before the plant actually flowers, can also be added to your salad greens.
Violet leaves contain high amounts of vitamin A and C. Their leaves and flowers can be used in salads. Since there are many plants that look similar to violets but are inedible. The way to be certain that you are actually using violets is to only pick and eat them when they are in bloom.
Walnut trees are among the most recognisable. They can grow from 30 to over 100 feet tall. Their leaf structure is similar to the peacan tree. Their smooth-edged leaves are long and spear shaped and grow on a long stem with 6 to 8 leaves on both sides.
The actual walnut nuts grow in clusters and are ripe in the fall.
Garden cress, pepper cress, rock cress and water cress are leafy greens. They are a bit spicey, and some are tangy. They are great in salads and soups, and can be put on sandwiches.
Wild Black Cherry
Though the wild black cherry can be eaten, you should not eat a lot of them raw. You should only use the cherries that are still on the plant and are deep black, not red, in color. Cherries that are on the ground should not be eaten raw because once they leave the vine they begin to create cyanide. Once they are fully cooked, the cyanide is destroyed.
You can eat both the grapes and the leaves of these plants. A ripened grape can be eaten, but loses some of it's bitterness after the first frost. The leaves can be stored by blanching them and then frozen for use throughout the winter months.
Wild Leeks grow in the deep woods. They are similar to onions and grow in the spring. Wild leek leaves and bulbs are edible. You wont want to eat too many of these, because some people can become sick if large quantities are consumed. Wild leeks smell like onions, so if they don't, they are not Wild Leeks.
Wild mustard is found all over the world. It blooms in February through March. The entire wild mustard plant can be eaten, including the seeds. You can use it in salads or soups, or just eat it right out of the ground.
Wood sorrel is found all over the world. It's flowers range from white to bright yellow and its leaves are like clovers. The leaves are a good source of vitamin C. The roots can be boiled and eaten. Wood sorrel is a starchy plant and and tastes like a potato. People have used wood sorrel for food and medicine throughout history.
This plant grows in damp places like hedges or stream banks and flowers between May and August. It was originally grown in England as an early salad vegetable. When young, the leaves can be used to make salad. Lightly steamed until it just begins to wilt, it makes for a great side dish. The unopened stems can also be steamed like you would broccoli or cauliflower.
Plants to Avoid
If you are unable to identify a plant or you do not know if it is poisonous or not, it is always a better choice to be safe than sorry.
Unless you are 100% certain that a plant is safe, and if you have no other choice than to forage for what you can't properly identify, you will want to stay away from any plant that has:
- An almond scent in the stems or leaves
- Beans, bulbs, or seeds that grow inside pods
- Bitter taste
- Dill, carrot, parsnip, or parsley-like foliage
- Fine hairs or thorns
- Grain heads with pink, purplish, or black spurs
- Milky or discolored sap
- Soapy taste
- Three-leaved growth pattern
Many toxic plants will have one or more of these characteristics. Keep in mind that some of the plants that were discussed earlier have some of these attributes, yet they're still edible.
These attributes are just guidelines for times that you might not be absolutely sure what plant you are looking at.
If you want to be completely sure that an unknown plant is edible, and you have a day or two to do the test, you can use the Universal Edibility Test.