In addition to using the list below as a resource, consider the importance of properly educating yourself before consuming wild plants. Below are some resources to consider:
Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas Ph.D.
We all know which vegetables and fruits are safe to eat, but what about other wild edibles? Here are a few common North American goodies that are safe to eat if you find yourself stuck in the wild:
1. Blackberries – Rubus fruticosus
Many wild berries are not safe to eat, it’s best to stay away from them. But wild blackberries are 100% safe to eat and easy to recognize. They have red branches that have long thorns similar to a rose, the green leaves are wide and jagged. They are best to find in the spring when their white flowers bloom, they are clustered all around the bush and their flowers have 5 points. The berries ripen around August to September.
2. Dandelions – Taraxacum officinale
The easiest to recognize if the dandelion, in the spring they show their bright yellow buds. You can eat the entire thing raw or cook them to take away the bitterness, usually in the spring they are less bitter. They are packed with Vitamin A and Vitamin C, and beta carotene.
3. Asparagus – Asparagus officinalis
The vegetable that makes your pee smell funny grows in the wild in most of Europe and parts of North Africa, West Asia, and North America. Wild asparagus has a much thinner stalk than the grocery-store variety. It’s a great source of source of vitamin C, thiamine, potassium and vitamin B6. Eat it raw or boil it like you would your asparagus at home.
4. Elderberries – Sambucus
An elderberry shrub can grow easily grow about 10 feet and yield tons of food, their leaf structure is usually 7 main leaves on a long stretched out stem, the leaves are long and round and the leaves themselves have jagged edges. These are easiest to identify in the spring as they blossom white clustered flowers that resembles an umbrella. Mark the spot and harvest the berries when they’re ripe around September.
5. Gooseberries – Ribes uva-crispa
These are also common in the woods in northern Missouri, the branches are grey and have long red thorns, and the leaves are bright green and have 5 points. They have rounded edges and look similar to the shape of a maple leaf. The flowers in the spring are very odd looking, they are bright red and hang down, the berries ripen around late May early June.
6. Mulberries – Morus
Mulberry leaves have two types, one spade shape and a 5 fingered leaf. Both have pointed edges. The ripe fruit is edible and is widely used in pies, tarts, wines, cordials and tea.
7. Pine – Pinus
There are over a hundred different species of pine. 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.
8. Kudzu – Pueraria lobata
Pretty much the entire plant is edible and is also known for medicinal values, such as being an anti-inflammatory and helping in treating headaches and migraines. In developed areas, these plants are often sprayed with herbicides. We were blessed to find this great patch of Kudzu surrounded by Blackberries. The leaves can be eaten raw, steam or boiled. The root can be eaten as well.
9. Daylily – Hemerocallis
You can find this plant in many parts of the country, they have bright orange flowers and foliage that comes straight up from the ground, no stem. You can eat the flower buds before they open, just cook it like a vegetable.
10. Pecans – Carya illinoinensis
The trees mature around 20-30 ft, some can grow up to 100 ft tall. The leaves are bright green and long, smooth edges and the pecans themselves are grown in green pods and when ripe the pods open and the seeds fall to the ground. The pecan is a species of hickory, native to south-central North America. Pecans, if grown commercially have some of the highest nutrients per acre of any crop.
11. Hazelnuts – Corylus
Hazelnut trees are short and tend to be around 12-20 ft tall, the leaves are bright green and have pointed edges, and the hazelnuts themselves grow in long strands of pods and generally ripen by September and October. They are also known as cobnut or filberts.
12. Walnuts – Juglans regia
Walnut trees are the most recognisable and the tallest nut tree in North America, they can range from 30-130 feet tall. The leaf structure is very similar to the peacan, the leaves are spear like and grow on a long stem 6-8 leaves on both sides. The leaves edges are smooth and green. The walnuts tend to grow in clusters and ripen in the fall.
13. Acorns – Quercus
Acorns, also known as oak nuts, can tend to be bitter, they are highly recognisable. They should be eaten cooked and a limited amount.
14. Hickory Nuts – Carya
Hickory nut trees can grow about 50-60 ft tall, their green leaves are spear like and can grow very large, they have pointed edges. The hickory nut is round and ten to ripen in September or October.
15. Clovers – Trifolium repens
Clovers are everywhere if you’re lucky *pun*, and edible! If you find grass you will most likely see this sprouting everywhere, their distinctive trifoil leafs and white flowers are easy to spot, you can eat them raw but they taste better boiled.
16. Red Clovers – Trifolium pratense
Blossoms can be eaten fresh or steeped in hot water for tea. And you can toss both the green leaves and blossoms into a salad.
17. Chicory – Cichorium intybus
You can find these in Europe, North America and Australia. The entire plant can be eaten along with it bright blue flowers, which can also be white or pink. Chicory is well known for its toxicity to internal parasites.
18. Coltsfoot – Tussilago farfara
Edible parts: Flowers and young leaves can be eaten. Flowers can be eaten raw and mixed into a salad adding a wonderful aromatic flavor. Use the flower head and place them into a glass jar adding raw honey and storing it for a few weeks for its strength; this makes a great home remedy to help calm a cough, or just add some of this coltsfoot honey into your tea. You may dry the flower heads and use them as tea or in cooking/baking recipes. Young leaves are bitter but better after boiled them and then in salads, stews, or just add lemon, extra virgin olive oil and seasoning.
Although coltsfoot is well documented as a natural cough and sore throat remedy, it may be best to avoid prolonged use of the plant or to ensure the supplement you buy is certified and labeled as hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloid free (PA-free). Hepatotoxic PAs might be carcinogenic and mutagenic and may also increase blood pressure. Certain studies have shown that Coltsfoot tea causes liver problems in infants and pregnant women.
19. Creeping Charlie – Glechoma hederacea
Edible parts: Young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves have a mild bitter flavor with a aromatic tang great for salads or jucing. You can cook these young leaves like spinach, or add to soups, stews, and omelet. Tea is made from the fresh or dried leaves. This wild edible has been known to be added to beer in much the same way as hops, for flavor and clarity. This plant is also known as ground-ivy, gill-over-the-ground, alehoof, tunhoof, catsfoot, field balm, and run-away-robin.
20. Cattail – Typha latifolia
Known as cattails or punks in North America and bullrush and reedmace in England, the typha genus of plants is usually found near the edges of freshwater wetlands. Cattails were a staple in the diet of many Native American tribes. Most of a cattail is edible. You can boil or eat raw the rootstock, or rhizomes, of the plant. The rootstock is usually found underground. Make sure to wash off all the mud. The best part of the stem is near the bottom where the plant is mainly white. Either boil or eat the stem raw. Boil the leaves like you would spinach. The corn dog-looking female flower spike can be broken off and eaten like corn on the cob in the early summer when the plant is first developing. It actually has a corn-like taste to it.
21. Garlic Mustard – Alliaria petiolata
Edible parts: Flowers, leaves, roots and seeds. Leaves can be eaten in any season, when the weather gets hot, the leaves will have a taste bitter. Flowers can be chopped and tossed into salads. The roots can be collected in early spring and again in late fall, when no flower stalks are present. Garlic mustard roots taste very spicy somewhat like horseradish…. yummy! In the fall the seed can be collected and eaten.
22. Chickweed – Stellaria media
These usually appear May and July, you can eat the leaves raw or boiled, they’re high in vitamins and minerals!
23. Hop Clover – Trifolium campestre
Edible parts: The flowers, leaves and seeds are edible. All clover types are known to be part of the paleo diet of the First Nations people. Flowers can be put into teas. Seeds (in autumn) can be collected and eaten as is or roasted and can be ground into flour as well. Leaves can be tossed into salads, omelets, juicing, sandwiches, etc.
24. Herb Robert – Geranium Robertianum
Edible parts: The entire plant. Fresh leaves can be used in salads or to make tea. The flower, leaves and root can be dried and stored using it later as a tea or herbs as a nutrient booster. Rubbing fresh leaves on the skin is known to repel mosquitoes, and the entire plant repels rabbits and deer which would compliment and protect your garden. For more info about Herb Robert see HerbsAreSpecial.com.
25. Beach Lovage – Ligusticum scoticum hultenii
Use the leaves raw in salads or salsas, or cooked in soups, with rice, or in mixed cooked greens. Beach lovage can have a strong flavor and is best used as a seasoning, like parsley, rather than eaten on its own. Beach lovage tastes best before flowers appear, and is also called Scotch lovage, sea lovage, wild celery, and petrushki.
26. Plantain – Plantago
Is another one of those plants that seems to thrive right on the edge of gardens and driveways, but it’s also edible. Pick the green, rippled leaves and leave the tall flower stems. Blanch the leaves and sauté with some butter and garlic just as you would with kale or any other tough green.
27. Wild Garlic – Allium vineale
Wild Garlic (Allium vineale, crow garlic or garlic grass) is an herbal treat often found lurking in fields, pastures, forests and disturbed soil. It resembles cultivated garlic or spring onions, but the shoots are often very thin. Use it in sandwiches, salads, pesto or chopped on main courses like scallions.
28. Watercress – Nasturtium officinale
Cresses (Garden cress, water cress, rock cress, pepper cress) are leafy greens with bright white flowers that resemble the shape of a cross long and are cultivated in much of Northern Europe. They have a spicy tang and are great in salads, sandwiches, and soups. Since this is an aquatic plant, it should be washed carefully prior to consumption if it is collected from the wild. If the plant is collected from untreated water it may carry water-born microscopic parasites, such as the protozoan Giardia.
29. Lamb’s Quarters – Chenopodium album
Use the leaves raw in salads, or cooked in soups, in mixed cooked greens, or in any dish that calls for cooking greens. Lamb’s Quarters are susceptible to leaf miners; be careful to harvest plants that are not infested. Although Lamb’s Quarters are best before the flowers appear, if the fresh young tips are continuously harvested, lamb’s quarters can be eaten all summer. Lamb’s Quarters is also called Pigweed, Fat Hen, Goosefoot, and Wild Spinach. Note that some of our readers consider this plant to be a bit of pest.
30. Goosetongue – Plantago macrocarpa
Use the young leaves raw in salads, or cooked in soups, in mixed cooked greens, or in any dish that calls for cooking greens. Goosetongue is best in spring and early summer, before the flowers appear. Goosetongue can be confused with poisonous Arrowgrass, so careful identification is essential. Goosetongue is also called Seashore Plantain.
31. Joe Pye Weed – Eutrochium
Edible parts: The entire plant can be used including the root. The leaves and stems can be harvested in the summer before the flower buds open and can be dried and stored for later use. The roots are harvested in the autumn. Fresh flowers can be used to make an herbal tea.
Joe Pye weed is named after a legendary Indian healer who used a decoction of the plant to cure typhus fever in colonial America. Native tribes used gravel root as a healing tonic included relieving constipation, washing wounds with a strong tea made from the root to prevent infection.
Similar to coltsfoot, Joe Pye weed contains livertoxic PAs which might be carcinogenic.
32. Pigweed – Amaranthus palmeri