Foraging is a great skill to have in your arsenal of knowledge. When you’re out camping, hiking, fishing or hunting, you’ll always have a little snack close at hand… and if something were to happen and you were stranded in the wild, you won’t go hungry! Today we’ll look at 10 wild plants you can eat. Learn them, find them, try them now. The more you practice your foraging skills now, the better off you’ll be should disaster ever strike.
When I was a kid, a bunch of my friends and I had a fort out in the woods. Luckily for us, we were surrounded by a bunch of wild blackberries. Wild blackberries are 100% safe to eat and easy to recognize. They have red branches with long thorns, jagged green leaves, and white flowers with 5 petals. If you find wild blackberries, you’ve found gold. These things are SO much better than anything you will ever buy in stores. The berries ripen around August to September.
Probably one of the least known edible plants is the cattail. Cattails are usually found near the edges of freshwater wetlands. Most of a cattail is edible. You can boil the roots or eat them raw. You can also eat most of the stem of the plant. The best part of the stem is near the bottom where the plant is mainly white. Again, you can either boil or eat the stem raw. You can also boil the leaves and eat them as you would any other greens. While the seed head may look like a corndog, it’s not edible. You can, however, save the heads and tear them apart to use as tinder in your fire making.
Clovers are edible, and – lucky you – they’re found just about everywhere there’s an open grassy area! Clover are easily spotted by their distinctive trefoil leaflets. You can eat clovers raw, but they taste better boiled or sauteed. While you can eat the blossoms, I typically don’t eat the brown ones because they’re usually bitter. If you’re going to eat the blossoms, make sure you get the young pink or white ones – they taste a lot better. You can also use the leaves and blossoms to make a tea, or pan roast the blossoms until they’re nice and crispy.
Probably the easiest wild edible to recognize on this list is the dandelion. They’re found everywhere! In your lawn, in the woods, and sometimes even growing between the cracks in concrete! In the spring they show a bright yellow buds, but will soon go to seed and show that fluffy puffball you used to make a wish on and blow when you were a kid. You might not have realized it then, but you were actually seeding future generations of dandelions. The entire plant is edible – roots, leaves, and flower. You can eat the entire thing raw or cook them to take away the bitterness. You can drink the water you boiled the plant in as a tea and use the flower as a garnish for your dandelion salad. Dandelions are packed with Vitamin A and Vitamin C, and beta carotene.
A long time ago, my brother actually had my sister-in-law thinking kudzu was really grit bushes where grits grew. There is so much kudzu down here in the southeastern part of the country, it’s about time we started eating it! This stuff can grow up to a foot a day, and will literally take over anything in its way — other plants, buildings, road signs, you name it. The leaves, stem tips, roots and blooms can be eaten raw, steamed or boiled. Kudzu looks very similar to poison ivy – be sure you know how to distinguish between the two plants!! Kudzu also produces beautiful, purple-colored, grape-smelling blossoms that make delicious jelly, candy, and syrup. Some people have even used these to make homemade wine.
6. Lamb’s Quarters
Also called Pigweed, Fat Hen, and Goosefoot, lamb’s quarters are susceptible to leaf miners (ants); 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. Use the leaves raw in salads, or cooked in soups, in mixed cooked greens, or in any dish that calls for cooking greens. The leaves and young shoots may be eaten as a leaf vegetable, either steamed in its entirety, or cooked like spinach. Each plant produces tens of thousands of black seeds that are high in protein, vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. Eat lamb’s quarters sparingly due to high levels of oxalic acid!
Did you know there are over a hundred different species of pine around the world? Some species of pine have large edible seeds (nuts) that are absolutely delicious. You can also use the needles for medicinal purposes. Add some pine needles to simmering water to make tea that is rich in vitamins A and C. Some people have even been known to boil or pan fry and eat the white inner bark and use the pollen as a thickener for soups and stews. Achoo! (NOTE: Some species of pine are poisonous!)
Much like the dandelion and clover, plantain is typically considered a weed that grows just about everywhere you find grass of any type. You know, the ones you used to pick the stems off of and shoot the seed heads at your friends when you were kids. You can pick the green, rippled leaves and leave the tall flower stems. Blanch the leaves and sautee with some butter and garlic just as you would with kale or any other tough green. Plantain also has an inherent medicinal qualities as well. The fresh leaves are applied whole or bruised in the form of a poultice. Rubbed on parts of the body stung by insects, nettles, etc., or as an application to burns and scalds, the leaves will afford relief and will stop the bleeding of minor wounds.
9. Prickly Pear Cactus
A staple in Mexican and Central American diets for hundreds of years, the prickly pear cactus is a very tasty and nutritional plant that can help you survive if you’re stranded in the desert. Carefully remove the spines on the outer skin (otherwise, it’ll feel like you’re swallowing a porcupine). The fruit of the prickly pear cactus ripens in late summer, looks like a red or purplish pear (hence the name) and can be eaten like a fruit. The pad of the plant can be prepared and eaten like a vegetable either raw, boiled or sauteed. The thicker the pad, the older the plant. The older, thicker pads are often tough and stringy. The petals of the flower are typically yellow, pink, purple or red, and can also be eaten raw in a salad.
10. Wild Onions
Wild onions, wild chives, wild ramps and wild garlic all can be found in fields or forests. Some will have flowers, some may not, but any plant you find that smells like onion or garlic is edible. If the plant doesn’t smell like onion or garlic, do not eat it as there are similar looking plants that may be toxic. The whole plant is edible and may be chopped into salads, soups, chili and stews. There is some evidence that eating wild onions, wild garlic or wild chives may reduce blood pressure and lower blood sugar. This is another one of those plants that my friends and I used to eat as kids. At first it was on a dare, but later they became welcome snacks when we were playing fort or riding our bikes in the woods. The ones we found never had flowers, but the shoots looked just like scallions sticking up out of the ground (and tasted like them, too).
Identification and use of wild plants requires particular care and attention. Never eat any plant unless you are absolutely sure that it is edible! It is a good idea to cross-reference your knowledge with a book written by an expert. The information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The author assumes no responsibility whatsoever for any adverse effects encountered by the individual. Please harvest wild edibles at your own risk!
As with any foraged food, make sure the plant has not been sprayed with any chemicals and is not growing anywhere that toxic waste is dumped. Try to avoid plants grown too close to the roadways as they tend to contain too much dust and automotive exhaust.