We all know our market vegetables and fruits are trusted edible species, but what about wild plants? Here are a few common (North American) goodies that are safe to eat if you find yourself stuck in the wild. First of all, please note that you need to know with absolute certainty the identity of what you are finding and collecting as survival food. If you are not sure – leave it alone.
Many wild berries are not safe to eat, so 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, and 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. Avoid berries grown in what could be post-industrial / polluted soil, as well as those close to roads. They have essentially been fumigated with engine fumes all year round.
Dandelion is the easiest to recognize; 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.
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 store bought asparagus.
An elderberry shrub can 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 have jagged edges.
These are easiest to identify in the spring, as they blossom white clustered flowers that resemble an umbrella. Mark the spot and harvest the berries when they’re ripe around September.
Elderberries are known for their colds and flu healing properties. They very sweet and delicious, so you can also make jelly from them.
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 are very odd looking in the spring; they are bright red and hang down. the berries ripen around late May- early June.
Mulberry leaves have two types, one spade shape, and a 5 fingered leaf. Both have pointed edges.
You can eat mulberries both raw and cooked. They are most often used to make pies, pastries, and jellies. They also make a very nice sweet fruit wine.
The leaves, fruit, and bark all have medicinal value. Use the fruit and leaves during the summer months when they are readily available and switch to bark tea during the winter when the trees are bare.
There are over a hundred different species of pine. It can be used not only as food, but also 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 scurvy, due to it being rich in vitamin C.
Pretty much the entire plant is edible, and is also known for medicinal values. The leaves can be eaten raw, steamed or boiled. The root can be eaten as well.
Warning: pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult a physician before use.
You can find this plant in many parts of the country. This plant is different from Tigerlily or Easterlily, which are toxic.
Daylily is completely safe to eat. It has bright orange flowers that come straight out of the ground; their main stock/stem has no leaves, and this is your confirmation that it’s a daylily. You can eat them whole or cook them or put them in salads.
The trees usually mature around 20-30 ft, but some can grow up to 100 ft tall.
The leaves are bright green and long, and have smooth edges. The pecans themselves grow inside green pods, and when ripe the pods open and the seeds fall to the ground.
Hazelnut trees are short and tend to be around 12-20 ft tall.
The leaves of the Hazelnut tree are bright green and have pointed edges. The hazelnuts themselves grow in long strands of pods, and they usually ripen by September and October.
Walnut trees are one of the most easy to recognize trees, and the tallest nut tree in North America. They can range from 30 to 130 feet tall.
The leaf structure is very similar to the pecan: the leaves are spear like and grow on a long stem, with 6-8 leaves on both sides.
The leaves’ edges are smooth and green, and the walnuts tend to grow in clusters and ripen in the fall.
Acorn trees are another tree species that is highly recognizable as well.
Acorns tend to be a bit bitter.
People should only eat a small amount of acorns, and make sure they cook them properly beforehand.
#14. Hickory Nuts
Hickory nut trees can grow about 50 to 60 feet tall.
Their green leaves are spear like and have pointed edges. They can grow very large.
The hickory nuts are round and tend to ripen in September or October.
Known as cattails or punks in North America, and bullrush and reedmace in England, the Typha Genus 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 root stock or rhizomes, of the plant. The root stock 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.
#16. Garlic Mustard
Edible parts: flowers, leaves, roots, and seeds.
Leaves can be eaten in any season, but 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. In the fall the seed can be collected and eaten.
These usually appear in May and July.
You can eat the leaves either raw or boiled, as they’re high in vitamins and minerals!
Warning: pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult a physician first before use.
#18. Herb Robert
The entire plant is edible. Fresh leaves can be used in salads, or for tea. The flower, leaves, and root can be dried and stored for later use, either as a tea or as herbs (nutrient booster).
Rubbing fresh leaves on the skin is known to repel mosquitoes, and the entire plant repels rabbits and deer, which would complement and protect your garden.
#19. Beach Lovage
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.
This plant tastes best before its flowers appear, and is also called Scotch lovage, sea lovage, wild celery, and petrushki.
Plantain is one of those plants that seems to thrive right on the edge of gardens and driveways, and it’s also edible.
Pick the green, rippled leaves and leave the tall flower stems. Blanch the leaves and sauté them with some butter and garlic, just as you would with kale or any other tough green.
#21. Garlic Grass
Garlic grass (Allium vineale or wild garlic) 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.
Watercress is an aquatic plant in the Brassicaceae (Mustard) Family. It is related to mustard and horseradish.
The peppery leaves and seeds are edible and are used mainly as a condiment or a garnish in salads. Leaves are also used for arthritis, as a diuretic, a purgative, an expectorant, and have stimulant properties.
#23. Lamb’s Quarter
Lamb’s Quarters is also called Pigweed, Fat Hen, and Goosefoot. 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.
#24. Goose Tongue
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. It can be confused with poisonous Arrowgrass, so careful identification is essential.
Edible parts: The whole plant – leaves, roots, stem, seeds. The Amaranth seed is small and very nutritious and easy to harvest, the seed grain is used to make flour for baking uses.
Roasting the seeds can enhance the flavor, also you can sprout the raw seeds using them in salads, and in sandwiches, etc. Young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach, sautéed, etc. Fresh or dried pigweed leaves can be used to make tea.
#26. Monkey Flower
Monkey Flower is best before the flowers appear, although the flowers are also edible and are good in salads or as a garnish.
Use the leaves raw in salads, or cooked in soups, mixed cooked greens, or any dish that calls for cooking greens.
#27. “Self-Heal” Prunella vulgaris
The young leaves and stems can be eaten raw in salads; the whole plant can be boiled and eaten as a potherb, and the aerial parts of the plant can be powdered and brewed in a cold infusion to make a tasty beverage.
The plant contains vitamins A, C, and K, as well as flavonoids and rutin. Medicinally, the whole plant is poulticed onto wounds to promote healing. A mouthwash made from an infusion of the whole plant can be used to treat sore throats, thrush and gum infections. Internally, a tea can be used to treat diarrhea and internal bleeding.
All parts of the mallow plant are edible — the leaves, the stems, the flowers, the seeds, and the roots. Because it’s a weed that grows plentifully in neglected areas, mallows have been used throughout history as a survival food during times of crop failure or war.
Mallows are high in mucilage, a sticky substance that gives them a slightly slimy texture, similar to okra, great in soups. Mallow has a nice pleasant nutty flavor. One of the most popular uses of mallows is as a salad green.
#29. Miner’s Lettuce
The flowers, leaves and root are all edible. Leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. The young leaves are best, older leaves can turn bitter especially, in the summer and if the plant is growing in a hot dry position. Although individual leaves are fairly small, they are produced in abundance and are easily picked.
Stalks and flowers can be eaten raw, making a nice addition to the salad bowl. The bulb can also be eaten raw. Although very small and labor-intensive to harvest, the boiled and peeled root has the flavor of chestnuts.
#30. Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)
This plant is often mistaken for Phlox. Phlox has five petals, Dame’s Rocket has just four. The flowers, which resemble phlox’, are deep lavender and sometimes pink to white. The plant is part of the mustard family, which also includes radishes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and, mustard.
The plant and flowers are edible but fairly bitter. The flowers are attractive added to green salads. The young leaves can also be added to your salad greens (for culinary purposes, the leaves should be picked before the plant flowers). The seed can also be sprouted and added to salads.
NOTE: It is not the same variety as the herb commonly called Rocket, which is used as a green in salads.
#31. Wild Bee Balm
Leaves are boiled for tea, used for seasoning, chewed raw or dried. They taste like the main ingredient in Earl Gray Tea and can be used as a substitute. Flowers are edible too and have a minty flavor.
Wild bee balm tastes like oregano and mint. The taste of bee balm is reminiscent of citrus, with soft mingling of lemon and orange. Any place you use oregano, you can use bee balm blossoms. The leaves and flower petals can also be used in both fruit and regular salads.
The common marshmallow plant is grown commercially for medicinal use, but it can be found in many places in the US growing wild. The plant grows in cool, moist places such as the grassy banks of lakes and streams and on the edges of marshes.
The leaves, flowers, root, and seeds are all edible. The roots contain a mucilage, which is sweet in flavor.
#33. Pineapple Weed
Pineapple weed flowers and leaves are a tasty finger food while hiking, or toss in salads. Flowers can also be dried out and crushed so that it can be used as flour.
As with chamomile, pineapple weed is very good as a tea. Native Americans used a leaf infusion (medicine prepared by steeping flower or leaves in a liquid without boiling) for stomach gas pains and as a laxative.
#34. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is most commonly sought for its medicinal properties of preventing and repairing liver damage. But most parts of the plants are also edible and tasty. Until recently, it was commonly cultivated in European vegetable gardens.
Leaves can be de-spined for use as salad greens or sautéed like collard greens; water-soaked stems can be prepared like asparagus; roots boiled or baked; flower pods used like artichoke heads.
#35. Prickly Pear Cactus
Found in the deserts of North America, the prickly pear cactus is a very tasty and nutritional plant that can help you survive the next time you’re stranded in the desert.
The fruit of the prickly pear cactus looks like a red or purplish pear. Hence the name. Before eating the plant, carefully remove the small spines on the outer skin or else it will feel like you’re swallowing a porcupine. You can also eat the young stem of the prickly pear cactus. It’s best to boil the stems before eating.
#36. Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Edible parts: Leaves and flowers. The flowers are fragrant and taste sweet, the leaves are not fragrant and taste slightly bitter.
This plant is best known for a good cup of tea and can be consumed as a regular beverage. Containing vitamins B2, B5, B12, and D, choline, hesperidin, para amino benzoic acid, magnesium, and sulfur, mullein tea is primarily valued as an effective treatment for coughs and lung disorders.
#37. Wild Grape Vine
Edible parts: Grapes and leaves. The ripe grape can be eaten but tastes better after the first frost. Juicing the grapes or making wine is most common.
The leaves are also edible. A nutritional Mediterranean dish called “dolmades”, made from grape leaves are stuffed with rice, meat, and spices. The leaves can be blanched and frozen for use throughout the winter months.
#38. Yellow Rocket
Yellow Rocket was initially cultivated in England as an early salad vegetable. It tends to grow in damp places such as hedges, stream banks and waysides, and comes into flower from May to August.
It makes a wonderful salad green when young, and the greens are also an excellent vegetable if treated kindly. Lightly steam or gently sweat in butter until just wilted. The unopened inflorescences can also be picked and steamed like broccoli.
While considered an obnoxious weed in the United States, purslane can provide much-needed vitamins and minerals in a wilderness survival situation. Gandhi actually numbered purslane among his favorite foods.
It’s a small plant with smooth fat leaves that have a refreshingly sour taste. Purslane grows from the beginning of summer to the start of fall. You can eat purslane raw or boiled. If you’d like to remove the sour taste, boil the leaves before eating.
#40. Wild Black Cherry
Wild black cherries are edible, but you shouldn’t eat a lot of them raw; only use the cherries that are still on the branches and are deep black in color, not red.
If you see cherries on the ground leave them alone; when cherries wilt they contain a lot of cyanide. It’s only best eaten when cooked, it negates or destroys the cyanide.
#41. Sheep Sorrel
Sheep sorrel is native to Europe and Asia, but has been naturalized in North America. It’s a common weed in fields, grasslands, and woodlands. It flourishes in highly acidic soil. Sheep sorrel has a tall, reddish stem and can reach heights of 18 inches.
It contains oxalates and shouldn’t be eaten in large quantities. You can eat the leaves raw. They have a nice tart, almost lemony flavor.
#42. Wild Mustard
Wild mustard is found in the wild in many parts of the world.
It blooms between February and March. You can eat all parts of the plant: seeds, flowers, and leaves. I like to eat the young leaves in salads, and I sometimes cook the older leaves as a vegetable or potherb. The seeds make a spicy condiment or flavoring when finely ground.
#43. Wood Sorrel
You’ll find wood sorrel in all parts of the world; species diversity is particularly rich in South America. The flowers can range from white to bright yellow and its greenery are clovers.
Humans have used wood sorrel for food and medicine for millennia. The Kiowa Indians chewed on wood sorrel to alleviate thirst, and the Cherokee ate the plant to cure mouth sores. The leaves are a great source of vitamin C., and the roots can be boiled. They’re starchy and taste a bit like a potato.
The term “fiddleheads” refers to the unfurling young sprouts of ferns. Although many species of ferns are edible as fiddleheads, Ostrich Ferns are the best.
They are edible only in their early growth phase first thing in the spring.
#45. Wild Blueberries
Wild Blueberry fields and barrens contain many different varieties of berries, which accounts for the variations in size and color that characterize the Wild Blueberry crop. Blueberries are familiar to most people in Canada and the USA.
They do grow wild in many places, and the blueberries are delicious when ripe. The flowers are said to be edible as well.
#46. Jerusalem Artichoke
Also called sunroot, sunchoke, and earth apple, the Jerusalem artichoke is a species of sunflower found in Eastern North America.
Jerusalem Artichokes have small tubers on the roots that are delicious. They can be eaten raw, made into flour, pickled, or cooked. For some people, Jerusalem artichokes cause flatulence and gastric pain, so watch for gastric problems when Jerusalem artichokes are first introduced to the diet.
Mayapple has large deeply cut leaves, a single large white flower under the leaves, and one single yellow fruit. It is one of the first plants to come up in the spring. They are found in the forest, and their fruit is covered by their large leaves. The ripe fruits are edible.
WARNING: Do not eat the fruit until it is ripe. Ripe fruits are yellow and soft. Unripe fruits are greenish and not soft. They are slightly poisonous when unripe: green fruits are strongly cathartic.
#48. Trout Lily
Also known as Dogtooth Violet and Adder’s Tongue, these bright yellow flowers are one of the first to bloom in the spring.
They have small pointy leaves, are found in the forests, and are edible raw.
#49. Wild Leeks
Wild Leeks are onion-like plants that grow in the deep woods. They come up in the spring, usually before much of anything else has come up.
The leaves and bulbs are edible. Please only collect when abundant, and then only collect scattered patches or individual plants. Ill effects may be experienced by some people if large amounts are eaten. If they don’t smell like onions, they aren’t Wild Leeks.
#50. Black Locust Flowers
Black Locust is native to the Appalachian Mountain area and is considered an invasive tree in other places. It grows quickly, and often in clusters, crowding out native vegetation and aggressively invading fields.
The roots alter the nitrogen content of the soil. Most parts of the tree are toxic, causing digestive system problems. It is only the flowers that we can gather and consume.
Along the fringes of my lawn in the shady areas are violets, several varieties. This is an incredible edible. The leaves are high in vitamin C and A.
I use both the leaves and flowers in salads. Keep in mind that late-season plants without flowers may be confused with inedible greens. Play it safe. Forage this plant only when it is in bloom.
#52. Wild Onions
Wild onions and wild chives grow in fields or disturbed land. Relocate chives to your yard. It will come up faithfully year after year.
The whole plant may be chopped into salads, soups, chili, and stews. Likewise for wild garlic, if you are lucky enough to find this elusive plant. There is some evidence that eating wild onions, wild garlic or wild chives may reduce blood pressure and lower blood sugar.