Every edible fruit and vegetable we grow on farms or in our home gardens came from nature at one point and in some form. Hybridizing and cross breeding has created bigger peppers, sweeter oranges, and large crisp apples, but the wild plants are still there for the taking. As a hobby, identifying and using edible wild plants is fun and adventuresome. In a survival situation, it is a life-saving skill.
Here is a list of 15 wild plants that can be eaten. Remember to conduct a thorough study of edible plants and perform a rigorous process of plant identification before consuming any wild plant.
Burdock grows in pastures, open fields, and along the edges of woodlands. It has spiny seedpods that stick to clothing and animal fur.
Use: Young roots and leaves can be eaten raw. Older leaves can be boiled or cooked.
Taste: Slightly sweet and rustic, earthy flavor.
Caution: Burdock looks similar to a plant called Cocklebur, which has toxins in the leaves.
2. Bamboo (Bambusoideae)
Bamboo is actually a gigantic grass. There are about 100 varieties that can be eaten. Local knowledge and a thorough identification process focused on your specific area is the best way to identify edible Bamboo in the wild.
Use: Young, emerging shoots of edible Bamboo can be dg up and eaten. Remove the outer layers to reveal the tender interior, then boil. Bamboo sections are hollow, and can be used to cook rice or other foraged food over a fire. Bamboo is also a survivalist goldmine for building shelters, making tools, and a multitude of other uses.
Taste: The flavor of Bamboo Shoots can be bland, savory, or sweet depending on the type of Bamboo.
Caution: Only eat Bamboo that you know to be edible. Some Bamboo has toxic levels of cyanogenic glycosides. Most edible Bamboo grows in a “Running” habit, rather than in the tight “Clumping” form.
3. Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum)
Wood Lily looks very similar to the Tiger Lily found in garden shops and nurseries. The six-lobed, star-shaped flowers are deep orange to orange-red, and have yellow throats with purple spots. The flowers grow on long bright green stems with narrow pointed leaves.
Use: Both flowers and seeds of the Wood Lily are edible. They can be eaten raw, steamed, or boiled.
Taste: The flavor of Wood Lily flowers and seeds is peppery and somewhat tart.
Caution: There are many Lily varieties and not all are edible.
4. Banana (Musa species)
Many Banana varieties are naturalized throughout warmer climates such as the southern and tropical U.S. Wild Bananas tend to grow on pond shores, freshwater river banks, and low-lying grasslands. Wild Bananas are more fibrous and less sweet than cultivated varieties. The herbaceous “trees” are up to twenty feet tall and grow in clusters. They have wide green leaves and succulent fibrous trunks.
Use: The fruit is edible raw when yellow and ripe, or cooked when green.
Taste: The flavor of wild Bananas is starchy and less sweet than their store-bought relatives.
Caution: Wild Bananas can contain large, very hard seeds so use caution when biting into them.
5. Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia)
The Prickly Pear Cactus grows in deserts and dry areas from Canada to South America. They have wide, flat pads and persistent, stout thorns. They bloom in spring and summer to produce red fruits.
Use: The red fruits are edible raw, and the wide flat “leaves” can be peeled and cooked. Carefully remove thorns of both fruit and pads before eating.
Taste: The flavor of the bright red fruit, or Prickly Pears, is bland but a good source of hydration and some minerals. The flat pad interior can be boiled or cooked and tastes somewhat like green beans.
Caution: Not all cacti can be eaten. Use caution when harvesting or handling Prickly Pear fruit or pads because the thorns are stiff and sharp.
6. Red Clover (Trifolium Pratense)
Red Clover belongs to the pea family. The flowers are deep purple and the leaves are oval, green, and have a light green “Y” shaped marking on the surface.
Use: All parts of Red Clover can be eaten. Boil older leaves to remove the bitter taste.
Taste: The best flavor is in the flowers which have a fresh raw-pea taste. The leaves and stems are more bitter with older leaves being the most so.
Caution: Avoid eating Red Clover if you are pregnant, or have an adverse reaction to high concentrations of alkaloids, which can be an irritant.
7. Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea)
Cone Flower is native to North America. It has daisy-shaped flowers in white, orange, red, or deep yellow. It is a traditional remedy for colds and sicknesses and has been consumed for centuries.
Use: The leaves and flower petals can be eaten raw or cooked.
Taste: The flavor of Echinacea is floral and slightly sweet.
Caution: Some other flowers look like Cone Flower, but are not edible.
8. Kelp (Laminariales)
Kelp grows in the ocean and has a wavy, ribbon texture in brown or tan. Kelp is high in fiber and nutrients, but low in calories. Strong swimmers can harvest growing Kelp, and it can sometimes be collected from shallow pools at low tide.
Use: All parts of the Kelp plant can be eaten raw or cooked.
Taste: The flavor of Kelp is salty and savory.
Caution: Don’t eat Kelp that has washes ashore, because sunlight and dry air can quickly cause it to rot.
9. Dandelion (Taraxacum)
Dandelions grow wild in most parts of the world and they are a treat to find when searching for wild food. The bright yellow flowers and green leaves are edible, as are the roots when cooked.
Use: Dandelion flowers and leaves can be eaten raw. The roots can be boiled.
Taste: The flavor of Dandelion is peppery and fresh, with older leaves being more bitter than younger ones.
Caution: Don’t eat Dandelions growing in a residential or commercial lawn, because they may have been exposed to pesticides or herbicides.
10. Curly Dock (Rumex Crispus)
Curly Dock grows in many neglected areas such as rocky outcroppings, dry creek shores, or even out of cracks in pavement or in abandoned lots. It is considered a weed, and has curly narrow leaves and pale green seed shoots.
Use: The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. Young leaves taste best.
Taste: The flavor is similar to spinach with a sour note.
Caution: Like Dandelion, Curly Dock is considered a weed, and those found growing in parking lots or other inhabited spaces are likely to have been treated with poisons.
11. Hazelnut (Corylus americana / cornuta)
Hazelnuts grow on dense shrubs that have husked brown nuts that appear in summer and fall. The plants reach heights of up to twenty-five feet. They grow wild in North America and Canada.
Use: The nuts can be eaten raw or roasted.
Taste: Hazelnuts have a distinctive, buttery, rich taste.
Caution: Insects and rot can quickly infect hazelnuts that have fallen to the ground. Only eat wild Hazelnuts picked from the shrub itself.
12. Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum)
Lobster Mushrooms are deep orange, covered in bumps, and grow on the floors and fully rotted wood of mature forests.
Use: The entire Lobster Mushroom can be eaten raw or cooked.
Taste: lightly sweet and rich, similar to the taste of boiled lobster.
Caution: Identifying and consuming wild mushrooms is an extremely dangerous activity for anyone but the most seasoned, professional, and experienced mushroom expert. One variation in identity can mean the difference between a harmless food and a mushroom that can kill you. Only eat wild mushrooms that have been identified and collected by an established expert.
13. Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
A Native of North America, Elderberry grows dense clusters of black pea-sized berries on six to ten foot shrubs. The shrubs are sometimes grown as ornamental plants, and wild specimens have become naturalized in many rural areas.
Use: The Flowers and berries can be eaten raw.
Taste: Elderberries are slightly sweet and can be tart.
Caution: Elderberry can look very much like Water Hemlock, which is toxic.
14. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioca)
Despite their aggressive name, Stinging Nettle is delicious and good for you. The medium-green leaves are teardrop shaped and have deep serrated edges. The plant can sting you if bare skin contacts it. Cooking removes the sting.
Use: Leaves, roots, and stems can be eaten once cooked.
Taste: Cooked Stinging Nettle tastes like spinach.
Caution: When picking be sure to wear gloves, long sleeves, and caution. Do not touch your face or skin with gloves or fabric that has handled this plant. Clean and boil it before eating to remove the stinging compounds.
15. Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)
If you are foraging for food in the wild, and find watercress, you have hit the edible plant jackpot. Watercress grows in shallow flowing water such as in pockets formed around rocks in running streams. It grows in thick mats and has small, dark green leaves on short thin stalks.
Use: Leaves, stems, and blooms can be eaten raw.
Taste: Wild Watercress has a peppery taste with a hint of lemon.
Caution: Only harvest and eat Watercress from areas where you know the water to be safe.