A Guide to Foraging for Food: 20 Tasty Wild Plants

thistle

From gardening to urban foraging, home-grown greens to composting, it’s all about getting creative (and local) with your meals. I decided to research foods I can forage in my own neck of the woods, but there are plenty of options wherever you are, too. Go forage!

Mushrooms

mushrooms

Before you begin gathering wild mushrooms, identify any poisonous species that grow in your area. Although most are edible, it’s better to play it safe. Also, never eat them raw and stay away from those that have been damaged by insects.

Watercress

watercress

This pungent perennial potherb typically grows near bodies of water, so make sure the water source is clean before consuming it. Since watercress can be eaten raw, all you have to do is cut the stem off and rinse it with cold water.

Common Chickweed

chickweed

Widespread throughout the country, this annual plant yields a distinct star-shaped flower. Its leaves and stems are edible and can be eaten raw. Typically dismissed as a pesky weed, common chickweed is a rich source of potassium and calcium.

Wild Rice

wild-rice

These tall grasses flourish in large colonies in rivers and streams and can easily be foraged with the help of a canoe or small boat. Similar to reeds in appearance, wild rice is a great source of protein, and its stems, root shoots and grains are all edible.

Clover

clover

This cosmopolitan genus is easy to find in the wilderness. Its seeds are edible, and its dried flower heads can be used to brew tea. You can eat its leaves raw, just immerse them in salt water first to help with digestion.

Burdock

burdock

These biennial thistles thrive in open meadows and gardens, but they are not useless weeds. You can peel the leaf stalks and eat them raw, and their taproot is edible as well. Be careful not to mistake this plant for the belladonna (deadly nightshade), which is poisonous.

Dandelions

dandelions

This flowering weed runs rampant throughout the country, and its seeds, crowns, roots, leaves and flower petals are all edible.

Milkweed

milkweed

Milkweed is edible but can potentially contain cardiac glycosides, which are toxic. So, it’s critical that you prepare this wild plant with care before consuming it. Steep the whole plant in water and rub the wool off young shoots. You can then boil them. The seed pods are edible, too.

Thistles

(shown at top)

These flowering plants grow in the wild on open fields throughout the country. Distinguished by its spiky leaves, thistles can serve as a tasty potherb. Just cut off the leaves’ sharp tips, peel the rind off the root and use salt water to boil these parts of the plant.

Cattails

cattail

These tall monocots flourish in or near bodies of water. Peel away the outer layer of the shoots to reveal a white core, use clean water to rinse them off and eat these tender shoots raw or cooked. High in starch, their roots are also edible.

Yucca

yucca

Yucca is most common in arid climates, and its petals can be eaten raw. The fruit found on its stalk can also be eaten raw, as long as the inside appears white.

Persimmons

persimmons

Considered “the fruit of the gods” by the ancient Greeks, this orange fruit typically grows on trees in temperate climates. Soft when ripe, persimmons can be eaten raw, and you can also roast its seeds to make coffee.

Prickly Pear

prickly-pear

This cactus-like plant flourishes in dry soil in southern regions of the country, and both its pad and pear are edible. To eat the pad, cut off the spines using a paring knife, roast them and peel away the outer layer. To eat the pear, just remove its spines and skin.

Bulrush

bulrushes

Bulrush typically grows in or around swamps, and its roots, stems and seeds are all edible, whether cooked or raw.

Lamb’s Quarters

macinate

Many people mistake this fast-growing annual plant for a worthless weed, but lamb’s quarters are actually edible and quite nutritious. The seeds are a healthy snack and the leaves and stems taste similar to spinach when cooked.

Leeks

leeks

Resembling onions in appearance and smell, wild leeks commonly emerge during springtime deep in the forests. Both their leaves and bulbs are edible and can be eaten raw, steamed, fried or baked.

Wild Carrot

carrots2

Though tougher and woodier than those you buy at the grocery store, the wild carrot grows in dry fields, and its roots are edible. Just be careful not to mistake it with similar poisonous species like water hemlocks and fool’s parsley.

Arrowhead

arrowhead

Arrowheads typically grow sparsely in stagnant bodies of water. Attached to the root of this aquatic plant, the tuber resembles a potato and is best peeled and roasted.

Spring Beauty

spring-beauties

Emerging at the start of the season, spring beauty thrives in moist woodlands. Just pull the narrow leaves that protrude from the ground to reveal its fleshly corms, peel away the outer layer, rinse off the corm, cook it or consume it raw.

Wild Onion

wild-onion

Found on various landscapes, such as rocky slopes, prairies and forests, the wild onion smells and tastes similar to its domestic counterpart. Just peel off the outer layers and boil the bulb in a pot of salt water.

For more information about edible plants, check out parts one and two of Common Edible Wild Plants, browse through this comprehensive list of Edible Wild Plants or search the Edible Wild Plants Index by environment, season or food type.

What wild fruits, vegetables, roots or grasses grow in your area?

Images: , polandeze, Mosieur J., Dawn Endico, westernagriculturalservices, jelene, pellaea, Kamil Porembinski, JacobEnos, foxypar4, cuttlefish, kretyen, pizzodisevo, foxypar4, ndrwfgg, macinate, e3000, pawpaw67, wickmans, desultrix, will in nashville

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DISCUSSION

24 thoughts on “A Guide to Foraging for Food: 20 Tasty Wild Plants

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  2. This is so very interesting blog and I really love hanging out around here.

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  4. The picture of the “arrowhead” is TOXIC!!!! That is a nephthysis, also called Arrowhead. Also, a burdock looks nothing like a belladonna.

  5. Do lentils grow wild and if so does anyone have a picture of them? I own 23 acres of land which is totally wild and has been for over 20 years and I have many wild edible plants and I’d like to know more about which ones to be able to eat. The pictures above are great and I found them very helpful.

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  8. Queen Anne’s Lace (Wild Carrot) has hairy stems, whereas Water Hemlock does not. Cool resource, I love some of the pictures. I am going to go forage for fruit soon, as I am in Arizona.

  9. DON’T EAT WILD CARROT!

    There are dozens of poisonous plants in the parsley/ carrot family and they all smell good and carroty. People die every year from eating hemlock or cow’s bane instead of carrot or sweet cecily. You can not tell the poison based on smell and some of the poisons are deadly to taste meaning that just a bit on the tongue will kill you.

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  12. It is a good thing that you have been able to get onto “stumble” however quite disappointing that you are able to spread information without explanation. The responsibility that comes with advertising edibles in the wild to those who are willing yet uneducated or inexperienced is dangerous. Please consider the next poisoned camper or hiker when you offer advice with minimal information on your next time, they may have taken advice from your page.

  13. My personal favorites are wild violets (blossoms) and purslaine.

    KW

  14. Wild food is fab and I have been doing it for years, but I really think that you must emphasise (more explicitly)possible mistakes- for example the umbelliferae family have so many similar lookalikes, and some -such as the wild carrot are extremly edible whereas the water dropwort root can kill you, so photos of what not to mistakenly eat could be useful!

  15. I love miner’s lettuce – abundant in Northern California. I also enjoy nasturtium, which grows wild along a trail near my house. :)

  16. Prickly pear cactus are abundant in my “backyard” (the canyon trail that extends beyond my neighborhood). I plan to pick a bunch of the fruit when they ripen this summer. Use tongs and gloves, singe the fruit briefly to burn off the tiny, irritating hairs… then I’ll throw them in a juicer and voila, cactus juice. :)

  17. Nice post, but for the non-intiated .. don’t tell them to just avoid mushrooms and be sure what ones they are, or that nightshade can be confused with something else. If you are going to picture stuff and warn someone to avoid something, then you should show a picture of that too(ie nightshade).

    Unless you are dead sure of what you are eating — you could just be dead (or at the least very sick). I pick many wild mushrooms and learned from my dad what to pick and not pick. I like many kinds of greens and make a trip every year up to the northeast to pick fiddleheads. You need someone to show you if you are not experienced with some of this stuff or you are better off avoiding it entirely.

    There is much to be gained from embracing nature and we miss a lot by not doing that, but it’s not better than being dead which someone will be if they eat the wrong thing. I applaud the effort of this post, but question the detail is sufficient.

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  20. I picked a lot of “mustard greens” early this spring, which are really a winter cress. They grow in abundance and are similar to broccoli rabe. I did a post about them a month or so ago.

    Ciaochowlinda’s last blog post..Mocha Nut Torte

 

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