Edible Wild Plants
Edible Wild Plants
Each year in the United States and around the world, thousands upon thousands of edible plants, (aka. free, wholesome food) are passed by, mowed down, or worse - are sprayed with toxic chemicals. What a wasteful and hazardous practice! Not that long ago many of these "weeds" were readily gathered as food!  

In this section of the site you'll find detailed identification and use information for 74 different wild edible plants, plus some practical foraging info and safety tips. Use the menu above or at the bottom of the page to navigate to the other "Edible Plants" pages.

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Food For Thought:

* Since the 1900s, some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost as farmers worldwide have left their multiple local varieties and landraces for genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties.

* 30 percent of livestock breeds are at risk of extinction; six breeds are lost each month.

* Today, 75 percent of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species.

* Of the 4 percent of the 250 000 to 300 000 known edible plant species, only 150 to 200 are used by humans. Only three - rice, maize and wheat - contribute nearly 60 percent of calories and proteins obtained by humans from plants.

* Animals provide some 30 percent of human requirements for food and agriculture and 12 percent of the world’s population live almost entirely on products from ruminants.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Featured Video -
Edible Wild Plants And Useful Wild Herbs - 100 Edible Wild Plants Found In Forests And Fields
Understanding Plant Life Cycles
Annual -
Annuals reproduce by seed and complete their life cycle in one year. The annual life cycle is further divided into summer annual and winter annual plants. Summer annuals germinate in spring or early summer, grow vegetatively, flower and produce seed and die in late summer or fall. Winter annuals germinate in late summer and fall. They grow vegetatively and go dormant with the arrival of cold weather. In the spring they continue to grow vegetatively early and then switch to a reproductive phrase during which they flower and produce seed. After flowering, they die with the onset of warm weather.

Biennial -
Biennials reproduce by seed and complete their life cycle in two years. Biennials germinate in spring to early summer and grow vegetatively forming a leaf rosette at the end of the first growing season. After over-wintering as a rosette, the biennial plant resumes growth, flowers, produces seed and completes the life cycle in the second growing season.

Perennial -
Perennials live for three or more years and reproduce by seed and vegetative propagules including roots, rhizomes, stolons, tubers, and bulbs.

The General Rules Of Thumb For Gathering Edibles In Season
  • Gather leaves in spring and summer
  • Gather roots in winter and for some, late fall and winter
  • Gather fruits in late summer and fall
  • Gather seeds after flowering in late summer and fall

When you gather, bring a container or basket, a tool for cutting the plants or a digging stick, trowel or shovel for gathering roots. The methods are a little different for gathering each plant and its parts simply because each plant is unique. There's nothing quite like sitting down to a meal made from ingredients that you harvested yourself directly from mother nature!

The Universal Edibility Test
There is a way to test plants to find out if they are edible -

  • Don't eat for 8 hours before the test.

  • Separate the parts of the plant  - stems, leaves, roots,  flowers  and buds, and- ONLY TEST ONE PLANT PART AT A TIME.

  • When you try the plant eat nothing except purified water and the plant part you are testing

When The 8 Hours Is Up -
1. Place only the part you are testing on the
inside of your elbow or wrist for about 15 minutes to see if you get an allergic reaction to it on your skin.

2. Touch a small portion of the plant you are testing to your lip before you eat it - if it burns or itches, do not eat it!

3.If after 3 minutes there is no reaction to it, place the plant part on your tongue and hold it there for 15 minutes. If there's no reaction, thoroughly chew a VERY SMALL AMOUNT and hold there WITHOUT SWALLOWING for 15 minutes. If no burning, itching, numbing, stinging, or other irritation occurs, swallow the plant.

4. Wait 8 More Hours. If any ill effects occur, make yourself vomit and drink a lot of water. If no ill effects occur, eat about a quarter cup of that plant part and wait another 8 hours. If no ill effects occur, the plant is safe for eating

*Never assume that all of a plant’s parts are edible. Test each part separately.

Plants You Should Avoid(In General)
  • Ones with milky or discolored sap
  • Beans, bulbs, or seeds inside pods
  • Ones with bitter or soapy taste
  • Anything with spines, fine hairs, or thorns

General Foraging Information
Know where the best food is, depending on where you live.
Keep in mind that if you live in a humid region, the majority of wild food will be in the sun. In a dry region, such as the Southwest, most of the wild food will be near water.

You can start with the number-one habitat for wild edible plants - your lawn.
Any place that is regularly cleared or disturbed is loaded with weeds such as dandelion, chickweed, plantain, wild onion, violets, wood sorrel, henbit, clover, and sow thistle - all of which are 100% edible.

All grass is edible, just make sure that it's indeed grass.
Anything under 6" is easy to chew and digest. The flavor ranges from intensely sweet to mild to bitter - anyone who's tasted a shot of wheatgrass knows just how sweet grass can be. Older grass is harder for our systems to digest, so grass that's over 6" can either be chewed for juice and spit out, or run through a manual wheatgrass juicer for a healthy shot.

Be thoughtful and conservative in your harvesting.
Take no more than 1/3 of a stand of plants so that they may continue to propagate. This is the method that ancient people's used so that the plant could be harvested again year after year. That's pretty smart if you ask me.

If You Are Uncertain On Any Of The Following, Don't Harvest. Get Assistance From A Professional Botanist, Naturalist, Or Herbalist

Know the species and positively identify  Use recommended field guides and use only scientific names for proper identification. Many plants have the same common name but one may be radically different than another (Sumac, for example, can be beneficial or poisonous depending on the species). Always know the plant family because it may also be a potential allergen.

Know the environment
Be certain that the area where the plants are growing is clean and free of potential toxins or wastes. For example, never harvest plants from along side a well used trail - people often walk with their dogs, or ant poison might be used there. Also, be cautious along roadsides, as salt, asphalt, and oil might be prevailant. And, be sure you are not in an industrial, conventional farms or livestock area due to runoff.

Know when to harvest
The beneficial properties of a plant may be best at a certain time during the growing cycle. For example, Dandelion greens are best before the plant flowers. Sometimes a plant can become toxic after a certain point (Milkweed, May-apples). Some plants should be harvested in a specific year (particularly true for biennials).

Know the plant's purpose
What effects will the plant have on the physical system? Be sure you know all the potential uses of the plant. Some plants have natural stimulant properties, others depressants, some are diuretic and cathartic, some have multiple uses (often depending on which part is used). Also, do your "due diligence" so that you are aware of any potential interactions with medications or other herbal preparations you are using.

Know which part to use
Some plants are usable in their entirety while others may have poisonous constituents (i.e. rhubarb).

Know how to prepare them
Plants can have a wide range of preparatory requirements. Some plants require preparation before consumption (nettles) while others lose all benefits from being over-processed.

Credit For Content -
California Cadet Corps
Edible Wild Plants - A North American Field Guide To Over 200 Natural Foods
University of Massachusetts - Amherst Extension

Edible On-The-Go - Plant part can be eaten raw along the trail.

Salad Addition - Use raw in salads

Cooked Greens - Boil or steam as you would a vegetable

Underground Vegetable - Plant has roots, bulbs, or tubers that can be eaten boiled or roasted

Fry - Plant part can be dipped in batter and pan fried

Raw Fruit - Fruits are eaten uncooked

Cooked Fruit - Fruits or non-fruit parts (i.e. rhubarb) used in pies and other desserts

Jellies, Jams and Sauces - Are made from the fruits

Syrups and Sugar - Such as can be made from maple sap

Candy - Certain plant parts are boiled in sugar syrup to produce a confection

Grains - Used for cereal or cooking whole such as oats or rice

Nuts and Seeds - Used whole or for oil extract

Flour and Meal - Grains, nuts, seeds and roots that can be ground into flour or meal

Hot Beverage - Plant parts used in tea, coffee or similar preparations

Cold Beverage - Fruit juices or hot beverages that have been cooled

Pickle - Parts of the plant are preserved by pickling using recipes

Seasoning - Parts of the plant are used as seasoning when ground or grated

Thickener - Used like flour or cornstarch to thicken soups

Caution - Plant can cause minor reaction when eaten at the wrong stage, when too much is eaten, or from eating the wrong part

Poisonous - Plant causes severe reaction when wrong part is eaten, or when eaten at the wrong stage
Key To "Edible Uses" Symbols
"Edible Uses" Symbols Key

Below are "edible uses" symbols and their meanings. You'll find some of these symbols on each plant's page. Use them to understand a plants most common uses at a glance.
See Also:
See Also: