We are surrounded by wild edible plants everyday. In trying to learn about them, you might quickly feel overwhelmed by the staggering amount of information available. Here are some important consideration for getting started:
- Identifying Plants
- Major Groupings
It is vital that you can identify the wild edible plants that you intend to utilize. Some edible plants have deadly poisonous look-alikes. Good field guides are invaluable. The best guides clearly explain identification, collection, and preparation techniques. We highly recommend the following guides:
- Identifying and Harvesting Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants by Steve Brill
- Discovering Wild Plants by Janice Schofield
Wild edible plants are very beneficial for you and your family for many reasons. First of all, there are wild edibles growing near you no matter what part of the world you live in. Chances are good, you can find a large number of species where you live and some of them are likely to be plentiful.
Secondly, many wild plants are highly nutritious and can be even more nutritious than many store bought fruits and vegetables. For instance, dandelion which you might think of as little more than a garden-variety weed is actually an incredibly nutritious wild edible plant. In a single hundred gram amount of cooked dandelion greens, there is 11,000 mg of Potassium, 18 mg of vitamin C and 42 mg of calcium.
You might consider eating the dandelions in your yard, rather than removing or poisoning them. Though if you are going to consume edible plants, make sure you also consider the hazards.
There are some dangers in collecting and eating wild edibles. To begin with, think about the location you are gathering and consider the following:
- Is the area sprayed with pesticides or herbicides?
- Is the area close to a busy road or other source of pollution?
- Does your target species have any poisonous look-alikes?
Also consider that wild edible plants are often more nutritionally concentrated than store bought foods - you may not need to eat as much quantity as you would of foods from home. It is also wise to start off eating very small quantities of wild edible plants, especially those you have not tried before, in case of potential allergic reactions. Test them before you collect or eat large quantities.
Also, the hazard many people forget to consider, and it is one of the most important, is the hazard you pose to the plants themselves!
Please practice wise and sustainable harvesting techniques. Consider the needs of the plants and the other animals that might feed on them.
If the plant you are harvesting is rare, is the only one of its kind on the location you are harvesting or especially if it is endangered, leave it alone!
Look for places where the species you are interested in gathering is plentiful. Also look for plants that have abundant fruit, nuts or berries. This will make your job of gathering less work and also, if you are considerate, it will leave less of an impact on the land. A good guidelines is to collect one third of the plant material, leaving two thirds for plant regeneration and wildlife.
There are so many different kinds of plants out there in the world. It can really help to initially lump them into more manageable groups. Here are some of the major groups of wild edibles, organized by plant families:
The Lily Family (Liliaceae): This includes species such as:
- Wild onions
- Wild garlic
- Wild leeks
- Glacier lilies
The Purslane Family (Portulacaceae): This includes:
- Miner's Lettuce
- Spring Beauty
The Rose Family (Rosaceae): This includes edible plants such as:
- Wild roses
- Wild strawberry
The Heath Family (Ericaceae): This includes species such as:
The Mustard Family (Brassicaceae): This includes plants such as:
- Shepard's purse
The Mint Family (Lamiaceae): This includes wild edibles such as:
- Wild mint
The Sunflower Family (Asteraceae): This includes species such as:
- Wild sunflower
- Pineapple weed
- Oxeye daisy
- Common burdock
- Thistle species
The Nettle Family (Urticaceae): This includes:
- Stinging nettle
The Cattail Family (Typhaceae): This includes:
- Narrow-leaf and broad-leaved cattail
The Beech Family (Fagaceae): This includes:
The Pine Family (Pinaceae): This includes trees such as:
With proper identification and careful consideration of safety & potential hazards, edible wild plants can become an exciting and healthful part of your diet. Happy foraging!
By the way, when you're out foraging for wild plants and mushrooms, it's important to know how to stay safe in the outdoors, especially if you were to get lost. Right now you can get a free copy of our mini survival guide here, where you'll discover six key strategies for outdoor emergencies, plus often-overlooked survival tips.
About the Author: Filip Tkaczyk is a periodic guest teacher at Alderleaf. He also wrote the field guide Tracks & Sign of Reptiles & Amphibians. Learn more about Filip Tkaczyk.