There are many wild edible plants growing around us. Some of these plants are poisonous, while others are absolutely delicious and nutritious. But most of them are not safe to eat raw.
If you happen to get lost in the woods or you go for a long hike, you will get hungry. Luckily, there are plenty of food options in the wild. But you will need to learn how to survive on the plants and foods you find growing wild.
It is important to learn how to identify some of the edible plants that grow there. You don’t want to worry about being poisoned.
I’ve compiled a list of 15 edible wild plants that you can safely forage and harvest from nature. Discover how to identify these wild edibles, how to harvest and prepare them for eating, and their nutritional value.
9 Signs of Plants That Should Be Avoided From Eating
There are many wild plants which are edible, but it isn’t always easy to identify what they are and if they’re safe to eat. Before using plants as food, it’s important to make sure they aren’t poisonous or toxic.
Here are some of the most common signs that a plant should be avoided:
- Strong, unpleasant odor.
- Musty, rotting odor: the plant could have developed dangerous fungal toxins.
- Smells similar to pears or almonds: indicates the presence of cyanide.
- Milky sap in the plant: milky saps can often contain toxic compounds. For example, you should avoid eating dandelion stems.
- Umbrella-shaped flowers: many plants from the Umbelliferae family are toxic and the ones that are edible are often difficult to identify with certainty.
- Yellow, white or red berries.
- Shiny leaves.
- Thorns or spines: if the berries are aggregated, then they are safe to eat.
- Signs of decay or of having been eaten by insects or worms.
Now, let’s get to the 15 wild edible plants that you are able to forage and eat.
1. Amaranth (Amaranthus species)
The Amaranth plant is originally from Mexico, and is now widespread in many parts of the world. It’s common along roadsides or as weeds among crops. There are over 60 edible species of amaranth.
All parts of this plant are edible, but it may have spines that should be removed. The seeds are sweet and nutty in flavor, while the leaves taste similar to spinach.
The young Amaranth plants can be eaten raw or boiled. The older ones can be shaken to retrieve the seeds, which can also be eaten raw or boiled or alternatively, ground into flour.
Amaranth is very nutritious too. It’s rich in high quality proteins and contains 8 of the essential amino acids. It is also rich in fiber and has good amounts of vitamin B, C and E.
2. Asparagus (Asparagus acutifolius)
Asparagus plants can be found in all temperate areas of the world. It grows in open fields and along fences, but prefers shaded areas. Asparagus sprouts in the spring and can always be found in clusters resembling thin green fingers.
The stems should be cut at the base before they have grown leaves. In order to be eaten, they have to be boiled for 10-15 minutes, otherwise they can cause nausea or intestinal problems. They are also slightly bitter.
Asparagus is rich in vitamin C, folic acid and carotenoid. It is also a good source of vitamin B2. Since this plant is rich in nitrogen compounds, it shouldn’t be eaten by people with kidney diseases.
3. Chicory (Chicorium intybus)
Chicory grows as a weed in most parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. It can be found in old fields, waste areas, weedy lots, and along roads.
The chicory plant can grow up to 6 feet tall. It is one of the most well-known wild plants, as it is very easy to identify thanks to its sky-blue flowers. The leaf looks similar to that of other wild edible plants, such as the dandelion.
All parts of the chicory plant are edible. The leaves and the flowers can be eaten raw like a salad, but the leaves are very bitter. Therefore, it’s better to mix them with other more palatable plants or to cook them to reduce the bitterness.
The chicory roots can be used as a coffee substitute, after roasting and grounding them.
Chicory is very low in calories and high in fiber. It’s also rich in minerals, especially calcium, manganese, copper, iron and potassium. It is a good source of vitamins, particularly vitamin A, C, K, carotenoids, and folic acid.
4. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelions are very common weeds throughout the Northern Hemisphere. They grow in open, sunny areas.
The leaves and buds can be eaten as a salad or boiled for a few minutes. They taste slightly bitter and tangy. The roots are also edible, but need to be boiled first. They can also be used as a coffee substitute, like/ the chicory.
Dandelions are very nutritious. The greens are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K. They are also rich in calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium. The plant is full of antioxidants, mainly found in the flowers.
5. Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
Elderberry is a shrub with white, fragrant flowers that grow in clusters. The fruits are small, black berries. It grows in most of eastern North America.
The only edible parts of the elderberry plant are the flowers and fruits, which need to be cooked prior to consumption. The raw berries, bark and leaves are in fact poisonous and can cause stomach problems when eaten raw.
The flowers can be soaked in water for 8 hours or more to make a drink. The berries can be tart, sweet or bitter, depending on the elderberry variety.
The berries are packed with antioxidants, especially flavonols and anthocyanins. The latter are responsible for the dark color and the anti-inflammatory effects of the berries. They are also high in vitamin C and phenolic acids.
6. Juniper (Juniperus species)
Junipers are evergreen shrubs or trees with a distinct, very recognizable aroma similar to that of cedar trees. The leaves are scaly and grow tightly attached to the branches.
These edible berry trees grow in much of Northern America and Europe. Their native habitat is open, dry and sunny areas.
The Juniper’s blue fruits are known as berries, but they are actually seed cones. They have a tart, pine-like flavor and can be dried or crushed to use as a seasoning. They can also be eaten raw. The young twigs are also edible and can be gathered to make tea.
The Juniper berries are especially rich in vitamin C and flavonoid antioxidants. Their volatile oils contain monoterpenes, which have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties.
7. Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Nettles grow in moist areas in Central and North America, as well as Northern Europe. They can grow up to several feet high.
The leaves of the Nettle plant have fine bristles that cause a stinging sensation upon contact. Other plants very similar in appearance do not sting and are also edible.
The Nettle’s leaves can be safely eaten after being dried or boiled for 10-15 minutes and they have a spinach-like flavor. The best are the young, tender leaves that grow in the spring.
Nettle is a very nutritious plant, offering many vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, polyphenols, and all of the essential amino acids. Many of these nutrients also act as antioxidants.
8. Plantain (Plantago species)
The plantain plant grows all over the world and is very common in lawns and along roads in the northern temperate zone.
The plantain plant is easily recognizable thanks to its leaves, which have 5 parallel veins and form a rosette. The two most common species are with long, narrow leaves (Plantago lanceolata), and with short, broader ones (Plantago major).
The young leaves can be consumed raw as a salad, boiled, or crushed to make a pesto. On the other hand, the older leaves should always be cooked as their taste is more bitter. The seeds are also edible, raw or roasted, and have a nutty flavor.
Plantain has good nutritional value, but is most well-known for its officinalis properties. Soaked and applied to wounds and sores, it relieves pain and irritation. A tea made from the leaves is used to treat diarrhea, while the seeds are laxatives.
9. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
The purslane plant has flashy leaves and stems, and it grows close to the ground. It is widespread all over the world and it is often viewed poorly by farmers as it tends to overrun cultivated plants. It also grows in field margins and weedy areas.
All parts of the purslane are edible. The young leaves and stems can be eaten raw and have a fresh, sour flavor, while the older ones are more bitter. The leaves can also be boiled, while the seeds can be used as a flour substitute or eaten raw.
Purslane is rich in Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which help in reducing cholesterol and preventing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
10. Reed (Phragmites australis)
Reed is a coarse grass that can grow up to 12 feet tall, which makes it one of the tallest marsh plants in North America. It is common in open, wet areas in temperate regions.
Reed is not a well-known plant to be foraged, but is very useful because all of its parts are edible. It can be eaten raw or cooked, and found in any season. The stems can be cut above ground and eaten boiled, while the part that grows underground is often too tough to eat.
The roots and rhizomes are an excellent sugar source.
11. Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
Sassafras shrubs and trees are common in eastern North America. They have a characteristic root beer smell, as they were used in the past as an ingredient for the beverage. They grow in open, sunny areas.
The sassafras root can be peeled and dried to make a tea with a heavy, earthy flavor. The young twigs and leaves can be eaten raw or dried, or added to soups.
This plant should be used in moderation, as it is proven to contain safrole, a chemical which can be poisonous.
12. Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
Sheep sorrel is common in old fields and disturbed areas in North America and Europe. This plant grows mostly in dry, sandy soil.
The sheep sorrel’s young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, and have a sour flavor that resembles vinegar. They contain oxalic acid which can cause damage, so be careful of eating too much sheep sorrel when eaten raw. Make the plant safe to eat by cooking it. The toxic compound is destroyed if the leaves are cooked.
Sheep sorrel is rich in vitamin C and minerals like iron, magnesium, calcium, manganese, copper, and zinc.
13. Thistle (Cirsium species)
Thistles have long, prickly leaves and pink or purple flowers. They grow worldwide in dry fields and forests, preferring sunny areas. Every species of thistle is edible, so it is a great plant for foraging beginners.
When it comes to thistles, it’s best to choose the most tender specimens. Remove the spines and peel the outer, fibrous layer from the stems, which will then need to be boiled. The roots, on the other hand, can be eaten raw or cooked and are very sweet.
The roots are very nutritious and are also rich in sugar. However, they contain inulin, which can give digestive problems for some people.
14. Wild Onion and Garlic (Allium species)
There are many different species of wild onion and garlic, and they are easily recognizable by their smell. They are found in open areas in the temperate zones.
There are other similar bulbous plants that don’t smell like garlic and onion and can be poisonous, so it’s important to be careful out in the wild.
The edible parts of wild garlic and onions are the bulbs and young leaves, which can be eaten raw or cooked. Despite the odor, the flavor of these plants is much more delicate than that of the cultivated varieties.
These plants are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and hormone-like substances, and they also have antibiotic properties.
15. Wild Rose (Rosa species)
Wild roses are shrubs common throughout the Northern Hemisphere. There are over 100 varieties of wild roses in the Americas and they are all edible.
Wild roses grow in open woods and fields, preferring partly shaded areas. The red rose hips, which are the part that remains after the petals fall off, make it so that the plant is easily seen during the winter.
All parts of the wild rose plant are edible. The flowers and buds can be eaten raw or boiled and are very sweet. The young leaves can also be used to make tea. The sweetest petals are the pink and yellow ones. The rose hips are sugary and fruity in taste.
The rose hips are renowned as an excellent source of vitamin C. They also contain beta-carotene and malic acid.
Wild Edible Plants Final Thoughts
If you want to learn how to survive in the wild and nature, there are several ways to do this. You can start with learning about edible plants and what they look like. Then, once you know what you’re looking at, you can go out into the wilderness and find them.
You can use the knowledge of edible plants to help you survive in the wild. If you’re hungry and see something that looks interesting, be careful of eating it right away. Look out for signs of plants that say it’s toxic.
For more on specific types of edible plants, check out these articles: