Early spring is one of the best times to go foraging; get your inner adventurer on and learn how to identify and eat these delicious, green gems.
Eating and gardening are one of life’s most simple and yet profound pleasures. Budding and veteran gardeners alike have a twinkle in their eyes when they’re immersed in nature. The ability to say “I know this plant!” is something all plant lovers enjoy.
Before finding plants in your local area, make sure to keep yourself safe. The most important considerations before foraging and eating native plants are:
Accidentally eating poisonous plants (or toxic parts of an edible plant)
Accidentally eating a plant that is contaminated with toxic pesticides or other microbes
Having an allergic reaction to native plants
The best way to avoid poisonous plants is to strengthen your foraging skills.
How To Avoid Toxic and Poisonous Species
Identification is a skill that is acquired over time. When strengthening your foraging skills, it’s important to focus on which types of foliage and flowers to avoid. After figuring out which species you can’t eat, then you can move on to finding the ones you can.
In general, here are a few tips for foraging for wild plants to eat:
If in doubt, do not eat. – If you are not completely sure about the plant you’ve just found, hold off before having a bite to eat. Some plants have toxic and poisonous look likes that could harm you.
Forage with an Expert – Though this may come to you at a small cost, experts generally have an expansive knowledge of their local area. They are able to identify which plants are safe for consumption and can help you with your own journey.
Keep journals and books with you – Safe to eat plants generally have more family members that can also be eaten. Certain seeds are safe for consumption; valuable knowledge like this can be kept in a journal, so you can refer to it all the time.
Try to read more books on foraging – From here you will be studying how to identify leaves and tell-tale signs of edibility in plants.
Start with your garden – What better way to explore the great outdoors than by checking your yard?
Benefits of Foraging
Finding wild edible plants to consume is a great skill for the outdoors. If you’ve ever gone camping, or if you’ve ever joined any type of scouting organization as a child, you’d know that foraging is part of the art of survival.
Foraging provides the ability to use all of your senses. It allows you to get in touch with the earth and teaches you the simple beauty of nature. It’s a great way to cultivate your observation skills, which makes you more efficient in other areas of life.
Unlike supermarket vegetables and herbs, which have usually been treated with pesticides and have unknown growing conditions, foraged plants are as healthy as they can get.
Filled with a litany of vitamins and minerals, plants in the wild are mostly untouched by contaminated, chemical substances. These plants are not only nutritious, but they have a flavor that not many processed foods and flavorings can really replicate.
The ability to find edible plants in the wild is a necessary skill for mountain climbers and campers. In the unlikely event that you’re stuck in a forest with no way out, foraging will be a skill you’ll be thankful for. It’s a basic skill anyone needs, really.
Now that we’ve covered a little about how to keep yourself safe and why edible plants matter, read on for a list of different species to find and enjoy for your next meal!
Edible Plants To Eat and Explore
Though you may often find this delicious vegetable at the supermarket, did you know that Asparagus is actually a wild, edible plant?
In North America, the frost-tolerant Asparagus plant is found growing wild in areas with sufficient water. Usually, this plant grows up to 1 meter tall and thrives in early spring. The tender stems of the Asparagus are packed with nutritious vitamins and minerals.
To use this lovely edible plant, feel free to boil, grill, or bake it so that its bitter taste is replaced with a subdued, sweeter flavor. Its stems can also be eaten raw, as another alternative.
Asparagus grows along with grassy areas and has delicate, yellow-green flowers. Often, the ground where this plant grows is sandy and loamy.
Berries are the quintessential foraging plant. Small, sweet, and delectable, these plants come in colors of red, blue, to dark purple. When foraging for berries, it’s best to follow this old mnemonic:
“Brown and yellow can kill a fellow…Purple and blue, good for you.” When foraging, especially for plants like berries, it’s important to observe the color of your unknown fruit. Most berries taste sour, tart, and are good to eat raw.
Several plants belong to the berry family, in an assortment of colors and flavors. If you’re a beginner at identification, start your foraging by looking for the more common edible berries, such as currants, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries.
Some other berries you might enjoy looking for are:
Currants – These famous raw berries are a hit in European countries and have a lovely, sour taste that makes you lick your lips!
Cloudberry – With its red-orange color and textured leaves, the cloudberry is an adorable plant that will often grow in USDA Zones 2-4.
Elderberry – The dark blue elderberry is rich in Zinc and has an earthy, sour taste that can be paired with sweet fruits.
Gooseberry – These green and red berries taste tart when young but turn sweeter over time. They grow best in the late spring and are delicious when eaten raw or cooked in baked pastries.
Mulberry – These dark-colored berries are addicting to eat and are filled with wonderful antioxidants. They grow in warmer USDA hardiness zones, like those in Florida and Texas.
The burdock arctium has become popular around the world for its flavor; often, people eat this delicious plant because it has a similar flavor to artichokes. Native to Asia, this plant has now taken root in the Americas!
The taste of this plant is absolutely divine, so much so that even its roots are eaten. his plant also resembles a rhubarb in its appearance, with nettle-like, pink blooms. This plant’s leaves are much like Rhubarbs, so it is quite easy to identify.
Burdock plants are found near streams, fields, and most barnyards in North America. To cook this edible plant, scrub its taproot like a potato and boil or roast with garlic.
Often this plant is cooked for Asian-infused dishes. Feel free to shred its roots and mix with your favorite salad dressing for a Japanese-inspired Gōbō Salad, or with noodles for a healthy snack.
Chickweed Stellaria Media
The common edible Chickweed is an annual perennial edible filled with nutritious vitamins and minerals. It’s chock-full of Vitamin C, Iron, and even Calcium!
Its name, Stellaria comes from the fact that the young leaves of this plant resemble stars; but even feasting on the leaves and flowers of this wild edible is an astronomical experience! As a food, chickweed plants are great for digestion.
The Chickweed (stellaria media) is best eaten raw. Keep it in salads, sandwiches, or even soups for garnish! This plant can be used as a substitute for spinach and has a similar flavor.
Curly Dock ‘Dock Rumex Crispus’
A close relative of the burdock is the dock rumex crispus, a type of edible wild plant that is delicious in early spring. Native to Europe, this plant is now widely available in North America. Often, curly dock plants are found growing near areas of water or moist soil.
This lovely edible is easily identifiable for its arugula-shaped leaves. Curly dock leaves are oval and grow from a central base, much like a lettuce plant. It also has a fresh, sour taste and a crunchy bite.
The best time to use this plant for food is when it is young. Small, tender leaves are best eaten right after picking as its flavor this wild edible loses flavor over time.
Cooked curly docks pair well with Mediterranean dishes, as well as in ravioli or other kinds of pasta. Make sure to boil this plant before consuming it, as the calcium oxalate may cause stomach aches in large amounts.
If you’ve ever enjoyed the scent of cooked garlic, garlic mustard plants may be next on your ‘edible’ list! When crushed, the leaves of this plant release an intoxicating garlic flavor that you’ll love to eat.
When we say this plant is an edible, wild one, we mean it: in some areas, garlic mustard plants are viewed as a garden weed instead of as edible plants. But, its tender, cluster-shaped leaves are perfect for cooking!
This common plant can grow in a variety of places: its long roots can be gound growing in different types of soil, sunlight, and conditions. Most deciduous forests will have these plants growing underneath trees.
The leaves of this plant look like the more common Mint herb. Pick these edible plants when young so as to maximize their full flavor.
Garlic mustard plants can be eaten in olive oil bread dips, pestos, and all types of food. Its flavor is most potent in the spring, and
The iconic yellow flowers of the dandelion have been a subject of many garden paintings. These days, these wild edible plants are more common in kitchens, where they’re cooked, eaten, and enjoyed.
The dandelion is most often found in USDA Zones 3-10 in North America. Its name, dandelion comes from the French phrase “dant de leon”, or Lion’s Tooth. Thus, the dandelion flower has sharp, pointed blooms that are yellow in color, like a lion.
Flowers from this plant begin to grow and unfurl in late spring until early summer. From the ground up to its bright blooms, dandelions are completely edible and fun to forage!
The leaf, flower, stems, and even seeds of these plants have a bitter taste that is cherished in teas and other foods and beverages.
To use this species as a tea, the most common method is to dry its leaves and seeds. We recommend these methods. You can also place the young flowers in boiling water for a more strong, bitter taste.
Cooked dandelions are a fabulous way to incorporate plants in your diet. Its leaves can be used in sandwiches and even quesadillas for a spin on classic flavors!
Note: Another species that is similar to this flower is the False Dandelion, which is less bitter, and still deliciously edible!
Finding mushrooms in the wild is an art. With their lovely flavors and ability to amplify dishes to the next level, they’re usually the first thing people want to find in the forest.
Mushrooms can be a challenge to identify, which is why there are dedicated experts called Mycologists that are trained to do this very thing. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to hold off on mushrooms until you’ve had a few months (even years) of experience.
Most mushrooms grow in cool, damp places and are found in clusters. They are best identified with spore prints and a keen eye for specific features on their stems, bulbs, and caps.
However, some mushroom varieties are easier to find than others. Here are a few of our recommendations:
Chanterelle – This variety is described as golden in color, with a mild, peppery taste used for French dishes. It has a curly, wavy cap and it’s easy to find in most forests.
Morel – Morel mushrooms have a spongy cap and hollow body when opened, and grow abundantly in the spring. These mushrooms are great for pasta dishes!
Oyster – Oyster mushrooms grow in the hundreds among oak and beech trees in North America. They’re a great substitute for meat and are rich in Vitamin B.
NOTE: Mushroom hunting requires strict precautions. Because of how many species there are, there are bound to be look alikes; some being poisonous and even deadly. It is best to explore with an expert mycologist while foraging for wild mushrooms.
This edible beauty is best known for its stems, which sport thorn-like parts that can sting. When foraging for Nettles, make sure that you will only be consuming its leaves. Nettles that go to seed become inedible, so make sure to only reach for young and tender plants.
Nettle plants thrive in the spring and grow up to 4 feet tall. Stinging nettles have fuzzy, white flowers and are light green in color. You’ll be able to identify a stinging nettle primarily by its stem, which is green or brown and fuzzy and filled with jutted-out needles.
To cook and consume Nettles, make sure to separate the leaves from the stalks with a pair of sharp scissors so as to avoid being stung. You can also use the discarded stems as a natural pesticide, as its needle-like texture can puncture pests like aphids, spidermites, and more.
Nettle plants are great for tea because of their soothing flavor. They can also be used in pestos, soups, or paired with fish dishes!
‘Sheep Sorrel’ (Rumex Acetosella)
For the authentic French food experience, you’ll want to find these edible wild plants on your next trip. The Sheep Sorrel (Rumex Acetosella) grows vastly in the French countryside and is now a common plant in North America.
Usually, these plants are found growing in areas with acidic soil. Grasslands, prairies, pastures, and roadsides are its usual locations. Its arrow-shaped leaves are its most common feature, which makes it easy to identify.
The sheep sorrel often grows red and white flowers that appear like berries, at first. It’s quite easy to identify because of its leaf shape, too. Its leaves are a fresh green color, and its roots are tens of inches long when pulled.
The taste of this edible wild plant is an amalgamation of flavor. With its tart and sour leaves, you’re sure to enjoy using it in soups, with cream, and even in yogurt.
Beyond food, you can also use these edible wild plants for nettle stings. Rub its leaf on the sting to aid in soothing.
Supermarket onions are a kitchen staple, but if your taste is more rustic, why not try to eat a wild onion? Eating something as freshly foraged as this plant is a transcendental experience.
This edible gem is most commonly found growing in grasslands and belongs to the allium family. Its long, green leaves have a distinctive onion smell and taste. Its blossoms grow in between the spring and summer in the East Coast.
What differentiates this plant from a regular onion is its size: the wild onion looks like a young, small version of the regular one. It also has small, white flowers.
Eat wild onion plants like regular ones; as a garnish for stews, its leaves provide a subtle flavor. It can also be eaten raw and peeled in slices for salads.