Believe it or not, your yard could contain edible wild plants!
It’s not just tomatoes, peppers, or other domestic plants that can be consumed, but wild plants as well.
So, if you’re planting or maintaining a garden, consider growing a few edible wild plants as well.
Here’s what you should know about edible wild plants, how to prepare them, and what benefits they hold.
1. What are common edible wild plants?
As a child, you probably picked dandelions and blew off the seeds to make a wish.
However, the Korean dandelion (Taraxacum Platycerium) is a related plant that appears more like a flower.
It’s also edible and has been part of food cultures for thousands of years.
The dandelion is rich in vitamins A, B, and C and also contains high levels of magnesium and iron.
The dandelion is part of the sunflower family, so it’s not all that surprising we’re able to eat it.
After all, many of us enjoy sunflower seeds.
Dandelions have smooth, hairless leaves with toothed edges.
The leaves are the part of this wild plant that you’ll eat.
If you pick them in the early spring, they’re the most tender and nutritious.
We recommend harvesting the bright yellow buds right before they flower because they’re efficient in seeding.
If you’re an asparagus lover, you may be surprised to learn that it grows wildly in sunny roadside and irrigation ditches in the spring.
It requires loose, sandy soil, so if you’re in a location that has that type of soil, keep an eye out!
Spring and fall are the best times to forage for asparagus.
Wild asparagus can be identified by bright yellow or orange stems and a scattering of berries underneath the bushy growth.
You’ll see this in the fall, and then you can return here in the spring to harvest the edible green stems.
Harvest the stems with a white base and tightly formed crown with a slight purple color.
Nettle is a highly nutritious wild plant.
It’s often used in soups and teas, and it’s also sauteed as a leafy green.
Often, you can substitute nettle in recipes that use spinach or kale.
If you intend to use these leaves in salads, make sure you pick the leaves young.
The young leaves don’t have the same stinging ability as the mature plants.
That said you can also neutralize the stinging by steaming, sauteing, or boiling the leaves before using them in pies, pasta, casseroles, etc.
For centuries, stinging nettle has been used to treat painful muscles and joints as well as arthritis, gout, anemia, and eczema.
It’s useful in tea form.
You can dry the leaves and store them for the future.
Nettle plants grow along riverbeds in partially shaded areas.
They’re around three feet tall and have dark green opposite-growing toothed leaves.
Wear gloves if you think you’ve found a nettle plant.
There are small hairs that grow on the underside of nettle leaves, and these can deliver a sharp sting to unwary forages who aren’t wearing gloves.
Did you know that garlic mustard is actually an invasive weed?
This plant has infiltrated almost all areas of Europe and North America and devastated the botanical biodiversity of various areas.
Wherever garlic mustard grows, seeds won’t sprout.
That said, while it’s destructive, it’s great for foragers.
The plant is a squat bushy herb on the forest floor.
It blooms in the early spring.
You can recognize garlic mustard for its slightly rounded, serrated leaf edge.
The leaves also have pronounced veining and a deep green hue.
The plant also sends up long, flowering stems with tiny, white four-petal buds.
If you’re not sure if you’ve found the right plant, you can crush a leaf or two in your hands.
These actions should help release a garlicky aroma to ensure you’ve picked garlic mustard instead of something else.
Elderberry may be wild, but it’s already a popular musky flavor used in brewing, winemaking, tea, and baking.
Elderberry also has powerful medicinal properties, including vitamin C, antioxidants, and flavanols.
That said, you must take care when selecting elderberry.
It looks scarily similar to water hemlock, which is deadly.
Additionally, only the flowers and berries of the elderberry plant can be eaten.
The rest is toxic.
Elderberry can be found on tall, dense bushes that grow in moist forest habitats.
The stems are brown and woody with a bark-like appearance near the base of the bush.
The light green leaves have a long shape and serrated edges that grow in an opposite pattern.
They also have a cluster of 5-petal, white flowers that grow from light green stems.
In the summer, you’ll see dark purple berries appear in an umbrella formation with 10-20 fruit.
The berries themselves are small — only about 1/4 inches in diameter.
When people think about wild edible plants, berries are among the top foods they hope they’ll find.
Wild raspberries are delicious, and they grow in woodland areas during the late summer months.
Bear in mind that these fruits are different from blackberries because they have a hollow core.
To identify them, look for light-green, spade-shaped leaves that are serrated and slender (more so than the blackberry bush).
You should wash the berries and enjoy them raw for peak nutrition.
Curled dock is a perennial flowering plant that’s native to Europe and Western Asia.
You can identify it by its wavy, elongated bright green leaves.
It has a slightly sour taste when it’s eaten raw.
When the plant is mature, it will have tightly clustered flower heads that change from green to reddish-brown throughout the pollination season.
It will also have long, reddish stalks that you can also consume.
Before consumption, make sure you remove the tough outer layer of the stalk and boil them 2-3 times.
You should also change the water between boils to help eliminate the bitter task.
2. How can you tell if a wild plant is edible?
It can be challenging to identify edible plants.
Most people worry that they’ll think something is edible that’s not.
Below are some simple characteristics that indicate that a plant is NOT edible.
All these characteristics can mean a plant is poisonous.
Milky white sap
Thorns, spines, or fine hairs on the leaves or stems
Pods with bulbs, beans, or seeds
Stems or trunks that have an almond scent
Three-leaved foliage growth
Pink, purple, or black spurs on the grain head
Foliage reminiscent of dill, parsley, or carrot fronds
Intensely bitter or soapy flavor
If a plant exhibits one or more of the above traits, then it’s likely toxic.
That said, you must look closely because there are edible wild plants that have similar features that are full of nutrients.
3. What are the benefits of edible wild plants?
You may be wondering why anyone would eat wild plants.
Isn’t it risky?
Won’t you get sick?
Why wouldn’t you just shop at the grocery store?
Here are 7 reasons that eating wild plants has a lot of benefits.
Wild plants are local
What’s even more local than a farmer’s market?
A plant that grows on your land or down the street!
You can pick it yourself and eat it raw.
It doesn’t get more sustainable than that.
Wild plants help you save money
Edible wild plants are cheap depending on where you get them.
If there are edible plants on your land, then you’re probably not spending any extra money.
If you’re foraging for wild plants, then you may have to pay for gas money to get there, but you won’t have to pay for the plants themselves.
That’s a big deal since produce can be such a big expense!
Wild plants get you outside
Today, most people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors.
This has prompted natural deficit disorder.
If you’re looking for additional ways to spend time outside, gardening or foraging for edible wild plants can be a great hobby.
Wild plants help you learn about local ecosystems
You may not know much about local plants or ecosystems until you get down and dirty with your environment.
It takes a lot of time and skill to be able to identify edible wild plants.
You must know for certain what plant you’re eating, so you won’t accidentally ingest something harmful.
This requires extensive knowledge about plants in your area and their ecosystems.
Wild plants avoid pesticides
One concern that people have with eating produce is chemicals.
In most circumstances, wild plants don’t use pesticides or fertilizers, especially if they’re found away from roads, golf greens, or other contaminated areas.
Now, you should be careful to only pick edible wild plants on public land.
Or if you’re on private land, be sure to get permission from the landowner before picking the wild plants.
This way, you’ll be able to get free produce.
After collecting, bring it home and wash thoroughly.
Even if the food is chemical-free, you want to make sure you prepare and wash it correctly.
Wild plants help control invasive species
Certain wild plants, like garlic mustard, are invasive.
When you eat these plants, you help to control their population.
It’s great for the environment, and it’s great for you because it’s a tasty plant!
Just be sure to dispose of the waste properly in a sealed plastic bag so that the invasive plant doesn’t reproduce in your compost bin.
Those plants are survivors!
Wild plants help you discover new foods
If you’re a homesteader, you may be looking for new ways to get creative with food.
When you must produce just about everything that you consume, you may get bored of what you make day to day.
Foraging for edible wild plants can be a great way to branch out and incorporate new foods into your diet.
Because wild plants aren’t normally available in the grocery store, they can give your old recipes a twist.
Some plants you’ll want to use as a garnish while others will be a great base.
4. What vegetables can you eat raw?
While it isn’t quite the same as finding edible plants in the wild, here are vegetables that you can eat in their natural states.
If you happen to grow these in your garden or find a natural patch, you can eat them as is (raw)!
5. What leaves can you eat in the wild?
If you’re looking for some healthy edible wild greens, here are a few you may consider:
Lamb’s quarters: related to spinach and a great source of vitamins A, K, and C
Dandelion: has edible roots, leaves, and flowers; an excellent source of calcium and vitamins A, C, and K
Amaranth: better known for its seeds than leaves; a good source of iron, calcium, potassium, and protein
Nettles: leaves that are a great source of dietary fiber and calcium; however, not able to be eaten raw because of their “stinging” quality
Purslane: super-hardy weed that is a rich source of vitamin A, potassium, magnesium, calcium, folate, and iron; great for salads or soups
Sorrel: a perennial herb with leaves that look similar to spinach; best to use young leaves that have a milder flavor because the mature leaves can taste sour
Foraging for edible wild plants can be a great way to explore nature, conserve existing ecosystems, and enrich your diet all while living off the land.
That said, you must do your research so you know which plants are edible and which can cause serious (if not fatal) damage to your body.
We recommend foraging under the guidance of an experienced outdoorsman who knows local plant life.
They can help show you all the tips and tricks to finding edible wild plants if you’re a beginner.
If you’re not sure about which plants are edible on your land, err on the side of caution and let them be.
You don’t want to end up in the emergency room.
You can always plant a garden and raid that instead!
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants, or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.