5 Like wild donkeys in the desert, the poor go about their labor of foraging food; the wasteland provides food for their children.
Job 24:5 New International Version (NIV)
Gathering wild edible plants (Foraging) can be fun, therapeutic, practical or even essential. There are many excellent foods right outside your door. Just go and get it, and it’s free. Keep checking back to see what has been added.
Do not harvest any wild edible where herbicides or pesticides may have been applied. Some of these plants can store the poisons making them un-edible. Only harvest known organic plants for consumption.
The law on harvesting Wild Edible Plants may vary depending on what state you live. Please check with your Department of Natural Resources to make sure you are complying with the law.
Understand that before you consume any wild plant, you must know 100% what it is and that it is safe to eat. We are providing this material for informational purposes. Do not use this as your only source of information. Be cautious if you are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant and consuming any plant.
I highly recommend becoming familiar with some of the common plants below and be able to identify them for use as a survival plant. Even though this website is geared more for the Great Lakes Region, and more specifically Michigan, many of the plants are available across the country.
Now with all that daunting disclaimer stuff out of the way, don’t be discouraged. Some plants like dandelions are as safe as anything you will find in the store (you can find it in many stores) and just as easily recognized. Speaking of which,
The Dandelion (Taraxacum) of the Aster Family is very nutritious and everyone knows what it looks like. Every part of this plant can be eaten. It can be a bit bitter, but when you boil it, the bitterness is diminished. Add any part of it, except the roots, to soups or pasta. The young leaves add a pleasant bitterness to salads. Dry the roots, roast and then grind in a coffee grinder for a nutritious, non caffeinated coffee substitute. I enjoy the greens boiled, with a bit of butter, salt, pepper and a shot of vinegar.
The dandelion is Gods gift. It’s everywhere, it’s plentiful. It’s free. It’s nutritional. See the chart at http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/dandelion-herb.html so that you can see how nutritious “weeds” can be. As a side note, the Cats Ear below is very similar in Nutrition as Dandelion. Pretty much any green leafy edible will have a good amount of nutrition. No one should go hungry and be malnourished. The dandelion has anti inflammatory benefits as well as digestion benefits. It is very good for the gall bladder, bladder, kidney and liver. Everyone is familiar as where to find these gems, but just make sure, as with all edibles that you are harvesting organic plants. Comment below.
Check out my YouTube video: Sweet Fern .
Common Mallow (Malva neglecta) is one of those plants that gardeners will look at and say “What a pretty weed” just before they yank it out of their flower garden. Well you know, I do understand that. Hours are spent forming a flower garden to look just the way you want it, and even though it can be a fairly attractive plant, you didn’t spend dollars on it so therefore it is an invader. So, out it goes. That’s OK, I get it. But do yourself a favor; rather than tossing it out, harvest it instead.
Mallow is a wonderful edible and medicinal plant. The fresh young greens are very good fresh added to a salad. They are extremely nutritional as are all wild edible green leafy plants. High in polysaccharides and antioxidant compounds including phenol’s, flavonoids, carotenoids, tocopherols and ALA fatty acids, combined with high levels of minerals, vitamins and micro nutrients, Mallow is a health promoting super plant.
Due to it’s high levels of mucilage, Mallow is particularly effective in treating ailments such as sore throat, congestion or upset stomach. Anything that you may suffer from, that has to do with the path your food takes, can be soothed and coated with a protective layer. Make an infusion from the leaves and or flowers and enjoy with a touch of honey.
My grandchildren particularly enjoy Mallow “tea” with a touch of honey when suffering from a sore throat. It can be swallowed even when water is tough to swallow. The mallow slides right down, coating the throat as it goes. A word of caution though, mallow is also an effective “mild” laxative. So unless you have access to a bathroom, don’t over do it. On the other hand, if you are constipated, a Mallow “tea” might just be what you need.
A Common Mallow infusion cooled can also be effective in treating burns and other skin ailments. Use on a burn much in the way you would Aloe. Use on inflamed joints and muscles to reduce swelling and ease the pain.
As a survival plant, it is possible to find Mallow very early and quite late in the season. It can take some pretty cold weather. I have found it under the snow. Mallow is an import from Europe brought to America by settlers. Unfortunately it is not always available deep in nature. Usually it is found around cultivated areas, the sides of houses, worked up garden areas, lawns and even sidewalk cracks. But, that isn’t to say you won’t find it in the middle of a forest meadow, just not as likely. As an Urban survival plant, it is a great one to know.
There are no parts of the Mallow plant that is poisonous, however, due to it’s laxative and other properties, don’t over do it. Especially until you know how your body reacts to it.
Common Mallow is a relative of Marsh Mallow. The very plant first used by the French to make “Marshmallows” and is the name sake of the popular confection. Of course, now, Marshmallows are made from modern ingredients.
Mallow is in the same family (mulvaceae) as is Okra and has the same thickening properties. It can be used as a substitute when making gumbos. It is also related to garden plants such as Holy Hocks.
As always, know exactly what plant you have before using it internally or externally. You are always responsible for further study and 100% identification.
The bottom line is, before you pitch that Mallow, use it. It is likely one of the most nutritious and medicinally useful plants you have on your property and that includes your vegetable garden.
Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina) is an excellent survival resource. Great for when you aren’t feeling well, Sweet Fern helps with an upset stomach, headache and congestion. Make a mild tea and sweeten with honey if you desire. I think it’s pretty good as it is.
It is, despite it’s name, not a Fern, rather it is a member of the Bayberry Family. It’s woody stem has a pine flavor, so I tend to make sure I use only the leaves.
The leaves produce a slight numbing effect and can help alleviate toothache pain until you can properly treat it. Packed with nutrition, as most edible wild plants are, a hot Sweet Fern tea can be a real boost on a cold day.
Burning the plants makes for a pleasant incense and even helps to repel mosquitoes. Native Americans also used it to line their baskets to help keep berries fresh.
Quite often found in the same areas Blueberries are found, many people associate the sweet aroma of Sweet Fern with Blueberries, though they are unrelated.
A very easy plant to identify, Sweet Fern is certainly one to become familiar with and add it to your survival plant list.
As with anything that you consume, make sure you are 100% certain you have identified it correctly before you use it.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) More than just butterfly food, Milkweed is the main source of food for the beautiful Monarch Butterfly caterpillar.
So, even though it is delicious and very useful, make sure you leave plenty for the Monarch. Speaking of delicious…it is. I know many people believe Common Milkweed is poisonous, and they would be right. Mildly to people, the white milky latex sap is poisonous. I typically don’t add plants that need extra processing to be eaten, but in this case I will. Eating the plant raw would be very unpleasant due to the bitterness of the white milky sap. It would be quite the feat to eat enough uncooked leaves to harm you.
The young Spring shoots can be cooked like asparagus. Be careful not to confuse them with Dogbane (which is hairless) or Butterfly Weed (which is milkless). Both of those plants look similar as shoots and both are poisonous. Cooking them does not render them safe.
The buds and flowers and young immature seed pods are also delicious. In order to render Common Milkweed totally safe, boil all parts in at least 3 changes of water. Add them to already boiling water and not to cold water as that can set the bitter. I use two separate pots of boiling water and a tea pot. After the first boil and strain. Replenish the first pot with boiling water from the tea kettle. Don’t rinse between boils, just strain. The flowers and pods also make great fritters. Boil first, then dip in batter and deep fry. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it is easier than it sounds and well worth the effort.
There are many other uses for Milkweed aside from delicious table fare. The latex can be used to manufacture rubber. The fibers of the stem can be used to make rope and the seed tuft (which is 8-10 times more buoyant than cork) was used during the WWI and II to stuff life jackets for the Navy. The milky latex can also be applied to warts in order to remove them.
Aside from all that, a close up look at the flower reveals that it is amazingly beautiful.
Yarrow (Achillea milefolium) has been known as a healing herb since ancient times. It has been used as a sleep aid, fever reducer, skin wash for hair loss and skin irritation, cold and flu reliever, sore throat reliever, diarrhea and dysentery reliever and pain reliever (and much more). Yarrow is possibly best known for it’s astringent properties. It is very good at stopping blood flow. Use it on cuts and wounds as a poultice. Of course seek medical attention immediately for a serious wound.
Yarrow’s ability to protect against wounds was so powerful that Thetis, the mother of Achilles, submerged him in a Yarrow concoction in order to protect him during battle. It worked well. The hero of the Trojan Wars fought without harm, until, Paris shot him in the heel with an arrow. The problem is, Thetis was holding Achilles by his heels and did not dunk his feet into the Yarrow. His heels were unprotected. Bleeding to death, Achilles Yarrow protection ended at his ankles. Thus the scientific name for Yarrow is Achillea milefolium. Named after the hero it protected (Achillea) and the feathery look and feel of the leaves that resemble Milfoil (milefolium). It is also said that when you find someones weakness, you have found that persons “Achilles Heel”. Of course, the crucial tendon in the back of your foot is named for the hero who was brought down by his unprotected heel…which is now named Achilles Heel.
A close up examination of the flower cluster atop of the stem will verify that it is in the Aster Family. Notice the small complete flowers inside the larger petals in this exploded view of a Yarrow flower cluster. This is an identifier for members of the Aster Family.
Now, with all that good stuff, to wrap it up, the leaves are also a good pot herb, and dried, it is a fine tea. Just one more Wild Edible that you would be well served to study and add to your Foraging list.
Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) of the Mustard Family looks very much like Watercress below except it doesn’t live directly in standing or flowing water as does Watercress.
Hairy Bittercress also has little hairs on the stems and leaves. You can see the hairs much easier with a magnifying glass. As with all members of the Mustard Family, Hairy Bittercress is edible and nutritious. It is high in vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, beta carotene, antioxidants and it contains sulfur compounds that boost immunity and help in cancer prevention. You may be able to find edible Hairy Bittercress under the snow and it can be a good winter survival plant. Comment below.
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is another member of the Mustard Family. As it’s name suggest, it grows in water. It can be found in streams or rivers on the edges in areas that has not iced over in the winter. Therefore, it can be a winter survival plant.
The picture of Watercress was taken in early February. At this time of year, you won’t likely find it huge patches as you might in summer. Keep in mind that when harvesting plants from water, that the water source needs to be very clean. Water plants tend to absorb the contaminants from waste water more so than dry land plants. The contamination could be coming far upstream. Also, water plants tend to have parasites on them. Clean them well before eating raw or cook for a bit to kill anything on them. With that said, Watercress is one of the most nutritious plants you can eat. It is thought to be one of the earliest known plants to be eaten by man. Comment below.
Mint (Mentha) of the Mint or Dead Nettle Family is another wild plant that is easy to identify. Not only because of its appearance, but because of its fresh minty odor. If it smells like mint and looks like mint, take a small taste. If it taste minty…you get the picture. There are some edibles in the Mint family that don’t smell or taste overly minty, such as Purple Dead Nettle (see below).
Mint is used to freshen breath, give a refreshing flavor to salads and soups and improves the flavors of tea. It makes a very refreshing tea by itself. It isn’t overly nutritious but its other qualities make it a valuable herb. A tea (please let it cool before applying to scalp) used on the scalp may even kill lice. I have not tried so I don’t have personal experience.
Mint does contain antioxidants and may also benefit the bowels and the liver. Some have used it to sooth a sore throat. I enjoy it to flavor the herbal teas that I make. Mint comes up pretty early and I’m finding it in April in Michigan. Its around most of the summer. You can it find along fences, buildings and forest edges. Comment below.
Common Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) of the Purslane Family is one of the best wild edibles that you can take advantage of.
Once recognized, even though there are a few similar looking plants, it is easy to identify. In Michigan you will usually see it once it starts getting hotter. It is from India so it thrives in hot, dry conditions. It is extremely high in Vitamins A and C. It has a good amount of Iron, Magnesium. Manganese, and other minerals. It is also very high in Anti-oxidants: reddish beta-cyanins and the yellow beta-xanthins that are both known to be an anti-mutagen. That means it prevents cell mutations which are of course cancer cells. Very good both raw in salads and slightly sauteed, it is definitely a plant to take advantage of. Comment below.
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) of the Figwort Family is a very interesting plant. It is also very easy to identify. Large fuzzy arrow head shaped leaves. The spikes can reach 6′ and has lovely yellow flowers. It has a ton of traditional medicinal uses. Most of which has not been verified by modern scientist, but that doesn’t mean its not true. Europeans sure had faith in it!
The picture is from a spring plant that hasn’t spiked and flowered yet. It is a biannual meaning it flowers in its second year. As soon as I can, I will add pictures of the bloomed plant. Dry the leaves for long term storage or use fresh to make tea. This is a plant that used to be smoked in place of tobacco. It sounds odd, but there are reports that smoking this herb actually clears your lungs.
These are some of the medicinal benefits; Oil with Mullein for ear aches,”… medicinally, mullein is a demulcent, emollient and astringent herb. While the whole plant holds mild sedative/narcotic properties, the leaves and flowers are useful for treating conditions of the chest, lungs and bowels. Moreover, it may aid in calming cough and reducing the symptoms of asthma and spasmodic coughs in general. Topical poultices made from mullein leaves have been used to reduce the pain and irritation of hemorrhoids. The plants demulcent and astringent properties aid in the treatment of diarrhea, and it has been used in herbal medicine as a general nutritive tonic for the bowels.
Mullein flowers have also been used in the treatment of ringworm, burns, erysipelas, piles, mucus membrane inflammations, frost bites, wounds, bruises and headache. Finally, mullein oil is a known bactericide, with the marked ability to kill germs, and is a useful treatment for herpes, colds, flu, gout, tuberculosis, croup, sore throat, and general inflammation of the airways.” (Global Healing Center -http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/)
Don’t eat or use the seeds as they are toxic. The hairs on the surface may be an irritant. I use this plant as a tea and it does sooth a cough and relaxes me. Of course that may be because of its mild narcotic properties, lol. You will find Mullein in abandoned fields and clearings. Comment below.
The (Viola cucullata) Common Purple Violet of the Violet Family is one of those plants that parts are edible and parts are not. Do not consume the roots or the seeds. The flowers are candied and use by chefs to decorate dishes.
Violets leaves are rich in Vitamin A and C. They also have some medical properties such as having positive effects for respiratory and digestive ailments. The roots were used by American Indians pounded into a It also has diuretic properties and urinary track cleansing attributes as well. A tea can be gargled to sooth sore throats. The root poultice can also be used as a topical pain reliever for such ailments as arthritis. Much like Wintergreen, Violets have Salicylic Acid that relieves headache and other pain. The Downy Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens) has the same uses and the blue.
Enjoy the leaves and flowers in salads raw or cook the leaves like spinach for some nutrition, but its real value to me is its medical properties. I would say if you are in the field and have a cough, sore throat or other respiratory issues or an upset stomach, consider trying violets. It sure won’t hurt you. Violets are one of the first Spring plants in yards and forest floors. Comment below.
The Wild Garlic (Allium Ursinum), of the Amaryllis Family, is very similar to the wild onion. You can tell the difference by its leaves. Both are long, thin and waxy, but the garlic leaf is round and hollow while the onion is flat and solid. There really is no problem mistaking one for the other as both are completely edible and pretty much interchangeable for culinary uses.
It also is anti bacterial and has been used to clean the gut of undesirable parasites. It has also been used to treat yeast related infections. Wild Garlic is very easy to recognize. Any plant that looks like, smells like and taste like onion or garlic, is safe to eat. Healthful, easy to recognize, easy to harvest and tasty. There is no reason not to give it a try. Wild Garlic is a very early Spring arrival in yards and forest floors. Comment below.
Probably one of the most monetarily valuable wild edibles in the forest (along with the Morel Mushroom) is the Ramp (Allium tricoccum). Also known as the Wild Leek, of the Amaryllis Family, the Ramp is coveted by culinary chefs anytime they can get them. Why? Because the mild leek/onion flavor, if you like onions, can not be beaten.
If you could find a way to economically grow organic ramps on a commercial scale, you would not want for cash again. If you have legal access to private property with a large amount of these plants, you can make a considerable amount of money selling them to chefs.
Here’s the deal. It is not legal to harvest wild plants on State Land. General Rules R299.922, states “It is unlawful to destroy, damage, or remove a tree, including a dead and downed tree and woody debris, shrub, wildflower, grass, or other vegetation. Except in a wildlife food plot, this subdivision does not apply to picking and removing mushrooms, berries, and edible fruits or nuts for personal use.”
It is not legal to harvest any wild edible on any property for resale unless you go through various qualifications. Do not just pick and sell. Get properly qualified. Then be responsible. Don’t harvest so much that the crop can not recover. This is true with any wild edible.
The Ramps in the bottom picture have been cleaned up a bit, which is real easy to do. Just pull down the dead skin covering the white flesh then cut off the root system. Use these plants in any way you would a leek, green onion or even onion.
Ramps are fairly high in Vitamins C and A making them good for eye sight and the immune system. Indians used the plant to induce vomiting, to treat colds and ear aches and to rid intestinal worms. Yes, eating them can make you nauseous, but it takes a huge bunch to make you feel any ill effects at all. Unless of course you are sensitive to it. But then, you would be surprised how true this is for many of the foods you buy at the grocery store.
You will find Ramps in deciduous forest in early Spring. It’s one of the first forage-able edibles. It’s rather short lived so you’ll have have to get to them if you want them. The bulbs are available underground all year, but good luck finding them after the leaves die off. Comment below.
The flower itself as compared to the plant is quite rare. There may be hundreds of plants and only 5-10 flowers. The immature plant will only have a small edible bulb with one edible leaf on the edible stalk. The leaves are smooth and mottled. They make for a pretty fauna even without the flower. The mature plant will have two leaves and a single stalk with a yellow flower on it. Some people say the bulb taste like cucumber.
I didn’t think so, but it was OK. It would take a bunch to make a serving and would take more energy to harvest then you get out of them. The leaf has an interesting flavor. One you have to try on your own. Eh, maybe that’s why cucumber is used to describe the bulb? It’s about the closest description though I wouldn’t have come up with that if not suggested.
I’m not sure what the nutritional content is but the American Indians did use it for various ailments. A topical poultice was used on wounds. A tea from the entire plant was used to reduce fevers and quite stomach ulcers. The chemicals in the plant may have cancer inhibiting properties.
Trying to harvest the bulbs or the flowers would be quite labor intensive, but if you run into a colony of the mottled leaves, it wouldn’t take too long to harvest enough for a tea that could be stored for when you are sporting a fever. You’ll find Trout Lilies in colonies on the deciduous forest floor. The flower in early Spring. Comment below.
One of the first wild edibles I ever enjoyed is the Wintergreen ( Gaultheria procumbens L.)of the Heath Family. It has a very familiar refreshing flavor. Almost minty. If you’ve had Wintergreen gum then you’ll know what I mean.
The tea from winter green was actually used by the Colonist after they had the big tea party in the Boston Harbor. So they didn’t suffer much from tea deficiency disease (just kidding) when tea from England was cut off. So in some off
beat way, Wintergreen played a part in the formation of our country.
Wintergreen has been used as an analgesic, anti-rheumatic, anti-arthritic, antiseptic, astringent, anti-spasmodic, aromatic and a diuretic. It eases pain due to the presence of Menthyl Salicylate, which may have been the fore runner of Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid).
A word of caution though. The essential oil of Wintergreen is highly toxic as it contains high concentrations Methyl Salicylate. Safe as a topical pain reliever applied to sore joins and muscles, it can kill you if you ingest it. A tea from the leaves and berries are very safe as well as consuming the delicious berries. Your body can not break down the oil in the plant form. Boiling does not break it down either which is why eating the berries and drinking tea is very safe. Breaking the oils down with alcohol is where you run into problems. Wintergreen wine is a real bad plan. Do not make tinctures of Wintergreen unless you know exactly what you are doing. Comment below.
The amazing Morel Mushroom is (Morchella elatais) probably the most sought after wild edible there is. Commercially a failure because man is not nearly as smart as Nature. We can’t figure out what makes them grow well enough to grow them commercially.
In Michigan, the season is basically mid April through about mid May. Depending on weather. You’ll find them in quantities around Ash Trees, Elm Trees. and Orchards. The key is old growth. The trees root systems break down with age and that lends to nutrient rich soil that the mushrooms need.
Morels are so popular for one reason. Flavor!!! They are absolutely delicious. Fried in butter, a touch of salt and pepper and you are an instant culinary master. Really hard to use them wrong.
They do have nutritional benefits such as a rare source of Vitamin D. They also have a good amount of the B Vitamins as well. Morels are very high in Iron as well as other important trace minerals like Manganese, Phosphorous and Zinc.
We can not talk about Mushrooms with out warnings. Make sure you know what you are looking at. There are False Morels. If you aren’t 100% sure what you have, do not eat it. Again, this site is meant to encourage you take advantage of what God gifted us. Natural wild edible foods. Please look at other sources as well for positive identification. Though the information we provide is accurate, I want you to look at many pictures and many descriptions before you eat something for the first time. Accuracy, when a mistake can really make you sick, is very important. Comment below.
I have found a few sources that list Burdock (Arctium Minus) of the Aster Family as poisonous, but there are way more that list it as an edible and also a valuable medicinal plant. The ones that list it as non edible do so because it is a diuretic. In other words, it makes you pee. So if dehydration is a possible issue, avoid Burdock. The part that’s eaten the most is the root. Mostly as a vegetable. Peal the root to expose the white flesh and boil it. Eat it like it were a Parsnip. You can eat the young leaves boiled, but they are on the bitter side. Slightly less bitter is the stalk. Peel off the fibrous outer layer and boil the stock and leaf stems.
Its easy to recognize Burdock as it looks like Rhubarb (its not as poisonous as Rhubarb). The differences are that the Rhubarb has a thicker solid leaf stem (the only edible part) and Burdock has thinner leaf stalks that are hallow. Burdock will also shoot up a tall stalk, 4-6 feet tall with flowers that will eventually turn into seed burs. If you’ve walked through the woods, you have been introduced to the round burs that attach to your clothes and matte your pooches fur. These burs were the inspiration for Velcro as they have little hooks on the tips, which is what grabs your clothes.
As mentioned, Burdock is a diuretic. But is also has many other outstanding qualities such as a blood thinner and purifier. It is also use to to heal skin ailments like eczema, acne, and psoriasis. Burdock fiber content helps ease stomach ailments and it is also thought to be a natural Prebiotic. Burdock is a great source of numerous antioxidants. Burdock can be found in any overgrown area. It does well in shade. Comment below.
There’s not a lot of flavor or scent when nibbling on the Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) of the Mint Family, but the tea has a nice floral flavor. There isn’t much information that breaks down the nutrition on the this wild edible, but there is a quite a bit of medicinal evidence.
If you are wondering about it being called “Dead” Nettle its because it doesn’t sting like Stinging Nettle does. It is not related to Stinging Nettle (more about this super food later) but it is actually in the Mint family. Click on the photo on right and blow it up. Note the square stems. This will help you identify the plant.
I boiled some, added a little salt, pepper and my favorite vinegar and it tasted quite good. Its texture (rough and hairy) wains a bit odd, but not terrible. I think the stems would be quite palatable as a vegetable.
There are some look a likes, such as Henbit and Creeping Charlie, but they are also edible so a mistaken identity is not a problem.
Dead Nettle is high in Iron, Vitamin C, Fiber and other Minerals and Flavonoids. Purple Dead Nettle has properties as a diuretic, is a styptic, so helps wounds heal, as an astringent and a tonic.
It has been found to have antioxidant, anti fungal and antimicrobial properties. It is also anti-allergen and can help protect allergy sufferers from secondary infections of the throat and bronchi. The flavonoids quercetin and the vitamin C contained in the herb also means that it boosts the immune system and helps fight infection. It has been shown to be effective against the E. coli bacteria and other Microbial’s. Topically it is used to stop bleeding. Internally is has been used to purify the blood and was beneficial to the Kidneys. Comment below.
Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) of the Mustard Family also listed as (Dentaria laciniata) and Spring Beauty, (Claytonia virginica) of the Montia Family are both edibles.
The plant on the left with the lobed long leaves and the bell shaped flowers are the Cutleaf Toothwort. The Spring Beauty’s are the dainty little flowers on the right with the grass like leaves. The Cutleaf Toothwort is in the Mustard family. It blooms in early Spring in woodland areas. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. The root (tubers) is eaten as a vegetable and has a peppery pungent flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked as well.
The American Indians used to let the roots rest after harvesting them for 4 to 5 days which was intended to sweeten them up. Many people have used the tubers to make a Horse Radish like pesto. Here’s the recipe from http://kentuckyforager.com/
- 1 Cup Toothwort tubers
- 2 Tbsp. Water
- 1 Tbsp. White vinegar
- Salt to taste
- Process tubers and 2 tbsp water in a food processor until well ground.
- Add a tablespoon of white vinegar and a pinch of salt to the mixture. Pulse to combine.
- Using a rubber spatula, carefully transfer the grated horseradish to a jar. It will keep for 3 to 4 weeks in the refrigerator.
One of the more interesting things Native Americans used the tubers of the Toothwort for is that they used it to relieve toothache. Other than that, there really isn’t much information on nutrition or medical uses.
Iv’e seen Spring Beauty‘s (Claytonia virginica) bloom so prolifically that it looked like a fairy tale carpet of blooms. Absolutely stunning.
This is one of the first forest plants to blossom in the Spring. As you can see in the photos above, Spring Beauty blossoms can vary a bit in color. From White to Pink or a tinge of blue or purple.
Every part of the plant is edible. The leaves and flowers are good cooked or raw. The Root tubular, used as a potato, can be eaten raw, but not too tasty unless cooked. It should be boiled for a bit. then eat it with a pad of butter and salt and pepper.
The tubers taste like radishes when eaten raw. When boiled, they take on a potato like flavor. It’s better to boil or roast them with the peel on. It will hold together better for you. Eat the peel or remove it once cooked.
Native Americans used the root powdered to help treat colds. It is thought to have some vitamin content. Of course it would have some nutrients as any green leafy vegetation does. There just isn’t much scientific information available on nutrition.
Geneticist do love studying the plant because of the unusual number of pairs of chromosomes it has, which is 50. People only have 46.
Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea) of the Mint Family, commonly called Ground Ivy, is pretty evasive in the lawn. You won’t likely have to forage much further than your own property. The Creeping Charlie is the small lobed (scalloped) leaf plant with the little blueish purple flowers.
Creeping Charlie (also called Creeping Jenny) was brought over from Europe by early Settlers. Which often was the case with many of our non-native “weeds”. They weren’t familiar with the native fauna and didn’t know what was OK to eat and what wasn’t. Many of the plants we assume native have only been in America for no more than 700 years. A relatively short period as far as natural environments are concerned. That’s why it is very prevalent around established home steads, but harder to find in the middle of the forest. Creeping Charlie has a history for being used to purge the body of lead and other heavy metals. I have no real evidence of this, so if you have suspicions of lead poison, get to your doctor. I just thought that an interesting tidbit.
It may also detox the liver and ease indigestion, coughs, colds, flu’s and headaches. Most common used as a tea for medicinal uses, mix it with Mullein for coughs and Wintergreen for headaches. Creeping Charlie is high in Vitamin C. You can eat the plant raw, but I enjoyed boiled much more. Drink the remaining liquid as a tea.
As with any wild plant, if you are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant, refrain from using this plant without extensive research. As another interesting note, Creeping Charlie was used to clarify and add bitter to beer until about the 17th century when hops took over. Comment below.
Yellow Rocket (Barbarea vulgaris) is in the family Brassicaceae or Mustard Family. Another common name is Winter Cress. One way to identify any Wild Mustard is that they all have 4 petals, 4 sepals in cross patterns, 4 tall stamen and 2 short stamen. If the plant you are looking at does not have that, then it is not mustard. Further identification is required.
Yellow Rocket is very high in both Vitamin A and C. It was used to prevent Scurvy in Northern Climates. Especially in the winter when most sources of Vitamin C was not available. You can find “Winter” Cress under the snow and it will still be edible and a good source of Nutrients. Some people are sensitive to Mustards so make sure that you are cautious when first trying it. Once you have positively identified a plant to be Yellow Rocket, harvest a small amount. Try a little to see how you react to it. This is sound advice for trying any new wild edible.
Another Wild Mustard that is pretty easy to identify is Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Everyone associates mustard with the color yellow because of the condiment made from the seeds of White Mustard (Sinapis hirta). However, there hundreds of varieties of plants that fall into the Brassicaceae Family. Many do not have yellow blossoms.
Garlic Mustard has the same basic nutrition as does Yellow Rocket.
Garlic Mustard is very prolific and is a nuisance plant. It has the potential of causing Millions of Dollars of damage to farmers and destroying native plants. An invasive species from Europe, it secrets a compound into the soil that kills fungus that native species need to survive. It spreads quickly and can completely take over an area. Pull as much as you can. Eat some, but compost the rest. The composting process, done thoroughly should kill the seeds. Comment below.
The Field Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) of the Horsetail Family, is a weird plant. It looks like a mushroom in the Spring but it looks like a cross between a Fern and a Reed when mature. Its edible when in the Mushroom looking stage in Spring. There is a quite a bit of History of American Indians eating this plant. There are some sources that say you can eat it raw, but I wouldn’t. I would boil it a couple times. If it is not cooked enough it has an enzyme (thiaminase) that actually removes B Vitamins from your body. Cooking and drying does remove it rendering it safe. Below is a picture of the mature plant. That’s quite the transformation.
The Field Horsetail has more use medicinally than as a food. Horsetails are rich in silica, contain several alkaloids (including nicotine) and various minerals. Horsetail is very astringent and makes an excellent clotting agent, staunching wounds, stopping nosebleeds and reducing the coughing up of blood. It helps speed the repair of damaged connective tissue, improving its strength and elasticity. The plant is anodyne, antihaemorrhagic, antiseptic, astringent, carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, galactogogue, haemostatic and vulnerary.
The plant is a useful diuretic when taken internally and is used in the treatment of kidney and bladder problems, cystitis, urethritis, prostate disease and internal bleeding, proving especially useful when there is bleeding in the urinary tract. A decoction applied externally will stop the bleeding of wounds and promote healing. It is especially effective on nose bleeds. A decoction of the herb added to a bath benefits slow-healing sprains and fractures, as well as certain irritable skin conditions such as eczema. The plant contains equisetic acid. This substance is a potent heart and nerve sedative that is a dangerous poison when taken in high doses. This plant contains irritant substances and should only be used for short periods of time. It is also best only used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. A homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh plant. It is used in the treatment of cystitis and other complaints of the urinary system. The German Commission E Monographs, a therapeutic guide to herbal medicine, approve Equisetum arvense for urinary tract infections, kidney & bladder stones, wounds & burns. (http://www.pfaf.org)
Because of the high level of Silica on the external part of the plant, it can be use as a scouring pad for metals and sandpapers for wood. Comment below.
Broad Leaf Plantain (Plantago Major) of the Plantain Family is a super food. It is one of the most nutritious foods available and has many medicinal uses (see survival page). It is also one of the most common plants around. When you add Plantain to Dandelion and Cats Ear (below) you have 3 of the most common and nutritional foods available. (Plantago Minor) has the same properties as does Major. The main difference is, is that Minor has much longer and narrower leaves. The picture here of the Major is the broad leafed, shiny plant with the veins running the length of the leaf from base to apex. It is the largest leaf in the photo. Plantain is very high in beta carotene (A) and calcium. It also provides ascorbic acid (C), and vitamin K. Among the more notable chemicals found in plantain are allantion, apigenin, aucubin, baicalein, linoleic acid, oleanolic acid, sorbitol, and tannin. Together these constituents are thought to give plantain mild anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antihemorrhagic, and expectorant actions. Comment below. has been reported in the Journal Of Toxicology as a powerful anti-toxin. Allantoin has been proved to promote wound healing, speed up cell regeneration, and have skin-softening effects. Comment below.
Cats Ear (Hypochaeris radicata) of the Aster Family has an appearance much like Dandelion. The differences being that Cats Ear has a more symmetrical leaf with very short fuzzy hairs covering it. Whereas Dandelion has a single stem and flower, Cats Ear has multiple flowers that aren’t quite as prominent as the Dandelions. I will get a picture posted of the flowers after they bloom which is later in the Spring than Dandelion.
The nutritional profile is very much like if not identical to the Dandelion. The leaves are less bitter and may be more palatable, however I like them both. The roots can also be used to make coffee in the same manner as Dandelion. Click on the picture at right and then blow it up as large as you can. Note the hairs, especially on the midrib. The hairs being present is an identifier as Cats Ear rather than Dandelion. Comment below.
Lambs Quarters of the Amaranth Family (Chenopodium album) also known as Pig Weed and Wild Spinach. Pig Weed because Farmers use it as feed and Wild Spinach because it taste similar and is actually related to Spinach. I use Lambs Quarters because some people may confuse Wild Spinach to assume the plant looks like Spinach. It does not. Other plants are also known as Pig Weed, so to alleviate confusion…Lambs Quarters it is. Lambs Quarters is extremely nutritious. Very high in Vitamins A, E and K as well as very high amounts of essential minerals, the plant is a super food. It is also a wild plant that eats more like a domestic plant than most others. Very mild, easy to eat. Great in salads when young and tender then older tougher leaves can be boiled and enjoyed as a cooked green. Note the leaf pattern. Arrow head shaped with large dull teeth. Lambs Quarters has a white powder residue on the leaves and are a whitish underneath. They are hairless. Those characteristics separate it from any other plant. This plant would be one that I add to my list of must know survival plants due to its distribution. availability, palatability and nutritional content. The plant can also reach up to 6 feet tall making it a very productive plant as well. Comment below.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) of the Nettle Family injects a cocktail of acidic chemicals through small needle sharp hairs. When the hair break off in your skin, the acids are released causing rashes, blisters and pain. Not fun. An over the counter Anti-Histamine Cream is the best treatment. Wash the area with cold water (soap if you have it) first than apply the cream that you should have in your survival pack. The water itself will help a less severe sting. Usually a mild sting will go away untreated after about 10 minutes or so.
In some rare cases people are allergic to the compound and severe reactions can occur. If you are allergic to bee stings, you would be more apt to be allergic to Stinging Nettle as some of the chemicals in a bees sting and a Nettle Sting are the same. If this is the case, you should avoid Stinging Nettle altogether. Severe allergic reactions can lead to death and should not be treated lightly. For relief you can also try using the leaves of Burdock or Plantain by crushing them until sap is available. Apply the sap to the sting. This is an old and customary treatment that I have not tried to verify. Let us know if you have and had any results. That’s the nasty side of Stinging Nettles. Now the great side. They are edible and very nutritious.
Use gloves to lightly handle the plant. Cut off the tender tips a couple inches down. Rinse them in cool water, then boil. The boiling process deactivates the stingers and neutralizes the chemicals rendering the plant safe to eat. Obviously you don’t want to be wandering around in an area with Stinging Nettles without long pants and long shirt, so just be careful and you should be able to acquire a great meal without getting stung.
Stinging Nettle is low in fat and calories and provides high amounts of Vitamin A and Calcium. It also contains Vitamin B-6, Potassium, Protein, Iron and Magnesium. It is also a great source of dietary fiber. The plant is also a source of many other macro and micro nutrients. So it is worth the effort, especially in a survival situation.
Nettle also has many healing properties as well. They have beneficial influences on the kidneys, skin, and blood. It has also been used to stop bleeding, relieve mucous congestion and water retention, and improve skin irritations. It is considered to be an excellent blood purifier.
Nettle tea has been used as a gargle and is useful for mouth and throat infections. Applied externally, the tea may help relieve acne and eczema. Drying Nettle also removes the stinging effect, so consider gathering some for the dehydrator and storing it for tea. Comment below.
Cattails of the Cattail Family, Typha latifolia (TYE-fuh lat-ih-FOH-lee-uh) or Typha angustifolia (an-gus-tee-FOH-lee-uh.) One is a broader leaf and the other a narrow leaf species. The narrow leaf is typically found in deeper water but the two species can be found side by side. Other than that and for the purpose of this site, they are interchangeable.
Cattails may be one of the most useful plants there is when you find yourself in a survival situation. There are four edible parts that are nutritious.
The pollen can be used in baking and put in such things as pancakes, muffins, cookies and bread.
The roots can be pounded in a bit of water, separate the fibers and discard them. Dry out the remaining starch and use as a flour.
The tender shoots can be eaten raw or cooked. Pull the plant until it breaks off at the base. Peel off the leafs until the soft edible center core is exposed. Rinse in clean potable water and eat. The female flower, which is the bottom corn dog looking part at the top of the stalk, can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob. This is the flower part that is left after the male part falls off. It is also the part that turns into the cotton like fluff in the fall.
The flat long leaves can be weaved into many useful items such as baskets, sleeping mats, shelters or hot pads. Your imagination is the only limit. Above is a basket that I weaved. Hardly high quality craftsmanship, but it’s functional. In a survival situation, functional passes the mustard.
The dried stalks make great fire starters. Use your knife to scrape into tender and then use the pieces of the stalk to enhance and grow the fire. Graduate the fire to small dead tree twigs and branches and gradually add larger pieces.
Considering everything that Cattail can be used for, it would be very wise to become familiar with it and add it to your plant data base.
A few words of caution though. Even though there is not other plant that resembles the adult Cattail, young immature plants do look like a few other plants, such Wild Iris. These look a likes are typically poisonous. Make sure that you have old growth Cattails amid the new growth to help identify it. Also, Cattail shoots have little flavor or odor. If what you have has either, spit it out. Do not swallow and then don’t attempt further harvest.
Another concern, as with any water plant, is that if the water that the Cattail is growing is contaminated, so is the Cattail. I recommend that you do not harvest from ditches or any other area that may be contaminated from spraying insecticides or herbicides. If you can find Cattails in cool running water that is not a ditch or farm runoff, you are golden. Comment below.