Forage for These Plants

Everyone needs to eat. Most people have become very accustomed to popping into the grocery store and filling a shopping cart, or getting fresh food from a farmer’s market, or grabbing fast food. If a disaster strikes, though, food may not be that easy to obtain. Growing food is a good plan, but it takes time. If food is needed immediately, then a garden will not suffice.

Being able to find food can make the difference between life and death in a survival situation. Edible wild plants are all over; a person just needs to know what to look for.

Different areas of the country – and the world – will have different edible plants growing wild, so knowing where you live and what plants are native to the area is important. Also of extreme importance is being 100% sure that the plant you find is edible, as there are very poisonous plants that can resemble edible plants. Once a plant has been identified with certainty, it is wise to test the plant by eating a very small piece and waiting about a day to see if it causes any reactions, which can be caused by allergies, chemicals such as pesticides, sensitivities, or misidentification.

Some prolific plants that can be found in many places in the United States include:

Bittercress, Cardamine pensylvanica

Bittercress, Cardamine pensylvanica

Unlike its name, Bittercress does not taste bitter. It is a part of the cabbage/mustard family, which grows all over the country. It is most noticeable early in the spring and in the late fall. It has small leaves arranged in orderly rows with small circular leaves at the root end of the plant and narrower leaves farther up the stalk. Leaves and stems all grow from one point. The stalks have clusters of white flowers that will later become seed pods. Comparing the plant to a photo is the surest way to positively identify it.

This tiny plant generally has many of its type in an area. While all parts of the plant are edible, it is rare that anyone eats the roots.

Japanese Knotweed, also known as Japanese Bamboo, Fallopia japonica, Polygonum cuspidatum

Japanese Knotweed, also known as Japanese Bamboo, Fallopia japonica, Polygonum cuspidatum

The plant looks much like bamboo and is very prolific and invasive. It has darker rings (nodes) about every eight inches and tend to be about an inch in diameter. It can grow up to 8 feet tall. The main difference between this plant and actual bamboo is the shape of the leaves. True bamboo’s leaves are very narrow while the Japanese Knotweed has wide leaves. Japanese Knotweed is found mostly in wet areas like streambeds and wet soil.

The edible stalk tastes much like rhubarb. It is best in the spring; by midsummer the stalks are harder and inedible. If one is sensitive to oxalic acid, be cautious in consuming this plant, as it contains it.

Johnny Jump Ups, also known as Violets, Viola sororia

Johnny Jump Ups, also known as Violets, Viola sororia

Violets are easy to recognize with five petals – two on each side and one different petal on the bottom. They are usually purple, blue, or white. They are similar to pansies, but smaller. Their leaves are heart shaped.

Both leaves and flowers are edible and are usually used as garnish. The leaves can substitute for lettuce and have many nutrients.

Juneberries, Serviceberries, Amelanchier canadensis, Amelanchier laevis, Amelanchier arborea

Juneberries, Serviceberries, Amelanchier canadensis, Amelanchier laevis, Amelanchier arborea

Juneberries are so called because they fruit in June, which is earlier than most berries. The berries, though red, look like blueberries in shape. They have leaves with slightly serrated edges and a smooth bark with a silvery color. In the fall, it produces long buds that have a point. It gets between 5-20 feet tall. If the shrub has a fungus on the leaves, the fruit should not be eaten, but this usually only happens if it is growing too near to juniper trees.

Only the berries are edible, but the plants produce an abundance of berries.

Wild Garlic, Crow Garlic, Allium vieneale

Wild Garlic, Crow Garlic, Allium vieneale

Similar to domestic garlic, this starts early with tufts of stalks that grow quickly taller than other greenery in an area. The best way to determine which plants of this type are edible is to smell them; the edible Allium family smell strongly of garlic or onion. If, when testing a plant, the garlic or onion smell is not distinct, it may be better to set it aside and keep looking.

All parts of the plant are edible; the bulb can be used as garlic, and the leaves and stems can be used like chives or green onions. Sometimes miniature bulbs grow at the top of the stalk and these, too, can be eaten.

Notes About Foraging

Along with researching edible plants, also become familiar with inedible plants in the area. Some can be very poisonous and some look very similar to edible plants.

When gathering wild food, remember to leave some to reseed itself to ensure that more plants will be available later. Picking all of a plant in an area may feed you for the moment but leaving a few will feed you much longer.

Know if there are any endangered plants in your area. In case of total disaster, this will matter less, but if there is hope of coming out of the disaster, leaving the endangered plants is a good plan.

Avoid wild plants growing where pollution is likely, such as roadside or near places where pesticides and herbicides are often sprayed. These can cause more harm than good when ingested.

Most edible plants will taste best and have the most nutrients before flowers appear. Oils tend to be at highest concentration after buds begin but before they are open. This may make it more difficult to identify the plant so the better harvest may need to happen a growing season after identifying and marking a plant.


Where to Buy
Edible Wild Plants of the Rocky Mountain West
Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America
Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods
Wild Edible Plants of Texas
Pacific Northwest Foraging
Southeast Foraging
Wild Edibles: A Practical Guide to Foraging


1. Edible Wild Plants of the Rocky Mountain West

This book has over a thousand photographs of edible plants and parts of plants that can be found in Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, and Arizona.

2. Edible Wild Plants of Eastern/Central North America

Over 370 edible plants and a variety of poisonous look-a-likes ore described and pictured in this book with descriptions and food ideas for several.

3. Edible Wild Plants of North America

This book displays plants from all over North America and is sorted by season. It gives information about where to find them, how to harvest and prepare them and what similar looking plants to avoid.

4. Wild Edible Plants of Texas

62 different plants across the Lone Star State are listed by name in this useful manual. Some of the plants grow in other areas as well but are definitely found in Texas. Color photos help foragers to find the desired plants.

5. Pacific Northwest Foraging

120 wild plants and nuts that can be found in the Pacific Northwest are catalogued in this handy book. It has identification assistance as well as preparation suggestions.

6. Southeast Foraging

120 plants that can be found in the southeast area of the United States are profiled with photographs and suggestions for harvesting and eating.

7. Wild Edibles

This book covers wild food that can be found worldwide. This field guide includes how wild food can be healthful, how to be sure when identifying plants, and offers some recipes for using the plants.