Starving and afraid?
Here is a list of a few edible plants that grow wild in North America
So you’re stranded in the wilderness. You consumed the last nub of your Clif Bar two days ago, and now you’re feeling famished. Civilization is still several days away, and you need to keep up your strength. The greenery all around you is looking more and more appetizing. But what to nibble on? Some plants will keep you alive and are chock full of essential vitamins and minerals, while some could make you violently ill….or even kill you.
Which of course makes proper identification absolutely critical.
Plants to Avoid
If you can’t clearly identify a plant and you don’t know if it’s poisonous, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Steer clear from a plant if it has:
Milky or discolored sap
Spines, fine hairs, or thorns
Beans, bulbs, or seeds inside pods
Bitter or soapy taste
Dill, carrot, parsnip, or parsley-like foliage
“Almond” scent in the woody parts and leaves
Grain heads with pink, purplish, or black spurs
Three-leaved growth pattern
Many toxic plants will exhibit one or more of the above characteristics. Bear in mind that some of the plants we suggest below have some of these attributes, yet they’re still edible. The characteristics listed are just guidelines for when you’re not confident about what you’re dealing with. If you want to be completely sure that an unknown plant is edible, and you have a day or two to spare, you can always perform the Universal Edibility Test.
Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus and other species)
Native to the Americas but found on most continents, amaranth is an edible weed. You can eat all parts of the plant, but be on the lookout for spines that appear on some of the leaves. While not poisonous, amaranth leaves do contain oxalic acid and may contain large amounts of nitrates if grown in nitrate-rich soil. It’s recommended that you boil the leaves to remove the oxalic acid and nitrates. Don’t drink the water after you boil the plant. With that said, you can eat the plant raw if worse comes to worst.
Known as cattails or punks in North America and bullrush and reedmace in England, the typha genus of plants is usually found near the edges of freshwater wetlands. Cattails were a staple in the diet of many Native American tribes. Most of a cattail is edible. You can boil or eat raw the rootstock, or rhizomes, of the plant. The rootstock is usually found underground. Make sure to wash off all the mud. The best part of the stem is near the bottom where the plant is mainly white. Either boil or eat the stem raw. Boil the leaves like you would spinach. The corn dog-looking female flower spike can be broken off and eaten like corn on the cob in the early summer when the plant is first developing. It actually has a corn-like taste to it
Lucky you-clovers are actually edible. And they’re found just about everywhere there’s an open grassy area. You can spot them by their distinctive trefoil leaflets. You can eat clovers raw, but they taste better boiled.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Sure, it’s an obnoxious weed on your perfectly mowed lawn, but when you’re out in the wild this little plant can save your life. The entire plant is edible- roots, leaves, and flower. Eat the leaves while they’re still young; mature leaves taste bitter. If you do decide to eat the mature leaves, boil them first to remove their bitter taste. Boil the roots before eating as well. You can drink the water you boiled the roots in as a tea and use the flower as a garnish for your dandelion salad.
Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia)
Found in the deserts of North America, the prickly pear cactus is a very tasty and nutritional plant that can help you survive the next time you’re stranded in the desert. The fruit of the prickly pear cactus looks like a red or purplish pear. Hence the name. Before eating the plant, carefully remove the small spines on the outer skin or else it will feel like you’re swallowing a porcupine. You can also eat the young stem of the prickly pear cactus. It’s best to boil the stems before eating.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
While considered an obnoxious weed in the United States, purslane can provide much needed vitamins and minerals in a wilderness survival situation. Ghandi actually numbered purslane among his favorite foods. It’s a small plant with smooth fat leaves that have a refreshingly sour taste. Purslane grows from the beginning of summer to the start of fall. You can eat purslane raw or boiled. If you’d like to remove the sour taste, boil the leaves before eating.
Field Pennycress (Thalspi vulgaris)
Field Pennycress is a weed found in most parts of the world. Its growing season is early spring to late winter. You can eat the seeds and leaves of field pennycress raw or boiled. The only caveat with field pennycress is not to eat it if it’s growing in contaminated soil. Pennycress is a hyperaccumulator of minerals, meaning it sucks up any and all minerals around it. General rule is don’t eat pennycress if it’s growing by the side of the road or is near a Superfund site
These are only a fraction of all the edible plants in North America. If your are going on a long camping trips, or even a hike through the woods do yourself a favor and brush up on all the edible plants in your area and also what’s in bloom for that time of year. It might seem silly and you might have packed enough food for the trip, but when accidents happen (and they DO happen) you will be wishing u had taken the time to learn the #1 survival trick. Edible plants can save a life!