Edible wild plants that all hikers or outdoor adventurers should know about before heading into the wilderness
Nothing beats fresh food, especially when it’s free. You would likely be surprised at the abundance of edible plants that occur in nature that you wouldn’t find in your every-day grocery store. Many different leaves, roots, stems, and berries grow all around that are readily available for eating next time you’re out in the forest.
Getting Your Greens: A Forager’s Top Eight North American Eatables:
You may not even have to leave your front lawn to gather this one. While not always a wanted guest in gardens, dandelions are easily the most recognizable and abundant edible plant there is. Both the leaves and the flower petals are great options to add to salads if you enjoy a little bitterness.
Typically found in damp shady forests, wild leeks are a delicious option if you want a snack that feels more like something you would find in a store. These leeks can be identified in clusters, with long green leaves, red stems, and a white bulb when picked. The entire plant is edible! You can confirm your identification by smelling the leaves – they should smell like a garlic onion mix.
Cattail, otherwise known as bulrush, can be found near water sources. In spring, the heads can be used as a flour and added to baked goods for extra nutritional value. The stem can be stripped and eaten raw or cooked to get rid of some of the toughness. The roots are similar, but best eaten in the fall. Tastes somewhat like cucumber.
An easy pinch off the top of stinging nettle is all you need to collect this mineral-rich plant. To neutralize the stinging properties you can choose to dehydrate it by hanging it to dry (after washing it), or cook it for a few minutes. Once neutralized, this can be added to dishes and used like you would use spinach.
Commonly found along the side of the road, the flowers of red clovers have multiple uses. The petals can be eaten raw in salads or snacked on, or can be cooked up as an additional nutrient boost in other recipes. The flowers can also be steeped into tea and used as traditional medicine to treat heart disease, asthma, and cancer, however there is no scientific evidence to support these benefits.
This succulent can be commonly found in fertilized soil or in sidewalk cracks. All parts are edible and can be eaten right after picking. Alternatively they can be dried, cooked, or boiled and added to meat dishes or salads. Medicinally, the crushed up leaves can be applied to burns to soothe the skin.
Plantain weeds can be found in multiple habitats, including fields, trails, and lawns. The leaves are edible both raw and cooked, and can be used like any leafy green, in salad or sauteed with other veggies. The seeds can be sprinkled into salads or added to baked goods for additional fibre.
Like its name suggests, watercress is typically found in streams and springs. Avoid eating watercress from unclean water, and make sure to cook it to be sure all potential contaminants are eliminated. Watercress is nutrient packed and flavourful. Try it as a spice in smoothies, soups, or even on pizza.
By foraging and gathering your own food, you connect to the natural world and connect to our early human hunter-gatherer ancestors. When it comes to food, many people are extremely disconnected from what they eat, buying frozen meals and pre-packed snacks. Picking your food with your own hands brings you back to the source, and turns meals into a full experience.
And, if you are ever in a survival situation, knowing a few foraging basics allows you to never go hungry!
Exercise caution while foraging
Foraging is something that requires practice. A main rule in foraging is that you should never eat something unless you are 100% sure you have identified the plant correctly. People who are familiar with the story of Into the Wild will know how easy it is to mistake something edible with something poisonous. If you are interested in foraging, keep a plant identification handbook on you, or forage with a mentor.