Nature’s bounty: the best wild edible plants

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Before agriculture, humanity survived by hunting and gathering. Knowing what food is in your immediate area is vital for survival in an extreme situation. Being able to live off the land is not easy, but it’s possible even without hunting or trapping.

Here are some of the best wild edible plants that can be found in the US that can provide you with both energy and nutrition.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

A bane to all gardeners, this common weed is also a source of nutrition. It has ridiculous amounts of vitamin A, one cup of chopped up greens will give you over your daily amount. That cup will also provide 32% of your daily vitamin C intake as well. It also contains iron, B-6, magnesium, calcium and potassium. For a weed it’s very healthy!The thick roots can also be dug up, peeled and boiled (or roasted) just like a carrot!
dandelion
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 12
  • Fat: 0g
  • Protein: 0.g
Dandelion map

 

Raspberries (Rubus idaeus strigosus)

This fleshy, delicious fruit can be found growing wild across most parts of the US. Most commonly red in color, they can also be purple, yellow and black (not to be confused with Blackberries).Rich in vitamin C, they also contain other valuable nutrients such as magnesium, iron and B-6. raspberries
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 18
  • Fat: 0g
  • Protein: 0.5g
raspberry map

 

Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus)

Like its cousin the reaspberry, blackberries are a soft fruit found on bushes. Unlike raspberries, they contain a small source of vitamin A and calcium, as well as a high percentage of vitamin C. The leaf of the blackberry bush can be steeped to make a tea. blackberry
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 13
  • Fat: 0g
  • Protein: 0.5g
Blackberry map

 

Wild Strawberries (Fragaria vesca)

Wild strawberries tend to have much smaller fruit than garden produced strawberries, but the are just as tasty. While they provide little in the way of calories, a cup full will provide more than your daily amount of vitamin C. Wild Strawberries
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 9
  • Fat: 0g
  • Protein: 0.2g
Woodland strawberry map

 

Mulberry (Morus rubra)

There are two types of mulberry in the US: the native red mulberry and the Asian black mulberry. Both produce a sweet soft fruit that is high in vitamins and minerals. mulberry
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 13
  • Fat: 0g
  • Protein: 0.5g
mulberry map

 

Elderberries (Sambucus)

These berries are a great source of vitamins and minerals. High in vitamins C, B-6 and iron, they taste damn good too.
The flowers can be used as to make elderberry cordial, but avoid eating them directly, and leave the leaves alone too.
elderberry
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 25
  • Fat: 0g
  • Protein: 0.2g
Elderberry map

 

Blueberries (Vaccinium)

These berries grow in most parts of the US and can be eaten raw, cooked or even dried.
A cup of blueberries contains a large percentage of vitamins C and K.
blueberry
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 16
  • Fat: 0g
  • Protein: 0.2g
blueberries map

 

Rose hip (Rosa)

Who knew the fruit of the rose plant was edible? Not only that but they are jam packed full of vitamins: a single ounce contains twice the daily RDA of vitamin C and nearly half the RDA of vitamin A. They are also a good source of calcium and magnesium, and also contain vitamin B-6 and iron.
The hair like interior can be an irritant so nibble the fruit carefully and discard the center.
Another option is to boil them and strain the pulp (and annoying hairs) away. The remaining juice will be very high in vitamin C.
Rose hips
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 45
  • Fat: 0g
  • Protein: 0.5g
Rose hip map

 

Persimmon (Diospyros)

This orange colored fruit is sweet, juicy and delicious. It has a high level of vitamin C and in most cases has higher levels of nutirion than an apple.
They are ripe once they start looking a little wrinkled, if it’s bitter it isn’t ripe.
persimmon
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 32
  • Fat: 0.1g
  • Protein: 0.2g
Persimmon map

 

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)

A native to North America, the Pawpaw fruit is similar to a Papaya. When ripe it is colored yellow or brown (unripe fruit is green). It tastes sort of like a banana mixed up with a mango, and the flesh is soft and tasty. Just eat the fleshy pulp and discard the seeds and skin.
The can be eaten raw straight from the plant, but really don’t store well, so take your fill when you find them.As with most fleshy fruit, the calorie intake is low but the nutritional benefit is high. One small to medium sized fruit will easily take care of your daily vitamin C intake and provide a large amount of vitamin A as well as other vitamins and minerals.
Pawpaw
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 15
  • Fat: 0g
  • Protein: 0.1g
Pawpaw map

 

Pinenuts (Pinus)

There are numerous types of pine trees that can be found across the US, and each one has edible pine nuts. Some are perhaps less worthy of attention than others (by having smaller seeds) but in a pinch it’s definitely worth checking out any pine cones you find.
They are a fatty nut, containing 19% of your average daily amount in 1 ounce, they also contain a good source of iron and other vitamins and minerals.
Pine nuts
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 191
  • Fat: 19g
  • Protein: 7g
Pine map

 

Oak acorns (Quercus)

Acorns are often disregarded as a food source, because they just don’t taste that great. In a pinch though, acorns are a wonderful source of nutrition.
The first thing you need to know is to make sure the “cup” of the acorn is as small as possible: the larger the cup, the more tannic acid. Too much tannic acid is bad for you, so the acorns need soaking in water (ideally with multiple changes of water), remove and discard any that float. After shelling, they can then be ground into a flour and added to food or turned into an acorn paste.
Acorns can also be stored for a long time.
Acorns are a good source of vitamin B-6 and potassium.
acorn
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 110
  • Fat: 7g
  • Protein: 1.7g
Oak map

 

Hazelnuts (Corylus)

Hazelnuts are not only delicious, but they contain a solid amount of fat and protein to help bulk up your diet. They are also nutritious, containing 7% of your average daily amount of iron, 10% of vitamin B-6, 11% magnesium, and even a little bit of vitamin C and calcium! hazelnut
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 178
  • Fat: 17g
  • Protein: 4.2g
Hazelnut map

 

Hickory nut (Carya)

Hickory nuts are packed full of nutrition and taste really good as well (similar to a pecan).
They can be eaten raw or added to other food and dishes.
Be careful not to mistake the Buckeye nut for a Hickory nut. The Buckeye is poisonous, so make sure the nut inside looks more like a walnut than an almond and you will be fine.
Hickory nuts
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 186
  • Fat: 18.4g
  • Protein: 3.6g
Hickory map

 

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

The black walnut is an easy to spot nut, as its casing is large, round and green. After dropping from the tree in October, the casings generally turn a dark brown. The nut inside is usually still good even in late Fall, and sometimes even in winter.
Black walnuts offer a good source of protein, with one ounce covering 14% of an average daily intake.
Black Walnut
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 175
  • Fat: 17g
  • Protein: 7g
Walnut map

 

Beech nuts (Fagus)

The nut of the beech tree is an often overlooked food source that can be used when in the wilderness.
While low in protein these nuts are a source of iron and vitamin C.
There are some concerns about eating these nuts raw, so grounding them and using them in other cooked dishes is advised.
beechnuts
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 161
  • Fat: 14g
  • Protein: 2g
Beech map

 

Wild rice (Zizania)

Wild rice is a type of grain related to Asian rice, but slightly different. Both the seed and the stems can be eaten. The best way to harvest the rice is to row up to it in a boat or canoe and hit the plant head with a stick so the rice seeds fall into the boat.
Wild rice (cooked) is high in magnesium (8%) and vitamin B-6 (5%), and has a good amount of iron and a little bit of calcium as well.
Wild Rice by Ted Koehler

Image by Ted Koehler

Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 30
  • Fat: 0g
  • Protein: 1.2g
Wild rice map

 

Amaranth seed (Amaranthus)

Often referred to as a grain, Amaranth is being considered a superfood, and with good reason. This ancient food source was revered by the Aztecs, and is highly nutritious.
It contains calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron. A cup of this seed will give you one third of your RDA for calcium and 82% of your iron RDA! On top of that it has a higher fiber level weight for weight than rice.
amaranth
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 104
  • Fat: 2.3g
  • Protein: 4g
Amaranth seed map

 

Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)

This plants name is misleading, it is neither from Jerusalem, nor an artichoke. In reality it’s type of sunflower!
The plant’s tuber can be dug up and boiled. It looks a little bit like a ginger tuber in shape and tastes similar to a potato.While low in calories and protein, they contain a high level of iron, as well as some vitamin C, B-6 and magnesium.
Jerusalem artichoke
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 20
  • Fat: 0g
  • Protein: 1g
Jerusalem artichoke map

 

Cattail (Typha latifolia)

Looking like a corndog, the cattail seed head is edible. In fact most of the plant is edible one way or another. The roots (rhizomes) can be washed peeled and soaked to create a paste that can be dried into flour. The plant itself can be peeled and boiled like asparagus and the seed head can also be eaten.
Be wary of look-a-likes: the iris plant is very similar to cattail but much shorter (2 feet, whereas cattail can reach up to 8 feet). Iris is poisonous! Calamus (Sweet flag) also looks like cattail but its seed heads grow from the side instead of at the top. It’s not poisonous but has no nutritional value and should be ignored.Cattail shoots have some solid nutritional value, with decent levels of manganese and vitamin K.
Cattail
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • Calories: 8
  • Fat: 0g
  • Protein: 0.3g
Cattail map

 

Lichen

Lichen is a weird combination of algae and fungus that live and work together. Most commonly found on trees, lichen is an often overlooked food source.
While most lichens are not poisonous, avoid yellow lichen if possible because they generally are poisonous.
Eating lichen raw is possible, and while it won’t kill you, you may not like the stomach problems you will get.
Cooking lichen several times in water (ideally with some bicarbonate of soda added), changing the water each time will make lichen edible if not palatable.
Lichen is a high carb meal, and also contains protein, calcium and vitamin A.
Lichen
Nutrition (per oz.) Locations
  • No exact nutritional data available
Lichen map

Data source: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2015. Taxonomic Data Center. (http://www.bonap.net/tdc).
Featured image by Ryan

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