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Free Food With Wild Edibles

Updated on April 22, 2012
Some wild edibles escaped cultivation from old homesteads.
Some wild edibles escaped cultivation from old homesteads. | Source

The need for food is a fact of life. Rising costs at the grocery store is another. Did you know that no matter where you live, you can find free food? No, I don’t mean food pantries or free samples, I’m talking about the abundant wild foods in your area.

Many plants that grow on lawns or in parks are sprayed with chemicals. Before you harvest any plant, know the source. Always be confident that the plant you are harvesting is one you know. Identification is key! I have a lot of experience with wild edibles in the area I grew up, but not quite as much where I live now. Just a few days ago I came very close to doing something stupid – picking false hellbore. This plant is very toxic, alkaloids from false hellbore can be absorbed through the skin! Lucky for me, I remembered – unless you’re positive, don’t touch!

Even the experienced make mistakes. Study the common wild edibles of your area before ever trying any food in the wild. Keep a field guide on hand and use it. Your life could depend on it!

Some wild foods grow in almost every area. While I can’t list every wild edible, I hope that you will be able to find at least one of the following and perhaps try one of the following four.

Fresh dandelion greens
Fresh dandelion greens | Source


This is probably the most widespread ‘weed’ in the world. Almost everyone is familiar with the yellow blossoms and feathery white seeds of dandelions. The young leaves have been harvested for centuries as a spring tonic. Before people were able to visit a grocer for fresh greens, dandelions were among the first shoots to appear as the earth warmed after winter. The taste can be too bitter for many and should be mixed with mild greens – unless you are fond of a bitter taste. There is no such thing as non-bitter dandelion greens, though the young leaves are milder than older, tough leaves.

Harvest dandelion greens in early spring. The smaller leaves are more tender than older ones. Wash well and pick through to remove all bits of other plant matter. After cleaning, wash again. Trust me, an entire dish of greens can be ruined by grit or stray twigs. Mix with other mild greens to create contrast in a salad or sauté with butter and onions for an interesting sandwich topping.

Nutrition Facts:

Star chickweed is a powerhouse of nutrients!
Star chickweed is a powerhouse of nutrients! | Source


Chickweed is a low growing plant that is common throughout the United States. It grows in lawns, between rocks in gardens, and in the crevices of sidewalks. In many areas it is considered a pest or invasive weed. If you have a problem with chickweed in your lawn, consider eating it instead of spraying with herbicide. (I hope you aren’t using herbicides at all!)

Harvest fresh chickweed to use in teas, salads, and stews. Chickweed is literally chockfull of vitamins and minerals. This tiny ‘weed’ packs an amazing punch of nutrients.

For more information:

Garlic mustard is a tasty, tasty invasive.
Garlic mustard is a tasty, tasty invasive. | Source

Garlic mustard

This invasive plant was brought to the United States in the late 1800s for use in cooking. It escaped gardens and has become a serious problem in forests of the NorthEast. Similar to the invasion of Kudzu in the SouthEastern states, garlic mustard spreads through forests and outcompetes native plants. This is dangerous for native wildlife and native flora.

Garlic mustard can grow over 3 feet tall and has leaves similar to the mustard green. Leaves when crushed smell much like garlic, hence the name. The root has a faint horseradish smell. It is edible entirely and is used in salads, stews, stir fry dishes, and more.

If you find garlic mustard in the wild most state environmental departments encourage foragers to rip the plant from the ground completely. Harvest well before the seeds are present. Take as much as you wish from a site. This is one plant that government officials would like you to eat into extinction (at least in the US).

The Weed That Ate The South can be eaten!
The Weed That Ate The South can be eaten! | Source


Sometimes called ‘The Weed That Ate The South’, Kudzu is another invasive plant. Growing faster than most other plants around it, Kudzu has strangled entire forests. Once this plant becomes entrenched it is very hard to destroy. Kudzu can grow from tiny bits of root, vine, and seed.

Kudzu has many uses. The entire plant is edible and can be used as a cooked green, brewed in teas, and the flowers make a tasty jelly. A syrup can be made with water, sugar, and Kudzu flowers – this is sometimes called Kudzu honey, not to be confused with honey that is made from bees that have gathered Kudzu nectar.

Kudzu Jelly:

Reading Material

I cannot say enough good things about the books I recently purchased by Samuel Thayer. The pictures are many, clear, and the writing is as if you are listening to him speak. I enjoy a book that is written for everyone, not just the experts or the experienced. Mr. Thayer expects that we'll use common sense with his guides - he's a down to earth guy with a lot of great information.

If you want to begin to learn about wild edibles beyond the Internet - read Samuel Thayer's works or visit his website.


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    • Julie Fletcher profile image

      Julie Fletcher 5 years ago

      I have found the same problem. False hellbore looks a lot like other plants - lady slipper has similar leaves. Cactus in a tortilla? That sounds neat.

      I'll be adding more pictures of my own as the weather warms up. We just had snow today - over 6 inches!

    • Julie Fletcher profile image

      Julie Fletcher 5 years ago

      I'm such a dope, I forgot to mention making the 'coffee'. Thank you!

    • connieow profile image

      Connie S Owens 5 years ago from El Cajon, CA

      The problem I have is identifying from a picture. It gets difficult. There are so many with similar leaves. So...

      Thank you very much.

      We have several cactus around, the prickly pear is one of them. The flat disc type cactus is used for tortillas a lot around here. :)

    • Product Review profile image

      Product Review 5 years ago

      In addition to the leaves from dandelions for salads, I like to make "Dandelion Coffee" from the roots.

    • Julie Fletcher profile image

      Julie Fletcher 5 years ago

      Thank you! Speaking of cactus I've recently spotted prickly pear in our grocer's produce section. Have you tried it?

    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 5 years ago

      Good Hub. Even here in Northern AZ and Southern AZ, we have lots of edible beans,cactus fruit, seeds, and so on.

    • Julie Fletcher profile image

      Julie Fletcher 5 years ago

      Thank you for commenting! My children gathered the dandelion greens pictured, it was their first foraging adventure since we moved away from the city. I grew up in a rural area, my own children now have the chance. :-)

    • Melis Ann profile image

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      Interesting info on wild edibles. I think you have to be very careful as you stated. It certainly would be valuable to know for emergencies and a great way to show kids how to be in touch with the natural world.