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15 Wild Edible Plants: How to Identify, Harvest and Eat Them

One of the greatest concerns most preppers have, is how to feed themselves and their families after the collapse.  It’s true that we are preparing as best we can now and those of us who have the means to do so have extra food stored away.  However, for some the ability to afford extra food is not a reality and even if you have a year’s worth or more of food stocked up, if the collapse is a permanent event, eventually you will be face with a bare pantry and growling tummies.

When it is post-collapse and the pre-stocked food has run out, it is time to go out into nature and find what you need to survive.  If you are still in the city, then you can find wild-growing edible plants in the urban environment.  You can learn about identifying urban wild edibles here.  But if your food runs out and you can’t find any in the city, or you have already left the city, then you will need to hunt and forage to survive.

When it comes to foraging for wild plants, you need to know what you’re doing.  There are a lot of poisonous plants out there that could make you sick or even kill you if you eat them!  Some of these plants look a lot like the edible ones.  Knowing which plants to eat, what parts to eat, when to harvest them, and how to prepare them will help ensure your survival.  Here is a list of plants that you can eat and how to identify them.

cattail

Cattail (Bulrushes)

Edible Parts:

  • Leaves (lower parts): Salads
  • Stems: Salads, soups
  • Flowers (the cattail): Roasted, thickener in soups and stews
  • Pollen: Added to food for extra nutrients
  • Roots: Dried and ground into flour

Nutritional Content:

  • Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Potassium, Sodium, Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorous

Medicinal Value:

  • Root can be used as a poultice for treating scrapes, burns, bruises, and insect bites.

When to Harvest:

  • Anytime

Distinguishing Features:

  • Tall, straight plant with large, cigar-shaped and –colored flower head
  • Long, linear leaves 1-2 cm wide
  • Found in swamps, wetlands, and any open wet areas

Need to Know:

  • Useful to use material for baskets, mats
  • Flower heads dipped in oil can be used as a torch
  • Fluff in flower heads useful as packing material and stuffing for jackets, pillows, and mattresses

Chicory

Chicory

Edible Parts:

  • Leaves: Young leaves in salads; mature leaves as cooked green
  • Roots: Make a good coffee substitute
  • Flowers: Bitter, but edible

Nutritional Content:

  • Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Calcium, Phosphorous, Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium

Medicinal Value:

  • Used to treat loos of appetite, stomach upset, constipation, rapid heartbeat, and disorders of the liver and gall bladder
  • Leaves used for swelling and inflammation of the skin

When to Harvest:

  • Spring or fall preferred; summer heat makes leaves bitter

Distinguishing Features:

  • Purplish-blue flowers about 2-4 cm in diameter
  • Branching plant, scraggly looking, often stands alone
  • Grows in open areas, on roadsides, grassy areas, and field

coltsfoot

Coltsfoot

Edible Parts:

  • Flowers: Salads, tea, soups
  • Young leaves: Salads, tea, soups (should be boiled and then washed to remove bitter taste); dried and burned to use as salt substitute

Nutritional Content:

  • Vitamin C, Calcium, Potassium, Chloride

Medicinal Value:

  • Flowers can be made into a cough syrup

When to Harvest:

  • Flowers in early spring
  • Leaves come after the flowers, in late spring

Distinguishing Features:

  • Dandelion-like flower on slim stalk
  • Flowers bloom and die before leaves appear
  • Leaves are basal, hoof-shaped, waxy and smooth on surface and white hairs on underside
  • Ditches, open areas, edges of the forest, areas of spring flooding

Need to Know:

  • Limit use of coltsfoot to no more than 6 g (based on historical use) of the herb per day due to low levels of toxicity
  • Roots potentially toxic

dandelion

Dandelion

Edible Parts:

  • Leaves: Salads, cooked greens, butter
  • Flower: Salads, juiced
  • Root: Coffee substitute, dried with leaves for tea

Nutritional Content:

  • Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Calcium, Potassium, Chloride, Magnesium, Sodium, Phosphorous

Medicinal Value:

  • Used as a diuretic
  • Leaves used to aid in digestion, get an appetite, and improve kidney function
  • Flowers full of antioxidants
  • Roots used to detox liver and gallbladder

When to Harvest:

  • Anytime

Distinguishing Features:

  • Bright yellow flower
  • Deeply notched, hairless, basal leaves
  • Central tap root

Need to Know:

  • Good companion plant for gardens

Elderberry

Elderberry

Edible Parts:

  • Berries: Raw (not preferred), jams, jellies, lies, wine
  • Flowers: Salads

Nutritional Content:

  • Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Potassium

Medicinal Value:

  • Treats cold a flu by alleviating congestion and promoting sweating
  • Used in treatment of bacterial sinusitis

When to Harvest:

  • Spring for flowers
  • Late summer for berries

Distinguishing Features:

  • Shrub with smooth, gray-brown bark
  • Umbrella-shaped flower clusters
  • Purple-black berries in clusters

Need to Know:

  • All parts of the plant, other than the flowers and berries, are poisonous

Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard

Edible Parts:

  • Flowers: Salads
  • Leaves: Salads, tea
  • Roots: spicy, like horseradish
  • Seeds: raw, sprout, use in pesto and on salads

Nutritional Content:

  • Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin B, Calcium, Potassium, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Selenium, Magnesium, Omega-3 fatty acids

Medicinal Value:

  • Used as an expectorant, stimulant, antiseptic
  • Used to treat asthma and parasites and to heal wounds, such as cuts and skin ulcers
  • Tea is a blood purifier

When to Harvest:

  • Leaves can be harvested anytime, but will be bitter once summer heat arrives
  • Roots before and after flower stalks develop
  • Seeds in fall

Distinguishing Features:

  • Broad leaves are heart- or kidney-shaped and have course, rounded teeth
  • Tiny, white flowers with four petals shaped like a cross
  • Odor of onion or garlic
  • Found anywhere, including open, disturbed forests, wooded areas, ditches, swamps, and roadsides

Need to Know:

  • Very invasive so harvest as much as you want

Horsetail

Horsetail

Edible Parts:

  • All above-ground parts: Cooked or dried

Nutritional Content:

  • Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Calcium, Chloride, Potassium, Magnesium, Phosphorous

Medicinal Value:

  • Used to treat arthritis and kidney and bladder issues
  • Diuretic, astringent, anti-hemorrhagic, antibiotic, antiseptic

When to Harvest:

  • After spores are released and leaves grow

Distinguishing Features:

  • Does not have flowers
  • Brown stem in early spring
  • Releases spores
  • Joined stems and tube-shaped leaves that branch at each joint
  • Grows pretty much anywhere, such as waste areas, roadsides, forests, fields, ditches, tundra, and along railroads

Lambs Quarters

Lambs Quarters

Edible Parts:

  • Leaves and shoots: Salads, smoothies, soups, stews, sautés, cooked greens
  • Flowers: Salads
  • Seeds: In small quantities

Nutritional Content:

  • Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Calcium, Iron

Medicinal Value:

  • Leaves chewed into much can be applied to insect bites, sunburn, minor injuries, and arthritis joint pain
  • Used to treat diarrhea, stomach upset, loos of appetite, and internal inflammation
  • Tea in the bath will help tone and tighten skin and tissues
  • Good for anemia

When to Harvest:

  • Spring is best, before the plants flower, but anytime during summer will work
  • Harvest seeds in the fall

Distinguishing Features:

  • Tiny green flowers in clusters on spikes
  • Diamond- or goosefoot-shaped leaves, light green on top and white underneath
  • Water beads and runs off leaves
  • Grows anywhere

Need to Know:

  • Seeds contain saponins, which are mildly toxic, so they should be eaten in small quantities
  • Cooking is best to remove oxalic acid from the leaves, can be cooked in much the same way you cook spinach
  • Roots are high in saponin so they make a good soap when mashed

Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle

Edible Parts:

  • Root: Cooked or raw
  • Stems of young flowers: Salads, cooked
  • Leaves: Once prickles are removed can be eaten raw of cooked
  • Flower buds: Cooked
  • Seeds: Roasted makes a good substitute for coffee

Nutritional Content:

  • Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B3, Folate, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Phosphorous, Iron, Sodium

Medicinal Value:

  • Used to treat liver disorder and damage, including cirrhosis of the liver, jaundice, mushroom poisoning, and chronic hepatitis
  • Used to treat loss of appetite, gallbladder issues, heartburn
  • Can also be used to treat diabetes, spleen diseases, malaria, depression, allergies, hangovers, and prostate cancer
  • Can be used to increase the flow of breastmilk

When to Harvest:

  • Flowers from June to August

Distinguishing Features:

  • Grows up to 1 meter with a branched stem
  • Takes two years to grow
  • Prickly leaves and a uniquely shaped, light-purple flower

Need to Know:

Wear hand protection when harvesting.

Purslane

Purslane

Edible Parts:

  • Leaves, stems, flower buds: Good cooked in soups, stews, or any other dish

Nutritional Content:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Phosphorous, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium

Medicinal Value:

  • Used as an antibacterial, diuretic, and to reduce fevers, detoxify the body, and treat scurvy

When to Harvest:

  • All summer long

Distinguishing Features:

  • Thick, red stem and small, thick, spoon-shaped green leaves
  • Grows anywhere there is poor soil, including wasteland, fields, roadsides, and cracks in the sidewalk and roads.

Raspberry

Raspberry

Edible Parts:

  • Berries: Raw, jams, jellies, pies

Nutritional Content:

  • Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, Folate, Choline, Calcium, Phosphorous, Potassium, Iron, Magnesium, Copper

Medicinal Value:

  • Rich in antioxidants, which provide anti-aging, anti-degenerative, and anti-inflammatory benefits to fight chronic illness
  • Slows the growth of cancer, lowers blood pressure, and reduces cognitive decline, allergies, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease

When to Harvest:

  • Late summer when the berries have become red (or black) and ripe

Distinguishing Features:

  • Spade-shaped, toothed leaves, light green on top and light-greenish-silver on the bottom
  • Thorns
  • Both green and brown canes in the berry patch, indicating the current year’s and last year’s growth
  • Look for developing berries that are made of a cluster of small juice sacs

rose hip

Rose Hips

Edible Parts:

  • Fruit: Raw pulp, tea, jelly; can be dried or frozen

Nutritional Content:

  • Vitamin C (very high!), Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron

Medicinal Value:

  • Boosts the immune system, high in antioxidants
  • Used to treat colds, flu, and scurvy
  • Used as a mild laxative, to treat kidney disorders, and as an astringent

When to Harvest:

  • Fall, after the flower petals have fallen off

Distinguishing Features:

  • Rose bush, stems have thorns
  • Rose hip is bright red or reddish-orange, round fruit

Need to Know:

  • If harvesting around any developed area, be sure there has been no herbicide or pesticide use

Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle

Edible Parts:

  • Leaves
  • Stems
  • Roots

Nutritional Content:

  • Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron

Medicinal Value:

  • Used as a diuretic, an astringent, and for joint relief and urination problems associated with the prostate
  • Above-ground parts of the plant are used to stop bleeding, to treat hay fever and allergies, and to treat osteoarthritis
  • When applied to the skin the above-ground parts of the plant can be used to treat aches and pains of the skin and muscles, oily scalp and hair, and hair loss

When to Harvest:

  • Before the plant flowers

Distinguishing Features:

  • Narrow, fine-toothed leaves
  • Covered in tiny, sharp, stinging hairs
  • Tiny, greenish flowers growing from leaf axils

Need to Know:

  • NEVER eat raw
  • Cover exposed skin when harvesting

Wild Carrot

Wild Carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace)

Edible Parts:

  • Roots: Soups, stews, tea, sweetener
  • Leaves: Salads
  • Flowers: Fried, salads
  • Seeds: Flavoring for soups and stews

Nutritional Content:

  • Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Magnesium

Medicinal Value:

  • Used to treat urinary tract issues, such as kidney stones, water retention, excess uric acid in urine, and problems with the bladder (find out more)
  • Oil from seeds used to treat diarrhea, gas, and indigestion
  • Used to treat heart disease, kidney issues, cancer, and parasites

When to Harvest:

  • When flowers bloom and when they go to seed (for the seeds)
  • Roots of young plants are the most edible

Distinguishing Features:

  • Large, flat cluster of white flowers that resemble lace
  • Generally a single dark purple flower in the center
  • Roots smell just like carrot
  • Feathery leaves, base of leafstalks broad and flat
  • Branched stems are hairy
  • Grows in fields, meadows, roadsides, waste areas

Need to Know:

  • It is recommended you use first-year plants
  • Be sure the plant is wild carrot and NOT Poison Hemlock or Fool’s Parsley, which look very much the same
  • Poison hemlock and fool’s parsley smell bad; poison hemlock has a smooth, hairless stem
  • Poison hemlock can be deadly, so don’t eat it if you aren’t sure it’s wild carrot

Wild Violet

Wild Violet

Edible Parts:

  • Flowers: Salads, jellies, candied
  • Leaves: Salads, cooked greens

Nutritional Content:

  • Vitamin A, Vitamin C

Medicinal Value:

  • Leaves are an antiseptic, used in poultices or ointments for bruises and as tea for internal inflammation
  • Used to treat coughs, calm anger, and aid is restful sleep
  • Flowers used as a laxative, expectorant, and diuretic
  • Roots and seeds used as a purgative; seeds are a diuretic

When to Harvest:

  • Early spring into summer

Distinguishing Features:

  • Heat-shaped leaves
  • Low-growing
  • Blue-violet flowers, each flower on its own stalk
  • Found long riverbanks, streambanks, in thickets, and woods

Final Notes

Wild edibles can provide you with most of your nutritional needs, and when combined with wild-caught meat and fish, will ensure you have a complete and healthy diet.  The most important thing to remember, the absolute MUST FOLLOW rule, is that if you are not absolutely sure you know what the plant is, then don’t eat it!

Some plants out there are poisonous and you don’t want to ingest the wrong ones.  Start building your wild edible plant identification skills now, so that when you really need the wild food, you’ll know what you are doing and you’ll be safe and well fed.

Dan’s note:

Post collapse, you may not have internet access to read this list, which is why I recommend you get a printed copy of the SAS Survival Handbook.

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About Karen Hendry

Karen Hendry

An urban prepper and rural wannabe, Karen has been working as a freelance writer for a decade and prepping for about half that time. She has gathered a wealth of knowledge on preparing for SHTF, but there is always more to learn and she has a passion for gathering and sharing that knowledge with other like-minded folk. Karen lives in London, Canada with her two children and plethora of cats. In her spare time she is writing the next great apocalyptic novel of our time, full of government conspiracy and betrayal at every level.

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