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20 Edible Plants That Could Save Your Life

Foraging might be a method you have to use to find food. Edible plants are one way to eat.
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Sometimes, you have to think outside of the freeze-dried food paradigm. You may find yourself in the woods forced to run from your home or camp because of marauders with nothing to eat. Fortunately, there are many edible plants that can save your life if you know what they are, how to identify them and are comfortable with preparing them.

I don’t personally think that I will love eating a bunch of weeds to survive, but I will if needed. In a long-term disaster, I would certainly consider them vital to preserving life and the right edible plants could augment your gardens and food stores. I wanted to write up this list of 20 edible plants that are found mostly in the temperate region. There are certainly others you could find growing near you, but this is a good start. If I am able to master 20 edible plants in the area where I live, I would consider that a huge benefit to my prepping needs.

There are a lot of very recognizable plants you can eat like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and so on, but I didn’t want to add those to the list.

Plants to avoid

Before you grab a good book on edible plants and run out into the woods with a bowl and a fork, you should practice some caution with this process. Not all plants are edible and knowing what not to eat is just as important as knowing what to eat. Before you forage, here are some simple rules to follow when you are trying to identify a plant.

Do not eat any plants that have the following traits

  • Milky or discolored sap
  • Grain heads with purple/pink or black spurs
  • Beans, bulbs or seeds inside pods
  • Yellow, white or red berries
  • Soapy or bitter taste
  • Never eat plants with thorns.
  • Steer clear of plants with shiny leaves.
  • Don’t eat mushrooms. Many are safe to eat, but many are highly toxic and even deadly, so it’s not worth the risk.
  • Umbrella-shaped flowers are a bad sign. Stay away from these plants.
  • Avoid anything that smells like almonds.
  • Same as poison ivy, stay away from plants with leaves in groups of three.

Before venturing out into the woods to forage for edible plants, it makes sense to have a guide.

In addition to avoiding all of those traits, you want to forage for wild edible plants in areas that are less likely to have toxins. Plants growing near homes could have been sprayed many times with chemicals. Plants in water that is contaminated will likely hold that same contamination. Plants by the road will have picked up many harmful chemicals and pollution.

Before eating, use the Universal Edibility Test

Before taking the test, you need to fast for 8 hours. If you are desperate enough to need to find edible plants, this might be already the case.

  1. Test only one part of a potential food plant at a time.
  2. Separate the plant into its basic components – leaves, stems, roots, buds and flowers
  3. Smell the food for strong or acid odors. Remember, smell alone does not indicate if a plant is edible or not.
  4. During the 8 hours you are fasting, test for contact poisoning by placing a piece of the plant part you are testing on the inside of your elbow or wrist. Usually 15 minutes is enough time to get a reaction if there is going to be one.
  5. During the test period, take nothing by mouth except purified water and that plant part you are testing.
  6. Select a small portion of a single part and prepare it the way you plan to eat it.
  7. Before placing the prepared plant part in your mouth, touch a small portion (a pinch) to the outer surface of your lip to test for burning or itching.
  8. If after 3 minutes there is no reaction on your lip, place the plant part on your tongue and hold it there for 15 minutes. DO NOT SWALLOW.
  9. If there is no burning, itching, numbing, stinging , or any other irritation, swallow the plant part.
  10. Wait 8 hours. If any ill effects occur during this period, induce vomiting and drink a lot of water.
  11. If no ill effects occur, each ¼ cup of the same plant part prepared the same way. Wait another 8 hours. If everything is still good after all of these steps, the plant is considered edible.

Note: Just because the part you tested is edible, that doesn’t mean the entire plant is edible. Test all parts the same way before eating them.

List of Edible Plants

Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus and other species)

Amaranth is an edible weed found almost everywhere. You can eat all parts of the plant but some leaves contain spines. Boil the leaves to remove the oxalic acid and nitrates.

Amaranth is an edible weed found almost everywhere. You can eat all parts of the plant but some leaves contain spines. Boil the leaves to remove the oxalic acid and nitrates.

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

Wild Asparagus grows in most of Europe and North America. This looks different than the fatter stalks you normally eat but can be eaten raw or boiled. Add a little butter and salt.

Wild Asparagus grows in most of Europe and North America. This looks different than the fatter stalks you normally eat but can be eaten raw or boiled. Add a little butter and salt.

Burdock (Arctium lappa)

First-year roots and second-year stems can be cooked by boiling for about 20 minutes, then season to taste. Before cooking however, the stems should be peeled, and roots scrubbed in order to remove the bitter rind.

Young plant roots and stems can be cooked by boiling for about 20 minutes, then season to taste. Before cooking however, the stems should be peeled, and roots scrubbed in order to remove the bitter rind.

Cattail (Typha species)

The lower parts of the leaves can be used in a salad; the young stems can be eaten raw or boiled; the young flowers (cattails) can be roasted.

The lower parts of the leaves can be used in a salad; the young stems can be eaten raw or boiled; the young flowers (cattails) can be roasted.

Clover (Trifolium)

 

I have never been able to find a four-leaf clover but you can't walk out in my back yard without stepping on this plant. You can eat the leaves raw or boil them.

I have never been able to find a four-leaf clover but you can’t walk out in my back yard without stepping on this plant. You can eat the leaves raw or boil them.

Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Leaves and root. Although the flower is edible, it is very bitter.

Leaves and root. Although the flower is edible, it is very bitter.

Chickweed (Stekkarua media)

Chickweed is a very nutritious herb, containing Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, E along with Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorous, Potassium, Selenium, Silicon, Sodium, Sulfur and Zinc plus essential fatty acids. It can be eaten as a salad vegetable or cooked and eaten like cabbage.

Chickweed is a very nutritious herb, containing Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, E along with Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorous, Potassium, Selenium, Silicon, Sodium, Sulfur and Zinc plus essential fatty acids. It can be eaten as a salad vegetable or cooked and eaten like cabbage.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion leaves can be added to a salad or cooked. They can also be dried and stored for the winter or blanched and frozen.

Dandelion leaves can be added to a salad or cooked. They can also be dried and stored for the winter or blanched and frozen.

Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)

Persimmons are rich in vitamins A and B, and are a good source of fiber. To get the most nutritional value from persimmons, it’s best to eat them raw.

Persimmons are rich in vitamins A and B, and are a good source of fiber. To get the most nutritional value from persimmons, it’s best to eat them raw.

Plantain (Plantago species)

The leaves can be eaten raw or steamed for a spinach substitute, and are awesome raw in salads and blended into green smoothies, especially the younger ones as the mature leaves may taste slightly bitter.

The leaves can be eaten raw or steamed for a spinach substitute, and are awesome raw in salads and blended into green smoothies, especially the younger ones as the mature leaves may taste slightly bitter.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)

Pokeweed can be poisonous if not prepared carefully.

Pokeweed can be poisonous if not prepared carefully. You have to ensure you don’t get the roots and the shoots aren’t too long.  Make sure you learn more about the proper cultivation and preparation of this plant before eating it.

Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia species)

Both the pads and the fruit of the prickly pear cactus are edible.

Both the pads and the fruit of the prickly pear cactus are edible.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

The moisture-rich leaves are cucumber-crisp, and have a tart, almost lemony tang with a peppery kick.

The moisture-rich leaves are cucumber-crisp, and have a tart, almost lemony tang with a peppery kick.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

The leaves of Sassafras texture and can be used raw or cooked in salads or eaten right off the plant, unlike the berries, the leaves have a mild pleasant taste.

The leaves of Sassafras texture and can be used raw or cooked in salads or eaten right off the plant, unlike the berries, the leaves have a mild pleasant taste.

Sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella)

You can use the leaves in salad, or make into soup.

You can use the leaves in salad, or make into soup.

Thistle (Cirsium species)

Flower head shown: Just strip the green off the leaf leaving the very edible midrib.  Rub the “wool” off and enjoy, raw or cooked.

Flower head shown: Just strip the green off the leaf leaving the very edible midrib. Rub the “wool” off and enjoy, raw or cooked.

Water lily and lotus (Nuphar, Nelumbo, and other species)

Leaves gathered anytime during the growing season (although, again, early spring growth is best of all) make good greens. Chop the pads into noodle-like strips and boil them in one change of water. The addition of a little bacon doesn't hurt a thing.

Leaves gathered anytime during the growing season (although, again, early spring growth is best of all) make good greens. Chop the pads into noodle-like strips and boil them in one change of water. The addition of a little bacon doesn’t hurt a thing.

Wild onion and garlic (Allium species)

ll parts of this particular Wild Onion/Garlic are edible, the underground bulbs, the long, thin leaves, the blossoms, and the bulblets on top.

All parts of this particular Wild Onion are edible, the underground bulbs, the long and thin leaves.

Wild rose (Rosa species)

etals can be added to salads , desserts, beverages, used to make jelly or jam and be candied

etals can be added to salads , desserts, beverages, used to make jelly or jam and be candied

Wood sorrel (Oxalis species)

The leaves, flowers, green seed pods, and roots are all edible, raw or cooked. It can be eaten straight out of the ground, added to soups, made into a sauce, or used as a seasoning. As a seasoning, it provides a lemony/vinegary taste to whatever it's added to.

The leaves, flowers, green seed pods, and roots are all edible, raw or cooked. It can be eaten straight out of the ground, added to soups, made into a sauce, or used as a seasoning. As a seasoning, it provides a lemony/vinegary taste to whatever it’s added to.

 

Now that you have some more information about the edible plants near you, why don’t you try eating some of these varieties the next time you go for a hike in the woods. Any wild edible plants that you eat that didn’t make the list?

If you liked this article, please rate it.

  • Bobcat-Prepper

    I like violet leaves, dehydrated. I put them in boiling water with a chicken bouillon cube, and have a tasty low-cal soup. I also use them grilled with dandelions and plantains as an omelet filling.

    Unfortunately, all the plants on the list are also low-cal, and so are only useful for extra vitamins and minerals, not as a staple.

    Do you know of any wild plants that are calorie-dense enough to be considered as a staple in a post-SHTF diet?

    • Good points on the salad greens Bobcat. I don’t think any of the plants described above would make anyone gain weight. For that, I think you would have to find something along the lines of roots, tubers and nuts. Wild Yams could be a possibility if they grow near you.

      • Elizabeth

        so…yeah. Not to be difficult but actually kind of dangerous. One would want to be extremely very careful with wild yams as they’re easily confused with other things that are deadly toxic. Same for Amaranth.

        I get that the inclination in the community is to hunt, but foraging skills are equally important. In hunter-gatherer cultures, meat is a rare and prized thing. Knowledge of edible plants is crucial because mixing up an edible plant for a toxic one is, obviously, catastrophic.

        I am not a big fan of learning plants from photos or the internet as there is something very different between a photo plus description and a plant in the various phases of its life cycle. A book does not a botanist make – find someone who does know what they’re doing and learn.

        Find a Grammy. Or a club. Grow your own. Learn what the sprouts of things look like, smell like, behaves like, feels like and grows like before heading out anywhere with an appetite.

        • Nice to hear from you again Elizabeth!

          I completely agree with you about risks associated with eating anything you aren’t sure of. This to me would take a lot of practice and the field guide listed above would be mandatory before I was willing to do anything like this and you would want to test everything you ate thoroughly with the edibility test first. Someone who knew their stuff like you mention would be best.

          This would not be anything like fast food but to someone who knows what they are looking for it could provide food.

      • Bobcat-Prepper

        Sounds like a valuable future post.

  • Tim DeMoss

    My wife and I recently watched a video (How To Eat & Enjoy Insects by Allen Davisson) that was part of the 2015 Homegrown Food Summit (http://homegrownfoodsummit.com/). It was pretty convincing that if you want protein when forced to survive in the wild, insects are your go-to source. Davisson even made them sound tasty if cooked (wasps and scorpions are his favorites — tastes like bacon).

    We haven’t needed to (or been brave enough) to try these yet ourselves, but you can bet if we ever get lost in the wilderness of NM and CO, we’ll be cooking up whatever edible insects we can find.

    Check out these lists of edible insects:
    http://www.secretsofsurvival.com/survival/top-10-edible-insects.html
    https://edibug.wordpress.com/list-of-edible-insects/

  • Margaret Irene

    I believe that the photo you have for Clover (Trifolium) is incorrect. These look like Wood sorrel (Oxalis species) to me without the flowers. “Wood sorrel leaflets are truly heart-shaped while clover are typically not heart-shaped. Clover leaflets tend to be round, egg-shaped or oblong. Their tips are notched but do not have that sweeping heart shape of sorrels. Clovers , more often than not have a whitish marking on each leaflet. The design differs somewhat from one clover species to another, but all the leaflets on a particular plant have the same pattern. The veins on clover leaflets are pinnate, which means that each leaflet has a main vein with smaller ones branching off it. Wood sorrel leaflets have palmate venation – a main vein plus secondary veins, all originating from it’s base, smaller tertiary veins branch off the main vein. The other main difference is that wood sorrel has a wonderful sour flavor, sort of like sour apple, whereas clover taste like, well, clover – a mild green well suited for grazing animals.” (from Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas, PhD.) Now, although I like your article I’ve been taught that if one part of a tutorial is wrong, the whole thing is questionable. Please fix this before some are misled. Thanks.

    • Thank you for the keen eye Margaret. I believe I was searching for Clover, not Trifolium when I found that image.

      • Margaret..

        You’re welcome, we all have to stick together. Thanks for changing the picture.

  • D’oro

    Brilliant, guys! I first saw this article on BeforItsNews.com, and sent this around to various friends.

    Imagine making the “Grassland Zones” of your “Seven-Zone Permaculture Property” out of plants like these! Combine this article with the following, and you can have food security via trees as well! http://www.patriotnetdaily.com/6-trees-every-survivalist-should-know/

    Why plant a lawn, when you can have a yard full of plants which require little maintenance, build the topsoil, reinforce the local ecosystem, have utilitarian uses, provide a year-round camouflaged emergency food supply, repel undesirable creatures and attract the opposite?

    You know… I could do with less of the typical doom-and-gloom articles, and read more like this ! 🙂