Wild edibles, found food, God’s garden – all common phrases for the same thing – wild plants you can eat! It seems that every time I write a “10 wild edibles” post, I discover 10 more from my loyal readers and fans. I love it! Keep them coming, and I’ll keep writing about them. Here are numbers 21 through 30 for your entertainment and education.
A staple of pre-Colombian Aztecs, amaranthus is a bushy plant that can be eaten as a vegetable, or their seeds can be eaten as grain (similar to quinoa). While amaranth is commonly cultivated in some parts of the world, the wild versions are green, sometimes with red stems, spindly and usually no more than about 2 (and sometimes 3) feet tall. Amaranth seed is high in protein, contains essential amino acids that are not often found in grain, and is high in fiber. It also contains calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, C and E.
Cousin to radicchio and Belgian endive, cichorium intybus – common name chicory (or “blue sailors”)has many edible parts. The young leaves are edible, though usually bitter, and you can eat them and the blossoms in a salad. The flower buds can also be pickled. The roots can even be boiled and eaten, although you may have to change the water several times. By cooking and discarding the water, the bitterness is reduced making them more palatable. The roots have also been baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute.
3- Curly Dock
Rumex crispus – also known as “curly dock”, “curled dock”, or “yellow dock” – often grows in dry areas and are self-irrigating plants. The leaf’s curly edges capture rain, mist and dew, channeling the water towards the central leaf vein then down towards the root. The young leaves should be boiled in several changes of water to remove as much of the oxalic acid in the leaves as possible. Once the plant matures it becomes too bitter to consume. Curly dock is an excellent source of both vitamin A and protein, and is rich in iron and potassium. Although edible, only consume in moderation as the oxalic acid can irritate the urinary tract and increase the risk of developing kidney stones.
4- Field Pennycress
Thlaspi arvense or field pennycress is a common plant that prefers disturbed areas. It can be found in croplands, fields, weedy meadows, along roadsides, and near waste areas. Field pennycress has a distinctive bitter flavor, and is usually parboiled to remove most of the bitterness. You can eat the seeds and leaves of the plant raw or boiled. The plant is a “hyperaccumulator” (meaning it sucks up any and all minerals around it), so it is highly advisable that you don’t eat it if it’s growing in contaminated soil (like along roadsides or near waste areas).
Commonly known as fireweed, Chamerion angustifolium offers something useful in every stage of its growth. Early shoots can be eaten raw or lightly cooked. Young leaves can be pinched off and eaten like spinach. Mature plants are fibrous and relatively inedible, but their flower buds are edible and make a colorful addition to salads. Leaves are harvested for tea around the time the plant flowers. Dry the leaves in baskets or paper bags and store in glass jars or bags. They will remain potent for about a year. Dried fireweed has notes of berry and citrus.
6- Morel Mushrooms
Morchella are edible mushrooms with a distinctive honeycomb-like appearance. Also called dryland fish, hickory chickens, miracles and sponge mushrooms, morel mushrooms can often be confused for false morels. False morels can be told apart from true morels by careful study of the cap, which is often “wrinkled” or “brainy”, rather than honeycomb or net-like. The easiest way to tell the false from the true variety is false morels contain a cotton-ball looking substance inside their stem while true morels are hollow inside. The caps of the false morel can be easily twisted in comparison to the normal morel, and false morels are often a brown, reddish color.
Portulaca oleracea is more commonly known as purslane, verdolaga, pigweed, little hogweed, pursley, or moss rose. It has smooth, reddish stems and alternate leaves clustered at stem joints and ends. Depending upon rainfall, the yellow flowers appear at anytime during the year and open at the center of the leaf cluster for only a few hours on sunny mornings. Like the dandelion, purslane has a taproot with fibrous secondary roots and is able to tolerate poor, compacted soils and drought. The stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible. It can be eaten as a leaf vegetable, and has a slightly sour and salty taste. Purslane may be used fresh as a salad, stir-fried, or cooked as a vegetable similar to spinach.
8- Sheep Sorrel
A cousin of the curly dock, Rumex acetosella is also known as sheep sorrel, red sorrel, sour weed, or field sorrel. It is a common perennial weed with green arrowhead-shaped leaves and red-tinted deeply ridged stems. The flowers emerge from a tall, upright stem – the female flowers being maroon in color. Sheep sorrel can be used in salads and as a stuffing for and other meats, but they’re best known in sorrel soup made by the French. Like all plants with oxalic acid, it should be used in moderation. Some people may also be allergic to it.
9- White Mustard
Sinapis alba or white mustard is an annual with a fast rate of growth and is not frost tender. It can be found in sandy, loamy and clay soils and prefers good drainage. Mustard plants are most easily identified by their small and plentiful flowers with four small petals, growing in clusters atop a long stem. Wild mustard has long stems, with rounded or jagged leaves at the end. Leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, and have a hot, pungent flavor. The seed can be ground into a powder and used as a food flavoring. White mustard’s pungency develops when cold water is added to the ground-up seed – an enzyme produces a sulphur compound. This takes 10 – 15 minutes. Mixing with hot water or vinegar inhibits the enzyme and produces a mild, yet bitter mustard.
10- Wild Asparagus
Wild asparagus tends to grow in rural areas where there is water. It can be found around irrigation ditches in the countryside (with or without water in them). You may find some dead, yellowish, tall, wispy plant material around new asparagus growth. It is last year’s plant and the source of the new growth. Once you locate a spent plant, search the base for new growth. They may be surrounded by higher weeds or grasses, so it takes a little patience. Wild asparagus can be harvested and treated just like store-bought asparagus.
Identification and use of wild plants requires particular care and attention. Never eat any plant unless you are absolutely sure that it is edible! It is a good idea to cross-reference your knowledge with a book written by an expert. The information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The author assumes no responsibility whatsoever for any adverse effects encountered by the individual. Please harvest wild edibles at your own risk!
As with any foraged food, make sure the plant has not been sprayed with any chemicals and is not growing anywhere that toxic waste is dumped. Try to avoid plants grown too close to the roadways as they tend to contain too much dust and automotive exhaust.