Whether you find yourself stranded in the wild or merely stuck on a trail far from your campsite, knowing what plants are safe to eat can range from solving the gnawing of your belly to saving your life.
You may immediately think of wildlife when you think of survival foods – fish, rabbits, even squirrel and snake – plants and berries are where you’ll get a lot of vitamins from, and in some cases may be more readily available than hunting your next meal.
Many plants in the wild are poisonous, so it’s important to identify and learn to recognize the edible ones long before you need the information. This list isn’t comprehensive, but it is made up of many of the more common edible plants you’ll find across North America.
You probably spend much of the spring and summer trying to get rid of these. But dandelions are your best friend when you’re looking for a safe plant to eat in the wild. Nearly every part is edible, from the flower to the stem and roots. Young leaves are better tasting than older ones – you can even use these to make a salad. If you’ll be eating the root, boil them first. Unlike some wild plants, however, after boiling the roots you can then drink the water, like a tea.
Nearly every part of the cattail is edible, and Native American tribes knew it. A staple in the diet for many of these tribes, cattail is edible practically from root to flower. The well known brown flower spike can be broken off and eaten like corn on the cob early in the summer, while the roots can be eaten raw or boiled. The stem, too, can be eaten raw or boiled, with the most tender, white part being near the roots.
If you walked into your backyard right now, you’d likely find a burdock plant. It’s a large plant with large leaves and purplish flower heads that resemble thistles. The leaves and the peeled stalks are edible but bitter and should be boiled before eating to decrease the bite. Common in Japanese food, the root can also be peeled and boiled.
These beautiful tiny blue flowers with off-white to yellow centers are both edible and tender. You’ll find them along trails most frequently in the spring.
Ranging from very tart to sweet, the gooseberry is high in vitamin C, small and round, and can be green, red, or purple. In addition, they are high in fiber and there is some evidence that they contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, which can be useful if you’re stranded in the wild. They grow on bushes that can be anywhere from three to six feet tall. If you’re having trouble reaching some of the fruit, a wilderness survival tool with a sickle hook can help pull them closer.
Wild Black Cherry
You can, in fact, find sweet tasty cherries out in the wild. The fruit is such a dark red as to appear black when ripe. Be careful when eating them, however – like most fruit, the seeds contain compounds that convert to cyanide.
Pineapple weed is another plant you may find walking around your own yard. Looking a bit like camomile, the flowers and leaves are both edible. If you crush the leaves in your hand, they give off a faint pineapple smell.
Ripe mulberries in the wild are a special find. These sweet, juicy berries have the rough texture of a raspberry but are more elongated, and contain vitamins B, C, and iron. Ripe berries fall off the tree. If you’ve found a tree with deep purple to black berries that are on branches too high to reach, use your wilderness survival tool to gently tap the branches and the ripe berries will come to you.
Prickly Pear Cactus
If you’ve found yourself out in the wilds of the desert, find yourself a prickly pear. The red or purplish fruit looks a bit like a pear, and the leaves or pads can be boiled. Just make sure to remove the spines before you eat it.
In cool, boggy climates you may find the cloudberry. Looking like an orange or yellow raspberry, the cloudberry is an amazing source of vitamin C. They more than just resemble the raspberry, the cloudberry’s flavor is a little tart like the raspberry as well.