When you’re in the woods, you’re surrounded by so many edible plants, it’s important to learn what’s safe in case you find yourself in a survival situation.
If you ever find yourself unexpectedly stuck in the woods without much to eat, don’t fret. Nature provides 100s of edible plants, common ones you see everywhere that you never knew you could eat. When you’re starting to forage, it’s important to familiarize yourself with different weeds, bushes and plants so you’ll know the characteristics of the edibles you’re looking for. You don’t want to misidentify a plant and end up eating something poisonous.
When you’re harvesting plants to eat, take what you need and don’t deplete the entire supply. You never know if someone else may come along and need a bite to eat.
Watch the slideshow to find some of the most common edible plants you’ll come across in the woods.
Although many of us consider dandelions weeds, they are one of the most commonly used edible plants. They are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and grow in just about any environment. All parts of the plant are safe to eat, from the flowers and stems to the roots. They can be eaten raw or roasted over a fire. The long tap roots can be boiled in water to make a coffee or tea substitute.
Bull thistle is an invasive weed found in pastures, forest edges and roadsides. It’s the only thistle that has sharp prickles on its leaves. Most parts of this thistle are edible, including the young leaves, flower stems and roots, which are filled with inulin, a storage carbohydrate. Make sure to remove the prickles before you eat as they aren’t edible.
Burdock is the common prickly plant whose burrs stick to everything from your dog’s fur to your jeans. It has purple flowers and large, heart-shaped leaves which are green on top and whitish underneath. This edible plant can be found just about everywhere in the United States and Canada and likes to grow near rivers, fields and vacant lots. After removing the dark rind, the stems and roots can be boiled for 20 minutes and will provide you with a good supply of carbohydrates and fatty oils. Young flowers are also edible, as are the leaves when they are still soft.
Cattails are commonly found in wetland areas and are a great survivalist plant. Their roots are full of proteins and carbohydrates and can be ground into a flour. The lower part of the cattail’s leaves and the young stems are good to eat and have a mild flavor. New flowers can be roasted and the yellow pollen, abundant in mid-summer, can be sprinkled onto just about anything to give you added nutrients.
The brown head of the cattail also makes great kindling. The inside is always dry, even after a heavy rain. Use it for tinder and this edible plant won’t only feed you, but will keep you warm.
Often confused with ragweed, golden rod is a great survival food. It has a long, woodish stem and large clusters of yellow flowers. The underside of the leaves are covered in hairs. All visible parts of the plant are edible.
Milkweed is very common and one of the primary food sources for monarch butterflies. It has purple flowers and teardrop-shaped pods that fill with silky hairs and seeds during late summer. It grows in dry locations, like fields and forest edges. The flower heads, immature pods and shoots are all edible and many foragers say milkweed is one of their favorite edible plants.
Beware though, dogbane looks similar, but is poisonous. There are identifiable differences that allow you to tell the two apart. Dogbane branches near the top, where most species of Milkweed don’t branch at all. Dogbane also has a smooth stem, where Milkweed’s stem tends to be hairy. The flowers of the Dogbane grow in flat clusters, while the Milkweed flowers form a ball cluster.
Lamb’s quarters is easily identifiable due to the bluish tint that makes it look dusty. It has tiny green flowers that grow in clusters. The shoots and flowers are edible and have an earthy taste. The plant contains oxalic acid, which won’t hurt you in small amounts, but if you’re going to make a meal out of it, make sure to cook it first.
Pineapple weed is a small chamomile like plant that is sometimes called “street weed.” It grows close to the ground and has a yellow flower cluster that looks like a chamomile blossom without the leaves. When it’s crushed, it smells like pineapple. It has feathery, segmented leaves and grows in driveways, sidewalk cracks and anywhere dry and sandy. Both the flowers and stems are edible and taste like, you guessed it, pineapple. If you have a way to boil water, use this edible plant to make a flavorful tea.
Queen Anne’s Lace
Believe it or not, Queen Anne’s lace belongs to the carrot family. It grows as high as three to four feet tall, has a lacy cluster of white flowers, often with one dark purple flower in the center. The leaves look the carrot tops and it’s commonly seen in fields and meadows. The leaves and flowers are both edible, but the treasure of this plant is its roots. They grow in finger-like tubers and can be eaten raw or cooked for a source of carbohydrates.
Queen Anne’s lace does have some poisonous look-a-likes, but the roots tell them apart. The roots of Queen Anne’s lace always smell just like carrots.
Red clover not only has a long medicinal history, but it’s also edible. The plant is found in fields. meadows and lawns across America. Its red or purple round blossom is made of small tubular flowers and it has green leaves with a lighter, white area in the center. The leaves and flowers are edible, but be careful. If you eat too much of this sweet plant, it can make you a bit gassy.
If you are pregnant or nursing, stay away from clover.