You may just be surprised at what's growing wild in the Empire State that you can eat.
Common edible plants found in New York State are based on it being a northern tier state that has a good dose of all four seasons. With that said, there are many things there that can be eaten, sometimes in an emergency and other times just for fun. Either way, it's good idea to have a knowledge of edible wild plants if you spend a lot of time in the woods.
While there are many herbs and medicinal plants that can be had here, for our purposes we'll cover those you can just commonly eat for sustenance. Things such as nuts, berries, and mushrooms. If those sound like bear foods, well, it's because they often are. However, they are readily edible for humans too.
There are many known wild foods and just as many that very few of us have ever heard of, so we will try to stick to the most common. This is not intended to be a full field guide, more of a crash course on what's out there that's safe for people to consume.
Common Edible Mushrooms
The many types of fungus or mushroom are often one of the first things people think of when talking about wild edibles. Here are just a few of the varieties found in New York.
- Bear's Head Tooth (Lion's Mane)
- Golden Chanterelle
- King Bolete
There are also so-called "magic mushrooms" out there in the woods of New York. However, since they can be mildly intoxicating all the way to hallucinogenic, they aren't on this list. The most common of these is probably the chicken of the woods variety and possibly one of the easiest to find. It's named that because some people feel it tastes just like fried chicken. Unlike morels which are usually only found in early spring, chicken of the woods is usually found in late summer and early fall. It and chanterelle are near identical look-alikes. However, that's not a big deal since both are edible.
Chanterelles and puffballs are excellent table fare, but like any mushroom forage, you will have to work at least a little to get them in your hands. Honestly, our favorite - the morel - has to be on the list, but the honest truth is that while they exist in New York they're just not as common as the rest.
Berries and other wild fruits are some of the most simple to identify, find, and eat of all the wild edibles and maybe the first thing we look for out in the wilderness. Some will argue what you find in the wilds is better than what you can find in a grocery store. Whatever you find in the woods, make sure you positively ID it before you eat it.
- Black Cherry
- Staghorn Sumac
- Wild Apple
According to Eat The Weeds, "The edible sumacs have red berries in cone-shaped clusters at the end of main branches. They have skinny leaves and like dry ground. The poisonous sumac has roundish leaves, pointy on the end, has white fruit that grows out from where a leaf meets the stem, and grows only in very wet places."
Obviously, there were wild fruits before humans domesticated them in some way and a few of those are represented here.
Most people completely disregard the nuts when talking about edible plants. There's more out there than you might first think.
- Hickory Nut
- Beech Nut
There are multiple types common plants like walnuts, chestnuts, and hickory nuts all over the state. Many times when you find hazelnuts and butternuts they are usually hand planted specifically to be harvested. The pecan is a native plant to North America and grows in New York, but they are not generally easy to find.
The Best of the Rest
Here are a few other food options that simply do not fit into any of the other categories above. All of these are still viable options for a meal in the right circumstances. Some, like the cattail, prove to be extremely versatile as a food item.
- May Apple
- Wild Leek
Cattails and dandelions are as common as they get and don't take much getting used to to make them good table fare. It should be said that fiddleheads must be boiled for at least five to six minutes before eating to be safe for consumption.
Most northern turkey hunters will tell you that they almost can't walk through the spring turkey woods without tripping over May apple wherever they go, but how many knew that they were edible? It's a good thing to remember in case you ever get hurt or lost in the turkey woods and need an emergency food source.
Eating Wild Edibles
Let's face it: conscientious foraging for wild edible plants helps us to rely less on what the factory food giants have prepared for us, and more on our own healthy attitude for enjoying nature, getting some exercise, and learning more about our wild surroundings. We're usually in these habitats pursuing wild game already anyway. Why limit our food gathering in the woods to only meat?
Conscientious foraging for wild edible plants helps us to rely less on what the factory food giants have prepared for us, and more on our own healthy attitude for enjoying nature, getting some exercise, and learning more about our wild surroundings. We're usually in these habitats pursuing wild game already anyway. Why limit our food gathering in the woods to only meat?
Besides it being free food, it gives us all a positive connection to the woods and fields around us. It also provides us with some simple survival skills that we should all have. You'll need to be respectful of private lands and other restricted areas that might hold some good forage, but are off-limits for a reason.
The downside is that not everything out there growing in the wild is okay for humans to eat. Some wild edibles that are fine to gather and eat still might have some specific cooking instruction and cannot just be picked and eaten raw. Others still, like mushrooms, have many positive varieties to eat, but often times have a cousin that looks the same, but might be deadly poisonous. Know before you cook or eat anything you find on the forest floor.
Also do not forget to check state and local regulations for wild foraging rules. As it may not be legal in all areas. Other than that, use your best judgement before and during your trip to gather wild plants. You may just find out how great it is to eat something that's been growing in your favorite hiking. camping, hunting, or fishing spot.
Please check out my book "The Hunter's Way" from HarperCollins. Be sure to follow my webpage, or on Facebook and YouTube. Go to Rack Hub and use the coupon code Craiger for a new way to display those antler sheds!
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