Living on the Wild Side – Foraging Edible “Weeds”

Foraging fun!

Well, yesterday it was finally dry enough, so we managed to get one 80 acre field sprayed with pre-plant; and, just as we finished working the herbicide in with the field cultivator, the skies opened up again with another inch of rain.  Getting rained out isn’t always pleasant, but it can provide a short break to get outside and explore some edible “weeds” growing in the field edges, lawns and forests until it dries out enough to get back to work.

My “day job” is teaching, and I am fortunate to offer an unusual high school class in addition to my “regular” information literacy and English courses – Survival Arts.  One aspect of my survival arts class is introducing my students to many of the edible plants that can be found in our area.  Interestingly, many of these plants are not native to North America at all, such as curly dock, purslane, garlic mustard, and dandelion.  Also, many plants that we consider weeds were brought to America as a food source, and we have forgotten that they did not start out as weeds.  According to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, even the common dandelion was not considered a weed until the advent of grassy lawns in the 1900’s.  They were considered an important food source, and offer more nutrition than most vegetables in the garden.

During a couple recent walks this week while it was too rainy to work in the field, I decided to take a few photos of some edible plants growing at the farm and in my yard.  For the most part, they actually taste great, are healthy for you, and they are free!  If you are new to foraging, it is important to follow a few guidelines, including:

  • ALWAYS be 100% certain to correctly identify wild plants before eating them, so you do not ingest anything poisonous.
  • ALWAYS know  whether or not the area you harvest has been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides.  The sides of public roads, yards, field edges, ditches, and railroad rights of way are all places commonly sprayed, so do not forage in these areas unless you know they are safe.
  • ALWAYS get permission before foraging on private property.
  • WEAR sturdy shoes, long pants, long sleeve shirt if possible, and bring along gloves, especially if harvesting stinging nettle
  • BE ABLE TO RECOGNIZE poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac, and try not  to come into contact with them.  If you do, wash with warm, soapy water and rinse a couple times to remove the irritating oils.  You can purchase over the counter products at the pharmacy to help remove the oils as well, if you start itching after being in the woods.
  • If you are not absolutely sure something is safe to eat, don’t eat it.

Here are some photos that I took this week of edible plants while it was too wet to work:


Cattail – Cattail is one of the most important plants in a survival situation.  Cattail is found near water all over the world, and every part of the cattail plant is edible.  It is most delicious in spring, where the young shoots can be eaten raw or stir-fried or roasted.  Be sure to collect cattail from an area with unpolluted water.



Clover – The flowers, stems, and leaves of all clovers are safe to eat; HOWEVER, some say that clover with yellow flowers are not.  Therefore, you may want to stay away from yellow clover.  Clover can add variety to soups, stir-fries and many other dishes.


Dandelion – Dandelion leaves, flowers, and roots are all edible.  The leaves are best when small and tender in the spring and fall.  The roots can be roasted, and the leaves used in salads.  There are many delicious dandelion recipies available online.



Garlic Mustard – Garlic mustard is a serious threat to native woodland plants in North America.  It is invasive, prolific….and DELICIOUS.  Garlic mustard tends to grow in shady forests.  Young garlic mustard leaves can be eaten raw,  or made into a pesto.  I have even made garlic mustard pizza!



Honeysuckle – The white and tubular honeysuckle flowers can be gathered by hand, then dried to put into tea or infused in raw honey to add a delicious honeysuckle flavoring.  Honeysuckle is also invasive, so don’t worry about over harvesting.



Horsetail – Horsetail can be found in wet areas such as creeks and ponds, and is rich in minerals, including silica.  Cut off the above ground part of the plant.  Fresh horsetail can be cooked in soup or dried for future use.




Orange Daylily –
 Not all daylily varieties are safe to eat, but wild orange daylily is.  Young greens can be cut in early spring.  The older stalks can also be eaten, and don’t forget the bright, orange flowers!




Plantain – Plantain is an easy-to-recognize and common plant with tasty, lemony leaves.  Plantain is delicious in a salad mixture.




Stinging Nettle – Nettle is one of the “go to” plants in survival situations because of its high nutritional value, and it also can be used as cordage.  However, be careful of the painful stingers, and always harvest with gloves  and long pants when foraging for fun.  Learn more about nettle before harvesting, so you can do it comfortably.





Violet – The leaves, stems, and flowers of violets are edible.  The leaves are delicious with a hint of lemon flavor.  The flowers can add beautiful color to a spring or fall salad.




White Pine – Pine needles can be finely cut up and added to dressings or a variety of salads, such as potato salad.  Pine needles can be dropped into boiling water for ten or fifteen minutes to make a delicious tea, or added into a variety of other drinks and even infused into honey.  Actually, tonight I blackened some needles and pine candles (the new growth seen in the photo) on the grill, and they were fantastic by themselves and on my burger!


Wood Sorrell – Sorrell has three heart-shaped leaflets on each leaf.  The citrus-flavored greens can be used in sandwiches and salads.





Also, I suggest that you buy or borrow  a quality book on wild edibles and foraging to help you learn how to identify and prepare them.  This post includes just a handful of wild edibles that can be found in the Midwest, and I will try to get out later in the summer and fall to share additional information on other plants that can be enjoyed.

Finally, GET OUTSIDE, HAVE FUN, and DON’T BE AFRAID to live a little on the WILD SIDE!




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *