Wild Edible Plants . . .

This site is a database for wild edible plants of North America. I encourage any users to leave comments reflecting their experiences with a certain plant. Much of our knowledge of edible plants is either lost, superstitious or incorrect. There's a lot of hype about how dangerous wild plants can be, when in reality most are not only safe they're critical for your health.

My perspective is somewhat unique in that my family and I have camped as a lifestyle for over a decade - essentially lived with edible plants and used them on a daily basis. We have also been raw fooders for a very long period. Becoming 100% raw vegan sparked my interest in edible plants like nothing else. Every day I was out hiking the trails barefoot, eating grass, eating flowers, trying parts of the many plants I came across with a clean palate . . .

Using wild edible plants is the best way we can defy the system, maintain our health, and get our independence back.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Chattahoochee River

. We went to the Chattahoochee River NRA to see what edible plants we can find for Sunday's wild food walk. I wasn't expecting much other than what I'd found in the bottomlands along the river. However, it turned out to be a jackpot for common edible lawn weeds. This is one strip along a fence, at the edge of a parking lot:

There's a mowed area around the pavilion, and with the abundance of sun, and low elevation and humidity down by the river, this is prime weed habitat. The greens are mostly clover, chickweed, and dead nettle, with scallions (wild onion/wild garlic) all across the mowed lawn area. There are dandelions also, but with the cloudy skies, only a few are in bloom.

Look how lush the chickweed is:

And the dead-nettle around objects the mower couldn't reach:
Here's a plant I couldn't identify, no matter how long I pored over field guides and later the internet:

I feel like I know I've seen it before. What weed has smooth square stems, opposite leaves, and tiny terminal clusters of symmetrical flowers with five parts? I don't know. It doesn't taste like much, it may be edible.
[4/1 Update: The plant is Valerianella umbilicata (Corn salad), and highly edible - a once commonly-foraged wild green - it's in the valerian family.]
In the bottomlands there are some beautiful scenes of yellow sprays of forsythia blooming beside oregon grape, with its upright spikes of yellow flowers. I've read in China they eat both the flowers and young leaves of forsythia, so I'll have to try them.
We saw a couple of great blue herons. In fact the top photo is a close up of a heron out on a rock - he's tough to see.
I looked for edible shoots near all the bamboo that was cut down, but couldn't find anything. Maybe it's too early in the year.
The multiflora rose is in leaf now, and there are still a few old hips, but they are tasteless now. We came across a few hackberry trees, lots of greenbriar, cress and chickweed throughout, and of course silverberry. There will be plenty to point out on our walk.
Day 6 going 100% raw wasn't too difficult. It's almost easy now, as long as I don't look back. It's like climbing a mountain - don't even think of turning around.
I started out with a plantain/apple/parsley smoothie that was okay - not a great consistency. Lunch was cantelope - had an off taste. Later a wonderful young coconut - the water was incredible - I didn't really want the fatty flesh, but I ate it anyway. After our trip to the river I had a smoothie with banana, mango, and broccoli rabe (rappini), which I picked out at the grocery store because it looked so fresh and healthy. The baby broccoli inflorescences were even beginning to show some yellow flowers. However it was quite strong in the smoothie (I used half a bunch) and had a strong mustard bite to it. I also need to up the water content in my smoothies so they're not so thick.
This sounds like enough food for the day, but I kept on eating. I had a salad with an avocado dressing I made from an avocado and the juice of two lemons - way too acidic. I'll go back to my tangerine juice. And after the salad I ate 2 ounces of pine nuts. Way too much food. Evenings are tough for me. I'm used to pigging out and numbing out at the end of the day. Now I need to find something to do besides eat!

Friday, February 27, 2009


. Parsley is incredibly nutritious. This is from A2Z OF HEALTH:

Parsley contains three times as much vitamin C as oranges, twice as much iron as spinach, is rich in vitamin A and contains folate, potassium and calcium. What’s more, parsley is also recognized for its cancer-fighting potential. Some of the potent chemicals in parsley include:

Polyacetylenes, which seem to protect against certain cancer-causing substances found in tobacco smoke. It may also help to regulate the body's production of prostaglandin, which is a powerful tumor promoter.

Coumarins, which help prevent blood clotting, reducing your risk of arterial blockages that can lead to heart attacks.

Flavonoids, some of which act as anti-oxidants that neutralize dangerous free radicals, others that have been shown to prevent or slow the development of some cancers.

Monoterpenes, which are thought to have cancer-delaying properties, especially with breast tumors, and to reduce cholesterol.

But also in medicine its effectiveness as a diuretic and as a stimulant on the kidneys to expel waste is valued. Parsley is particularly helpful in treating kidney and bladder inflammations, irritable bladder and edema (an observable swelling in certain parts of the body).


Parsley is loaded with good nutrition. Like most green vegetables, parsley is a good source of vitamin K, vitamin A, folic acid, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Its flavonoid content is substantial, giving it strong antioxidant activity. It also contains some useful iron.

I had a wonderful smoothie this evening made from 3 ripe bananas, a cup of water, and half a bunch of parsley. The parsley balanced the sweetness of the banana very well (it's amazing how well fruit and greens go together), and I noticed after I finished it, the parsley had a bite to it. I'm excited to have it again. I really look forward to the next green smoothie.

Today is Day 5 going 100% raw, and I had a green smoothie with organic collards this morning, a pound of organic strawberries for lunch, my parsley smoothie, and for dinner, almost double the amount of salad that I had the night before. It was so good with the dulse and avocado dressing I couldn't help overeating. But I felt very heavy afterwards, and went and took a 2 hour nap. I guess I have to keep learning little lessons like that to stay on track.

One thing I've noticed with going 100% raw is that you have to always be looking ahead. You can't look back ever to the way you used to eat, the old addictive relationship with food. As long as I'm always looking ahead to the next meal, what I might make tomorrow, what new thing I'd like to try, or new dish to make, I'm fine. Variety is very important.

My daugher reminded me of this raw dish I used to make - stuffed red bell peppers. That's what I'm looking forward to next. I soaked sunflower seeds, then blended them with one bunch of herbs (usually a mint), lemon juice, onion, and Real Salt. This mix went into the peppers - it was very good.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ebbing's Silverberry (eleagnus ebbingei)

The silverberries are getting ripe! There's one hedge along a south-facing wall where most of the berries have turned a speckled strawberry-red.
This shrub is everywhere in the Atlanta area. It's unmistakable in that it's a shrub with evergreen leaves that have a ragged edge - and the fruit, leaves and stems are speckled with silver. The undersides of the leaves are speckled with a rusty brown.
I've found it trimmed into bushes and hedges around apartment complexes, along the bottomland forest of the Chattahoochee River, and just today saw it outside my father's factory . . . short bushes with new rust-brown shoots spreading in a long arc beyond the bush - eventually they will be trimmed. When it's not trimmed it's like a sprawling mass of shoots sometimes over 12 feet high - it can form a thicket and engulf young trees.
As far as edibility, the ripest silverberries are a thin layer of edible flesh, very acid yet sweet, around a long ridged seed. Those still not quite ripe have some astringency - though nothing like the astringency of the related autumn olive (eleagnus umbellata).
Many permaculture sites rave about the Ebbing's Silverberry - it's a nitrogen-fixer, great nesting and windbreak hedge, and has berries ripe in early spring.
It is great there are berries this time of year - typically late winter/early spring is the leanest time for foraging. However the berries are nothing like the unbelievably good and unbelievably profuse berries of autumn olive (common weed tree throughout the east). The flesh of the Ebbing's silverberry is thin, acid, and covers a large seed. It is slightly possible that the berries are not fully ripe yet. But considering the size of the seed, and that I've found some with no astringency (usually the sign of a ripe eleagnus berry), I'm doubtful. But either way it's a great food source, and I'm sure loaded with nutrients.
I have finally got my green smoothies down, now that I'm on Day 4 of going 100% raw. Look at this beauty:
Incredibly, incredibly satisfying. This is made from 1 cup of filtered water, 2 ripe bananas, a ripe mango, and organic collard greens. The secret I realized was in blending the mix on high for an additional 30 seconds, until every last trace of leaf bit is blended in. I was always worried about getting the mix too hot from blending, but this 30 seconds on high hardly heats it up at all. In fact it all remained cooler than room temperature as the water was cold.
I had a green smoothie with kale this morning (felt a little nauseous chewing all the unblended leaf bits). For lunch I ate 2 pounds of strawberries that I found on sale. After my 2nd green smoothie that you see above, I made a delicious salad:
I probably wasn't all that hungry for it, but I know I've got to spoil myself somehow or the diet will feel too strict. It's romaine lettuce, a tomato, dulse, some chopped red onion, and a dressing made by blending 1 avocado with the juice from 2 tangerines. The dressing was very creamy and interesting. Next time I will try lemon or lime instead of orange, so it's not quite so sweet.
On the walk back from eating silverberries I spotted our local weed cress (cardamine spp.) now in flower:
The leaves are somewhat stronger, but for a mustard, pretty mild. I might try a smoothie with a handful or two of cress. I'll at least gather it for my next salad.
I'm going to try a raw diet for my dog also, Mishka:
I was planning on starting today, but I'll wait a few more days until I'm more stable myself.
He's a 65 pound white shepherd. I've got him on BilJak now (a fresh frozen dog food). I'm hoping by giving him real meat with bones that not only will he be healthier, and happier, but learn what real food is like. That way when we're up homesteading in Tennessee, maybe he'll actually try eating all the mice and moles and birds he catches, instead of just throwing them around as toys until they rot.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kennesaw Mountain

We took a trip to the base of Kennesaw Mountain today to look for wild edibles. But we've had a lot of cold this winter, and Kennesaw is far behind where it usually is this time of year. There's not much growing - though the honeysuckle is flowering. The cream flowers smell intensely sweet, with a lot of nectar - but the base of the flowers is harsh, sort of like daylily. There's a farm across the street from the trailhead, and the girls fed the goats and lama and pony a bag of carrots.
Today is Day 3 of going 100% raw. I had a green smoothie with kale this morning. My daughters and I split a 10 pound durian for lunch. I had another green smoothie later (with collards - excellent). I felt great from all this. I'd been soaking sesame seeds all day for tahini. I drained and rinsed them, and tried blending them up with the juice of one lemon. Didn't work - gritty. I finally got out my little hand-held grinder to do the job:

I ran the seeds through twice to get them into mush. I added a little Real Salt. I ate this for a while with celery, then remembered we have some small seedy tangerines in the fridge. I juiced 4 of these and put it in the blender with my tahini mush. This had a great flavor, though not the usual tahini consistency - it was more wet. But afterwards my stomach hurt and I felt like I ate way too much.

The secret of going raw is to never go hungry, but also, to never eat too much. I thought by first soaking the seeds they would be more digestible - we'll see.

Dandelions and Roadside Pollution

. Today is my second day eating 100% raw and I gathered dandelion flowers for my green smoothie. I picked about 40 to 50 of them. You just pluck the flower and pinch off the green base, so that there is no white sap left on the flower (the sap is very bitter). It's important to do this before they go in the bag, or sap leaking out of the green stems will get on the flowers and make them bitter. Process them on the spot, then place them in your gathering bag or basket.

For the smoothie I used 2 bananas, 1 mango, 1 cup of water, and the flowers. It was excellent. Sweet and rich (dandelion flowers are sweet), with a great texture. I felt so balanced after this meal I didn't eat anything else the rest of the evening - even though there was a tempting durian in the fridge.

Though 'going raw' is psychologically brutal in the beginning (especially the first 2 weeks - like breaking free of any other addiction), I feel like I'm doing okay and stable. Making sure I focus on greens and minerals more than anything else (rather than sugars and fats) has balanced me very well.

There are inevitably moments of course where you pity yourself, and dwell on things you can't have anymore. But you can't have it all in life. No you can't have those big comforting meals anymore that you lived your whole life around, going from meal to meal. But for giving it up you get perfect health, a perfect body, and happiness. I think it's a good trade.

Most of the weeds nearby are roadside weeds, so I thought I should fully research the effects of auto emissions on roadside plants, before I make them a staple in my diet. The facts are not good. Not only are there gaseous emissions in exhaust, there is also particulate matter that comes out the tailpipe, as well as off the tires. The particulate matter is things like heavy metals, as well as other pollutants.

But edible weeds often thrive by the side of the road. Look at this patch of henbit, with its understory of chickweed:

There are varying levels of pollutant exposure for roadside plants. One factor is whether the plant is perrenial or annual. Perrenials get it the worst, because they're there year after year, soaking it up. Another factor is whether the soil is downhill or uphill from the road. If it's downhill contaminants from the road wash into it over and over, and are absorbed in the roots. Typically it is flowers and fruits that are the least affected, especially flowers considering how short-lived they are. And in general the poisons in the roots don't migrate up into the flowers and fruits. The leaves are so-so. They often get quite a bit of particulate matter dumped on them. Washing them in water tends to only remove 1/3 of the pollution.

The biggest factors are how much use the road gets - something with only a car an hour, upslope from the road . . . these plants are probably fine. A closed road would be best. But a road with heavy traffic - the plants are probably affected badly. But the particulate matter tends to only cover the immediate roadside. The level of pollution drops rapidly as you move away from the road.

The dandelion flowers I gathered were uphill from a busy road. The flowers are extremely short-lived, so not exposed to pollution for very long. Hopefully I can find some nearby (walking distance) sources for wild food that are far from roads.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dead-Nettle (lamium purpureum)

. Purple dead-nettle (lamium purpureum) is an extremely common lawn and roadside weed. It will carpet huge areas, and grow to be quite lush in fertile soil. It's a short-lived annual that will grow and flower even in the winter with mild temperatures. It's in the mint family, so it's a very mild mint - look closely at the stem and you can see it's square, or 4-sided, instead of round or cylindrical:

Sometimes mint stems can be so hairy the best way to tell the stem is square is to feel it with your fingers. You'll feel the edges.

The entire plant is edible. The flavor is very mild, grassy - you can eat it stem and all, or pluck off the leafy tops. The leaves are covered in a dense hairy down - and this can take away some from the mild flavor. However you get used to it quickly.

Dead-nettle's reported to be highly nutritious, abundant in iron, vitamins, and fiber. The oil in the seeds is high in antioxidants. And the bruised leaves can be applied to external cuts and wounds to stop bleeding and aid in healing.

One great way to eat large quantities of this plant is to blend it into a smoothie. I'm a firm believer after many years of foraging that greens are the most important part of our diet. But instead of grazing and chewing all day (though chewing is important!), we can mimic an indigenous diet by blending up large amounts of greens and edible weeds into smoothies - the miracle tonic called the 'green smoothie'.

The dead-nettle is now in flower and my daughters and I go to gather a few cups of it for our smoothie:

I use the entire above-ground portion of the plant, and collect it in one of our small muscadine baskets:

When we were raw fooders camped in a small pine needle clearing in Apalachicola NF (northern Florida) - we spent a month working on crafts and primitive skills. Muscadine vines were everywhere (it's a tough southern grape). We made several baskets - they're incredibly durable:
It's tough to gather a lot of the dead-nettle because of a very cold wind ripping by. Though it's almost March, it still feels like winter. On the walk back home, once I've gathered enough, we all chew and eat some of the dead-nettle. For me this is the best way to fully appreciate how nourishing this plant is - and it's a great exercise for your teeth and jaws.

I lay out my ingredients for the smoothie at home; the dead-nettle, a banana, a mango, and 2 cups of water:

I put everything into a new Cuisinart blender I just picked up ($99 - but it puts out 600 watts, over 3/4 horsepower). Water first, then fruit, then greens:

The finished product was rather watery and not too sweet and slightly gritty from imperfectly blended dead-nettle. So I peeled 6 baby bananas and threw them in. This did the trick. Sweet, rich, a smoothie-like consistency, and with all those weeds, unbelievably mineral-dense and nutritious.

Today is my first day of going back onto raw foods and being a 100% raw vegan again. I'm going to use an abundance of wild edible plants and green smoothies in my diet, and document the process here.

I want to feel again like I did several years ago - when the whole family was 100% raw, camping up on Black Balsam in western North Carolina, gathering huge amounts of wild blueberries, and blackberries, and cherries, and juneberries, and foraging on our hands and knees to collect trailside plantain for our salads. It's only a matter of discipline.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Laurelcherry [prunus caroliniana]

Laurelcherry is a small evergreen tree native to the Southeast. It's in the rose family, and related to all other cherries, plums, apples, etc. The cherries remain on the tree often until spring. Because of its smooth bark, evergreen foliage, and winter fruit - at first it looks like a holly with black berries. But it is a cherry.

The fruit is essentially a thin edible rind over a large green seed. It is strong, bitter and unripe up into the winter - like all wild cherries, bitter until soft. Since the flesh is so thin, it shrivels rather than softens - but the softening is when most of the bitterness goes away - it's still strong though, with an intense cherry liquor flavor. You're really almost eating just the skin of the cherry.

To be certain a cherry's a cherry I always eat a leaf. It's bitter usually the first 5 to 8 seconds, then an unmistakable cherry flavor hits - and there's no question. The leaves have a trace of cyanide (hydrocyanic acid), and so do the pits . . . it's interesting that Native Americans used to pound whole cherries including the pits into a mash and dry into cakes. So our understanding of hydrocyanic acid might need reevaluated.
Many sites refer to the fruit of the laurelcherry as either poisonous or inedible. But here's a report put out by the Forest Service. They refer to the fruit as "suited for human consumption".