In North America there is an abundance of edible food that can be found in the wild. Most people are aware of common edible plants like dandelion and wild strawberries, but there are many, many varieties of plants, berries, trees and even roots that are edible. You only need to know what to look for and where to find them. Each of the hyper-links I have inserted into the article will lead you to informative text, descriptions and pictures of the plant. It would have taken too long for me to try and gather photos for every one of my entries for this article.
Here are some of the easiest to find wild edible plants abundant in the Eastern United States. Many of these edible flora can be used for medicinal purposes as well. However, it is vitally important to properly identify any plant that you intend to eat. This link offers some insight into plants that are poisonous and here is a very good article about How to Perform the Universal Edibility Test.
Acorns of the white oak can be roasted, shelled and ground into a course meal and added to baked goods from bread to pancakes. They add a rich nutty flavor and in hard times have been known to help stretch a sack of flour. The previous link offers a lot of information about acorns and a number of recipes for their use.
The young leaves from the Beech tree can be cooked as a green in springtime. The Beech-nuts can be roasted and ground then, used as a substitute for coffee.
Sap from the Black Birch tree can be boiled down and used as substitute for maple syrup. It is about half as sweet as maple syrup. The wood from the black birch has also been used as a substitute for wintergreen.
Wild Blueberries are eaten raw, dried or used to make preserves. Be on the look out for bears in areas you are picking berries.
Throughout most of North America, Cattails are found in abundance. The tender young shoots taste much like cucumber and the roots are delicious and nutritious whether eaten raw, boiled, baked or roasted in a campfire. You can peel the first 12 to 18 inches of the stalk and the tender white inside can be eaten raw or steamed. It is sometimes known as “Cossack asparagus”.
Chicory is another wild edible plant distributed across North America. The leaves are a great source of vitamins A and C as well as calcium and potassium. The roots are roasted and used as a coffee substitute.
Clover is a member of the pea family and can be eaten raw or steamed.
The first year’s root growth of Evening Primrose has a nut like quality. It was one of the first plants shipped back to Europe from the New World. Boil the root in two separate salted waters.
Grape leaves and fruit are edible and many varieties can be found throughout the Eastern states.
Green Amaranth offers a delicate flavor and pairs well with dandelion greens in salads. The seed takes some work to harvest and sift but is also used in breads and mush.
Hazelnuts are delicious roasted and served plain or in cookie recipes.
Freshly grated Horseradish is a spicy addition to roasted meat. There are many ways to prepare and preserve it.
Iceland Moss is a lichen and needs to be soaked in two changes of water, preferably with a little baking soda, to remove the acids. It can then be dried and crushed into a powder, simmered in milk or water then, let to cool it forms a kind of jelly that can be used for thickening soups, stews or mixed with flour to make breadstuffs.
Fresh young Juniper sprigs covered with boiling water and steep overnight renders a refreshing tea high in vitamin C. It is a diuretic and should be used sparingly.
The young tender leaves of the Nettle (also called Stinging Nettle) provide a nutritious and flavorful broth when boiled and the greens are well known for their tasty flavor.
Pasture Brake also called Pasture Fern harvested before the “fiddle head” uncurls is a pleasant vegetable when sauteed in butter. I do not recommend eating them raw as they can destroy vitamin B1.
Purslane eaten raw tastes like okra or cooked it adds body to soups.
Salsify (the black root) also called oyster plant because the flavor is similar to oysters. I think it tastes like parsnips. Aboriginals cooked it and claimed it was good for indigestion. It is considered a delicacy in French cooking
Sassafras offers a distinctive flavor and is used widely as a tea in the South. It is considered to be a spring tonic. After drying the leaves and then, grinding them to a powder, removing the coarse stems, this may be added to thicken soups and stews. Try it in Gumbo!
The berries of Staghorn Sumac were used by aboriginal people to make a drink that tastes like lemonade. First soak the berries in water, being careful not to over steep them or they will become bitter. Sweeten with maple syrup.
Watercress is in the mustard family and also known by the name, Water Nasturtium. It adds a peppery quality to salads and is also delicious in soup.
The tender young leaf stems and peeled stalks of Wild Celery can be eaten raw. The older peeled stalks should be boiled and they go well with fish.
Wild Ginger is not quite as strong as the regular store bought variety. Use the roots after scrubbing them well and slicing. Or they can be dried and crushed to a powder and used in baking.
Wild onions are used as a substitute for any recipe that calls for onions or garlic. High in vitamin A, can be eaten raw, cooked with eggs or steamed and covered with sour cream.
This is just a short list of the many edible wild foods you can find in North America.
Here are some resources for further reading on this subject:
Both of the aforementioned books are great for carrying in the field. They provide pictures and detailed descriptions of each plant and where to look for them.
From the Shepherds Purse is another reference book, though not one to be carried in the field as it is an expensive, hardbound and larger than a typical guide book. This book offers a lot of detailed information about medicinal uses of many plants found in the wild. Included also are very good instructions for making infusions, tinctures, ointments, salves and poultices. An excellent book for reference.
Here is a good link that provides some more info on many of the plants I mention above.
In the above link there are very good photographs and some important guidelines and general descriptions of plants to avoid eating in the wild.
Whether you gather wild edible plants in the forests and fields or you are harvesting leafy green vegetables from the garden, it is a good idea to wash them well before eating raw. You can use 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar in about 1 gallon of water to wash away any natural bacteria or harmful residue.
Apple cider vinegar has a wide variety of uses in the kitchen and as a health aid. A simple cocktail made with 1 large teaspoon of honey, 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar mixed in 8 ounces of water is a healthful tonic that aids digestion and is said to cure heartburn. You may also substitute mint tea for the water to add a little variety. Many folks also claim that this cocktail helps relieve sore muscles and stiff joints. The potassium in apple cider vinegar helps to carry away toxins that become built up in the blood.