Skip to main content

Wild Edibles – Safely Foraging For Food

foraging for wild edibles
There’s a powerful satisfaction that comes in the moment you successfully identify a wild edible, the term used to describe plants found growing in nature that are not being actively cultivated as a food source, yet which are a nutritious and often tasty food nonetheless.

Finding a “trail snack” on the ground can impress your friends or your date, but so too can a bit of foraging prowess help keep you fed and fortified as you hike or camp, or even if you find yourself lost in the wilderness in an emergency situation.

Related Videos

Just a little bit of knowledge about a few wild edibles can go a long way toward keeping you safe out there in the field. In fact, if you only learn one thing about safe foraging for wild food, let it be this:

If you’re not 100% sure what you’re about to eat is safe… DON’TEAT IT!

It’s almost comical how many things you can’t eat, when you think about it. And I’m not talking about rocks and Hondas and strips of fabric, I’m talking about plants. In an effort specifically catered toward avoiding their being eaten, countless plants have developed countless measures to make themselves insipid, unpleasant, or downright deadly. Eating most plants will induce some indigestion and discomfort; others will see you laid up with nausea, fevers, and other unpleasant symptoms; and still others will kill you with alacrity.

With that in mind, rather than trying to give you a crash course in all the food-ready flora of world’s forests, we’re going to focus on just three wild edibles that are quite common across much of America (and other parts of the globe) that can be readily identified by anyone who is paying even a bit of attention. It’s better to be sure about a few foods than to be wondering about a plethora, given that whole “kill you with alacrity” thing.


DANDELION – Taraxacum officinale

You know what a dandelion looks like, right? Why, it’s that plucky “weed” with the bright yellow stringy bloom of a flower that grows everywhere from city sidewalks to suburban yards to wild, untamed forests and meadows! And you might want to think twice before the next time you disparage a dandelion as a weed, mister, because what you’re actually looking at is a tasty, rich source of vitamins A, K, and C, and a plant that can be eaten flower, leaves, roots and all. That’s right, you can pull that bright yellow head off of a dandelion and chew it up raw, or you can make a batch of dandelion wine. You can also gobble down the broad green leaves growing near the base of the dandelion’s stem — they’re great in salads, on a sandwich, or by the ravenous handful if you’re dying of hunger. Assuming you’re not, try briefly cooking them in a pan with a bit of butter and/or oil.

cattailCATTAIL – Typha latifolia

Where there’s fresh water, there are often cattails. These easily identifiable plants grown in clusters of tall reeds marked by those unmistakable tubular brown “spikes” (they look more like sausages, but are in fact called spikes) atop thick stems. And, as with so many wild edibles, you can eat stem, root, and flower of the cattail alike. Starting off with the top, if you find a stand of cattails in the right season, you can collect the bright yellow pollen surrounding the top of the stalk and use it just like flour to make bread, pancakes, and so forth. The thick stem of the cattail itself houses a fibrous and tasty core; remove the sheath of the stalk and snack on the inner material just like you would with an asparagus — it’s fine to eat this part of the plant cooked or raw, but the later you are into the season, the more advisable cooking becomes. And finally, get down to the roots here. A cattails roots are packed with both carbohydrates and protein, and with a bit of cleaning, can be enjoyed like potatoes or can be ground into flour. Just take the time to remove the fibrous material either through grinding or through soaking and peeling.

img_3748-copyWOOD SORREL – Oxalis acetosella

OK, this is the only one on the list that you might not already be able to identify easily. In fact, you’re probably going to screw it up a few times and eat some clover. But that’s OK, because clover is totally innocuous, it’s just not very tasty. You can identify wood sorrel by the three leaves that grow off of each slender stem; each leaf is heart-shaped, divided down the middle. A patch of wood sorrel will often be studded with small flowers that are usually star-shaped, with five petals that may be white, yellow, or even a shade of pink. Wood sorrel is mildly sour in taste (in a good way, most people agree) and is often even known as “sour grass.” Eat wood sorrel raw, ideally mixed with a plateful of dandelion greens and a bread made from cattail pollen. Also, ideally, you’d have some beer with you.


It’s pretty easy to identify most berries you know well from the grocery store or farmer’s market when you come across them in the wild. If you’re pretty sure you found a blueberry or blackberry bush, give a smell, then a tiny nibble. If your tastebuds confirm what your eyes suspected, dig in! If not, stop eating.

And hey, don’t eat wild mushrooms. Unless you are 100% sure of what you’re about to ingest, just don’t do it. The majority of the world’s mushrooms are considered inedible. They might make you sick, and they won’t be digested for nutrients. About a quarter of the mushrooms on earth may give you a bit of nutrition, but will taste horrid. Fewer than five percent are considered tasty (by some) and nutritious. The rest will sicken or kill you. So just don’t eat ’em, man. They are fungus, after all.

Editors' Recommendations

Is erythritol harmful? What a dietitian says new data means for your Keto diet
Erythritol is common in many keto foods - what does that mean for your health?
erythritol in keto diet advice

While sugar substitutes have been around for more than a century, they didn't really become mainstream here in the United States until around the mid-70s. According to Carolyn De La Pena, professor of American Studies at UC Davis and author of Empty Pleasures: The Story of Artificial Sweeteners from Saccharin to Splenda, between 1975 and 1984, Americans increased their consumption of artificial sweeteners by 150 percent. This timeline makes sense when you take into account that the late seventies coincided with the start of our crazed diet culture and the revolving door of fad diets.
One such diet that doesn't seem to be going anywhere, however, is the Keto diet. Still hugely popular among Americans trying to shed a few pounds, Keto focuses heavily on limited or no carbohydrates. Because sugar contains carbohydrates, followers of Keto have turned to artificial sweeteners to satisfy those late-night cravings - sweeteners that, more often than not, contain erythritol. Erythritol in particular has become hugely popular because it's much better for baking than other sugar substitutes, has less of an artificial flavor, and will keep the eater in Ketosis, which is key for losing weight on the Keto diet.
A new study has made waves recently because its findings indicate there's a link between erythritol and higher rates of heart attack and stroke (though the study did note that only an association was found — not causation. So should you be worried?
We asked Dan LeMoine, RD, the award-winning author of Fear No Food and the Clinical Director at Phoenix-based Re:vitalize Nutrition, what he had to say about erythritol, including its benefits and potential health risks. "Artificial sweeteners are still sweeteners. While many are non-nutritive or zero-calorie, we tend to view them similarly as we do regular sweeteners or sugars — moderation is key. While many have amazing implications on weight loss – being low to no-calorie options and having little impact on blood sugar, some have their downside," he says.

While some of that sugar substitution has been good for waistlines and health issues that come from obesity, it seems to be causing more and more concern when it comes to other potential health issues. "For example," says LeMoine, "some research indicates the popular sweeteners stevia may have negative effects on the gut microbiome. And the recent study showing correlation between the sugar alcohol, erythritol, and heart attack and stroke."

Read more
These foods high in melatonin will help you sleep better
Get a better sleep naturally by eating these 9 melatonin foods
Hands holding wine grapes.

Getting a quality night's sleep becomes more and more of a challenge as we age. Some of us have tried blackout curtains, sleep masks, weighted blankets, or any number of supplements promising better rest. If you're looking for an all-natural solution, though, melatonin is the way to go. Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in the pineal gland in the brain. Among several functions, melatonin plays a key role in regulating the body’s circadian rhythms, or sleep-wake cycles. Accordingly, the pineal gland produces more melatonin when the sun goes down, and levels dip at daybreak. Foods high in melatonin or even melatonin supplements are a popular way to increase the concentration of melatonin and possibly improve the quality and quantity of sleep.
Melatonin supplements are typically non-habit-forming and safe for adults and children in doses of around 0.5 to 5 milligrams. However, melatonin supplements may cause drowsiness, nausea, and dizziness, and they can interfere with certain medications.

Fortunately, if you’re looking to support your body’s own natural melatonin levels but you don’t want to rely on supplements, there are several sleep-aid foods that contain melatonin. Adding any of these foods high in melatonin to your dinner plate or bedtime snack routine may help regulate your sleep patterns over time and help you get more restful sleep. Though little nutritional data exists about the specific concentration of melatonin in different foods, the following foods are known to be particularly high in melatonin.

Read more
The 8 best protein shakes that are ready-to-go
These shakes come with all the good stuff, and none of the crap

With as busy as we have become as a society, we always seem to be on the go. This can make life challenging, especially when it comes to wellness goals. In a perfect world, you could hit the gym hard, crush a workout, then immediately refuel with a balanced, home-cooked meal. But, since life happens and we are always on the go, it’s not always feasible to take the time to actually cook up a muscle-building meal right after your workout. Whether you’re on the go and short on time, or just can't stomach a full meal after exercising, having a quick and easy, protein-packed option that doesn’t require kitchen time, is a helpful alternative to refuel your body and maximize your results.

This is where protein shakes come in handy. Numerous ready-to-drink shakes are available that provide muscle-building protein, vitamins, minerals, and calories to fortify your body after a workout. They offer the benefits of protein powders with the convenience of eliminating the need for a shaker bottle, or high-speed blender, let alone making a mess with powders. Simply give the bottle a quick shake, pop the top, and you’re good to go.

Read more