Edible Plants Foraging Guide

Edible plants foraging guide

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Foraging is an excellent way to source the food that nature has to offer us without having to pay a penny. The US is home to a vast number of edible plants, but there are some that cannot be eaten. Before heading out to collect your bounty, it’s important to familiarize yourself with some of the most common edible plants.


Always make sure that you are 100% certain of the plant you are picking. If you are in any way unsure, do not pick it as it could be toxic!

1. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) foraging

The dandelion is perhaps one of the most easily recognizable plants with its bright yellow flower and delicate green stem. These plants can be found growing all over the United States in places like parks, gardens, fields, and along roadsides. They’ll normally make an appearance in spring, but they can grow through to the end of summer, depending on the conditions.

The roots of the dandelion are ideal for brewing wild tea and have a slightly bitter flavor. If you want to make a salad, then the dandelion leaves are ideal with their mild and delicate taste. You can cook the leaves if you prefer, but this will make them taste even more mild so most people like to eat them raw.

Generally speaking, dandelions are pretty safe to eat. However, it’s wise to forage in places where the plants won’t have been contaminated with things like dog urine or pesticides.

2. Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Chickweed (Stellaria media) foraging

Chickweed starts sprouting in the late winter through to early spring. It is for this reason that it’s sometimes called winter weed. While it isn’t native to the USA, it does now grow in abundance here thanks to early European settlers. What’s great is that chickweed grows almost everywhere and especially likes damp, recently agitated soil.

It’s one of the most common weeds in North America, but it’s also bursting with nutrients, including more iron than spinach. How about that, Popeye! You’ll harvest the leaves, and these can be eaten raw in a salad or steeped in hot water to make a tea that’s bursting with vitamin C.

You’ll tell chickweed apart from other plants thanks to its tiny white flowers and egg-shaped leaves. Some poisonous plants have little hairs on them, which is a trait of chickweed, but this is one hairy plant that is edible. That said, you should be careful not to confuse chickweed with scarlet pimpernel, which has a very similar appearance. This plant has reddish flowers, which is a key way of telling them apart.

3. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) foraging

It goes without saying that, when foraging stinging nettles, you will need a good pair of gloves so that the stinging hairs do not irritate your skin. But once the nettles are steamed or blanched, those hairs are removed and you’ve got a food that is incredibly nutritious.

You’ll want to pick the leaves while they are still young and are yet to flower. For this, you will have to start foraging for nettles in spring, between March and May. You will be able to find these plants growing all over the USA apart from Hawaii, so they’re in abundance. However, they grow especially well in wetter climates.

4. Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) foraging

One of the best things about garlic mustard is that you can eat the whole plant. Moreover, since its introduction to North America in the 1800s, it has become something of a pesky weed, so you can help quell the spread by including it in your diet.

This plant grows almost everywhere; along roadsides, in gardens, in forests, along creeks, and many other places. Plus, there’s usually a lot of it! It grows all over the USA, including as far north as Alaska. One of the distinguishing features is the scalloped leaves which, when crushed, have a very potent aroma of garlic. But when foraging this plant, be careful not to confuse it with similar plants such as black ivy.

You can eat the leaves, seeds, and stems of this plant, so it’s very versatile. However, keep in mind that the leaves will taste more bitter the warmer the weather gets, so try to collect in early spring. You can include the leaves, along with the flowers in a salad so they can be eaten raw. The stems can be sauteed and have a texture and taste not all that dissimilar to green beans.

5. Burdock (Arctium minus)

Burdock (Arctium minus) foraging

The burdock plant is very easy to identify, thanks to its clusters of oblong leaves growing close to the ground. At certain times of the year, they will also have burrs which are an identifying trait of this plant. While there are four types of burdock in the US, they all look very similar and feature broad leaves and purple flowers.

Burdock can be found across the United States but grows particularly well in rocky soil in woodlands, waste ground, and field edges.

The best part of the plant to forage is the roots, as these have the best taste. It is possible to eat the leaves but they have a very bitter taste unless you cook them. You’ll harvest the roots during autumn and winter, and you can then roast them for some warming comfort food. Alternatively, you could make a veggie burger out of them!

6. Common Cattail (Typha latifolia)

Common Cattail (Typha latifolia) foraging

The common cattail can be found in almost every part of the United States, and it is one of the most important wild foods as well as being incredibly versatile. These plants grow in shallow water and thrive in a variety of light conditions, from full sun to full shade.

Many parts of the cattail can be eaten. The tubers, which can be gathered in winter, are packed with nutrients like potassium and iron. The young shoots that come through in spring are usually prepared in the same way as asparagus, while the leaves can be eaten raw in a salad. Even the pollen of the cattail can be shaken over pancakes to improve the nutritional value!

While the cattail is safe to eat, you should be sure to wash them thoroughly as water-borne bacteria could be present. Moreover, foragers should avoid getting the cattail fluff on their skin as this can cause irritation.

7. White & Red Clover (Trifolium repens & pretense)

White & Red Clover (Trifolium repens & pretense) foraging

Many people see clover as nothing more than a weed, but did you know that white clover can cleanse the blood and is ideal for soothing cold and flu symptoms. Whereas red clover is an ancient treatment for respiratory conditions including whooping cough and asthma.

These plants can be found growing all over the United States and have naturalized from Europe, including in places like Alaska and Hawaii. You’ll be able to pick wild clover anywhere between February and November however, it’s more common for them to flower in early spring, between March and May.

The great thing about both red and white clover is that all parts are edible. Many people use the flowers to brew wild tea, which is bursting with Vitamin C. The leaves can be eaten raw, but older ones should be cooked to improve the flavor.

8. Plantain (Plantago spp.)

Plantain (Plantago spp.) foraging

Plantain has a wide range of medicinal purposes. It is anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and soothes the skin. It’s also commonly used to treat conditions like diarrhea and UTIs.

You’ll often find this plant growing in your backyard, but in the wild, it can be found in places where there is lots of natural sunlight, such as fields. The best time to go foraging for plantain is in the spring, but do be careful not to mistake this for young lilies.

It is the leaves of the plantain that you will need to harvest, and they have a slightly peppery and earthy flavor. They’re egg-shaped and grow in a rosette so aren’t too difficult to spot. When you’ve got your harvest, you’ll be able to eat them raw in a salad. However, keep in mind that the leaves become quite fibrous as they age, so it’s best to cook them once they reach this stage.

9. Wild Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

Wild Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

Many expert foragers recommend looking for wild asparagus for newbies as it’s almost impossible to mistake it for anything else. It looks very much like the asparagus you would see in a grocery store, and if you go foraging in the fall, the plant will have large yellow feathery leaves.

However, heading out in the spring makes the plant much more difficult to spot, so you may need a little more experience. You’ll also need to keep in mind that not all areas have wild asparagus growing. Most states have what is known as asparagus zones, so it’s worth checking out where these are local to you.

You should harvest the shoots as the berries of the plant are known to be toxic. But once you’ve got your crop, you can enjoy them either raw or you may boil or steam them. Asparagus plant seeds can be roasted and used as an alternative to coffee.

10. Wild Violets (Viola spp.)

Wild Violets (Viola spp.) foraging

You can tell wild violets apart from other plants because of their delicate flowers, which come in a range of colors, including pinks, whites, and of course, purples. You’ll find them growing in moist soil and partial shade. The heart-shaped leaves grow in a rosette, and you’ll find these low-growing plants almost everywhere.

Most commonly, they’re ready to be harvested in spring, but in some areas, they may spring up as early as mid-February. Keep in mind that while you can eat both the leaves and the flowers, it’s best to avoid yellow violets as these may produce a laxative effect.

Violets have a very sweet flavor, although sometimes, people say that the leaves can taste a little ‘soapy.’ I guess it comes down to personal taste but the flowers and leaves are versatile enough to be used in sandwiches, salads, wraps, and can even be made into a pesto.

11. Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana)

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana) foraging

Many people like to eat the leaves of the wood sorrel raw. However, you should err on the side of caution as cooking the leaves may remove some toxicity. While they won’t harm you if eaten raw in moderation, cooking them will also improve the flavor.

You’ll often hear people referring to wood sorrel as the American shamrock despite it not being in the same family. It has heart-shaped leaves and flowers that come in shades of pink, lavender, and white.

What’s great is that you can harvest both the leaves and the flowers, and this plant is bursting with nutrients, including vitamin C and D, as well as high levels of fiber and iron. Keep in mind that this plant can easily be confused with clover. Look out for this between March and November.

12. Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)

Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella) foraging guide

Sometimes, you may hear sheep sorrel being called sour sorrel, red sorrel, or field sorrel but they’re all one of the same thing. These plants have arrow-shaped leaves and the females have deep maroon-colored flowers that shoot upwards.

One of the great things about foraging sheep sorrel is that it has so many uses. This plant does have a slightly tangy taste, which many people compare to rhubarb, but it goes very well in a salad or as a garnish, and sometimes, it’s even used to curdle milk when making cheese.

Sheep sorrel is native to Europe but grows in almost all parts of the USA today. The best time of year to harvest this plant is in the summer around the months of June and July as this is when the leaves will taste the best and be full of nutrients like Vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium.

13. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) foraging

Milkweed is an incredibly versatile plant that bursts forth shoots, making it much less of a weed than one might think. You’ll be able to harvest this plant for around seven weeks during the summer, and all of the parts are edible. However, most foragers will take the fuzzy clusters of green that show up around June and July.

It’s important not to take too much as this will prevent the plant from producing a harvest the following year. It’s really easy to prepare milkweed buds as they require nothing more than a quick boil for up to ten minutes. You can then enjoy them as an accompaniment to other foods or in a salad.


It is essential to know what you’re looking for when foraging milkweed, as it is possible to confuse it with dogbane, which is highly toxic. You can tell them apart by looking at the leaves, milkweed leaves grow in opposite pairs and are shaped like an elongated oval with fine hairs on the underside.

14. Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album)

Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album) foraging

Perhaps one of the most abundant and versatile plants on this list, lambsquarter grows almost everywhere in the world so it isn’t hard to come across. What’s more, all of the parts are edible so it’s great for a wild feast! That said, you should be careful since this plant contains compounds that could prevent your body from absorbing nutrients, so go steady with it.

The seeds of the lambsquarter are ideal for turning into flour or you can boil them and eat them in the same way you would couscous. Alternatively, you can stir the leaves as well as steaming or boiling them; we told you this was a versatile plant!

You will be able to find lambsquarter growing right from the beginning of spring through to fall. Look for it in places like fields or other sunny spots and you may even find it growing right in your backyard!

15. Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata)

Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) foraging guide

There are some great things about miner’s lettuce that make it perfect for new foragers. It is very difficult to mistake it for anything else, and you can eat it as soon as it is picked. What’s more, miner’s lettuce is packed with Vitamins A and C, as well as lots of iron, so it’s incredibly beneficial nutritionally speaking.

From February to May, miner’s lettuce blooms with white or pink flowers which makes it easy to spot. But even when it’s not in flower, the disc-shaped leaves with a stem that runs right through the middle make it difficult to miss. In fact, since this plant starts being available in winter, you can forage it for most of the year.

You’ll find miner’s lettuce growing in shady spots, and while it can grow anywhere, it’s particularly abundant along the west coast of the United States. The leaves are edible raw, and most people do not cook them as they have such a fresh, sweet taste the moment they’re picked from the ground.

16. Wild Rose (Rosa spp.)

Wild Rose (Rosa sp.) forage guide

The wild rose and rose hips can both be foraged and are edible. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll collect the different parts of the plant at different times of the year. Rosehips are collected during the fall, while the flowers make their appearance during spring and summer.

The great thing about the wild rose is that it is widely available and while there are different varieties, they can be found all over the world. Typically speaking, the flowers have five pink petals and when the rose hips come out, these are usually a reddish/orange.

You can eat the rose hips raw, and they contain high levels of Vitamin C. However, some people also like to use them to brew wild tea by steeping them in hot water for up to 15 minutes. You might also use them in soups, jams, jellies, and many other things. If you’re harvesting the leaves and flowers, these are normally added to other foods to give a delicate rose flavor.

17. Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)

Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) forage guide

When foraging wild parsnip, it is important to remember that only the taproot is edible. Other parts of the plant, including the leaves, are toxic to humans and have a very bitter taste. On the other hand, the taproot is sweet and can be used in a number of ways. They can be boiled, steamed, stewed, and roasted.

Since the roots are below ground, you’ll need to be able to identify the part of the plant that’s above the surface. The wild parsnip can grow up to six feet in height and has alternate leaves with bolted stems and yellow flowers.

These plants are common in the northern parts of the USA and through into southern Canada. They’re usually found along roadside and trails as well as in fields.


Do keep in mind that there are some similarities between wild parsnip and water hemlock, which is incredibly poisonous, so make sure that you are 100% certain about what you are picking.

18. Curly Dock (Rumex crispus)

Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) - how to forage

The great thing about curly dock is that it grows in so many places. You’ll often find it in parking lots and gardens, but it’s always best to collect it from a more natural environment where there’s less chance of it having been sprayed with chemicals.

While you can forage for curly dock all year round, you will find that leaves are best during the spring. Go for young leaves for the best flavor. However, later in the year, some foragers like to collect the buckwheat grain, which is ideal for turning into flour.

The leaves grow from a central taproot and have wavy edges, and are deep green in color. Do keep in mind that the leaves do contain high levels of oxalic acid which is fine to eat raw in moderation, but it is recommended to cook the leaves to remove some of the toxicity.

19. Borage (Borago officinalis)

Borage (Borago officinalis) foraging guide

Some people compare the taste of borage to cucumber. It’s light, fresh, and delicate, and the flowers are perfect when used as a garnish. The leaves of the borage plant are also edible, although these are rarely eaten raw as cooking removes the bristles from them.

Owing to the presence of the bristles, it is a good idea to wear gloves when foraging borage although you’re unlikely to be affected unless you are very sensitive. These bristles are a key identifying feature of borage but you can also look out for the purplish star-shaped flowers.

Borage is found in all of the New England states and likes areas in full sun. It is recommended to pick the flowers before they open, and it is also worth noting that while many plants can be used to make essential oil, you should avoid this with borage. The plant contains a chemical (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) that can cause cancer of the liver if the oil is ingested, so to be safe, avoid doing this.

How to Stay Safe When Foraging for Edible Plants

Foraging for nettles

Foraging can be a safe and enjoyable activity when it is done right. While it’s tempting to go rushing out to forage without preparing, doing so could put you at risk. Before getting started, make sure that you follow these helpful tips.

  • Always make sure that you can be 100% certain of the plant you are picking. This means being able to reliably identify it and know enough about it to know it is edible. If you are in any way unsure, do not forage it.
  • To give yourself that extra peace of mind, it is a good idea to take a foraging guidebook every time you go out. This will be an excellent point of reference and will help you better identify plants and flowers to ensure you don’t pick anything that could harm you.
  • Don’t forage in places where chemicals may have been used on the plants. This doesn’t only apply to organized areas like farms but areas that surround them. When crops are sprayed, some of the fertilizers and herbicides could spread to neighboring areas. Even with a good clean, some of these chemicals may be left behind.
  • Some plants can cause allergies, particularly in sensitive people. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to try a very small amount to test if it affects you. This is incredibly important if you are trying a plant for the first time, but you might also perform the universal edibility test which we will discuss in detail later in this guide.
  • We cannot stress enough that, if there is any doubt in your mind, you should leave the plant where it is and pick something else. While you might think you know what you’re picking, if you’re not 100% certain, you may end up picking and eating something very toxic.

Common Traits of Poisonous Plants

Staying safe when foraging

The sheer number of plants and flowers out there is astonishing. Being able to narrow down your choices by understanding what traits poisonous plants have can be a useful tool for a forager. While this should by no means be the only way you identify plants, it’s a good starting point. If you notice any of the following features, it’s probably best to steer clear.

Here we will discuss some of the most common traits, but this is not a definitive guide, so always take extra care when foraging.

  • Poisonous plants tend to have a milky-colored sap. This can cause severe skin irritation so it’s always best to check the sap using gloves. Some common poisonous plants with milky sap are dogbane and calotropis. But do keep in mind that not every plant with milky sap is toxic.
  • If the plant has a scent that resembles peaches or almonds, this could be a sign that it is toxic. You might also notice that some plants smell like root beer or smell acidic, and these are also likely to be poisonous.
  • Plants that have umbrella-shaped leaves could be incredibly toxic. Some of the most poisonous plants in America have leaves like this, including cowbane and water hemlock. Eating these plants could be fatal so stay well away.
  • Many plants have berries but not all are edible. If you see a plant with white, yellow, or green berries, it’s probably poisonous. Plants like dolls eyes may look attractive, but they could cause severe gastro symptoms, and if you eat too many, they can cause death!
  • The leaves of poisonous plants come in two forms; glossy and green or very dull. This is a clear sign that the plant should be avoided and it’s also worth checking the leaf pattern. Three leaves with one upright and two out to the side that are glossy and green are poison ivy which can be fatal. The foragers rule; leaves of three, let it be!
  • If the leaves or any part of the plant have fine hairs or spines, then this is a defense mechanism that should tell you the plant is not edible. These hairs will usually cause irritation and stinging; not something you’ll want in your mouth.

Universal Edibility Test


If you ever find yourself in a survival situation without access to a foraging guide or any other information, then there is one way that you can test plants to see if they are edible. Of course, the best thing to do is educate yourself on edible plants, but this is an important skill to have under your belt in an emergency.

The universal edibility test can take some time as you will need to check each part of the plant. Moreover, most experts recommend not eating for at least eight hours before performing the test.

Here are some simple step-by-step instructions for this military-approved technique.

  1. Start by separating the plant into different parts. For example, the roots, berries, flowers, leaves, stems, etc.
  2. You should only test one part of the plant at any one time, but before actually placing the plant in your mouth, you can perform other parts of the test while you wait for your eight-hour fast to elapse.
  3. Take your chosen part of the plant, let’s assume we’re testing a leaf, and rub this on the inside of your wrist. After around 15 minutes, if there is going to be a reaction, it would have showed up by now.
  4. If no reaction occurs, you can then repeat this process on the lip. If the plant is safe, it should cause no itching, burning, or other irritation.
  5. In the case of no reaction, you can then place a small piece of the plant into your mouth (note this must be done after the eight hours has passed), leave it for a few minutes, and then spit it out.
  6. If you still have no reaction, try eating a small piece of the leaf and waiting around one hour. After this, if everything seems OK, the chances are that the plant is safe to eat.

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