How to find edible plants
If there are no fish available for your supper, you may be forced to forage for plants if you need to eat. Some plants will keep you alive and are packed full of essential vitamins and minerals, but some could make you very ill....or even kill you so care is essential when foraging. If in doubt, don’t eat it. Ideally, you will have some idea of what is edible in the area where you are hiking. If this is the case, having a bit of knowledge (and a reference guide to what is edible and what is not) is a precaution well worth taking.
Here, we’ve given a primer on seven of the most common edible plants you are likely to find in the wild. Check them out, make sure you know what they look like and refresh your memory of them often.
If possible, try to find and eat some of these plants when your survival does not depend upon having them to hand so you learn where to look for them and how they taste.
Plants to avoid
It is as important to know what plants to avoid as it is to know what plants to find so here is a run-down of the kinds of plants you need to avoid if you have any doubt about whether it is edible. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
Steer clear from a plant if it has:
- Milky or discoloured sap
- Spines, fine hairs, or thorns
- Beans, bulbs, or seeds inside pods
- A bitter or soapy taste (nibble the tiniest bit to check)
- Dill, carrot, parsnip, or pasley-like foliage
- "Almond" scent in the woody parts of the leaves
- Grain heads with pink, purplish, or back spurs
- Three-leaved growth pattern
Many toxic plants have one or more of the characteristics listed here, but they can also be features of edible plants, too. This is why you need to know what you are looking for.
ASPARAGUS (ASPARAGUS OFFICINALIS)
Wild asparagus has a much thinner stalk than variety you are likely to find in the grocery store. The stems are longer, too. It’s a great source of source of vitamin C, thiamine, potassium and vitamin B6. You can either eat it raw or boil it for a few minutes in water, just as you would at home.
BURDOCK (ARCTIUM LAPPA)
Burdock is a medium-large-sized plant with purplish, thistle-like flower heads and big leaves. It is a popular food in Japan and you can eat the leaves, the peeled stalks of the plant and the roots. While you can eat them raw, the leaves have a bitter taste so it is recommended that you boil them twice to tame the flavour.
Clovers can be found almost anywhere in open grassy areas and best of all, they’re edible. This is a common plant you are likely to know instantly, too but if you’re not familiar with them, you can identify them by their distinctive trefoil leaves. Although you can eat clovers raw, they taste better when they have been boiled.
CHICORY (CICHORIUM INTYBUS)
Chicory is a bushy plant with small blue, lavender, and white flowers. It grows in Europe, North America and Australia. Handily, the whole plant is edible. You can remove the young leaves and eat them raw or you can boil them. You can also eat the root, but it needs to be boiled first to make it palatable. The flowers make a delicious quick snack.
DANDELION (TARAXACUM OFFICINALE)
When you want a snack and you’re stuck out in the wild this common plant get elevated from lawn-wrecker to lifesaver. Like chicory, the entire dandelion plant is edible: roots, leaves and flower. It’s best to eat leaves when they are young as the older leaves are tougher and can leave a bitter taste in your mouth. In fact, older leaves taste better if boiled. You must boil the roots before eating but you can drink the leftover water like an herb tea. The flowers make a perfect garnish for your dandelion salad.
PURSLANE (PORTULACA OLERACEA)
Purslane is a small plant with smooth fat leaves and has a refreshingly sour taste. While it is considered a weed in the United States, purslane provides essential vitamins and minerals so is perfect in a wilderness survival situation. The plant grows can be found all summer right the way through to the start of fall. You can eat it raw or boiled but if you don’t like the sour taste, make sure you boil it first.
GREEN SEAWEED (ULVA LACTUCA)
Seaweed is a great addition to any menu, whether you are in a survival situation or not. There are many different varieties so if you are by the sea you potentially have a perfect meal of fish and seaweed at your fingertips, making survival all the easier. You need to rinse seaweed with fresh water if possible before leaving it to dry. It is edible in either its raw or cooked state and is great when added to soups.While the above hacks will help you tell which plant is edible or not - there is no great adventure companion than a pair of Ridgemont Outfitters hiking boots. Shop the range here: