Nature is full of food. Even desert climates that look like barren wastelands have abundant resources that can help you survive if you know where to look. We’ve gathered a list of 16 common wild plants you can eat. These leaves, seeds, roots and herbs can keep you going in a survival situation when you’ll need all the strength you can get.
Exercise caution when harvesting wild plants. Be sure you can identify a species prior to consuming it. A guidebook with good pictures of common plants in your area is an essential item to add to your bug-out-bag.
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You can use mallow raw in salads, or eat the seed pods when they are young. The whole plant can be eaten. When cooked the leaves release a viscous syrup which is perfect for thickening soups. You can also use this mucus as an alternative to egg whites. It whips up nicely to make meringues.
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This invasive vine is taking over yards and wild spaces all over the South. Fortunately it is one of the wild plants you can eat. The entire thing is edible. Cook the leaves like collards or enjoy them raw on a salad. The roots can be roasted with beets or potatoes for a rich starchy dish.
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This well known freshwater wetland plant is good for many things. It’s soft tops are popular for stuffing pillows and quilts, but it is edible too. The leaves can be boiled and eaten like spinach while the root is tasty either raw or cooked. The white part of the root is the most tender and flavorful.
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4. Lamb’s Quarters
This common woodland plant is often seen as a weed in the garden. Yet it is a great replacement for delicate lettuces or spinach. Use the leaves in any fashion your would normally eat “greens". Cooked or raw in salads is perfectly fine. They do tend to taste the best before the plant flowers.
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Here’s a wild plant you can eat that you can easily identify. They might even be a pest in your lawn or garden. The leaves are popular salad greens, and the flowers make a colorful addition to any dish. They can be a bit bitter, but if you cook the greens they become tender and mild.
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6. Wild Leeks
Common in the Northeast, wild leeks usually grow in abundance in the deep woods. They like the damp leaf mulch under large trees. They smell like a strong onion. Both the leaf and the bulbs are edible, however eat them in moderation, as you would garlic. Too much in one sitting can cause indigestion, though in small amounts they boost your immune system and can be effective against parasites.
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Pigweed is simply wild amaranth. It is widespread across the country and is typically a problem weed in many gardens. But this is one weed that is useful. Eat it all! Leaves, stems, seeds, roots. The young leaves are great eaten like spinach. The seeds are full of nutrition and the seed grain can be used to make flour.
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You can use the needles from any type of pine to make a delicious and medicinal tea. Just add fresh needles to a pot of boiling water. A few of the benefits: more immune boosting vitamin c than lemon, and lots of vitamin A which is a powerful antioxidant. You can also find pine nuts housed in the pine cones of some species of pine tree.
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9. Pineapple Weed
You’ve probably squished the small fragrant flowers of pineapple weed between your fingers before. Did you know you could eat it too? It is very similar to chamomile, and can be used to make a nice tea. The flowers and leaves are tasty raw. You can also dry the flowers and grind them into a flower for baking, if you can collect enough.
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Don’t get confused: we’re not talking about the banana-like fruit that is so yummy fried. This plantain is common in compacted soils throughout North America. It is very likely you have some growing in your driveway. The leaves are edible but are best cooked as they can be tough.
Even more than a food, plantain is a valuable medicine. The leaves form a drawing poultice that soothes irritated skin, bug bites and rashes from poisonous plants. It can also be used to reduce swelling and heat in an injured limb.
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11. Prickly Pear Cactus
Many of the wild plants you can eat are edible freshly picked. This one takes a little preparation. The beautiful reddish-purple fruit that grows from this cactus is sweet and juicy, but both the fruits and the paddles require careful shaving to remove the spines. They can be fried, boiled or even eaten raw, though they are much tastier cooked.
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12. Wild Mustard
Mustard grows everywhere in the world. It has a rich, peppery flavor and the leaves are better cooked than raw. The flowers are edible and make a great splash of color in salads or soups.
The seeds are edible and can be used to make homemade mustard.
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13. Wood Sorrel
Wood Sorrel has a flower than can be white or bright yellow. The leaves are clovers so it should be easy to spot. The leaves are rich in vitamin C and have been used for centuries as medicine. They have been used to heal mouth sores and even cure thirst. The roots can be boiled up and will have a potato-like starchy taste.
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Violets are a common and beautiful addition to your garden. As an added bonus, violet leaves and flowers are completely edible. Like roses, they can be sugared to make edible decorations to cakes and other desserts.
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15. Wild Bee Balm
If you find wild bee balm in your garden, you may want to leave it. It attracts bees and other beneficial pollinators. The leaves and flowers can be used like any herb. They have a flavor that is like a cross between mint and oregano. They make a tea that is strikingly reminiscent of Earl Gray.
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This lovely plant always finds its way into my garden beds whether I want it there or not. The leaves can be eaten, but do tend to be a bit sour. If you boil the leaves before eating the sourness should go away. The plant has many vitamins and nutrients you will find helpful in a wilderness survival scenario.
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How to Safely Identify Which Wild Plants You Can Eat
It is always a good idea to have a resource on hand to help you identify which wild plants are safe to eat. Here are a few guides to edible plants around the country that can help you get started.