Organic grocery stores may be all the rage – but we would argue that no one has a better collection of organic produce than Mother Nature herself.
In fact, the woods, fields and rivers that so graciously cover our planet are full of tasty treats there for the taking – as long as you know what you’re looking for.
Foraging plants from the wild is a wonderful way to round out your diet – and enjoy some of the best qualities we hope for in food: deliciousness and nutritious-ness.
Still, it’s important to note that, while every plant you see can, technically, be eaten, not every plant you see is edible.
Strictly speaking, you should really only eat something if you’re totally sure of what you’re about to ingest. Some plants are tricky, taking on traits that look like less harmful buds but could lead to much different outcomes. And while the best-case scenario of a bad choice is spitting out something that doesn’t taste good, the worst case could be as extreme as death.
And even if you’re sure of what you’re about to consume, it’s important to also keep in mind where you’re foraging from. Many areas may treat their trees or flowers with chemical fertilizers or other unnatural products that could be dangerous to consume.
But, as long as you make sure to play it safe, you can come away from an average hike with not only a great workout – but half your dinner ingredients!
Now that the safety warning is up, it’s time for the best part: Actually getting to eat!
Some of the best wild plants to add to your menu include:
One of nature’s most delicious wild plants is, thankfully, also one of its most commonly found.
Wild onions can be easily identified by their oniony smell. Above-ground, they won’t look like the onions you’re used to—their signature white bulb actually grows underground. But besides the smell, you should be able to tell by their thick, green shoots and small burst of white and purple-striped flowers.
Now, if only we had wild ketchup, we could make ourselves a sweet hotdog stand!
Garlic mustard is typically considered a weed – but don’t let the haters fool you! This entirely edible plant (that is, roots, stems and leaves) actually tastes a lot like its namesake.
In the wild, garlic mustard has large, scalloped leaves, and, if you’re unsure, you can always try crushing one. If you have the right plant, it should smell like garlic, too.
Another one of Mother Nature’s most flavorful ingredients can easily be found in the wild.
Leeks particularly love the kind of moist soil you can find in the spring, and they also like to grow under trees. Their leaves are flat and broad with a pointy tip – and also entirely edible!
Indeed, some nature enthusiasts have recommended leaving the more-famous bulbs in the ground, as wild leek populations have taken a dangerous hit over the years. But luckily, their leaves are just as delicious!
Funny how many delicious plants end up categorized as “weeds.”
Dandelions are just one more member of that club, with their delicious leaves cooking up just as well as any other type of green. Their flowers can also be fried to delicious perfection, or eaten raw in salads.
But if you choose to forage some, just be careful: Most people try to kill these lovely creations with toxic sprays and other chemicals that could cause some serious harm if ingested.
A plant as heroic as its Hunger Games counterpart, katniss is truly Mother Nature’s Swiss Army knife.
The sweet-tasting plant’s insides, roots and flowers can all be safely consumed – while katniss’ stems can also be used for weaving. It’s thick, beaver tail-looking buds can even be dipped in fat and used as candles!
Not a bad plant to come across during any tests of survival.
While we’re hanging out near the water, we might as well talk about kelp!
Also known as seaweed or sea vegetables, kelp is one of the most famous wild edible plants, thanks to its popular use in healthfood recipes and Asian cuisine.
It looks in the water pretty much how it looks on the plate: Long, brown and slimy. But be careful: Kelp that washes up on shore is often rotting – and not a very great thing to eat.
Another food you may recognize from Asian menus, bamboo makes a fine additive to soups, salads and stir-frys, or can be enjoyed just as well on its own.
You’ll have to crack open the plant’s hard shell to get to the delicious shoots inside – which should taste, for the most part, pretty sweet. (Though, some varieties are much more savory.)
Again, though, proceed with caution: More than 100 types of bamboo are edible, but some varietals can actually be pretty toxic. And no matter which type of bamboo you’re digging into, you should boil the shoots before digging in.
Not technically red – and not technically a clover – but pretty tasty nonetheless!
Red clovers look like little bursts of bright purple flowers that spring from a circle of four or five green, tapered leaves. The entire thing is edible, and carries a refreshing, grassy – and just a bit peppery – taste.
Older leaves should be cooked before they’re consumed, but otherwise, this plant is just as good raw, and a great additive to salads and other fresh-tasting dishes – or even cocktails!
You may recognize this plant as: Those ugly, scraggly weed-things popping up from every crack of disheveled asphalt.
But one taste will likely change the way you feel.
Do you like nature walks? Do you also like free food?
If you answered “yes” to both of those questions, you might want to look into mushroom foraging.
The delectable fungi tend to grow in some of the most gorgeous places in the country (and, more broadly, the world) – while lending themselves to some of the kitchen world’s most gorgeous flavors, to boot!
But if this hobby seems too good to be true, it comes with one huge caveat: Mushrooms can be just as dangerous as they are delicious. It’s extremely important to make sure you know exactly what you’re dealing with before ingesting anything you gather from the wild, as a misjudged mushroom could very easily lead to death.
(In other words, take this article as a general guide, but it’s absolutely imperative to use other, more scientifically-sound literature to determine, exactly, what you’re plucking from the ground.)
But just as long as you’re armed with a great field guide – of the book or human variety! – getting into the wild mushroom game can be endlessly rewarding.
There are literally hundreds of mushroom varieties that are fit to eat, but some of the tastiest treats you can find in North America include:
Sporting an elegant funnel shape a beautiful golden hue, these mushrooms are most likely to pop up in coniferous forests – but also make a pretty strong showing everywhere from grasslands to mountain birch forests.
They have a nice, meaty texture and a mildly peppery taste that makes them a popular mixer in butters or creams – and, of course, an even more popular compliment with just the right kind of wine.
One of the most common mushrooms, you’re likely to find these sprouting in untended (or, otherwise, recently heavily-rained-on) lawns across the country.
Small and sporting the classic mushroom shape, these fungi are most easily identified by their tendency to grow in the ring-shapes their named for.
Taste-wise, they’re slightly less sensational, with a very mild pallet – but that makes them all the more coveted for flavoring in any way the imagination rolls.
Personally, we think they look a bit more like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but we digress.
These puffy sensations literally look like big, white blobs – though their inside is a striking and surprising greenish-brown. Just be careful: While these weirdos are tasty when they’re young, they become more toxic as they age.
A lover of trees, these mushrooms are usually found hanging out around the bases of mighty oaks.
They do, indeed, resemble the feathery plumage of a brown chicken – and are sometimes prepared in the same way as one, thanks to their meaty texture that’s a great conductor for butter or olive oil.
These look just like the white mushrooms you might find at the grocery store, with a classic mushroom shape and a wheel of beautiful pink gills under their white caps.
In fact, it’s important to find these gills before picking this type of mushroom, as there are many dangerous lookalikes out there. But once you’re sure you have the right specimen, a meadow mushroom tastes especially great when sautéed or fried.
Arguably one of the most famous – and famously expensive – types of mushrooms, morels are truly unique. (And, many believe, worth their eye-popping price, which can be in the several-hundreds-of-dollars per pound!)
They’re also one of the most unique looking mushrooms, with a strangely spongey looking cap, sometimes called a “honeycomb.” Their taste is in a class all its own as well, with a perfect touch of earthiness that many people love to swaddle in butter.
Another aptly-named fungi, oyster mushrooms indeed resemble the creature they’re named for, with an elongated neck and wide, round cap that’s a strikingly similar color to the seafood.
They tend to grow in clusters out of decomposing trees, but carry an excellent woody taste that’s popularly sautéed up with onions and garlic.
There’s practically no shape a mushroom can’t take – and that includes spiny teeth/hedgehogs!
These odd ducks have wide, flat caps that sit on top of a tower of spikey beige-orange hairs. But if you can get over the weird visual, you’ll be rewarded with a particularly sweet and nutty taste.
One other good thing about their unique shape: There are no poisonous lookalikes for these truly one-of-a-kind spores!
Shaggy is a pretty good description for these fungi, which have elegant, long stems topped with shaggy mop-top caps.
They sprout as a beautiful, brilliant white, with white gills that turn pink and, eventually black – and it’s important to forage them before they get to the final stage of the color story, when the black gills can cause some serious internal damage.
Otherwise, their ability to hold lots of moisture makes them a popular pick for soups and stocks.
They might not exactly sound appetizing – but believe us, they taste much better than they sound.
These funky mushrooms sport a bright orange color and almost coral-like appearance, typically growing off of high-altitude trees. And while their less-than-appetizing namesake compound requires these mushrooms to be cooked before eating, the end result is an earthy and hearty flavor that can mix well with everything from meats to vegetables.
Still, for every mushroom that we’d love to eat, there are a number of others that would love to return the favor.
Mushrooms can be exceptionally dangerous and, in many cases, deadly, and there are an untold number of examples to look out for. This is another reason why it’s so important to not forage freely – use a field guide or, better yet, join a group where experts can explain things on the spot.
But just for starters, some of the most common – and dangerous – types of mushrooms include:
If its official name wasn’t enough to scare you, you might also like this mushroom’s nickname: deadly Galerina.
No matter what you call them, however, these are some of the most poisonous mushrooms out there, indeed leading to the death in their name. They can be found with small brown caps, growing on rotting wood.
A pretty outside hides a deadly inside.
Conocybes have smooth, conical caps that come in a shade of deep brown. But eating them might be the last thing you ever do.
If the name wasn’t enough to warn you, let us re-emphasize: These mushrooms are bad news.
They look like the angels they’re named for – small, delicate and white. But they’re loaded with toxins that can cause, in the best case scenarios, severe illness, but are more likely to bring on a rather speedy death.
If there’s one thing you should’ve learned about mushrooms by now, it’s that their namers sure weren’t subtle. (And that, when they go bad – they go really, really bad.)
Like the frightening Death Angel and Autumn Skullcap before it, the Death Cap mushroom means serious business, and can be responsible for putting out your lights.
In fact, these white spores with large, flat caps are responsible for a majority of mushroom-related deaths around the world.
Cruelly masquerading as their much tastier (and healthy!) namesake, these mushrooms also have plenty of false morals.
One telltale sign to tell them apart: True morels are completely hollow inside when cut apart. These potentially deadly imposters are not.
So just remember: Life’s not a video game. If you choose the wrong mushroom, you won’t be able to start over.
But if you pick any of the more delicious options, you might just feel more powered up than Mario!
The long, scraggly looking leaves – which all sprout from a centralized point – carry a flavor almost like spinach, but a bit more on the sour side. They’re best enjoyed in similar ways as spinach, as well.
Still, just like with dandelions, it’s best to proceed with caution, as many people routinely spray these plants down with toxic chemicals to get rid of their weedy appearance.
A dainty, white flower that truly lives up to its name, these plants are equal parts tasty and beautiful.
But despite its delicate appearance, Queen Anne’s Lace actually carries quite a robust flavor, coming out something like carrot, though slightly sweeter.
Just be careful. This plant mimics the look of wildly poisonous wild hemlock – so it’s extra important to double- (and triple!) check before digging in.
But, as always, once you’re sure of what you’ve got, you should be able to enjoy Mother Nature in entirely new ways!