Oh, sure, we all know about apples, blackberries, and dandelions. But what if you want to branch out a bit when foraging? There are all sorts of edible plants common to North America. Chances are, you probably walk past some of these common edible plants every week!
To make your introduction to wild foraging a bit easier, we decided to make a simple guide to 9 common edible plants in North America.
Where to Find It: Curly dock is a common invasive across much of the US, especially in disturbed areas like farmland and roadsides.
How to ID: The plant has large leaves with curled edges that lie low to the ground in a circle. Curly dock produces a flower stalk (or inflorescence) that grows to roughly 1m (just over three feet) high. The seeds are shiny and brown when mature. This plant is most easily identified by the flower and seed stalks.
How to Prepare It: The leaves can be quite sour, but if picked young and boiled, can be added as a salad topping. The seeds are a good replacement for buckwheat in many recipes.
Recipe Link: Dark Chocolate Curly Dock Seed Cake
Dangerous Lookalikes: Looks similar to many other dock species, but most dock species are edible! Curly dock is toxic to livestock.
Where to Find It: Temperate areas across the US, especially in disturbed ecosystems.
How to ID: Common Sowthistle has a hollow stem that drips a milky sap if broken. Leaves are soft and thin with deep lobes. The leaves have spines that are not hooked.
How to Prepare It: Eat the young leaves and flowers early in the season like spinach – raw or cooked into a dish.
Recipe Link: Buttered sowthistle or Stir-fried sowthistle and pork – scroll down to find the recipes!
Dangerous Lookalikes: Similar to most other sowthistles – but most sowthistles are edible.
Where to Find It: Northern and central regions of North America
How to ID: Recognized by its height (easily grows to 4+ feet tall) and nasty burrs. Has large, heart-shaped leaves that can grow up to 1.5 feet across.
How to Prepare It: Cut young stems, peel them, and boil for 20 minutes. Then season to taste.
Recipe Link: Burdock brown rice and mushrooms
Dangerous Lookalikes: Another member of the dock family, most of burdock’s relatives are also edible.
Where to Find It: Ubiquitous across most of the US
How to ID: Distinctive 3-leaf rosette, low to the ground.
How to Prepare It: Leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds are all edible. Use the flowers to add a sweet, lightly vanilla-ish flavor to baked goods or tea.
Recipe Link: White clover pudding
Dangerous Lookalikes: Easily recognizable.
Where to Find It: Grows in the Pacific Ocean from Baja California up to Alaska
How to ID: This is the largest of all algae and can grow to 160 feet or more. Forms “kelp forests”
How to Prepare It: Trim the leaves off of the stems, then rinse the leaves in hot water to remove slime.
Recipe Link: Abalone pressed with driftwood-smoked giant kelp
Dangerous Lookalikes: Bull kelp and other kelp species are also edible.
Where to Find It: Grows in marshes and wetlands across North America
How to ID: Look for tall, skinny leaves surrounding a single stalk. The stalk is generally topped with a pollen cluster that’s shaped like a hotdog.
How to Prepare It: Almost every part of this plant is edibe, from the roots and stalks to leaves and pollen.
Recipe Link: Cattail pollen pasta
Dangerous Lookalikes: Can be confused with poison iris – but just look for the cattail head and you’ll be safe. The cattail head should be present year-round.
Where to Find It: Common in front yards and sidewalk cracks across the US
How to ID: This short plant has green oval-shaped leaves (3 to 12 inches long) that grow in a rosette shape. If you break the leaves or the thick stems, you’ll see stringy veins similar to celery. A long stalk of tiny flowers (up to 5 inches tall) grows from the center of the rosette.
How to Prepare It: Young leaves are best – or remove the thick veins. Blanch the leaves before using them in salad.
Recipe Link: Wild greens pizza
Dangerous Lookalikes: No dangerous lookalikes.
Where to Find It: 15 species of prickly pear grow from Ontario to southern South America.
How to ID: These cacti generally have broad, flat pads instead of leaves. They are difficult to mistake for other species of cacti. They grow up to 5 feet tall.
How to Prepare It: Both the fleshy pads and the fruits are edible. Picking cacti is difficult, even if there are no visible spines. The hairs on prickly pear are hard to see and are the real pain! There’s a whole guide to eating prickly pear here.
Recipe Link: Pricky pear jelly
Dangerous Lookalikes: No dangerous lookalikes – but watch out for the spines!
Where to Find It: Grows across much of North America – an invasive species.
How to ID: The young leaves of garlic mustard smell like garlic if crushed. The young plants can be tricky to identify, but the older plants have a cluster of four-leaved white flowers at their top. Seed pods are long and skinny with black seeds.
How to Prepare It: Gather garlic mustard according to these best practices, or risk spreading this invasive plant even more! The leaves can be used in a variety of recipes once properly harvested.
Recipe Link: Garlic mustard pesto
Dangerous Lookalikes: Poison ivy commonly grows among garlic mustard patches. Garlic mustard has some other lookalikes to watch out for.