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FREE FOOD: Five Surprising Wild Edibles (that aren’t fruit trees)

Posted on 01 October 2014   native plants, wild edibles

Of course we want you to buy fruit trees…but have you ever tried some of these free wild foods?

FREE FOOD: Five Surprising Wild Edibles (that aren’t fruit trees)

Disclaimer: Always be sure to correctly identify plants before you eat them. By using this information, you hold us blameless in the event of any consumption of incorrect wild edibles. Thanks! :)

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana): These small purple berries are common in the fall and winter along forest edges and in areas of the forest with open canopies. They are native across the entire southeastern U.S.

What to eat: The purple, fully-ripened berries

When: Early fall

How to eat: Consume the raw berries by themselves, or use than as a salad garnish. There are even people who make beautyberry jelly!

Warning: Some people say the berries upset their stomach. Try a few first before you eat a lot of them to make sure they don’t affect you that way.

Beautyberries are tasteless and provide just minimal amounts of vitamins and carbohydrates. They are excellent in a survival situations in addition to the uses listed above.


American beautyberry


Black Walnut (Juglans nigra): The nuts, produced and dropped in fall, have a black husk around them when dry. The trees are relatively common across the southeastern U.S. They grow in rich forest soils in full sun.

What to eat: The nutmeat inside the unhusked nut.

When: fall

How to eat: Black walnut nutmeat can be eaten raw, or dried, depending on the taste. Fully ripened nuts have more flavorful meat. The husk is green when the nuts are fresh and turns black as they dry out. It’s better to wait until the husk is mainly black before the nutmeat is harvested.

Warning: Black walnut husks will stain hands and clothes. And make sure to pick them up before ants and other insects (or squirrels!) get to them.


Dried black walnuts in husks


Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule): Henbit is a common winter and early spring lawn weed across North America. It is also edible and full of vitamins and antioxidants. Henbit has a square stem and it does tend to get powdery mildew in early spring. Avoid eating henbit with powdery mildew.

What to eat: The leaves.

When: winter/Early spring

How to eat: Remove the leaves from the stem for additions to salads or cook the entire plant like spinach or greens. The taste of fresh and cooked henbit is similar to spinach.



Willow (Salix spp): The willow tree is native to virtually every state and province in North America. It tends to grow in wetter soils with plenty of sun. There are hundreds of species of willow trees across the world.  The genus readily hybridizes so there are many wild hybrids in addition to the species.

 What to eat: Young stems and leaves can be boiled into a medicinal tea. The inner bark is high in carbohydrates and can be eaten fresh or dried in a survival situation – or if you’re out and about need a quick free snack.

When: Year round

How to eat: A tea made from the young stems and leaves of the willow tree was traditionally used as a pain reliever in places as varied as North America and the Middle East. Willow tea does contain high levels of salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in aspirin. In large quantities it can cause stomach upset. Willow stems and leaves left in water – “willow water” – is a traditional and surprisingly effective natural plant rooting hormone.  The inner bark is high in carbohydrates and is a useful survival food.


A willow tree

Cattail/Bullrush (Typha latifolia): Perhaps no wild plant is as useful as the cattail. Widely distributed across North America, the cattail thrives in poorly-drained or saturated soil.

 What to eat: Pollen, roots, young shoots

 When: Pollen in spring, roots in winter, and young shoots in spring and summer

 How to eat: Cattail pollen can be shaken into a bag in spring and used as a protein-rich flour. Roots can be dug in winter. They should be washed and peal. The can be use dried and used like flour, or they can be cooked and eaten like potato. To eat the young shoots, peal back the over leaves to get to the tender tissue. Steam the shoots or eat them raw.

 Other uses: The leaves of the cattail can be used in basket making. The drying seed head can be used as tinder for fire starting.


Cattail plant


What other eatable southeastern native plants that you’ve had experience with? Let us know in the comments section below. Thanks!

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