Saturday, June 26, 2021


 By Caroline Clemmons

Imagine you’re a pioneer or mountain man depending on no one other than yourself. Even a good hunter would get scurvy without a supplemented diet.

Suppose you were on the Oregon Trail and trying to conserve your supplies. Or, suppose you were a hiker lost in the wilderness. What would you do if you were forced to forage for your food to survive?

Several years ago, research for the book JAMIE: Surprise Brides led me to investigate the question of survival if lost in winter. In the book, the heroine goes after her young stepson, who has run awayinto a snowstorm. They get lost and she has to keep the child warm and alive until help arrives. I wondered what they could eat when there were no green sprouts of anything showing. Of course, a heroine is required to be resourceful.


I read that the bulb of the cattail (also called bulrush) is edible and can be baked like a potato (but not the same shape). The cattail is an important plant to one struggling to survive. The head can be dipped in fat and used as a candle/torch. The pollen is edible. Leaves and stem fibers make mats or baskets. In the event you decide to try this or any of the plants mentioned here, be certain the plant is not in or near water that is a runoff area for pesticides and road waste! Pioneers didn’t have that problem.

Pine nuts garnish a salad

The small nuts from many pinecones (piñions) are edible. Tedious to harvest, I understand why they nuts are expensive to purchase. Yet, they’re nutritious as well as delicious. The right of Native American and Hispano people to gather these nuts is protected in some states.

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk cabbage needs to be handled carefully. The plant is amazing in that its rapid growth in spring produces so much heat it can melt its way up through snow! Carefully handle the young green leaves after collecting them. While bruised leaves give off an unpleasant odor like a skunk or rotting meat (Euww), the smell disappears after cooking. This plant requires changing the water at least twice and replacing with fresh, boiling, salted water. Serve like greens. Roots are very bitter in their raw state and should be peeled, cut into small pieces, and roasted. They can be ground to add to bread batter. If you were starving, I don’t think you’d mind the smell or the bitter taste, do you?

Miner’s Lettuce got its name because miners used it to prevent scurvy. Leaves, stems, and flowers are edible. Don’t overeat or it becomes a laxative.

Dandelion flowers

One of the most helpful plants in warmer weather is the dandelion. All of this plant is edible. Pioneers toasted the roots and used them for coffee—although reportedly the roots are more bitter than coffee. Stems and leaves are good in salad—reportedly taste similar to arugula. Even the flower is edible. A friend recently fried the flowers and reported they were delicious. So, if dandelions show up in your lawn, don’t be too upset—they’re a good thing masquerading as a weed. As mentioned above, don’t eat them if you’ve used chemicals on your lawn!

When I was a small child, our neighbor was the first person I knew who supplemented her diet with food she found in the wild: wild mushrooms, prickly pear cactus flowers and pads, and more. When I was in junior high, our Avon lady—who was also the mother of my friend—gathered dandelions and other wild plants for salads and cooking. As the picky eater daughter of my picky eater mom, I'm ashamed to admit that back then I found the idea of these foods repugnant.

However, one food I still avoid is pokeweed! Some people call this poke salad. My mother-in-law used to gather young leaves and cook them. This requires cooking in water, pouring off all that water, cooking in water again, pouring off that water, and then cooking in water a third and final time. Otherwise, pokeweed is poisonous. Being able to gather it and have a free vegetable tickled her when she prepared it for her family. I used this as a poison in one of my books because it’s so easily available. I won't say which in case you were to read that book and have the plot spoiled. Pokeweed grows throughout most of the U.S. and eastern Canada. According to my sources, it does not grow in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, or Nevada.

Bee on one type of Amaranth

Amaranth grows wild and is also domesticated. All parts of this plant are edible, though some are best cooked. The flavor is nutty and usually slightly sweet. Once considered a staple food to the Inca, Mayan, and Aztec peoples, amaranth has been cultivated for close to eight thousand years. It is gluten-free and high in protein, fiber, micronutrients, and antioxidants. It grows wild in fields.

Jerusalem artichoke is also called a sunchoke. Don’t confuse it with a sunflower, although they are in the same family. This root of this plant can be eaten raw or cooked. Reportedly it has a sweet, nutty taste.


Wild grapes, blackberries, strawberries, and other berries are found in spring to fall. Our daughter used to gather wild blackberries when she rode her horse in North Central Texas. She brought home a few but ate most when she picked them. We’re grateful she didn’t encounter a snake. Be warned—snakes also like blackberries, too!

Red clover and chevron leaves

Flowers, leaves, and stems of red clover are edible. Leaves should have a distinct chevron in lighter green. Red clover may be eaten spring through fall. Pregnant women probably should not eat this plant because it’s high in oxalic acid.

My wild roses this year

Wild roses make a rose hip that has eight times the concentration of Vitamin C found in citrus. Perhaps you’ve had rose hip tea. Rose petals, shoots, and young leaves may be eaten. The flavor is said to be similar to the rose fragrance. I have wild roses our eldest daughter brought me from her property when she lived in a rural area. Our abundant rains this year produced a bumper crop of the flowers, but I didn’t taste them.


Many edible plants have look-alike poisonous plants. For this reason, I haven’t included several plants that are common. Of course, there are hundreds of edible plants so I couldn't have included all of them.

There are exceptions to the list that follows, but this is a good general caution. The Department of the Army recommends you do *not* eat a plant that has one of the following:

Milky or discolored sap

Beans, bulbs, or seeds inside pods

Bitter or soapy taste

Spines, fine hairs, or thorns

Dill, carrot, parsnip, or parsley-like foliage

Almond scent in woody part or in leaves

Grain heads with pink, purplish, or black spears

Three-leaved growth patterns


Complete Guide to Edible Plants, Department of the Army, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2009

Wikipedia, various plants

Photos from except for the wild roses  

Coming Soon!



  1. WOW, what an interesting post, Caroline! Never knew so many familiar plants and flowers were edible. Also what a prolific writer you are with another release coming out. Gonna grab it!

    1. Thank you, Cheri! I've been amazed at the number of familiar plants and flowers that are edible and nutritious.

  2. The roots of the cattail are edible, too. I worry about eating wild mushrooms. Even experienced foragers sometimes get a bad one in with the good ones and several have died that way. Be warned.

    1. The root is what I called the bulb. I would be afraid to eat any mushroom not commercially raised--but then I'm allergic to them and wouldn't eat them anyway. A man named Euell Gibbons wrote books and articles for forty years on eating wild plants. Sadly, he died from eating a bad mushroom. Even experts can make mistakes.

  3. This is such an interesting post. I didn't know many of those plants were edible. And kudos to you for including warnings.


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