A List of Edible Wild Plants in the cold climates of Northern America

In the interest of food security, I have been tracking down and eating all of the wild edible plants in the northern region (cold climate) of North America. I am in zone 4, so you may or may not have some or all of these wild foods in your area.

This is a compilation based on my own personal experience. The plants listed are rated in the following categories:

Good for everyday use
Tasty and convenient to locate/prepare/store
Good in a survival situation
Tasty or at least palatable - may be less convenient to locate/process/prepare. May have other limitations.
Emergency only
Not tasty or so difficult to prepare/find that only good for starvation situations.

I may or may not have pictures for each food. All photos used were taken by me of actual plants I have found/eaten. Some show the edible portions, some show the plant in various stages. It all depends on whether/when I had the camera available. I will continuously update this list as I have found/eaten the plants.  Eat wild plants at your own risk - be sure you know what you have before you put anything in your mouth!

Good for everyday use
Maple Tree (Acer)- Maple trees make excellent syrup and nothing beats syrup from a sugar maple grown in your own backyard!
You can also eat the maple seeds. You just need to peel off the samara wings and you will be left with a seed that tastes a little like sunflower seeds.

Maple trees produce a lot of seeds. They can also produce a lot of sugar (syrup.)
It's worth it to locate the largest maples in your area so you know where to find them in an emergency. Birch and Boxelder can also be tapped and should be tapped in an emergency.

In normal times, you may or may not want to tap them because their syrup is more diluted.

Wild Rice  (Fritillaria camschatcensis)-  If you can find it, then it's worth harvesting it. It tastes great, stores forever, and is a perennial plant. I have eaten wild rice many times, but I have yet to find it in any ponds or lakes.

Sumac (Rhus Typhina)- Sumac is loaded with vitamin C and would be a fantastic preventative for scurvy. And amazingly, it tastes great!
When prepared with just cold water (easy!!) it tastes like unsweetened pink lemonade. A little sugar and it's fantastic.

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) - Rhubarb is sour stuff, but there's something about it that's pleasing - especially when combined with sweeter fruits and berries. It's a perennial vegetable that offers a dose of vitamins in early spring.

Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)- I consider wood sorrel a trail nibble. It's tasty but sour. It's also high in oxalic acid so you wouldn't make it a main meal. Eat it on the trails or add to salads/smoothies. It's something that's good enough to be incorporated into regular life but not good enough to be a daily food.
Hazelnuts (Corylus) - Hazelnuts taste good. They are smaller than most other nuts (and the wild ones are smaller still!). They are full of fats, protein, and calories. If you can find them, they are worth harvesting.

Juneberries (Amelanchier) - Juneberries grow on trees in the north. They are prolific but elusive. Even though the trees will be loaded with ripe berries by mid-June, birds will strip them clean within mere days (maybe even hours!) Birds will also defend the best trees - from each other and from humans. Also, not all juneberries are created equally. There are three juneberry trees in a row near by neighborhood and they all differ. Same soil, different results. One tastes like a bland blueberry mixed with a pear. Another is very astringent. The last is a mix of the two. Birds fight for the tasty tree.

Raspberries (Rubus) - Black, red, purple, and yellow raspberries are all delicious. These are perfect for everyday eating.
Strawberries (Fragaria) - Strawberries of all kind are delicious. Woodland strawberries are tiny!! But they are still edible and worth gathering.

Asparagus (Asparagus Officinalis) - Asparagus is fantastic! It comes out only in spring and is a great treat. It can be found in ditches and abandoned homesteads. You can also grow it. It's worth seeking out.
Blueberries (Vaccinium) -Wild blueberries are smaller and more tart than commercial berries but they are still delicious.
Ground Cherries (Physalis)-Ground cherries are wonderful. They are a mix between pineapple, tomato, and cherry.
They grow prolifically and are easy to store. They can be dried, eaten fresh, or made into jams and desserts.

Chives (Allium Schoenoprasum) - Chives are so easy to grow. They are perennial and come back every year. They are easy to harvest, eat, and store.
Just cut them down to within an inch and wait for them to come back. They taste great - like mild onions - and add green to your meal. Just add them near the end of cooking. They also freeze well.

Walking Onions (Allium Cepa) -Walking onions take care of themselves. All parts of them are edible - the topsets, the bulb underground, and the greens when they are young and new. They are a strong flavored onion.
Gooseberries (Ribes) - Gooseberries taste like grapes. Sometimes sour, sometimes sweet. They are best when they are light purple/pink. Green gooseberries are still edible but are super sour. They are naturally high in pectin and make great jams. I prefer to eat them fresh. Some have spines and have to be cooked. The entire bush is full of prickles too.
Currants (Ribes)- Red, white, and pink currants taste pretty good. They are not my favorite berry, but they are definitely edible - and much better than "starvation" food.
Black currants taste like poison and I could not imagine eating them on purpose.
Currants are high in pectin (and seeds!) I have found that people like to spit out the seeds. I just eat them. But if making jams or jellies, the seeds are taken out and they make up a large portion of the volume. They are a bit tart but still pleasant. I like them and am growing them in my garden.

Wild Plums (Prunus Americana) - Wild plums are super delicious! They are sweet like apricots with sour undertones. Sometimes the skin can be bitter - especially with the purple varieties. I prefer the wild American plum which is red and yellow with yellow flesh. We have made many great things with wild plum - click here to see.
Blackberries (Rubus) - Wild blackberries are rare in zone 4 and lower - but they do exist! They are much smaller than the big blackberries in the south but are every bit as delicious. I have typically found them in densely wooded areas.

Daylily flowers (Hemerocallis) - The flower petals are tasty but not "gotta have it" good. They are pretty to add to a salad or as a garnish. They are not calorie dense but probably provide vitamins and minerals. I have yet to try the roots, shoots, or buds. I will update when I have.
The best thing about daylily plants are how common they are. You can find them in almost every suburban lot, and they have naturalized to many wild areas throughout the United States. They are hardy perennials and spread easily.

Balloon Flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) - The flower petals are tasty but not calorie dense. They may provide vitamin, mineral, or bulk benefits but they are not a full meal. The rest of the plant leaks a white latex when broken and is probably not okay to eat. These are nice as a garnish or in a salad - or as they say, a trail nibble. You can eat them often and I find them pleasant.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)- This "weed" turned out to be surprisingly delicious. There are multiple varieties of purslane and my favorite is the "garden purslane." It's larger and less sour than the wild purslane in our area. Both are edible and tasty.
Wild Amaranth (Amaranthus hybridus) -Red root and green amaranth are plentiful weeds. The leaves are reminiscent of spinach and they grow to be huge (lots of leaves!) All parts are edible and the seeds are high in protein. I do not like the leaves cooked but they are still okay that way.
They are better raw and the seeds are good ground up into a flour, porridge, cooked like quinoa, or popped like popcorn (but carefully since they are so small and they burn.) If you let them mature, the roots become a beast to pull out! I have not tried the roots or stems but all parts or amaranth are supposed to be edible.

Lambs Quarters (Chenopodium album) - Also called goosefoot, I really like lambs quarters. They are almost impossible to misidentify. They grow wild and show up randomly. They can be harvest throughout the season and all parts are edible. They taste like spinach but less strong.

Nettles (Urtica Dioica)- Stinging or wood nettles make excellent greens - but only if cooked. They are perennial and prolific in woody areas. The seeds are also edible and pleasant - they kind of taste like the bottom of a blade of grass - white edible portion.
Goji (Lycium barbarum)  -  These are surprisingly tasty. I say surprisingly because they are considered the vitamin of the berry world. You can get all your daily vitamin intake with just a few of these berries. So I expected them to taste like medicine. They don't. They are mild and pleasant. The trees themselves are a little messy looking and awkward, but I have saved seeds to grow them anyway. They are a good find if you can locate them.

Hackberry (Celtis) - This tree is warty and full of ugly nipple galls. In fact, the only reason I noticed it or identified it while out and about was the nipple galls. I knew it was a hackberry right away. I gathered some of the drupes and put them in my pack. I forgot about them for almost a week, and when I found them again they were nice and dry. And tasty. Like a fig but with way less actual fruit and way more seed.

The seed itself is edible and holds all the protein. I gathered a few more to plant in my forest area. These are really tasty and full of good nutrition....but they are super small and the seed is really hard. They are great for everyday nibbles and fantastic for survival food when you are more willing to fuss with tiny fruits.

Good in a survival situation
Pine Trees (Pinus) - In the North, our pine trees produce very small pine nuts. They are tasty but not worth gathering. The cambium is purported to be good and full of carbohydrates, but I would not risk damaging a healthy tree just to taste it unless I was in a true emergency. You can also steep the leaves for vitamin C but I think sumac makes a better vitamin C drink - unless it's the deep of winter.

Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra)- Black walnuts are big beautiful trees. They take decades before they are productive and they only produce sporadically. They are also on the decline. If you have a black walnut nearby, do something for future generations and plant some of the nuts from it. And do what you can to keep people from damaging or cutting down the parent tree!
Walnuts are full of calories, protein, and fat (approximately 24 calories per nut). Essential in a survival situation! They are not easy to crack, but store wonderfully and if you can put away enough of them, would be of tremendous value.
The nutmeats from 31 black walnuts - just under 1 cup
They taste like nothing I've ever eaten. They are definitely edible but not something I long for...make sense? Click here to see our experience processing and storing black walnuts.

Birch Tree (Betula) - Birch trees have edible sap - like maple trees. The sugars are more diluted and it takes more work to get the same amount of syrup. The cambium of small twigs and branches is also edible.

Spruce trees (Picea) - The tips of spruce branches are edible and loaded with vitamin C. I have eaten them and they taste okay. I wouldn't eat them regularly or on purpose.

Wild Black Cherry (Prunus Serotina) - These little cherries are good but not "sweet cherry good." They are good as a trail nibble or to process into other things like jams and desserts. They are mostly pit and skin, so they are a lot of work to get enough edible material.

Mallow - Mallow leaves taste bland like spinach and can be eaten in pretty much the same ways. They can easily be confused with creeping charlie and both are edible. But if you get charlie by accident, it is extremely bitter. Mallow leaves are not bitter. I would gladly eat them in an emergency scenario.

Riverbank Grapes (Vitis riparia) - These grapes have frustrated me for years. A lot of times, they bear only male flowers and produce zero grapes. They do not ripen at the same time and are often afflicted with molds, insects, or other damage. Even still, when they do produce, they produce a lot and the grapes are good. They are very sour but sweeten up after the frost.
They take a lot of work to process to remove the tartaric acid. But they can be made into many tasty foods and are probably full of vitamins. I have eaten these and made syrups, fruit leathers, and jelly.

Siberian Pea Shrub (Caragana arborescens) - These shrubs (or trees) produce little pea pods with edible peas inside. The peas are bland but edible. They are also super small. They could definitely be eaten in an emergency and that's the only time I would eat them on purpose.
Rosehips (Rosa) - These taste like sour apples and are high in vitamin C. I have bitten into them raw and thought they were okay. People prefer to make them into jelly. Processing limits my interest in them on a regular basis and because you have to sacrifice a second flush of blooms in order to get nice big ripe hips. They can be gathered from wild or domestic roses. They are full of itchy hairs inside.
Basswood nuts (Tilia) - These are supposed to taste like chocolate. I though they tasted like pea shoots. They are okay tasting but not great. They are also really dry and small. So gathering them up isn't worth it unless you are in an emergency situation.
I have yet to taste the young leaves which are supposed to be great. I've tasted "old" leaves and they were fibrous and bland I will update in the spring when I can gather new leaves.

Wild Flax (Linum usitatissimum) - Flax seed is a very nutritious food with almost no taste (unless it has gone bad.) The seeds are high in omega 3 fatty acids and lignan. It is a good food to eat, but I would not gather wild flax regularly because flax seeds are so inexpensive in the store and winnowing the seeds free is a lot of work.
Mulberry Tree (Moraceea) - I think mulberries are great. Like big squishy raspberries growing on a tree. But like most wild trees, there are good and bad ones. I've eaten berries that are so good, I couldn't stop eating them. And I've eaten some that vary from kind of bland to kind of yuck. They are almost impossible to misidentify. But even still, there is a limit to how many you want to eat. Too many can cause hallucinations. So they are an emergency only food. They are also really rare.

American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) - I have eaten American Lotus seeds and thought they tasted exactly like water chestnuts (tasty.) I have not eaten the roots, leaves, or shoots. I have not yet found them in my area but did eat wild ones in Florida (where they are terribly invasive.) If I find them here, I would eat them but since they are rarer, I have listed them as an emergency only food. I might try to wildscape with them in a nearby pond if I can locate any local plants/seeds.

Chokecherries (Prunus Virginiana) - I like chokecherries. They taste like cherries but with a mouth drying effect. They are really small and mostly consist of a pit and skin. If I had larger trees nearby, I would probably gather them for jam or to add to apple desserts. It would be a lot of work to gather enough to make a dent in your calorie needs. They most likely supply useful vitamins and minerals.

Chokeberries (Aronia melanocarpa) - Chokeberries are mealy and taste like red wine. They are okay to eat but I would not choose to eat them regularly. I have made juice and jelly from the berries. They are naturally high in pectin and have a very unique flavor - like dry red wine.
I grow these in my yard but have also found them wild near forest edges.

Wild apples (Malus) - Wild apples can be found in forest clearings and near old homesteads. Some of them are delicious. Some are tart. Some are mealy and astringent. Most are loaded with worms and other maladies. I would reserve eating them for emergencies unless you find a tree that tastes great and you are going to make sauce or something where cosmetics and worms aren't as big a deal.

In my area, there is one apple tree with good sour apples and another will mealy astringent ones.

Crabapples (Malus) - Crab apples are all over suburban and urban areas. They produce small, usually sour fruit. They can be eaten and cooked just like apples. They have much more core/seeds than flesh and are not always the best tasting. Since they are smaller, they would require more processing work. But they are edible and should be though of in emergency situations.
If you own a crabapple tree, you might experiment making some applesauce or apple jelly.

Clover (Trillfolium) - Red and white clover flowers are edible. They taste okay but mostly like grass. I don't eat them on purpose but would in an emergency.

Dandelion (Traxacum) - Dandelion leaves taste rather bitter. They are definitely "okay" and cooking would probably help, but I sill wouldn't eat them regularly.

Plantain (Plantago major) - Plantain tastes bland and green but is definitely edible. I would eat it in an emergency.

Jewel weed (Impatiens capensis)- Jewel weed seeds taste fine but kind of like nothing. They are also super small. I treat them as a trail nibble, but in an emergency they could definitely be sought out.
Sunflowers (Helianthus)- Sunflower seeds are great. They taste good, store well, and are full of protein and fats. But wild sunflower produce super small seeds. They are often ravaged with bug and taken by birds and rodents. It would be best to leave wild sunflowers to the animals but know their locations for emergencies. Growing the big sunflowers in your own garden/yard makes the best sense for seeds you'd want to eat on a regular basis.

Emergency/Starvation only
Mountain Ash  (Sorbus aucuparia)  - Mountain Ash berries taste like nothing I've ever tasted before. They taste like medicine and are certainly something I could force down but wouldn't want to eat regularly. Trees are large and berries are hard to reach, but the trees generally make a lot of berries. Birds must agree with me because the berries are often on the bushes into spring when they raisin up and might taste better. I have only tried the European Mountain Ash and have yet to locate the American version.

Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum)- Highbush cranberry tastes very astringent. It's edible but not in a good way. I would wait to eat them until after the frost or late into winter and only in an emergency.

GelderRose (Viburnum Opulus)- Gelder rose berries taste like poison. Bitter, bitter poison. I know the location of many gelder rose berries and I would have to be near starvation to actually go for them.

Pignuts (Carya glabra)  - This is a bitter, small, hard to peel nut that grows on super tall trees. The only way to get the nuts is for them to fall and they taste bad. In an emergency, its good to know where they grow, but they might not be much help.

Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) - Wild carrot tastes similar to cultivated carrots but identifying it is a major ordeal. It could be hemlock, various types of parsnip, or other deadly plant so it's best to forget about this plant until there is no other choice.

Black Elderberry (Sambucus) - This plant is toxic in every way - except for the fully cooked berries and sometimes the flowers. I have tasted a drink made from the flowers and a syrup from the berries. The flavor is okay but requires a lot of sugar. It is very medicine-like. The native Americans considered this to be starvation food only and that is how I see it. It's too risky, time intensive, and lacking in flavor/benefit to mess with. It is purported to have amazing medicinal qualities but since there are so many other healthy and easier plants, I would leave this for emergency food.

Juniper berries (Juniperus) - These are toxic in large quantities but are useful in flavoring gamy wild meat. Save them for a time when you have to choke down wild game.
Black Currants (Grossulariaceae)- These taste like death to me. Death and medicine with a hint of sweet. A very faint hint. They are supposed to taste better cooked, but I am not going to cook and eat them unless it's an emergency. I do not have any wild black currants nearby so driving a few hours or ordering them online to try them again doesn't make sense.

Sunberries (Wonderberries) (Solanum Burbankii) - These berries also taste like death. I have waited for the frost. I have cooked with with loads of sugar. They make a beautiful purple syrup but it still tastes like death. They are "edible" but I would never eat them unless I had nothing left.
Nannyberry (Viburnum Lentago) - These are supposed to be great tasting berries. Like raisins, I think. I thought they tasted astringent and sort of bad. Of course, with all wild plants - different plants can taste different and perhaps I have not found a tasty nannyberry. They are hard to identify since there are so many viburnums and most are inedible - toxic even. This is something best left for last resorts.
Creeping Charlie
Creeping Charlie is incredibly bitter. I would not eat it again unless I had to.

Yet to be Tried - Most have been found but untasted


Ostrich Ferns

Oxeye daisy
Barberry - just the little berries. They taste like nothing and like perfume. Not great but at least available.


Sheep sorrel
Meadow Salsify

Dayliliy buds, shoots, roots

White and Red Oak Trees - acorns

Pineapple weed

Virginia water leaf

Solomon’s Seal

Carnation petals
Wild Garlic (meadow garlic)
hog peanuts
Hickory nuts
Water reeds
Ground nuts
Wild ginger
Shepards purse
Wild mustards
Pin Cherry
Sand Cherry
Beach Plum
Cow Parsnip
Lady's thumbprint
Autum Olive
Water Lily
Yellow pond lily
Winecap mushrooms
Puff ball mushrooms
Velvet Weed
Nannyberries/Black haws
Chicken of woods mushrooms
Hen of woods
Chantrelle Mushrooms
Hickory Nuts
Curly Dock/Yellow dock
Sheep Sorrel
Honey Locust
Basswood leaves
Ramps - Surprisingly mild, ramps are good. Be sure to take just one leaf from each plant so it has enough energy to reproduce.

Redbud Trees - leaves, flowers, seeds
Nasturtium flowers
Arrowhead roots
Evening primrose
Golden Clove/currant
Nut Sedge
Mustard Garlic

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John Brown said...


Sun chokes = Jerusalem Artichokes

This is my 2nd year growing them, this year from seed "potato" saved from last year.

The root/tuber is just like a potato. You can eat it raw, boiled, or fried. I prefer fried.

To store them for next year planting, it has to be in the refrigerator inside a sealed plastic bag. Otherwise, just leave them in the ground and they will regrow of their own accord. If left out to store like a potato, they will dry out and be useless and good for nothing after a week.

Cut off the flowers for bigger tubers.

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Thank you for your comments! I appreciate all your tips, advice, and well wishes!


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