11 Apr 7 NATIVE PLANTS YOU CAN EAT (BUT DIDN’T KNOW YOU COULD)
7 EDIBLE NATIVE PLANTS
Foraging is a huge trend right now — identifying, harvesting, and eating plants found in the wild or even popping up in your backyard. Many of these plants are native to the United States, and are tasty and loaded with nutrients.
The are so many reasons to plant native plants in your garden or yard. Native plants are those that are native to a specific geographic area — plants that have existed for many years in that area, occur naturally, and have developed on their own. Native plants conserve water, feed the pollinators, enrich the soil, provide shelter and food for wildlife, help clean the air, and more! What’s better than helping the environment, enjoying beautiful plants and getting some tasty food in return?
Check out our top 7 — it’ll come in handy when you get that adventuresome itch to try something new, or in the event of the Zombie Apocalypse and food is scarce.
But remember — only ingest plants that you can positively identify and which you are certain have not been treated with pesticides or herbicides. To be extra safe you can just grow your own native plants.
7 Edible Native Plants
1. Red Clover: (Trifolium pratense) This legume family member is often used as a cover crop or as food for cattle, but there’s no reason you can’t enjoy it, too. The leaves are green with a centered white pattern with a reddish round flowerhead comprised of tiny tubular blooms. Both the leaves and flowers are edible – enjoy them in salads and teas. Grow it in a partially shaded area with moderately fertile and slightly acidic soil, regular watering, and nitrogen fertilizer throughout the growing season. USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8.
2. Joe Pye Weed: (Eupatorium purpureum) Also known as gravel root, Joe Pye weed is one of those surprisingly versatile plants that acts as a pollinator, an ornamental, and an herb. Every part of the plant is edible, from the scented pinkish-purple flowerheads down to the roots, and blooms from late July through September when most other flowering plants are giving up. Give it full sun to partial shade, rich and moist soil in an area where you have plenty of room — it grows up to 7’ tall and 4’ wide! USDA Hardiness Zones 2-9.
General Growing Guide
3. Vervain Mallow: (Malva alcea) Vervain mallow used to be a “cultivated” plant before it escaped out into the wild — its green frilly leaves and pink to white delicate flowers are a lovely addition to any garden. But don’t simply admire it, as its flowers, leaves, and seeds are all edible. Use the flowers as an edible garnish, and add the leaves to salads and sauteed greens. It prefers full sun and moist soil to grow best. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8.
4. Milk Thistle: (Silybum marianum) Usually considered a weed, milk thistle is also attractive with its green and white leaves and light purple thistle blooms — but be a bit wary of some spiny edges as you harvest it! Consume the roots, stems, leaves, and flowers, removing any spines first. The stems are most tender when they are young, and can be eaten raw or cooked. Grow it in sun to part shade areas and in dry to rocky soil; no babying necessary. USDA Hardiness Zones n/a — milk thistle is regarded as a reseeding biennial and is difficult to control in some regions. Please check planting recommendations for your area before adding to your garden!
5. New England Aster: (Symphyotrichum novae angliae) Tall, upright growth with medium green leaves and daisy-like purple flowers — this late season bloomer is considered an aggressive weed by some, a valuable ornamental by others. Either way, the roots, leaves, and flowers are all edible — harvest in early fall and dry it before adding to salads and teas. Give it plenty of sun, well drained soil and regular water. USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8.
6. Queen Anne’s Lace: (Daucus carota) Lacy white blooms from late spring to mid-fall, feathery foliage, and roots that smell like carrots — Queen Anne’s lace should definitely be on your foraging list. Young, first year plants are best for soups, stews, teas, and salads. It thrives best in full sun, well-drained soil, and regular to infrequent watering. USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9.
7. Lamb’s Quarters: (Chenopodium album) Seeds of this nutritious plant were once harvested and stored by the American Blackfoot Indians, with edible parts including leaves, shoots, seeds, and flowers. A few caveats, though — different parts of this plant contain some toxins when eaten in excess, so moderation is the key here. From salads and soups to smoothies and juices, Lamb’s quarters are a truly versatile edible native. Light green leaves and small, rounded green and white granular “flower” clusters make it a lovely addition to full to part sun areas with well-drained soil and moderate water. USDA Hardiness Zones 3-10.