99 Edible Plants for the Midwest Forager

I got another request from a fellow blogger (Dr. Laura – Bipolar For Life) about edible plants in the woods. Now, I know she is very capable of plant ID, she’s even identified a morel mushroom for me that I will go back for this spring!! However, here’s the standard warning ~ Kids, don’t try this at home! Go out in the forest and give it a try!! 😉

About 25 years ago, I stopped at a bookstore and saw this beauty on the $5 table, United States Air Force Search & Rescue Survival Manual. I HAD to have it! I’m not much of a fiction reader, unless I was in between boyfriends and a new Fabio romance would come out… Aaanyway. I loved reading encyclopedias,  The World Almanac and Book of Facts, National Geographic and my favorite, Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers. This survival manual fit right in with my reading habits.

I have read it cover to cover many times. There’s some really good information in there that can help anyone stay on this side of the grass longer during a bad situation. (BTW – There is an app for this for $1.99) There are two chapters dedicated to plants alone. Only one for food & water procurement, respectively. Plants can be your best bet for long term survival or your short ride to being plant food. Here’s another wonderful site: Plants For a Future that lists over 7,000 plants and their medicinal purposes, really really great stuff going on there.

Chapter 9 of the United States Air Force Search & Rescue Survival Manual discusses the Universal Edibility Test:

1. Test only one part of a potential food plant at a time.
2 Separate the plants into its basic components—leaves, stems, roots, buds, and flowers.
3 Smell the food for strong or acid odors. Remember, smell alone does not indicate a plant is edible or inedible.
4 Do not eat for 8 hours before starting the test.
5 During the 8 hours you abstain from eating, test for contact poisoning by placing a piece of the plant part you are testing on the inside of your elbow or wrist. Usually 15 minutes is enough time to allow for a reaction
6 During the test period, take nothing by mouth except purified water and the plant part you are testing.
7 Select a small portion of a single part and prepare it the way you plan to eat it.
8 Before placing the prepared plant part in your mouth, touch a small portion (a pinch) to the outer surface of your lip to test for burning or itching.
9 If after 3 minutes there is no reaction on your lip, place the plant part on your tongue, holding it there for 15 minutes.
10 If there is no reaction, thoroughly chew a pinch and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes. Do not swallow.
11 If no burning, itching, numbing stinging, or other irritation occurs during the 15 minutes, swallow the food.
12 Wait 8 hours. If any ill effects occur during this period, induce vomiting and drink a lot of water.
13 If no ill effects occur, eat 1/4 cup of the same plant part prepared the same way. Wait another 8 hours. If no ill effects occur, the plant part as prepared is safe for eating.
Test all parts of the plant for edibility, as some plants have both edible and inedible parts. Do not assume that a part that proved edible when cooked is also edible when raw. Test the part raw to ensure edibility before eating raw. The same part or plant may produce varying reactions in different individuals

Tips to keep you alive and well while foraging:

  • Be extremely careful when collecting mushrooms. Mistakes can be fatal.
  • Avoid collecting plants in commercially fertilized areas or where toxic herbicides or other chemicals may have been sprayed. This means avoid collecting under power lines, right of ways, in unfamiliar weedy lawns, beside commercial crop fields, or close to roadsides. Better to error on the side of caution!
  • Be grateful. Before picking, plucking or digging, pause for a moment and give thanks to the plant that is giving itself to you. Collect with consciousness. Make the area look as though you were not there. Take what you need, leaving plenty for wildlife and future years.
  • Once the food is collected, clean and sort it ‘in the field’. It is much easier there. No cook wants a sink full of muddy roots mingled with grass blades and half an anthill.
  • Before you eat a food, be sure to prepare correctly. Many plants can be mildly toxic and may require cooking or parboiling (and then discarding) the first and second ‘waters’ before ingesting.
  • Learn to blend wild produce into a meal in subtle ways. Often the flavors are quite strong. I like to use garlic mustard in my tomato sauces. It gives a light garlic taste.

*There is special preparations needed eat it.

** Caution this plant either has parts that are toxic or a poisonous look-alikes


Amur maple – Acer ginnala

Acer spp. –  Maple ~ The inner bark & seeds

Allium spp. – Wild Onion/Garlic/Leek ~ The bulb & leaves

Amaranthus spp. – Amaranth ~ the seeds, shoots & leaves

Apios americana – Groundnut ~ The tubers (roots)

Arisaema atrorubens – Jack in the Pulpit

Arisaema atrorubens – Jack in the Pulpit ~ The corm (well dried)*

Armoracea lapathifolia – Horseradish ~ The young leaves & roots

Asarum canadense – Wild Ginger ~ The rootstock

Asclepias syriaca – Common milkweed

Asclepias spp. – Milkweed ~ Young pods, before they set seed*

Asimina triloba – Pawpaw ~ fruits (I’m dying to try these)

Artium spp. – Burdock ~ The root

Barbarea spp. – Winter Cress ~ The young leaves & flower

Betula spp. – Birch ~ The sap, inner bark, twigs

Alliaria petiolata – garlic mustard

Brassica spp. – Wild Mustards ~ The young leaves, flowerbuds, & seeds

Capsella bursa-pastoris – Shepard’s Purse ~ The young leaves, seedpods

Carya spp. – Hickory and Pecan ~ Yummy nuts

Castanea pumila – Chinquapin ~ nuts

Celtis spp. – Hackberry ~ The fruits

Cercis canadensis – Redbud seedpods

Cercis canadensis – Redbud flowers~ The young pods

Chenopodium album – Lamb’s Quarters ~ The young leaves and tops

Cichorium intybus – Chicory ~ young leaves & root

Cirsium spp. – Thistle ~ The young leaves, inner stem (pith) & 1st year root

Chrysanthemum/Leucanthemum – Ox-Eye Daisy ~ The young leav

Leucanthemum – Ox-Eye Daisy

Claytonia spp. – Spring Beauty ~ corm**

Commelina spp. – Day Flower ~ The young leaves and stem

Corylus spp. – Hazelnuts ~ Yummy nuts

Crataegus phaenopyrum – Washington Hawthorn

Crataegus spp. – Hawthorn ~ The fruits

Cyperus esculentus Chufa – Nut Grass ~ The tuber

Daucus carota – Wild Carrot ~ The root**

Diospyros virginiana – Persimmon ~ The fruits*

Erechtites hieracfolia – Fireweed ~ The young shoots and leaves

Fragaria spp. – Wild Strawberry ~ The fruit, leaves*

Galium aparine – Bedstraw

Fagus grandifolia – Beech ~ nuts

Fraxinus spp. – Ash ~ The fruits

Galium aparine & verum Cleavers – Bedstraw ~ The young shoots/leaves

Gleditsia triacanthos -Honey Locust ~ The fruits

Helianthus tuberosus – Jerusalem artichoke

Helianthus tuberosus – Jerusalem artichoke ~ The tuber

Hemerocallis fulva – Day Lily ~ The young shoots, flower, flower buds, tuber

Heracleum maximum – Cow-Parsnip ~ The young stems/ leafstalks, seeds, root**

Juglans nigra – Black Walnut ~ Yummy nuts

Lactuca spp. – Wild Lettuce ~ The young leaves

Lamium amplexicaule – Henbit ~ The new tips

Lepidium spp. – Peppergrass ~ The young leaves & seedpods

Lycopus spp. – Bugleweed ~ The tubers

Malva neglecta – Common Mallow ~ The young leaves & green fruit

pineapple plant
Matricaria matricarioides – Pineapple-Weed

Matricaria matricarioides – Pineapple-Weed ~ The flowers

Medeola virginiana – Indian Cucumber ~ The root & tuber

Mentha, spp. – Wild mint ~ The leaves (Did someone say Mojito?!)

Mitchella repens – Partridgeberry ~ The fruits

Mulberries = Yummy If you like raspberries..

Morus, spp. – Mulberry ~ The fruits

Nasturtium officinale – Watercress ~ The young leaves and stems

Nelumbo lutea – American Lotus ~ The young leaves, seeds & tubers

Nuphar, spp. – Yellow Pond Lily ~ The rootstocks, seeds

Nymphaea spp.- Water Lily – The young leaves, flowerbuds, seeds & tubers

Oenothera biennis – Evening Primrose  ~ 1st year taproots, young small plants

Opuntia humifusa – Prickly-Pear ~ young leaf pads,* fruit & seeds

Oxalis, spp. – Yellow Wood-Sorrels ~ The leaves & fruit

Pastinaca sativa – Wild Parsnip ~ The taproot

Phragmites communis – Phragmites

Phragmites communis Reed – Phragmites ~ The young stem, seeds & rootstock

Physalis spp. – Ground-cherry ~ The fruits

Phytolacca americana – Pokeweed  ~ The young leaves**

Plantago spp. – Plantain ~ The leaves

Podophyllum. peltatum – May-apple

Podophyllum. peltatum – May-apple, Mandrake ~ Only the mature fruit**

Polygonum cuspidatum – Japanese Knotweed ~ The new bamboo-like tips

Pontederia cordata – Pickerel Weed ~ The shoots & seeds

Portulaca oleracea – Purslane ~ The stems and leaves & seeds

Prunus americana – Wild Plum ~ The fruits

Pteridium aquilinum – Fiddleheads

Prunus spp. – Wild Cherry (Choke, Black) ~ The fruits

Pteridium aquilinum – Bracken fern ~ The fiddlehead

Pteretis pensylvanica – Ostrich Fern  ~ The fiddlehead

Malus – Crabapple

Malus spp. – Crap Apple ~ The fruits

Pyrus, spp. – Chokeberry, Chokecherry ~ fruits

Quercus spp. – Oak ~ acorns*

Rhexia virginica – Meadow Beauty ~ The tender leaves, tubers

Ribes spp. – Gooseberries, Currents ~ fruits

Robinia pseudo-acacia – Black Locust ~ The flowers (only)

Rosa spp. – Wild Rose hips

Rosa spp. – Wild Rose ~ petals, fruits (hips)

Rubus spp. – Brambles ~ Fruits Blackberry, Raspberry, Dewberry, etc.

Rubus typhina and spp. – Staghorn Sumac ~ The fruit**

Rumex acetosella – Sheep (or Common) Sorrel ~ The tender leaves and stems

Rumex crispus -Dock, Curled and Yellow ~ The young leaves

Sagittaria latifolia – Common arrowhead

Sagittaria spp. – Arrowhead ~ The tubers

Salix spp. – Willow leaves ~ The inner bark

Sambucus canadensis – Elderberry ~ The flower clusters, ripe fruit**

Sassafras albidum – Sassafras leaves ~ The root (for tea)

Scirpus spp.- Bulrush ~ The shoot, pollen, seeds & rootstock

Smilax spp. – Catbrier, Greenbrier ~ The young shoots and leaves & rootstock

Solidago odora – Sweet Goldenrod ~ The leaves and flowers

Stellaria spp. – Chickweed ~ The tender leaves and stems

Taraxacum officinale – Dandelion

Taraxacum officinale – Dandelion ~ The leaves and root

Tilia americana – Basswood ~ The leaf buds and flowers

Tradescantia spp. – Spiderwort  ~ The shoots

Tragopogon porrifolius – Salsify, Oyster-Plant  ~ The young leaves and root

Trifolium pratense – Red Clover  ~ The young leaves and flowers

Trifolium – Clover

Trifolium spp. – Clover ~ The young leaves, flowerheads

Typha spp – Cattails ~ The young shoots and stocks (inner core), immature flower spikes, pollen & root

Urtica dioica – Stinging Nettle ~ The young shoots & leaves*

Vaccinium, spp. – Blueberry, Huckleberry ~ The Yummy fruits


Viola, spp. – Violet

Viola, spp. – Violet ~ The leaves & flowers

Vitis, spp. – Grapes  ~ The tender leaves and fruit***

© – Ilex Midwestern Plant Girl

36 thoughts on “99 Edible Plants for the Midwest Forager

  1. There surely is a lot of info here. I don’t do much of anything with plants or planting etc. 😦
    But I do like this advice you gave. “Before you eat a food, be sure to prepare correctly. ” I will pass it on to my husband as he does most of the cooking. 🙂 I do the wash up. 😦


  2. OK call me a wimp – but I prefer to buy my food at the supermarket – where hopefully they aren’t trying to poison me? 😉
    Besides I don’t have the patience to follow all those instructions 🙂


  3. I love this post – nothing makes me feel more self-reliant than being able to wander into the woods or fields and pick something wild to eat (or give to someone else to eat – a habit that makes many people happy come morel season. Not a fan, unlike everyone else in the world!).


  4. What an excellent run-down. Australia’s national mapping organisation used to produce local maps for some parts of the country. One side was the map and the other side was pics and descriptions of edible foods in the area. They were called Snack Maps.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent post! Great way to get us going for spring, though I must say I’d have to have that test list written out. I’d be checking and re-checking it anxiously, like wait then what, okay wait 15 minutes, wait don’t ingest it? Okay um, wait, what’d it say? 😉

    Heard a story once about my grandma – loved hunting for new wild plants – calling my aunt one night saying she didn’t feel so good. She had been trying some new mushrooms! Ahhh, lucky her she just got bubble guts.

    This is super helpful, and great book suggestions, useful facts are the best! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bubble guts! Too funny.. Ok, not when you’ve got them! Shrooms can be pretty dangerous. I won’t do anything but a morel. Suposedly my buddy finds truffles here. I’m just not that big of a fan of fungus 🍄
      I’m going to look for a few things this spring like fiddleheads. Those are easy.
      Can’t wait for spring!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m find letting other people do the finding of mushrooms for me! Morels are delicious. Last year a lady told me how she saw this van park on the side of the road by the woods several times, said it was quite creepy. One day in particular it was pouring, very unpleasant. The van pulled up, a man got out and went down into the woods, while a woman stayed in the vehicle. She got to thinking about unsavory characters and their activities, like people who make meth. So she called the police.

        Come to find out the guy had heard there were morels in there and was collecting them! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Eek–I only got as far as Aesclepius spp. and I had to put on the brakes! Milkweed family members have a white latex material in all parts of the plant that can be EXTREMELY TOXIC to many people, causing an inflammatory reaction in the mouth that can be serious. In order to eat members of the milkweed family it is best to boil the young pods before they have set seed (the fluffy stuff), in several changes of water. Then you can enjoy them however you like.

    I do like Tom Brown’s books on edible plants. He is a stickler on not getting sick and above all, not flying by the seat of your pants and HOPING you won’t get sick.

    If anybody wants to learn to forage, I suggest they don’t wait until they find themselves in the wilderness, having to do the toxicity tests that Ilex describes here. You could die while trying to figure out whether it’s the leaves, the corm, or the flower that’s burning your mouth and making you lose otherwise precious body fluids! Buy one or two of Tom’s books and take them with you, after spending a couple of days stomping around in the woods looking things up.

    Here’s a free tip: don’t eat anything red unless you absolutely KNOW what it is! It could be a yummy wild cranberry, strawberry, wintergreen…or it more likely could turn out to be one of nature’s “red flags,” that could give you anything from a sore mouth to a ticket to….wherever. That includes the animal kingdom as well. Many amphibians, for instance, dress up in red to let potential predators know, “I’m poison!” Then again, the Bufo toad family, which looks mighty meaty when you’re darned hungry, is the usual toad-y brownish gray, but a bite or two will put you six feet under. If your body is found, that is.

    OK, I will desist from intruding upon Ilex’s amazing post and retire to my yummy bed in my tiny RV. Night, y’all.


    • I always welcome your input and will revise my milkweed entry. =-) I also agree, don’t wait to learn these skills, get outside and find some things when survival isn’t on the line. Many of these plants are easily found and free! I didn’t expect this blog post to be the end-all-be-all to foraging. It was just an appetizer… haha!
      I can’t wait… 20 days away from our first trip!
      Sleep well, my friend!!


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