When you’re on a hike, or walking through the forest, do you look around and wonder, “Now, if I were stuck out here, or totally lost, would I be able to survive? Would I know what to eat and what to avoid?”
Though most of us won’t ever have to face that situation, we can learn what wildflowers are safe to eat now, and even enjoy them as part of a healthy diet. After all, what’s better than enjoying a side dish that you found for free on your afternoon walk through the neighboring fields?
What to Avoid
The first thing you want to know is what to avoid when you’re scouting around for free wildflower tasties. A bite of one of the bad guys can get you itching, throwing up, or worse. Here are some general guidelines of what to stay away from:
- Anything with spines, thorns, or fine hairs.
- Plants with three-leaved growth patterns.
- Those with milky or discolored sap.
- Flowers growing along the roadside or near homes, as these can be contaminated with chemicals from car exhaust and herbicides.
- Anything with a bitter or soapy taste.
- Beans, bulbs, or seeds inside pods.
- Foliage that looks like dill, carrot, parsnip, or parsley-like.
- Plants that have an “almond” scent in the leaves or woody parts.
- Grain heads with black, pink, or purplish spurs.
Best bet—if you’re not experienced with gathering edible wildflowers, check with your herbalist before eating anything. Then try just a little bit to see how your body reacts before going all out. You can also try rubbing some on your elbow or wrist to see if it causes a reaction, then hold on your tongue for a couple minutes to see if that causes any burning or tingling.
What to Try
Though there are a great number of plants and flowers that are edible, it would take an encyclopedia to list them all. Below are a few that are likely to be easy to find, and safe to try. Always use precautions, however, to protect yourself and your family.
- Clover: Red and white clovers, less than a foot tall, have leaves with a V-shaped marking. Blossoms are round with tiny white or purplish-red flowers. These are great for salads or in corn or wheat flour to make bread or muffins. Just make sure the flowers are fresh when using, or totally dried with no mold.
- Daylily: Leaves are long and slender, grass-like, and grow in clumps from the crown of the plant, which reaches up to four feet. Flowers are yellow, red, pink, purple, and melon or cream-pink colored. Petals are good in salads or as a fresh garnish. You can also cook the unopened buds like green beans.
- Elderflower: Also called “elderberry,” this is a large shrub with gray-brown bark and feathery leaves. Tiny flowers bloom in summer, and black berries follow in the fall. You can use the flower heads in pancake batter to make fritters, or infuse them for tea. Avoid other parts of the plant, as they can be poisonous. Uncooked berries can cause stomach upset.
- Cattail: Avoid the brown cigar-shaped pods that form in later summer, but during the spring time, when the upper flower of the plant emerges, you can pick this while it’s still green and boil for 10 minutes for a corn-like side dish.
- Asparagus: Most of us already know this is an edible plant—but just forget that it’s right outside the back door. Eat it raw or boil it, and choose the thinner stalks for a more tender taste.
- Corn Poppy: Also called the corn rose or field poppy, this plant flowers in late spring with large, showy blooms commonly with a black spot at the base. Though the leaves are mildly poisonous to grazing animals, people can cook the young ones like spinach.
- Dandelions: The greens are perfect as a salad green, or you can steam them as well. Just be sure to get those untouched by pesticides.
- Plaintain: A low-growing plant with broad, oval leaves and a flower stem that grows erect from the center. Blanche the leaves and sauté with butter and garlic.
- Chickweed: A low-growing plant with pointed, oval, bright-green leaves, and tiny, white, 5-petaled blossoms. You can sprinkle the blossoms on salads, use the seeds to make bread or thicken soups, or add the leaves to your green smoothie. Young leaves and stems also make a great addition to salads. Just don’t eat too much as it can cause stomach upset.
- Cowslip: A common herbaceous plant with small, bright, yellow flowers, cowslip is a close relative of the primrose. You can use the flowers in salads or as a garnish, and the leaves are perfect raw in salads or to make a tea.
Do you know of other wildflowers that are safe to eat? Please let us know!
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“Edibility of Plants,” Wilderness Survival, http://www.wilderness-survival.net/plants-1.php.
“Common Edible Roadside Flowers,” Garden Guides, http://www.gardenguides.com/101684-common-edible-roadside-flowers.html.
Green Deane, “Edible Wild Flowers,” Eat the Weeds, http://www.eattheweeds.com/edible-wild-flowers/.
“If You Can’t Beat ’Em, Eat ’Em! 10 Common Edible Weeds,” The Daily Green, http://www.thedailygreen.com/green-homes/latest/weeds-edible-plants-0409#slide-4.