Mom Goes Camping

5 Wild Edible Plants Every Backpacker Should Know

chicory

Now, I’m not about to rely on a bunch of foraged berries and weeds for my meals when backpacking.  Nor am I going to risk a bout of diarrhea to try something which “I think” is edible.  That said, there are a lot of wild edible plants that you can find in nature, including these ones which are really easy to identify.

Wild Berries

There are a lot of wild berries that you can forage.  Some of them include:

  • Strawberries (note that they are smaller than the giant ones you’ll find at the supermarket)
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Huckleberries
  • Elderberries
  • Dewberries

The first ones are unmistakable so you can pick them without worries of poisoning.   If you aren’t sure, don’t eat them!

Wild berries are generally ripe in late May to June (in warmer climates) or July to August (in cooler climates).  Since summer is when I usually go backpacking, we can usually find some delicious berries while on our hikes.

picking berries in the rain while camping

Isabel picking wild berries in the rain while camping.

Here are some berries that we foraged near our campsite.

Here are some berries that we foraged near our campsite.

Stinging Nettles

I LOVE nettles.  They are a lot milder in taste than spinach but still loaded with nutrients.  Obviously, you don’t want to touch nettles with your bare hands (though the sting is actually supposed to be good for your skin and improve circulation).  Put a plastic bag over your hands, or maybe even your sleeping bag sack, when picking them.  Then just give them a quick boil and add them to your meal.

Stinging nettles are pretty easy to identify by their leaf shape and fuzziness.  If you really aren’t sure, you can always touch one and see if it gives you a sting. 😉

stinging nettles wild edibles

The top leaves are the tastiest!

 

Wild Asparagus

You know that asparagus which costs a fortune in the supermarket?  Well, you can forage your own.  The wild asparagus doesn’t look exactly the same as the store-bought kind.  The tops are a lot thinner.  I’ve never actually foraged wild asparagus before (I’ll be looking this year though!).  So, I recommend reading this great article from Whole Fed Homestead about how to forage wild asparagus.

This is what wild asparagus looks like.

This is what wild asparagus looks like.

 

Upon closer look, you'll find these spears of asparagus.

Upon closer look, you’ll find these spears of asparagus.

Cattails

Aside from being one of the coolest looking plants you’ve seen, cattails are edible.  Some parts are even tasty!  Apparently, it was a key part of Native Americans and rural European diets.

How to eat cattail depends on the season.  If it is spring, then you can eat the shoots raw or cook them.  If it is later in the season, then the shoots get really tough.  You peel off the tough outers and eat the inners.  It tastes a bit like a bitter cucumber.  If you cook the cattail shoots, they won’t be so bitter.

Even later in the season is when the poofy brown part starts growing on the cattail.  This is actually the flower of the plant.  While young, you can boil it and eat it like corn on the cob.  If the cattail flower goes to fluff (which is actually pollen), then you can still eat it.  You’ve just got to use the pollen like flour.  I’m not sure how’d you do that while backpacking, but it is good to know for a survival situation (or just to impress people when you go on a hike). I’ve never tried it but apparently it is like buckwheat.  Gluten-free too. 😉

The root of the cattail is edible during all seasons.  It is going to be a bit tricky to get up, especially if you don’t want to get wet in the pond or marsh where the cattails are growing.  But, if you get the root up, you can pound it a bit and then boil it.  Beats the instant mashed potatoes I usually bring backpacking!

This is what the inside of a cattail shoot looks like, kindn of like a scallion.

This is what the inside of a cattail shoot looks like, kind of like a scallion.

cooked cattail shoots

You can chop up the insides of the shoots, saute them, and eat them as a tasty salad.

 

Chicory

There are a lot of wild plants that are edible, but chicory makes this list because it is so easy to identify.  It is hard to mistake those bright blue flowers.  You can eat the entire plant but the roots are most popular because you are roast them and make them into a caffeine-free coffee alternative.  Luckily, I’ve never run out of instant coffee while backpacking and had to resort to this. 😉  You can read this article to find out how to make chicory coffee from foraged roots.

If you are really hungry, just pop some of the leaves or flowers in your mouth.  They are bitter, but they are also really nutritious and known for killing intestinal parasites – but you are filtering your water while backpacking, right? 🙂

chicory

 

Have you tried any of these wild edibles? Know of any good other ones?

 

Image credits:
Nettles” (CC BY 2.0) by  La.Catholique
Cattail salad.” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by  leedav
cattails” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by  cuttlefish
Wild asparagus” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by  qcom
Chicory” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by  bobandcarol71661 

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About the author /


Diane Vukovic is an avid traveler, outdoor enthusiast, beetle lover, sometimes sculptress, couchsurfer, and loves finding ways to explain complex topics to her 6-year old daughter. Follow MomGoesCamping on Facebook and Twitter @MomGoesCamping to stay in touch!

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