Common Wild Edible Lookalikes

The ability to forage for, gather, and prepare wild food is an important tool to keep in your homesteading tool box. Foraging allows you to find your own food and medicine in day to day situations and in an emergency. When you are looking for edible or medicinal plants, you want to be sure that you positively ID them. Many wild edibles have lookalikes that don’t have the same qualities and some are toxic.

Common Wild Edible Lookalikes

Before you start foraging, grab a good field guide or a journal and let’s jump right into the lookalikes of some of the most common edible wild plants. 

Dandelion Lookalikes

Common Name: Common Dandelion

Botanical Name: Taraxacum officinale

Wild dandelion leaves and flowers

Cat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata)

non-toxic

This non-toxic plant has flowers that look similar to dandelion flowers. It does not have a hollow stem like the dandelion, however. You can also tell them apart from dandelions because they have branching stems and hairy leaves.

Cat's ear flower a wild edible lookalike for dandelion

Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus)

non-toxic

This plant is also non-toxic. The leaves and flowers look similar to the dandelion. They differ from dandelions in that they do not have hollow stems, they have multiple flowers per stem, and the leaves are spiky.

Sow thistle a dandelion lookalike

Wild Lettuce (lactuca virosa and lactuca serriola)

potentially toxic

There are two main types of wild lettuce: prickly lettuce and bitter lettuce. These plants have leaves that resemble the shape of dandelion leaves, but they are prickly as the name suggests.

The flowers also look the same, but wild lettuce will grow multiple flowers per stalk while dandelions will only grow one.

Dandelion will not grow a stalk, but the wild lettuce plant will.

Wild lettuce has been known to cause hallucinations if taken in large amounts so contact a master herbalist if you plan to use it medicinally.

Wild lettuce a dandelion lookalike

Wild Violet Lookalikes

Common Name: Common Blue Violet / Wild Violet

Botanical Name: Viola sororia

Violet leaves

Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna)

toxic

This toxic plant has bright yellow flowers that do not resemble the violet flower, but the leaves are similar. Lesser celandine is toxic so be sure you collect violet leaves after flowers bloom so you can positively ID the plant.

Lesser celandine a wild violet lookalike

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

non-toxic

These edible plants have similar leaves to violets. Garlic mustard is edible and medicinal so it isn’t a dangerous lookalike.

Garlic mustard leaves look similar to violet leaves

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

non-toxic

Ground Ivy is another a wild edible lookalike that is edible itself! Its leaves have a similar shape to violet leaves, but they are more rounded and they are scalloped around the edges.

Ground Ivy leaves look similar to violet leaves

Purple Dead Nettle Lookalikes

non-toxic

Common Name: Purple Dead Nettle, Red Dead Nettle, Purple Archangel

Botanical Name: Lamium purpureum

Purple Dead Nettle

Thankfully, Purple Dead Nettle has no poisonous lookalikes. However, there are a few different plants that could potentially be mistaken for this wild edible by new foragers.

>>Read more about foraging for purple dead nettle here<<

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

non-toxic

This plant has similar purple flowers, but once you familiarize yourself with the two plants they are easy to distinguish from one another. 

While Purple Dead Nettle leaves are triangular in shape and have a purple tint, henbit leaves are heart shaped and scalloped around the edges with no purple tint. It sometimes looks like the leaves are circling around the stem. 

The stems of each of these plants are square (since they are both in the mint family), but henbit stems are red.

The flowers of these two wild edible plants are extremely similar, although henbit flowers tend to grow longer, so it is best to ID using the leaves and stems.

Henbit is a wild edible lookalike for purple dead nettle

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)

non-toxic

Stinging nettle can be mistaken for purple dead nettle because the leaves look similar before flowering. After flowering, the stinging nettle leaves are longer and thinner.

The leaves of Purple Dead Nettle and Stinging Nettle are hairy, but stinging nettle leaves tend to be hairier. The stems of Stinging Nettle are also hairy.

Stinging nettle leaves also tend to be more sharply serrated around the edges than Purple Dead Nettle.

Stinging Nettle is not a part of the mint family, so the stems are not square like Dead Nettle.

If you are unsure if the plant you are looking at is Stinging Nettle or Dead Nettle, brush the back of your hand across it gently. You will feel stings if it is stinging nettle. These stings are usually mild, but they can affect each person differently so take care when touching this plant.

Stinging Nettle

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

Ground ivy, also known as Creeping Charlie and Gills-over-the-ground, can be a wild edible lookalike for purple dead nettle when it is flowering because the flowers of both plants are light purple and similarly shaped. 

This plant creeps along the ground unlike dead nettle which grows straight up along a stem. It is a member of the mint family so its stem is square.

Ground ivy has kidney shaped scalloped leaves in contrast to Dead Nettle’s triangular shaped serrated leaves.

Ground Ivy has purple flowers like purple dead nettle

Red Maple Seedling (Acer rubrum)

non-toxic

This isn’t a wild edible lookalike that I have ever heard anyone talk about, but I have noticed this season that I have a lot of red maple seedlings popping up around my property. While these little trees do not have many similarities to the purple dead nettle plant, the coloration of the leaves and stem are similar.

Red maple seedlings can look similar in coloring to purple dead nettle

Chickweed Lookalikes

Common Name: Chickweed

Botanical Name: Stellaria media

Chickweed

Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)

toxic

Looks like chickweed, but has orange flowers. This plant is toxic. It is best to forage for chickweed after the plants flower for positive identification.

Scarlet Pimpernel looks similar to chickweed when it isn't flowering

Morel Mushroom Lookalikes

Common Name: Morel Mushroom

Botanical Name: Morchella esculenta

True morel mushrooms

There are a number of false morels to look out for.

Early False Morel (Verpa Bohemica)

potentially toxic

This mushroom looks very similar to true morel mushrooms. The differences are subtle, but easy to spot if you are aware of them. The Early False Morel has a cap that is free hanging, not attached to the stem except at the top. The cap of this mushroom also has brain-like folds while a true morel has a pitted cap. 

Early false morel, a lookalike of the true morel mushroom

Bell Morel (Verpa Conica)

potentially toxic

The Bell Morel is a wild edible lookalike with a bell shaped cap instead of a pitted cap. The cap is free hanging like the Early False Morel.

Bell morel, a lookalike of a true morel

Deadly False Morel or Beefsteaks (Gyromitra Esculenta)

toxic

These mushrooms contain monmethylhydrazine which builds up in your body and can be deadly. The caps are not pitted, but they have a misshapen brain-like cap. If you cut the stem, you will see that it is not hollow like a true morel. 

Deadly false morel mushroom

Wild Garlic / Wild Onion Lookalikes

Common Name: Wild Field Garlic a.k.a Crow Garlic / Wild Onion

Botanical Name: Allium (vineale, canadense)

Wild onion

Death Camas (Zigadenus venenosus)

toxic

The leaves on this plant are similar to wild onions in that they are flat. Flowers grow along the stem unlike wild garlic and wild onion. There is no smell.

Wild onion and garlic lookalike death camas

Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum)

toxic

This plant is poisonous. It has flat leaves like wild onions and the leaves have a white line down the middle of each one. It has white flowers with 6 petals and no odor.

When foraging remember… if it looks and smells like garlic or onion, you can eat it. If it doesn’t have that identifiable scent, it is most likely a poisonous lookalike.

Star of bethlehem

Garlic Mustard Lookalikes

Common Name: Garlic Mustard

Botanical Name: Alliaria petiolata

Garlic Mustard Flowering

Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata)

non-toxic

This wild edible lookalike is very similar to garlic mustard, especially the flowers, but the leaves are divided while garlic mustard leaves are undivided.

Sweet Cicely flowering

Fringecup (Tellima grandiflora)

non-toxic

The leaves look similar to garlic mustard, but the leaves and stem are hairy. Garlic mustard leaves are smooth. 

Fringecup a garlic mustard lookalike

Wild Violet (Viola sororia)

non-toxic

Garlic Mustard and Wild Violet both have similarly shaped leaves, but very different flowers. Both are edible. Garlic mustard leaves have more heavily pronounced veins.

Wild violet leaves are shaped similarly to garlic mustard

Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)

non-toxic

The leaves of Ground Ivy can be confused for Garlic Mustard, but the growing pattern is very different. Ground Ivy “creeps” along the ground and garlic mustard grows straight up.

Ground ivy

Wild Comfrey Lookalikes

Common Name: Wild Comfrey

Botanical Name: Cynoglossum virginianum 

Wild Comfrey growing in the woods

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

toxic

Foxglove leaves look very similar to wild comfrey leaves, but foxglove leaves are jagged around the edges and wild comfrey leaves have smooth edges. This plant is poisonous.

Foxglove, a toxic wild edible lookalike

Ground Ivy Lookalikes

Common Name: Creeping Charlie / Ground Ivy

Botanical Name: Glechoma hederacea

Ground Ivy

Ground ivy is different from all of its wild edible lookalikes in that it creeps along the ground instead of growing up or in a clump.

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

non-toxic

Henbit has little purple flowers and blooms at the same time as ground ivy. It has fuzzier leaves and it grows straight up instead of creeping along the ground.

Henbit, a wild edible lookalike

Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum)

non-toxic

Purple Dead Nettle leaves are more pointed than ground ivy. The leaves are also fuzzier and the top leaves are purple.

Purple dead nettle

Violet Leaves (Viola sororia)

non-toxic

Violet leaves have a similar shape to ground ivy leaves, but the stem is not square like ground ivy.

Violet leaves

White Clover Lookalikes

Common Name: White Clover

Botanical Name: Trifolium repens

White Clover in a field

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)

non-toxic

Wood sorrel leaves look almost identical to clover. Clover leaves are rounded and wood sorrel leaves are heart shaped. If the plants are flowering, you can easily tell them apart.

Wood sorrel, a clover lookalike

Red Clover Lookalikes

Common Name: Red Clover, Crimson Clover

Botanical Name: Trifolium pratense

Red Clover

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)

non-toxic

Wood sorrel leaves look almost identical to clover. Clover leaves are rounded and wood sorrel leaves are heart shaped. If the plants are flowering, you can easily tell them apart.

Wood Sorrel

>>Use Picture This to help you positively ID plants in the wild.<<

Wild Strawberry Lookalikes

Common Name: Wild Strawberry

Botanical Name: Fragaria vesca

Wild Strawberry

Mock Strawberries (Duchesnea indica)

non-toxic

Wild Strawberry flowers are white and mock strawberry flowers are yellow.

Mock strawberries are round with hard seeds that stick out of the fruit. This wild edible lookalike isn’t poisonous, but it doesn’t taste great. 

Mock Strawberry, a wild strawberry lookalike

Plantain Lookalikes

Common Name: Narrowleaf Plantain, Ribwort / Broadleaf Plantain / Blackseed Plantain

Botanical Name: Plantago lanceolata /Plantago major/ Plantago rugelii

Blackseed plantain
Blackseed Plantain
Broadleaf Plantain
Broadleaf Plantain
Narrowleaf Plantain, Ribwort
Narrowleaf Plantain, Ribwort

Hostas (Hosta plantaginea)

non-toxic

Young leaves of hosta plants are similar to plantain leaves. They are edible.

Young Hosta leaves

Curly Dock Lookalikes

Common Name: Curly Dock, Yellow Dock

Botanical Name: Rumex crispus

Curly Dock

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

toxic

Curly Dock leaves look similar to foxglove leaves. Foxglove is poisonous.

Foxglove, a toxic wild edible lookalike

Fiddlehead Fern Lookalikes

Common Name: Fiddlehead Fern, Ostrich Fern

Botanical Name: Matteuccia struthiopteris

True fiddlehead ferns

Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis L.)

potentially toxic

This common wild edible plant has “fiddleheads” in the spring that are pale red. The stalk will not have the signature celery-like stalk of a true fiddlehead. The toxicity of this plant is debated.

Several other non-edible ferns have the fiddlehead shape when they are unfurling. The lookalikes are hairy and the outer covering doesn’t rub off. A true fiddlehead isn’t hairy. It has a brown papery covering that rubs off easily. True fiddleheads also have a celery-like stalk.

Sensitive ferns, a wild edible lookalike

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

non-toxic

Several other non-edible ferns, like the Christmas fern have the fiddlehead shape when they are unfurling.

The lookalikes are hairy and the outer covering doesn’t rub off. A true fiddlehead isn’t hairy. It has a brown papery covering that rubs off easily. True fiddleheads also have a celery-like stalk. These are non-toxic, but not recommended to eat.

Christmas ferns, a fiddlehead lookalike

Wild Asparagus Lookalikes

Common Name: Wild Asparagus

Botanical Name: Asparagus officinalis

Wild asparagus

Wild Indigo (Baptisia alba and Baptisia australis)

toxic

The young shoots of this plant are easily mistaken for asparagus. This plant has been reported to be toxic for humans and livestock.

Wild indigo, a wild edible lookalike for asparagus

Horsetail (Equisetum)

non-toxic

I have always heard of this plant being mistaken for bamboo and wild asparagus in my area. When I went to take a closer look, I realized it was horsetail! A non-toxic plant with hollow stems that come apart at each segment. The stems of horsetail somewhat resemble asparagus stalks.

Horsetail looks similar to wild asparagus

Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica)

non-toxic

This plant can resemble asparagus stalks in the spring. The stalks will look reddish and the inside will be hollow unlike asparagus. It looks more like bamboo shoots to me, but to an untrained eye it could be mistaken for asparagus.

Japanese knotweed

Wild Elderberry Lookalikes

Common Name: Wild Elderberry

Botanical Name: Sambucus nigra

Elderberry is an incredible plant, but it has some pretty sketchy lookalikes…

Wild Elderberry

Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum)

toxic

Giant hogweed is poisonous to the touch and its flowers are extremely similar to that of the elder plant. Thankfully, this toxic lookalike doesn’t produce berries.

Toxic giant hogweed, a toxic wild edible lookalike

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

toxic

This plant is highly toxic and the flowers look very similar to elderflowers. The flower clusters are more spaced out and the stems are different in that they are very tall, hollow, and have purple streaks on them. Elderberry stems are woody and have bark while water hemlock stems are herbaceous and green (no bark). Water hemlock does not produce berries.

Water Hemlock

Pokeweed (Phytolacca decandra)

toxic

Poke berries are toxic is eaten whole. Some master herbalists use them, but you don’t want to do this without the proper knowledge. The berries do look similar to elderberries, but they grow in cylinder shapes instead of clusters. The stalks are purple and herbaceous whereas elderberry stems are woody and covered in bark.

Pokeweed berries are a toxic wild edible lookalike to elderberries

Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa)

toxic
The leaves and berries of the Devil’s Walking Stick are almost identical to elderberry, but they are toxic to humans. The stalks are woody like elderberry, but they are covered in thorns.

Devil's Walking Stick stalk with thorns

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