16 Common Wild Edible Plants and Their Uses

The ability to find wild food is an important tool to keep in your food freedom toolbox. If you are able to identify common wild edible and medicinal native plants, you will always have access to food and medicine. This is great for relying less on the grocery store and also in a survival situation.

Common Wild Edibles in Your Backyard

I heard Darryl Patton say one time, “one of the best ways to control invasive species is to eat them”. So let’s chat about the most common edible wild plants that you can forage from your backyard.

The Most Common Wild Edible Plants

1. Dandelions

These little yellow weeds grow everywhere around here. They are commonly looked at as a nuisance, but they are a wonderful source of food and medicine!

Dandelion growing beside a house

Common Name: Common Dandelion

Botanical Name: Taraxacum officinale

Health Benefits of Dandelions:

The dandelion leaves, roots, and blossoms are edible and medicinal.

  • Works as a mild laxative
  • Cleanses the lymphatic system
  • Relieves skin conditions like eczema
  • Provides liver support
  • Regulates digestion
  • Detoxifies the body
Dandelion Uses:
  • Eat dandelion greens sauteed or in a wild spring salad.
  • Dry and grind dandelion roots to make a healing dandelion tea.
  • Eat dandelion flowers raw, make them into a tea, or infuse them in olive oil to make salves, lotions, and more!
  • Feed to livestock and chickens.
Dandelion Lookalikes:

Cat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata)

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.

Sow Thistle (Sonchus oleraceus)

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.

Wild Lettuce (lactuca virosa and lactuca serriola)

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 wild lettuce will.

2. Wild Violets

The common blue violet is a wild edible that takes over my yard each spring. This plant produces a beautiful purple flower that makes a deep blue tea. It is a natural pH indicator so if you add an acid, like lemon juice, to the tea it will change into a fuchsia color as the pH acidifies.

Wild violet blossoms in a jar in a field full of violets

Common Name: Common Blue Violet / Wild Violet

Botanical Name: Viola sororia

Health Benefits of Wild Violets:
  • Soothe skin irritations like sunburn, eczema, and bug bites
  • Help reduce varicose veins when used topically
  • Known to stimulate the lymphatic system (great for people with fibrocystic breasts).
  • Used to relieve sore throats and dry coughs
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • High in Antioxidants
  • High in vitamins a and c
Wild Violet Uses:
Wild Violet Lookalikes:

Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna)

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.

Garlic Mustard

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

3. Purple Dead Nettle

Purple dead nettle is an incredible little wild edible plant that pops up right when it is needed! 

Purple Dead Nettle

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

Botanical Name: Lamium purpureum

Health Benefits of Purple Dead Nettle:
  • Great for calming seasonal allergies
  • Anti-bacterial
  • Anti-fungal
  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • High in Vitamins A, C, K, fiber, and iron
  • Supports Kidney Function
  • Serves as a laxative 
Purple Dead Nettle Uses:
  • Purple Dead Nettle Tea
  • Make Purple Dead Nettle Infused Oil
  • Use infused oil and rendered beeswax to make a Purple Dead Nettle Salve
  • Use the leaves as a wound poultice
  • Purple Dead Nettle Tincture
  • Eat dead nettle in raw salads
  • Grind and mix purple dead nettle with olive oil to make a pesto.
Purple Dead Nettle Lookalikes:

Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)

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

>>Learn more about foraging for Purple Dead Nettle<<

4. Chickweed

White flowers of Chickweed

Common Name: Chickweed

Botanical Name: Stellaria media

Health Benefits of Chickweed:
  • Contains anti-inflammatory properties
  • Used as an antibacterial
  • Detoxifies the body
  • Aids in weight loss
  • Works as a diuretic 
  • Expectorant properties in tinctures, teas, and tonics
Chickweed Uses:
  • Use chickweed as a livestock feed supplement
  • Eat chickweed raw in salads
  • Make salves to help heal cuts
  • Make a chickweed tincture
  • Cook the greens and eat as you would other greens
Chickweed Lookalikes:

Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)

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.

>>Read more about Wild Edible Lookalikes here<<

5. Edible Mushrooms

Morel Mushrooms and turkey tail mushrooms are very popular in my area. The most sought after of the wild edible mushrooms, by far, is the morel. 

Hunting these mushrooms has become a sport with a high level of secrecy. If you find a spot with morels, you keep it to yourself or they will be gone before you can collect them next season.

A woman holding a morel mushroom

Common Name: Morel Mushroom

Botanical Name: Morchella esculenta

Health Benefits of Morel Mushrooms:
  • High in vitamin C
  • Antioxidant rich
  • Highest amount of vitamin D of all mushrooms
  • Good source of copper, potassium, manganese, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorous
  • Used to treat anemia due to high iron levels
Morel Mushroom Uses:
  • You can saute them up like your bellas and white mushrooms, but around here we like to deep fry them.

Morel Mushroom Lookalikes:

Early False Morel (Verpa Bohemica)

This mushroom looks very similar to a true morel. 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. 

Bell Morel (Verpa Conica)

The Bell Morel has a bell shaped cap instead of a pitted cap. The cap is free hanging like the Early False Morel.

Deadly False Morel or Beefsteaks (Gyromitra Esculenta)

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. 

6. Wild Field Garlic and Wild Onions

You can find wild garlic and wild onions all over the place! 

I combined these two wild edible plants because they are commonly used interchangeably even though they are different plants. 

If you know what chives look like, then you can easily spot wild field garlic. The leaves are round and hollow. They smell like garlic.

Wild onions look similar, but their leaves are flat. They also smell like…you guessed it… onions.

If you are unsure which one you have, crush a leaf and see what it smells like.

Wild onion growing out of a cinderblock

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

Botanical Name: Allium (vineale, canadense)

Health Benefits of Wild Garlic and Wild Onion:
  • Lowers high blood pressure
  • Possesses strong anti-inflammatory properties
  • Detoxifies the body
  • Improves Cholesterol
  • Antioxidant rich
Wild Garlic & Onion Uses:
  • Eat wild garlic and wild onion raw (the whole plant is edible) in the same way you would use chives.
  • Make a wild garlic or wild onion infused oil to cook with.
  • Chop them up and make a pesto.
  • The juice from wild field garlic can be used to repel biting insects.
Wild Field Garlic and Wild Onion Lookalikes:

Death Camas

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.

Star of Bethlehem

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.

7. Garlic Mustard

Wild garlic mustard in a wooden bowl

Common Name: Garlic Mustard

Botanical Name: Alliaria petiolata

Health Benefits of Garlic Mustard:
  • Stimulates circulation
  • High in Vitamins A and C
  • Boosts immune system
Garlic Mustard Uses:

The leaves, roots, and seeds are all edible.

  • Seasoning salt
  • Pickle the roots
  • Add greens and flowers to salads
  • Make a garlic mustard vinaigrette 
  • Chop and add into soups
Garlic Mustard Lookalikes:

Sweet Cicely

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

Fringecup

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

Wild Violet

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.

Ground Ivy

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.

8. Wild Comfrey

This is a new one for me. On my most recent foraging outing I found a wooded area carpeted with wild comfrey! I couldn’t believe it because these little plants sell for $6+ each from local growers.

Wild Comfrey growing in the woods

Common Name: Wild Comfrey

Botanical Name: Cynoglossum virginianum 

Health Benefits of Wild Comfrey:
  • Wild comfrey is known to aid in the healing of wounds. The anti-inflammatory properties in the plant can reduce bruising, ease pain, and stop bleeding.
  • Can treat stomach ulcers
  • Used to ease heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Antioxidant Rich
  • High in Vitamins A and B12
Wild Comfrey Uses:
  • Comfrey poultices can be made for external wounds. 
  • The leaves can also be used as a natural bandage. Rub them together to get the hairs off (these little hairs can irritate the wound) and place them over a wound to stop bleeding.
  • People eat comfrey, but this is debated because it does contain chemicals said to cause liver damage. 
Wild Comfrey Lookalikes:

Foxglove

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.

9. Ground Ivy

Ground Ivy or Creeping Charlie with a purple bloom

Common Name: Creeping Charlie / Ground Ivy

Botanical Name: Glechoma hederacea

Health Benefits of Ground Ivy:
  • Works as an expectorant 
  • Possesses astringent properties
  • Can ease arthritis and joint pain
  • Has been used for Tinnitus
  • Is an anti-inflammatory
Ground Ivy Uses:
  • Make tea with the leaves. Sweeten with honey.
  • Use as a flavoring in place of mint or thyme.
  • Add into baked goods
  • Make a ground ivy tincture
Ground Ivy Lookalikes:

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

Henbit

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.

Purple Dead Nettle

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

Violet Leaves

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

10. White Clover

White clover is probably the most common wild edible “weed” that I see. 

Field of white clover

Common Name: White Clover

Botanical Name: Trifolium repens

Health Benefits of White Clover:
White Clover Uses:
  • Make a white clover tea
  • Try making a clover eye wash 
  • Make White Clover Tinctures and infusion
  • Add the blossoms into baked goods, or eat them raw on salads!

Read more about the benefits of white clover and additional foraging tips

White Clover Lookalikes:

Wood Sorrel

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.

11. Red Clover

Field of red clover

Common Name: Red Clover, Crimson Clover

Botanical Name: Trifolium pratense

Health Benefits of Red Clover:
  • Soothes coughs
  • Balances hormones
  • Ease menopause symptoms
Red Clover Uses:
  • Feed to pregnant livestock and animals that have just given birth to balance their hormones.
  • Make a tea out of the flowers
  • Make a red clover tincture
Red Clover Lookalikes:

Wood Sorrel

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.

12. Wild Strawberries

These little berries are currently taking over my backyard. They look exactly as you think… like small strawberries growing on the ground.

A hand holding wild strawberries and a white blossom

Common Name: Wild Strawberry

Botanical Name: Fragaria vesca

Health Benefits of Wild Strawberries:

The leaves, roots, and berries from this wild edible plant are all medicinal.

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • The juice can treat skin pain (sunburns and wounds) 
  • Eases diarrhea
  • High in potassium
  • Good source of fiber
Wild Strawberry Uses:
  • Eat the berries just like you would regular strawberries.
  • Make tea out of the leaves.
  • Create a poultice from the berries to relieve sunburn.
  • Make a tea with the roots
Wild Strawberry Lookalikes:

Mock Strawberries (Duchesnea indica)

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 plant isn’t poisonous, but it doesn’t taste great. 

13. Plantain

There are 3 main types of plantains. Narrowleaf plantains have tall thin leaves. Broadleaf and Blackseed Plantains have round leaves that stay close to the ground. Blackseed Plantains have a purple color at the base of the stem.

Narrowleaf Plantain or Ribwort

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

Botanical Name: Plantago lanceolata /Plantago major/ Plantago rugelii

Health Benefits of Plantain:

Plantain has many uses. I actually used it yesterday when one of my rabbits scratched my hand. Blood was pooling so I made a poultice with a plantain leaf. The bleeding stopped almost immediately and the cut began to scab quickly.

  • Possesses bronchodilation properties
  • Eases pain from skin issues like insect bites, sores, and blisters
  • High in iron and calcium
  • Soothes sore throat
  • Stops bleeding
  • Relieve poison ivy reaction
Plantain Uses:
  • Great as a supplement for rabbits.
  • Make a poultice for insect stings and small cuts.
  • Make a tincture or tea with the leaves.
Plantain Lookalikes:

Hostas

Hosta leaves are similar to broadleaf and blackseed plantain leaves. They are edible.

14. Curly Dock

Common Name: Curly Dock, Yellow Dock

Botanical Name: Rumex crispus

Health Benefits of Curly Dock:
  • Possesses laxative properties
  • Liver cleansing
Curly Dock Uses:
  • Use in place of lettuce or spinach
  • Make a salve with the roots for skin issues
  • Make a tea with powdered roots
  • Use the leaves like you would use spinach.
  • Reduces eczema and psoriasis 
  • **Don’t feed dock to livestock
Curly Dock Lookalikes:

Foxglove

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

15. Fiddlehead Ferns

Fiddlehead ferns unfurling

Common Name: Fiddlehead Fern, Ostrich Fern

Botanical Name: Matteuccia struthiopteris

Health Benefits of Fiddlehead Ferns:
  • Antioxidant rich
  • High in iron and potassium
  • High levels of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  • Good source of Vitamins A and C
Fiddlehead Fern Uses:
  • Prepare them as you would prepare asparagus
  • **Don’t eat them raw because they have a small amount of toxin. Cook for at least 5 minutes.
Fiddlehead Fern Lookalikes:

Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis L.)

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.

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

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.

16. Wild Asparagus

This stuff even grows in the ditches here!

Wild asparagus on a wood background

Common Name: Wild Asparagus

Botanical Name: Asparagus officinalis

Health Benefits of Wild Asparagus:
  • Contains diuretic properties
  • High in Vitamin C and B Vitamins
  • Good source of potassium, calcium, fiber, iron, magnesium, folate, and phosphorous
Wild Asparagus Uses:
  • Cook up wild asparagus just like you would cultivated asparagus.
Wild Asparagus Lookalikes:

Wild Indigo (Baptisia alba and Baptisia australis)

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

Horsetail (Equisetum)

The stems of horsetail somewhat resemble asparagus stalks. This plant is not toxic.

Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica)

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.

Learn more about the medicinal uses of common wild edible plants with these resources:

**The statements made about specific plants on this web site have not been evaluated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.

Please do heavy research before consuming any wild plant or using them medicinally.

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