Wild Edibles You Can Find in The City

Wild Edibles You Can Find in The City

For many people, urban foraging means finding the latest trendy restaurant or boutique, but in the context of survival, it has a far more serious connotation. Although you might not think of an urban area as a place to forage for food, you can find many edible plants growing there. Wild greens often contain far more nutritional value than commercially grown products like lettuce or celery.

Wild Plant Safety Tips

Your Zagat guide won’t do you any good, but you’ll be glad you bought that guidebook on wild plants. Distinguishing edible plants from poisonous ones is essential whether you are foraging in a lovely pastoral field or a busy city park. Stay away from azaleas (extremely poisonous), wild peas, mushrooms (unless you have expertise), mistletoe, holly berries, yew seeds, and ivy berries. Many toxic plants have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Milky or discolored sap
  • Spines, fine hairs, or thorns
  • Beans, bulbs, or seeds inside pods
  • Bitter or soapy taste
  • Dill, carrot, parsnip, or parsley-like foliage
  • “Almond” scent in the woody parts and leaves
  • Grain heads with pink, purplish, or black spurs
  • Three-leaf growth pattern

Avoid harvesting from the sides of roadways and other areas exposed to exhaust fumes, dust, and harmful chemicals. It is best to avoid plants sprayed with herbicide or chemical fertilizers, although it may not be possible to know with certainty. However, it is improbable that an entire large city park has been treated with chemicals due to the associated high costs. Be careful the first time you eat a wild plant because it may cause an allergic reaction.

Edible Weeds & Wild Plants

Dandelion: Early spring leaves harvested before flowers bloom are the sweetest and ideal for salads. Even after the flowers bloom, the slightly bitter leaves can be used for cooking. Dandelion soup and wine are two popular uses for these abundant yellow-bloomed weeds.

Stinging Nettle: Wear gloves when harvesting to protect your hands from the sting. Prepare the nettles by steaming or boiling, which wilts the leaves and removes the sting. Dried leaves can be used in a spring tonic tea with a dash of dried mint for flavor.

Common Plantain: Two varieties grow in the same areas as stinging nettles—very convenient considering a crushed plantain leaf removes the sting from a nettle brush. It also works on bee and wasp stings. Both varieties form a rosette, however, one has circular leaves and the other has long narrow blade-shaped leaves. Leaves can be added to salads or steamed with other greens as a side dish.

Chickweed: This may be a nuisance in gardens and lawns, but it is a yummy wild green. The stem is angular rather than round, and quite damp and crisp. It’s slightly strong flavor makes it a delicious salad green when paired with milder wild greens.

Cattail: Highly versatile, this distinctive looking plant has roots with an edible center that can be roasted, baked, or boiled, with a taste similar to a potato. The center of the main stalk is tender in early spring and quite edible, while the young flowering stalk (before pollen comes in) can be harvested and roasted like corn. The pollen itself is useful in baking as a flour substitute.

Sheep Sorrel: Imparting a strong, tart lemony flavor, this weed grows in grassy areas or places with disturbed soil. Its leaves are spear shaped, and the center vein is often red against the dark green of the leaves.

Violets: With its beautiful purple flowers, this plant is easily identifiable. A popular house plant, wild violets are a colorful addition to any wild-foraged salad. Violet flowers can be candied and used as a sugar flavor enhancer.

Grass: All grasses are edible, but blades under six inches are easier to chew and digest. The flavor of grass can be intensely sweet, mild, or bitter. Wheatgrass is a healthy ingredient used in fitness drinks and a favorite due to its delightfully sweet taste.

Berries: Rose, blackberry, raspberry, and salmon berry are all edible. The hips of the rose—the common weedy thicket-forming multiflora rose is small and tangy. Blackberries and raspberries are recognizable, although they will look a little different than what you buy at the grocery store. Salmon berries look a lot like raspberries, but have a light orange to yellow color.

Walnuts: If you’ve ever hulled a walnut, you know your hands are easily stained by the natural black dye. All walnut trees have edible nuts and can be found in many yards and city parks. Use gloves when breaking the green hull off the walnut and protect your clothes to avoid permanent black stains.

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