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Growing Native Wild Vegetables

 
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Have you ever gone out and foraged for wild foods? Perhaps you found a huckleberry bush covered with sweet juicy berries. What about wild onions? Miners lettuce? Waterleaf? Stinging Nettle?

These are all examples of native wild vegetables but there are many more than these. This week’s blog post – How to Get Started with Native Wild Vegetables – dives into these amazing wild foods and how to use them in your garden and on your homestead.

Plus, the post covers 9 native wild vegetables found in western Washington.
1. Miner’s Lettuce
2. Redwood Sorrel
3. Pacific Waterleaf
4. Early Blue Violet
5. Henderson’s Checkermallow
6. Pacific Silverweed
7. Oregon Stonecrop
8. Springbank Clover
9. Nodding Onion

Use these 9 wild vegetables to help you picture growing these great wild foods on your own homestead. But there are far more out there that would make a great addition to your homestead.

What are Native Wild Vegetables? And Why Should I Grow These?



As a homesteader you want your garden and your food systems in general to be resilient to shocks. But unfortunately, our food systems are often not very resilient. As a whole those of us in the western world eat a very small number of plants compared to our ancestors.

There are really just a few types of vegetables that work well with industrial farming. These are the ones you find in the grocery store. And regardless of if you live in Washington State, Kansas, Main or London you likely have the same general selection. Regional variations have been lost.

But wild native vegetables are a great way to bring back a diversity of food. I have a list of 18 native wild vegetables that I’m thinking about growing in my front food forest. Those 18 are not even counting the wild vegetables that prefer growing in the shade like Pacific waterleaf and redwood sorrel.

Imagine walking around your homestead and harvesting greens for cooking or for a salad and easily coming back with over 12 different types of greens. I can already do that and I have yet to plant the 18 native wild vegetables on my list.

And greens are not the only thing these wild foods provide.

Wapato, camas, springbank clover, Pacific silverweed, fernleaf biscuitroot, harvest brodiaea, beaked sedge, and Indian ricegrass are all examples of staple crops native to Washington State.

All the native wild vegetables I have listed in this post are also perennials in western Washington. Which means that once they are established you will have a lasting food source that needs very little maintenance and also supports local wildlife.

Just imagine what could be done with all these native wild vegetables if they were selectively bred overtime for improved harvests. How many different types of new crops could we have if this was done across the world?

Growing Native Wild Vegetables in the Garden and on the Homestead


*The start of my wild garden patch. I will finish planting it this fall.

One challenge with native wild vegetables is figuring out how to integrate them with your existing plants. In my kitchen garden I have an area in each garden bed that is set aside for native wild vegetables.

Logs and rocks are used to mark the boundaries and this fall I will be planting these areas with a number of native wild vegetables. These “wild” patches will also help attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.

But I’m also mixing these wild foods in all around my trees and shrubs. Instead of buying ornamentals I can plant beautiful plants like Henderson’s checkermallow. Many of these wild native vegetables could be planted in your front yard as flowers and your neighbors would never know you were growing food!

Make sure to check out the blog post before you go. The post dives into more information about these great wild vegetables and has some tips on how to learn about the ones that are native to your area.

It will take some time to learn about the amazing native wild vegetables in your area but I guarantee if you take the time to learn you will fall in love with these fantastic wild foods!

And make sure to swing by the blog post and leave a comment! If you are the first to do so you will get a piece of pie! The pie will get you access to some special features on perimes, discounts at some vendors, and you can use it to purchase some products on the permies digital marketplace.

If you leave a comment on the blog post make sure to leave a post here on permies too so I can easily give you the slice of pie.

Thank you!
 
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@Daron - I took the plunge and left a comment on your blog. I've been gradually learning to recognize wild edibles that grow on my farm, but many aren't too productive due to the thin soil and deep shade. I've used Stinging Nettle and Miner's lettuce. I had hoped to encourage Salal to propagate on a sloped area, but I've not been able to collect seed. I don't know if the plants I've found are not producing fruit, or if the birds are getting it before me. Most of the plants are quite young.

I'm going to do a bit more research on the Stonecrop you mentioned.  How does it taste?
 
Daron Williams
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Jay Angler wrote:@Daron - I took the plunge and left a comment on your blog. I've been gradually learning to recognize wild edibles that grow on my farm, but many aren't too productive due to the thin soil and deep shade. I've used Stinging Nettle and Miner's lettuce. I had hoped to encourage Salal to propagate on a sloped area, but I've not been able to collect seed. I don't know if the plants I've found are not producing fruit, or if the birds are getting it before me. Most of the plants are quite young.

I'm going to do a bit more research on the Stonecrop you mentioned.  How does it taste?



Thanks Jay! Pie for you! I left a reply for you on the site too. I'm really curious about how the camas seeds work out for you. If you remember please share how they germinate. I want to get camas going on my property and seeds would be much lower cost (free!) then buying plants. At the moment I don't have access to any place I could salvage camas but I could get seeds easily enough. Just as an aside... I have been slowly working on a design for a rocket (j-tube) powered pit oven to help with cooking camas and sun chokes. lol, perhaps I can convince Paul to make it part of the ATC in the future so I can test it out!

Anyways... about stonecrop. My plants are young so I have only nibbled on them a bit. They are crunchy and kinda of fun to add to a salad but the bit I tried was astringent. I don't think I would want it to be the core part of a salad or use it on its own. But I think if it was mixed with miners lettuce, Pacific waterleaf, plus some others it would be good. The big advantage of stonecrop is that it likes harsh conditions like those found on rocky slopes. So it will grow where a lot of other plants won't. It is supposed to spread fairly well though once it is established--mine are just starting to bloom but have not grown at all. But they have only been in the ground for about 3 months.

You can also cook with stonecrop but I have not tried it that way. The links on the blog post have some more information about stonecrop.

Thanks again!
 
Jay Angler
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I can't remember where I was looking, but I tripped over this link - http://kwiaht.org/documents/Camascookbook.pdf - which is a PDF of recipes for camas. The long cooking time is definitely an issue, but it can be frozen or dried after cooking so at least one could cook in bulk for multiple meals. A rocket powered pit oven sounds awesome.

I've been reading, Incredible Wild Edibles by Samuel Thayer, and it is inspiring me to work harder at finding wild foods to complement the land I'm working with. I'm happy to mix and match native and domestic plants, as they frequently complement each other.
 
Daron Williams
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Jay Angler wrote:I can't remember where I was looking, but I tripped over this link - http://kwiaht.org/documents/Camascookbook.pdf - which is a PDF of recipes for camas. The long cooking time is definitely an issue, but it can be frozen or dried after cooking so at least one could cook in bulk for multiple meals. A rocket powered pit oven sounds awesome.

I've been reading, Incredible Wild Edibles by Samuel Thayer, and it is inspiring me to work harder at finding wild foods to complement the land I'm working with. I'm happy to mix and match native and domestic plants, as they frequently complement each other.



Nice! I will have to check that pdf out and the book. I have heard about that book but I have yet to read it. Speaking about wild edibles... attached is a picture of my handwritten (hopefully you can read it) list of sun loving mostly native wild vegetables. There are a couple there that are found more in Oregon or California and 1 that is in eastern WA but not western WA. I'm going to use that list to plant up my front food forest this fall/winter.
washington-native-wild-vegetables.jpg
[Thumbnail for washington-native-wild-vegetables.jpg]
 
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Hi Dannon, really interesting post. I am a Brit and many of the names are unfamiliar to me but I suspect I would know a few by different names. Just wondering how
many are not growing in England and how ethical it would be to try a few here. Best E
 
Jay Angler
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@Daron - I'm sure I've seen Chocolate Lily around, but I'm not sure I've seen any on my property - I'll have to wait until next spring! Patience is a virtue after all.
I've got several different "Day Lilies" including the Tiger version in my front garden and have been putting some of the flower buds into soups. Mine don't seem to have a lot of flavor, but if the boys will eat them without complaint (unlike Diakon seed pods which they're know to whine about), I'm good with that. I understand the roots are also edible, but I haven't tried that as I'd rather they expand at the moment.

@eric - you're bound to have a gov't or NGO site about plants considered invasive to Britain. Even then I'd take it with a grain of salt, as often plants that appear invasive are actually just Mother Nature trying to clean up after humans. With the shifting weather patterns, natural systems are going to change along with. Here in BC we've had a lot of cedar die for example, and it's a key member of the long term ecology.
You're also bound to have sites with good descriptions of local edible native plants. Foraging responsibly has been shown to improve the ecosystem, because foragers have a reason to protect and encourage natural systems. Daron's article is Pacific North West centric, but you can start a thread about your area and we've got other British members who would likely chime in. Patrick Whitefield's work in England is excellent and I've read some of his books. Your climate actually mirrors mine more than the permaculture work out of Australia, so I could relate better to some of his examples.
 
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I have a patch of miner's lettuce and I absolutely LOVE it. For about a month or two in early spring, it produces like crazy while it's too cold for the lettuce, and it's one of the milder wild greens I've tried.

I've tried to start blue camas from seed but with no luck so far. I would guess it's easier to propagate from a bulb but then I would have to find bulbs. :) I know of a place where it grows wild but it's far enough away that I'd have to plan a trip for it, and I'd want to do that while it's blooming since death camas and common camas grow in a lot of the same spots, and the colour of the flowers is the easiest way to tell them apart.
 
Daron Williams
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eric fisher wrote:
Hi Dannon, really interesting post. I am a Brit and many of the names are unfamiliar to me but I suspect I would know a few by different names. Just wondering how
many are not growing in England and how ethical it would be to try a few here. Best E



I know there are a fair number in England - nettles of course are common. I lived in southern England in Lewis outside of Brighton and Hove for a year and volunteered with a youth ranger program in the South Downs National Park and Stanmer Park (which I think is part of the national park now). We did some wild foraging but I'm afraid all I remember is that there was a lot available to munch.

But I would say your environment has been so heavily modified that native might not be your top concern. I know there are a fair number of American tree species growing over there that people are just leaving alone because the native trees are so rare now. But if you did find some native edibles I would try growing them.

This post was meant to highlight all the great native wild vegetables out there not try to make the case that you should only grow them. I have a number of posts on perennial vegetables which when combined with the native wild vegetables you could have a very diverse mix of perennial vegetables (native and non-native).

My philosophy is to always include some native plants in my designs but I still use plenty of non-natives. Sometimes the native plants are a better fit or can do the job fine in which case I use them but sometimes the non-native is the better fit or does a better job so I use those. In general my designs are 75% non-native and 25% native. But I have some areas that are closer to 90% native. Just depends on what I'm focusing on.
 
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Jay Angler wrote:@Daron - I took the plunge and left a comment on your blog. I've been gradually learning to recognize wild edibles that grow on my farm, but many aren't too productive due to the thin soil and deep shade. I've used Stinging Nettle and Miner's lettuce. I had hoped to encourage Salal to propagate on a sloped area, but I've not been able to collect seed. I don't know if the plants I've found are not producing fruit, or if the birds are getting it before me. Most of the plants are quite young.

I'm going to do a bit more research on the Stonecrop you mentioned.  How does it taste?



For the salal have you already ruled out taking root cuttings? I have a lot of salal and it seems to send out little underground runners like Oregon Grape. It might be worth trying to take one of the healthier baby plants, cutting it off from the parent and trying to move it, like you might do to start a strawberry patch?
 
Daron Williams
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Meg Mitchell wrote:I have a patch of miner's lettuce and I absolutely LOVE it. For about a month or two in early spring, it produces like crazy while it's too cold for the lettuce, and it's one of the milder wild greens I've tried.

I've tried to start blue camas from seed but with no luck so far. I would guess it's easier to propagate from a bulb but then I would have to find bulbs. I know of a place where it grows wild but it's far enough away that I'd have to plan a trip for it, and I'd want to do that while it's blooming since death camas and common camas grow in a lot of the same spots, and the colour of the flowers is the easiest way to tell them apart.



Nice! Miner's lettuce is really great! Yeah, got to be careful with death camas--but luckily its flowers are fairly different than regular camas. I really want to get a bunch of camas going at my place. I just love the flowers and it would be fun to learn how to cook with it.
 
Daron Williams
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Meg Mitchell wrote:For the salal have you already ruled out taking root cuttings? I have a lot of salal and it seems to send out little underground runners like Oregon Grape. It might be worth trying to take one of the healthier baby plants, cutting it off from the parent and trying to move it, like you might do to start a strawberry patch?



Salal can be fairly picky when it comes to transplanting it. Make sure you get the tip of the root it will be white I think (white or pink) and also make sure there is an abundance of root compared to the amount of growth on the top of the plant. Because of the way that salal spreads you can easily get a lot of top growth and not enough roots. Plus if you don't get at least one root tip the plant will most likely not make it.

Every salvage event I go to involves a training on how to have success with salal and low Oregon grape. Both can be a bit of a pain but I have transplanted both successfully using the above method. Just make sure to get it in the ground quickly.
 
Daron Williams
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I thought you all might be interested in this spreadsheet I have been working on. I'm designing a native only food forest for my day job :) Still a bit unsure if the organization will let me do it but if I get the go ahead I will finish the design this summer and start implementing it in the fall. The total area will be about 1.6 acres but that will include an area focused on coppicing and a wetland area. The site will be open to the public and will be used for hands on education. If I get the go ahead (next week) I will make a new thread all about it with more information and regular updates.

But in the mean time enjoy the list! (it is a work in progress)
Filename: edible-plant-list.xlsx
Description: Native plants focused food forest spreadsheet for western WA
File size: 14 Kbytes
 
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There's a wild edible I love to pick and eat in spring (when it's young and tasteful). I am glad it grows a few meters from my garden in 'the wild'. I would not like to have it in my garden, because it has a tendency to overgrow other plants. Here it's called 'zevenblad', Latin name is Aegopodium podagraria (it's known by several names).

I do have some wil edibles in my garden, like wild chives (Allium vineale)  and ram(p)s (Allium ursinum) and wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca).

Wild strawberries in my garden
 
Jay Angler
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@Inge - do you just eat Aegopodium p. raw in salads or do you cook with it? My sister has it invading her small urban backyard and if I could send her recipes, it might be more useful than her weed-whacking it!
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Jay Angler wrote:@Inge - do you just eat Aegopodium p. raw in salads or do you cook with it? My sister has it invading her small urban backyard and if I could send her recipes, it might be more useful than her weed-whacking it!


I prefer to sautée it in butter with a chopped onion and some garlic and then add eggs to make it into an omelette.
A way to eat it almost raw is to chop it very fine and add it to (hot) mashed potatoes. This 'mash' tastes good with grated (old) cheese.
If you have a lot of it, you can add it to all sorts of soups and vegetable mixes.
It is possible to eat it raw, in a salad. But then you have to pick only the very young leaves.
As you see: many useful things to do with this 'weed'!
 
Daron Williams
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Inge – Thank you for sharing! I’m not familiar with that plant but there are some similar ones that grow wild here. The carrot family seems to have a lot of edible (with at least one very toxic exception) species to choose from!

Thanks again for sharing!
 
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Daron, do you have common milkweed in your area?  I have a large drift of them on the edge of my forest garden and I it's become my favorite native perennial vegetable.  It took me far too long to realize what a great one it is....but we're together at last :)
 
Jay Angler
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@Greg Martin - my sister in Ontario raises milkweed in her garden - but doesn't eat it. She's been fascinated by Monarch Butterflies since she was a kid, so she grows it to feed her caterpillars and then releases the adults! She worked with some other locals to get milkweed removed from the "weed" list in her city.
 
Greg Martin
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Jay, that's one of the wonderful side benefits of growing milkweed as a vegetable....it ensures that it's available for the Monarch and other Lepidoptera that rely on it.  Growing it out and using it in no way takes it away from the Monarchs....it actually makes it more available due to making you want to grow large patches for your use.  I'm hoping more people will realize what a great perennial vegetable (actually vegetables as you can use many parts of it as vegetables) it is so that everyone will invite it into their gardens. The monarchs will be so much better off.
 
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