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Native edible plants of the Continental US

 
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D Tucholske wrote:Have you tried all these personally? I'll give Merissa Lee the White Cedar tea, as she explained it pretty well. But a few of these really concern me:

--American Holly. As far as I know, the only safely edible Holly in the entire world is Yaupon.

--Red Chokeberry might be fine, but I haven't heard anyone bring it up as an edible. That might only be just because the Black ones are preferable.

--Witch Hazel also bothers me.

--Wild Indigo I know about, generally speaking. I didn't add it to my own list for two reasons-- 1) There is only one source claiming Native Americans ate the plant, everyone else says it's poisonous. 2) The usage the source brings up is identical to Spikenard, which happens to have vaguely similar looking fruit. So, I chocked it up as being a likely mixup.

--American Lettuce. Everything I know of concerning that plant says it's dangerous. All I know is I don't want to be the one to test it.

--You bring up Hercules Club, which I know better as Devil's Walking Stick. I'm not 100% sure on the edibility myself, but I know it was used medicinally. That's another one of those plants in the Spikenard family.

--Tobacco is not edible. In fact, the only cases of ingestion I know of amongst Native peoples came from some references to Iroquois Shamans & seems similarly ritualistic to what's on that Wiki page about South American Shamanic use.

--Willow could be edible. I've heard of Inuits eating willow leaves, but I also know that Willows worldwide are a very powerful & anciently used numbing agent. I tried chewing a leaf once after hearing about Inuits. It was in my mouth for all of two seconds, because it tasted terrible & just from that my mouth was numb for about 20 minutes. But, if you know how to eat them, I'd really like some clarification on the matter.

--You have the wrong Soapberry. That one is poisonous. There is a plant with edible fruit which is sometimes called a Soapberry, but it's not that one. I'm assuming it should be this:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shepherdia_canadensis

--Canna should be in your naturalized or invasive section, I think. Unless there is a native species, I don't know.

Several of these are good, though. I do thank you for the contribution. I just want to make sure we're all on the same page, here.



Hey man, thanks for reaching out and being concerned. Sorry for the late response.

If it wasn’t clear, some of these plants are also in the ‘useful’ category rather than edible, so my bad for not being clearer or leaving those out of you weren’t interested in those as well. Most of the ones you mentioned have medicinal or otherwise useful properties, for instance the soapberry (as its name implies) can be used for washing and the Indigo for dyeing. I’m sure you’re familiar with tobacco and willow.

I didn’t know that American lettuce wasn’t edible though, so thank you for pointing that out to me! The American holly is for making tea out of its leaves.


 
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Coming mostly from another thread on this site where people were debating plants to use as spices, I found nine more to add here:

--American Field Pansy
Questionable native status. We have no known Native use, but similar Pansies was used by people in other parts of the world for food.

--American Sweetflag (Acorns Americanus)
Questionable edibility. US actually outlaws sale of Sweetflag as food, which it often does with plants widely consumed in certain parts of the world that are potentially poisonous if certain specific steps are done first, which Americans are just culturally not very practiced in. I don't really know what the steps are for this plant & most of the discussion was on using part of it as a spice.

--Eastern Sweetshrub
Questionable edibility, but if edible, the correct use is apparently using the dried bark as a spice. Can't be more specific than that-- I don't know of it's a certain layer of the bark, or bark harvested from particular spots of the plant, or what.

--Yampah
This one actually is widely known as a food source on the West Coast & Rocky Mountains, the name deriving from the Shoshone language. But, there is a single species of Eastern Yampah. We don't have any known information on Native use of the Eastern variety, but the name Yampah clearly was not commonly in use at the time. Root tastes somewhere between a carrot & water chestnut, the leaves like parsley & the seeds like caraway. We're also not 100% sure of native range. It is said to be a grassland plant & it's suggested range terminates in southwestern Ohio, but I've also found pictures showing the plant thriving in woodland.

--Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum Americanum)
Apparently a native species of black pepper, but the safe edibility is also in question. I know nothing else about it-- I'm not even entirely sure I've ever seen one before.

--Purplestem Angelica (Angelica Atropurpurea)
Edible like celery & early settlers used the plant for some other things, like candy flavoring, oddly enough. We don't know if Natives ate the plant or related species as food, but the ritualistic use for all sorts of things across various tribes is off the charts-- including smoking, medicine, medicine pouch stuffing & as a ritual object in certain ceremonies.

--White Avens (Geum Canadense)
Root can be used as chocolate substitute or in production of liquor.

--Ocotillo
Edible plant from American Southwest

--Wild Tansymustard (Descurainia Pinnata)
Edible plant from Rocky Mountains-- one which is actually pretty highly regarded.
 
D Tucholske
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3 new ones:

--Brook Lettuce (Micranthes Micranthidifolia)
Edible leaves

--Virginia Sweetspire (Itea Virginica)
Edible seeds

--Senna (multiple native species)
Seeds roasted, sometimes ground & brewed into tea
 
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Re edibility of willow, I was just reading about this the other day. Apparently you eat the inner bark that is scraped out. I don't know how you prepare it afterwards. Probably a famine food considering the work required for a small return.
 
D Tucholske
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You may be shocked that I'm still finding more, but:

Prairie Tea Croton (Croton Monathogynus)
Used as a basil-like spice & as a beverage. Most Croton species are poisonous & they are very widespread across the world. To my knowledge, though, only this one & Croton Pottsii of the southwest desert regions are actually edible, out of all North American species. Prairie Tea seems to grow just about anywhere in the Eastern US & likes rocky & otherwise poor soil conditions.

Honeyberry (Lonicera Caerulea)
I've heard this one mentioned a lot. I think it's only native to Western Canada, Alaska & Asia, but it's commonly gardened everywhere in Canada & the northern part of the US. Only edible Honeysuckle I've ever heard of.

Pigeon Plum (Coccoloba Diversifolia)
Only in Florida in the US. Also occurs in Caribbean & throughout Central America.

Orinoco Jute Corchorus (Corchorus Hirtus
Southern US. Used as a vegetable.
 
D Tucholske
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I think I also forgot to add White Chervil ( ) to the list, so there is that one. Also an Ohio Native.

So, a couple of addendums to previous info-- Indian Strawberries are not native. Those should be Virginia Strawberries in my area, though there are other species from different parts of North America.

Also, when I brought up the Tiger Lilies, I stated that they are damned near impossible to tell from the native Michigan, Canadian & Turk's Cap Lilies. In truth, the Michigan & Turk's Cap Lilies have similarly colored & shaped flowers, but the plants are smaller & many flowers are produced from offshoots of the central stalk stalks, whereas invasive Tiger Lilies are large & usually have one or two flowers per stalk, all grouped together. Same goes for Canadian Lilies, except that they are also yellow, instead of orange. So, at that, it might actually be more likely to confuse the Native Lilies with Asiatic Daylily-- those plants also have edible roots, orange flowers & are similar in size, but are actually a separate species with different enough looking flowers, that one could reasonably tell them apart by comparison.
 
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Interesting that madrone is considered threatened. Around here, it's weedy. It resprouts like crazy, and is edging out the oaks. The natural state of things around here is rejuvenation through fire. The madrone burns down while the oaks survive, fire suppression has messed this up.

Sorry if this is too off topic.
 
D Tucholske
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Nah, you're fine.
 
D Tucholske
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Well, here we go again, & it hasn't even been a full day, yet.

--Samphire Greens (Salicornia)
Apparently a common enough vegetable in some parts of the world & actually pretty commonly used in some US restaurants as a garnish, we have at least three different species in the US. Although they are mostly associated with ocean coasts, the plants also grow in salt marshes across the county & up into the salty barrens in the Rocky Mountains. It is naturally very salty, though, & it usually just boiled in water, then sometimes buttered or oiled after, or just added to & additionally cooked in other dishes.

--Tupelo Fruit
I just now saw someone post a video on this. In the deep south, Ogeechee Tupelo Fruit is commonly eaten as a jam. Black Tupelo Fruit is also technically edible, but is very thin over a large seed & extremely sour. We were debating, maybe, that the best uses for it might be as an additional flavoring in other teas or punches, or as a spice.

--Dulse
A specific name for a specific edible seaweed. This one grows all over most of North America's coasts & is already commonly used as a vegetable, spice & vegetarian/ vegan bacon substitute.
 
D Tucholske
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--Wormwood
Multiple edible species in the Artemisia extend down the west coast & Rockies from Alaska, all the way to Arizona. They are related to the spice Tarragon, but not all species of wormwood are edible & not all edible species are edible in the same way. There are also a ridiculous amount of species known. Some have edible leaves, some just the seeds & in a few cases, there may be edible roots. Many other species had medicinal uses instead. The species I identified were Alaskana, Biennis, Californica, Carruthii, Ludoviciana & Tilesii.

--Canadian Yew Berry
Edible fruit, but poisonous seed. When in fruit, the fruit does resemble Ground Hemlock fruit, & I can't find any information stating that that is edible, so learn to tell the difference.

--Yerba Santa
Weeds in the Eriodictyon family can be used to make a tea. Really only endemic to the west coast from Oregon to Baja. Sometimes a completely different plant from Mexico is also referred to as Yerba Santa & people have taken to gardening said plant throughout the southern US (see Hoja Santa) & this plant is both entirely unrelated & edible in completely different ways.
 
Andrea Locke
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A few more for the PNW:

Yerba buena
https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/clinopodium_douglasii.shtml

Salal
http://nativeplantspnw.com/salal-gaultheria-shallon/

Licorice fern
https://www.seattlemag.com/home-and-garden/spring-foraging-licorice-fern


 
D Tucholske
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Figs--
We only have native fig trees in Florida, of which there are two species-- Florida Strangler & Shortleaf.

Cabbage Palm--
Heart of the tree can be eaten as food, though it's now more commonly used as an ornamental tree throughout the southern US. Native from coastal North Carolina, all the way around to Texas. You might know it best as Carolina Palm. Note, though, that extracting the heart for food will kill the tree, but it was a common food source for Native people's within the original range.
 
Andrea Locke
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May already be on the list?
Miner's lettuce https://honest-food.net/on-miners-lettuce-americas-gift-to-salad/
 
D Tucholske
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One more for pretty much the entire Eastern US & Canada, which I happened across by accident, here:

--Trailing Wild Bean (Strophostyles Helvola):
This one is basically a wild ancestor to the Green Bean, String Bean & Wax Bean, & not to be confused with Wild Kidney Bean. Edible Bea pods, as well as root. Some minor minor medicinal qualities, as well. Seeds are available from at least one reliable online seller.
 
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Here's my list of plants from coastal NorCal.

Berries/fruits:
Blackberry- both native and invasive. Personally I prefer the flavor of the invasive kind.

Raspberry - our local Whitebark Raspberry can be difficult to find, but is my favorite kind.

Salmonberry - edible but I'm not impressed. Bland, sourish, and has a bitter aftertaste.

Strawberries - we have 2 kinds, the Woodland Strawberry and the Beach Strawberry. Extremely different flavors and texture but both are very good. My dad created a hybrid between Beach Strawberry and one of his garden strawberries years ago, and it remains one of the best varieties I've tasted. This year I've been collecting a few wild plants with an eye to making more hybrids.

Blue Elderberry - I collect both flowers and berries for cooking with, and make elderberry syrup for medicinal purposes

Salal - tasty with a hint of pine. Hard to find berries in quantity and when I do they're usually full of worms.

Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) - absolutely superb, but limited to the coastal fog belt area and doesn't tolerate inland heat. My favorite patches are struggling and dying with the unusually hot and dry weather the past few years.

Red Huckleberry -  sour, but delicious. Makes a great substitute for lemon in lemon meringue pie. Same habitat issues as above.

Manzanita - tasty for snacking on on hikes, but I haven't found anything I really like to use them for in bulk.

Madrone - same as manzanita, though I have heard of some people using them to make jam.

Thimbleberry - one of my absolute favorites, but turns to mush the instant you pick it. Great for jam, pies, and we use it to infuse balsamic vinegar for salad dressing.

Osoberry - tastes rather disgusting as far as I'm concerned, but was a food resource for local native tribes.

Juneberry / Saskatoon - native ones have rather sparse fruit, but good. I believe there are some decent cultivars now with better fruit production

Pacific plum - have not tried, but supposedly quite good.

Roses - fruit quality varies a lot between individual plants, but some are tasty

Grapes - true native ones aren't really worth bothering with. We do have lots of patches of escaped Concord grapes that are quite good though.

Nuts:

Acorns - locally the Valley Oak seems to have the best tasting ones.
California Bay - technically edible. Some people claim to enjoy them. Roasting the nuts improves them somewhat.
Gray Pine - nice large nuts and very productive in better years
Hazelnut - wild ones seldom set fruit, but tasty when they do

Roots / Bulbs

Triteleia - haven't tried, but hear it's very good.
Shooting Star - tried raw and was not impressed, but apparently you're supposed to roast them first.
Cattail - root as well as pollen and young shoots. Roots are hard to collect, but bread made from them was quite good. Shoots are bland but OK. Pollen can be used to substitute for part of the flour in baked goods, quite nice.

Greens
Nettles
Miner's lettuce
Dock - early spring leaves are nice, later on they get bitter

I'll add to the lst as I think of more.
 
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