Wild Foods

Northeastern United States

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INTRODUCTION: Though surviving in one's house is by far the best option in most cases here is a preliminary list of wild foods and outdoor survival options. In a country or even suburban setting these can be important even if one shelters in one's house.

The general rule with wild plants is to eat each only in small quantities until the effects are known. Most wild plants produce some chemical defenses which should not be ingested in quantity. Cooking may or may not reduce these depending on the species. Avoid eating plants that are bitter or otherwise unpalatable unless they are known to be edible.


ACORNS: Especially white oak varieties characterized by rounded leaf lobes without terminal hairs. Bitter when raw. Bbreak into small pieces, leach or boil to remove tannin. make flour. Acorn sprouts especially white oak varieties may be eaten raw.

ARROWHEAD: Underwater tubers. Can be eaten raw or cooked. They are most bitter in summer.

BARBERRY: Red-orange sour berries in October.

BASSWOOD (LINDEN): Buds, leaves and seeds. Can be eaten raw but better if cooked. They are particularly good and large in the early spring.

BIRCH: Leaves are edible. Winter buds are tasty.

GREAT BURDOCK: Young green leaves raw or cooked. roots of first year plants peeled boiled in 2 changes of water as potatoes.

CATTAILS: Can be eaten year round. roots minus fiber. mash & soak use mash. new shoots raw. up to 1 as asparagus, head as corn cob. pollen as thickener.

CLOVERS: Most are edible. boil or steam flowers & new leaves. teas from dried flowers.

DANDELION: Leaves and flowers edible. Dandelion leaves can be eaten raw or boiled to reduce bitterness.

DAY LILIES: flowers & bulbs, but all parts are edible.

GARLIC MUSTARD: Leaves are edible. A common invasive weed found in quantity in very early Spring often along roadsides.

GRASS: All seeds. Succulent stems and leaves can be chewed to get the juice and then spit out.

GREENBRIAR: All new green parts. raw or cooked.

FERNS: Should be avoided except for new still uncurling fiddleheads.

JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT (INDIAN TURNIP): The root is burning and acrid when raw, but after cooking becomes quite pleasant and is very nutritious.

MAPLE: Leaves, buds, sap, nuts

MINTS: Leaves are edible and can be used to make teas.

MUSHROOMS: Puffball, morels, chicken of woods. These three are easy to identify so as not to confuse with the many poisonous varieties.

SPICEBUSH: Lindera benzoin. Berries, bark, twigs, new leaves as tea.

POLK WEED: New green leaves with no pink are edible. Boil like spinach. One plant can make a meal.

PRICKLY PEAR: Fruit, seeds, young peeled pads raw or fried.

PARTRIDGE BERRY: Berries edible but bitter.

PINE: Pollen can be used as a as thickener. Heat cones in a fire to extract seeds. Needles are edible. The dried inner bark can be used in stews. Resin can be used as flavoring.

ROCK TRIPE. This large greenish-brown lichen is common on mostly northern rock faces. Supposedly Richardson and Franklin, the great northern explorers, lived on it for months. It can be eaten raw in small quantities but supposedly must be very carefully cooked or it produces cramps. First gather and wash it as clear as possible of sand and grit, washing it again and again, snipping off the gritty parts of the roots where it held onto the mother rock. Then roast it slowly in a pan till dry and crisp. Next boil it for one hour and serve it either hot or cold. It looks like thick gumbo soup with short, thick pieces of black and green leaves in it. It tastes a little like tapioca with a slight flavoring of licorice. On some it acts as a purge.

ROSE: Hips, flowers.

SOLOMON'S SEALS: The two Solomon's Seals (true and false) both produce roots that are long, bumpy storehouses of food.

SPRUCE, HEMLOCK: dried inner bark as pine. SUMAC: all except poison (has no teeth on leaves). berries as tea.

VIOLET: leaves and flowers are edible.

WATER LILY (white & yellow): flowers, seeds, roots, leaves. roots may be bitter boil & change water. make flour. raw or cooked. large amounts may be constipating.

WILD GRAPE: Leaves and fruits are edible. Large cut stems drip significant amounts of drinkable water.

WILD MUSTARD: Leaves and flowers.

WILD SCALLION: All parts are edible. Comes up in early Spring & again in late Fall when few other plants are green.

WINTERGREEN: Berries are delicious, leaves and branches as tea.


EARTHWORMS: High in protein and generally easy to find in quantity. Frying or baking is most palatable but boiling is fine also. Earthworms are also very easy to raise as an excellent long term food source. Raising them in compost not only speeds up composting for the garden but raises plenty of large earthworms at the same time. Earthworms are 60-70 protein and very low in fat. They can be eaten as found but the gut contents will be gritty. They can be purged of grit by keeping them in moist peat moss or cornmeal for a day which will replace the internal soil. They will be more palatable if the mucus is removed first. This can be done by washing thoroughly or boiling them.

GRASSHOPPERS: Edible but must be cooked, preferably fried or baked, as they can carry parasites such as tapeworms.

BIRDS: All are edible.

CHICKENS: The easiest sustainable animal food source to raise on a small scale. They grow quickly, need little care, eat almost anything largely feeding themselves if kept outdoors, and produce a near continuous supply of eggs as well.

FISH: All are edible in the US at least. Some tropical sea fish are poisonous. Fish can also be raised as an excellent long term sustainable food source. Catfish, goldfish and other carp species are fairly easy to raise in small outdoor ponds.

FROGS: All US varieties are edible but not toads, their skins are toxic.

MAMMALS: All are edible except possibly some moles and shrews. Though many species don't taste very good they are all edible in an emergency.

SNAKES: All are edible.


WATER Solar still: Plastic sheeting in sun over hole in moist ground (urine OK) weighted over container. Plant still: Plastic bags over vegetation in sun that transpires into bag. Large grapevines drip drinkable water when cut.

FIRE Bottom of soda can etc. reflect to tinder. Any flammable material on tinder.