SW Ohio Foraging

Just a word about why this page is here as it doesn’t seem to fit with the overall Part-TimeLocal theme. Well, as you all know, I really enjoy sharing my love of nature on the island, but I also do this thing of mine in Ohio too, just with Ohio nature (alas, no dolphins in Ohio). This was a program I developed and presented numerous times here in Ohio during the fall of 2018 and I needed a place where participants and other interested people could find the information, hence this page. If you have an interest in foraging, please have a look, most of these plants (or close species) can be found throughout the US so not a bad place to start. Enjoy 🙂

Post-Apocalyptic Foraging: A Walking Tour for Food in Nature

“They’d been able to kill enough deer to live on.” (Station Eleven, p 254)

Near the end of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, the smell of roasting deer greets the Traveling Symphony on their arrival at the Severn City Airport (p 305). Despite its necessity for survival, the topic of food is rarely touched on during the course of this post-apocalyptic novel. Excepting the instance when August returns with blueberries to share with Kirstin, on the rare occasions when food is mentioned, it is in reference the hunting or eating of deer and rabbit, or, again with Kirstin and August, fishing on one occasion. Before we can reach the place of the over-arching message of this work, that Survival is Insufficient, we must first indeed survive. Jeven laid in seven huge carts of food for him and his brother Frank, sweeping all the tuna and beans from the shelf (p 22), but these supplies only lasted a few short months. During this program we will be walking (another theme!!) and talking about and looking for what we might find in nature to eat for survival. But in keeping with that over-arching theme, we’ll also talk about some plants that can be used to make wine and coffee (substitutes), because after all, Survival is Insufficient.

Deer in my Hamilton backyard.

Considering animals for food. Although in Station Eleven we only ever read of the survivors eating deer, rabbit, and fish, their options were actually much greater. With few exceptions, anything that crawls, swims, walks, or flies is edible, so long as you can overcome any aversions to eating a particular animal. All mammals are edible, and unlike salt water fish, all fresh water fish are edible, albeit, some more tasty than others. But also consider fresh water clams, mussels and snails, crawfish, large frogs (for their legs), and snapping turtles (careful!). Game birds and wild turkey are obviously excellent for eating, but also consider the pigeon (squab) and other larger birds. The eggs of all bird species in Ohio are edible, as are turtle eggs. If you catch a fish that contains a roe sac, these eggs are also edible from all Ohio species, excepting the Gar. Most insects are edible (avoid those with orange and black coloration) and provide an incredible amount of protein, three or four times that of beef (wow!!).

But What About Plants? An Australian study found that modern day hunter gatherers get 2/3 of their energy from animal sources and 1/3 from plants. The creatures we eat are usually nutritionally dense, but this does not hold true for most plants. Although plants can provide important nutrients, most don’t pack a caloric punch, with many taking more energy to collect, prepare and consume than we get back in calories. If you take in fewer calories than you are expending to get food, you are inching towards starvation. This is why we don’t climb a pine tree to get a teaspoon of pine nuts, tasty as they are. When foraging becomes a necessity, caloric staples become the prime food focus right after animals. Caloric staples are those plants providing more calories than needed to collect and prepare (Eat the Weeds).

Jerusalem Artichoke growing wild behind Aldi on Main Street in Hamilton.

Foraging for edible plants in SW Ohio:  When you think of foraging, you generally think of gathering wild plants in the woods, but in a post-apocalyptic world the deep wilderness is a poor place to go looking for food.  The best spots will be “old fields, fence rows, burned off areas, roadsides, along streams, woodlots, around farm ponds, swampy areas and even vacant lots.”(Gibbons).   You will consider farmer’s fields, even those of previous years, and the previously cultivated landscape, be it around homes, other buildings, or former parks. Edible plants can be found all around you, without venturing into the deep wood.

What follows are some of the edible plants, wild and cultivated, that can be found in SW Ohio. This list is by no means comprehensive, I have only included plants that are fairly common and easy to identify. If you can’t clearly identify a plant and you don’t know if it’s poisonous, it’s better to be safe than sorry and leave it. Not included are plants with tedious cooking procedures to render them edible (pokeweed), or where limited species of a plant are edible with others being toxic (juniper). Caloric staples will be noted *CS*and I will also highlight those plants that can be used for wine making, as a coffee substitute, or have general medicinal purposes.

*CS* Acorns (Quercus spp.)

Acorns are the nuts from oak trees and all species produce acorns that are edible, although some are bitter due to tannins. Crack and remove the shells, soak the nut pieces in several changes of water until the nut pieces are no longer bitter. They can be eaten as is, dried and ground into flour, or used in any way you would other nuts. Store the nuts by drying, but can be stored in their shells, and can still be harvested several months after falling. One pound of acorns can provide up to 2,000 calories, large amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats, as well as the minerals calcium, phosphorus and potassium, and the vitamin niacin.

 Amaranth, Pigweed (Amaranthus ssp)

Found in disturbed open sites, alternate untoothed leaves, branches with tiny flowers. There are many wild and cultivated species of this plant. You can eat all parts of the plant, but look out for spines that appear on some of the leaves. The leaves can be cooked like spinach. Seeds can be used whole as a grain, as have been since ancient times, or ground into a flour substitute. The root can be eaten boiled or roasted.

Apples and Crabapples (Malus spp.), Wine

Wild Apples are one of the most common over-looked foraging foods. Most are small and tend toward sour, but will sweeten if baked or roasted, or they can be stewed with sweeteners, if needed. Take a taste, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that not all wild apple, or even crabapples, are sour, some are sweet, even more so after a first frost. Apples are very high in pectin and can be combined with other fruits to “set” a jam or jelly.

Arrowhead, Arrowroot (Sagittaria spp.)

A pond or marsh plant with arrow shaped leaves. The tubers can be used like potatoes, or dried and ground into a flour substitute.

Aster (Symphyotrichum spp.)

Cultivated and wild species of this common fall bloomer are edible. The roots of the plant can be used in soups and young leaves were cooked lightly and used as greens. The flowers can be used fresh in salads. The leaves and flowers can be dried and used to make tea.

Berries (in general), Wine

Look at the crown, or blossom end, of the berry. Any berry that has a five-pointed crown is edible. Some examples are blueberries, huckleberries, serviceberries/juneberries, chokeberries, and cranberries. And is you think of apples as berries, this applies to them as well!

 Bee Balm,. Bergamot (Mondara spp.)

Found wild and cultivated in gardens, the leaves and flowers have a strong oregano flavor. Individual petals from the flowers can be used as an herb, or the whole flowers used to infuse vinegar. Young leaves from the tops of plants can be chopped and used like oregano, any leaves may be dried to make tea.

Birches (Betula spp.)

You can drink the sap as is, or boil it to make syrup or sugar. You can make tea from the root, bark, or leaves. Very young leaves and branch tips can be eaten or used for flavoring. Birch sawdust can be added to flour to extend it. The inner bark, the cambium, is edible and can be used as a non-rising flour substitute.

 Bishop Weed, Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria)

Variegated or not, this plant grows rampant in flower beds. Leaves, raw or cooked, are tangy. Leaves are best harvested before the plant blossoms, although older leaves are still fine cooked as one would spinach.

 Blackberries, Raspberries, Brambles (Rubus spp.), Wine

Found on the edges of wooded areas, these thorny shrubs have alternate compound leaves with toothed leaflets, white flower clusters, red/purplish fruits. Berries can be eaten raw or cooked, and of course, to make wine. The leaves can be uses, fresh or dried, to make tea.

 Black Willow (Salix nigra), General Medicinal Use

The bark and twigs contain salicylic acid and can be chewed for relief of pain, inflammation, and fever. Other willow species also contain salicylic acid to a lesser degree, as do birches.

Bulbs, Tubers, and Rhizomes (various)

Dahalia tubers

You would not normally dig up garden plants to eat, but in times of need it is good to know which are edible. The list includes Alliums, use ornamental onions as you would cultivated onions; Cannas, cook as you would potatoes; Dahilias, eat raw slices like radish, or cooked as you would potatoes; Tulips, raw or cooked, just make sure you remove the yellow center first.

*CS* Burdock, Great/Common Dock (Arctium lappa)

As nutritious as kale! Medium to large-sized plant with large, arrow shaped leaves, and purplish thistle-like flower heads “The flower stalks can be eaten like artichoke hearts and the leaf stalks like a celery-like vegetable.  The stems of second year plants should be peeled and boiled until tender. The leaves have a bitter taste, so boiling them twice before eating is recommended to remove the bitterness. The root of the first year plant can be peeled and eaten raw or cooked, larger roots can be boiled or roasted like potatoes. Second year roots (when the plant has produced a flower stalk) become too woody to be edible. Consider the large leaves for wrapping other foods to cook on coals.

*CS* Cattail (Typha ssp)

Usually found near the edges of freshwater wetlands, Cattails were a staple in the diet of many Native American tribes. Most of a cattail is edible. You can boil or eat raw the rootstock, or rhizomes, of the plant, may also be dried and ground into flour. The best part of the stem is near the bottom where the plant is mainly white. Either boil or eat the stem raw. Boil the leaves like you would spinach. The corn dog-looking female flower spike can be broken off and eaten like corn on the cob in the early summer when the plant is first developing. It actually has a corn-like taste to it. The pollen from older flower spikes can be used as flour or a food additive.

Chicory (Cichorium intybus), Coffee

Weedy plant of roadsides and other open sites, flowers are pale blue with strap shaped petals. You can eat the entire plant. Pluck off the young leaves and eat them raw or boil them. The chicory’s roots will become tasty after boiling, or may be roasted and ground to make chicory coffee. You can pop the flowers in your mouth for a quick snack.

 Chickweed (Stellaria media)

As nutritious as kale! A small plant with leaves in opposite pairs and little white flowers that appear to have 10 petals, but it’s just five, each deeply split. You can eat the leave, tender stems, and flowers raw or cooked as any other delicate green.

Clovers (Trifolium spp.)

Found just about everywhere there’s an open grassy area. You can spot them by their distinctive trefoil leaflets. You can eat greens raw, but they taste better boiled; the flowers can be eaten raw, and the roots can be boiled or roasted.

 *CS* Curly/Yellow, also Broad Leaved Dock (Rumex crispus & R. obtusifolius), Coffee

More nutritious than kale! Leaves with curled edges and a course texture. From 2 to 4 feet tall, has a stout taproot with a pale yellow interior. Small green flowers bloom in summer. You can eat the stalk raw or boiled. Just peel off the outer layers first. Young leaves, just unfurling or recently unfurled, can be sautéed or boiled like any other green. Seeds can be eaten raw or cooked once they are brown and can be used as a coffee substitute. Rumex species are high in vitamin c, vitamin a, protein, and iron.  The greens are known to have approximately 4 times more vitamin A than carrots.

Daisies, Ox Eye, Shasta, Marguerite, English (Chrysanthemum leucanthenum)

A wild flower with many cultivated cousins. Whole young flowers can be eaten raw, the leaves can be eaten raw if young and tender, or cooked as any other green if older.

*CS* Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), and Coffee and Wine, oh my!

As nutritious as kale! The entire plant is edible and incredibly nutritious, high in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Eat the leaves while they’re still young, raw or cooked as other greens. To eat the mature leaves, boil them first to remove their bitter taste. The roots can be boiled as a vegetable, in a stew, or roasted and ground for use as a coffee substitute. You can eat the flowers raw in a salad, just remove the base if too bitter, and some people will batter and fry the whole flower heads. Dandelion petals can be used to make a light summer wine.

Daylily, Tawny/Orange Daylily, Ditch Lily (Hemerocallis fulva)

A popular garden plant that long ago escaped cultivation and has naturalized virtually everywhere. Although prized for its beauty, the plant has the added benefit of being entirely edible. The flowers can be eaten as individual petals, or the whole flower can be stuffed after removing the interior bits. The unopened flower buds can be eaten up to the point just before showing color- use these raw or cooked, they are similar to green beans. Tender young shoots of the plant can be harvested until they are about five inches long and lightly sautéed. In the fall and early spring (when not actively growing), the tubers can be harvested and used as you would fingerling potatoes, which is what they look like.

Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Wine x 2

Shrub, compound leaves with toothed leaflets, flat-topped bunches of white flowers, purple black berries. Flowers may be cooked into foods like pancakes (or used to make wine), the berries may be cooked for many uses (including wine!).

Field/Wild Garlic and Wild Onions (Allium spp.)

Herb of lawns and fields, bulb for rootstock, slender fleshy grass-like leaves with garlic or onion aroma, terminal cluster of bulbs, white or purplish flowers. Young flowers can be eaten raw or cooked, young leaves can be chopped like chives, bulbs and be peeled and used like garlic or onions.

Flowers, various

Flowers may not offer much in the way of calories, but they are easy to collect and many are good sources of vitamins and anti-oxidants.  The taste varies greatly, from sweet to spicy to vegetal, and will add variety to what may otherwise be a bland diet.  Remove any large stamen and pistols (think of the inside of a daylily), and many composite type flowers (like daises) may have bitter bases, in which case it is best just to eat the petals. I have listed many of the flowers, both wild and cultivated, known to be edible, but as with other foraging, if you are not sure of your ID leave it be: Angelica, Apple Blossoms, Arugula, Basil, Bean Blossoms, Bee Balm,, Begonia, Borage, Broccoli, Carnation, Cat Mint, Cat Nip, Chamomile, Chervil,, Chicory, Chives, Chrysanthemum, Cilantro, Clover, Columbine, Comfrey, Cornflower, Dame’s Rocket, Dayflower, Dandelion, Daylily, Dill, Elderberry, Freesia, Forsythia, Fuchsia, Gardenia, Garlic, Geraniums, (Scented), Gladiolas, Goldenrod, Hawthorne, Hen & Chicks, Hibiscus, Hollyhock, Honeysuckle, Impatiens, Lavender, Lemon Balm,  Lemon Verbena, Lilac, Locust, Mallow, Marigold, Meadowsweet, Milkweed, Mints, Nasturtium, Onion, Oregano, Oxalis, Ox-eye Daisy, Pansy,  Parsley, Peony, Perennial Phlox,  Petunia, Pineapple Weed, Pinks, Peas, Primrose, Primrose (Evening), Queen Anne’s Lace,  Red Bud, Rose, Rosemary, Rose of Sharon, Sage, Smartweed, Snapdragon, Spiderwort, Squash Blossom, Sun Flower, St. John’s Wort, Sweet Alyssum, Sweet Autumn Clematis, Sweet Rocket, Tansey, Thistle, Tigerlily, Tulips, Violet, Wood Sorrel, Yarrow, Yucca

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolate)

Biennial, first-year plant has a rosette of green leaves close to the ground. Second-year flowering plants 2 to 3 feet in height with small white flowers, four petals in the shape of a cross. Coarsely toothed leaves have odor of garlic when crushed. Young plants, with their mild mustard-garlic flavor, can be used raw in salads. Older leaves, fresh or dried, become stronger, tending toward bitter, and are great in soups, or dried and pulverized for seasoning. The roots taste like horseradish and the seeds can be used as a spicy seasoning.

Ginger, Wild/Canadian (Asarum canadense)

Light green groundcover with heart shaped leaves, found growing in the shady woods. Harvest the rhizomes in late fall when the plant is dormant. Wild ginger has a deeper flavor than the cultivated tropical ginger, but is used in the same ways, fresh or dried.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)

Long wood like stems with spiky tooth like parts which are widely-spaced, yellow flowers that grow in thick clusters. The flowers can be eaten raw, the flowers and leaves, fresh and dried, can be used to make tea, and the leaves can be cooked like spinach.


Grapes (Vitis spp.), Wine, obviously!

Woody vine of woodlands and forest edges, tendrils, alternate lobed and toothed leaves, clusters of purple-black berries. The berries can be used raw or cooked, and can be fermented to make wine.. Leaves may be boiled as a green, or parboiled and used as a wrapping for other food.

Grasses (various)


The seeds are usually the most beneficial part of the grasses and nearly all grasses are edible.Harvesting and processing the seeds can be time consuming. Edible grasses include: bent, wheat, slough, brome, crab, switch, canary, timothy, blue and bristle grasses. You can make grasses into a juice by grinding them up, but don’t swallow the fiber, our digestive tracts can’t handle it well.

Ground Cherries (Physalis spp.)

Plants of open sites, alternate toothed leaves, umbrella-like yellow flowers, husked fruits with orange or red berry. The berries can be eaten raw or cooked, but do not eat green berries, only those fully ripened.

Ground Ivy, Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea)

Although in the mint family, ground ivy is not mild like most. The flavor is pungent, with the younger and smaller leaves being tastier. Use young leaves and stems for greens, soup, etc,;older leaves, fresh or dried, for tea.  They are very high in iron. Fun fact: Prior to the introduction of hops to England in the 16th century, ground ivy was used to flavor, clarify, and preserve beer.

*CS* Groundnut, Indian Potato, Potato Bean, (Apios Americana)

Grows near water, the narrow but though pea vine has leaflets of three, five, or seven, usually five. In the fall it has maroon pea-like flowers followed by pods. The vine can reach lengths of 20 ft, and is often found climbing bushes and trees. Almost every part of the plant is edible-shoots, flowers, the seeds that grow in pods like peas, but, most importantly, the tubers. These tubers (the groundnuts) are swellings that form along a thin root, like beads on a necklace, and are easy to harvest. They can be small as a fingernail, but usually egg sized. As with other root vegetables, they sweeten after a frost and overwinter well in a cool, damp place, offering sustenance in a time when the land provides little other food. Like potatoes, they are high in starch, but they’re also relatively high in protein, containing up to 19 percent, about three times as much as potatoes. The seeds from the pods contain 25-30% protein. The flowers and young shoots can be eaten raw or cooked, the tubers and beans must be cooked.

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), Wine

Common, small garden tree with many thorns on its branches, hence the name. Young leaves can be eaten raw, and the berries can be cooked for many uses (including wine!).

Hibiscus, many cultivars, Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus spp.)

A common and familiar garden plant. Flowers and young leaves can be eaten raw, larger leaves can be chopped and sauteed or boiled like other greens. The flowers can be stuffed, just remove the inside bits first. The calyx around the seed pod can be collected while fresh (soft and red) and used to flavor beverages.

Hosta (Hosta spp.)

The flowers can be added to salads raw, the young shoots before the leaves unfurl can be treated as you would asparagus, newly unfurled leaves can be sautéed, while mature leaves can be boiled like any other sturdy green.

Jerusalem Artichoke, Sunchoke (Helianthus tuberosus)

Large, gangly, multi-branched plant to 10 feet tall, rough, sand-papery leaves and stems. Many large showy flowers with 10-20 bright yellow petals in late summer and early fall. Pick tubes two weeks after flowers fade and eat raw, cooked, or pickled. Excellent grated raw into salads, May be boiled lightly, roasted, or fried like potatoes, and will make a creamy soup.

Jewelweed, Touch-Me-Not (Impatiens capensis), General Medicinal Use

The young shoots to about 6 inches tall, are good as cooked greens. Because of a long flowering season, flowers and mature seed pods often grow side by side. The seeds will pop into your hand, and you can eat them, discarding the coiled “springs.” They’re very tasty,walnut flavored, but too small for more than a trail nibble. Jewelweed is also a remedy for skin irritations.  Crush the stems and leaves to get the raw juice to sooth nettle sting, mosquito bite, burns, or rub on the skin to help prevent rash from Poison Ivy.

Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)

Bushy appearance, tapering toward the top. Diamond shaped leaves are dusty white underneath. Upper leaves are smaller, narrower. Dense spikes of small green flowers along the top branches, tiny black flattish seeds. Use as you would spinach, young leaves can be eaten raw, larger leaves cooked. Use the dry seeds as a grain.

*CS* Lotus, American Yellow (Nelumbo lutea)

Grows in large ponds and lakes with huge round leaves and waxy yellow flowers, producing an unmistakable seed pod that looks like a shower head. The seeds are like an elongated marble and it is easy to collect hundreds. They can be boiled like peanuts or roasted or dried. They do have a small green center (a tiny lotus plant) that is bitter and usually removed before eating the rest of the seed. Older seeds can be ground in to flour. A mere ounce of seeds provides 5 grams of protein, plus ample carbs. The lotus root is sweet and can be eaten raw or cooked, tasting similar to sweet potatoes. The unopened leaves are edible like spinach and older leaves can be used to wrap food. Stems taste somewhat like beets and are usually peeled before cooking.

Maple (Acer spp.)

Sugar maples offer the highest sugar levels, but any native maples can be used for sap and syrup. The helicopter seeds can be peeled of their housing and then boiled as a cooked vegetable. Sap can be collected in buckets or bottles and drunk immediately as a water source, or boiled and reduced to make syrup or sugar. Don’t use sap that is milky white in color, this comes from the invasive Norway maple and is toxic.

Mayapple, Mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum)

The flowers/berries hang below the leaves.

Forest plant, 1-2 umbrella-like lobed leaves, single white waxy flower in crotch of 2 leaves. Do not eat green berries, only those fully ripened. When unripe the Mayapple resembles a lime. Then it turns a soft yellow and wrinkles a little, it is ripe. The rest of the plant is also often dying at that time as well. Trim off the ends, do not eat the seeds. If you cook with it remove the seeds first.

Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

 Milkweed flower buds first appear in early summer and can be harvested for about seven weeks. They look like immature heads of broccoli but have roughly the same flavor, and can be suateed or boiled, The flower heads can be fried in batter and eaten. Young shoots, as well as the top 6 or 8 inches of the stems are tender, and can be roasted after removing the leaves and giving a quick blanching. Small pods can be used in the manner of okra, roasted or stewed. Harvest pods between 1-2 inches, no sign of coloring, that do not split, and are firm like okra, and you treat them as you would okra.

Morels (Morchella spp)

There are many kinds of mushroom, more that are inedible or just taste bad, than are edible. Morels are safe because they are easily identified. The bottom of a true morel’s cap is joined to the stem. In contrast, the top of a false morel’s cap is attached to the top of the stem, while the bottom of the false morel’s cap drapes loosely over the stem (like an umbrella).. If you cut a morel lengthwise, it should be hollow in the center. In contrast, false morels usually have a cottony, fibrous material in their centers. Here’s a saying you can use to remember this distinction: “If it’s not hollow, don’t swallow.”

Mulberries (Morus alba & M. rubra), Wine

Shrub or small tree, usually alternate lobed toothed leaves, blackberry-like fruits. The berries can be eaten raw or cooked, anything one would use a blackberry, strawberry or blueberry for (and wine!).  The leaves can be cooked like a sturdy green.

Mullein, Cowboy Toilet Paper (Verbascum Thapsus)

Soft, velvety leaves and a tall single flower stalk in the second year. The flowers and leaves are edible raw or cooked, especially good as a tea. The reason for the second name I’ll leave to your imagination, lol.

Mustard (Brassica spp.)

As nutritious as kale!F lowers consist of four cross shaped petals, tend to in clusters. Leaves: toothed, somewhat lobbed.  While the table condiment mustard does indeed come from the mustard seed, the leaves, flowers, seed pods and roots are also edible. Young leaves can use used raw in salads, or cooked as a green. As the plant ages, it becomes strong and sometimes the leaves are too bitter to eat. Tender young seed pods can be added to salads, but are peppery, so taste first.  If you are so inclined, you can make mustard out of the seeds, just grind them up and mix with vinegar, salt optional. The seeds can be used whole or ground as a seasoning, the flowers can be used to flavor vinegar.


Nuts, Various trees

Butternut, aka White Walnut

Nuts may be collected from a variety of Ohio trees including: Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), a large tree with compound leaves with toothed leaflets, large nuts, aromatic foliage; Butternut, or White Walnut (Juglans cinerea), closely related to Black Walnuts, with an oval shaped nut: Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), small tree common to parks and street sides the nut is found inside the stinky fruit; Hazelnut (Corylus americana), a woodland shrub or small tree with alternate toothed leaves, nuts surrounded by toothed leaf-like bracts; Hickory (Carya ovata); a tree with “shaggy” bark, compound leaves with 5-7 toothed leaflets, nut with thick husk.

Olive, Autumn, Silverberry (Elaeagnus umbellate), Wine

A commonly planted shrub before it became an invasive nuisance. The undersides of the leaves are silvery white and the red or pink berries have silver specks. The berries can be eaten raw or cooked once they have fully ripened (soft), they are too astringent before this. Use the cooked berries as you would any other (including wine!)

Pawpaw, Custard Apple, Wild Banana (Asimina triloba)

Ohio’s official native fruit. Small woodland tree, alternate untoothed leaves, 6-petaled brown flowers (before leaves), yellowish elongate berries. The ripe fruit can be eaten raw or cooked, but is very perishable. The fruit grows individually or in clusters like bananas. As the fruit ripens it turns a greenish-yellow, eventually becoming more brown and finally getting dark spots. However to test ripeness it is better to give the fruit a gentle squeeze rather than go by its color. When ripe the fruit should yield a bit, much like a ripe peach. The fruit ripens and falls from the tree in late August through late September.

Peppergrass, Virginia Pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum)

A plant of open sites, narrow alternate toothed leaves, spikes of tiny 4-petaled flowers found on a highly branched stem, lending it the appearance of a bottlebrush.  The entire plant can be eaten, and as the name implies, it has a peppery flavor. The flowers can be eaten raw, young leaves can be used raw or cooked, and the young seedpods can be used as a substitute black pepper. The roots can be crushed with vinegar and salt, making it similar to horseradish, and the entire plant can be ground with garlic and vinegar to make a wild mustard.

Peppermint and Spearmint (Mentha piperita & M. spicata)

Herbs of open wet sites, square stems, opposite toothed leaves, foliage with minty aroma. Shoots and leaves can be used raw, or cooked as a tea or flavoring.

*CS* Plantain (Plantago spp.), General Medicinal Use

As nutritious as kale! Plantains grow everywhere, the oval, ribbed, short-stemmed leaves hugging the ground. The leaves and seeds are edible. Use young tender leaves raw, older leaves become bitter and should be cooked. To harvest the seeds, just run your hand down the flower stalk and collect. The seeds can be used fresh, or dried to grind or to cook like other dried grains. Plantains are highly nutritious and have long had medicinal uses as well. Fresh plantain leaves can also be mashed and applied to cuts, scrapes, rashes, and burns to speed healing. This mashed leaf poultice is even better at relieving the pain of bee stings and venomous insect bites.

Purslane, Pursley (Portulaca oleracea)

Wild or cultivated, it’s a small, creeping plant with smooth fat leaves that have a refreshingly sour taste. Purslane flowers from the beginning of summer to the start of fall. You can eat purslane raw or cooked as other greens. If you’d like to remove the sour taste, boil the leaves before eating.

Queen Anne’s Lace, Wild Carrot (Daucus carota), Coffee

Weedy biennial plant of open sites, taproot and lacy dissected leaves with “carrot” smell, heads of many tiny white flowers. The first year taproot (plant with no flowers) tastes and can be used like carrots. The leaves can be dried at any time to make tea, and the seeds can be dried to use as seasoning or tea. Roots cooked or if you have good teeth, raw. The flower clusters can be french-fried for a carrot-flavored treat. Aromatic seeds good for flavoring soups and stews. Dried roasted roots can be are ground into a powder and used as a coffee substitute. NOTE- if you are not absolutely sure of your ID, leave it be.

Redbud, Eastern (Cercis Canadensis)

Eat redbud flowers raw or cooked as well as the young pods and seeds raw, cooked, or pickled. The unopened buds can be pickled and used like capers. Young leaves are edible raw or cooked. The heart shaped leaves come in after the flowers fade.

Red Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum)

Young plants have edible tops and leaves, used in salads or in stir-fry as a spring vegetable. You will find this plant everywhere in the spring.

Roses (Rosa spp.)

This is the multiflora rose, an invasive species found everywhere in Ohio. Eat to your heart’s content, whether it is the apocalypse or not.

Roses are common in the garden and in the wild. Flower petals can be eaten raw or boiled to make a syrup or jam. The seed heads, or hips, can be harvested after turning red, becoming sweeter after a frost. The hips can be eaten raw if the seeds are first scraped from inside. They can be boiled to make tea, syrup, sauce, jelly, or leather.

Notice the different shaped leaves on the same tree.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

Small tree of woodlands and forest borders, leaves unlobed or lobed, sometimes “mitten” like, foliage and twigs smell spicy. Young leaves are dried and powdered to make gumbo file  for thickening soups. The roots can be boiled to make tea, syrup or jelly.

Sedum, Stonecrop (Sedum spp.)

Eat the juicy, succulent leaves of this common garden plant, with the youngest leaves being the best. The taste is variable between species and seasons, so taste a leaf. The leaves can be eaten raw or lightly sautéed, which makes the taste very mild.

Smartweed, Lady’s Thumb, Knotweed (Polygonum sp.)

The leaves and stems can be eaten raw or cooked, but taste first, some species can be quite peppery.. The small seeds are edible either raw or cooked; they also can be hot and can be made into a condiment, or dried and used like pepper.

 Sow Thistle (Sonchus asper), Coffee

Pointed oval leaves with wavy margins, some species covered in small spines, and bluish-green in color; yellow flowers resembling dandelions that sprout in clusters at the end of stems. Height varies, up to 6 feet. The flowers can be added to salads, the spines on the leaves soften with stir frying or simmering. The root can be roasted and ground to be used as a coffee substitute.

Strawberris, Wild, Indian (Potentilla spp.)

Low, trailing vine that roots at the nodes. Single flower on long stem, five yellow or white petals are notched at tip, long-stemmed leaves have three blunt-toothed leaflets, strawberry-like fruit, seeds on outside. The bright red berries are variable in taste and sweetness, so give them a try. Berries can be eaten raw or cooked. Young leaves can be used raw, any leaves cooked as a green or dried and used to make tea.

Sumacs (Rhus spp.)

Shrubs or small trees, alternate compound leaves with toothed leaflets, conical clusters of red fuzzy berries.Steep the berries in water (longer the better) and strain for beverages, or boil and strain the berries to make beverages or syrup.  DO NOT use species with white berries.

Sweet Clover,Rribbed melilot, White, Yellow (Melilotus spp.)

Can be an annual or biennial plant, and is 2 to 6 feet, leaves alternate on the stem and possess three leaflets. Yellow or white flowers bloom in spring and summer and produce fruit in pods typically containing one seed. Plants have a characteristic sweet odor and tend to grow in clumps. The young leaves can be eaten raw, preferably before the plant blossoms. They are bitter and aromatic, usually used as flavoring in salads. The whole plant thoroughly dried can be used to make a tea with a hint of vanilla. The seeds can be dried and used as a spice.

*CS* Thistle (Cirsium spp., but especially C. horridulum)

The leaves are edible but don’t even bother trying to cut off the spines, it’s too labor intensive. Just strip the green off the leaf leaving the very edible midrib.  Rub the “wool” off and eat raw or cooked.  In the second year plant the inner core of the flower stalks is edible and not that much work, the leaves midribs are still edible if you strip them of spines. The peeled root is edible raw or cooked, and will be larger in the fall or early spring when energy is not being spent reproducing. Although the above ground parts of the plant require some effort, the root is fairly easy to dig up and is calorie positive. The seeds are edible, 12 pounds will produce 3 pounds of edible oil suitable for cooking or lamp use.

Violets (Viola spp.)

Forest and lawn plants, rosette of heart-shaped leaves, purple or white flowers. Young leaves can be eaten raw, steamed, or boiled. Leaves are high in vitamin C and can be used raw in salads or cooked like spinach. Their flowers can be eaten raw, Boiled to make syrup, or candied, the dried leaves can be used to make tea. Violets can also be added to soups as a thickener

Watercress (Nasturtium officianale)

Common along stream margins, ditches, and other areas with cold flowing water. Forms a carpet of small round leaves, white flowers appear above the water from Spring to Fall Watercress has a pungent, peppery taste. Leaves and stems can be eaten raw or cooked, just take care to wash carefully.

Wintergreen, Wintercreeper, Teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens)

Short creeping woodland shrub or ground cover, urn-shaped flowers, bright red berries, all with wintergreen flavor. Ripe berries can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves can be dried and used for tea.

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis spp.)

As nutritious as kale! Wood sorrel is a perennial growing to ix inches, three leaves, looks similar to clover. Flowers more commonly yellow, but may be pink or white. Leaves and stems in salad, or added to soup. Use as a stuffing for meat. The juice can be used to coagulate milk for cheese making. No relation to cultivated sorrel, which is actually a dock in the genus Rumex.


Some Great Books or Guides to Own

A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America, by Lee Allen Peterson

Backyard Foraging by Ellen Zachos

Edible Wild Plants a Folding Pocket Naturalist Guide

Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places, by Steve Brill and William Morrow

Ohio Trees & Wildflowers byKavanaugh and Leung

Stalking The Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants, by Samuel Thayer

Trees: A Golden Guide, from St. Martin’s Press

Some Great Websites to Check Out

Black Willow Fact Sheet https://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_sani.pdf

Eat the Invaders http://eattheinvaders.org/

Eat the Weeds, and Other Things too http://www.eattheweeds.com/

6 Edible Weeds that are More Nutritious than Store-Bought Veggies https://returntonow.net/2018/06/06/6-edible-weeds-that-are-more-nutritious-than-store-bought-veggies/

Edible “Wild” Plants of Southeast Ohio https://cpb-us-west-2-juc1ugur1qwqqqo4.stackpathdns.com/u.osu.edu/dist/1/2876/files/2015/09/Harvey-Ballard-SE-Ohio-Edible-Wild-Plants-with-focus-on-Vinton-Furnace-091015-Compatibility-Mode-20xe64v.pdf

Goosegrass, Cleavers, Bedstraw http://www.eattheweeds.com/galium-aparine-goosegrass-on-the-loose-2/

How to forage and Cook Milkweed Pods https://foragerchef.com/milkweed-pods/

Plantain, A Common Driveway Weed, Cures Almost Anything That Ails You https://returntonow.net/2017/10/19/plantain-common-driveway-weed-cures-almost-anything-ails/

Stalking the Wild Groundnut  https://orionmagazine.org/article/stalking-the-wild-groundnut/

Survival Food Plants  https://www.wildernessawareness.org/articles/survival-food-plants-cattail-acorns-grasses-and-conifers

Surviving in the Wild: 19 Common Edible Plants  https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/surviving-in-the-wild-19-common-edible-plants/