Florida's Wild Edibles

 

 

by Sharon LaPlante

When you first begin learning about wild edibles you may find the large number of plants available overwhelming. Start by learning a few plants. Pick a handful of plants and get to know the botanical name, where they grow, how they grow, what part is edible, how to prepare it, and what time of year is best for collecting it. If you are unsure of the identification of a plant don't eat it until you are sure of what it is. Once you master your initial list then move on to others.

Botanical Latin is not as intimidating as it seems. If you can learn the common name of a plant - you can learn its botanical name. Plants can have many common names so it is important to know the Latin name for identification purposes. For example, pigweed is a common name for both Amaranthus and Chenopodium. Knowing the botanical name of each plant will help to avoid confusion when collecting wild edibles.

Wild edibles should be harvested at their peak of freshness. If you can't collect enough to use at one particular time then harvest and store it for later use. Many plants such as acorns, and berries can be gathered and frozen. Seeds can be collected and dried. Leaves that are to be used for teas can be harvested and dried. Fruit and berries can be made into jelly or syrup for long term storage, and some plants can be canned as you would pickles.

Most plants that are used as potherbs become bitter once they begin to flower and need to be picked when they are very young. You should be able to identify these plants from their young vegetation, as well as the mature plant. If the plant has already begun to bloom then mark the area or make a notation to yourself so that you can come back the following year to gather the tender young leaves.

There are many wonderful plants that can be used to make tea. Horsemint and persimmon leaves make wonderful hot or cold tea. If you are using dried leaves you will need one half to one full teaspoon of the dried leaves per cup of tea. Everyone's taste is different so this should be adjusted to suit yours. Pour boiling water over the leaves, cover and let steep for 5-10 minutes. Add sugar or honey to taste.

Experiment with some of your favorite recipes by using wild ingredients as substitutes. Smilax can be used in place of spinach in many recipes. Acorns and wild nuts can be used in place of pecans or walnuts in baking recipes. Wild herbs can be added to salads. Wild onion can be used in garlic butter instead of domestic garlic.

Collecting wild edibles can be a lot of fun and very rewarding. You can learn about habitat types, seasonal changes, native plants, and an appreciation for some plants you may have formerly thought of as useless. You will learn that certain plants are found in certain areas and nowhere else. You will learn the season to harvest the plant, or its fruit, at its peak of freshness. You will also learn an appreciation, maybe even a fondness, for the many plants that have been mislabeled as weeds.

Wild edibles should not be collected near roadsides or other areas that may contain pollutants or pesticides. When you are harvesting be sure to leave more than you take. You don't want to deplete your supply of the plant, or deprive the animals of their food source.

The following lists are only a sampling of the many wild plants available. Consult a field guide for a more extensive listing.

Salad plants

Potherbs

Amaranthus spp. ( Amaranth) [leaves]

Amaranthus spp. (Amaranth) [young leaves]

Bidens alba (Spanish needle) [flower petals]

Bidens alba (Spanish needles) [young leaves]

Cercis canadensis (Redbud) [flowers]

Chenopodium album (Lamb's quarters) [young leaves]

Commelina spp. (Dayflower) [leaves]

Hydrocotyle umbellata (Dollarweed) [young leaves]

Hydrocotyle umbellata (Dollarweed) [leaves]

Phytolacca americana (Pokeweed) [plants under 8"]

Lepidium virginicum (Peppergrass) [leaves/pods]

Pontederia cordata (Pickerelweed) [young leaves]

Micromeria officinale (Micromeria) [leaves]

Portulaca olecacea (Purslane) [young leaves]

Mitchella repens (Partridge berry) [berries]

Rumex acetosella (Sheep sorrel) [young leaves]

Rhexia virginica (Meadow beauty) [leaves /flowers]

Rumex crispa (Curly dock) [young leaves]

Scirpus validus (Bullrush) [young shoots]

Smilax spp. (Catbrier) [tender shoots]

Smilax spp. (Catbrier) [tender new shoots]

Stellaria media (Chickweed) [leaves & stems]

Stachys floridana (Florida betony) [tubers]

Tradascantia ohiensis (Spiderwort) [young leaves]

Stellaria media (Chickweed) [leaves & stems]

Typha spp. (Cattail) [young shoots]

Typha spp. (Cattail) [young shoots]

Viola spp (Violet) [leaves & flowers]

Viola spp. (Violet) [leaves & flowers]

Youngia japonica (Hawk's beard) [young leaves]

 

Beverages & Teas

Jellies

Diospyros virginiana (Persimmon) [dried leaves]

Callicarpa americana (Beautyberry) [berries]

Monarda punctata (Horsemint) [leaves & flowers]

Diospyros virginiana (Persimmon) [fruit]

Passiflora incarnata (Passion flower) [fruit]

Gaylussacia spp. (Huckleberry) [berries]

Pinus spp. (Pine) [young needles]

Morus rubra (Mulberry) [fruit]

Rhus copallina (Sumac) [fruit]

Opuntia spp. (Prickly pear cactus) [fruit]

Rosa spp. (Wild Rose) [rosehips]

Passiflora incarnata (Passion flower) [fruit]

Rubus spp. (Blackberry) [dried young leaves]

Prunus spp. (Wild plums & cherries) [fruit]

Sambucus canadensis (Elderberry) [dried blossoms]

Rhus copallina (Sumac) [fruit]

Sassafras albidum (Sassafras) [bark & roots]

Sambucus canadensis (Elderberry) [berries]

Viola spp. (Violet) [dried young leaves]

Vaccinium spp. (Blueberry) [berries]

Books About Wild Edibles

Angier, Bradford. How To Stay Alive in the Woods. Collier Macmillan: New York, NY. 1962

Angier, Bradford. Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. Stackpole Books: Harrisburg, PA. 1974

Bowers, Priscilla G. I Eat Weeds. Buttercup Press, 4599 Palmer Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32210. 1996

Deuerling, Dick & Peggy Lantz. Florida's Incredible Edibles. Florida Native Plant Society: Orlando, FL. 1993

Gibbons, Euell. Stalking the Good Life. McKay Co., Inc. New York, NY. 1971

Gibbons, Euell Stalking the Wild Asparagus. McKay Co., Inc. New York, NY. 1975

Hunt, David, Editor. Native Indian Wild Game, Fish & Wild Foods Cookbook. Castle Books: Edison, NJ. 1992

Michael, Pamela. A Country Harvest. Peerage Books: London, WI. 1986

Peterson, Lee Allen. Peterson Field Guide: Edible Wild Plants. Houghton Mifflin: Boston, MA. 1977

Tatum, Billy Joe. Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook. Workman Publishing: New York, NY. 1976

Return to the Main Page

All material on this site Hernando Chapter of the FNPS. The materials on this website may be copied and distributed without permission, provided that it is used for non-commercial, informational or educational purposes, and that you acknowledge this site and the Hernando Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society as the source of publication.