Edible Wild Plants in the Eastern US

prickly lettuceSettled by the Native Americans thousands of years ago, the eastern half of the United States was bounteous enough to feed an entire civilization. All it takes is the knowledge that comes with experience to reap the full benefits of the natural landscape surrounding us. Knowing what can and cannot be eaten from the woods is a worthwhile skill to have even if you are never caught in a survival situation. Picking a few extra leaves for that fresh salad or tracking down wild onions for the frying pan can enliven any meal produced with grocery store standards.

Prickly Lettuce (pictured top)

Growing up to five feet tall, prickly lettuce is more commonly found as a knee- to waist-height weed. The leaves are scalloped and slightly spiny around the fringe. The flowers are small and yellow, appearing much like multiple dandelions growing off a single shoot. The smaller leaves can be eaten raw, while the larger leaves begin retaining a bitter flavor that is best boiled out, perhaps even in two changes of water.


This popular garden flower, with its different color plumes, from purple to yellow, is also a useful food. Both violet leaves and flowers are edible and can be eaten raw. The plant is nutritionally valuable, with a decent vitamin content. The flower petals can be used in combination with other plants for teas.



Leafy, with dark green surfaces, the mustard plant is slender and can grow to four feet in height. The leaves are long with multiple small indentations. There are likely to be numerous empty, green shoots up the main body of the plant before the top, which will bear a number of small, clustered yellow flowers. Leaves are an exceptional source of vitamins, whether raw or cooked. Seeds can be ground and mixed with water to make mustard.



Easily recognizable, cattail grows in long shoots with stiff, grasslike leaves along water's edge. Cattails are incredibly useful, with all green parts of the plant edible. Roots are edible and often compared to asparagus. Even the cattail top is useful. Green, unripened tops can be cooked and eaten like corn. Shake brown tops to remove pollen, then grind and mix with water for flour. You haven't foraged properly from the wilderness until you've tried cattail pancakes.

Article Written By Louie Doverspike

Based in Seattle, Louie Doverspike has been a professional writer since 2004. His work has appeared in various publications, including "AntiqueWeek" magazine, the "Prague Post" and "Seattle Represent!" Doverspike holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Hamilton College.

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