Wild Edible Plants in Eastern North Carolina

Wild Edible Plants in Eastern North CarolinaThe eastern part of North Carolina is made up of the coastal area and adjoining plain, which is characterized as much by its forests, fields and pasturage as it is by its marshes and waterways. The combination of plenty of water and good, dry land offers a bounty of wild, edible plants of all stripes. Nuts, berries, tubers, vegetables, nuts, mushrooms and other food sources can all be found in North Carolina's coastal plain.

Wild Mushrooms

Picking and eating wild mushrooms is dangerous, because a poisonous mushroom is likely to be the single most toxic mistake to be made in looking for wild food. They tend to be more poisonous by weight than even poisonous berries, so extreme care must be taken in identifying edible mushrooms. The best mushroom to chase in North Carolina is Caesar's Mushroom (Amanita caesarea) pictured above, but even this is the sole edible mushroom from a much larger group of similar species. For example, its cousin, Amanita muscaria, is quite similar but with white dots that can be washed away by heavy rains. These can be found in forests in the drier parts of the coastal plain.



Blackberries (pictured above) and mulberries are similar in appearance, but come from very different plants. Mulberries are tree fruits, while blackberries come from briars. They are both common in eastern North Carolina. The area is also home to elderberries. The blackberry briars can be found just about everywhere in the east, while the other berry-bearing plants prefer a little distance from marshes and rivers.



The shoots and tubers of cattails (pictured above) and broad arrowheads are both edible plants, and the tubers in particular are basically akin to tiny potatoes. The broad arrowhead and cattails are wetland plants and can be found along the watercourses, wetlands and coastal areas that are so characteristic of the eastern part of the state.



A little known fact about cattails is that the summer pollen of this plant can be collected and used as a flour substitute for making a kind of bread. The Kentucky Coffee Tree is also found in the state, and its seeds can be roasted and used as a (bad) coffee substitute. However, even roasted, the seeds are still marginally toxic and should not be used in large quantities. The flower petals of the common dandelion (pictured above) have long been used for making herbal tea and are becoming popular as an ingredient in green salads. Both of these plants can be found across eastern North Carolina, although the Kentucky Coffee Tree is less common there than in the western parts of the state.


There are several hickory tree species that are native to the eastern North Carolina area, and the nuts of all of them are edible. Walnuts are also present in the form of the American black walnut tree. Acorns from local oak species are also edible in a pinch. The hickory and walnut trees are found in the drier parts of the coastal plain, but there are species of oak that thrive even in the marshes and swamps.


Wild watercress is sometimes found in North Carolina, and while edible, this is considered an invasive species. It is not native to the area, but it can be found in the fresh waters of coastal North Carolina. Prickly leaf lettuce, with its thistle-like appearance and milky sap, is often mistaken for a poisonous weed. It is actually edible, found everywhere in the state, and has a strong flavor compared to some of the domesticated lettuce varieties.

Article Written By Edwin Thomas

Edwin Thomas has been writing since 1997. His work has appeared in various online publications, including The Black Table, Proboxing-Fans and others. A travel blogger, editor and writer, Thomas has traveled from Argentina to Vietnam in pursuit of stories. He holds a Master of Arts in international affairs from American University.

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