Wild Edible Plants in North Carolina

Wild Edible Plants in North Carolina
North Carolina is a state with a variety of terrains and climates. Eastern North Carolina is home to the Atlantic coast and the adjacent coastal plain. In the center is the Piedmont. The western part of the state is dominated by the Appalachian Mountains and its foothills. This diversity creates an abundance of edible plants and fungi. Being able to identify these plants can be useful for anything from getting a quick snack to developing survival skills.

Berries and Nuts

While mulberries and blackberries sometimes look alike, they are the fruits of markedly different plants. The blackberry comes from a thorny briar bush, while the mulberry is borne by a tree. Both are edible and found almost everywhere in North Carolina. The state is also home to elderberries, but these should be approached cautiously as they are easily confused with other poisonous berries. The cooler areas of the Piedmont and Appalachian North Carolina are also home to wild blueberries, although these are not very common. The main nut-bearers of the state are the hickory tree and the American black walnut. There are also a number of different oak species, and acorns can be eaten if the need arises.



Mushrooms may be tasty, but some species are poisonous, and those that are poisonous are potentially lethal. This makes gathering wild mushrooms much riskier than gathering berries. For example, North Carolina is home to an American version of Caesar's Mushroom, which was prized by the Romans. However, this mushroom has a poisonous close cousin, and the only way to tell them apart is by the white dots on the cap of that cousin. These dots, however, can be washed away by rain. Be very, very cautious when looking for wild mushrooms to eat.

Tubers, Shoots and Bulbs

Cattails, broad arrowheads and wood sorrels all produce edible tubers, of which the wood sorrel tubers are the most substantial. For all intents and purposes, they are all sources for small, wild potatoes. The cattail and broad arrowhead also have edible shoots. Other plants with edible shoots are onion grass and spring onions, and the bulbs of the latter are edible as well. Cattails and broad arrowheads are found in or near the watery parts of North Carolina, especially in the east. Wood sorrels, spring onions and onion grass are found just about everywhere else in the state.

Vegetables and Others

The prickly leaf lettuce plant is not only edible but also has a stronger flavor than some types of normal lettuce. Nettles are also found wild in the state, and these have been used to make soup for ages. Edible watercress is an invasive plant species that is not native to North Carolina. However, it can sometimes be found growing wild in fresh watercourses, especially in the east.

Wild Bread

The pollen of the aforementioned cattail can be collected and made into a kind of ersatz flour. This, in turn, can be used to make a peculiar kind of bread.

Wild Coffee

The Kentucky coffee tree is not uncommon in western North Carolina and is sometimes found elsewhere in the state. Its seeds have been roasted and used as a substitute for coffee since colonial times, although the results are not very tasty. It is considered a "poor man's coffee" even by frontiersmen. Furthermore, even after being roasted and brewed, the seeds still carry traces of toxins, and, therefore, should never be consumed in quantity. A better idea is to collect the petals of dandelion flowers and use them to brew tea.


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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