Edible Wild Plants on the Oregon Coast

Edible Wild Plants on the Oregon Coast
In addition to its justifiably lauded scenery, the Oregon coast features an impressive kingdom of plants. The Pacific Northwest's maritime climate fosters world-famous vegetative growth---most notably, the rain-socked forests of enormous Douglas fir, western hemlock, Sitka spruce and other conifers that blanket the Pacific shore, the coastal ranges and the western slopes of the Cascades. Some of these plants are edible---a characteristic that human beings have been taking advantage of for thousands of years.
Please note: The following is intended only to guide research into edible Oregon coast plants, not foraging itself. Before eating any wild fruit or vegetation, you should be absolutely sure of its identity, as some---for example, the coast red elderberry---can be poisonous. Consult guidebooks and authorities on the subject. Also, check regulations regarding harvesting of such plants, which is prohibited under some jurisdictions.

Huckleberry

The Pacific Northwest is a mecca for huckleberries, which belong to the same family---Vaccinium---as blueberries. The red huckleberry, for example, grows in brambles along the Oregon coast, in addition to a range of elevations in the Coast Range, often in association with western hemlock and Sitka spruce. Human huckleberry pickers join a host of mammalian and avian fans of this bountiful crop, from mountain beavers to band-tailed pigeons to black bears.

Salmonberry

The edible orange and yellow fruits of this understory shrub, which is especially fond of streamsides in lower-to-middle elevations, bring to mind the hue of a salmonid (and otherwise the general appearance of a blackberry). The triplet, compound leaves are serrated; the flowers, which often bloom early in the year, are pinkish-red.

Miner's Lettuce

Miner's lettuce, like some closely related species, has succulent, edible leaves that can be eaten raw---tasting somewhat like lettuce---or boiled, where it gains a deeper, richer flavor. Its moniker allegedly stems from its popularity among miners, who ate the plant for its vitamin C. Miner's lettuce grows in cool, moist areas. The configuration of a tall stem and white flowers growing above a circular leaf is distinctive.

Licorice Fern

This common fern's delicate, pinnate fronds and predilection for growing on logs and living trees help distinguish it. The rhizome can be chewed for the eponymous taste.

Wild Strawberry

This familiar tri-leaved groundcover is found across much of North America; the Oregon coast supports both woods and the coastal strawberry. The fruits might be smaller than cultivated offerings, but one could argue they pack in more taste---plus, they're more fun to harvest in a summer forest than a grocery. Along the Oregon coast, they are widely distributed, from moist riparian beds to upper-elevation forests.

Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay

Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.

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