• Native Plants: Guide to Edible Wild Plants
Some of my earliest memories of exploring native plants as a child are of drying wild strawberry leaves and making hot tea from them. The tea was a beautiful yellow and, with honey, had a pleasant, wild herbal flavor.
I’m fortunate to have grown up in a family that loved plants. In early spring, my parents and I hunted wild mushrooms. We knew the patches in the meadows where the wild strawberries grew, and picked wild grapes and pawpaws in the fall. Persimmons were always a welcome delicacy, as were native lowland pecans from the Osage River basin. Those plants added wider variety to our traditional garden. My parents ran a grocery store, but despite the constant flow of cultivated produce, native plants always figured prominently in our diets.
My paternal grandparents were overly cautious, and with me as their only grandson, constantly cautioned me to be careful of what I ate from the woods. “Always ask someone before you taste it,” my father’s mother would say. Yet my maternal grandmother knew I had an interest in plants and would take me on walks in the woods and meadows, showing me how to identify plants. It is from these early family teachers that I gained an appreciation of the bounty of wild edible plants.
Many of the more traditional herbs we grow (such as parsley, rosemary, thyme and sage) are native to the Mediterranean regions. They have so easily adapted to a wide range of garden conditions that when most people hear the word herb, those foreign plants are what come to mind.
But did you know there are many herbs and edible plants native to the United States that you can grow, or find already growing, in your garden? Some can be found in the wild, and may even be growing in your garden, but you aren’t recognizing them as useful, edible plants. Finding gems of plants like this is a bit like recycling—you might be digging up and throwing away plants that are better adapted to your environment than plants you are cultivating. These native plants are worth recognizing and making use of, instead of trying to eliminate them. Here are some healthful native plants you might find in your own garden or in nearby fields.
Contributing Editor Jim Long writes and gardens at his farm, Long Creek Herbs, in the Ozark Mountains.