5 Local Edible Plants And How To Identify Them

Editors note: A few weeks ago Mykel wrote an article about the “Need To Know” Rules When Picking Edible & Medicinal Plants.

We received quite a few questions regarding this post and Mykel wanted share a few pictures and identifiers for some of the plants found locally here in Texas:

When it comes to identifying plants, it is good to start with what is around you.

This way, you can not only get more practice and see and learn all the subtle variations even in a well know species, but you also get a chance to learn what t he plant looks like in different SEASONS.

This is especially important for edible and medicinal plant identification for the survivor.

Often, photos or drawings of plants show them in their IDEAL state with flowers, fruits, and leaves in full bloom. But many plants only flower and fruit for a brief time.

This is when it is important to know the leaf patterns and when those are gone, to maybe even know the bark type.

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These photos were taken from a simple walk around few parks in central Texas.

These plants are all VERY common, VERY prevalent and VERY easy to identify.

The best part is, even in the dead of winter, ALL these plants can be a food source.

 

YUCCA or SOTOLhawke-yucca-far

Identification:

SOTOL is easy to identify on the land scape as it has a perennial rosette of long, fleshy, spiked leaves and usually has a stem remnant well into the winter after the flowers have bloomed.

hawke-yucca-close

Processing:

The plant must be dug up and killed to eat the heart of the bulb root. BUT it must be cooked, baked for a LONG time, for a full day (24hrs) to break down the saponins (like soap, same found in yucca root). It takes a lot of work but these were staples for the Indians for 10,000 years. These stems make great hand drills for starting fires, too.

CACTUS

hawke-cactus-far

Identification:

Cacti grow all over the world and are pretty easy to identify. Most are edible. Some more so than others. Many folks know about eating the prickly pear fruit that grows on these flat NOPALES cacti and some even know about eating the flowers. But these flat pads remain year round, easy to find, easy to identify but not so easy to eat.

Processing: 

These cacti are tricky to prepare as they need to have the thorns removed. The big thorns are easy to pluck out, the small, hair like fibers- not so much. Some folks screp them, but I find they get all over me that way. Some folks cut them out and I have done this tedious task when I did not have a fire. But the best way is to burn them off in the fire. These can be eaten, raw and taste good that way. Boiling turns them quite slimy and baking makes their skin quite tough but satisfies more as a real meal.

DANDELION

hawke-plant-dandelion-close

Identification:

Dandelion is another plant, easy to find, lots of it and easy to eat.  It may be a bit trickier for some folks to identify in winter without the yellow flower or white fluffy seed head.

Processing: 

They great news is you can eat the leaves and roots, year round, raw, cooked, boiled or any other way you like. It doesn’t taste great but is very healthy for people with chemicals like inulin (a fructan which stores energy), levulin (a dextran which also gives energy) and taraxacin (which has tonic and diuretic properties) All that is  just a scientific way to say dandelions are really healthy!

 

ONION and/or CHIVEShawke-onion-far

Identification:

The onion (or it’s smaller cousin, the Chive) is a common household food source. While it’s not recommended to eat raw in large quantities, sometimes, you just get hungry and when found in the wild, onions are often plentiful. There is a dangerous look-alike called a Lily. Onions are not only a food, but they are a great, mild systemic anti-infective, think like an antibiotic. For those scientifically minded, Onions have chemical compounds like phenolics and flavonoids that are said to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cholesterol, antioxidant and even anti-cancer properties. So that is some seriously good stuff!

Processing:

The key to 100% correct identification is easy. The onion green, grassy stalks are HOLLOW and the Lily’s are flat and not hollow. But the real test is smell. If it doesn’t smell like an onion, it isn’t and don’t eat it!

hawke-onion-close

 

MULLEINhawke-mullein

Identification:

Mullein is a neat plant as it is found all over the place and is super easy to identify, when it doesn’t have the big stalk with distinct yellow flowers running up it, the leaves remain year round as some velvety soft pedals that make people naturally want to call it the “toilet paper” plant. Now the leaves can be used for that and they can be consumed, but only as a tea really, as they are not pleasant to taste and suck up water like a wash cloth. But as a tea, they can not only replenish your water supply, they are said to be full of health value. Much of which has not yet been studied and verified by the FDA but the plant has been used for thousands of years by humans.

Processing: 

I write about them here mainly as I found these on my walk about for winter, desert type plants that are almost universally dispersed, in vast quantities and easily recognizable by most folks. Here are some things that mullein is said to be of benefit for and I leave it to the reader to do further research if they find this amazing plant to be of interest. The plant is reported to have the following properties: expectorant (help to cough up phlegm and clear airway), demulcent (creates a light mucous coating that soothes irritations), anti-viral, mild diuretic, mild laxative, mild sedative, vulnerary (to heal wounds) and emollient (moisturizer). These stems also make great hand drills for starting fires.

mullein-leaves

Editors note: These plants are readily available in Central Texas, and your plant varieties may vary.

What edible and medicinal plants do you know of in your area?

P.S. Don’t forget to watch “Lost Survivors” tomorrow night (12.17.13) on the Travel Channel.  Tomorrow is the season finale and you won’t want to miss it!  You may even find a few more edible and medicinal plants on that episode…

Want to know more? Check out these related articles on our site:

Surviving with Edible Plants

30 Medicinal Plants That Could Save Your Life

“Need To Know” Rules When Picking Edible & Medicinal Plants

Comments

comments

24 Responses to :
5 Local Edible Plants And How To Identify Them

  1. Schneewitchen says:

    I live in Pennsylvania, and Mullein grows abundantly on the side roads and even on the medial strip of the highways. I have made tincture of it for use in winter coughs. I can attest that it works, and works quite well. I had a very bad bout of the flu last year, and used the tincture every 4 hours to cough up phlegm.

    There is also some folklore that says the seeds can be collected and used to “intoxicate” fish. Might be a good thing to have in the go bag for the desperate time when fishing is difficult.

    Here is a link to an excellent source on many herbs and their history and uses. http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/mulgre63.html#pre

  2. BpDavid says:

    Great Article. I think I have all of these plants plus more edibles on my farm. is Mullein also called “Lambs Ear”? I have Lambs Ear and it looks very similar.

    1. Schneewitchen says:

      It is NOT lamb’s ear. The leaves of Mullein are about 7 – 14″ long.

  3. Schneewitchen says:

    Another indispensable wild herb/weed is the common plaintain weed. It grows everywhere, and mostly in our lawns! It is a great healer, for burns, skin sores, infection, etc. Again here is a link for more info:
    http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/p/placom43.html

  4. Tommy says:

    In SE Florida where I live we have wild Muscadine grapes. Smaller than store bought grapes, but still pretty tasty. They grow like a weed where I am. We also have the Asian Bitter Melons, but I have never been brave enough to eat one as they stink to high heaven. I’m told you can eat the leaves, immature green fruits (ripe Orange fruits are toxic) and the Red Arils (seed coverings, think Pomegranates) but NOT the seeds themselves (TOXIC). I guess if it really was an SHTF scenario, I could hold my nose and dig in. I’m told that some people think these are a delicacy???

  5. Bob Nichols says:

    When I was growing up on a farm in the 30’s we used dandelion and plantin (sp), not the long narrow leaf with the tall stem and a pointed seed pod on top but the rounded leaf that grow low and spreads out. We cooked them like turnip tops or mustard.
    I do see Mullein around here, between Knoxville and Chattanooga in Tennessee. I grew up in the Bristol, TN area.

  6. Christian says:

    I’m a big fan, and love seeing knowledge being shared on edible plants, but the plant shown for Dandelion is Sow Thistle(Sonchus oleraceus)not Dandelion. They’re relatives of one-another, and are both edible, but have individual differences.

    1. left Coast Chuck says:

      This post really emphasizes the need to be certain what the plants are before eating them. There is a U.S. Army book out about edible plants. They have a test for plants before eating them that everyone should know. I read a statement somewhere, maybe the Army book, that almost every animal is edible, but only a few plants are edible and it is important to know which plants are edible as many of the inedible ones not only don’t taste good, they are actually poisonous.

      I am still trying to find out if carrion eating animals are edible. I always thought bear was edible but recently found out that it is only edible after thoroughly cooking it as bear meat can contain trichinosis parasites like pork and it needs to be very thoroughly cooked. We have lots of crows in our neighborhood. If there are dead bodies lying about, I know the crows, coyotes and feral dogs will be feasting on them. All three can be eaten but I have questions about rabies infected animals and carrion eating animals or birds.

  7. steve banyai says:

    LOOK UP ‘EAT THE WEEDS’ POST AND VIDS

  8. bill says:

    I live in south Georgia a litter town called Waycross what plants!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Mark says:

    Two other common plants that have medicinal uses are tickle tongue (prickly ash) and horehound.
    Prickly ash is a woody shrub, both multi-stemmed or single stemmed, ranging from 12 inches to 6 foot in height. The leaves were chewed as a topical anesthetic for toothache and mouth sores.
    Horehound is a low growing member of the mint family. The leaves can be steeped as a tea then boiled with sugar to make a rock candy. It may not taste great, but it rivals any over the counter cough drop you will find.

  10. Cathy says:

    Need to know some plants here in Oregon, in the Coastal Mountains.

  11. Bob says:

    Plantain also can be used as a cure for poison ivy. The juice, squeezed from the root and rubbed on poison ivy blisters stops the itch and neutralizes the toxic oils.

  12. Bob says:

    Cattails grow almost anywhere there is water. The roots, young stalks and seed heads are edible.

  13. Bob says:

    Day lily’s, the ones that only bloom for 1 day, have edible flowers. Also the root can be eaten if prepared right. They can be found along roads and in yards.

  14. Ernie says:

    With regard to Nopales — when you are boiling them, throw a couple of copper pennies into the pot. It cuts the slime down, and makes them quite palatable. Just FYI.

  15. MessiahMews says:

    ONION ,CHIVES, and DANDELION, and you have a wild ass salad. lol

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