Food grows readily available in uncultivated places. Though practiced very little in modern times, foraging for edible wild plants was once a necessity. With proper knowledge, you can gather large quantities of food. Learning what you can safely consume remains a valuable skill, whether learned for camping or hiking trips, as disaster preparation or just for a source of fresh foods.
Several trees produce edible fruits and nuts. The red mulberry tree, a common fruit tree found in rural and urban areas, has dark purple, sweet, and plentiful fruits. Small, slightly bitter or sour, edible cherries with large pits develop on the black cherry and fire cherry trees. The small Allegheny plum tree grows dark red fruits. Eat fresh or preserve the tree fruits. Nut trees include the chestnut and black walnut. Do not eat tree nuts if you have any known nut allergy.
An abundance of wild fruits ripen during the summer months. Look for familiar varieties: wild strawberries, black raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. Small, dark, and sweet edible grapes, called fox grapes, form on vines resembling domesticated grapes. Use rose hips, the fruits on roses, to make jam and tea. Eat the preserved hips in winter for their high vitamin C content.
The leaves of numerous wild plants have long been used as food and medicine. Stinging nettle, among the most nutritious, resembles spinach in taste. Wear gloves when handling the leaves due to the hairs that cause the stinging sensation and cook before eating. Watercress grows near water. Harvest before the flowers appear. Make flavorful salads with the leaves of dandelion, purslane, and clover. Many herbs grow wild, either natively or through naturalizing. Look for lemon balm, fennel, creeping thyme and members of the mint family.
Harvest roots of plants with awareness. Over-harvesting causes endangerment of plants in their natural habitats. Do not harvest endangered plants such as American ginseng and goldenseal. Choose widely available roots such as wild ginger, wild sarsaparilla, chicory and valerian. Wild ginger tastes much like its namesake. Use wild sarsaparilla for tea, chicory root as a coffee alternative and valerian for its sedative qualities.
Exercise extreme caution when eating anything found growing wild. Never eat anything that is unfamiliar or that you cannot identify properly. Numerous poisonous species often look similar to edible ones. Use field guides for identification. Be aware of pollution because pesticides, herbicides and polluted water can cause sickness. Avoid areas near industrial centers, along interstates and heavily sprayed farm land.