Edible Wild Plants in the Northeast

There are many edible, wild plants in the Northeastern portion of the United States. It is important that you are positive of the identification of each wild plant you consume. Some wild plants may taste horrific, while others can make you quite ill and others may cause fatalities. If you want to try your hand at foraging for your food, familiarize yourself with the plant during its different growth stages and utilize pictures found in research books and online for exact identification of edible plants.


All parts of the cattail are edible, and some sections, like the shoot (before it flowers) tastes similar to cucumbers and zucchini. Look for cattails in areas where water collects; shallow roadside ditches are a good area to begin. The best way to identify cattails is to notice their cigar-shaped heads with fluffy, cotton-like fibers spilling out from it when it is burst open. If you notate the stalks and the area you found them in, you will always be able to identify the young plants that grow to heights of 9 feet. Cattail leaves can be used to weave baskets, mats and to make corn husk dolls, according to Wildman Steve Brill.

Red Clover

Red clover is widely available in lawns and meadows of the Northeast. Harvesting it is easiest in the late spring months, when the flowers are at full bloom. Make a tasty, healthy tea out of the flower heads by steeping them in water for 20 minutes. Strain the mixture before drinking. The flowers make a good accompaniment to a meal; they taste similar to a sweet string bean.

Curly Dock

The leaves of the curly dock plant are spear-shaped, green and hairless. The leaves all grow from the center of the plant. The leaves can be eaten raw in a salad, or cooked with some pork as you would turnip or mustard greens. The plant can reach heights of up to 5 feet tall, and grows along seashores, roadsides or in fields. It has green flowers, which eventually turn red and hard.

Poor Man's Pepper

The poor man's pepper has tiny, white flowers and toothed leaves. You can locate this plant near sunny roadsides or areas with sandy soil. The mature plant has a lot of green branches and seedpods that are circular and flat. This plant can be thrown into a food processor along with turmeric, vinegar, miso, garlic and salt to make wild mustard. The flowers, spicy leaves and seedpods are delicious in casseroles, soups, sauces and salads.


The burdock plant has a long taproot that is nutritious when cooked. You should harvest the first year plant, after that the plant is concentrating its efforts on developing seeds and the root will be withered and thin. This herb can grow as wide as one meter and as tall as two meters. It looks similar to an elephant ear plant. You can roast cleaned burdock root in aluminum foil packets until they are tender (about an hour) and garnish them with salt and soy sauce if desired. Another way to serve this plant is to cut the root into long matchstick sized pieces and cover in a saucepot with water and a dash of soy sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer, covered with a lid for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and cook until most of the water and soy sauce is absorbed.

Keywords: edible plants, wild plants you can eat, red clover, curly dock, edible plants in the Northeast

About this Author

Chelsea Fitzgerald's articles have appeared many times on eHow, the Web and in other publications. She began writing with Demand Studios in 2009. She enjoys writing about family, health, green living, and travel. Before her writing career, she worked in the medical field for 21 years. Fitzgerald studied education at the University of Arkansas and University of Memphis.