With the right plant knowledge, you can be well fed in the Northwest. The forest is filled with many types of edible plants. A number of fresh leaves and flowers exist that are perfect for a salad, and some bulbs and tubers are even substantial enough to be a main course. Wild berries are abundant from early summer through fall, with some holding on into winter. And some other foods can be eaten fresh or dried, such as nuts and mushrooms.
Bulbs, Roots and Tubers
To add substance to their diet, Northwest Native Americans made use of starchy bulbs and tubers. Camas (Camassia quamash) was used much like a potato. Another bulb was wapatoo (Sagittarius variabilis). These bulbs could be boiled or roasted. They were also dried and made into flour. Other edible bulbs are mariposa lily (Calochortus nuttalli), wild onion (Brodiaea grandiflora), and glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum). The root of wild ginger (Asarum caudatum) can be used to flavor food just like common ginger.
The leaves of many wild plants are edible. Miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliatum) can be used in a spring salad along with the new leaves of fireweed (Epilobium latifolia), and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Wood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) has an unusually sour taste and is best for snacking. The stinging nettle (Urdica dioica) seems an odd food to attempt to eat; once it is cooked, it loses its bite. Nettle is very nutritious and worth the extra effort to harvest. For an unusual vegetable, try the young fronds of native ferns called fiddleheads. Two edible species are ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), and bracken fern (Pteris aquilina).
To add color to dishes, add edible wild flowers. All wild roses and their hips are edible. A Northwest rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) can be found at the edge of the woods, and along roadsides in summer. All violet flowers and leaves are edible. The yellow wood violet (Viola glabella) is a common spring wildflower. Clover and dandelion flowers are also edible and easily obtained.
The Northwest is known as the perfect climate for growing berries. The tiny native strawberry is tasty, along with the native blackberry (Rubus ursinus). Two types of huckleberry exist: evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum), and red huckleberry (Vaccinium parviflorum). In moist areas you will find salmon berry (Rubus spectabilis) and thimble berry (Rubus parviflorus). Northwest berry producing trees are blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea) and service berry (Amelanchier alnifolia).
The most common Northwest nut is the hazelnut (Corylus californica). Native nuts can be eaten raw or roasted for extra flavor. There are two types of acorn: one is from the white oak (Quercus garryana) and the other from black oak (Quercus keloggii). A lesser known small nut is from the chinquapin tree (Chrysolepis chrysophylla).
There is no shortage of Northwest mushrooms. An easy one to identify is the chanterelle. Other favorites are morel, bolete, hedgehog and oyster mushrooms. many mushrooms can look alike so it is important to identify them by their cap, gills and stem.
The first time you go wild harvesting, it's a good idea to go with someone who has experience. Buy a good field guide with clear pictures. Choose collection areas where herbicides have not been sprayed.