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Edible Plants & Flowers of the Mountains of East Tennessee

Tennessee state contour against blurred USA flag image by Stasys Eidiejus from

The Great Smoky Mountains of the Appalachian chain run along the entire eastern border of Tennessee, and the forests and hillsides are filled with edible flowers, plants, berries and nuts. Some nature lovers simply enjoy the fulfillment of being able to identify local flora and fauna that are safe to eat, while hard-core survivalists consider the knowledge essential for being prepared to traverse the wilderness of eastern Tennessee.

Flowers and Herbs

Light blue chicory is a commonly-found edible flower of eastern Tennessee that is quite similar to dandelions, as their leaves are almost identical and both flowers have a long medicinal history of being used to treat liver conditions. Passion flower, named Tennessee's state wildflower in 1973 and known locally as Maypop, is another edible flora native to the area. The large, aromatic flowers and bright yellow fruit are a local favorite to be eaten alone or used to add a sweet flavor to jellies and jams, while the young, tender leaves can be collected fresh and put in salads, sauteed as a side or dried for later use. Edible herbs found along Tennessee's eastern border include goldenrod, onion grass and wintergreen.

Tubers and Roots

In eastern Tennessee, common edible tubers found in the wild include broad arrowheads, cattails, and spring onions locally known as ramps. Wood sorrel tubers offer the most sustenance, but it is important to note that the leaves and flowers are highly toxic and not to be consumed. Similar to small potatoes, tubers are various types of enlarged, modified plant structures which store nutrients for the vegetation. Roots of the aforementioned chicory flower can be dug in the fall, dried and roasted for a coffee or tea substitute. They can also be re-planted in a dark cellar, as the root will sprout small leaf heads, a vegetable locally known as Belgian endive.

Fruit and Nuts

Eastern Tennessee is abundant with many nut-producing and fruit-bearing plants along the fertile riverbeds of the Smoky Mountain hillsides. The area is perhaps best known for its selection of edible berries, which includes blackberries, Bush Blueberries, American Elderberries and mulberries, which grow on trees rather than thorny briers. Nut-bearing trees widely found throughout eastern Tennessee include hazelnuts, butternuts and chestnuts. Edible hickory nuts, black walnuts and acorns can even be found in the area. When consuming wild plant products, be very careful to correctly identify them and only collect non-toxic materials.

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