Wild edible plants abound in the woodlands, meadows and wetlands of Ohio. Many are familiar, like blackberries, apples and chestnuts. Other plants, although common, are not well known as edibles, including violets and cattails. Never harvest wild edibles from lands that may have been treated with pesticides or herbicides and always check with park rangers before harvesting in parks. Identify plants correctly with an authoritative guide. Start with plants that are easy to recognize and have no poisonous lookalikes.
Mayapple is a pretty plant native to woodlands and fields throughout the eastern United States and Canada. Each plant produces a single yellow fruit (technically a berry) which is edible and delicious. The ripe fruit is eaten raw, or used in jelly and juice. Never eat the green fruit or any other parts of the plant. Mayapple is distinctive and easy to recognize. The stem grows about 1 foot high in a Y-shape; each branch is topped by an umbrella-like leaf 6 to 8 inches across. A flower similar to an apple blossom blooms beneath the leaves, followed by the fruit. The plant spreads through underground rhizomes so it often blankets an area. Mayapple is one of the first fruits to appear in spring.
Spread throughout North America, cattails are commonly found in roadside ditches and along the banks of lakes, ponds, rivers and wetlands. The very young flower spikes, young shoots and rhizomes are crunchy and can be eaten raw or cooked like a potato. The yellow, powdery pollen above the flower spike can be used as flour. Older rhizomes can be pounded and dried into flour. Cattails are easily identified by the brown, cylindrical flower spike that appears to be skewered atop the stem. Cattails have dark green, spear-shaped leaves that grow upright from the stem.
Chicory is a native of Europe that spread across the roadsides of North America missing only the northern reaches of Canada. Chicory root can be dried and ground to brew a coffee substitute. The green leaves can be used in salad or cooked as greens. Chicory is easily recognized from July through October by its bright blue, daisy-like flowers on tall green stems with a rosette of green leaves at the base.
Common Blue Violet
An early herald of spring, the unassuming violet produces small purple flowers with white centers, drooping from thin stems surrounded by heart-shaped leaves. The plants are small, growing from 6 to 10 inches tall. Violet leaves are rich in vitamin A and C. They make a tasty addition to a salad. They can also be cooked as greens. The violet flower is also edible and is sometimes used for jelly, to decorate cakes or added to salads. There are many species of wild violets; only the African violets sold as houseplants are not edible. Violets are found throughout the eastern United States in woods and meadows. They are a common weed in lawns.