This quest could be an entire website in itself. It would be impossible for me to list every edible, wild plant - everywhere in the world. I don't know where you live. I can give you some very basic knowledge to start, but this quest requires you to do research on your own, for what's available in your area.
PLANTS TO AVOID - Better to be safe than sorry!
Some plants can make you very sick, if not kill you; same applies to mushrooms. The majority of toxic plants will exhibit one or more of the following characteristics.
milky or discolored sap
spines, fine hairs, or thorns
beans, bulbs, &/or seed pods
bitter or soapy in taste (unpleasant to eat)
looks like dill, carrot, parsnip, or parsley
anything will an almond scent in leaves or wood
grain heads that are pink, purplish, or w/ black spurs
three-leaved growth patterns
This is just a guideline. There are many wonderful edible plants that break that rules, but until you learn what they are. Practice safety.
First of all, I've always hated the term "weeds'. There no such thing. Even Kudzu, which is an aggressively, parasitic plant (as far as taking over and strangling out other plant life) is incredibly nutritious and medicinal. Not to mention that the entire plant is edible. I really don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that you could spend $200 on produce at the grocery ($300 organic), and not come close to the nutrient value of a basket full of 'weeds' from your yard. If you have a yard?
Avoid wildcrafting anywhere where fertilizers and pesticides might be used. The side of the roads are good for some plants, but pick seldom used roads to avoid heavy metals, toxins, and runoff from traffic. Large parks are great, the kind with woods and trails. Even empty lots in neighborhood can hide nutrient-rich treasure.
First you need to know what you're looking for. Simply do a search on "edible plants" by your country, state or province. What's available to those in the northeast, will not the be the same as what's available in the southwest...obviously.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion takes first place - as easiest to recognize, most available, and most amazing in medicinal properties. It can help cure liver diseases such as a hepatitis and jaundice, is a gentle diuretic and blood purifier, and detoxing agent. It can help dissolve kidney stones, improve gastrointestinal health, assist in weight loss, cure acne, improve bowel function (relieves both constipation and diarrhea), lowers high blood pressure, prevents and cure anemia, lowers blood cholesterol by as much as half! Reduces and relieves acid indigestion and gas, prevent certain forms of cancer, prevent and control diabetes mellitus, and has no negative side effects, selectively only acting on what ails you!!
Dandelions are natures richest green vegetable source of beta-carotene. It is the 3-rd richest source of vitamin A in all foods, right after cod liver oil, and beef liver. Also rich in fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin D, and the B vitamins (thiamine and riboflavin), and is a good source of protein. It's also rich in micro-nutrients - copper, cobalt, zinc, boron, and molybdenum. Dandelion works to reduce stress on body, is great for tooth and gum health - reducing plaque, and PMS relief.
Leaves can be eaten young - older leaves are too bitter. Flowers can be eaten raw, in salads. Roots can be cook, or toasted and ground into a delicious coffee substitute (that is soothing/healing to the liver).
It's worth doing your own research on dandelions, as the benefits, research, and testimonials are so vast.
Burdock (Arctium lappa)
I'm adding Burdock, bcuz anyone that's walked out of a field with the bottom of their pants covered in "burs" has an idea where and what to look for. Burdock is native to the eastern hemisphere of the United States, but appears in other regions as well. It's also native to Japan, and a popular food. The roots, peeled stalks, and leaves are edible, but bitter - so boiling twice (2 changes of water) is prefered, although young leaves can be eaten raw. Roots can be boiled the same, or boiled and roasted. The entire plant (even the seeds) can be harvest in fall, dried, and ground for medicinal purposes.
Burdock is a good source of non-starch polysaccharides such as inulin, glucoside-lappin,, mucilage, etc. that acts as a laxative. Inulin also acts a prebiotic, to help reduce blood-sugar, weight, and cholesterol levels in blood. Burdock has a lot of electrolyte potassium (308 mg per 100g of root), and is low in sodium. It helps control heart-rate, and blood-pressure. It contains folic acid, riboflavin, pyridoxine, niacin, vitamin E, and vitamin C, and works as decent anti-oxidant. It also contains iron, manganese, magnesium, and trace amounts of zinc, calcium, selenium, and phosphorus.
Burdock is related to the Dandelion, and shares similar medicinal qualities as one of the best blood purifiers, and a great diuretic - helping expel toxins through the blood and urine. It's good for skin problems, such as eczema, psoriasis, dryness, and acne. It is also used for liver and gallbladder complaints. Effusion of Burdock seeds is good for throat and chest complaints. The plant works as an appetite stimulant, and is good for dyspeptic complaints.
Plantain also makes the list, for being one of the most common edible wild plants - worldwide. Not to be confused with the banana plantain. Plantains grow in wild areas, in and around wet marshland, as well as alpine areas, but can commonly be found in poor soil areas with gravel - like empty lots, and crack in sidewalks. Plantain is native to most of Europe, Asia, and North America.
Plantain has strong astringent properties. A poultice of the leaves can be applies to wounds, stings, sores, and rashes to prevent infection, and aid in healing. It stimulates cellular growth and tissue regeneration, and the mucilage of the plant, reduces pain. A tea made from the plant can treat diarrhea, and soothe raw internal membranes.
Plantain is high is vitamins A, C and K, and calcium. The young leaves can be eaten raw. Older leaves can be boiled in soups and stews.
Other medicinal properties: anti inflammatory, analgesic, antioxidant, weak antibiotic, increases uric acid excretion from the kidneys, and may be useful in treating gout. Good for fever and respiratory infections.
Wild Sorrel (Oxalis)
One of my favorite edible plants is wood or yellow sorrel, which is actually not a member of the sorrel family. Common through Europe, and North America. The plant is super-easy to identify, with its cute, soft little, heart-shaped leaves of three - closely resembling clover. Flowers can range from yellow, white, soft pink, to vibrant pink-purple. It's a shade loving plant, that grows close to the ground. I have yellow sorrel, which pops up around the house. I move it to my garden, and it spreads nicely - reseeding itself wherever it wants (like my arugula). It has a wonderful sour-lemon taste, and is high in vitamin C. and A, and calcium.
It helps with liver problems, digestion problems, wound healing, scurvy, and gum disease. It's diuretic, helps reduce fevers, and good to quench thirst. Good for stomach ailments, and catarrh. Is a blood purifier.
I just pick it from the garden and eat it raw. Despite being a delicate plant, it's actually quite hardy - I live near Atlanta, and it's the beginning of January now, and it's still growing in my garden, even after a few freezes. Actually, the only things I have left in my garden at the moment, is some heirloom, French sorrel, wild yellow sorrel, and arugula. If you know what you're looking at, you can always collect the seed pods in fall while you're out on walks, let dry, and sprinkle them around your yard/garden in the spring.
Found around the edges of freshwater wetlands and lakes, cattails were once a main staple to Native American tribes. Most of the cattail is edible. The root and rootstock, found below ground - is edible raw or boiled. The best part of the stem is near the bottom, and is mainly white. The brown, fuzzy flower spikes, can be broken off, prepared and eaten like corn on the cob, in the early summer, when the plant is still developing. It actually has a corn-like taste. Left to mature, the pollen can be collected and used to supplement flour in baked goods. The rootstock can also be ground into flour, after drying/roasting. It's suggested not to eat the leaves. Once the cattail has reached maturity, the familiar cigar like brown tops, called 'punks' - are great to burn/smolder as bug repellent. Harvest with stalk, and light the tip.
Pick the new growth off conifers in the spring. The young green shoots at the tips of the branches are great raw - a pleasant acid taste. The male pollen cones on conifers are also edible - some are very sweet. And again, it's pollen - extremely nutritious. Many species of pine have edible nuts in the cones in late summer to fall.
Cress (cardamine spp): This is one of the many wild plants in the mustard family common in cities. When young, the leaves are excellent raw, with a mild mustard flavor. As they get older the full plants can be steamed, just as you would prepare mustard greens at home.
Wild onion (allium spp): Very common in areas that are mowed. A very mild onion that is excellent raw. Harvest bunches of it and use it just like scallions.
Dead-nettle (lamium purpureum): Another Lamium, just like henbit. It's eaten the same way - and will also form huge carpets covering the ground, especially in spring.
Chickweed (stellaria media): The entire plant can be eaten raw. It has a sweet, grassy flavor. If you want to avoid the stems, and eat mostly the new growth, pluck off the tops and eat those.
Start with grass. All grass is edible. Anything under 6" is easy to chew and digest. The flavor ranges from intensely sweet to mild to bitter - anyone who's tasted a shot of wheatgrass knows just how sweet grass can be. Grass that's over 6" can either be chewed for juice and spit out, or run through a manual wheatgrass juicer for a healthy shot.
NO SUCH THING AS WEED...
I once heard a wise man say, that whatever ails you - there's a cure for it, right outside your front door...literally - somewhere on your property! That's always stuck in my mind, and...just feels right, through and through. I mean, wouldn't it just makes sense - in the natural order of things - that whatever illness you developed, based on your environment (or lack of connection to your environment), that the cure would be within reach!? If you lived on the coast of North Carolina, would the cure be in India, or China? Of course not!! To me that's pure logic. There's a pharmacopeia of medicinal, nutritional plants around you, and we've all been taught that they're nothing more than a nuisance. How absolutely sacrilegious, and ignorantly vile - to spray something as evil as Round-Up, on something that could be of such incredible value to your health!?! How wrong is that?! Anyway...
It's all out there...and you can be smarter than everyone else, by educating yourself about it, and getting out there to collect it. You can take your children with you, and teach them too. It's great to get outdoors and hike around, but if you can come home with a basket of nutrient and vitamin rich vegetation (for free), it's all the more worthwhile! You don't need to drives hours out-of-the-way, and hike deep into the forest either....seriously...this quest is for finding out what's edible in and around your home!
This is what I do -
Search for "edible plants" in northwest Georgia. University sites are usually good for lists. Then I open a new tab, and do another search for the name of the plant + "medicinal benefits". I open a third tab, and do a Google image search for the plant - so I can really get a feel for what it looks like - especially in different seasons (spring, summer, fall).
You can get a field guide (book) to carry around with you. This is especially useful for mushrooms, which are a lot harder to identify which are poison and which are not. Honestly the best way to learn about mushroom hunting - is by going out with an expert! Search online for wildcrafting or mushroom hunting groups, guides, or workshops in your area. That's the best, fastest, hands-on approach.
THIS QUEST IS PRETTY SIMPLE. FIND OUT WHAT'S EDIBLE IN AND AROUND YOUR AREA....AND POST WHAT YOU'VE FOUND TO THE GROUP. YOU CAN SIMPLE DO THE RESEARCH PART, BUT IT WOULD BE GREAT IF YOU ACTUALLY WENT OUT, FOUND THE PLANTS, AND ATE THEM. COOKED THEM UP, OR STARTED USING THEM MEDICINALLY - AND THEN LET EVERYONE HERE KNOW WHAT YOU'RE RESULTS WERE/ARE.
IF YOU HAVE ANY COMMENTS, OR WANT TO SHARE ANY EDIBLE PLANTS FOR YOUR LOCATION - LEAVE A COMMENT (with link) BELOW.