Have you ever wondered what you would do if you couldn’t buy fresh food, and your vegetable garden couldn’t keep up?
A lot of us know about common foraging plants that we look for when out and about, but would you be happy if I said there are other less common plants you can eat that may surprise you? And they may already be in your garden or on your land?
You could plant some of these species as multi-purpose options, or just be aware of where they grow on your property for future use. Edible plants are everywhere!
Rules for Trying New Plants
- When you’re trying new edible plants you’re unfamiliar with, you must be certain you know what you’re eating. Don’t eat a plant unless you can positively identify it.
- If you suffer from allergic reactions to anything, ensure the plant you are trying doesn’t contain it.
- If you are trying these new plants on public property, make sure there is no spray program because you don’t want to eat foraged greens that are sprayed with poisonous chemicals.
- If you buy these plants from the store, don’t eat any parts because you don’t know what they’ve been sprayed with.
19 Edible Plants That May Surprise You
We are surrounded by edible plants, and most of us don’t even realize it. You could walk down your street and find dozens of things to eat. Sometimes the food that we forage is edible but not delicious. But the plants on this list might as well be grown as veggies!
Here are some of the best:
This makes sense when you realize that dahlias (Dahlia spp.) are closely related to Jerusalem artichokes and sunflowers. The indigenous people of Southern Mexico used dahlia tubers for food and medicine centuries ago. Although the wild plants differed from the tubers of today, the culinary potential remains.
The flavor of dahlia tubers ranges from similar to yams, sweet potatoes, yacon, or carrot. Some say they taste like apples.
Cook them like a potato by washing, peeling, washing again and boiling, or roasting. They don’t mash well, though.
Use freshly dug dahlias, not the ones dried out in storage. Peel them because the skin can be bitter. The tubers of heirloom varieties taste better than hybrids, which can be bland or sour sometimes.
Because dahlias are not sold as food, be wary of eating the tubers you buy from a seller. They may have been treated with chemicals to prevent pests and disease.
Use the dahlia tubers that you have grown yourself, either from seed or other tubers. That way, you know you’re not consuming chemicals.
Use the petals to brighten any salad or as a soup garnish.
A North American native, this popular groundcover (Callirhoe involucrata) has been in many gardens over the years without people knowing it’s also edible. When purchased as seeds, it may be labeled as purple poppy mallow.
The tubers can be thinly sliced and fried or roasted for a sweet potato-like flavor. The flowers can be used in salads, sandwiches, or to top soup or dessert.
Purchase seeds and grow this vine-like ground cover so that if you dig some up, you will also have plenty of others to fill in the space.
3. Red Clover
If your lawn is “natural” like mine, you will likely see a lot of red clover (Trifolium pratense) amongst the grass. The whole plant is edible, including the roots, flowers, and leaves. They are small, so having a patch from which to harvest is best. Luckily, that’s how red clover usually grows.
You can sauté clover, boil them, or eat them raw. When it comes to edible plants, this one is practically everywhere.
A study in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research found that red clover has health benefits for menopausal women. Of course, check with your doctor before using it for this.
You need to get this plant’s shoots when they are young because the older it gets, the more bitter it becomes. But if you harvest the young shoots, you’ll find they taste sweet. The young leaves and flowers are also edible.
Sometimes called willow herb, fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) shoots and leaves can be mixed with other greens to bulk them up. You can peel the stems and eat them raw, or use them as you would asparagus.
The flowers of these edible plants are lovely in salads and soups.
Fireweed is high in vitamins A and C and has plenty of fiber.
If you have been to a wetland at any point, you are likely familiar with cattail (Typhaceae spp.). They often surround swamps, marshes, lakes, and creeks.
The roots of cattail resemble potatoes and are high in protein. You can saute them in a pan, boil them, or even dry them to make flour. Make sure you peel them first.
The young green shoots taste like onion. Strip away the older outer leaves to find the lighter-colored shoots. The stalks, flowers, and seed heads are also edible.
6. Creeping Charlie
Also known as ground-ivy, creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea) belongs to the mint family, but can be invasive and may be considered a pest plant in many areas. Most people are trying to get rid of this plant rather than enjoying it at mealtime.
Pluck sprigs and leaves for salads and omelets, or throw them into the slow cooker when you cook your stews and casseroles.
Make a healthy tea from fresh or dried leaves. The tea has a light mint taste to it.
Grown in warmer regions, hibiscus (Hibiscus spp.) is a bright pink flower on large shrubs that a lot of gardeners use for color but never think about eating them. Besides being a pretty garden plant, hibiscus is also nutritious and sweet.
Hibiscus flower makes a refreshing tea, or you can candy the petals for decadent desserts. Flowers are also used in jellies and jams and relish.
Adding dried hibiscus flowers to other herbs for tea gives it a lovely pink color. When it comes to multi-purpose edible plants, hibiscus is the queen.
Peppergrass or pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum) is also known as poor man’s pepper because you can grind the seedpods up and use them as a substitute for pepper. The leaves can be used in a salad and contain high levels of Vitamins A and C and protein.
The roots can be crushed and added to vinegar and salt to be used as a substitute for horse radish.
9. Prickly Pear Cactus
We all know about the fruit of the prickly pear (Opuntia spp.), but the flat pads are not only edible; they are useful in campfire cooking.
The large paddle-like growths are called nopales. They are cooked and eaten as vegetables and taste like green beans.
Wear thick gloves or use kitchen tongs to avoid the super-sharp spikes. Don’t choose the huge, older pads. Choose ones the size of an adult’s hand spread out. Cut or twist off the nopales. Look for young, green ones.
Remove the spines and the tiny clusters of barbed spines called glochids. The easiest way is with flames so place them on hot coals, turning frequently, or with a blowtorch. They will also come off with a potato peeler, but be careful of the spikes.
Double and triple check you have removed all of the spines and glochids. Cut into strips or cubes and saute, boil, roast, or steam.
You can also leave them whole and cut them open to form a pocket where you can cook fish on hot coals.
10. Queen Anne’s Lace
Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) often grows wild, but if you’ve bought wildflower seeds and sowed them successfully, it may have been included in that seed packet.
The plant is biennial, so it blooms in the second year of growth.
The plant’s taproot is carrot-like and can be eaten when the plant is young. They go best slow-cooked in stews or soups.
The leaves can be added to salads, but for a decadent treat, batter the flowers and fry them in hot oil.
Be exceptionally careful with Queen Anne’s lace. It resembles highly toxic plants like fool’s parsley and poison hemlock.
Queen Anne’s lace smells like carrots, while the other two smell horrible. Poison hemlock has a smooth stem, versus the stem of Queen Anne’s Lace which is hairy.
Don’t consider eating Queen Anne’s lace unless you are positive you know precisely what it is.
Our grandmothers must have been on to something when they planted their begonias (Begonia spp.) years ago. Sometimes considered old-fashioned, begonias are edible and often sold in high-end restaurants as apple blossom.
The blooms can be added to salads and desserts. They add a citrus-sour flavor and are crisp and fresh, giving a nice crunchy texture.
The stems and leaves are also edible. The stems can be added to or cooked the same way as rhubarb.
Begonia contains oxalic acid, so those with gout or kidney stones should be careful.
12. Baby Sun Rose
Mesembryanthemum cordifolium (say that fast) is a sun-loving ground cover that is a popular choice in home gardens in warm regions. But most people don’t know they can also eat it as they admire its lengthy bloom time.
The flavor is reminiscent of green apples.
Baby sun rose leaves can be added to salads for a fresh crunch. They are best eaten raw because cooking them can make them break down too much and lose their shape.
Add the pink flowers to salads, or use them as a raw garnish for pork dishes.
Believe it or not, hostas (Hosta spp.) are considered a delicacy in some parts of the world. In Japan, they’re explicitly cultivated for the tender spring shoots. The flowers are also edible, but don’t bother with the mature leaves. They won’t hurt you, but they’re gross.
When it comes to edible plants, this one is probably already growing in yours or your neighbor’s yard already. You didn’t even know you had a delicacy just waiting to be tasted.
Camellias (Camellia spp.) are the plants that are used to make black and green tea, so you best believe they’re edible plants. You can also eat the flowers and they make a lovely floral tea, themselves. Dry the leaves to make a tea and use fresh petals in salads or sandwiches.
Don’t confuse daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) with true lilies (Lilium spp.), which are poisonous. Daylilies have strappy, grass-like leaves and lilies have wider leaves that spiral up the stem.
Once you’re sure you have the right plant, you can eat every single part: the flowers, stems, leaves, shoots, and roots. Some edible plants are sort of a novelty, but daylilies are truly delicious.
Zinnia flowers (Zinnia spp.) aren’t just a pretty face. They’re edible plants, too. The flowers have a slightly bitter flavor, so you probably don’t want to construct an entire salad out of them.
But use a few petals for a color addition along with some more traditional greens. Or, use them as a garnish in drinks or savory dishes.
Yep, those big, gorgeous blossoms of gladiolus (Gladiolus spp.) are edible. Remove the anthers and then stuff them with cream cheese or onion dip and bake them. Or use the petals to liven up salads and sandwiches.
They have a lovely, crisp, mild flavor that’s similar to romaine lettuce.
Next time you pluck off a snapdragon flower (Antirrhinum spp.) to make it “talk,” pop it in your mouth when you’re done (assuming it hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals, of course). They’re a touch bitter but they’ll grow on you.
Okay, this last one is more of a novelty, but it’s a fun way to wow people at your dinner party. Both the flowers and the bulb of tulips (Tulipa spp.) are edible. During times of food scarcity in Europe, people used the bulb like onions.
You can give them a try and see what you think, but the petals are a safer choice. Toss them in soups and salads for some color.