There are many edible wild plants native to the United States that you can grow—or may already find growing—in your garden. Many of these plants are left neglected and deemed worthless, but they offer an abundance of free flavors for everything from teas to cakes, salads to soups. The best part? They require no maintenance while providing big taste. Consider these incredible, edible wild plants for your garden, or just keep an eye out—they might pop up on their own!
Violets add color to salads. Candy them to decorate desserts.
Cook chickweed, or freeze and save. As one of spring’s first plants, chickweed should be harvested before it dies in warmer weather. Try mixing this nutritious herb with equal portions of henbit and lamb’s quarters, boil briefly, season with crumbled bacon and one or two teaspoons of vinegar, and voilà! You’ve got a vitamin-packed side dish.
Henbit is already green by January in the Midwest; little purple flowers cover the plant by early spring. Harvest the whole plant for nutritious vegetable greens in early spring before it fully flowers. Be sure to use henbit before it perishes in the hot sun.
Lamb’s quarters (also known as pigweed) can overtake gardens; don’t plant. Instead, leave a few volunteers growing in the garden. To enjoy this tasty plant, cook the leaves like spinach, or mix with other greens. Come autumn, collect its seeds and add to baked goods. (Mix the seeds with flour or sprinkle on top, like poppy seeds.)
Candy spearmint and peppermint leaves, or use them in apple-spearmint salads or for brewing tea.
Grow New Jersey tea in a raised bed in full sun to partial shade. Dried, the leaves make a delicious tea.
Spicebush thrives in part or full shade. Grow in moist to average soil. Meat dishes, soups, and vegetarian and tofu dishes can benefit from its leaves, berries and twigs. Use the berries dried and the leaves fresh or dried. The young twigs can be used any time of the year, fresh or dried.
Peppergrass leaves are used as cooked greens or added fresh to salads. Try using it as a salt alternative: Mix dried seeds with an equal amount of violet wood sorrel.
Wood sorrel provides leaves, seed pods, tender stems and flowers that can be used in salads, pies and quiches.
In autumn, smooth sumac bears red berries that can be used to make lemonade, fruit punch and teas. Note: Identifiable by its red berries, this variety of sumac differs greatly from its poisonous cousin poison sumac, a swamp plant that bears ivory or white berries.
Sweet goldenrod exudes an anise scent and offers a unique honey-anise flavor. Use its young buds and flowers to flavor cakes and muffins, or make a tea with its crushed, dried leaves. Grow the plant in a raised bed, in full sun and sandy soil.
Wild ginger’s rhizomes are candied or used as a tea or seasoning. Grow in part or full shade, in moist to moderate conditions. Wash the roots, trim off the rootlets, and boil the rhizomes in a sugar solution. Drain, roll in sugar and let dry for days. Note: The FDA warns against using Asarum caudatum internally, but no such warning exists about wild ginger (A. canadense).
Wild rose provides edible petals for sorbets, salads and ice creams. Candy the petals And use the plant’s rose hips for sauces and teas packed with vitamin C.