Edible Wild Plants in USDA Zone 5

Updated on April 23, 2019
LisaRoppolo profile image

Lisa is a writer and gardener with extensive knowledge of plants and plant care. Her articles focus on easy-care tips for home gardeners.

Did you know that many common garden weeds are edible? We see some of these plants every day in our own backyards, near streams, and in wooded areas near our homes. Yet many people don't even realize these plants are edible in some form, whether it be a plant that bears fruit, a plant that bears underground tubers, or the leaves themselves. In some areas of the country, wild edibles are considered a delicacy. Some people depend on wild plants as a part of their diet.

For easy reading, the wild edibles featured in this article will be broken down by:

  • Season
  • Location where they are found
  • Edible parts of the plant
  • Suggested methods of eating/cooking the plant

Spring: Canadian Violet and Other Violet Species

This small ground cover plant spreads wildly. The heart-shaped leaves are a glossy dark green. They can be found in woodlands and in backyards in both shade and full sun. Blooms are purple or white, depending on the variety. Harvest the blooms and leaves. You can use the blooms in tea, fresh in a salad, or candy them. The leaves can be used fresh in salads or cooked like greens. Violets are a great source of vitamin C.

Wild violets.
Wild violets. | Source
Wild white violets.
Wild white violets. | Source

Spring: Ostrich Fern (and Other Fern Genus)

Ferns are found in shaded, woodland areas and shade gardens. Pick the young fronds (fiddleheads) before they unfurl. Scrape off any brown scales/spores. You can eat them raw in salads or the preferred method is to sauté in olive oil and garlic.

Spring: Ramps (Wild Leek)

Ramps are found in wooded areas, commonly under maple trees. The leaves are light green and wide with an onion-like scent when crushed. You can harvest the young leaves before they unfurl into broad leaves or you can harvest the underground bulb from spring through fall. Ramps are great raw chopped into salads but can be pungent. The preferred method is to sauté or boil them. Ramps are also excellent in soups.

Wild ramps.
Wild ramps. | Source

Spring: Lambs Quarters

This perennial weed pops up everywhere. I can easily identify this weed, as I always have it popping up in my yard. The most common areas you can find Lamb's Quarters is in vacant lots, backyards, and roadsides. Lamb's Quarters are identified by their upright growth habit, fuzzy leaves, and grey-green foliage. Pick the young leaves and cook like spinach. The taste is similar to spinach; Lamb's Quarters can also be eaten raw.

Lambs quarter's.
Lambs quarter's. | Source

Spring: Stinging Nettle

This is another perennial weed that is easily identified. If you have ever pulled it in your backyard without gardening gloves on, you can recognize it right away from the sting it gives. Despite its stinging ability, once cooked, the sting is no longer there. It is an upright plant with dark green serrated leaves. It can be found in backyards, moist and fertile areas, along streams, trails, and roadsides. Simmer the leaves until they are tender and eat like greens.

Spring: Wild Strawberry

A very easily identifiable plant. Looks just like your common garden strawberry with slightly smaller fruits. Can be found in woodlands and edges of woodlands. Harvest the fruits in early June. Eat them raw or make preserves.

Spring: Dandelion

Dandelion is very commonly used in Italian cuisine. All parts of the plant are edible. Found in lawns, fields, meadows, and woodland areas. The most common application is eating the young leaves in salad or digging the roots and boiling them like potatoes

Summer: Mayapple

These broad, exotic-looking plants are most commonly found in wooded areas as an understory plant. They like rich, moist soil. The mayapple produces a white strawberry-like flower followed by an egg-shaped fruit. Gather the fruit when ripe and has turned yellow. The fruit turns yellow when the leaves have almost completely died back. Only eat the fully ripe fruit as the unripe ones are slightly toxic. Best application is eating it raw.

Mayapples. | Source
Mayapples just starting to form their small fruit in early May. The fruits are hard to see, because they are hidden under the leaves.
Mayapples just starting to form their small fruit in early May. The fruits are hard to see, because they are hidden under the leaves. | Source

Summer: Peppermint and Other Mints

Mint is very widespread in wet places like ditches and along streams and meadows. Crush the leaves for that pure minty scent. You can pick the leaves at any stage of growth. Eat fresh, make tea, or even mint jelly!

Summer: Purslane

Purslane is a common weed. You probably have seen in in your own backyard and not known what it was. It is found in fields, vacant lots, waste sites, and even grows between cracks in the sidewalk. It is a small and delicate plant that looks similar to a stonecrop (sedum). Harvest the young tips June through September. Eat raw in salads. Purslane is very high in vitamin C and iron.

Summer: American Elderberry (Sambus Varieties)

Elderberry shrubs can be found in woodland areas, and some of the cultivated varieties are used as an ornamental in garden landscapes. For use in your own garden, typically two plants are required for proper pollination. Harvest the white flowers in late spring/early summer. Pick the fruits when they are a deep, dark purple. You can batter and deep fry the flowers or extract the juice from the berries. The berry juice is commonly used as a treatment for colds. It helps boost the immune system, because it is very high in vitamin C.

Elder flower blossom.
Elder flower blossom. | Source

Summer: Black Huckleberry

Huckleberry are found in woodland areas, clearings, along trails and in both dry and moist soils. This shrub's fruit are ripe from late June through September. Pick the fruits and eat fresh or use in jams and pies.

Summer: Common Blackberry, Raspberry, and Mulberry

Blackberry and raspberry shrubs are found on the edges of woodlands, fence rows, roadsides, and disturbed sites. Mulberry trees are found in the same sites, and many of these trees are used as ornamentals in neighbors gardens. They are most commonly spread by birds and can pop up anywhere. The fruits are ripe from June through August. Use fresh or in preserves and pies.

Summer: Gooseberry

These understory shrubs can be found in forested areas and on the banks of rivers and streams. The berries are found in late June on thorny branches. Birds love them and for that reason. You may even find yourself with a gooseberry shrub popping up in your yard. The cultivated variety are less thorny and can be found in seed and plant catalogs. The berries taste like a tart, green grape. This is an old-timey shrub that not many people grow anymore, but it yields nicely and is commonly eaten raw or made into pie or preserves.

Gooseberry harvest.
Gooseberry harvest. | Source

Summer: Paw Paw

This Native American tree with a tropical look can be found in river valleys and deep, moist hummus-rich soils. Many varieties are grown in home gardens, as the tree comes in both full-size and dwarf-size varieties. Paw Paws produce oblong, smooth fruits that when ripe taste like banana custard. Harvest the fruit in late summer/early fall. Use the fruit raw or in baked goods.

A Word to the Wise

Only collect these wild plants in areas you know are safe from pesticide usage and with permission in forest preserves and neighbor's yards.

Fall: Wild Rose and Rugosa Varieties

Smaller than their cultivated cousins, wild roses can be found in wooded areas, fields, and abandoned pastures. Both the hips and flowers are edible. The flowers are available in summer, followed by the hips in the fall. Applications include making rose water with the flowers and rose hip jelly and teas with the hips. The hips are very high in vitamin C.

Rose hips.
Rose hips. | Source

Fall: Wild Grapes

The predecessor to the common garden variety grapes, wild grapes can be found along riversides, edges of woodland areas, and along fences. Both the leaves and fruit are edible, however, the fruit is more tart than the common cultivated varieties. So it is best used in preserves, pies, and wine-making.

Fall: Lotus Lily

A beautiful and common water plant, lotus can be found in ponds, streams, and lakes, as well as in a home water garden. Harvest the tuberous roots in the fall. Harvest the seed heads after the seeds ripen summer through fall. The tuber can be baked or boiled like potatoes. The seeds can be roasted like chestnuts and eaten or ground into a flour.

Lotus lily.
Lotus lily. | Source

How likely are you to try some of the wild edible plants in this article?

See results

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Lisa Roppolo


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • LisaRoppolo profile imageAUTHOR

      Lisa Roppolo 

      6 years ago from Joliet, IL

      I am too. Here in the Midwest, we have had just an awful winter!

    • Patsybell profile image

      Patsy Bell Hobson 

      6 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

      I am just itching for spring after reading your post. Love your photos. I might even be able to get my husband to try a few dandelions.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, dengarden.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)