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LOOKING FOR WILD FOOD is a primordial form of travel. Even if the area where you’re searching is just a couple blocks of urban or suburban park or hillside, the search can take on the feel of something almost pre-language, a vestige of some earlier time.

I first started learning about edible plants when I was seven or eight. In the three decades since I’ve found wild edibles from Colorado to California to Mexico to Central America to the Pacific Northwest to Patagonia. The more I’ve learned the more I’ve realized a couple striking things:

  • No matter where you are, no matter how seemingly “harsh” the terrain is, there is always some kind of wild food available if you have the knowledge of what / where to look.
  • Searching for wild foods can give you the ability to see, smell, hear, and be aware of details in the landscape — directions and slopes and shadows, for example — that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.

The following is meant less as a real guide than as a point of entry into the act of foraging and learning about plants. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve focused on wild edibles in North America, although many of these plants can be found in other parts of the world. My main criteria was that the foods can be found right in and around urban areas. Please be mindful when harvesting edibles that you properly identify all plants (use a guidebook), and do not take more than you need. Most of all, take time to just enjoy moving through the landscape as you’re gathering.

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About The Author

David Miller

David Miller is Senior Editor of Matador (winner of 2010 and 2011 Lowell Thomas awards for travel journalism) and Director of Curricula at MatadorU. Follow him @dahveed_miller.

  • Caroline Eubanks

    I heard about eating cattails on that show Man, Woman, Wild (but they also ate salamanders…). This post would be very useful if I’m ever stuck in a real-life Hunger Games scenario.

    • Tanya Turner

      You don’t have to wait for a real-life Hunger Games scenario! Many wild
      edibles are easy to get and prepare, tasty, free, nutritious and
      extremely gratifying. 

  • Jared Loftus

    Would you happen to be able to recommend a book for identifying wild foods and preparing them? Preferably a European edition to cut down on size.

    • david miller

       hey jared, thx for inquiring.

      i’ve always used  peterson’s field guides, however these are geographically based / divided into eastern & western US.

      my advice with learning this is the same for learning anything – find other ppl who are doing this locally. i’m not sure where you’re based, but here in the US it’s pretty common to find ‘guided walks’ given by local nature centers or botanical gardens. if you can connect with ppl who lead things like this locally and ask their recommendations, you’ll have a much more ground level connection.

      if there’s nothing like that in your area, i’d just say look for any european based tree guide. identifying trees is somewhat easier than plants – which can be harder to distinguish except when they’re flowering. the idea is to just get into the practice of what to look for, the leaf type, the branching, etc. once you get into it, you’ll start to see this entire ‘universe’ right there that you may never have noticed before.

  • Daniel C. Britt

    I had no idea you could cat tails. I’m pulling my face out of this DiGiorno right now. I’m heading to a pond.   

  • Cedar Cat

    Great! Thanks! I do Weed Walks from May to October in my local community in New York.

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