By Rebecca O'Connor October 23, 2013

Urban Foraging: Edible Plants in the Wild

Finding Nutrition in Ornamentals and Weeds

Season one Doomsday Preppers veteran and author Christopher Nyerges knows a great deal about what you can find to eat in your own neighborhood. Brooklyn Bagwell bumped into the author of 10 books, including the popular "How to Survive Anywhere" and the newly-reissued "Guide to Wild Foods," at the Prepare2Endure Expo in Bakersfield California to find out more about the abundant and often-overlooked nutrition-sources surrounding us. Survivalists and preppers generally know exactly what plants they can nibble on in their area, but not everyone realizes just how much food is in their neighborhood. Some of those weeds you pluck from your lawn are not only nutritious, but actually pretty tasty.

Want to try tasting some greenery in your neighborhood? Nyerges says, "Don't overlook common ornamentals." Many attractive plants in your area are also great in a salad or sauteed as well. But be sure to do your research. There is often a fine line between edible and poisonous, and some plant species look very similar. Also, parts of some plants are toxic, while other parts are perfectly safe. However, when you have honed your identification skills, the world is your salad bar.

Here are a few plants you might be able to find and harvest right in your neighborhood:

  • Roses (Plants from the genus Rosa) – Nyerges suggest choosing roses that have large "hips," the fruit at the base of the flowers. The petals of the rose can be eaten, but you can make jelly, jam, and tea with rose hips.
  • Daylilies (Plants from the genus Hemerocallis)- Daylily flowers, buds, and tubers can be consumed. Nyerges likes to bread them and batter them to fry. He states, "The underground tuber is delicious, but I learned the hard way that you need to cook them. I ate them raw and they made me miserable."
  • Lamb's quarters (Chenopodium album) –Lamb's quarters, also known as goosefoot, is a fierce weed to most gardeners. However, its resilience and tenacity make it a great food source if you decide to eat it instead of weed it out of your yard. It belongs to the same family quinoa and is grown as a crop plant in parts of Asia and Africa for its high protein value.
  • Prickly Pear Cactus (Genus Opuntia) – If you live in a Western region where cactus can grow readily, prickly pear cactus paddles and fruit make a great snack – after a little work. To eat the fruit Nyerges recommends, "Burn off the spines, cook the pears, blend them and then strain out the seeds." He swears it is the closest thing to watermelon.
  • New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides) – Nyerges is a big fan of New Zealand Spinach, which is a thriving introduced species. It will survive what most plants will not, and is frequently used as an ornamental ground cover. It can be eaten raw, boiled, and sauteed. It is high in vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, and vitamin C. 
  • Deciduous oaks (Genus Quercus) – If you know how to prepare them to remove the bitterness of the tannins, acorns make a great food source and the oaks that bear them are found all over North America. The acorns are generally made into a flour or meal for baking. While all are edible, most foragers feel the Quercus alba, the common white oak has the sweetest acorns.
  • Western black nightshade (Genus Solanum)- While the word nightshade makes many of us nervous, the fact is that cultivated tomatoes and eggplant are a member of the same family. Nightshade is also a very common weed. You have to know the right species and eat only the ripe berries, but Nyerges says, "We eat the berries and they taste like mildly spicy tomatoes."

When asked which plant he'd most like to grow in his yard, Nyerges says, "I would grow apple trees if I had the space." Even if they are domesticated, you can make a tremendous number of tasty dishes with apples and there are an incredible number of varieties in slightly different flavors. Wild apples and crab apples (from the genus Malus) are common in the eastern states and delicious. Besides, even if you are foraging who says you have to eat dessert last?

Once you observe what grows well in your area and seems to have an abundant annual harvest, you can always take things to the next level. Why plant a lawn when you could grow useful plants? Nyerges says, "When landscaping your yard, choose useful plants." If you have edible weeds in your yard, why not just let them grow? Who knows when an edible yard might become a necessity?

The Selling Survival articles, videos, links, images, and instructions (“Content”) are for entertainment purposes only. The National Geographic Channel makes no express or implied representations regarding whether the Content is up-to-date, complete, or accurate, and shall not be liable for any consequential damages, claims, losses, or demands of any kind based upon reliance of the Content. Do not rely on this Content for disaster, medical, health or safety advice.

Nat Geo TV App

The Nat Geo TV App

Watch your favorite National Geographic Channel shows the day after they air.

Download on the App StoreGet it on Google Play