Knowing a few wild plants can not only enhance your outdoor wilderness experience, it could even save your life!  Many people are intimidated by the “Wall of Green” they encounter when they learn about plants around them.  No worries. Many plants have key, easily identifiable characteristics that can help you on your journey.  While it is incredibly important to be careful of any kinds of poisonous plants, the following list is a great starting point to delve into the world of useful wild plants.

#5 Huckleberries/Blueberries

There’s really nothing quite like eating wild blueberries straight from the plant or throwing them in oatmeal or pancakes in the morning.  Blueberries and huckleberries are part of the Vaccinium genus, and include Red Huckleberry, Evergreen Huckleberry, and Oval-leafed Huckleberry/Blueberry.  These tasty berries are easily identifiable by their oval-shaped leaves, alternate leaf pattern and thin spindly branches with no thorns.

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Blueberry and Huckleberry


#4 Dandelion

While this wildplant may not be as glamorous or fun as some of the others, we should all be appreciative of the ubiquitous dandelion.  This wild plant is one of the most prolific in the world and can be found at all sorts of elevations.  It’s tender leaves make a slightly bitter but healthy and nourishing snack that’s packed with vitamins (best picked before the plant flowers).  The flowers can be made into yummy fritters or just picked and munched (sweet, slightly bitter and packed with lots of natural sugars), and the roots can be harvested to make a coffee substitute.  The plant is medicinal, common, easily identifiable, and a good friend to get to know.

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#3 Yarrow

This wild plant just might save your life some day.  No, really.  It was used by ancient Greek warriors to stop bleeding from battle wounds, and it’s Latin named comes from the Greek hero Achilles.  Achillea millefolium, or yarrow, is found at many different elevations, but is especially common at 5000 feet or above.  The little leaves of this plant can be crushed and used to stop bleeding (after a wound has been cleaned out).  They can also be crushed and put on bee stings. Finally, a tea from yarrow can induce sweating which is said to help with fevers.  An important part of every herbalist’s first aid kit, and a big friend to backpackers. Yarrow can be dried and carried with you, though fresh is best.

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#2 Stinging Nettle

While many people are intimidated by the stinging hairs on this wild plant, it is one of the most nutritious wild foods out there.  Nettles are easily identifiable by their heart-shaped leaves with jagged edges, long stalks, and of course the hairs on all parts of the plant that deliver a little sting.  However, if nettles are gathered carefully (with gloves), once steamed or boiled, the needles lose their ability to deliver a sting.  What’s left is a luscious leafy green packed with iron, trace minerals, and lots of protein.  Yep, nettles have one of the highest protein contents for a plant, especially for a leaf.  You can steam them, boil them, make a tea from them, or even cook them in a stir fry.  There are stories from around the world of people living off of nettles for extended periods of time.

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Stinging Nettle

#1 Cattail

This is the wild plant that wins the race.  It probably is the most useful plant on the planet.  No other plant has such an amazing combination of powers as medicine, food, and survival friend.  Cattails grow almost everywhere it is wet (though not necessarily super high-up).  The roots of this plant provide a high-energy starchy food.  One cooked root has the equivalent carbohydrates of two potatoes.  The roots, shoots, and flower stalks can all be harvested as a food source at different times of year.  The pollen of the plant and the gel that grows near the base can both be used to stop bleeding and as an analgesic.  Finally, many parts of the plant can be used for everything from building a shelter, making a mat, making clothes, starting fires, and even making a boat. Truly incredible. But watch out for the look-alike of water lilies.

Wild Plants 6With any wild edible you want to make sure you can properly identify it before eating it. Knowing how to identify these plants is one thing, but experience using them is invaluable. Come learn how to make, use, and identify plants to put together your very own Wild Plant First Aid Kit. You can keep it in your pack while out on the trail. Wild Plant First Aid Kit Class May 10th-11th at The Wilderness Awareness School. Have fun and be safe




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