Edible Native Plants For Your Garden

Many native species have been used in some way as food in the past. This list has been limited to to the more practical examples of foods you might be able to harvest in reasonable numbers on a residential property. These include species which are prolifc enough to withstand some regular harvesting or those for whom only portions of the plants such as fruits or leaves will be harvested.

This list is only intended to guide you in some things you might plant around your home, never collect native plants in the wild. Most native plants are threatened by habitat loss and degradation so they cannot withstand the additional pressure of harvesting. Furthermore, this is illegal on any public property. Fruit and nut collection must even be limited to a few individual samples only (one possible exception to this would be raspberries and blackberries which are quite abundant).

Here are several books that provide additional useful information:

 Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie by Kelly Kindscher
 Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide by Kelly Kindscher
 Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants by Bradford Angier
 Edible and Medicinal Wild Plants of Minnesota and Wisconsin by Matthew Alfs
 The Forager's Harvest by Samuel Thayer
 Wild Berries and Fruits Field Guide for Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan by Teresa Marrone

Edible Native Plant Catalog

American Plum, Prunus americana American Plum
Benefits: Bees
Height: 15-25 feet
Bloom Time: April
Sun: Full Sun
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Loam
Soil Moisture: Dry, Medium
Color: Green, Yellow

Description: American Plum (Prunus americana) is a small, deciduous, single trunk tree or multi-stemmed shrub which occurs in rocky or sandy soils in woodlands, pastures, abandoned farms, streams and hedgerows.

Comments: The plums are eaten fresh and used in jellies and preserves, and are also consumed by many kinds of birds. Numerous cultivated varieties with improved fruit have been developed. A handsome ornamental with large lowers and relatively big fruit, American Plum is also grown for erosion control, spreading by root sprouts.

Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa Bergamot
Benefits: Bees
Height: 2-5 feet
Bloom Time: Jul, Aug, Sep
Sun: Full Sun, Part Sun
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil : Clay, Sand, Loam
Moisture: Dry, Medium, Moist
Color: Lavender

Description: Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa),Bee Balm or Horse-Mint has a lovely violet blossom and distinctively aromatic foliage. It is a familiar component of prairie and savanna communities on all but the wettest of soils.

Comments: This showy perennial, frequently cultivated, has aromatic leaves used to make mint tea. Oil from the leaves was formerly used to treat respiratory ailments. The leaves smell minty.

Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca Common Milkweed
Benefits: Bees, Butterflies
Height: 2-4 feet
Bloom Time: Jun, Jul, Aug
Sun: Full Sun, Part Sun
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil: Clay, Loam, Sand
Moisture: Medium, Dry
Color: Pink, Lavender

Description: Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a rough, weedy perennial which commonly occurs in fields, open woods, waste areas, roadsides and along railroad tracks. It typically grows 3-4 feet (less frequently to 6 feet) tall on stout, upright stems with thick, broad-oblong, reddish-veined, light green leaves (to 8 inches long).

Comments: There is general agreement that young milkweed shoots, leaves and pods are edible after boiling. The two questions are how many times should you change the water and should the water always be boiling or can you put them in cold water to start? A third authority considers them famine food only. It is best to say you will have to experiment. We want to get rid of the bitterness because it is toxic. Said another way, don’t eat any milkweed that is bitter after cooking. Taste it and wait 30 seconds or so.

Leadplant, Amorpha canescens Leadplant
Benefits: Bees, Butterflies
Height: 2-3 feet
Bloom Time: Jun, Jul
Sun: Full Sun
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil: Loam, Sand
Moisture: Dry, Medium
Color: Purple

Description: Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) is a native that typically occurs in open woodlands, glades and prairies. This pea/bean family member is a somewhat ungainly, deciduous shrub growing 1-3 feet tall and featuring slender, dense, 4-8 inches spike-like clusters of tiny, bluish-purple flowers with gold anthers which bloom in May-June.

Comments: Native Americans used the leaves for smoking and for making a tea.

New Jersey tea, Ceanothus americanus New Jersey Tea
Benefits: Bees, Butterflies
Height: 2-3 feet
Bloom Time: Jul, Aug
Sun: Full Sun, Part Sun
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil: Loam, Sand
Moisture: Dry, Medium
Color: White

Description: New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) is a compact, dense, rounded shrub which typically grows 2-3 feet tall. It occurs in prairies, glades, dry open woods and thickets. Cylindrical clusters (1-2 inches long) of tiny, fragrant, white flowers (1/8 inch) appear on long stalks at the stem ends or upper leaf axils in late spring.

Comments: A refreshing and stimulating tea is made from the dried leaves, it is a good substitute for china tea though it does not contain caffeine.The leaves are gathered when the plant is in full bloom and are dried in the shade

Allegheny Serviceberry, Amelanchier laevis Allegheny Serviceberry
Benefits: Birds
Height: 15-40 feet
Bloom Time: Apr
Sun: Full Sun, Part Sun
Zones: 4, 5
Soil: Loam
Moisture: Medium
Color: White

Description: Allegheny Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) is a small, deciduous, usually multi-trunked understory tree or tall shrub which is native to thickets, open woods, sheltered slopes and wood margins where it typically grows 15-20 feet tall. Features showy, 5-petaled, slightly fragrant, white flowers in drooping clusters which appear in early spring.

Comments: Native peoples dried the small pomes like raisins or mashed and dried them in cakes. Often the dried fruits were mixed with meat and fat to form pemmican, a light-weight, high-energy food that could support winter travellers for long periods if the diet was supplemented with vitamin C to prevent scurvy.

Canadian Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense Canadian Wild Ginger
Benefits: N/A
Height: 3-5 inches
Bloom Time: Apr, May, Jun
Sun: Part Shade
Zones: 2, 3, 4, 5
Soil: Loam
Moisture: Moist
Color: Green, Purple, Red, Brown

Description: Canadian Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) is a native spring wildflower which occurs in rich woods and wooded slopes throughout the State. Basically a stemless plant which features two downy, heart-shaped to kidney-shaped, handsomely veined, dark green, basal leaves.

Comments: Its basic use is as a ginger substitute in cooking, a flavoring agent, and for making some candy. There are numerous medicinal claims.

Nodding Pink Onion, Allium cernuum Nodding Pink Onion
Benefits: Bees
Height: 1-2 feet
Bloom Time: Jul, Aug
Sun: Full Sun
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil: Clay, Loam, Sand, Rocky
Moisture: Medium, Moist
Color: Pink, White

Description: Nodding Pink Onion (Allium cernuum) occurs primarily in rocky soils on glades, bluff edges, open woods and. Plants typically grow 12-18 inches tall. Features clumps of flat, narrow, grass-like leaves and tiny bell-shaped, pink to lilac pink flowers which appear in loose, nodding clusters atop erect, leafless scapes rising slightly above the foliage. All parts of this plant have an oniony smell when cut or bruised.

Comments: All parts of this native food are edible raw or cooked, and can be eaten and prepared just like a traditional bunching/green onion. The flavor of this wild onion tends to be stronger than supermarket varieties; the taste mellows and sweetens as it's cooked.

Wild Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana Wild Strawberry
Benefits: Bees, Birds, Butterflies
Height: .25 - .5 inches
Bloom Time: Apr, May, Jun
Sun: Full Sun, Part Sun
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil: Loam, Sand
Moisture: Dry
Color: White

Description: Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) is a ground-hugging herbaceous perennial that typically grows to 4-7 inches tall but spreads indefinitely by runners (stolons) which root to form new plants as they sprawl along the ground, often forming large colonies over time. It is native to woodland openings, meadows, prairies, limestone glades and cleared areas including roadsides. bluish-purple flowers with gold anthers which bloom in May-June.

Comments: Fruits are quite small but very tasty and may be eaten fresh off the vine.

Further Information:

 Wisconsin Native Violets
 Wisconsin Edible Berry Shrubs
 Dandelion Recipes
 Grow Native Culinary Herbs
 Native Fruit Trees