Have you ever walked down the street and wondered about the dandelions popping up through the cracks?
You may have asked yourself lots of questions, from how the weed was able to survive there to the most important question – “can I eat that?”
Believe it or not, it’s possible to rethink the way you interact with the city landscape around you – it’s time to consider foraging for urban edibles.
Urban edibles can not only add diversity and nutrients to your diet but they can also help you engage with your community in a more intimate way.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is Urban Foraging?
Urban foraging is just as simple as it sounds. It is the act of identifying and gathering the wild foods that might be growing in your city.
While the practice usually refers to plants like weeds, it could also refer to life forms like tree nuts, mushrooms or even parts like flowers and roots.
Urban foraging is for anyone. You don’t have to have a penny to your name or any special equipment. You also don’t need to leave our neighborhood. You just need to be able to properly identify the foods that you are gathering.
In fact, research is the single most important step you need to take before you give urban foraging a try. You can read regional field guides about the plants in your area – or you can use a foraging app so you can double check your discoveries.
There are also foraging classes and guided tours in many cities. Many of these do have costs associated with them, but some are donation-based or free, offered by city park departments, foraging experts, and environmental organizations.
Here are the top 5 urban edibles you can find easily, and learn to eat weeds instead of getting rid of them.
#1. Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelions contain a plethora of micronutrients that are essential to your body.
The dandelion greens in particular make one nutritious salad. For good reason: vitamins such as A, C, E, K, B1, B2, B6 and minerals like iron, potassium, magnesium are jam packed into this plant.
Dandelions are diuretic, laxative, nutritive, and dandelion tea can act as a digestive stimulant. Dandelions are also a great source of fiber which is great against constipation.
#2. Clovers (Trifolium pratense)
You can add them to your bean soup or baked beans or you can just pick them up, wash them and eat them raw. By far, the micronutrient that’s most abundant inside clovers is manganese, and you also get decent quantities of magnesium, calcium and iron.
Clovers can be effective against arthritis and respiratory infection. They may also help to improve digestion.
#3. The Common Mallow (Malva Sylvestris)
Mallow is yet another urban edible that you can throw into your salad. It has a mild, slightly sweet flavor. It can also be used to treat bronchitis, throat infections and even asthma.
It’s a good laxative and anti-inflammatory. Potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin A can be found in the common mallow.
#4. Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Chickweed boasts a source of zinc, potassium, copper, magnesium, and vitamin C. It’s great as a pesto, in a smoothie, or topping a salad.
A common weed, easily found all over the world. Externally, it is used for wounds, even on open skin, for drawing out toxins and increasing the permeability of bacterial cell walls.
It’s also a fantastic lotion to treat joint pain, and various skin conditions OR, if you want, you can just tie it inside a thin cloth and place it on your bathtub.
#5. Wild Ramps (Allium tricoccum)
Wild ramps, also known as wild onions, are found early to mid-summer along forest edges, meadows, open fields and roadsides.
Both the stalk and bulb are edible, and have a very pungent flavor. Ramps can be used in scrambled egg dishes, stir fry dishes and in soups. They boast being a source of Vitamins A and C, as well as iron and Calcium.
While harvesting, only take what you need at that time, or just a bit to preserve for later. Wild ramps are being over harvested in some areas and in some places in Canada, they are on the protected list.
6. Roses (Rosa)
All roses are edible as long as they are not grown using heavy insecticides or fertilizers.
Check to see if the blossoms have any bugs around them – while you might not love seeing bugs on the roses you are going to eat, it’s actually a good sign in this case as it indicates that the plants have not been treated with chemicals.
Cut the bitter white end of the petals off – then use your roses in things like scones or salads.
7. Marigolds (Tagetes)
Marigolds can also be eaten. These are often grown as annuals, and are frequently found in landscaping in many cities around the world.
They can be eaten fresh or dried and crumbled. When crumbled, the powder can substitute for the spice saffron.
8. Sunflowers (Helianthus)
You can eat sunflower seeds, of course, but also the petals and even the heads. They can be eaten like artichokes when steamed while the petals can be added to soups, salads, and stir fries.
9. Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca)
These strawberries are the little wild ones that you’ve likely seen around trails, roadsides, woodlands, and stream embankments.
They are small yet filled with flavor – a gourmet rendition, if you will, of the store bought variety of strawberry! You should be able to find these in most cities from June onward.
10. Bachelor’s buttons (Centaurea cyanus)
These delicious little flowers can be found in cities all over the world, as they are often used in urban landscaping. They’re bright blue and have a characteristic shaggy outward appearance. They taste great when fried up into fritters!
11. Acorns (from Quercus)
Acorns are filled with nutrients and are easy to find in any city that uses oak trees as part of its landscaping!
Just make sure you cook them well before you eat them to leach the tannins out. Tannins are not only bitter and unpleasant tasting but they also can upset your stomach.
12. Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)
Stinging nettles sound unpleasant to eat but they’re actually quite tasty. They are loaded with nutrients, including magnesium and iron, and when you choose smaller leaves at the top, they have a pleasant, mild taste that you’ll really enjoy.
13. Fiddlehead Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
Fiddlehead ferns are essentially just baby ferns and they’re easy to find in the spring if you live in New England. They’re delicious and crunchy when eaten raw but you can also eat them cooked.
14. Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia)
While you won’t find prickly pear cactus everywhere, if you live in the west, you’ll easily find these out in the wild. Both the fruit and paddles themselves are edible, but you should cut the prickly parts off first, of course.
15. Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)
Lamb’s quarters is another classic plant you’ll often find in urban settings. This one grows just about everywhere in the continental US and tastes even better than spinach! It’s frequently referred to as pigweed or goosefoot as well.
16. Walnuts (Juglans)
Believe it or not, a lot of people don’t actually know what walnuts look like but they’re super easy to find, even in crowded city parks.
No more paying $10 per pound for packaged walnuts at the grocery store anymore – thank goodness! Just make sure you have a small hammer you can use to get at the tender meat inside.
Another urban edible you might find is the chestnut – this is closely related to the walnut. Just make sure you pick one that’s a sweet chestnut and not a horse chestnut, which is poisonous.
17. Daylilies (Hemerocallis)
Daylilies are incredibly tasty and can be eaten raw or sauteed with some butter. It’s the flowers you’ll want to target in your foraging efforts here – these talks are edible,too, but can be tough and bitter.
18. Cattail (Typha)
Cattails won’t be found in dryer city environments, but if you have a marshy area nearby you can do some foraging for cattails. The roots are edible and taste like potatoes when baked, boiled, or roasted. The center of thes talks can be eaten too!
19. Mushrooms (Agaricus)
You can eat just about any kind of mushrooms, including fairy ring mushrooms and shaggy mane mushrooms. Just make sure you choose a variety that’s edible, as some are poisonous yet resemble edible species.
Do your research and make sure you know with 100% certainty that the mushroom you’ve selected is safe. There are lots of identical look alikes that can kill you – so education here is key!
20. Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)
Garlic mustard looks like mustard but smells like garlic – and tastes like a delicious combination for the who!
You’ll find it growing in dense patches in city parks and other vast open spaces. It can grow in full sun and full shade, so be aware of this versatility as you search!
21. Wild Garlic (Allium spp.)
It tastes just like its cultivated counterpart – and it can be found just about anywhere, including in people’s yards, in suny perks, and in other open spaces. You can eat both the bulbs and the leaves, either raw or cooked.
22. Plantain (Plantago major)
We don’t want to disappoint you, but this urban edible isn’t at all related to the bananas of the same name! Instead, this plant is a leafy green with oval leaves and a rubbery texture.
You can eat this urban edible raw or cooked – it also makes a great medicinal ointment for bee stings and other injuries.
23. Amaranth (Amaranthus)
Amaranth isn’t the most common urban edible you’ll find, but if you do happen to see it, be sure to snatch it up!
You can eat the leaves or the seeds as grains. It cooks up as a side dish that is similar in taste and texture to rice or couscous.
Many cities now grow amaranth, a san ornamental plant, so you may have some luck in finding it in your city, depending on where you live.
24. Blackberries and Raspberries (Rubus)
Both blackberry and raspberry bushes are common in areas where the ground was recently distrubed, so new construction areas are great places to look for these fruits. Just watch out for the thorns!
25. Burdock (Arctium)
Burdock is another prickly plant that is surprisingly edible. You can eat this plant in the spring and early summer, when the plants’ leaves are delicious in tea. Just watch out for the burrs that will appear later on into the early fall.
26. Hazelnuts (Corylus)
Hazelnuts are produced by easily recognized trees, with catkins appearing in the spring and nuts in the fall. Wait for the second drop of nuts – the first drop is usually empty and does not contain fruit.
27. Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica)
This invasive plant is a noxious weed -making it a great target for your wild harvesting of urban edibles. You can eat any part of the plant, including the leaves, branches, stalkes, and young shoots.
28. Mulberry (Morus alba)
Mulberry is another plant that can be eaten. The berries are large, making them easy to spot in the city, with multiple varieties available ranging in color from white to a darker purple. These berries can be several inches long!
29. Pecans (Carya illinoinensis)
Another nut you can forage for in your city is the pecan. Early fall is the best time to look, since the trees shed their nuts right before they shed their leaves. You can store them for a long period of time, too.
30. Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)
These berries look much like raspberries but are light orange to yellow in color. They have a sweet flavor and are native to Alaska but can often be found growing in other parts of the world, too.
31. Violets (Viola)
Violets are easy to identify and make a bright addition to any wild-foraged salad. They’re typically found in the early spring, with gorgeous color and flavor that can enhance just about any recipe.
Choose violets with the darkest blooms, as these tend to be the sweetest.
32. Wild Carrots (Daucus carota)
Wild carrots can be harvested and eaten,too, but you need to watch out for toxic look-alikes. Dangerous twins include wild parsnip, water hemlock, and others. Always verify the type of plant before you decide to take a bite!
33. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Last but not least is yarrow. This urban edible is often used as an astringent since it can help slow bleeding. It also tastes delicious when added to soups, salads, or sauces. Looks for a plant with two-inch long leaves and white flowers that look much like those of Queen Anne’s Lace.
Quick Tips for Finding Urban Edibles
If you’re going to give urban foraging a try, there are a few best practice tips you should follow.
For one, don’t venture by yourself to areas of your city with which you are not familiar. Always bring a buddy or let someone know where you are headed.
Don’t forage in areas that might be prone to high levels of pollution, like those near interstates or near sources of agricultural runoff. Lands that might be treated with pesticides – like golf courses – should also be considered off-limits.
Instead, do your foraging in areas with diverse foliage, like in large parks or vacant lots. Even spots along fence lines or those where schools, playgrounds, or hospitals have been built can have hardy, sustainable levels of foliage through which you can forage.
Urban edibles can be found anywhere, from sidewalk cracks to ornamental gardens, park walkways, along the favorite neighborhood tree, or even near gutters.
Start by taking a quick walk around your neighborhood. Write locations of edibles you find in a notepad. Then, bring home a sample to identify and find. Once you’ve deemed the food safe to eat, you can add this location to your list of sites to forage at.
Foraging for urban edibles can be as simple as heading out to your backyard.
If you live in an apartment, or do not have a backyard, you can also find many of these in a local park, or along walking trails. Just be sure to be safe when foraging in other areas.
When you go out, bring a few tools with you, such as large reusable baskets to carry your greens, small containers for berries, and a pair of shears. You may want to bring a Sharpie marker to label your finds, too.
Return to your roots! At one point, all humans were hunter-gatherers. Don’t be afraid of looking around you to find your food. It’s fun and a great way to interact with your environment – no matter what your environment might be!
To see what you need when foraging, read the post here.
What urban edibles will you try to “eat weeds”?
last update on Nov 10th 2021 by Rebekah Pierce