New Update 07/15/2014

Improved pictures & information for Sumac.
Previous Update (06/01/20140): Added Salad and Tobacco labels.

Introductions and Guidance

Greetings, friend. My name is Merriwether, welcome to my edible wild plants blog. By day I'm a research chemist but my weekends are spent exploring the surprisingly large tracts of wild land in and around Houston. Since the Fall of 2008, I've been teaching teaching an edible wild plant classes at the Houston Arboretum and other parks and nature preserves around Houston.

This blog contains the names and pictures of edible wild plants I've found in my explorations. Each plant has a post listing when and where to find it, which parts are edible, and how to prepare them. All the photographs of these plants were taken by me. These wild edibles can be found around Houston and other areas of Texas, though most of these plants can also be found nationwide and even worldwide.

There are three ways to find a plant on this blog. The first is by common name as listed in the sidebar to the left. On the right sidebar you can look for the plant based on the environment it grows, season, plant type, flower color, fruit or seedpod color, and use. Finally, the blog search box at the top of the page can be used to search for key words such as scientific names.

Foods edible raw have been marked with the Raw label to make them easier to focus on by raw foodists. Please read the plant details to identify which parts of the plant can safely be eaten raw and thoroughly wash any plants, especially if collected from ponds, streams, marshes, or swamps.

I'm a teacher at heart so if you have questions feel free to e-mail me and I'll try to answer them. Also, please read and take to heart the Foraging Ethics. This is to insure that the joy of wild foods remains available to all.

If you like the information found here please help support www.foragingtexas.com by purchasing edible wild plant books and gear for a self-sufficient lifestyle from my Amazon.com store, The Forager's Shack.

Peace be with you.
-Merriwether

Foraging Ethics

1. Respect the law. You must have permission from the property owner to collect plant matter. To forage without permission is considered stealing and you can be arrested. Most state and federal land prohibit gathering plants except in survival situations.

2. Respect the land. Leave no trace. Fill your holes, pack out your garbage (and garbage left by others), don't hack/slash/smash/burn your way through nature. Don't harvest a plant if there are just a few around.

3. Respect the plant. Please harvest sustainably so that there will be plenty of plants year after year. I've coded each plant with an Abundance tag which are defined as follows:
Plentiful - harvest up to 50% of this plant from the location
Common - harvest up to 30% of this plant from the location
Uncommon - harvest up to 10% of this plant from the location
Rare - harvest only in an emergency or one small bit to taste
Very Rare - harvest only in a dire emergency

Also, don't strip all the leaves from one plant, just take 1 shoot or 2-3 leaves from many plants. Minimize damage to the plants by cutting leaves off the plant with a sharp knife or shears rather than tearing them off. Harvest inner bark using long, thin vertical strips on one side of the tree, do not cut a ring all around the tree which will kill it. Sterilize your cutting tools with alcohol or bleach to prevent transfer of diseases.

4. Respect yourself. Please positively identify any plant before eating it. Eating the wrong plant can lead to illness or in rare circumstances, even death. Also be aware of any environmental hazards in your foraging location such as snakes, bears, or chemical hazards from old oil fields, roadways, lead paint around old buildings or areas subject to flooding from sewers.

The Forager's Shack

Check out The Forager's Shack for the books, videos, and gear I recommend for foragers, gardeners, and people wanting to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle. I only suggest gear I actually use and has my seal of approval so you know your money won't be wasted on junk.




I earn 4%-6% of the value of your purchase from the Forager's Shack, which allows me to maintain and improve this website. Win-win for all of us, don't you think?

Benefits of Foraging

Solvitur ambulando, St. Jerome was fond of saying. "To solve a problem, walk around."
~Gregory McNamee


I forage, which means I walk. It means I bend, stretch, and dig. It means I constantly have access fresh, vitamin packed foods that cost no money. It means I bond with my family, friends, neighbors and complete strangers. This bonding expands past my community and into the heart of nature, whose rhythms I must follow to find the foods I seek.

Foraging requires walking. Often lots of walking, usually while carrying stuff. It also requires bending (usually lots of bending!) digging stuff, climbing stuff, shaking stuff, and occasionally running from stuff. In Texas summers, foraging means carrying lots of heavy water with me as I hunt the wild edibles. The physical labor of foraging greatly surpasses that of pushing a shopping cart down a grocery store aisle! Because of this and also due to the nature of plants themselves, I often burn more calories than I gather when foraging...which isn't a bad thing.

The domestication of plants changed them at a genetic level. They have been bred to remain fresh-looking, resistant to shipping damage, and have a mild flavor, as well as be convenient to harvest and store. In return, these well-trained plants gave up much of their best nutritional compounds. Meanwhile, wild plants have to fight every minute of every day to stay alive. To help them in these battles they load themselves up with a huge selection of chemical warfare agents...agents that we refer to as vitamins, minerals, flavanoids, lycopenes, anti-oxidants and many other beneficial compounds. As I usually harvest and eat the plants within a few hours, they are much, much fresher than any store-bought and even farmer's market-bought foods.

Foragers are the only ones who truly can get a free lunch. My backyard, with nothing more than removing the grass beneath a few pruned branches on which birds perch, has brought forth amaranth, lamb's quarter, dollarweed, chickweed, dandelions, cat's ear, purslane, sow thistle, dwarf palmetto, scarlet pimpernel, pony's foot, and many other edible "weeds". I bought no seed. No water, fertilizer, or pesticides are needed. These plants thrive on neglect, as any gardener could tell you. And at mealtime they are ready and waiting for me and my family. Is there any better food security than this?

But my yard is not big enough to supply all my family's needs. Every evening my two daughters and I walk around the neighborhood and we see lots of wild edibles. Texas law forbids harvesting any plant material from property you do not own without the owner's permission. To be a ethical forager here in Texas means you need to talk to people. It's easy to talk to other family members or friends to ask if you can harvest the spiderwort in their flower beds. It takes much more effort (and charm!) to knock on a stranger's door to ask if you and your children may have the white clover heads from their yard. Over time, we've talked with just about everyone in the surrounding five blocks and while some think I'm crazy, most welcome me and the knowledge I bring. Inadvertently through constant talking with everyone, I became the neighborhood "connector". When Rick needed to a particular tool I knew Bob had, I got the two of them together. When a new family on the block had to leave town for an unexpected emergency, I hooked them up with a trustworthy pet sitter. By the time hurricane Ike hit our neighborhood, most people already knew each other and happily worked together to clean up the wreckage.

Gardeners often talk about their joy of bonding with "nature" but I just smile at that statement. To me, gardeners seem more often at war with nature than bonding with Her. They plant plants that couldn't possibly survive in the wild. They tear up the plants nature gives them. They spread both poisons and fertilizers. They rely on a faucet rather than rain. The main contacts they have with nature is sunburn and mosquito bites.

Without looking at an iPhone app can you tell me what phase the moon will be tonight? With foraging, as the seasons pass new plants become available on nature's schedule, not mine. I needed to learn nature's cycles to find the plants I wanted. But not just the seasonal cycles, but also the relationships between nature and Her plant gifts. Sun, shade, woods, fields, river banks, sandy soil, clay soils...all these influenced what plants would grow in a particular location. As I wrapped myself deeper in this web I saw more and more relationships...for instance, up in the Sam Houston National Forest I discovered that wherever there was sassafras one would also find bull nettle. No plant book has ever mentioned these two plants grow together, yet they do.

And deeper still. The secret to learning edible wild plants is to first identify the plant then search the literature to see if it is edible. In the way you eventually learn most of the plants in your environment, edible or not. As you are out looking at plants you will also find bugs, tracks, and scat. Natural curiosity will drive you to identify these discoveries. Being outside as much as foragers are leads to a heightened weather-sense over time, too. Clouds, wind, and the actions of some insects, animals and plants can all be used to tell what sort of weather is close at hand.

As a forager, eventually you stop getting your entertainment from tv but rather from the sky, the ground, and the people around you. Your physical health improves due to getting exercise and better nutrition. Your mental health improves because you are surrounded by friends, laughter, and have a sense of belonging. Your finances improve because your foods are free, your health

Foraging for Calories

Let's talk about finding calories in the woods for a bit. Most vitamins and minerals are easy to come by from edible wild plants but calories are a lot more difficult. There's a basic rule of thumb which states that while at rest your body will consume calories equal to ten times your body weight. If you are working hard this can jump up to twenty times your weight (find your calorie requirements here).

I'm 6'5" and 200 pounds. To meet my energy needs to make it through a hard day backpacking I'll need 20 x 200 = 4,000 calories. Food-wise how much is this?

Snickers Bar...........136 calories per oz
Peanut butter..........168 calories per oz
Whole wheat flour......97 calories per oz
Baked potato (plain)...26 calories per oz

A regular Snickers Bar is 2oz, so I'd need to eat FOURTEEN of them to fuel myself. I kind of like the sound of that, though the resulting dentistry bills would suck. What if I eat something healthier like potatoes? A large, plain baked potato weighs about 10oz, so I'd need to eat FIFTEEN of them.

I don't want to carry fifteen potatoes per day when I'm out in the woods.

So, what about wild edibles?

Acorns................112 calories per oz
Pecans................197 calories per oz
Apple..................15 calories per oz
Cattail tuber..........19 calories per oz
Blackberries...........12 calories per oz

Nuts are definitely the main source of non-animal-based calories in the wild. I would need to eat 35oz (2.2 lbs) of acorn nut meat, which means collecting somewhat more than that weight of acorns as I need to shell, crush, then extract the tannin from them before eating. Pecans do much better, I'd only need to eat 20oz of shelled pecan nut meat.

But nuts are only available for a short time. What about berries or some sort of tuber? Unfortunately, these have approximately 1/5 the calories of nuts. One of most common sources of calories in the woods are greenbrier roots. They have slightly fewer calories than potatoes so I'm going to have to dig up around ten pounds of them which is time consuming and hard. Plus they don't taste very good. Cattail tubers are easier to dig but give even less calories than greenbrier. Berries give still fewer calories, I'd need to find twenty pounds of them to meet my energy needs.

Most of us have some built-in fat reserves to get us through short periods of famine. However it does not take long for irritability, confusion, and weakness to set in when the body is deprived of its necessary calories. For more information on the effects of starvation I recommend reading They Starved So That Others Be Better Fed: Remembering Ancel Keys and the Minnesota Experiment

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