Cynthia is a homesteader who grows and harvests food for her family. She preserves her harvests and stores foods for the winter.
Everyone tries to prepare and pack enough essentials to cover their entire trip. If something should happen and you get lost away from camp and supplies, you need to sustain yourself. Learning what grows in areas you visit can be essential should a hardship or emergency occur.
10 Plants to Eat While Hiking or Camping in West Virginia
Now that we covered the names lets cover each one and give you a better clue of what they look like too. Never go out and stick just anything in your mouth, this can be disastrous many wild plants are a no go. Many are poisonous some mild and may only make you sick and some can cause death.
For myself and many other native West Virginians these are not just wild edibles. We often eat them frequently in our homes, and look forward to a chance to harvest them.
Fireweed has a few distinct characteristics to help you identify it in the wild.
- pink to purple flowers
- grows in tall spike shapes
- four petals
You are likely to find firweed growing in moist areas with good sunshine. Along forest edges or even in clearings are great places to see this beautiful flower.
Fireweed offers something valuable in each phase of its development. Early shoots can be eaten crude or gently cooked. Gather when the leaves are still near the stem and facing upward. Youthful leaves can be squeezed off and eaten as you would spinach or other leafy greens. As plants age they turn stringy in texture and terrible to eat. Blossom buds are delicious and make a vivid expansion to servings of mixed greens.
Morels are a very sought after fungi delicacy for the people of West Virginia. This particular mushroom requires caution and an understanding of what a false morel is.
Not understanding how to tell the difference between a true or a false morel can result in death. False morels are poisonous so you want to be sure you have the right mushroom before eating one.
The Principle Qualities of True Morel Mushrooms
- Honey-comb like edges and pits on the top.
- Stem connection at the base of the top, and is totally joined along the base edge.
- Completely hollow inside.
The Principle Qualities of False Morel Mushrooms
- Cap attaches midway down the down.
- Cotton like material inside.
Morels should not be eaten when raw, but they are delicious cooked. As a general rule with most fungi never eat one that stinks. While mushrooms tend to have an earthy smell, any rotten fragrances wafting from them and don't eat them. Some people do not do well with mushrooms and in some cases can have allergic reactions.
Morels are amazing breaded and fried, and in a pinch you can break out the camping stove and fry them without breading. Do give them a quick rinse first to remove any insects or dirt.
I know here in West Virginia we often seem to be cut from a different cloth than other folks. I remember growing up and snacking on honeysuckle nectar frequently. As I am sure many of my fellow mountaineers did as well.
While sipping the sweet nectar from a honeysuckle flower is a treat, don't eat the berries. If you snack on the berries you can expect a upset stomach for your troubles.
Sip the sweet honey-like nectar by pulling off entire flower heads. Then pull out the stem and enjoy. In a pinch leaves are also edible just remember to never eat the berries. To prepare the leaves boil as you would other greens.
This particular family of flowers has both edible and poisonous members. So do make sure you can properly identify Japanese Honeysuckle.
I personally carry my plant identification book with me when my family and I are hiking or camping. You never can be to sure of anything. Sure I grew up eating certain things, but it is always best to confirm when plants have dangerous dupes.
Pokeweed is a wild edible that maybe a little labor intensive for those who are on a hike. But you can always gather it up to prepare later. It is another frequent wild edible consumed by many people here in my home state.
Precautions for Gathering Pokeweed
- Nothing over 7 inches in height Avoid dark red stems
- Avoid leaves with any purple hues
Plants that have aged or are lager tend to have higher concentrations of certain toxins. They can still be consumed but it requires boiling them in fresh water at least 3-4 times.
Instead harvesting young plants and leaves is a better option. To prepare you boil shoots and leaves. It is very tender and poke salat is a common dish for many people.
Pokeweed is more seasonal than some wild edibles, best gathered in spring months. As they are aged and producing more toxins through the summer months.
You can't go wrong with ramps, until it's time to snuggle up in your tent that is. Ramps have a pungent aroma and you tend to sweat it out. I can remember my Dad smelling of ramps for over a week sometimes.
Ramps have been the foundation for many a fundraising dinner here in West Virginia. A staple for many households during digging season too.
Ramps are wild leeks that enjoy growing in cool, damp locations where the soil is rich. I often find ramps growing throughout many wooded areas here. Especially locations with natural springs or small valley trenches running between two hillsides. Where the soil remains moist for the most part.
Ramps are an excellent choice for eating when camping or hiking. This wild edible does not need to be cooked. Though it lends an amazing flavor when adding to fried potatoes and many other dishes.
The flavors range from mild to strong. The lightest flavor profile will be in the leaves, and you can expect a strong flavor from the bulbs. I can tolerate eating raw bulbs very well, then again I grew up eating ramps. Eating the bulbs section raw is not for everyone!
Ramps have a flavor profile of onions and garlic all rolled into one. So they can be very bitey and borderline hot to some folks.
Blackberries grow wild throughout West Virginia too. An abundant source of food for various wildlife. Campers and hikers can enjoy about 20 different species of blackberries too.
Not only the berries are edible, leaves can be steeped into tea too. Blackberries are a great on the go snack for hikers, you can eat them straight of the bush or bramble. Wild blackberries are an easy to identify wild edible with a lot of needed vitamins in them too.
If you run into a bounty of blackberries you can pick them to take back to your campsite. They are great source of energy giving B vitamins so an excellent option for a long hike. They are delicious added to many recipes.
Elderberries are among my favorite wild edibles however they do require cooking. Stand alone cooked and seeds removed they are very tart. It is not recommended to eat elderberries raw it can cause a wide range of stomach issues.
Elderflowers are also edible if you are camping when the plant is in bloom prior to producing fruit. Elderflowers can be eaten raw, or fried or even made into a delicious tea.
Never eat green or unripened elderberries, you must wait until thy are deep purple. You must remove the seeds this can be labor intensive if you are hiking and camping with basic supplies. Only the flesh of the berries should be consumed.
Elderberry is very rich in many nutrients an vitamins. So while it can be a pain to cook and remove seeds, a great option should you sustenance.
Chickweed is an amazing wild edible! Unlike many other plants chickweed is completely edible. Chickweed can be eaten raw though a certain variety called 'Mouse-Ear' is best cooked because of its texture.
Flowers, seeds, leaves and stems are all consumable. The unique thing about chickweed is that raw it tastes much like corn silk but cooked and prepared it has a spinach flavor.
Chickweed much like its name is a common weed in West Virginia, I often dig it out as it encroaches on my flower beds. As long as you have no allergies to daisies this plant is a safe option.
To prepare chickweed if you would prefer a spinach flavor boil in salt water for 3-4 minutes and serve. Alternatively eat raw or add into a salad of other foraged foods.
Cattails are last on the list for a few reasons. One because I loath them, to me these are a worst case edible. But everyone's taste buds are different so they deserved a spot.
Roots, shoots and even the seed heads are all edible on a cattail. Shoots are a good source of food for hikers they can be eaten raw or cooked. I've heard folks say that raw the stems taste like cucumbers but I beg to differ. I would more more accurately compare it to the fibrous of a raw asparagus. And a weird faint citrus flavor-but not a good one.
Roots can be prepared like you would potatoes or turnips or even ground into a flour for bread making. Stalks can be fried or boiled, though boiled is best. Cattails are fibrous enough that they were once used for weaving baskets.
Precautions When Foraging for Wild Edibles
As mentioned a lot of wild edibles do have poisonous dupes. I always carry a plant identification book with me when we go camping or hiking. It is extremely useful, and honestly common sense to use.
Don't just eat anything, even if you get lost while hiking make sure you are certain a plant is edible. Yes there are apps today with the digital age to aid in proper identification. But if you are hiking or camping in remote areas you may not have service rendering these apps useless.
A book like the one I have for identifying wild plants will never let you down, unless you fail to take it with you. Never ever just grab something and eat it, the end result could be horrible sickness or even loss of life. A guide is also helpful as identifying a genus of a particular plant may help you to determine any specific allergies you may have.
Sustainable foraging is important when you harvest wild edibles. Please be sure that you are ensuring that your methods of harvesting are sustainable. This helps to propagate future generations of plants to ensure they are there for wildlife and other people if need be.
There are many other wild plants that are edible all over the globe, and many others here in West Virginia too. Have you traveled to areas and eaten any native plants?
Pawpaws are among one of my favorite wild edibles here. These are a fruit, so if the greens and onion like plants aren't to your taste the a pawpaw maybe.
Pawpaws are an easily foraged edible that you can eat straight from the tree. No preparation is required to enjoy this fruit. It is a magical fruit in a way with an almost tropical flavor. But West Virginia is far from a tropical place.
Many people will say it has a banana and mango blended flavor. I honestly feel like it has it's very own uniquely sweet flavor. Personally I would not compare it to a mango, perhaps a banana due to its texture. A lot folks do call pawpaws 'the West Virginia banana'.
Finding this fruit will mean walking along a rivers edge and looking for shaded areas. The fruit is hard to miss, but pawpaw trees can blend into surrounding foliage too.
If you stumble upon a pawpaw tree and the fruit is not ripe, you can still harvest it. Pawpaw fruit will ripen at room temperature and is ready or ripe when they soften and turn yellow. Making it an excellent option when camping or hiking. But do use caution where you put the fruit in your knapsack to avoid any messes if the fruit is fully ripe (it will squish easily).
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Cynthia Hoover
Cynthia Hoover (author) from Newton, West Virginia on May 06, 2020:
Shuana L Bowling thank you for stopping by. Oh cattails are gross, I tried once when little and then again a few years ago-just not for me. But in a pinch if I was desperate for food I would give them a go.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 06, 2020:
Interesting article, Cynthia. We had wild blackberries and honeysuckle where I lived in Philly when I was a little girl. We'd eat them all the time. In fact, I'd take the blackberries, squish up what I didn't eat, and put it on my face as war paint when I pretended to be a Cherokee warrior.
I didn't know you can eat cattails. I think they're cool looking but I don't think I'd want to put those fuzzy things in my mouth!