How to Get Started with Native Wild Vegetables
Do you ever go out foraging for wild foods, like berries or mushrooms? Did you know there are actually a lot of native wild vegetables that you can grow in your own backyard, or even in your garden? Keep reading to find out how you can grow these amazing, low-maintenance wild foods.
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When people think about wild foods, they usually think about berries, mushrooms, and some fruits or nuts. A few adventurous people might harvest nettles, but most people don’t go out into the wild to get their vegetables—vegetables are what you grow in your garden.
But there are actually many different types of native wild vegetables that you can grow on your property.
These wild foods are a great addition to any property, and once established, they can provide abundant harvests that you don’t have to do anything for other than enjoy the bounty.
Most of these vegetable are also perennial meaning that once you plant them you will be able to enjoy harvests for years to come without any new planting!
Perennial Vegetables Series
This is part 4 of a multi-part series all about perennial vegetables.
- 1Plant Once With Perennial Vegetables
- 211 Perennial Greens You Will Love to Grow
- 311 Perennial Root Vegetables for Your Garden
- 4How to Get Started with Native Wild Vegetables - current post
Keep reading to learn more about how to incorporate these amazing native wild vegetables in your garden and around your property.
It may be hard to imagine what types of native vegetables you could possibly have growing wild near you. I’ve listed 9 examples of native wild vegetables found where I live, in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and I bet when you start looking around, you’ll find similar types of plants native to your area that you can enjoy.
Plus, you’ll also find some resources to help you start learning about the native wild vegetables in your area.
But before you scroll down, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet so you can have all this information at your fingertips as you plan your wild garden.
Growing Native Wild Vegetables
When you think about wild foods, do you think about going out into the wild and foraging? This is a great option, but you can grow these wild foods on your own property, too.
Throughout the temperate regions of the world (and in many other climates) you can find native wild vegetables. These are native plants that can take the place of many of the more traditional annual vegetables found in your average garden.
There are a number of benefits to growing these wild foods on your land. These foods often:
- Require little to no maintenance.
- Need very little water, if any.
- Support local wildlife, including beneficial insects.
- Provide a diverse, nutritious harvest.
- Make your property truly fit within your local natural environment.
Native plants are a great addition to your property. Check out these posts for more information about how—and why—to include native plants in your designs and work with nature.
Since native plants are naturally adapted to the climatic conditions in your area, you rarely need to give them extra water or protect them from pests and weeds. Depending on your area, native vegetables can often grow well in shade, unlike most of the traditional annual vegetables in our gardens.
When it comes down to it, wild foods are some of the easiest plants to grow.
The hardest part about growing wild native vegetables is learning which ones grow in your area and how to use them. At the end of this post, I list some resources that can help you with that. But one of the best ways to learn is to read books and articles about foraging wild foods from your area.
Not all of these will be native wild vegetables, but many will be. There might even be people in your area that would help you learn about the wild foods that grow in your area.
Are you new to foraging, or just wanting more information on foraging? Check out these resources to get started with foraging.
- Wild Edibles: A Practical Guide to Foraging, with Easy Identification of 60 Edible Plants and 67 Recipes by Sergei Boutenko
- Complete Wild Edibles Package by Sergei Boutenko (1 HD video + 10 eBooks)
- Foraging 101, Unleash Your Life Podcast Episode 20 – by ReWild University
- Eat The Weeds – A great resource on all sorts of wild foods (native and non-native).
When it comes to actually growing wild native vegetables, there are several options. Many of these native plants are flowers that are very beautiful just growing on their own. Mixing them in with your ornamental plants would be a great way to grow food in places where a vegetable garden might be frowned upon by your neighbors.
The vast majority of people won’t have a clue what these plants are, and they’ll just think you’re planting pretty flowers.
But you can also mix them into your food forests and in your vegetable garden—it’s really up to you.
I grow wild vegetables just about everywhere—from my hedgerows to my garden beds. The herbaceous layer in my new front yard food forest will be mostly native wild vegetables. And in my new kitchen garden, I’ve created what I like to call “wild areas” where I’m planting only wild foods.
These wild areas draw in beneficial insects, provide perennial food harvests, and add beauty to the garden in the form of flowers. On top of all of this, I get a harvest of fresh, native wild vegetables to add to my regular vegetables.
Want to know what a food forest is? Check out these other blog posts to learn more, and get started with your own food forest.
Examples from the Pacific Northwest
No matter where you live, there will surely be some native wild vegetables that you can grow. But I also know that it can be hard to picture plants you’ve never heard of. To help you out, here is a list of 9 wild native vegetables from the Pacific Northwest in the United States to help you understand what these wild foods are.
While these may not be native to your area, if you live in a temperate region, there are probably similar wild foods growing near you.
Shade Tolerant Pacific Northwest Native Wild Vegetables
One great thing about native wild vegetables is that many of them are happy to grow in the shade. Since shady areas can be hard places to get a good harvest—especially from vegetables—these wild foods are a great option for shady areas around your property.
Miner’s Lettuce - Claytonia perfoliata
Miner’s lettuce is one of the few wild foods that you can find seeds for without too much trouble. This low-growing plant produces nice, tender greens that you can harvest and use as a lettuce or spinach substitute (cooked or raw). If you live west of the Rockies in the United States, you’ll probably find this fantastic wild food growing in the woods near you.
Redwood Sorrel - Oxalis Oregana
Redwood sorrel is a great shade-loving groundcover that is often found growing in conifer forests. With a tangy flavor, it’s an excellent green to add to your salads or enjoy as a cooked green. This is a great example of a wild food that will grow in the deep shade beneath your trees, where most vegetables refuse to grow. If you’re outside the Pacific Northwest, there are related types of wood sorrel that could be native in your area.
Pacific Waterleaf - Hydrophyllum tenuipes
Pacific waterleaf is one of my favorite wild greens. This fantastic plant grows great in shade and readily spreads, forming nice patches. Pacific waterleaf has a very mild flavor, but the leaves are a bit fuzzy. This rubs some people the wrong way, but it’s never bothered me as an accent to a salad or sandwich. The leaves can be harvested and eaten raw or cooked. The roots can also be harvested, and the tender white new growth has a flavor similar to Chinese bean sprouts.
Early Blue Violet - Viola Adunca
Wild violets can be found growing in temperate regions all over the world. Early blue violet is one of several native violets found in the Pacific Northwest. The leaves and flowers of these violets are a wonderful wild food that you can eat raw, and the flowers can be even used to make jellies and jams. There are some plants that look like violets, or are even called violets, that are not edible. This is a great reason to grow the edible wild violets in your own garden, so you can easily know what you are harvesting!
Sun-Loving Pacific Northwest Native Wild Vegetables
Shade-loving wild foods are great, but if you are going to be growing native wild vegetables in your garden, then you'll want some sun-loving plants too. (Good news! Some of the shade tolerant plants listed in the previous section like early blue violet are actually very adaptable, and can grow in sunny environments too!) But here are some excellent sun-loving wild vegetables.
Henderson’s Checkermallow - Sidalcea Hendersonii
There are a number of different checkermallow plants native to the prairies of Washington and Oregon. Many of these plants are rare in the wild but can be purchased at nurseries. The leaves and flowers are edible raw, and the leaves can be used for cooking as a substitute for spinach or Swish chard. These wild, edible vegetables are not just great wild foods for us—they are host plants for several butterflies. Plus, they have beautiful flowers that serve as a wonderful native alternative to hollyhocks for those of you living in western Washington and Oregon.
- Checkermallows – An Easy-to-Grow, Perennial PNW Native Vegetable
- Given the rarity of checkermallow in the wild, foraging these plants is not recommended.
Pacific Silverweed - Argentina egedii
This excellent wild food was traditionally managed and harvested by First Nations people. The young leaves can be eaten as a raw or cooked green, but the roots, cooked, are the main harvest from this native wild vegetable. Silverweed grows best in moist or wet areas.
Oregon Stonecrop – Sedum Oreganum
Oregon stonecrop is a small plant that grows best in rock gardens or other well-drained and dry places around your property. This wild food also produces yellow flowers, making it another beautiful addition to your garden. The succulent-looking leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, making this a great native wild vegetable for those dry, rocky parts of your property where most vegetables won’t grow.
Springbank Clover – Trifolium wormskioldii
This is the only native wild vegetable on this list that is also a nitrogen fixing plant, making it a great support plant for your garden in addition to a great wild food. As with Pacific silverweed, this plant was managed by First Nations people as a staple food crop. The roots are the main harvest from springbank clover, but you can also harvest and enjoy the leaves and flowers, both raw and cooked.
Nodding Onion – Allium cernuum
Wild onions and garlic can be found growing across the temperate regions of the world. Here in western Washington there are 3, with nodding onion being a great example. This excellent wild food can be used as a replacement for onion greens, and it develops an onion-like blub. Nodding onion is a great example of a wild native vegetable that you can easily add to your regular vegetable garden.
Finding Native Wild Vegetables in Your Area
The hardest part of getting started with native wild vegetables is learning which ones grow in your area. Unfortunately, wild plants are not commonly eaten by most people—even wild berries are often ignored.
The exception is in the foraging community. Chances are, there’s a foraging group in your area that can help you can learn about the wild foods growing near you. Here are some suggestions and resources to help you find native wild vegetables:
- Permies: The forums over at permies.com are a great place to ask questions and get help.
- Facebook groups: Do a search for foraging groups on Facebook. You may find one that is focused on foraging in your area.
- Falling Fruit: This site focuses on urban foraging.
- Wild Edible: A site to learn more about wild edible plants.
- Edible Wild Food: Another site to learn about wild edible plants.
These resources can help you make a list of native wild vegetables in your area. Once you’ve done that, the next step is to locate these plants. If you’re lucky, there will be native plant nurseries in your area that sell them. Try googling “native plant nursery + [the closest city to you, or your state]” to find the ones in your area.
Another option is to go out to wild areas and collect seeds or cuttings from wild plants. You can potentially salvage the plants by digging them up and transplanting back on your property, but I recommend only doing this on roadsides or in areas that are slated for development. This way, you avoid damaging the natural environment.
You might also be able to find wild foods that are already growing on your property, that you never knew about. You can start promoting these plants, and even transplanting them to your garden. Or just forage them as you walk around your property.
Growing native wild vegetables is a wonderful way to add wild foods to your plate. These plants make a great addition to your property and garden.
So which one are you going to plant? Let me know in the comments below!
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