When you think of edible plants, modern fruit, vegetable, and grain staples typically come to mind. Popularly cultivated foods like corn, wheat, broccoli, carrots, apples, and bananas are at the top of the list. But back when food wasn’t quite so easy to come by and folks were generally more attuned to their outdoor surroundings, people got pretty creative. And even though the following plants are normally thought of as useless, they have at one point been consumed by humans. You might be surprised at just what the list includes.
Anyone who takes care of a lawn knows that dandelions are among the most persistent and annoying weeds out there. Every year, the yellow flowers somehow manage to invade our domesticated lawns and wreak havoc on otherwise well groomed landscaping. But this pest is far from all bad. Historically, dandelion has been used globally as a therapeutic food. The entire plant is edible, and it is most often either eaten raw in salads or boiled with hot water to make a sort of dandelion tea. Because of the plant’s high vitamin and mineral content, it has been used to treat everything from tonsillitis to toxic reactions.
From the standpoint of aesthetics, cattails are about the least appetizing looking plants in the world. They grow in the muddy banks of ponds and lakes, have a cotton-looking top, and are in the summer months a nasty wilted brown color. But the bottom of the plant-the part you don’t see-is actually very edible and quite nutritious. In the spring, you can pull young cattail shoots right out of the ground, rinse them, and eat them. Later on in the year, individual stems are pulled up and the roots are harvested for food. Their taste when raw is compared to that of a cucumber’s. Cooked, they’re a lot like corn, believe it or not.
Every fall, monstrous oak trees litter the ground with thousands upon thousands of acorns-and mammals go nuts for them. And while we generally think of acorns as food for squirrels and deer, they are actually pretty delicious with a little preparation. The most popular way to eat acorns among humans is to grind them into a sort of flour. If you were to eat one raw, you’d be repulsed by its bitterness. But by grinding and washing them, you remove the water soluble substance that makes acorns bitter. As a thick flour, acorns can be baked as an additive in multigrain bread or as sweet flavored tortillas.
While often unnoticed and even sometimes unwanted, these unassuming plants really do have legitimate nutritional and palatable properties. So whether you’ve run out of good food at the campsite or are just looking for something new to try, these three surprisingly edible plants are certainly worth your culinary attention.