Northwest Foraging

Take 10% off: NOW $15.25 Add to Cart
Take 10% off:
PDF eBook NOW $12.55
Add to Cart


Download our free foraging recipes:

NORTHWEST FORAGING: The field mustard chapter includes, 3 delicious recipes, Raging River Mustard Seed Pod Soup, High-Energy Mustard Flower Salad Dressing, & Field Mustard Flower Buds and Cheese

PACIFIC FEAST: The dandelion chapter to learn how to roast dandelions. Recipes include Roasted Dandelion Root Ice Cream, Dandelion Syrup, and Grandma Lyda's Dandelion Wine

FAT OF THE LAND: Download the chapter "Pocketfull Of Kryptonite" with a bonus recipe for Cream Of Stinging Nettle Soup

Whether you're out foraging for greens to mix in a camp salad or searching for survival rations when lost in the wild, nature provides an abundance of edible plants if you know what to look for. Here are five easily identifiable plants you can eat and five you will need to avoid when looking for food in the forest.


  1. The cattail is easy to identify, and usable year-round for food. Spring and early summer are the best times to harvest the succulent inner stalk formed by the young leaf bases. It can be added to salads, cooked, or even nibbled raw.
  2. Field Mint, the only mint native to the United States, can be added to almost anything for a hint of flavor or a refreshing touch on a long hike or trip. Eat it in salads, add it to drinks, or sprinkle it over hot foods -- anything you can imagine to spice up your backpacking rations. Of course, mints also make fantastic teas, alone or with other plants. Though other varieties of mint are also edible, look for Field Mint in more natural and pristine environments.
  3. Arguably one of the best options for hikers, Field Mustard adds incredibly delicious taste to just about anything -- even raw. It's easy to identify, grows in a wide range of places, is usually very abundant, and is highly nutritious. The vitamin A and potassium content are high, making it comparable to spinach, and Field Mustard can rival oranges for vitamin C. It's clearly a great plant to keep you alive and nourished.
  4. Lamb's Quarters should be near the top of your list for wild edible plants to forage for on a hike. It's widespread, a rapid grower, and outstandingly nutritious -- the perfect survival supplement. Not to mention, the flavor is one of the most enjoyable around. Lamb's Quarters can generally be found from spring to late fall, and you can eat it raw or cooked.
  5. If you like tea, Pineapple Weed makes a delicious and highly favorable backcountry tea. This "weed" grows nearly everywhere in the cities and towns of the Northwest. Pop off the flower heads, dry them, and store them for use. They can also make great additions to cookie mixes.


  1. Though many hikers and city dwellers alike often see this plant as harmless, the Buttercup is indeed poisonous. It contains the toxin ranunculin, which acts as a severe gastrointestinal irritant. Dried buttercups seem to be less poisonous than fresh ones, but no part of this plant should be consumed no matter how desperate you might be while backpacking.
  2. As if the name isn't enough to steer away any wary hikers, Death Camas is definitely a plant to avoid. Both this version and the Mountain Death Camas are equally toxic, and all contact with these plants should be avoided. They contain poisonous alkaloids that act through the nervous system, causing increased salivation, digestive upset, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Though one species of camas is edible, it's best to avoid them all while foraging in the backcountry.
  3. Though a pretty addition to many gardens in the Northwest, Foxglove is highly poisonous. Interestingly enough, it contains the toxic digitalis, which can sometimes be used to benefit particular heart conditions. Too much of it, though, and your heart will become fully paralyzed. For backcountry survival's sake, admire the flowers from afar.
  4. Though widespread in North America and probably often seen during hikes and backpacking trips, all must avoid every part of the Poison Hemlock -- especially the seeds. Any quantity of any part of this plant is enough to kill. The toxic alkaloids work by suppressing the function of the central nervous system, paralyzing the muscles used for breathing. A strong knowledge of this Hemlock's appearance is necessary for all foraging hikers and backpackers.
  5. If you're trekking through the lowlands and marshy areas before hitting the mountains, beware of the Water Hemlock: one of the most poisonous plants in the Northwest. All parts are fatally poisonous, having a similar yet more intensified effect than the Poison Hemlock, with the roots being the most toxic. The roots from one plant might even contain enough to kill a cow.

Though this hardly covers all the edible and poisonous plants in the Northwest, this list should be enough to get you started on a safe and enjoyable foraging attempt during your next hike or backpacking trip. Just remember, if you're unsure whether a plant is edible as a snack on your next hike, play it safe and find something you can easily recognize. Always keep survival and health in the forefront of your mind when you start foraging for plants. Also remember that an awareness of both edible and poisonous plants just might save your life if you find yourself in a bad situation in the backcountry.

For foraging recipes, and detailed images of these plants and many more purchase Northwest Foraging: The Classic Guide to Edible Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Doug Benoliel, Skipstone, 2011



Return to Story Archives Page

Your Cart

Featured Products

Small Feet, Big Land: Adventure, Home, And Family On The Edge of Alaska

The Front Yard Forager: Identifying, Collecting, And Cooking The 30 Most Common Urban Weeds

Avalanche Essentials: A Step-By-Step System For Safety And Survival