Wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting plants from their natural, or wild habitat, primarily for food or medicinal purposes. It applies to wild and uncultivated plants wherever they may be found, and is not necessarily limited to wilderness areas.

Foraging is the act of searching, identifying and collecting food resources in the wild. Those include a wide range of plants, mushrooms, herbs and fruits.

These definitions are interchangeable, and mean almost the same thing. More often, foraging is used in reference to gathering food. Wildcrafting applies mostly to Nature's medicines, preventatives, aromatherapy, healthy foods and remedies.

Ethical wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting plants and trees conscientiously, to avoid damaging the health of the population or the overall ecological system.

There are over 120,000 wild and edible plants worldwide. It's a waste not to eat some.

To read more about the foraging movement, visit this page --->

Before you forage for wild foods, eat your backyard first.... you'll know what grows there and whether it's clean and natural food. Then wander the countryside. When it comes to edible weeds in your garden or lawn, if you can't beat it,  eat it. Many a plant that's considered a weed has ended up in my medicinal tea blends and salads.
Do not eat anything that's in an area treated with chemicals. 
Always look up the toxicity of plants and berries, even those growing in your garden, before eating them.

Below is a list of edible weeds that many gardeners see in their own Pennsylvania backyards and gardens. The bane of your existence can end up as a tasty salad, or in your favorite soups and stews. If you garden organically and know what's safe to eat, where better to get your produce than your own garden? If you use chemical pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides, don't eat from your yard. Here are the most popular edible weeds found in your own backyard. I've listed only the ones I'd eat.

For an article on edible landscape plants and flowers for your culinary creations and salads, visit this page.

Dandelions - A food source for centuries and it always mocks you when you try to rid yourself of it. The flowers are used to make teas and alcoholic beverages, and the leaves are great in salads, soups and stir fries. It's known as a bitter green, but it's tasty and loses a lot of  bitterness when cooked into a recipe. The roots can be roasted and made into dandelion coffee, or steamed whole and eaten like carrots. 

Chickweed - spreads quickly to form a low-growing mat, but it only really thrives in the early spring with cool temperatures. Harvest it young, so it doesn’t take over. It's quite aggressive if not nipped in the bud, so to speak. 

Common chickweed (Stellaria media) is a mild green perfectly suited for salads. The flavor is slightly sweet. You can cook chickweed, but it’s so delicate that it almost dissolves with heat. On a nutritional note, chickweed is even higher in iron than spinach.

Chickweed is a hardy plant that grows best in the cool weather of early spring and late fall. It remains harvestable even after nights become frosty. You’ll find chickweed where moisture is high, from full sun to shade. It doesn’t often show up in recently tilled soil, preferring places that have been left alone for at least a year, such as in old compost piles, under fences and in unused planter boxes. The trailing plant has paired leaves with smooth edges. The stems usually creep along the ground but will stand upright when crowded. Tiny flowers appear in small clusters at the top of the plant. They are symmetrical with five white petals, but because each petal is split nearly to the base, the flowers appear to have 10 petals. Several other species of chickweed share the same general form of flower, leaf and stem, and all are edible.

When picking, look for lush, large, plants upon which flowers are just beginning to bloom, preferably with stems that are erect and crowded. Use a pair of scissors to shear off the top several inches of stem and attached leaves. Before you fill a salad bowl, nibble a few of the stems to figure out where they become tough. The key to harvesting good chickweed is to never snip too low.

Burdock - It has a long taproot and is hard to yank out when you're weeding. Burdock is an edible weed and every part can be safely eaten.  It’s cultivated as a vegetable in Asian cuisine. The root is often used in curries, or roasted. Burdock also has medicinal values, and can be dried and used as a tea.

Wild Onion - Generally, if you find something that smells like an onion, it's edible. And a lot of it grows wild.

Ramps - Wild Leeks
Ramps are forage that is so popular, that many restaurants feature it on their menus.

Ramps,  Allium tricoccum, are wild leeks. They combine the taste of garlic (Allium sativum) with the taste of onion (Allium cepa), with other flavors and nuances that they leave their actual essence difficult to verbalize. Besides being delicious, they’re also a highly desirable landscape plant for the shade garden. They emerge from bare ground in early spring with very supple, medium green foliage and stand about 6 to 12 inches tall. When these leaves disappear, you get 8-inch to 12-inch sturdy flower stems topped with pretty white flowers. These flowers eventually get pollinated and reveal attractive shiny black seeds. Ramps are very easy to grow from seed, and the bulbs usually double and form new bulbs that you can pull apart and replant.

Ramps also have a huge store of vitamins and minerals, and like garlic and onions, have many nutritional values and medicinal benefits. Ramps are super easy to grow as part of an edible garden, and have no insect, pest or disease problems. All you need is some shade. Of course, the richer and damper your shade is, the better they’ll grow. If you can't find them as forage, grow them.

Cleavers - Used for centuries dried for bed fillings by pioneers and Native Americans, and the seeds have been roasted and used as a coffee substitute. Cleavers is very invasive and difficult to eradicate. Eat some, destroy what's left in the garden...

Winter Cress - A type of wild mustard, and you can find it in a lot of bagged salad mixes in the grocery store. Grows along sides of the road. It has been domesticated into broccoli.

Clover - I've grown it as a lawn replacement, and eaten it in salads. It's sweet and smells amazing.  Each flower contains a tiny drop of honeydew at its base. The flowers are often made into  used a tea for colds, flu, and coughs. The more clover you eat, the less rabbits you'll have... the little marauders are all over it and keep coming back if it's around.

Garlic Mustard - Tastes like a combination of broccoli with garlic. I like it. It is found all over roadsides, and is quite invasive.

Curly Dock - There are a lot of  species (Rumex genus) and all of them are edible weeds.  The leaves are cooked into curries or baked into snack chips, the seeds can be ground into dock flour.  Dock plants have long taproots, and they’re aggressive perennials, producing thousands of seeds each year. It’s hard to get them out of the garden unless you dig out the whole root system. 

Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica) - One of the most invasive weeds known to man (or woman), it's a scourge, and very difficult to eradicate.  It's also delicious, with a taste a lot like raw rhubarb and cooked it tastes like asparagus. If you can't beat it, eat it.

Wild Ginger - Wild ginger has a heart-shaped leaf with a maroon-colored flower. Native Americans candied ginger centuries ago. They would dip the root into maple syrup to make a dessert that helps with digestion.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) - Jewelweed  tastes a lot like walnuts.  
Harvest carefully because the blossoms pop open when touched, sending the seeds will pop all over the garden.

Lambs-Quarters (Chenopodium album) - It has a sweet taste in the young leaves, and is a type of wild quinoa.

A relative of spinach, lamb’s-quarters (Chenopodium album) can be used similarly. Lamb’s-quarters is so commonly eaten, that it’s listed in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database. One of the most nutritious vegetables ever tested, it’s exceptionally high in calcium and in vitamins A and C.
 To search the USDA National Nutrient Database, visit this page.  It lists nutritious, edible wild food, as well.

Field identification. You can find lamb’s-quarters in any sunny spot where the soil has been disturbed. It has alternate diamond-shaped leaves that may have smooth edges or a few scattered, shallow teeth, and its stems are ridged. Toward the top of the plant, white, waxy granules coat the stems and leaf undersides. The plant has tiny, drab flowers attached directly to the upper stalk, and these ripen into lumpy clusters of little red and green fruits, each containing a single dark seed. The seed resembles that of its cultivated cousin, C. quinoa, in both appearance and flavor.

How to harvest. Lamb’s-quarters is an annual that is at its best in spring and early summer, although you can harvest it even in summer heat. Sometimes, a new crop will germinate in fall. Young shoots are tender and easy to harvest in quantity, but many older plants still have tender tips, and you can pick the leaves individually.

Mallow Species (Althaea sp.) - Rose of Sharon and Giant Hibiscus are mallows, and are grown in formal gardens. There are also many varieties that just grow wild. The leaves are tasty in a salad.

Wild Chamomile - The blossoms look like chamomile blooms without  petals.  They have a mild, sweet pineapple taste. The flowers can be eaten right out of the garden.

Plantain (Plantago sp.) - A common weed in lawns and on sidewalks. It’s an edible weed that can be eaten like any other salad greens and used as a substitute for spinach.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) - I find it quite tasty in a salad soup or a stir fry. 
Do not mistake it for spurge, which is poisonous. 
It's easy to tell the difference. Purslane has puffy leaves like succulents, spurge does not. It's leaves are flat and non-succulent. 

Purslane is popular in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and it thrives in the wild. I like it. It's one of the weeds i look forward to accidentally growing in my garden. It's what I call a Super Weed - it has the highest naturally-occurring level of Omega 3's in the plant kingdom.

Violets - Wild violets are common lawn weeds, sprouting up in moist shady spots, but without grass in my xeriscaped gardens, they pop up in full sun,too. They are very pretty, but I want them out, and I can never get them out by their roots. I have, however, eaten the flowers tossed into a salad, the leaves can be eaten as greens for your salad, and it can be made into tea, and it can be candied. They grow tightly in bunches. I was shocked to see that these little invasive weeds are being sold in online plant nurseries.

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis spp.) - Wood sorrel has a delicious lemony taste.  The most common of the edible weeds has three leaf clover leaves and tiny yellow flowers. There are hundreds of varieties and lots of colors. The light and tasty leaves are great in salads or when grazing fruits or veggies in the garden.

Shepherd's Purse -(Capsella bursa-pastoris) -  The leaves are the mildest mustard green you can get, with only the faintest hint of a pleasant pungency, and they’re loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, iron and vitamin A.  

Mix these fresh in salads with other cool-weather greens, such as chickweed. Stir-fry with dandelion greens, dock leaves and chives. Shepherd’s purse is cultivated in China for its greens and stems, which are considered a delicacy. The stems taste much like a broccoli stalk without the tough skin. They are delicious in soups or steamed.

This weed is much despised—it infests almost every garden and crop field, and it sprouts up in vacant lots and sidewalk cracks. The leaves look a lot like those of dandelion, but they’re more deeply lobed and don’t have the milky sap. One or more stems will grow out of the cluster of leaves at the plant’s base. When mature, these stems can reach up to 2 feet tall, with few leaves. Each branch ends in an elongated cluster of tiny, white, four-petaled flowers, which are followed by little heart-shaped pods. Harvest stems when they’re still short, tender and flexible, before seedpods have formed.

Sowthistle (Sonchus oleraceus) - The tender leaves of common sowthistle have a slight bitterness that’s similar to leaf lettuce These greens can be eaten raw in salads, sautéed with bacon, drizzled with vinegar. Sowthistle is an excellent source of manganese.

Found throughout North America, this annual loves backyards, roadsides, vacant lots and gardens, and it favors disturbed soil. Common sowthistle leaves look much like dandelion leaves and also have milky latex. Unlike dandelion, sowthistle grows tall, leafy flowering stalks. Common sowthistle’s yellow flowers appear in clusters at the top of the plant and resemble miniature dandelion blooms. The plant most likely to be confused with common sowthistle is prickly lettuce.

Collect leaves from spring to early summer when they’re still young, or cut the whole stalk before the plant begins to flower. There are two other widespread species of sowthistle, both of which are edible. Field sowthistle (S. arvensis), a perennial, lives in meadows and grassy places. It looks similar to common sowthistle and has equally harmless leaves, but the flower heads are fewer and larger. Spiny sowthistle (S. asper) leaves have prickles stiff enough to hurt a bare hand, so only collect the younger leaves. Cook both as you would common sowthistle. 

Morel Mushrooms

You need to be able to identify a likely host tree in early spring before the leaves are noticeable, when the ground warms up to 55 or 60 degrees about 3 or 4 inches down. Check for areas that have certain trees and plants, or huge dead or dying trees such as elm, ash trees, tulip poplar, white pine, old apple trees. Trees popular for hunting Morel mushrooms:  Elm, Tulip, Sycamore, Beech, Ash, Sassafras, Hickory. Large, dead ash trees that have snapped in half or fallen over, are a good place to look.
Guidance For Wild Mushroom Harvesters in Pennsylvania

Foraging Wild Edibles in Pennsylvania - The law

 You can forage your property all you like, but before hunting down your next salad or meal at a public park, check with the state laws governing picking endangered plants and where you cannot forage. Know the law regarding collection of wild plants and fungi on public land. Also, never forage on private property without permission, or without knowin whether the owner has used pesticides and other chemicals.
Click the links below to learn the laws governing foraging in Pennsylvania.

State Parks and State Forests

PA State Parks and Forests prohibit the cutting, picking, digging, damaging or removing, in whole or in part, a living or dead tree, shrub, plant, or fungus except when gathering edible fruits, nuts, berries and fungi, in reasonable amounts, for one's own personal or family consumption.
This permission does not apply to wild plants listed in Chapter 45 (relating to conservation of Pennsylvania native wild plants) as threatened, endangered, rare or vulnerable.

Title 17, Chapter 45 (full listing of forbidden plants)
PA State Park Rules and Regulations
PA State Forest Rules and Regulations

General information about PA’s threatened, endangered, rare or vulnerable plants

County Parks

Rules and regulations will vary by county, but in general, foraging in any form (to cut, remove, pick, gather, uproot, or destroy plants) is not allowed in PA county parks. 

York County Parks Rules and Regulations, section 75-8
Lancaster County Parks Rules and Regulations
, section 14

National Parks

Foraging Laws vary by park.  You can find more information about laws in a park near you using the National Park Service’s Website.

**Before ingesting any plant, do thorough research into all of its characteristics, and be mindful of your medications and health conditions. This article is for information - not a recommendation that you eat any plant, or any one in particular. I eat a few wild things, but only those i know are safe and have either cooked it myself or had it as a traditional family culinary thing. How you collect it and how you prepare and eat it are things you must research.

Before foraging, purchase a plant identification book of photos of plants to reference before eating anything. I suggest a guide book on Native American Medicinal herbs and food plants would be a great guide, and accurate as to how it was used for centuries. Take it with you on your trips. To learn a little about Native American gardening, farming and medicinal plants, visit this page.

I occasionally participated in the art of foraging before i understood that's what it was. My Italian family are cityfolk and they made a customary jaunt along the berms of interstates and country roads in pursuit of dandelion greens. They called it "chicoria".  A type of Chicory. They supplied me with bags of weeds. They used it to make wine, and in salads and soups.
At the end of this article, you can find a recipe for old-fashioned Italian dandelion wine. That golden yellow nectar made from the flowers packed a nice punch. It can also be blended as a cordial, adding vodka or any other spirit.

Prior to the development of our modern food system, humans relied on the abundance of nature. Especially notable gatherers are the Native Americans, who grew and foraged plants for culinary, ceremonial and medicinal purposes.

These days, many people still forage for food, whether out of necessity or for a sense of purpose or pleasure. The many forests and meadows of Pennsylvania provide greens, berries, mushrooms, seeds, nuts and so much more to those who know how to look and who are willing to take the time. No matter the season or your specific region, there are edible plants that you can safely identify, prepare and enjoy, bringing you one step closer to self-sufficiency. When in doubt about anything you forage,  don’t take risks by eating unidentified plants.

Most edible wild plants never made it into the mainstream vegetable market in the United States, even though these foods were common parts of the diet of people in other countries. Purslane is a prime example.

You won’t know if you’ll have a reaction to a particular plant. Take small tastes of a new edible at first. Be sure that the area you are foraging from isn’t sprayed with chemicals or close to a place where dogs might do their business. Always carefully wash and dry any foraged items, just as you do with your produce from the market.

Take clear photos of the plants you gather from different angles, and take photos of the nearby environment. Keep a journal of what you are looking for, what you've foraged, time of year, where you found it, and when you eat it as a new food. It will come in handy to refer to as you hunt, but more importantly, in the unlikely event that you feel ill, someone will know what you ingested.

You can begin your foraging adventure by going out with a guide who is knowledgeable and experienced. Many park services hire or allow instructors to be guides for groups of foragers. Never trespass or harvest food from someone’s property without permission. 
Don’t over-harvest.
The exception is mushrooms, which grow in a different way, with its mycelium remaining fully intact underground. So, mushrooms can easily regenerate even if the entirety of its fruit is harvested. But for all other kinds of plants, practice restraint, even if you come across a huge patch or swatch of edible plants.
Guidance For Wild Mushroom Harvesters in Pennsylvania

Popular Edible Wild Plants found in Pennsylvania

Edible ferns, such as ostrich fiddlehead ferns. 
Japanese knotweed, an invasive plant that’s edible when the shoots are first coming up. 
Wild garlic mustard
Ramps are wild garlic and it has a flavor similar to a leek and garlic. During the wet, chilly part of spring, they are relatively easy to find in the wild. Ramps take a long time to grow. It can take two full seasons for the seed to germinate and 10 to 12 years for that plant to get to a harvestable size.  Be mindful, taking only the leaves and stems, leaving the bulbs in the ground to regrow..

Wild berries - black raspberries, golden raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries strawberries, wineberries, juniper berries, chokeberries. 
Rose hips are berries. I grow a lot of roses, and when the flowering is done, i leave some of the "hips" on the shrub, and harvest them when the roses go dorman for winter. I use these dried hips for making tea blends to ward off winter colds. They are very high in vitamin C. You can gather these hips from ground and shrub roses growing in the wild.

Pennsylvania Seasonal Foraging Schedule






Rhubarb stalks

Spruce tips

Wild garlic

Wild Mushrooms


Burdock root

**Do NOT eat the berries



Sunflowers (for seeds)

Wild berries

Wild mint

Wood sorrel



wild apples

Hardy kiwi


Paw paws



Rose hips

Wild grapes


Wild greens

Black walnuts



Juniper berries


Partial list of common wild trees and shrubs that are edible.

Asimina triloba (pawpaw)

Carya alba (mockernut hickory)

Diospyros virginiana (common persimmon)

Juglans cinerea (butternut)

Morus rubra (red mulberry)

Prunus americana (American plum)

Rubus spp. (blackberries, raspberries, dewberries)

Vaccinium spp. (cranberries, blueberries, huckleberries)

Prunus angustifolia
(Chickasaw plum)

Castanea dentata (American chestnut)

Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud) (edible flowers)

Prunus pensylvanica (pin cherry)

Prunus serotina (black cherry)

Prunus virginiana (chokecherry)

Castanea pumila (chinkapin)

Corylus americana (American hazelnut)

Gaylussacia dumosa (dwarf huckleberry)

Mahonia repens (creeping barberry)

Ribes spp. (currants and gooseberries)

Celtis occidentalis (common hackberry)

Edible Native Plants

Woody Plants

Johnny Jump Up

Serviceberry Flower
Chicago Rainbow Daylily

Wild Ramp

Strawberry flower
Edible Sap

Sugar Maple Acer saccharum
One tap for every 10-12 inches 
of growth in diameter

Sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua 
-Can be tapped like a maple

Chestnut Castanea mollissima
Hazelnut Corylus americana
Beech Fagus sylvatica
Black Walnut Juglans nigra
Bur Oak Quercus macrocarpa

Stone Fruit
Wild Plum Prunus americana
Fruiting Cherry Prunus
Peach Prunus hybrids
Grape Vitis hybrids
Pome Fruit
Flowering Quince Chaenomeles speciosa
Juniper Juniperus species
Apple Malus hybrids 
Pear Pyrus hybrids
Honeyberry Lonicera caerulea
Serviceberry Amelanchier species
Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens
Blackberry Rubus pensilvanicus
Elderberry Sambucus canadensis
Blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum
Lowbush Cranberry Vaccineum macrocarpon
American Cranberry Bush Viburnum opulus

Herbaceous Plants

Ostrich Fern - The fiddleheads are edible.
Hollyhock Alcea rosea
Wild Ramp Allium tricoccum
Chives Allium schoenoprasum
Asparagus Asparagus hybrids
Wild Canadian Ginger Asarum canadense
English Daisy Bellis perennis
Swiss Chard Beta vulgaris
Rhubarb Rheum rhabarbam
Bachelor Buttons Centaurea montana
Pinks Dianthus species
Daylily Hemerocallis hybrids
Lovage Levisticum officinale
Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis
Mint Mentha hybrids
Beebalm Monarda didyma
Primrose Primula species

Tips and Advice

For a list of Non-Edible Weeds, visit this page

To visit the USDA National Nutrient Database, visit this page.

Foraging Pittsburgh - Wild Food Walks and Workshops

Check the environment that the plant is growing in. Check the area for pollution of the water, soil or air. You don’t want to eat a plant from in or around a pond or creek that that gets run-off from farms or manufacturing plants. You don't want to eat anything in or near a waterway that has beaver dams - giardiasis would be a risk. Be smart and careful about where and what you forage.

Learn how the edible should be prepared. Many wild plants require particular methods of preparation to make them edible.

Avoid plants with white sap or white berries. These are generally poisonous.

All mustards are edible and are used in the recipes and diets of many cultures.

Recipe - Old Fashioned Italian Dandelion Wine

Reminder - You won't be drinking it for about 2 months-1 year until it's aged. So do it early and make plenty. I have no weeds, so i'd have to forage.

Pick at the beginning of the dandelion season, which depends on the weather, sometime between early April and May. Although dandelions grow throughout the summer, after the early spring crop they quickly turn to seed heads. There is a very limited window in which to make the wine.

Gather a gallon of dandelion flowers in a large bucket or bowl. Remove the green parts, which are bitter. Harvest the flowers when they are fully open and vibrant sometime in early afternoon. Save and eat those greens!


  • 8 cups whole and young dandelion flowers, stems removed and all green parts removed. Anything green will be bitter.
  • 16 cups water
  • 1 large orange and 1 large lemon - chopped, seeded. Chop and use the rind, too.
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons brewers yeast - this is for fermentation
  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 6 cups cane or any non-refined sugar -  don't leave out the sugar. You can't ferment without it.
  • 1 cup of  clear rum or vodka - Optional: clear liquor was the secret ingredient that was popular in my neighborhood. You can leave it out.
  • 8 whole cloves
  • About an inch or so piece of ginger, peeled and diced, or 1 tablespoon of jarred sushi ginger shreds


You'll be using only the blo0ms.
Save all the green stuff for soups, stews and salads. Don't waste it. You can dry the green parts and save to make dandelion tea.

  1. Pick and wash the dandelion blossoms and put them in a big pot with the orange, lemon and raisins.
    Be sure to rinse enough to get any soil or bugs out of them. They like to hide in the fluffy blooms.
    Bring to a boil and allow to boil for 2-3 minutes.  Let cool, cover, and let it sit for 24-48 hours.
  2. After sitting, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let it sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the sugar to the dandelion liquid and stir.
  4. Add the yeast mixture and stir.
  5. Use a large container or jug, use a funnel and a fine mesh strainer.
  6. Ladle in the dandelion liquid, pushing down into the dandelions to squeeze out all of the liquid.
  7. Add the cloves, ginger and liquor, and pour into an airtight jug, bottle or container.
  8. To ferment, shake well and let it rest for one week in a cool dark place as the fermentation begins. Cover with cheesecloth or mesh, do not rest in an airtight container.
  9. Strain the liquid again into bottles or jug, using cheesecloth or a strainer, cover and allow to sit in a cool, dark place for 3-6 weeks, uncorked. Do not cork until after the fermentation is finished, or your bottles are likely to explode.
  10. After it's been fermented. cork the bottles, or use bottles with screw-on tops, and store them in a cool place from 2 months and up to a year. Young dandelion wine tastes best. It is a beautiful and potent brew. You can also store it in mason jars.

Next page ----> About Wildcrafting and foraging

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