Identify Plants

Cattails: Nature's Corn Dogs

There will be food for each team as rewards, but teams may not earn the rewards.

You might be very hungry by the end of the event!

Identifying wild edibles can be handy for entertainment, passes the time on hikes, and acts as a morale booster within your group. The likelihood of needing these skills is low. Like floating seat cushions on airplanes, it's probably good to have in a crisis.

Points and rewards (food!) are earned when teams properly identify plants.

No Eating The Plants You Find!

Just so we are clear ....

The Boy Scouts of America's Wilderness Survival merit badge has SEVEN PRIORITIES for survival. The last one is food, and it's specifically stated to not worry about it. Typically, one can go up to three weeks without food and will likely get rescued before then.

That said, a part of the challenge will revolve around identifying edible plants. Teams should point them out to earn the points and rewards, but still should not eat them. This is not a real survival situation and it's best to not throw misidentified plants into your mouth during a challenge. If you really want to eat the plants, do it after the weekend is over and use caution.

If you wish to eat mushrooms that you've identified, only do that with someone who's been trained to identify that mushroom. Seriously. A couple of the easier to identify mushrooms are listed here and there's a lot more that are edible, but the problem is that there's sometimes impostors that look identical to the real thing that will kill you in a hurry.

You can eat anything, ONCE! Don't let a wild plant be your last meal.

- Stephen G. Saupe, PhD., College of St. Benedict/St. John's University, Biology Department

Burdock (spring to fall)
Medium to large-sized plant with big, dark green leaves and purplish thistle-like flower heads. Leaves are woolly underneath and are generally large, coarse, and oval with lower ones being heart-shaped.

The root of the plant can be peeled, boiled, and eaten. Shredded or julienned roots can be soaked in water for five to ten minutes to remove the undesireable flavor, then eaten. Immature flower stalks can be harvested before flowers appear, peeled, then eaten raw or boiled. Young, soft leaves are also edible. Boiling the leaves twice before eating removes some of their bitterness.

Cattail (spring to fall)
Most of a cattail is edible. You can boil or eat raw the rootstock of the plant. Make sure to wash off all the
mud. The best part of the stem is near the bottom where the plant is mainly white. Either boil or eat
the stem raw. Boil the leaves like you would spinach. The corn dog-looking female flower spike can be
broken off and eaten like corn on the cob in the early summer when the plant is first developing. It
actually has a corn-like taste to it.

No cats were harmed in the making of this plant.

Chicken of the Woods (spring to fall)
Bright, colorful mushroom. Grows as single fans or in large clusters, up to 10 pounds. Orange on top, lemon yellow on bottom. Harvest young, when soft and pliable. Becomes firmer, woodier, and white with age. No known look-alikes.

Cook like chicken.  Avoid mushrooms growing on conifers.

Don't eat any mushrooms without an expert. ☠

Chickweed (spring to fall)
Small white flowers appear between May and July.

This leaf vegetable is often eaten raw in salads.

Chokecherry (summer)
Large, thornless, deciduous shrub or small tree. Grows 20-30 feet tall, often found in thickets. Thin, dark gray, fairly smooth bark with wavy ridges running lengthwise. Leaves are simple, alternate, and oval with finely serrated edges. Dense clusters of white flowers produce fruit ripening from red to dark purple in late summer to early fall. Each cherry contains one large oval stone. Fruit is an astringent and sour, especially when raw.

Fruits are best in syrups and jellies.

Clover (spring to fall)
This plant is entirely edible, from root to flower. Skip the brown blossoms and you should be good.

Nom nom nom. Eating a lot of raw leaves may not sit well in your stomach. Boiling helps and can also change the flavor.

Dandelion (spring through fall)
Long, deeply-toothed leaves that grow in a circle at the base. Single, hollow flower stem with purplish tone. Single, bright yellow flower cluster.

Roots, flower heads, and leaves are edible. Young, green leaves are tastier. Flower heads should be harvested when fully opened to avoid collecting hidden bugs.

Hen of the Woods (fall)
Large cluster on the ground and tree roots. 8-25+ inches in diameter. Single, short, branching, trunk-like base is white. Stems and branches are firm, white, and have angular or rounded pores that continue to the white/cream underside. Tops of each branch open into a leaf-shaped cap, 1-3.5 inches in diameter, rough or covered in fine fibers, light tan to grayish brown, firm, but supple. Two possible look-alikes are also edible.

Can be eaten raw or cooked.

Don't eat any mushrooms without an expert.

Jerusalem Artichoke (fall)
Resembles miniature sunflowers, with bright yellow petals and dark colored centers. Leaves are
simple, rough-hairy, oval to lance shaped, with coarsely toothed edges. Mature plants can reach
6 feet tall.

Harvest the tubers (root bulges) any time after the first frost. You may need to mark the plants in late summer so that you can remember where they were located as the flowers and leaves change drastically after the cooler temperatures set in. Gently dig up tubers and brush off dirt, store in a cool dark place much like a root vegetable. Can be eaten raw or cooked.

Jewelweed (spring through fall)
3-5 feet tall, blooms from late spring to early fall. Flowers are orange-ish with a three-lobed corolla. The round stems are smooth, juicy, semi-translucent and often branch a lot. Leaves are alternate, simple, and toothed on the margins. Seed pods pop when touched, sending seeds flying. Water can bead up on leaves, looking like jewels.

Seeds can be eaten uncooked. Boil leaves for 10 minutes, change water, then 10 more minutes. Leaves are a diuretic (makes you pee), so avoid consuming large quantities. Crushed stem can treat poison ivy, poison oak, nettles, skin rashes, and athlete's foot.

Maple Sap / Syrup (early spring)
Lobed leaves with five points. Sugar maple leaves are green on top and the bottom, then turn to varying colors of yellows, oranges, and light reds in the fall.

Tap the tree right as the snow melts, near the end of March. Harvest the sap. Boil it down to make a syrup.

Morel Mushroom (spring to summer)
Mushroom flesh is brittle and the mushroom is entirely hollow. Ridges and pits are elevated on a white stem. Typically 1-3 inches wide, 1-4 inches tall cap. Stem is typically 1-2 inches wide and 1-3.5 inches tall.

Look for yellow morels in hardwood forests; occasionally found with conifers. Most frequently associated with elms. Mushroom flesh is brittle and must be cooked before consumption.

Look-alikes may have chambers, caps are only 1 inch tall, are slimy, or have other minor deviations. Avoid them if you have any doubt.

Don't eat any mushrooms without an expert.

Oak Tree Acorns (fall)
Lobed leaves with rounded or pointed knobs. Leaves are generally symmetrical around a clear median line. Small, scaly bark, generally made up of small, hard, and scaly bits of bark.

Tannin in acorns make them bitter and potentially harmful. Leech out the tannin by removing the shells and boiling for 5 minutes. Strain out and boil the nutmeat in new water for 5 minutes. Repeat until the water is clear after boiling.

Plantain (spring and fall)
Rounded, heavily veined leaves, generally 2 to 4 inches long, growing in a circle around the base. Flower spike grows to 8" in height, containing vertical rows of tiny seeds.

Young leaves are edible raw or cooked. Harvest seed heads late in fall after turning brown, toasting lightly in a pan and use like toasted sesame seeds.

Stinging Nettle (spring through fall)
Toothed, somewhat coarse, long, narrow leaves that grow opposite each other on a hollow, squared stem. Can reach heights of 5 to 6 feet. Tiny clusters of light green flowers in the leaf axils. Toxins in the plant cause mild, irritating and burning reactions. Use gloves.

Leaves lose stinging properties after boiling, drying, or being frozen. Nutritious addition to soups and stews.

Wood Nettle (spring through fall)
Tends to grow in pretty sizable patches in rich, moist, deciduous forests, often along seepages and streams. Can be a painful plant, though the stinging doesn't last long. Wood nettle is not to be confused with stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), which has narrower leaves oppositely attached.

Leaves lose stinging properties after boiling, drying, or being frozen. Nutritious addition to soups and stews.

Wood Sorrel (spring to fall)
The entire plant is edible. Boil the roots, which are starchy and taste somewhat like a potato.

Violet (spring)
Flowers have 5 petals and a symmetrical butterfly shape with varying hues of blue. Stem is bent where flower is attached. Leaves are green and heart-shaped.

The flowers of all violet varieties are edible, but some taste better than others. Leaves are edible, but can be easily confused with other non-edibles, so make sure to look for the flower.

Wilderness Surviving to Thriving

Discusses the process one can use to determine the edibility of a plant. Keep in mind that eating random plants can certainly kill you. Even if you think you know a plant, there are poisonous impostors out there. Be careful.