Edmonton Native Plant Society
native plant stewards
Edible Wildflowers and Berries Too!
by Cherry Dodd on June 10th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I was at a gardening event with the ENG display. I happened to talk to someone who only wanted to grow edible native plants and was looking for some suggestions. I was stymied. We don't have the local native equivalent of a row of carrots or a plot of corn. Jerusalem artichokes are a wonderful vegetable, but they are native to Manitoba, not Alberta.

However, after I went home and thought about it some more I realized we do have a lot of local edible native plants. They are not staple vegetables but they provide something more important - the vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and cancer fighting substances that tend to be lacking in this era of factory farms and agribusiness. So, here are a few samples of local edible native plants:

Buffalo Berry, Shepherdia canadensis, is so called because the berries were once used as a condiment with buffalo. The berries are edible, but whether they taste good is a matter of personal opinion.

Canada Violet and Early Blue Violet, Viola canadensis and Viola adunca. All violet flowers and leaves are edible and can be added to salads, soups and omelettes. The leaves are high in vitamin C and vitamin A.

Cattail, Typha latifolia is a plant of many uses. Robert Rogers says "The tender inner core of the stem can be eaten raw or steamed. The small corms that form next year's shoots can be eaten like a potato. The immature green ‘cobs’ can be prepared and eaten like fresh corn. The rootstocks can be collected and ground into flour; or roasted over a fire. This flour is nearly 7% protein and the sugar and starches (over 30%) are an excellent corn starch substitute. Only potato flour contains more minerals. It is estimated that one acre of cattails yield over 32 tons of flour."
NB: Make sure you gather your cattails from areas where there is no chance of pesticide runoff/spray from nearby fields or lawns. This rule applies to any other edible plant harvested from the wild.

Chickweed, Cerastium arvense, is an "acceptable potherb" according to Robert Rogers. He is a local herbalist and a lot of the information in this article came from his excellent book Rogers' Herbal Manual.

Choke Cherry, Prunus virginiana and Pin Cherry, Prunus pensylvanica. Both make good jelly. Choke Cherries provide more fruit to work with, but the Pin Cherry is a nicer looking tree for the yard, although it can sucker out.

Cow Parsnip, Heracleum lanatum. The stems can be roasted or steamed or boiled and are said to taste like celery with a rhubarb texture. The roots can be roasted and taste like sweet potatoes. In Europe the stems were made into a type of beer. I don't recommend growing Cow Parsnip unless you have a lot of land, as it tends to self-seed and take over.

Fireweed, Epilobium angustifolium - French settlers steamed the young shoots as an early green. The shoots can also be eaten raw in salads along with unopened buds. The buds can also be pickled like capers. Fireweed is a rich source of vitamin A and vitamin C. A relaxing and calming herbal tea can be made from the leaves. Fireweed tends to spread rapidly, but it can be kept under control if the young plants are ripped out in the early spring.

Giant Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum. The leaves make a great pleasant-tasting tea that is also supposed to be good for colds and fevers.

Goldenrods, Solidago spp. Tea made from the leaves and flowers is said to have a mild liquorice flavour. It is said to be good for a variety of ailments including restless leg syndrome, high blood pressure, congestion caused by
allergies, skin conditions and arthritis. To make Goldenrod tea, steep 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herb in 8 ounces of
boiling water for 10 minutes. Don't use this tea if you have low blood pressure or you are taking medication for high blood pressure. This information on goldenrods came from an interesting website - www.crazyfortea.com

Hazelnut, Corylus cornuta. These are great tasting nuts if you can get to them before the squirrels find them.

High Bush Cranberry, Viburnum opulus. The berries make a wonderful jelly.

Monarda or Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa. The leaves and flowers can be used as a flavouring in salads. The fresh or dried leaves make a refreshing and aromatic tea.

Nodding Onion, Allium cernuum. The bulbs and leaves can be used just like any other onion variety, though Nodding Onions are so beautiful with their graceful pink nodding flowers that I think it would be a crime to eat them.

Ostrich Fern, Matteucia struthiopteris. Fiddleheads are the young curled up shoots of the Ostrich Fern and are said to be delicious steamed. They are a delicacy in eastern Canada.

Saskatoon, Amelanchier alnifolia - my favourite fruit. Every yard should have at least two Saskatoons - one for the gardener and one for the Robins and other birds. Saskatoons can be purchased as a shrub or a small tree. They also make a good natural hedge. Every natural area and city park should have its own Saskatoon patch. Saskatoon berries have so many uses in pies, jams, jellies, pancake syrup, wine etc. but I think that they taste best fresh, right off the tree.

Stinging Nettle, Urtica gracilis. The young shoots are excellent steamed; they are an early spring green that is ready before anything else is up in the garden. Wear gloves to gather them and don't use the older leaves as they can irritate the kidneys. Nettles tend to spread but they can easily be kept under control. They prefer a semi-shaded damp spot with lots of organic matter. Pile leaves on them in the fall.

Tall Lungwort, Mertensia paniculata. The dried leaves can be used in herbal tea mixtures and are said to be especially good for treating lung conditions. I don't recommend growing Tall Lungwort unless you have the space because it loves to self-seed.

Wild Chives, Allium schoenoprasum. At first glance Wild Chives look just like their cultivated cousins from Europe. They taste just as good too and don't seem to self-seed as much as the European species.

Wild Raspberry, Rubus idaeus. If you are looking for lots of fruit, you will get a higher yield by planting cultivars, but the wild raspberry will create a thick impenetrable hedge - sometimes a useful feature. In Russia, the fresh fruit is used to help reduce blood sugar levels. Raspberry leaf herbal tea can relieve morning sickness and is great for pregnancy and after birth.

Wild Roses, Rosa acicularis and Rosa woodsii. The petals are edible and the hips are very high in vitamin C. Gather the hips in the fall after the first frosts and dry them for a couple of weeks. Take off the stems and tails and store them in a glass container. Don't cut the hips open as the tiny hairs surrounding the seeds can irritate the bowel. For this reason I don't recommend eating the fresh hips. To make rose hip tea, just put about 6 hips in a cup and pour boiling water over them. This tea is so mild and delicate that you might want to add another flavour to it.

Wild Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana. These small berries are far tastier than the cultivated kind. They can be made into jam, but who wants to waste them that way when they are so delicious fresh! Wild strawberries growing in the shade may not produce fruit. They do best in a sunny spot in poor sandy soil.

Another great website that I came across while researching this article is the Plants for a Future site, http://www.pfaf.org/index.php. Check it out.

Back in the late 70's, National Museums of Canada published a series of 4 books on Edible Wild Plants of Canada: Edible Garden Weeds; Wild Coffee and Tea Substitutes; Edible Wild Fruit and Nuts; and Wild Green Vegetables, by Adam Szczawinski and Nancy Turner. Excellent descriptions, info, and simple recipes. Canada-wide species, but lots of plants mentioned are found around here, and are an interesting read as well. These are available at the Edmonton Public Library.

I discovered that a tremendous number of native plants have medicinal qualities too. I included a couple of examples here, but I will delve into this fascinating subject at a later date.

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riverein - July 17th, 2010 at 6:43 PM
Hello Cherry

I have a branch of berries I do not know. The berries are just coming red now, and are clustered a hundred and more in a tight ball, from golf-ball to tennis ball size. The leaves are elongated and deeply 'feathered' I picked this up in a city park. Any ideas and direction to botanical description and photos? Thanks for your informative article. Oh and while I was pondering on this berry, I munched on Saskatoons. Sublime.
Judith - August 13th, 2010 at 8:46 PM
Hard to say exactly without a picture, but it might be an elderberry shrub. They have deeply divided leaves and clusters of berries. Yes, aren't saskatoons yummy!!
- August 13th, 2010 at 8:50 PM
The botanical name is Sambucus racemosa. Any book on native trees and shrubs would have it or you can also Google it.
San - July 29th, 2012 at 5:19 PM
I saw a yellow berry or round seed pod today in the ravine that I had never seen before. It appears single in the middle of large dark green leaves on a low growing plant. Ididn't have my phone and so didn't take a photo. It was a fairly large fruit, as wild berries go, and a beautiful golden color. I've spent a lot of time in the woods inky life but have never seen this before. My curiosity is peaked.
- July 30th, 2012 at 2:04 PM
Hi San,
Our curiosity is piqued too! However, without a picture it's almost impossible to even hazard a guess. You could try to find it again, get a photo, and email it to engedmonton@gmail.com for us to take a look.
Hilda - May 20th, 2013 at 1:22 AM
In my yard there is a tree that blooms red berries and on the inside it is green.
- May 20th, 2013 at 12:23 PM
If you are asking to have this tree identified, we need a lot more information - such as where you live, leaf shape, blossom appearance, height, etc. - and preferably a photo. Send us a picture to: engedmonton.com and we will try to identify it for you.
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