Jan 06

Wild Edible Plants in Kentucky

A prepper’s food storage is their lifeline and the basis of their preparedness plan. But food storages will eventually run out. One way to combat this is to garden and grow food to supplement the food storage, but even gardens fail depending on your level of experience and the weather. The next thing you can do is to know what wild edible plants grow in your area, so that if you had to, you could use them as a source of food. There are a number of wild edible plants out there that are packed with vitamins and nutrients, some more nutritious than food we buy in the stores. Knowing how to identify these, where they grow, and how to prepare them is vital to your survival.

Quite a few books have been published on this subject, books that illustrate what plants are safe to eat, along with where they grow in the country. You can also get region specific books and Lee Allen Peterson has a book titled “A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America.” This book is available here (via Amazon) and would cover most of the edible plants in Kentucky. You can also view all the books on wild edible plants here (via Amazon), and there are free ebooks that I have posted on this very subject you can download from here and here.

Trails.com has a guide posted that lists a few common wild edible plants in Kentucky that must of us could probably already identify. Here is their findings:

Tubers and Bulbs

The best of the wild tubers is the wood sorrel, or oxalis.  The plant has a root tuber similar to a small potato.  However, the stems, leaves and flowers are mildly toxic and should not be consumed.  Ordinary onion grass, which grows virtually everywhere in Kentucky, is also edible.  This includes both the grassy stem and the bulbs.  Spring onions, or “ramps,” are also easy to find and can be eaten.

Fruits and Berries

The most common wild berry in Kentucky is the blackberry, the briars of which can be found fringing numerous farms and vacant suburban lots.  The American elderberry is also found in the state, but it should be carefully studied before consumption since it superficially resembles several varieties of poisonous berries.  The ill-informed can easily make a mistake and quickly come to regret it.  Ground cherries are also present in Kentucky, but since these plants thrive on bad, well-watered soil, it would be best to look for them in the sandy and/or rocky areas around the state’s creeks and rivers.


The ponds and lakes of Kentucky are home to wild watercress, which can be harvested and eaten.  Often mistaken for thistles, wild prickly lettuce is just as edible as its domesticated counterpart and arguably tastier to boot.


Walnuts in Kentucky can be had from the American black walnut tree, which needs plenty of water and good soil.  It, therefore, grows best close to rivers and streams.  The state also has a good climate for hickory trees, which produce edible (and often ignored) nuts.  The Kentucky coffee tree produces a semi-edible product, meaning that the seeds can be used as a substitute for coffee if they are roasted for three or four hours.  However, even after being roasted, the seed remains marginally toxic and should never be consumed in large quantities.

Other Plants
Chickweed is a wild herb that can provide some nutrition if consumed, and the entire plant is edible.  The ordinary, humble dandelion has long seen its flower petals used for making tea and recently has become popular for use in salads.  It is easy to find and can be eaten straight from the field.



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  1. Wendy

    I'd like to add Oak trees to your list. Acorns, when properly processed, are great for making flour and can be used as a coffee substitute (in a pinch, because I understand the coffee isn't so good :).

    Also, a very common, edible weed that most people can identify is dandelion, and the whole plant is useful and edible. The flowers can be used to make wine or when dredged in batter and fried make a nice spring side dish. The young greens are actually quite good when sauteed in some butter, salt and minced garlic :).

  2. matthiasj

    Thanks for the extra info Wendy. I got the idea from the interview BTW :D

  3. guest234

    the trails.com article you used is copyrighted and really should not be taken without permission. Just so you know :)

  4. Ravenroad99

    You left out hundreds of the basic things that those of us in East Kentucky have been eating for hundreds of years. In the spring young tender Poke can be eaten, both leaves and stems. but only when young. Sprouts actually. Also dry land fish, a type of morel mushroom. is a delicacy. I know a lot more edible plants like plantain but I am not trying to write a book here, just suggesting that you folks get a good book. You can live on the edibles here in Ky. if you learn them all.

  5. tl8823

    would love to hear more about the edibles in and around my area… I live in Marshall county and we go to LBL quite often.. What would be a good book that you could suggest, trying to get a reference book together for “just in case”.

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