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Foraging for native Missouri plants

Wild plants in mid-Missouri can help you survive in an emergency

December 20, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST

When the apocalypse comes, it’s survival of the fittest. Knowing which plants are edible might keep you alive until you can find help or other humans.

In Missouri, cattail, clover, lamb’s quarters, wild grapes, onions and garlic are easy-to-find edible plants. Dandelions are widely recognized, and every part can be eaten.

Dave Carlson is an instructor at Blackthorn USA, a nature-based adventure school in Kansas that specializes in preparedness and survival. Every fall, Carlson teaches a class on foraging. He says that many wild plants go well with food you eat every day. Wild onions can add extra flavor to scrambled eggs, and boiled cattail roots are a potato substitute.

Even the people familiar with these plants can have trouble identifying them. Recognizing the edible from the poisonous is important. In some cases, it’s the difference between life and death. “What we tell people here at the school is to find someone in your area that knows wild edibles from experience,” Carlson says. “That is the best way to learn.”

Malissa Underwood at the Missouri Department of Conservation suggests using the book Wild Edibles of Missouri by Jan Phillips to identify plants and learn their uses. According to the book, harmful plants such as fly poison and moonseed look similar to wild onions and grapes respectively. Other foliage such as smartweed and wood nettle can cause rashes or itching if touched. Carlson recommends avoiding mushrooms — period. Even if they look delicious, chances are they’re poisonous.

Missouri’s cold winters mean that many plants will be difficult to scrounge up during those months. However, certain plants such as wild onions, acorns, walnuts and blackberries will be around long into the winter.
Carlson says that picking wild vegetation at random is a bad idea. General advice for
survival: If it looks questionable, don’t eat it.

Eat this:

Wild rose

Found in open woods, prairies and glades statewide, this plant is a good source of vitamin C. It can be used in salads, tea and even jellies.

Lamb's quarter

This common plant can be found almost anywhere, including barnyards and railroads. It is typically used in salads or as a vegetable substitute. It can even be ground into a powder and used as an alternative to flour.


It is pretty easy to recognize cattails. The plant is found in swamps, muddy ponds and other wet places and is generally used in salads or as vegetable substitutes. However, it can also be used to make flour and jellies.

Wild grapes

Grapes are used for jams, jellies and wine, of course. They can calso just be eaten. They grow statewide and are usually found in woods or stream banks.

Not that:


This is a tricky grape look-a-like. Recognize it by the moon-shaped berries. Wild grapes have more of a tear- drop shape.

Fly poison

Don’t mistake this for a wild onion. If there is no onion smell around the plant, beware.

Blue flag

Found around rocks and other gardens, blue flag, a vivd-colored iris, is often confused with sweet flag or calamus. Take care not to eat this because it could prove fatal.

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