Cultivated vegetables in the wild?

I’m eating a tasty salad of lettuce, radishes, beets, green onions, and cucumbers, and am wondering whether it’s possible to find any of these in the wild (and if so, in what regions of the world?).

I know that a large portion of our vegetables are strains that are probably much less equiped to live in the wild than their ancestors, but surely some produce must just live naturally right along other non-garden-variety greenery.

This is an interesting thought, considering how hard it is to keep some of my vegetables from being overwhelmed by weeds and pests.

Very good question, and of the natural things I have found and eaten from Vermont to Connecticut, [so New England flora] the fruits have been by far the best bet. Mountain Blue Berries, Rasberry, black berry. Ocassionally, I’ve seen people use Lemon Grass shoots and native sage, but not so much. However, chestnuts, Hickory nuts and the like are wonderful in autumn roasted with alittle sea salt.

As far as radishes, Lettuces, peppers, tomatoes, etc…etc… I’ve seen non in this area.
[Gosh I miss the berries found the Groton State Forrest in VT]

When I lived in the desert southwest I ate jicama [Mexican Yams] that I gathered in the desert, as well as Prickly pear cactus. Very tastey, and in the right season when their fruit is ripe it makes a good jelly.

Aside from these and a few unmentioned ones, that just about all I have.

I have however, found some wonderful old growth apple trees, with the tastiest apples on them. :slight_smile:

There are varieties of wild onion and garlic. There was is also a wild plant called miner’s lettuce that can be used a salad green. We used to see it pretty commonly when we went hiking up in the Bay area.

Yes they are still in the wild. They are of course not as desirable.

Lots of vegetables have been selectively bred for hundreds or thousands of years to increase their size, attractiveness and palatability. For instance, there are wild carrots, but we don’t call them wild carrots, we call them “Queen Anne’s Lace”. And they have thin white bitter taproots rather than fat orange sweet taproots.

Lots of wild fruits taste pretty much exactly the same as their domestic cultivars, but apples are an exception. Almost all wild apples are crabapples, but occasionally a wild apple will be worth eating raw. When this happens we cut branches from that apple and graft it onto the rootstocks of crabapple trees grown from seed. There was ONE red delicious apple tree, all other red delicious trees are grafted clones of that one original tree.

And lots of other vegetables are propagated clonally (or “vegetatively”) rather than by seed, and if you plant the seeds you’ll likely get a very mixed bag that doesn’t have the desireable characteristics of the parent plant.

Well, you have wild carrots (commonly seen on the side of the road as Queen Anne’s Lace). Aside from that, dandelion greens and flowers are edible (batter dip the flowers and pan fry, either cook the greens like you would spinach or other greens or use them in salad). I’ve also eaten wild raspberries, blackberries and fox grapes, ramps (a type of wild onion), poke salet, wild mustard and sour dock, made tea from the bark of sassafras roots and eaten black walnuts from trees in the yard. These are still common enough in the area from Tennessee to the Great Lakes. Some of them are tastier than the cultivated varieties, but others are things that you have to aquire a taste for. Many varieties of fruits, vegetables and nuts were cultivated to improve flavor, yield or transportability.

Are their wild patches of indigenous iceberg lettuce growing in Vermont? Prob’ly not. But there are plenty of other things you can use for salads or other eating.

In addition to these, I’ve made salad with lamb’s quarters, chickweed, cleavers and red clover flowers…and of course wild lettuce! (*Young *wild lettuce, though. The old stuff is more bitter than old dandelion.) Stinging nettles are edible (and delicious) but must be cooked or pounded into a pulp to deactivate the sting. The baby leaves and shoots of sassafras are delicious in the springtime, and a lot easier to harvest than the roots! Fiddlehead fern shoots are very tasty, like asparagus, but there’s some indication they may be poisonous, so I don’t give them to my students anymore (but I still eat them myself). Violet flowers are a delicious and tasty addition to salads, as are the flowers and buds off of day lilies. Elder flowers make yummy pancakes when battered and pan fried. Every part of the cattail is edible at some stage or another. I’m not entirely familiar with Vermont’s flora, but most of these are pretty ubiquitous across the north/midwest/eastern part of the country.

Note the first: “poke salet” is not a cute country pronunciation of “salad”. “Salet” means **cooked **greens, and it’s important to cook poke to make it safe to eat. It should also not be eaten past the end of May, as the poisonous alkaloids in the shoots increase with the season.

Note the second: only pick wild plants for consumption with an experienced guide. Lots of newbies confuse wild carrot with water hemlock which could make you dead. That said, don’t be too afraid to try new stuff. There’s really nothing that grows in your area that could kill you with one taste (mushrooms being the exception). If something tastes bitter, it’s probably best to spit it out and not eat more. Bitter usually signals alkaloids which could be harmful (or fun, depending on your intent!) Most plants that are “poisonous” make you puke or give you diarrhea. Or both at once. Not pleasant, to be sure, but not deadly either.

Note the third: Only harvest 1/3 of any one stand of plant, and only with the landowner’s permission. The last thing you’d want to do (I hope) is pick the last ginseng growing in Indiana because it looks like a tasty treat!

I’m leading a weed walk in a couple of weeks in an area that’s new for me. I can’t wait! I hear there are huge tracts of twinleaf growing there, which I’ve never seen.

Has someone been reading Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire?

There’s very few things that cannot be eaten that grow wild in the UK (for instance). Bull rush pollen makes a substitute for flour. Acorns can also be ground, if desperate. Hazelnuts grow wild around here (the woods in which I work), as does elder, bilberry (a close relative of the blueberry), blackberry and raspberry. Burdock is also easy to find, and combined with dandelion, you could make a drink (it’d probably taste like shit, though). Clover’s edible. Radishes also grow wild and spruce can even be used to make a tonic.

I have eaten wild strawberries in the Cascades. A mix of strong flavors. Sweet, tart and “strawberry”-ish all at once.

The downside is that the fruits are quite small and have the texture of cardboard.

If the growers could breed back the flavor they’d have a real winner.

All the wild blackberries I have encountered seem to be domestic varieties that have gone feral. Maybe just not native to where I’ve been.

I shudder to add this, but lumberjacks collected spruce gum to sell for the person that chewed it.

Here in TX I’ve gathered and eaten watercress, wild onion, prickly pear, and the ubiquitous blackberry.

There used to be a woodsy area near some old train tracks where I grew up where my dad would harvest asparagus. It looks and tastes just like asparagus you grow in your garden or buy at the store. (Well, it’s fresher than the store-bought stuff, so that makes it better.)

It seems to me that in the wild, there was a wide variety of edible plants, but most of them do not correspond directly to the cultivated vegetables we see in stores now.

A previous thread, Where are the wild versions of food crop plants? included links to photographs of the wild versions of some cultivated vegetables.

If we’re just listing off edible weeds, I would also recommend purslane. I don’t quite remember what the flavor was like, but I do remember that it was very tasty, and I’ve heard that it’s an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Many herbs are also commonly found in the wild, especially various mints (which can be recognized by their square stems).