How many edible plants are growing in your yard right now? It’s almost certainly more than you think. While writing this story, I counted at least six consumable species that have flourished in my Central Austin backyard—and that’s excluding all the typical herbs and vegetables we grow in our garden. My list included yaupon holly, marigold, dandelion, winecup, mulberry, and chickweed, most of which I had no idea I could eat.
Like most Texas Monthly readers, I’ll probably never be a forager—my anxiety level is too high for that, especially after watching a spine-chilling episode of Midsomer Murders in which the victim dies by amanita mushroom, better known as the destroying angel. (Fun fact: this deadliest genus of mushrooms, which can be fatal, flourishes in East and Central Texas.) Luckily, there’s a plethora of unconventional fruits, greens, herbs, and other foods you can plant in your garden, sample at a local farm, or (carefully) find thriving right outside your door. For advice, I turned to Mark Vorderbruggen, a lifelong forager based in Houston and founder of the website Foraging Texas, as well as Scooter Cheatham and Lynn Marshall, who run the Useful Wild Plants project in Austin. All three offer hands-on foraging classes (which Cheatham, delightfully, likes to call a “speedy weed feed”), and these are the best way to get started.
The experts stress the importance of safety above all else. “People often get what we call ‘chlorophyll fever,’ ” Marshall says, referring to enthusiastic novice foragers. “They start thinking that everything they see is Mother Nature’s bounty. Well, it isn’t.” Never rely on a book, website, or identification app such as iNaturalist to decide if a plant is safe to eat. Instead, join a class, go out with an experienced forager, and learn how to confirm multiple identifying features on each plant. “For mushrooms, you need to match up at least eight to ten structural features,” such as color, size, shape, and where it’s growing, Vorderbruggen says. “With plants, you can get away with five or six”—but more is always better, and again, if you’re a beginner, you should partner with someone who knows what they’re doing and is absolutely certain that a specific plant is safe to eat.
With those words of warning in mind, on to a list of edible Texas plants.
Chicken of the woods
Range: Central and North Texas
How to eat it: Sautéed with rice, pasta, and/or veggies
Okay, so it’s a fungus, not a plant. But the chicken of the woods mushroom is the gateway drug that introduced me to the world of wild, foraged, and unconventional foods. A friend dropped off some she’d gathered earlier that day in the woods near Lady Bird Lake, and I sautéed them with a little butter and garlic. The fresh, rich, umami flavor blew me away; I’d even venture to say it’s better than chicken, which can often be bland on its own.
Foraging for mushrooms requires ample caution. Since some species are deadly, you want to be absolutely certain of what you’re eating. That said, chicken of the woods is a good choice for beginners because it’s unmistakable. “It looks like a bunch of raw chicken breasts, stuck to a tree and coated with that orange Doritos cheese stuff,” Vorderbruggen says. Before biting into one, though, make sure to identify those aforementioned eight to ten structural features specific to the species, such as what surface it’s growing on (chicken of the woods prefers rotting trees) and the shape of the stem. You can also make a spore print, which is akin to taking a mushroom’s fingerprint.
How to eat it: Blend into a pesto or add to smoothies
This humble green weed, which is found in abundance across Texas and the continental U.S., often grows up against the sides of houses. The plant usually pops up in late winter and early spring, though you can pick it year-round. With a texture similar to spinach, it’s a good addition to a sandwich or a salad; Vorderbruggen suggests adding it to a smoothie. “Chickweed has a creamifying effect that makes a vegan smoothie a little more decadent, more like a milkshake,” he says. “It’s good on its own, too, but I highly recommend it in that role.” The folks at Central Texas Gardener recommend using it in a pesto recipe.
Range: Central and South Texas
How to eat it: In a salsa or jelly
Also known as bird pepper, chile pequin is ubiquitous across much of the state. You might even have one in your yard and not know it. “A lot of people cut them down because they don’t realize what they are,” Marshall says. Texas’s official (and only) state native pepper thrives in both sun and shade; in late summer or early fall, its round, green berries turn red and are ready to pick. Most of the hot peppers sold in grocery stores are descended from the chile pequin, Marshall and Cheatham note, including jalapeño and serrano. This little red chile, whose spiciness Texas Monthly’s Pat Sharpe once described as “incendiary,” is stellar in homemade salsa or jelly. Try our recipe for the latter, which cuts the heat with grapefruit.
Range: Central, East, and North Texas
How to eat it: Fresh off the vine, baked in a pie, or cooked in a jam
If you’re skeptical about eating strange and unusual wild plants, this one might be a comfortable place to start. The wild dewberry tastes and looks exactly like a blackberry, because it is one. “Genetically, it’s almost identical,” Vorderbruggen says. “Think of them as two different breeds of dogs.” Find the low-slung shrub growing along roads and highways, as well as in fields and thickets. You’ll want to wear gloves while picking these to avoid getting scratched by the thorns. Dewberry season is early and fleeting, lasting from late spring through early summer.
Range: Central and West Texas
How to eat it: Brewed in a tea, or boiled down into a candy
A member of the mint family with medicinal properties, horehound is a great natural remedy for a sore throat or cough; cultures around the world have been using it for this purpose for thousands of years. You can brew the leaves into a tea or make a candy similar to a cough drop. Vorderbruggen describes the strong herbal flavor as a pleasant combination of root beer and licorice. His website has recipes for both horehound tea and horehound candy.
Range: Statewide, especially Houston
How to eat it: On its own, fresh or dried
Jujube trees are originally from China; the U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced them to America in the early twentieth century. These hardy trees grow well in harsh, dry environments, so USDA officials thought they’d be a good option in California, Texas, and across the arid Southwest. Though it never became as popular as they’d hoped, the low-maintenance plant produces a sweet fruit that draws comparisons to apples, plums, and pears. “It does really well in the Houston area,” Vorderbruggen says, noting that a jujube harvest is usually a big one. “They are very prolific, producing pounds and pounds of fruit.” Unlike the sensitive pawpaw (see below), the fruit is sturdy and easy to transport or preserve. Dried jujubes taste a lot like dates. Can’t find one or don’t want to search on your own? Your local Asian grocer likely has them.
Range: Statewide, especially South Texas
How to eat it: Fresh, in preserves, or as a liqueur
Another Asian import, cold-hardy loquats grow easily across much of the state. I always look forward to spotting the bright, sunflower-yellow fruits ripening all over my Austin neighborhood in late spring and early summer. While they’re lovely as an ornamental fruit, loquats also have a delicious flavor evoking that of apricots. When I received some in a produce box a few years back, I didn’t know what to do with them, and eventually settled on loquat margaritas, which were a hit. Peeling and preparing the fruit takes a little time but is well worth the effort. Joe Urbach of the San Marcos Daily Record suggests making loquat chutney or syrup, which brings a hit of sweetness to lemonade, iced tea, or the aforementioned margaritas. Vorderbruggen, meanwhile, has a recipe for loquat liqueur, which has an amaretto flavor.
Range: East Texas
How to eat it: Cooked in a jam or jelly
Families in East Texas pass down time-honored jam recipes for this slightly tart red berry, which looks a lot like a cranberry and comes from a tree that’s part of the hawthorn family. At the Jellytree Mayhaw Farm in Huntington, Texas Highways’ Susan L. Ebert writes, you can take home not just an excellent mayhaw jelly, but also preserves with other local wild fruits, such as muscadine, beautyberry, and redbud blossom. Often found along the Trinity River and in other low-lying swampy areas, especially in the Big Thicket region, the tree is increasingly at risk from deforestation and disease. Vorderbruggen points out that the fruit naturally contains a high level of pectin, so you may not even need to add extra when making your own jam (though the folks at Jellytree swear by it).
Range: East Texas and Houston area
How to eat it: Straight off the tree
This elusive, ephemeral fruit has a tropical flavor that’s often compared to banana custard, mango, or pineapple. If you’re lucky enough to find one, give it a gentle squeeze to make sure it’s soft, and look for a light green or slightly yellow hue. Then, don’t hesitate. “The moment you pick the fruit, it starts to spoil,” Vorderbruggen says, “so you have a very short window of opportunity to enjoy it.” Wash and eat immediately after picking, scooping the fruit out with a spoon.
Because it spoils so quickly, pawpaw is rarely found in processed foods. A recent surge in popularity among young foragers has earned it the nickname “hipster banana,” but the fruit is nothing new—according to lore, it was one of George Washington’s favorite desserts. In fact, this ancient tree evolved before bees, so it’s pollinated by flies. The flowers attract them by emitting an atrocious odor similar to that of rotten meat. But flies aren’t as efficient as bees, so if you want to grow a pawpaw tree, you’ll have to help its unusual pollination process along. “Some gardeners have been successful by hanging strips of raw meat in the branches,” Vorderbruggen says. Thankfully, there’s a milder option: simply pollinate by hand with a small paintbrush, following these tips from the Dallas Morning News.
How to eat it: In a salad (flowers) or as a crunchy snack (tubers)
Also called purple poppy mallow, this cheerful magenta flower is popular with gardeners because it’s easy to grow; the trailing vine spreads quickly, making it an excellent ground-cover plant. I’ve had it in my front yard for years, but never knew it was edible. Vorderbruggen suggests you stick to cultivating rather than foraging this plant, because harvesting it in the wild can be tricky. “They’re almost impossible to transplant,” he says. “So if you dig one up and damage the little fine roots coming off the tuber, it’s going to die.” Better to buy the seeds from Junction-based Native American Seed and grow your own.
Scatter the flowers in a salad or as a stylish decoration on a frosted cake. If you’re feeling more adventurous, slice the radishlike tubers thinly, then roast or fry them. “They taste just like sweet potatoes,” Vorderbruggen says. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has a recipe for wild onion and winecup tuber stew.
Range: East and Central Texas
How to eat it: Brewed in a tea
The only caffeinated plant native to North America, yaupon can be made into a beverage similar to green or black tea; Indigenous Texans have been drinking it for more than a thousand years. During World War II, when coffee and tea were in short supply, the federal government promoted it as a substitute, but the drink never really caught on. Now, a new generation of Texas tea makers is bringing it back. Buy yaupon tea premade from one of at least four brands—CatSpring Yaupon, Local Leaf, Lost Pines Yaupon, or YAYAYA Yaupon—or make your own. Yaupon holly grows in abundance anywhere sandy soil is found, especially in Central and East Texas. Simply cut a branch and remove enough leaves to spread on a cookie sheet, then bake at 350 degrees F for about twenty minutes. Crumble the leaves, put a few spoonfuls in a tea infuser, and add hot water.
Unlike tea, yaupon can’t be oversteeped. “The leaves have about fifty percent of the caffeine found in regular tea, but none of the tannins that make it bitter,” Vorderbruggen says, noting that the brew is also rich in antioxidants. “In the morning, I’ll put a handful of dried leaves in my mug and then just sip all day long.”
Edible stems include celery, asparagus, bamboo shoots, rhubarb, and sugar cane. Other plant stems are also edible, such as broccoli and cauliflower, even though they are not necessarily grown for their stems. Many interesting products come from stems.Is it legal to forage in Texas? ›
You must have permission from the property owner to collect plant matter. To forage without permission is considered stealing and you can be arrested.Can you forage on public land in Texas? ›
Public places to forage legally are somewhat limited in Texas. You are NOT allowed to pick plants or mushrooms from city parks, state parks, national parks, city nature trails, nature preserves, state historic sites, or any other "public" property.How can you tell if a plant is edible? ›
Before taking a bite, touch the plant to your lips to test for burning or itching. If there's no reaction after 15 minutes, take a small bite, chew it, and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes. If the plant tastes very bitter or soapy, spit it out and wash out your mouth.How many plants are native to Texas? ›
In Texas, about 5,000 species of flowering plants have been discovered. There are new plants being found growing wild all the time. Our Native Plant Database lists 3,192 plants native to Texas, and there could be that many more waiting to be found.What are Texas plants? ›
Principal plants are mesquite, small live oak, post oak, prickly pear (Opuntia) cactus, catclaw, blackbrush, whitebrush, guajillo, huisache, cenizo, and others that often grow very densely. The original vegetation was mainly perennial warm-season bunchgrasses in savannahs of post oak, live oak, and mesquite.Does purslane grow in Texas? ›
Purslane makes a spreading groundcover with succulent leaves that are covered with flowers all summer long. They require full sun and a hot, dry location which in Texas is not hard to find. The flowers have iridescent colors which open with the sun and close at night.Does chickweed grow in Texas? ›
Chickweed is a very common weed in Texas and the rest of the United States. Growing a thick, healthy lawn will also make it difficult for Chickweed to thrive in your landscape.What can you forage in East Texas? ›
Wild blackberries, dewberries, mulberries and huckleberries grow in East Texas. These wild berries in Texas can be eaten straight off the bush or tree or made into cobblers, jams and jellies. A lesser known berry comes from the staghorn sumac, a member of the cashew family.What is the quickest edible plant to grow? ›
Radishes are one of the fastest vegetables, taking just three to four weeks to reach harvest time. They're also exceptionally easy to grow. Seeds can be sown into prepared ground or pots of potting soil. Sow the plump seeds very thinly, spacing them about one inch (2.5cm) apart.
|Plant||Consumable parts of the Plant|
|Spinach, cabbage, lettuce, etc.||Leaves|
|Cauliflower, Broccoli, sunflower etc.||Flower|
|Apple, orange, banana, etc.||Fruits|
|Rice, maize, wheat, etc||Seeds|
Wild edibles are any plant parts or mushrooms that are collected from the wild — they can be incredibly nutritious and are amazingly versatile in recipes.Can you carry a gun in Texas state parks? ›
Anyone 21 years old or older may carry a handgun in a holster (with or without a license) in most state parks. Handguns are not allowed in parks that are leased from the federal government. Check with the park before you go. Refer to Texas State Park Regulations for specific regulations - 59.134(d).Can you find morels in Texas? ›
Here in Texas Morels are easily found around Dallas and farther north but traveling south they haven't been reported between Waco and the Gulf of Mexico. In the Texas Hill Country look on the ground under juniper/cedar trees.Can you forage in local parks? ›
State and local governments have their own rules. Many states—including Arkansas and California—prohibit nearly all foraging on state-owned lands. But other states—such as Alaska and Hawaii—tend to allow the practice. New York City, like many municipalities, prohibits all foraging in city parks.How do you tell if a plant is poisonous? ›
How can you tell if a plant is poisonous? - YouTubeAre white clovers edible? ›
White Clover (Trifolium repens – pictured above) is a totally edible plant. Eat the leaves raw or cooked as a spinach substitute, or dry them to add to baked goods for a vanilla flavor. The flowers are also edible, as are the seed pods – which when dried can both be ground into a flour.Are any tree leaves edible? ›
To answer your burning question: yes, you can make trees into salad. The young, tender leaves of trees like the beech, birch, Chinese elm, fennel, mulberry, hawthorne, sassafras, and linden can be tossed into a salad, though some are better tasting than others. You can also pick and eat them fresh off the tree.What plant stays green all year round? ›
Most evergreens are plants that stay green all year, but all plants lose some of their older foliage each year and colors may fade, brighten or change with the seasons. Evergreen shrubs have either broad leaves or narrow leaves.What flower grows year round in Texas? ›
Knockout Rose – For a hard-to-kill shrub that will bloom nearly all year long, you can't beat the Knockout Rose. They're drought-tolerant, heat-resistant, and can withstand the diseases that make traditional roses so difficult to grow.
Texas State Flower: Bluebonnets
That includes the classic Lupinus texensis as well as five other species: Lupinus havardii (Big Bend bluebonnet), Lupinus perennis (sundial lupine), Lupinus plattensis (Nebraska lupine), Lupinus subcarnosus (Sandyland bluebonnet) and Lupinus concinnus (bajada lupine).
Texas Native Plants Database. Wooly butterfly bush is a striking shrub with velvety, ash-gray foliage that sets off the eye-catching orange flowers from spring to fall. It grows just barely into the Trans-Pecos from Mexico, in limestone habitats in desert canyons and arroyos.Are daisies native to Texas? ›
Description: Engelmann Daisy, Engelmannia peristenia, is a native perennial found throughout Texas except in East Texas. It is found in calcareous, loamy or clay soils in open fields and is a common roadside wildflower. E.What grows in Texas gardens? ›
Beets, lettuce, mustard greens, radish, and carrots are all frost-tolerant veggies that can survive temperatures as low as 32°F and will do nicely in a fall vegetable garden in Texas. Once you plant your seeds, they need to be watered daily for two weeks until the roots are mature enough to support plant growth.What 4 types of vegetation are in Texas? ›
Examples: Little bluestem (warm season perennial), Texas wintergrass (cool season perennial), crabgrass (warm season annual), and rescuegrass (cool season annual). Grasses are important food items for many wildlife species and provide nesting habitat for others.What flowers are Texas known for? ›
Bluebonnet. Lupinus texensis — Begins blooming early spring (but Big Bend bluebonnet can bloom as early as January). All six species of bluebonnet that grow in the state have been designated the State Flower by the Texas Legislature.Who should not eat purslane? ›
Purslane and other leafy vegetables have high levels of oxalates (15). It can contribute to the formation of stones in your urinary tract and kidneys. People who are prone to developing kidney or urinary tract stones should avoid eating purslane.Which purslane is poisonous? ›
Spotted spurge (Euphorbia maculata, formerly Chamaesyce maculata) is poisonous and should not be consumed.Can you eat the entire purslane plant? ›
Any purslane plant can be harvested and eaten, as the leaves, stems, and flowers are completely edible. When preparing wild purslane, it's important to wash the plant carefully to ensure that no pesticides are on the leaves. Purslane is tart and a little salty, making it a great addition to salads and other dishes.What is Dollarweed? ›
Dollarweed (Hydrocotyle spp.), also known as pennywort, is a warm-season perennial weed. It gets the common name, dollarweed, from its silver–dollar-shaped leaves. The leaves of dollarweed are round, bright green, fleshy, and look like miniature lily pads measuring 1-2” in diameter with a scalloped edge.
Burr Medic, Goat Head Weed, and Lawn Burweed are low-growing prickly lawn weeds. Spiny Sowthistle and Spiny Cocklebur are high-growing spiky weeds you may see on your lawn that can release painful burrs you may never see.Is henbit native to Texas? ›
Henbit (Lamium aplexicaule) is a member of the Lamiaceae or Mint family, and one of the most common Central Texas weeds, originally an escape from Europe-Eurasia-North Africa.Is Texas sage edible? ›
Although Texas sage is mainly used as a popular ornamental shrub, you can also consume it. It's a common herbal medicine and is often used in herbal tea. Since Texas sage is easy to cultivate, you can grow it in your garden to have access at all times.What foods are indigenous Texas? ›
Venison, catfish, and pecans are still staples of Texas cuisine after thousands of years. Today's diners can imbibe prickly pear margaritas and slather their toast with agarita jelly made from the same plants people harvested millennia ago.What veggies are native to Texas? ›
Cultivated for centuries prior to the arrival of European explorers and settlers, our country's only native vegetable is also a Texas native sunflower. The “jerusalem artichoke” or “sunchoke” is the enlarged underground stem of helianthus tuberosus, a type of sunflower in the aster family with edible tuberous roots.What veggies are native to Texas? ›
Cultivated for centuries prior to the arrival of European explorers and settlers, our country's only native vegetable is also a Texas native sunflower. The “jerusalem artichoke” or “sunchoke” is the enlarged underground stem of helianthus tuberosus, a type of sunflower in the aster family with edible tuberous roots.Are Texas dandelions edible? ›
The Texas plant's flowers and leaves are edible but can be bitter. Harvest young plants for the most tender leaves to eat raw or cook as greens. The flowers can be added to fritters or pancakes and the leaves and roots can be used to make a tea that acts as a light diuretic.
Although Texas sage is mainly used as a popular ornamental shrub, you can also consume it. It's a common herbal medicine and is often used in herbal tea. Since Texas sage is easy to cultivate, you can grow it in your garden to have access at all times.What can you forage in East Texas? ›
Wild blackberries, dewberries, mulberries and huckleberries grow in East Texas. These wild berries in Texas can be eaten straight off the bush or tree or made into cobblers, jams and jellies. A lesser known berry comes from the staghorn sumac, a member of the cashew family.What fruit is native to Texas? ›
Texas is known for its giant Ruby Red Grapefruit. In fact, it's the official state fruit as well as a symbol of Texas agriculture. The Grapefruit season lasts longer than any other fruit in Texas, running from November to May.
So Texans ate corn bread, tortillas, hominy -- and they fed corn to their pigs. Pork was really just corn turned into meat. Texas homesteaders looked askance at vegetables. Vegetable gardens too easily got mixed up with human waste.What foods are indigenous Texas? ›
Venison, catfish, and pecans are still staples of Texas cuisine after thousands of years. Today's diners can imbibe prickly pear margaritas and slather their toast with agarita jelly made from the same plants people harvested millennia ago.What edibles grow wild in Texas? ›
|scientific name||common name(s)|
|Allium canadense||Meadow Garlic Wild Garlic Wild Onion|
|Berlandiera lyrata||Chocolate Daisy Chocolate Flower Lyreleaf Greeneyes Green-eyed Lyre Leaf|
|Capsicum annuum||Chile Tepin Chile Pequin Chiltepin Chile Petin Bird Pepper Turkey Pepper Cayenne Pepper|
- Rubus trivialis (southern dewberry)
- Prunus rivularis (creek plum)
- Prunus mexicana (Mexican plum)
- Diospyros texana (Texas persimmon)
- Diospyros virginiana (common persimmon)
- Fragaria virginiana (Virginia strawberry)
- Fragaria vesca (woodland strawberry)
The common dandelion has no poisonous lookalikes. You can use other similar but less widespread Taraxacum species the same way you'd use the common dandelion.Is Purple Sage poisonous? ›
Is Salvia 'Purpurascens' poisonous? Salvia 'Purpurascens' has no toxic effects reported.Is Purple Sage safe to eat? ›
As a culinary herb, Purple Sage is one of the most flavorful sages and can be interchanged with regular garden sage. Sage herb plants can be used in all recipes calling for the delicious flavor of sage - stuffing, sausages, soups and stews.Are Texas Ranger plants poisonous? ›
It's a Pet-friendly plant.
It's not toxic for dogs, cats and horses but in case of other animals it might be.
Farkleberry, Sparkleberry, Huckleberry, Winter Huckleberry
Farkleberry is a small, stiff-branched, evergreen or persistent-leaved tree or large shrub found on acid, sandy, well-drained soils in fields, clearings, open mixed forests, dry hillsides and wet bottomlands in east Texas west to the Bastrop area.
Purslane makes a spreading groundcover with succulent leaves that are covered with flowers all summer long. They require full sun and a hot, dry location which in Texas is not hard to find. The flowers have iridescent colors which open with the sun and close at night.
According to Flora of North America, there are two species of Dandelion (Taraxacum) in Texas: T. officinale and T. erythrospermum.