10 Edible Plants Native To Illinois You Can Safely Eat

Exploring the wilderness in Illinois may be exciting for some people, especially those who like an adventure. The state is home to 71 mountains; thus, it is worth traveling! Hiking in the mountains and walking in the forests can make you feel closer to our mother Earth. However, this activity requires sound knowledge, especially about how to survive.

At least you should know what to eat if you are running out of supplies or, worse, get lost. Suppose you are an Illinois resident and love to explore your surroundings, we’ve provided you with an extensive list of edible plants native to Illinois you can find in Illinois nature.

They produce delicious fruits and even leaves to be safely eaten raw or cooked by humans. But remember, make sure you know the law before foraging in the places you are traveling for.

Without any further ado, let’s take a look!

BEST Edible Plants Native to Illinois

Nestled amidst the heartland of America, Illinois boasts a rich tapestry of edible treasures waiting to be discovered. It’s not just corn and beans; the Prairie State hides a myriad of native plants that have graced local plates for centuries.

As the seasons change, these natural bounties emerge, offering flavors as diverse as the state’s own history.

Dive in with us as we explore Illinois’ gastronomic roots, unveiling the best edible plants that have been nature’s gift to its inhabitants.

1. American Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis)

edible plants native to Illinois
American Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis)

Sambucus canadensis has various common names, like American Elderberry, Common Elderberry, Black Elder, and many more. It is a deciduous fruit-bearing shrub that produces elderberry blossoms which will later turn into tasty wild black edible berries in the fruiting season.

Its edible fruits may be a little poisonous due to the small amounts of cyanide.

Therefore, it is better to cook elderberry before consuming them. The blackberries are usually processed into jellies, jams, and elderberry wine, while they are eaten raw by birds. 

Despite belonging to edible wild plants for food, American Elderberry is also broadly used as a natural remedy by native Americans. Considering those amazing qualities, it is no doubt that this edible plant is popular to grow.

This sun-loving shrub tolerates part shade and wide types of soil yet prefer rich, moist, and slightly acidic soil. Even though it loves water and wet moisture, American Elderberry is drought-tolerant.

In addition, hard pruning is necessary to keep the best foliage.

2. Blue Giant Hyssop (Agastache Foeniculum)

edible plants native to Illinois
Blue Giant Hyssop (Agastache Foeniculum)

Agastache foeniculum or Blue Giant Hyssop is an upright growing perennial with attractive spikes of lavender flowers that beautifully blooms from early summer to early fall.

In addition, it features attractive foliage that is commonly processed into jellies and herbal tea, thanks to the licorice-like scents. Knowing all these wonderful aspects, no wonder this deer-resistant perennial is famous among plant lovers and gardeners.

You will not make your hands full if you want to plant Blue Giant Hyssop. Since it can grow well in full sun to partial shade, the choice of planting location becomes wider. It also prefers sandy, moist, but well-drained soil.

As an easy-to-grow edible perennial with stunning features, Blue Giant Hyssop is an excellent choice to grow in butterfly gardens, cottage gardens, and even cut flowers!

3. Chickasaw Plum (Prunus Angustifolia)

edible plants native to Illinois
Chickasaw Plum (Prunus Angustifolia)

Suppose you are looking for edible plants native to Illinois and attractive flowering native trees at the same time to plant in your own yard. In that case, Chickasaw Plum is your best bet!

This tree has stunning fragrant white flowers and produces red plums when ripening between late summer and early fall. The plums can be freshly consumed or cooked into jellies, desserts, and preserved fruits.

With its beautiful appearance, Chickasaw Plum will look great outdoors. Moreover, this plant really likes the sun because it can grow thick and full. Nonetheless, it also tolerates shade if you want more loose growth and a delicate look.

Additionally, it does not need much watering, making it easier to take care of. Just ensure your soil is sandy and loose, as this tree favors such soil types to grow appropriately.

4. Common Cattail (Typha Latifolia L.)

edible plants native to Illinois
Common Cattail (Typha Latifolia L.)

Compared to other edible plants native to Illinois, this plant may not look appealing. But, Common Cattail is a native perennial that is quite popular for its unique brownish cylinder flowers with stout stems, giving a dashing impression to its appearance.

It densely grows in shallow water, providing a home for red-winged blackbirds and some other bird species.

Moreover, the wild edibles of Common Cattail are the young shoots, sprouts at the tip of the flowers, and also the young flower spikes. The young shoots can be eaten just like asparagus, while the others may be boiled and consumed like greens in your salads and corns, respectively.

If you are interested in growing Common Cattail, prepare rich, wet soil in a small pond or container as it resembles its natural habitat. It also loves full sun or shade; thus, place them in the area where it can have the proper amount of lighting requirement.

5. Eastern Redbud (Cercis Canadensis)

edible plants native to Illinois
Eastern Redbud (Cercis Canadensis)

It is one of the best edible plants in Illinois as it grows stunning pink flowers, covering up the brown stems. Besides offering a breathtaking view, the flowers from Eastern Redbud are edible, adding a unique characteristic to the tree.

They are usually processed into salad pickles because of their sour taste. Meanwhile, for birds, the flowers are filling heaven with nectar.

Considering its beautiful and edible flowers, Eastern Redbud will be a great addition to your front or backyard. As for lighting level, choose a part shade or shady place. Then, make sure the soil is fertile, moist, well-drained, and moderately alkaline.

Once established, you only need low to medium watering.

6. Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium Corymbosum)

edible plants native to Illinois
Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium Corymbosum)

You must be familiar with Highbush Blueberries. They are tiny, have a delicate texture and sweet taste, making them everyone’s favorite fruit. No wonder people are interested in growing Highbush Blueberries and just harvest them from their backyard during the seasonal fruiting.

Besides having a delicious taste, the ripening clusters of blueberries give a pleasant feeling just by seeing them. Plus, the green foliage turns red in fall, adding an exquisite characteristic to this native shrub.

Since it is very popular among edible plant enthusiasts, it is better to know how to start planting them. Luckily, Highbush Blueberry loves sun and shade and is adaptive to a wide range of soil moisture, as long as it is rocky soil and acidic.

However, it is intolerant to alkaline soil since it can cause plants to experience chlorosis. Provide organic mulch to maintain soil acidity. Furthermore, it needs pruning in its third year after planting.

7. Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium Angustifolium)

Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium Angustifolium)
Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium Angustifolium)

Any berries lover will absolutely be in love with Lowbush Blueberries. As its name bears, this native edible plant produces edible blueberries that the owner can enjoy every season. Before fruiting, this native plant grows attractive red bell-shaped flowers.

In addition, the leaves of this evergreen shrub also change color as the seasons change, making it year-round seasonal interest.

Luckily, growing conditions for Lowbush Blueberries are not too tricky as it thrives under both sun and shade. Other than that, it also stands well in dry or moist soils but is acidic soil.

If you want to harvest more fruits during the harvest season, plant more than one plant because you will be fighting with birds who also like the blueberries.

8. Pecan (Carya Illinoinensis)

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)
Pecan (Carya Illinoinensis)

Like its name bears, Pecan or Carya illinoinensis is a native tree to Illinois that is well-known for its valuable nuts. Though still being harvested in wild, this largest hickory species is one of the most precious cultivated trees in North America.

Besides the nuts, the woods are a great material to produce charcoal, furniture, flooring, and more. It is also planted as an ornamental shade tree, thanks to its amazing stout branches that support the large spreading oval crowns.

Furthermore, there are several requirements to meet before growing your Pecan. This full sun lover tree is easily grown in rich, moist, and well-drained soil. It tolerates various types of soil, such as sandy loam, clay, and caliche.

If you plant Pecan for the nuts, make sure you have two different varieties to encourage the best production. Moreover, it is a slow-growing tree; thus, patience is key.

After all, knowing the great qualities, Pecan is worth the wait.

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9. Serviceberry (Amelanchier Arborea)

Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
Serviceberry (Amelanchier Arborea)

Serviceberry or Amelanchier arborea belongs to both tall shrubs and small trees based on its growing habit. It can even reach up to 30 feet tall. This attractive tree has fragrant white flowers which grow early, followed by young bronze leaves with tiny soft hairs.

As it grows older, Serviceberry produces reddish-purple edible berries ready for harvest in late summer to fall.

Due to its medium size, Serviceberry may be grown in your Illinois garden. In that case, you need to prepare some requirements, such as dry to moist, well-drained, acidic soil conditions.

You do not have to worry about lighting levels as it can live under the sun, part shade, and shade, just like other berries mentioned. Due to its wonderful features, it is prone to pests and diseases even though it is not life-threatening to the plant.

10. Wild Plum (Prunus Americana)

Wild Plum (Prunus americana)
Wild Plum (Prunus Americana)

Last but not least, we have Prunus americana or Wild Plum as one of the most interesting edible plants native to Illinois you can consider planting. It offers you the beauty of white flowers clusters that emit lovely scents in spring, followed by delicious orange to red fruits in fall.

And at the same time, the green foliage fades as a pale yellow to red shades appear to accompany the shiny bright plums. The plums are excellent material to produce jellies, jams, preserved fruits, and pies. 

As for growing conditions, it copes with both sun and shade well. The soil requirements are quite specific since it favors rich, moist, and well-drained loamy soil.

Despite non-toxic plums, all parts of the tree contain hydrocyanic acid – a toxic substance that can trigger nausea, headache, and dizziness if inhaled. Also, it has thorns or prices that may hurt you when you are not careful.

Final Thoughts

In the vast expanse of Illinois, nature has sown a culinary masterpiece of edible plants, each with its own tale and flavor. From the subtle hints of woodland berries to the robust flavors of native greens, the Prairie State offers more than just scenic beauty; it presents a menu crafted by nature itself.

As we step back and appreciate these gifts, let’s not just learn but actively integrate these native delights into our diets, celebrating the very essence of Illinois in every bite.

So, the next time you stroll through your local farmer’s market or your own backyard, remember the natural bounty underfoot and let’s embrace the delectable heritage of our state.

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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

How do you know what plants are edible?

If you want to taste the deliciousness of edible plants native to Illinois, you should do the following steps first to ensure their safety.

Firstly, smell the plant. If there is an almond scent, acidic, or bitter, do not continue. It may be an indication that the plant contains toxic compounds.

Second, test the plant on your skin. Apply parts of the plant directly to your skin and see whether it has any reaction or not for 8 hours. If you have irritation, then do not eat it. 

And suppose they are not causing any harm to your skin. In that case, do another test by chewing the plant. Take a small bite and chew them for 15 minutes.

If you feel any soapy taste, spit it out and do not eat the plant.

Lastly, if no reaction occurs during chewing, you can swallow the bite and wait up to 8 hours to see whether any bad effect appears. If not, you can safely eat them.

Is it safe to forage for plants in Illinois?

Foraging can be a delightful hobby, but caution is key. While Illinois boasts a variety of edible plants, it’s essential to properly identify them to avoid the harmful ones. Always consult a reliable field guide or expert before consuming. Safety first, happy forager!

How can you distinguish between edible and poisonous plants?

It’s an art and a science! While some edible plants have unique features, others closely resemble their toxic counterparts. Invest in a good field guide, attend local foraging workshops, and when in doubt, skip the bite. Remember, “When in doubt, throw it out!”

Is foraging illegal in Illinois?

Unfortunately, foraging is illegal in Illinois. You can only collect berries, mushrooms, and other edible plants native to Illinois on your own land or you need permission to take some plants from the landowners. 

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