Top 10 Edible Plants Native To New York As Local Food Sources

New York is a state famous for boasting a lavish city lifestyle. But little did you know that NY is also home to rich biodiversity, including flora, which has long been the state’s pride for centuries. Indigenous people often even use edible plants native to New York as local food sources. This indigenous food in New York offers a blend of unique tastes and aromas that sets them apart from most of the food we have now. They are also loaded with beneficial nutrients to support your health.

Not only are the species edible, but some also forage wild plants to make home remedies, knowing they have excellent health properties. If you are interested in exploring urban edible plants in New York or seeking foraging adventures and gardening tips, we have got you covered.

We will also include information on identifying which of your favorite native plant species are edible. Check them out!

Identify Edible Plants In The Wild In New York

For beginners, identifying edible native plants in the wilderness in New York will be challenging. That’s understandable knowing the fact that native plant cuisine may adapt with their surrounding nature. However, the identification skill is extremely crucial to forage wild plants since some of them are toxic.

edible plants native to new york
Identify Edible Plants In The Wild In New York

Despite being tricky, broadening your insights into the world of native wild plants will be rewarding. And with proper knowledge, tools, and experience, you can easily know which one to harvest.

Here are some notes to examine edible plants whenever you try foraging in NYC.

1. Learn The Clues

Before foraging your favorite native plants, it will be better to educate yourself about what kind of edible plants that grow in New York’s wilderness.

You can read books or articles about them. Or, simply learn through experience by joining those experts whenever they go wildcrafting in the city. If you are a nerd, we recommend a book by Andy Keleman, called “Foraging New York: Finding, Identifying, and Preparing Edible Wild Foods” to read.

2. See The Signs of Toxicity

You may be attracted to plants with striking colors. But that may be one of the common signs of toxic native plant cuisine. Take mushrooms as an example. Edible mushrooms in New York or anywhere in the world generally bear white, brownish tones instead of vibrant ones. Besides the color, you must be aware of the sap.

edible plants native to new york
See The Signs of Toxicity

If you notice milky sap coming out of the plants or those with almond-like aromas, ditch them. To ensure they are edible, you are allowed to taste a bit of the plant to know the flavor. Whenever you spot the bitter taste, it is wiser to spit it out as the plant is potentially toxic. Considering this activity requires your sensory ability to identify the aroma, taste, and texture, make sure you are not sick (e.g., having a flu), when you are wildcrafting in the city.

3. Choose Common Edible Plants

We understand that you want to explore the forest further to find the edible gems. But if you are a newbie in foraging, it will be better to choose common edible plants. Not only do they taste sweet and delicious, but they are safe to eat. 

You can find, for example, native berries in New York (e.g., wild strawberries, highbush blueberries, and wild blackberries). In addition to berries, edible mushrooms in New York you can find in the forests are Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus Sulphureus) and Hen of the Woods (Grifola Frondosa). They usually grow on the dying or dead hardwood trees.

Safety Concerns When Foraging for Edible Plants In New York

When you decide to forage in the wild, there are safety concerns that appear related to the plant species you find. While some are generally safe to eat, others have health risks.

Here are some tips you need to consider when foraging for edible plants in New York:

1. Edible Plant Species Identification

Not all types of native plants, mushrooms, or wild herbs in New York are edible. Some of them are poisonous and even deadly to eat. Therefore, it is vital to broaden your insights into the world of wild edibles before joining the foraging.

You can read books or articles related to edible plants to know how to identify them. It is also better to ask the experts about the specific species you doubt.

2. Foraging Location

Do you know that the harvesting location affects the content of the plants? It is related to the soil in which the plants grow. If the soil is contaminated with heavy metals, the plants are no longer safe to eat despite being edible.

One that is often a concern is wild mushrooms, as they are prone to metal contamination. These metals can also trigger allergy reactions to some people. For that reason, we don’t recommend foraging around mining or industrial sites.

3. Food Preparation

Unlike indigenous herbs and vegetables in your backyard foodscaping, wild edibles need further preparation before cooking. Most of them need soaking or even boiling to remove the potential toxins that may pose a health threat.

Generally, it applies to wild mushrooms as they commonly contain higher metals. Besides, cooking allows native edible plants to be easily digested by our gut. Thus, our bodies can absorb nutrients properly.

Tips for Growing Edible Plants In New York Garden

Growing edible plants in your New York garden may be the best way to produce food sustainably and more environmentally friendly. You can grow fruits, veggies, or wild herbs in a New York garden and pick them as you need.

edible plants native to new york
Tips for Growing Edible Plants In New York Garden

Nonetheless, there are some notes to take into accounts before you follow this practice. Here are some simple tips to guide you into the world of native gardening:

  • Choose the right plants. Not all plants can survive in New York, considering the climates. So, you better pick ones that thrive in the U.S. hardiness zones 3 to 7. Some we recommend include tomatoes, blackberries, and raspberries. For the uncommon fruits in New York, consider planting paw paw. Garlic mustard and purple coneflower are few excellent choices for the wild herbs in New York.
  • Make a garden plan. Native plants are excellent to improve the local ecosystem. They provide food and shelter for pollinators and wildlife in general. Hence, it is better to talk to experts to plan your garden and determine which indigenous plants to grow in the landscape. Besides, a garden plan is beneficial to determine the right planting location to ensure your plants are thriving.
  • Prepare your soil. Soil is home for plants. It enriches them with nutrients, including minerals and water to survive. Hence, it is crucial to have proper soil preparation prior to planting. We recommend adding compost to give a nutrient boost as well as ensuring good drainage. If you grow your plants in pots, choose ones with drainage holes.
  • Set watering schedule. Besides the soil, water is another essential need for your plants. It is necessary to keep the soil moisture, hydrate the roots, and become a vital part in photosynthesis. Depending on the plant species, you can set a watering schedule. Reduce the water in the winter when the plants are dormant and add more in the hot summer days.
  • Watch out for pests and diseases! We encourage you to replace chemical pesticides with natural ones for sustainable gardening. You can use neem oil spray or even grow companion plants to deter pests. Regarding disease infection, giving proper planting spaces to prevent disease infection to other healthy plants is better. Also, consider pruning and regular checking to fix the issue earlier.

Top Edible Plants Native To New York

One thing you can do to minimize safety concerns about foraging is to know which edible plants native to New York are safe to eat. And to contribute to that matter, we have curated a list of these native edibles you can find in the parks, forests, surrounding neighborhoods, or perhaps grow one in your garden.

They can provide excellent local food sources as well as a nutrient boost if you know how to use them. Let’s dive in!

1. Bee Balm (Monarda Didyma)

edible plants native to new york
Bee Balm (Monarda Didyma)

Monarda didyma or Bee balm is one of the popular native wild herbs in New York. It bears hot pink to magenta colors with jade green foliage. The flowers are heaven for pollinators, especially bees and butterflies. This wild edible commonly grows alongside meadows and streambanks.

As for the growing conditions, they love to soak under full sun but cope well in partial shade. It favors loamy, moist, well-drained soil to thrive with a pH range of 6 to 7.

Bee Balm (Monarda Didyma)
A Vibrant Grouping of Bergamot Bee Balm Flowers

The edible parts of Bee Balm lay on the blooms and leaves. You can add them to your tea to offer a bit of spicy taste, while the leaves are an excellent substitute to oregano. People usually have the leaves in their salads and soups to enhance the flavor. They are also amazing to match with fried fish and chicken to add fresh aroma and taste.

2. Beach Plum (Prunus Maritima)

Beach Plum (Prunus Maritima)
Beach Plum (Prunus Maritima)

Despite being native to the state, Beach Plum is one of the most uncommon fruits in New York. It produces small, cherry-size fruits with dark purple colors when they ripe. But before they are fruiting, the three bear clusters of scented white and pink flowers against dark green foliage in spring.

Furthermore, the plum trees thrive in well-drained, sandy soil under full sun exposure. However, it withstands partial shade pretty well. And as the name suggests, beach plum trees can flourish in coastal areas.

Unlike common plums we find in the market, beach plums are slightly bitter with a dominantly tart taste. Hence, people usually add sugars to the plums and make them into jams, jellies, and pies. Besides, you can also make pemmican, a kind of dried cuisine native to America, from Beach Plums.

In addition, plums are popular ingredients to produce alcoholic beverages, like wine.

3. Black Walnut (Juglans Nigra)

Black Walnut (Juglans Nigra)
Eastern Black Walnut

Like Beach Plums, Black Walnut or Juglans nigra is a deciduous tree native to New York and eastern America. And as a large tree, it can spread up to 75 feet with around 100 feet tall when it matures. The tree grows well on fertile, deep, well-drained soils. But for the soil types, black walnut is not fussy about it. It also loves full sun, yet coping excellently in partial shade.

If you want to grow Black Walnut in your landscape, make sure there are no plants around the tree. Black Walnut produces a toxic chemical, called juglone, that can kill other plants in the surrounding area.

And as you can judge, black walnuts grow edible nuts with hard shells to crack. But once you can open them, you will be surprised with the buttery and slightly bitter taste. Some eat them raw, but others prefer to include the nuts in their baked goods and dessert recipes. In addition, the nuts are also rich in oil. Thus, people usually use the Black Walnut oil to cook and add a distinct aroma to their cuisines.

4. Cattails (Typha Spp.)

edible plants native to new york
Brown Cattails Growing Wildly in The Tall

Cattails bear brown, hotdog-shaped seed heads atop the long, slender stalks. You may easily recognize Cattails whenever you come across their native habitat–swamps and marshes. They also grow well in shallow ponds and lakes where the water is abundant and the soil is constantly wet. This native New York plant also requires full sun to fully flourish. As for the soil type, Cattails prefer heavy clay-loam soil with a pH of around 6.0 to thrive.

Even though the appeal seems nothing like edible plants, Cattails have several edible parts that are yum to eat. Their young shoots have a cucumber-like taste and are safe to consume raw or cooked.

You can also stir fry the shoots with proteins or other ingredients. Meanwhile, the roots are excellent sources of starch to produce flour and thickener for your soups. They are also tasty to grill! Wanna try?

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5. Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale)

edible plants native to new york
Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale)

Familiar with a burst of yellow tones Dandelion showcases alongside the road, fields, and perhaps, your garden? Dandelion or Taraxacum Officinale belongs to edible weeds in New York you can harvest in the spring and summer.

Considering their growing area, you can tell that these drought-tolerant flowering weeds thrive best in the full sun to partial shade. They are pretty versatile, coping well in a wide range of soil conditions, including compacted one. No wonder they often contribute in loosening and improving soil aeration.

Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale)
Closeup of Dandelion Root

Similar to the previous ones, these edible weeds in New York share edible flowers, leaves, and roots to consume. Though they have a nutty and slightly bitter flavor, the mature foliage are amazing greens to saute.

Meanwhile, you can add the young ones to your veggie salads or pastas. Moreover, the young yellow blooms offer a distinct honey-like flavor. And thus, they are often included in the making of delicious wine, syrup, and jelly. You can even make fritters out of the blooms too!

6. Elderberry (Sambucus Spp.)

Closeup of Elderberry Flower During The Rain
Closeup of Elderberry Flower During The Rain

You may wonder whether these dark purple to black, round clusters are fruits or flowers. In fact, they are edible native berries in New York from Elderberry or Sambucus spp. It belongs to fruit-bearing edible plants in Western New York that thrive in slightly acidic, fertile soil. And as most of our previous edible plants are native to New York, Elderberry prefers full sun to partial shade for light requirements. Interestingly, the shrub also has an excellent tolerance to drought once established.

Сluster of Black Elderberries
Сluster of Black Elderberries

Besides the berries, the flowers are also edible. You can add them to the batter and cook yummy fritters or simply make a cup of tea. Meanwhile, the fruits taste similar to blackberries with a hint of sweetness and predominantly tart flavor.

They are amazing ingredients to make jellies, jams, or flavoring baked goods. However, you must be aware of the unripe berries as they contain toxins that can make you nauseous.

7. Mugwort (Artemisia Vulgaris)

Picking Japanese Mugwort Outdoors
Picking Japanese Mugwort Outdoors

In addition to Elderberry, Mugwort also belongs to native edible plants in Western New York. Like many other edible plants native to New York, this perennial herb is a sun lover plant but also fine growing in partial shade.

Once established, it also tolerates various soil types, like clay and sandy soils. Nonetheless, it prefers moderately fertile, well-drained, loamy soil. Moreover, Mugwort grows well in diverse climates, including dry ones.

Since Mugwort doesn’t bear fruits, you can bet what edible parts of the plant are–the leaves. The leaves have a strong aroma with a blend of pungent, sweet, and bitter flavors. People usually refer to the smell of Mugwort as thyme or sage. For that reason, the leaves are commonly added to stews, soups, and other cuisines. Besides the leaves, its young roots are also safe to eat. They are often eaten fresh, just like vegetables in Asia, especially in Korea.

8. Pawpaw (Asimina Triloba)

Pawpaw (Asimina Triloba)
Pawpaw (Asimina Triloba)

Asimina Triloba, or Pawpaw, is one of the fruits native to New York whose existence is becoming scarce. This edible plant thrives in rich, moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soil. Unlike most New York edible plants we have discussed, Pawpaw prefers partial shade to thrive. Nonetheless, it can tolerate the sun when the weather is cool, like in spring or early summer.

The favorite part of this edible fruit-bearing tree is, of course, the fruit! At first glance, its appearance resembles a mango, but the shape is more oval. The size of the fruit is about 3 to 6 inches, and it will turn yellow or brown when ripe.

In addition, the flesh is yellow to orange with a custardy texture and a sweet taste. Many consider the fruits to have a tasty blend of banana, mango, and pineapple. Apart from being eaten raw, you can process Pawpaw into sauces, jams, and jellies.

9. Wild Blackberries (Rubus Moluccanus)

Wild Blackberries (Rubus Moluccanus)
Wild Blackberries (Rubus Moluccanus)

Rubus Moluccanus, or Wild Blackberries, is one of the native berries that grow in New York, especially in upstate NY. The leaves are shaped like mint, with a lighter green color. Meanwhile, the berries are dark purple to black when they ripen.

This shrub-producing fruit withstands short periods of drought but prefers moist, well-drained soil. It also favors total sun exposure to partial shade to flourish and produce fruits.

Meanwhile, the highlights of the shrub are the berries. They are juicy with a sweet taste that no one can deny. Therefore, many use the berries to make jams and add them to pies. Besides that, the sweet taste of Wild Blackberries also enhances the flavor of desserts. If you want to forage for these delicious fruits, you better go between July and September in the summer.

10. Wild Leeks (Allium Tricoccum)

Close Up of Wild Ramp Roots Freshly Foraged in A Leafy Forest
Close Up of Wild Ramp Roots Freshly Foraged in A Leafy Forest

Though Wild Leeks or Ramps were then popular crops in the state, it refers to the forgotten vegetables of New York now. They have green, wider leaves compared to the common leeks in the market with bulbous white stems.

For the growing conditions, Wild Leeks love moist soil and partial to full shady areas to grow. However, they can cope with an extended drought. You can forage these Wild Leeks in the forest floors throughout New York but with permission from the local authority.

Regarding their sensory characteristics, Wild Leeks have an aroma close to onions. Meanwhile, the flavor resembles pungent garlic. And for that reason, many love to include the native upstate NY leeks in soups and pestos. You can also saute or grill the bulbs to enhance the aroma and taste of your cuisine. If you don’t want to chop these forgotten vegetables of New York, you can simply add them to your cooking oil to infuse the smell and flavor.

Final Thoughts

New York is home to diverse flora and fauna, including edible plants. You can either grow them in your backyard or seek foraging adventures to hunt for lesser-known wild edibles in the forests. However, you must comply with local authority rules and ask for their permission before looking for edible plants in public areas.

As for growing and harvesting your own, you better choose various plants to have a sustainable garden. We recommend reading books about native plants in New York and talking to experts prior to planning your garden to get the best, abundant harvest while protecting the ecosystem.

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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the most common edible plant in New York?

In addition to edible greens and indigenous herbs and vegetables, New York is also rich in wild edible plants. In fact, foraging in New York City is one of your favorite activities to do with your family in the summer and fall. Some of the most common edible wild food in upstate NY are mugwort and dandelions.

They generally grow in the parks and roadsides during spring to summer. Besides being popular as New York’s wild edible plants, mugwort also belongs to medicinal plants that can cure menstrual cramps. Meanwhile, yellow dandelions are locavore delights to add in your salad.

Can you grow your own food in New York?

If you are not a fan of foraging adventures, you can try backyard foodscaping in New York. In fact, the state belongs to the top ten crop producers in the U.S., growing some edible greens such as spinach, chard, kale, celery, and Brussels sprouts.

In addition, New York is a home for native edible plant species, including garlic mustard, cattail, and bee balm. People usually forage for these locavore delights in the wild, but you can promote their growth in your backyard garden. Nonetheless, the only region in which you are forbidden to grow urban edible plants in New York is the C7 area, as it is intended for the amusement park.

Can you cultivate native edible plants in your own garden in New York?

While others prefer foraging in New York City to find their favorite native plants in the wild, you can try growing your own native edible plants in your garden. Some of the best edible plants native to New York you can plant are Bee Balm and Purple Coneflower.

These edible wild foods are plant-bearing blooms that will flourish with yellow and purple colors to adorn your landscape. Besides, they are excellent medicinal plants with antibacterial and antifungal properties. Hence, native Americans used those plant species to cure their illness. You can add the flowers to your tea. But make sure to add sugar or stevia, as the flavor is a bit bitter.

How can you sustainably harvest native edible plants in New York?

Urban harvesting is tricky, knowing the limited access to water, narrow space, and soil contamination that often threatens sustainable agriculture and gardening. However, you can still efficiently harvest native wild edibles in NYC by paying attention to several aspects.

One is the consideration of growing a variety of indigenous food in New York. This is crucial to prevent the depletion of a particular plant species. Apart from plant diversity, you also have to take the harvesting period into account. Ensure you harvest at the right time so the food isn’t wasted. In addition, harvest with the proper method. Use a sharp knife or scissors so as not to injure the plants. Thus, they can grow and produce crops for the next urban harvesting season.

Are there any legal restrictions on harvesting or selling native edible plants in New York?

As much as you love wild edibles in NYC and seek foraging adventures, there are some legal restrictions to selling and/or harvesting edible plants native to New York. The state has protected native plant species, such as American ginseng, Ramps, and Goldenseal, for which a license is required to sell, grow, and harvest.

Moreover, the collection of these native plant species may also be limited. Also, permits are needed for foraging in NYC, especially in public spaces, including parks and forests. In addition, selling New York’s wild edible plants may require a permit from the Department of Agriculture and Markets. It is necessary to get the proper labeling, packaging, and storing.

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