In Santa Barbara and many parts of California we are so lucky to live near plentiful edible and useful plants! Here we have compiled some common edible plants that you can harvest- sometimes in your very own yard! Just be sure to practice safe and responsible harvest by using our tips below.
Here are some helpful things to remember before harvesting:
- Always know for sure what plant you are harvesting and that it is safe to eat – there can be similar looking plants – if you are not sure, don’t harvest at this time. Find a resource to help you be sure next time.
- Think about where your plant is growing. Consider if pets might pee or poop there, or if it is a place that is sprayed with chemicals. Also, do not harvest along busy roads, as the plants can absorb the toxic exhaust.
- Examples of places NOT to harvest:
- Near of busy roadways
- Neighbors yards without their permission
- Places where you suspect chemicals for herbicides are sprayed
- Beginning of trails and parks, where dogs regularly pee and poop
- Examples of places NOT to harvest:
- Poison Oak is abundant in California and causes a very itchy rash that can last 2-3 weeks if you come in contact with it. It grows in many places and is especially common in and around creek beds. It takes various forms, from tiny new rusty red leaves, to giant lush lobey green leaves, to yellow/orange/red leaves (usually in fall) and bare sticks (usually in winter). If you are unfamiliar with poison oak, click here to learn more.
- If there is only one plant of that kind where you are harvesting, look for another place to harvest where they are plentiful.
- If you are harvesting berries or flowers, only take a small portion from each plant to be sure there are some for the animals and others that rely on it.
- Please only harvest what you plan to use.
WYP’s own Michelle Howard and Michelle Renaud have created an easy to carry field guide for purchase, available at Chaucers & Amazon: “Wild Edible Salad Guide”
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Have you walked at Ellwood and seen those beautiful green vines with yellow and orange flowers? Those are Nasturtium! Nasturtium provides edible leaves and flowers with a spicey, peppery flavor. Add to your salad or use as a basil alternative in your homemade pesto (see recipe below). Its flowers make salads and other dishes even more beautiful!
These viney plants are durable and can grow in many places, but are primarily found under and growing up into trees. The flowers are mostly yellow and orange, but can also be red. The leaves are large and round.
Sour Grass (Oxalis pes-caprae)
A kid’s favorite! These beautiful yellow cloverly plants spring up with yellow flowers this time of the year. Its stalks are bursting with sour flavor – pick and chew on right away or add to a mixed salad.
Sour Grass ID
In the springtime these beautiful yellow flowers with their green three-leaved clovers pop up everywhere! It’s fun to scoop them up and chew on the stems! Some people consider them weeds, so be aware of harvesting from places people may be applying herbicides.
They call it Miner’s lettuce because back in the Gold Rush Days the miners had a hard time finding plant nutrients. The story holds that miners would eat this plant to help stay healthy. Look in shady spots under trees for this local lettuce that’s rich in Vitamin C! (Poison Oak also likes shady under tree places, so watch where you are picking!)
Miner’s Lettuce ID
Look for lush green circular leaves on a small stalk and tiny white flowers in the center. Miner’s lettuce likes shady moist areas, especially on north facing slopes under trees.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Do you remember looking for those puffy white balls and blowing on them to make a wish, watching all the gentle whiteness floating in the wind? Dandelions were once widely used, then considered a pesky weed, and are now again being enjoyed for pesto, tea and other delights. Dandelion can grow almost anywhere and can have large lush green leaves and yellow flowers. Again, some people consider these weeds and spray them with chemicals, so be aware of where you are harvesting them. You can make tea with fresh leaves, or dry the leaves (and roots) for tea later on. The leaves can also be substituted for basil in your favorite pesto recipe.
Dandelion loves to grow in urban gardens everywhere, parks, etc – just look around and you’ll find it! In shadier places, their leaves can get big and green, and in sunnier places they can be quite a bit smaller. The yellow flowers and puffy white seed pods make this plant very easy to find and harvest!
Pineapple Weed (Matricaria discoidea)
This plant grows short and low to the ground with little blooms that look like mini pineapples. It tastes like chamomile with a pineapple undertone. Eat alone or steep in hot water for tea! (May cause a funny tongue tingle)
Pineapple Weed ID
Pineapple weed likes to grow in dirt places where a lot of other things are not growing, like a dirt parking lot, or sand walkways.
Mallow (Malva neglecta)
Mallow leaves come in all sizes – some so big it feels like they could be umbrellas for toads! This plant has a mellow taste fit for any forager. Try some in your salad or sautee with your next meal!
Mallow grows in many places, often in unattended areas of “weeds.” This plant has soft, rounded and ruffled leaves.