Exploring Northwest Edible Weeds and Wild Plants

July 14, 2008

I guess the riddle at the end of my previous post wasn’t too challenging as many of you correctly guessed that the plants explored and studied during my trip to the Northwest were indeed seaweeds and sea vegetables.

For being speedy with a correct response I’m sending Kitt of The Kittalog a packet of Kabocha Winter Squash, Sunset Flower Herb, Bunching Onions, Cambodian Giant Eggplant, and Empereur Alexandre Cucumbers. Maybe she will find these heirloom seeds a bit more intriguing and challenging than my riddle.

Earthwalk Northwest Presents a Seaweeds & Coastal Foraging Class

I have long been a fan of seaweeds and enjoy feasting upon them in the kitchen and using them as an organic fertilizer out in the garden. I took advantage of an opportunity to attend a Seaweed and Coastal Foraging class taught by Karen Sherwood of Earthwalk Northwest that was held on Washington State’s Lopez Island.

I first met Karen over twenty years ago when she introduced me to some of the land based edible weeds and wild plants that I collect and enjoy. She added a few new and useful wild plants to my tally during the trip out to the Northwest Coast:

Salmon Berries – These plants lined many of the trails that we hiked and offered a pleasing snack for hungry backpackers. The ripe berries come in two colors, red or orange and we were taught to look for the butterflies that appear when the tip of a leaf cluster is bent back as a means to identify this delicious wild fruit.

Glasswort – Also called Sea Beans or Sea Asparagus, it does resemble a miniature asparagus fern, like many plants found growing near the ocean it has a salty but pleasant flavor. We added glasswort plants that were just a few inches tall to an Island Frittata with seaweeds, and also munched on them out of hand.

Hooker’s Onion – Easily spotted from a distance by the colorful flowers which are edible and have a distinct onion flavor that makes for a convenient trailside nibble. There didn’t seem to be much to this wild plant other than the cluster of flowers at the top the stalk, but hidden underground it also produces an edible bulb that can be dug up and eaten.

Seaside Plantain – Officially known as Plantago Maritima, this colorful edible weed resembles the scrawny variety of narrow leaf plantain found in my backyard but is tastier and has a more substantial leaf growth. The thick, succulent leaves are tinged with a reddish hue and yield a pleasant, salty, flavor. This one would make a nice addition to a leafy green salad.

Ocean Spray – A shrub or small tree, it was also referred to as Ironwood and is more of a medicinal plant than an edible wild plant. Its clusters of tiny white berries can be used to brew a medicinal tea that is used to relieve specific ailments. It does have a somewhat edible purpose in that this was the wood of choice to be used for planking salmon to be cooked over an open fire in the traditional native manner.

Red Elderberries – These are different than the elderberry varieties that I grow in my back yard, so I’m not sure about the usefulness of this one and I am not identifying it as an edible plant. Red Elderberries grow wild on Lopez Island and are very ornamental plants displaying numerous clusters of bright red berries on a tall shrub growing about fifteen feet in height.

Enjoying Edible Wild Plants of the Northwest

As always, be cautious when identifying or handling any wild plant, be alert to possible allergies and food sensitivities, and never harvest from a polluted or contaminated environment, or where the plants are in short supply.

Earthwalk Northwest also offers monthly Wild Foods Dinners, Plant Apprenticeships and Ethnobotanical Studies, and several Wild Edible Plant Courses. Hopefully I’ll be able to take another trip out west to learn more from Karen and Frank about edible wild plants of the Northwest.

Well that’s enough talk about land plants, next time I’ll share some of the information I learned during the Coastal Foraging Course related to the incredible variety of wild ocean growing seaweeds and sea vegetables that I discovered and sampled during my visit to Lopez Island.

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • everything looks so lovely, I wrote you a question a couple of months back, but maybe it never arrived, I have a question about my black crimson tomato black, I just added another batch of my homemade super smelly compost and it seems as though I have horn worms galore, these little buggers are so hungry that they’re eating at a rapid pace (within a day the entire plant could be wiped out) if I weren’t going out there everyday
    so my question is “is there something I can compose together to spray on my plants such as cooked, garlic, jalapeños, and oil to spray on my plant?” I really don’t want to purchase anyone else’s magical expensive products, do you have any suggestions?

  • Kenny Point

    That Girl Boo, sorry about the question that I missed. Yes, those horn worms are greedy and quick to wipe out a tomato plant, fruit and all! Fortunately I’ve never had them attack in force and was always able to control them by hand picking. I don’t know of anything commonly found around the house or garden that is sure to be effective against horn worms. An easy organic solution is Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt), but unless you have a lab you won’t be able to make it yourself. It isn’t super expensive, a little bit goes a long way (especially if you get the liquid version that mixes with water), and Bt does work like magic when it comes to controlling any type of caterpillar pest. It contains some type of naturally occurring bacteria that only affects caterpillars and causes them to stop feeding and die shortly after ingesting it. Have you come across any horn worms covered with tiny white cocoons? If you do notice any in the garden be sure to leave them alone because they have been parasitized by a beneficial wasp that lays their eggs on caterpillers and they are doomed horn worms… thanks to the wasp, a great biological pest control!

  • WD


    I’m not sure if you can help, but I have what must be a weed growing across my lawn. It looks like some kind of root criss crossing across over the grass. It is very tightly knitted and every few inches is fixed to the ground. Do you know what this might be, and if so how to clear it?



  • Kenny Point

    It’s hard to even guess without more of a description. What do the leaves look like. Where and what climate are you gardening in? It could be a lot of plants; purslane, wild strawberry, or a weed that I’m not even familiar with. Take a sample into your local Cooperative Extension Office or Master Gardener Program and I’m sure they will be able to identify it for you.

  • Great picture of salmon berries. We have a number of salmon berry bushes in our neighborhood and the whole family enjoys them. They are the first berry we can pick each season and the kids especially look forward to salmon berry picking.

  • Jillian

    Hi, I want to make a little folder with some of the plants on the web site. Me and my brother are talking about how fun it would be in the wild fishing and looking for food. Have you ever done that?

    let me know if you have ideas

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