Category Archives: Survival Guide

Dandelion Information & Description


Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale / COMPOSITAE Sunflower family

Other Common Names:

Common Dandelion, Blowball, weed

General:Each bloom is made up of numerous strapshaped florets of a bright golden yellow.

There are a multitude of species of dandelion growing in the temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. Dandelions are a perennial or biennial herb but many consider them an invasive weed. Many consider dandelions to be the worst lawn weed there is, even paying for lawn services and using herbicides to eradicate these lowly plants from the face of the earth. Many of the dandelions you see in your lawn are invasive, brought to North America by Europeans.


Dandelions have hollow flower stems that ooze a bitter milky liquid if broken. The plants are as short as 2” but can also be as tall as 18”.  The leaves are typically thin, deep green and coarsely toothed. The shiny and hairless leaves are clustered, growing from plant base in spreading rosette. The long, thick taproot typically goes straight down. Each stem has a single flower head or seed head. Plants can have multipe flowers on individual stems.

The flower is bright yellow to orange in color. The flower ultimately turns into a white ball of seed heads.


Abundant throughout North America; open fields, roadsides and lawns. Any place with enough sun and water can hold dandelions – even the sidewalk cracks in my front yard.


The plant grows and blossoms in early spring through summer and into the fall. The edibles can be picked from spring through fall.


Leaves and root.

Small birds are very fond of the seeds of the DandelionPreparation:

Young leaves harvested before flowers appear can be used in salads or cooked like domestic greens. They are nutritious so if in need, do not pass up. Older leaved have a tendency to be bitter. To remove bitterness, cook the leaves in water, change the cooking water and bring to a boil again. That should remove the bitterness.

Roots are best dug in autumn and should be dried uncut until hard. Like chicory root, dried roots are slowly roasted and ground as a coffee substitute. You can also just scrape the roots and boil in a little salt water.

Notes of Interest:

Superior source of vitamins, containing a large amount of vitamin A; also B, C, and E as well as calcium, sodium and potassium. Dandelion greens are rated very high nutritionally.

Traditionally, dandelion has been used a diuretic, to increase the amount of urine in order to get rid of too much fluid. It has been used for many conditions where a diuretic might help, such as liver problems and high blood pressure. However, there is no good research on using dandelion as a diuretic in people.

USDA, NRCS. 2014. The PLANTS Database ( , 9 February 2014). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA

Chicory Plant Information & Identification


Chicory – Cichorium intybus / COMPOSITAE Sunflower family

Other Common Names:

Blue Sailors, Wild Succory, Common Chicory Root, Succory, Wild Chicory, Wild Endive, Chickory

General:Chicory is grown for its roots that chicory coffee can be made from

Chicory is native to Northern Africa, Western Asia and Europe. Sometime in the near past, European settlers brought chicory to North America. After that, like European starlings, the rest is history. It has “invaded” North America.

Each chicory plant has a single, long, thick root (known as a ‘tap root’) which is what most people know chicory for. My first introduction to chicory was a person I worked with who brought chicory coffee to the office and shared it.


Chicory is an erect, branching, perennial herb that can grow from  1’ to 4’ tall. If dug up, the long, deep taproot can break if you are not careful. The large clustered lower leaves are coarsely toothed (serrated) growing from the plant base in a spreading rosette. Upper leaves are small imitations of the larger lower leaves. The small flower is bright blue and is about 1” in diameter. Leaves at the bottom are usually larger and longer – much like dandelion. Flowers usually close in bright sunlight.


Chicory is usually found in open areas. Driving down roads in the Northeast US in the summer, the straggly looking blue flowered plants you see are probably chicory. The plant can also be found in open fields, farm land, and transitional borders – from forest to field. It will grow in cracks of rock and blacktop. Basically wherever the seed lands that provides enough water and an open enough area without too much competition is where the plant will grow.

Chicory is enjoyed for its roots and its tender shoots. Including this versatile plant in your home vegetable garden will give you plenty of choices


A native of “Old World, Europe and Africa” now all over North America – USA and Canada as well as other countries.


Primarily spring and summer.


The entire plant is useful. In spring and early summer young greens can be added to salads and/or eaten raw. In spring entire the plant can be cut off just below its rosette and used as potherb. The leaves can also be boiled or steamed much like spinach leaves when they are still young. Older chicory leaves have a tendency toward a bitter taste just like dandelion. Accordingly, they should be “double boiled”, bring the leaves to a boil, dump the water, fill the pot with fresh water and bring to a boil again. This should reduce the bitter taste.

Roots can be dug any time, washed and roasted until they turn dark brown and snap easily. The roasted roots are ground and brewed like coffee. Chicory coffee makes much stronger brew than coffee beans. Chicory root can also be boiled and eaten like any other root vegetable.

Notes of Interest:

Chicory is rich in vitamin A and also contains vitamin C, phosphorous, potassium, calcium and iron1chicory root can be eaten after being boiled or roasted for coffee

According to WebMD – “Chicory is used for loss of appetite, upset stomach, constipation, liver and gallbladder disorders, cancer, and rapid heartbeat. It is also used as a “tonic,” to increase urine production, to protect the liver, and to balance the stimulant effect of coffee.”
“Chicory root has a mild laxative effect, increases bile from the gallbladder, and decreases swelling. Chicory is a rich source of beta-carotene.”

WebMD also issues a warning about chicory: “Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Taking chicory by mouth in large amounts is UNSAFE during pregnancy. Chicory might start menstruation and cause a miscarriage.”

1. Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants, Bradford Angier, Stackpole Books


Cattail Information and Identification


Cattail latin name – T. latifolia/TYPHACEAE

Other Common Names of Cattail:

Broad-leaved Cattail


The Cattail is a wetland plant with a unique flowering spike and flat blade like leaves that can reach heights from

Cattail is a wetland plant
Cattail in a marsh – northern NY

3 to 10 feet. They are some of the most common marsh/wetland plants. They are unmistakable in appearance, the flower head is unique and great way to identify the plant.  Once established, cattails vigorously develop into large colonies and have a tendency to overtake or crowd out other plant species. We have a small man made pond in our backyard. Once each year we must cut back the cattail plants. We do that by cutting into the roots and removing a section. Two species are most common in US: broad leaved cattail (T. latifolia) and narrow leaf cattail (T. angustifolia).

Cattails have the ability to sprout from seed and to spread through their root systems (also called rhizomes). I have a small pond in my backyard. I planted a small stand of cattails on water’s edge. Within one year they spread to over three times their original size, all through the growth of the roots.

Cattail Description:

Cattails are rhizomatous perennial tall, stiff plants, growing anywhere from 3’ up to 10’ tall. As the pictures indicate, cattail leaves look like long blades of grass, about one inch wide. The flower has two parts; a brown cylinder (the female part), and a yellow spike above (the male part). Cattails flower from May to July. Afterward, the brown sausage-shaped flower head continues to grow and develop. As the pictures indicate, the flower heads are unmistakable trademarks and help in classic cattail identification

Cattail Habitat:

Cattails prefer shallow, flooded conditions and/or wet ground. With that in mind, you will find cattails along pond edges and lake shorelines, damp ground near streams or in waters 1 to 1.5 feet or less in depth. They can even be found in ditches, in fact cattails are common roadside plants. Cattails need to have moisture during most of the growing season. They tolerate perennial flooding, reduced soil conditions and moderate salinity.


Cattail can be found in all US states, Canada and Mexico. In fact, cattail plants can be found worldwide.


Young shoots in spring – The outer portion of young plants can be broken off at the rootstalk, peeled and the heart can be eaten raw or boiled and eaten like asparagus. The raw young shoots taste like cucumber and can also be made into pickles.

Flower heads – In early summer the sheath can be removed from the developing green flower spike, which can then be boiled and eaten like corn

Pollen can be collected and used as a flour supplement or thickener. Pollen is gathered by shaking flower head

cattail pollen
Once cleaned up 1/2 cup of cattail pollen

gently into a container. Pollen is high in protein. It is a bright yellow or green color.

Seeds from brown heads in late summer can be eaten. Seeds can be harvested by burning the head, then winnowing.

Rootstalk throughout winter – they are nutritious with a protein content comparable to that of maize or rice. The rootstalk can be Baked or roasted. You can also dry out the cattail rootstalk and then pound it into a flour like consistency. Cattail rhizomes are fairly high in starch content; about 30% to 46% and the flour would probably contain about 80 % carbohydrates and around 6% to 8% protein. 1

Plants growing in polluted water can accumulate poison and pesticide residues in their rhizomes, and these should not be eaten

Notes of Interest:

Early season – male pollen in yellow female brown

A stand of cattails will provide food, shelter and fuel for your fire – 3 of the 5 basic survival needs at any time of year. The mature flower heads of cattail have high insulating power. In a pinch, use them in your clothing to keep warm. Additionally, you can beak apart the mature flower head and use as tinder. As a friend once said, “it lights up real good.”

Cattails are important wetland plants for wildlife. In the northeast US it is a common summer site to see red-winged blackbirds flying around or resting on cattails. Cattails are eaten or used as protection/housing by wetland mammals such as muskrats, waterfowl, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects.

The Klamath and Modocs of northern California and southern Oregon make flexible baskets of twined tule or cattail. Cattails or tules were also twined to form mats of varying sizes for sleeping, sitting, working, entertaining, covering doorways, for shade, and a myriad of other uses.1

Back to wild edible index page

2. Clarke, C.B. 1977. Edible and useful plants of California. University of California Press. 280 pp

Bracken Fern Information


Bracken Fern: Pteridium aquilinum / POLYPODIACEAE Fern family

Other Common Names: Western Brake-fern, Eagle Fern, Pasture-brake, Fiddlehead (in early stage).


Bracken fern have large, coarse, triangular shaped, light green fronds (Ieaflike organ of a fern) are 3-forked and up to 1 meter in length; mature plant stalk is straw-colored and polished; spreads from creeping root-stalks; hair shoots uncurl in spring resembling fiddleheads; mature plant can exceed 1.5 meters tall; mature spores on the frond undersurface have a velvety brown appearance. Each frond appears singly, and the growth of the plant is the reverse of being tufted. The underground stems or rhizomes are deep, giving it the ability to survive intense fires.


Common west of the Rocky Mountains, less so east – found in medium to low altitudes in fields, burns, moist coniferous forests, and rocky canyons. Southern bracken is found in most of the eastern United States between Florida and Oklahoma in the south, to Missouri, Illinois, and Massachusetts in the north. Eastern bracken is found between Oklahoma and North Carolina in the south, to Minnesota, Quebec, and Newfoundland in the north. Each winter, Bracken’s fronds die with the frost and fall to the ground. New fronds will grow the following Spring.

Bracken Ferns can reproduce two ways. One is by rhizomes spreading, and the other is by spores. Ferns do not have flowers like most plants. Instead, on the underside of the fronds, there are small objects, called sori. The sori produce spores, which are a lot like seeds from a flowering plant.

Spores travel by wind and grow new ferns in new places.


Appears in early spring as fiddlehead shaped shoots. Edible: Young shoots in spring, roots in autumn.


Snap off young shoots about 7 ” from the curled fiddlehead, discarding the head itself. Peel the remaining shoot and eat raw, cooked (boiled in salted water), or steamed. Autumn rootstalks are edible after removing outer covering and roasting.

Notes of Interest:

Consuming quantities of raw shoots can create a vitamin B1 deficiency, causing a reduction in body thiamine. Cooking eliminates this potential. Bracken fern leaves are known to be poisonous to livestock when eaten in large amounts. The toxic ingredient is an enzyme that destroys the animals’ thiamin reserves.Acute poisoning from these ferns is unlikely; their effect is cumulative, and eventually produces a variety of internal cancers.

Repeated ingestions significantly increase the likelihood of developing disease; in Japan, where BRACKEN FERN FIDDLEHEADS are traditionally consumed as food, scientists attribute the high incidence of stomach cancer to the popularity of this risky vegetable.1

Back to edible plants

1. Evans IA, Widdop B, Jones RS, et al. (September 1971). “The possible human hazard of the naturally occurring bracken carcinogen”

Poison Sumac Information

Poison Sumac


Poison sumac – Toxicodendron Vernix, grows in swamps, bogs, depressions, and other wet areas. Like both poison ivy and poison oak, poison sumac produces urushiol, a clear liquid compound found within the sap of the plant that causes an itching rash in most people who touch it.
Poison sumac basically manifests itself as a woody shrub or small tree. Unlike both poison ivy and poison oak, poison sumac is not an overly common plant.


Poison sumac is a woody shrub or a small, slender tree that measures 5′-20′ tall. The leaves are pinnately compound (meaning – the leaflets grow from several places along the stalk) and alternate along the stem. The plant is deciduous so the leaves fall in the autumn turning brilliant orange to red in color. Each leaf stem contains 7 to 15 leaflets that are usually 2″ to 4″ long and 1″ to 2″ wide, and elliptic

Distinguish poison sumac shrubs from their harmless namesakes and consider the latter for great fall foliage

to oblong in outline. The lower leaf surface is lighter green and the edges are smooth (not toothed). The central leaf stalk is typically reddish colored.

New stems are smooth and reddish, but they gradually turn tan to light gray with age. These light-colored leafless stems can look deceptively like other non-toxic shrubs or trees during the winter. Small greenish flowers are followed by white berries similar to poison ivy.


As can be seen in the map, poison sumac is found in most of the eastern United States, between Texas and Florida in the south, to Minnesota and Quebec in the north. Poison sumac is generally found in wet soil. The picture above was taken at the University of Michigan – Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor, MI. It was on the side of a hill in very wet soil.

Poison:poison sumac distribution is primarily in eastern North America

Urushiol binds to the skin on contact, where it causes severe itching that often develops into a red rash or flesh colored bumps and blistering. The rash can be treated with Calamine lotion or other over the counter remedies such as oatmeal baths and baking soda. In severe cases hospitalization may be required or if the plant has been ingested.

Urushiol oil can remain active for several years, so handling dead leaves or vines can cause a reaction. In addition, oil transferred from the plant to other objects (such as pet fur) can cause the rash if it comes into contact with the skin.

The fluids released by scratching the blisters do not spread the poison or the rash. The fluid in the blisters is produced by the body and it is not by urushiol.

Climbing Nightshade Information and Description

Climbing Nightshade

General:Bittersweet is a semi-woody herbaceous perennial vine, which scrambles over other plants, capable of reaching a height of 12 feet

Climbing nightshade (woody nightshade) is native to Europe and Asia and now is widely distributed in North America where it is an invasive plant. Once established it is a problem to remove. It is a double problem since it can grow from both seeds and roots. Although poisonous to livestock, pets and humans I have seen birds eat the ripe berries. The plant has a very distinct order (rather unique and putrid) when cut. Once you smell it you will never forget it. Climbing nightshade is also known as bittersweet, bittersweet nightshade, bitter nightshade, blue bindweed, Amara Dulcis, climbing nightshade, fellenwort, felonwood, poisonberry, poisonflower, scarlet berry, snakeberry, trailing bittersweet, trailing nightshade, violet bloom, or woody nightshade

Climbing nightshade is a relatively important in the diet of some species of birdsDescription:

The plant is a slender climbing or trailing perennial reaching 12 feet in length. Leaves are alternate, ovate, simple or deeply lobed, 1-1/2 to 4 inches long, and pointed at the tip. Flowers are deep purple or bluish purple with flower stalk arising between the leaf nodes or opposite the leaves. Nearly round fruits turn red when mature and stay on the vines through mid winter.


As the map indicates, climbing nightshade is very common throughout much of North America. Climbing nightshade has a very wide range of habitats, from woodlands to scrubland, hedges and marshes. It is common in suburban areas where it can be found climbing up fences or hedges especially in shaded areas. This grows on my property where pines shade a fence and within a hemlock hedge. The only way I know to organically remove climbing nightshade is to pull the plan and roots. For several years you will need to catch the growth quickly before there are berries.

Poison:Climbing nightshade is widely distributed throughout North America

The plant, especially in its green immature fruits, contains steroidal alkaloids, which have caused poisoning in cattle and sheep. 1
Symptoms may include: Vomiting, diarrhea – common and drowsiness. 2


Back to Poison Plant Index