Wild Edibles Trail

Central Park has many hiking trails including the Central Park Wild Edibles Trail.  

The art of foraging for food is as old as mankind.  What is a hobby for many of us today was a necessity for people throughout human history.  Before the advent of agriculture and domesticated plants, food gathered from the natural environment was the sole means of survival.  

Along this trail you will find some common wild edibles of Central Park.  Click on the photos below to learn more about each plant.  Click here to download a copy of our Wild Edibles Trail brochure and map.  

Tips for safe wild edibles foraging:

  • Never consume wild food unless you are 100% sure of its identification, as well as possible look-alikes.   (Obtain several reliable wild edible field guides & cross reference your identification.)  

  • Know which part of the plant is edible and how to correctly prepare it.

  • Never remove the entire plant - only harvest sustainable portions of that plant.

  • Make sure you have permission from the landowner.

  • Make sure you are knowledgeable of laws and restrictions/rules and regulations- especially if you harvest from public parks and areas.

  • Do not collect rare, endangered, or fragile species.  

  • Do not over-harvest.

  • Avoid areas where pollution is a problem in the soil, water, or nearby, or where chemicals such as herbicides or pesticides have been applied.

  • Only sample a small portion at first to ensure you are not allergic to a new food.

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Wood or Stinging Nettles:  Young leaves can be washed, cooked, and eaten as potherbs.  Caution:  Stems and bottoms of leaves have stinging nettles.  Native

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Apple Tree:  Fruits can be eaten as they ripen in the fall.  Used in pies, jams, jellies, crisps, etc..  Non-native/Introduced/Naturalized

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White Pine:  Needles can be used in tea or baking and cooking in survival situations  Native

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Queen Anne’s Lace:  First year roots are used in soups and stews. Leaves and flowers can be used in salads. Seeds can be used as flavoring in cooking. Non-native/Naturalized (Use Caution:  There are many unedible look-alikes including Poison Hemlock.)

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Jewelweed:  Young shoots are cooked as greens.  Native

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Garlic Mustard:  Leaves, flowers, roots and seeds can be eaten in salads, soups, and in pesto.  Non-native/Invasive

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Common Violet:  Flowers are often used in decorative confections along with jellies. Leaves and flowers can also be used in salads Native

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Blackberry:  Fruits are harvested for pies, preserves, or eaten fresh.  Native

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Black Walnut Tree:  Nuts can be used in baking and confections. Native

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Bedstraw/Cleavers: Fruits can be dried and roasted to be used as a coffee substitute.  Leaves and stems can be used as a leaf vegetable or dried for tea.  Native

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Chickweed: Leaves are used in salads and on sandwiches. Stems can be used in stews. Native

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Wild Grape:  Young leaves can be used in a tossed salad and grapes are known to make good jellies, juice, raisins, and fermented beverages.  Native

Wild Bergamot:  Flowers and leaves can be used in herbal tea, eaten raw, or cooked.  Native

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Mulberry:  Fruits are harvested for eating fresh or made into pies, jellies, or drinks.  Red Mulberry/Native  White Mulberry/Non-Native

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Plantain:  Leaves are used to make herbal tea, cooked, or eaten raw in salads.  Some species are Native some are Non-native/Naturalized.

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Gooseberry:  Fruits are often used in pies, jams, and jellies.  Native  

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Dandelion:  Young leaves, flowers, and roots can all be used for various recipes from salads, fritters, to wine.  Non-native/Naturalized

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Hackberry Tree:  Fruits can be crushed and used for meat seasoning.  Native

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Burdock:  Young stems are boiled and cooked as greens.  Non-native/Naturalized 

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Black Raspberry: Fruits are eaten fresh or used in pies, cobblers, and other baked goods.  Native

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Box Elder:  Sap can be made into syrup, seeds are roasted, inner bark is boiled for carbohydrates and young shoots are used raw or cooked.  Native  (Use Caution - this woody tree does have leaves which can ressemble poison ivy! Box elder leaves are oppositely arranged along the stem of the plant, whereas poison ivy has alternate leaf arrangement.)

Wild Rose: Flowers and buds are most often eaten raw but can be boiled for a variety of health benefits.  Native

List of A Few Wild Edible Book Resources: 

  1. Scouts Guide to Wild Edibles by Mike Krebill

  2. Idiot’s Guide to Foraging by Mark Vorderbruggen

  3. Abundantly Wild Collecting and Cooking Wild Edibles in the Upper Midwest by Teresa Marrone

  4. Backyard Foraging 65 Familiar Plants You Didn't Know You Could Eat by Ellen Zachos

  5. The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Wild Edible Plants by Samuel Thayer

  6. Foraging and Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook by Dina Falconi

  7. The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America: Nature’s Green Feast by Francois Couplan

  8. Native American Ethnobotany by Daniel E. Moerman

  9. Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places by Steven Brill and Evelyn Dean

  10. Wild Berries and Fruits Field Guide Illinois Iowa, and Missouri by Teresa Marrone

We would like to thank the following individuals and organizations for their support of the Wild Edibles Trail at Central Park.   

  • Eagle Scout Byron Manternach and Boy Scout Troop 66 - who completed work on the original clearing of the trail and construction of the walking bridge crossing the creek.    (2000/2001)

  •  Alliant Energy - donated telephone poles for bridge construction.

  • Spahn & Rose Lumber - lumber for bridge.

  • Doug Hailey - Monetary donation for foot bridge.

  • Alisha Smith - Iowa STEM  Teacher Extern -  Work on revision  to Wild Edibles Trail brochure & web page information & design of new trail post signs.  (2020)

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