The Appalachian Trail is one of the world’s premier long-distance hiking destinations. But, did you know that there are plenty of edible plants on the Appalachian Trail that you can enjoy on your next adventure?
Whether you’re an experienced forager or keen to try your first wild berry, we’ve put together this list of the 21 best Appalachian Mountain plants. Coming up, we’ll introduce you to each of these plants and fungi so you can enjoy some hand-foraged treats in the great outdoors.
Caution! Foraging Safety
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty details of our 21 top edible plants on the Appalachian Trails, let’s talk a bit about foraging safety.
Unfortunately, there’s no universal way to know if a plant is edible, so there’s no alternative to good plant identification. We highly recommend enrolling in a foraging course and reading a field guide, like the Foraging for Survival: Edible Wild Plants of North America, for more detailed guidance.
Furthermore, while many of the plants on our list are fairly easy to identify, it’s important to note that misidentifying plants can be dangerous. Although most non-edible plants and fungi simply cause stomach aches, there are some, like monkshood, which can be deadly.
So, when in doubt, play it safe. It’s better to miss out on a tasty berry-eating opportunity than to get seriously ill.
This guide is for informational purposes only and shouldn’t be used as your sole source of identification.
21 Edible Plants & Fungi On The Appalachian Trail
One of the most popular and easily identifiable plants on the Appalachian Trail, blueberries are a tasty treat during the summer months. You’ll often start seeing blueberries on a northbound hike by Tennessee, though many thru-hikers note that they’re particularly abundant around Roan Mountain.
Identifying blueberries is pretty straightforward, as they look like much smaller versions of the blueberries you might find a store. They grow in bushes that can be between 2 and 10 feet (0.6 to 3m) tall and they have glossy blue-green leaves. The berries themselves are easily identifiable, so if you’ve eaten a blueberry before, you almost certainly know what they look like.
As far as eating goes, blueberries are great on their own, or they can be an excellent topping to any oatmeal or similarly sweet meal.
2. Wild Leeks (Ramps)
Wild leeks, also known as ramps, are a type of wild onion that looks very similar to, well, leeks. They are bulbous plants with large dark green leaves that sort of look like shoots coming out of the ground.
You’ll often find them in Georgia around early April, but do take care when harvesting them. Since these are bulb plants, if you pull up the entire bulb, the plant won’t grow back the next year. So, if you want to harvest ramps, just cut the leaves above the base of the bulb to allow the bulb to grow back next year.
For eating, you can chop up the leaves of ramps and saute them with olive oil before adding to nearly any dish. Since these effectively taste like garlic, they’re a great addition to most savory meals.
3. Chicken of the Woods
One of the most iconic mushrooms, Chicken of the Woods is a massive orange fungus that grows on the sides of trees. If you’ve seen a few photos of it, you’ll know it when you see it, so our best advice is to study pictures before heading outside.
Some folks think that this fungus tastes like chicken, hence the name. Chicken of the woods tastes best when chopped up and sauteed with olive oil, though you can also add it to a whole host of different dishes as a garnish.
A fiddlehead is effectively any baby fern that hasn’t yet opened up to reveal its leaves. They look a lot like the curly scroll of a violin, which is where they got their name.
You can often find these in early spring in forested areas, though you’ll struggle to find them toward the middle of the summer. Hikers can harvest fiddleheads fairly easily since you just need to cut off the top of the fiddlehead with a pocket knife.
You can eat them plain, but they taste best when sauteed with olive oil and flavored with a dash of salt and pepper. Plus, they’re high in omega-3s, iron, and fiber. Yum!
Another highly popular berry, you can find strawberries on the trail in early summer. Most years, you’ll find them from about Virginia northward, but the majority of the trail is within prime strawberry habitat.
These berries look and taste a whole lot like the strawberries you’ll get in the store, though they’re much, much smaller. The plants will actually have these beautiful clusters of white flowers in the spring, though you won’t see any flowers come berry season.
With strawberries, the most easily identifiable feature is the tiny seeds around the shallow pits of the berry (actually a drupe). But, if you’ve eaten a strawberry before, you’ll know what a wild one looks like.
As with any edible berry, strawberries are a great snack in their own right, though you could get fancy and add them to your oats in the morning, too.
Although these aren’t as common as some of the other berries (technically a drupe), you can find cherries on the Appalachian Trail. They’re most commonly spotted in Maryland, though, and you’ll have difficulty finding them any further north than that.
Like all cherries, wild cherries grow on cherry trees. These type of cherry trees have large leaves with finely serrated edges. However, if you do eat wild cherries, be sure to spit out the seeds as these can cause gastrointestinal problems when eaten in large quantities.
Mulberries tend to be a bit harder for hikers to identify, simply because so many people haven’t had them before. They actually look a lot like blackberries, though they come from a tree rather than a bush on the ground.
There are many different types of mulberry trees out there, but most are quite small (no more than about 30ft/9m). But, since there are so many different types of mulberry trees, we’d recommend getting a book like Elias and Dykeman’s Edible Wild Plants to help you with identification.
- With detailed information of more than 200 species of edible plants all across North America
Wineberry is actually an invasive species, though it does produce some very tasty raspberry-like berries for hikers to enjoy. You’ll find them mostly in Pennsylvania, but they’re found throughout the eastern United States.
These plants grow in very thick bushes and each berry looks like it’s wrapped up in a very thick coat of prickly thorns. However, the “thorns” are quite soft, so it’s more of a visual deterrence than something that can cause you harm.
Wineberries are very sweet and juicy, so they’re a great snack on a hot summer’s day. Plus, you’re unlikely to find these in a store, so enjoy them while on the trail!
Although they look very similar to blueberries, huckleberries are their own type of berry. You can find them pretty much everywhere on the Appalachian Trail, especially from Virginia to Pennsylvania.
These edibles grow on a bush that’s usually about waist-high with dark green leaves. The berries themselves tend to be a bit smaller than a wild blueberry and you’ll find a small cluster of them on each stem.
You can eat them just like you would with a blueberry, or use them to top your oatmeal for extra nutrition on the trail.
If you enjoy berries, chances are pretty darn high that you’ve had some blackberries in your life. These scrumptious black and purple-colored berries grow in clusters in large bushes, which you can find throughout the Appalachian Mountains during the summer months.
That being said, be warned! Blackberry bushes are very thorny, so forage with care. We’ve cut our hands more times than we can count on particularly thorny blackberry bushes, so go slowly when harvesting blackberries.
Oh, and you can actually eat most of a blackberry plant, such as the shoots and roots. However, the shoots should be peeled and cooked before consumption and the roots are best when dried and infused in water to make a tea.
Chicory is a small purple flowering plant that’s actually part of the dandelion family. It has been used by humans for millennia as a type of medicinal plant as some people find that it can help with an upset stomach.
The plant has a very tough and hairy stem with light purple flowers and you can actually use its leaves as a raw green in a salad if you’re looking for a burst of nutrition. Alternatively, you can boil the roots of the chicory plant as a side dish for your meal.
Oh, and some people actually enjoy roasting the roots of the chicory plant and grinding them up to make a coffee-like substitute, though this can be tricky to do on the trail.
12. Pine Needles
Okay, while we don’t exactly encourage people to eat pine needles, you can use them to make a smashing tea. There are many different types of pine trees along the entirety of the Appalachian Trail from loblolly pine to pitch pine, so your pine needle supply is nearly limitless.
All you need to do to make this vitamin-packed tea is to collect pine needles and steep them in a boiling water. It’s best to collect very young, green pine needles rather than the older ones on the forest floor as they’re higher in nutrients.
Once you have your collection of pine needles, you can steep them in water and mix them with a little sugar for a lovely little hot drink after a long day of hiking.
Sassafrass is actually a type of tree that’s long been used as a source of food and medicine. Interestingly, people once used the root and bark of the sassafras tree to make root beer (hence the name), though most root beer manufacturers have since moved onto other methods.
Although you can dig up the roots of the sassafras tree and boil them to make a tea, we don’t recommend doing so on the trail since that damages the tree. Instead, you can actually take the leaves of the sassafras tree and use them to add flavor to your soups or other dishes on the trail.
If you’ve spent time in North America or Europe, you’ve almost certainly seen dandelions at some point in your life. In fact, many of us used to play with dandelions as kids, so you’re probably well-acquainted with this common plant.
Beyond simply being a nuisance to people’s gardens, however, dandelions are a very easy-to-identify plant along the Appalachian Trail. Boasting their characteristic yellow flowers, these plants are a very convenient snack while you hike.
You can eat them raw in a salad or you can boil their roots to create a side dish for your meal. While you probably won’t be able to make any on the trail, you can also often find dandelion wine in some specialty liquor stores in nearby trail towns for a treat on your rest days.
15. Scallions (Wild Onions)
Similar to the leaks that we’ve already discussed, scallions are another great way to add lots of flavor to your meals on the trail.
These plants are often called wild onions, but they have much thinner dark green leaves than you’d often find on an onion plant. Plus, the bulb at the bottom tends to be very small (about the size of your pinky finger).
The best part about scallions (besides the fact that they taste awesome) is that you can eat the entire root and green leaf. You can find them in little clusters along the trail, pick a few, and bring them back to camp. Once at camp, you can chop them up, sautée them in olive oil, and then use them as a garnish for a whole slew of different savory meals.
Often spotted near larger huckleberry plants, wintergreen (specifically Gaultheria procumbens) is a great way to freshen up on the trail.
You might recognize the name “wintergreen” from some of your favorite chewing gum flavors. In fact, the flavor of actual wintergreen plans is quite similar and will leave behind a great minty taste in your mouth.
If you’re confused as to whether or not you’ve found the right plant, simply pick up a few leaves, rip one in half and smell it to see if it has that minty scent. Once you find the right plant, you can steep the leaves in water to create a fun little mint tea on the trail.
A beautiful orange flower that you can find growing along sunny areas of much of the Appalachian Trail, daylily is one of the lesser-known trail edibles.
In addition to being very beautiful, daylily is a great food to cook while in camp. Plus, the entire plant is edible, so you have a number of different ways to prepare it for your meals.
One prep option is to pluck the small shoots of the plant and boil them like potatoes. Or, you can use the orange flower petals to add color and flavor to your salads. The flower buds are also particularly tasty and you can statue them in olive oil and garlic for a great little post-hike treat.
18. Wood Sorrel
Another very tasty option while you hike, wood sorrel (also called oxalis) is a type of edible green leaf that you can find in forested terrain. Sometimes referred to as sourgrass, wood sorrel actually resembles clover, so it can be tricky to identify if you’re just looking at the leaves.
One way to identify wood sorrel, however, is to look at the entire plant itself. The plant can be up to 15 inches (38cm) tall, but you’ll usually find that it’s about 8 to 9 inches (20 to 23cm) in height. The leaves of the plants look like little heart-shaped leaflets, though you may also find white flowers in the spring.
Wood sorrel can be eaten in small quantities, which offers a nice boost of vitamin C. The entirety of the plant is edible and it’s best eaten fresh right after harvesting. It is fairly sour, though, so enjoy wood sorrel in moderation!
19. Rock Tripe
If you like hiking, we can almost assure you that you’ve seen rock tripe before, but you’ve probably never even noticed it was there. That’s because this little black and green lichen tends to grow on rocks, which isn’t exactly the first place you’d look when searching for edible plants.
Rock tripe is edible, though, and it has been used by humans for sustenance for thousands of years. However, due to its fairly unappetizing appearance, most people don’t get excited at the prospect of digging into a whole plateful of rock tripe.
To eat rock tripe, it’s worth soaking it in water until it becomes quite soft. You may want to change out the soaking water a few times to help remove some of the bitterness of the lichen. Then, you can boil it and season it however you like to have a simple meal on the trail.
20. Oyster Mushroom
Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) is one of the most commonly eaten types of mushroom in the world. You can find it in damp areas along the majority of the Appalachian Trail, particularly in forested terrain.
They offer a nice, delicate flavor and often appear as little white bulbs with tan-colored gills underneath. To eat oyster mushrooms, most people sauté them, though you could grill, fry, or prepare them however you’d like.
However, as with all mushrooms, proper identification is key. Oyster mushrooms could be mistaken for other types of fungi, so we’d recommend checking out a guidebook like Marrone and Sturgeon’s Mushrooms of the Northeast.
- Great visual guide of more than 400 species of mushrooms
- With top edibles and top toxics section
Last but not least, chanterelle is another popular mushroom that you might find on the trail. These yellow-orange fungi have poorly-defined gills, which is an important identification characteristic.
Since chanterelle can be misidentified fairly easily with false chanterelle (which is poisonous, though usually not deadly), we strongly encourage you to consult a field guide before consumption. When in doubt, it’s best not to eat them as making a mistake in your identification can lead to serious illness.
If you do find some proper chanterelle, they are best prepared by sauteing in oil and flavoring with garlic. They have a lovely velvety texture, which is a nice addition to any savory dish.
How Can You Tell If A Berry Is Edible?
There is no fool-proof way to tell if a berry is edible. Although there are general rules out there that say that the majority of blue, black, and purple berries are edible, there are always exceptions.
That being said, most aggregate berries (e.g., berries that look like raspberries) are edible. However, there is always a risk when foraging, so only do so if you feel confident in what you’re eating.
What Do Hikers Eat On The Appalachian Trail?
Most hikers on the Appalachian Trail pack their own backpacking-style meals. Although everyone’s cooking habits differ, most people opt to make lightweight and easy-to-cook meals, like pasta and rice-based dishes. Occasionally, you’ll find thru-hikers that prefer freeze-dried meals, but these are fairly expensive and are not the norm on the trail.