In West Virginia, there are more than 500 plants, 50 animals, and several insects that can be eaten by humans. Several of the plants are introduced weeds, not native to the state.
Potherbs or boiled greens are on most wild food menus. The more common among the several dozen that can be eaten in West Virginia are ramps, spring beauties, nettles, giant chickweed, pokeweed, milkweed, dandelion, creasy greens or cress, purslane, chicory, fireweed, raceweed, lamb’s quarters, and watercress. Many mushrooms can be used for food, although some others are deadly poisonous. In West Virginia, four easily recognized edible types are the morel, shaggy mane, sulfur polypore, and puffball.
Among the many wild fruits and berries are persimmons, strawberries, wild grapes, crab apples, cranberries, blueberries, huckleberries, blackberries, raspberries, dew berries, black haw, elderberries, and wild cherries. Common nuts collected in the wild are black walnuts, chinquapins, beechnuts, hickory nuts, and hazelnuts.
In the past, wild honey made from yellow poplar, basswood, and sourwood was often ‘‘robbed’’ from trees colonized by wild honeybees, but wild honeybees have now almost entirely succumbed to parasites. The sap from sugar maple is evaporated to produce maple syrup and further evaporated to make maple sugar.
There are also dozens of starchy vegetable substitutes, salad ingredients, wheat flour substitutes, tea and coffee substitutes, cool beverages, condiments, oils, and many other culinary uses of wild plants.
As with wild plants, wild animals have been a source of food since the beginning of mankind. Among the historic food animals no longer found in West Virginia are such extinct species as the passenger pigeon and woods-dwelling bison. Among those still used as food are several species of fish, crayfish, eel, beaver, black bear, frog, muskrat, opossum, rabbit, raccoon, squirrel, turtle, rattlesnake, white-tailed deer, woodchuck, ruffed grouse, wild turkey, dove, duck, and woodcock.
There is a National Wild Foods Association that meets each September at North Bend State Park near Cairo.
This Article was written by William H. Gillespie
Last Revised on November 19, 2010
Gillespie, William H. Wild Foods of Appalachia. Morgantown: Seneca Books, 1986.
McNight, Kent H. & Vera B. Kent. Mushrooms of North America. Norwalk, CT: Easton Press, 1988.
Peterson, L. A. Edible Wild Plants, Eastern/Central North America. Norwalk, CT: Easton Press, 1977.