While there is certainly a place for trail mix and beef jerky in your pack, a little bit of culinary adventure and variety can be found growing right alongside most trails in Kansas. With some basic botanical knowledge and common sense there are many plants that will serve as a veritable outdoor pantry for your next time on the trail. While outdoors, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sampling the following wild plants:
1. Mulberries. Planted and eaten by early settlers and Native Americans, mulberries are one of my favorite wild snacks. The sweet fruits ripen in mid-summer and the juicy purple berries make a terrific snack while on the trail. The berries can also be used for pies and jams, but they’re so good right off the tree that I’ve somehow never managed to bring home enough to preserve.
2. Sandhill plums. Commonly found in thickets throughout tallgrass and mixed-grass prairies of eastern and central Kansas, wild plums are a delight to eat during late summer. When the berries are fully ripe, the slightly tart plum fruits are also a favorite food of many species of wildlife.
3. Morel mushrooms. Morels are a highly sought after delicacy and many “mushroom hunters” scour woodlands of central and eastern Kansas in the early spring in search of the delicious morel. Morels appear around the time that redbuds bloom and are only present for a few weeks in any given area.
The distinctive wrinkled caps of the mushroom and the hollow stalk make them easy to distinguish from other species but they should not be eaten unless you are absolutely sure that they are indeed morels. While the other plants on this list can be eaten raw, these mushrooms should be cooked before consumption. Personally, I’m partial to sauteeing them in a little butter with a hint of garlic.
4. Wild rose. The beautiful wild rose grows state-wide in prairie areas of Kansas. The fruits of the wild rose are known as “rose hips” and are extremely high in Vitamin C. They ripen during August and September and can be eaten raw or made into jelly. The flower petals are also edible and make a tasty addition to a spring salad.
5. Yucca. The sharply pointed leaves of this species make it easy to identify and it is common in many areas of central and western Kansas. There are a variety of parts of the yucca plant that were consumed by Native Americans, including the flower stalk, petals, and the immature fruits. While on the trail, try the distinctive white petals for some interesting eating.
These species are common throughout Kansas and fairly easy to identify, but always make certain that you are 100% certain of the correct identification (especially with mushrooms) before eating any of these plants while on the trail. If these plants leave you wanting even more, look for additional information in Kelly Kindscher’s authoritative guidebook – Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie published by the University Press of Kansas.