wild strawberry - Fragaria virginiana 10JN04

wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana
90% of domestic strawberries originate from this species

I was recently asked whether Tallgrass Prairie plants can be eaten, whether there is any practical value in them for humans.

In fact, 40% of the flora species that we are familiar with have been or are used as food or medicine. Some are used ceremonially. And a few are used to make things like dyes.

Have a look:



shortawn foxtail, Alopecurus aequalis Sobol.
Minute seed ground with other grains used to make flour.
junegrass, Koeleria macrantha
North American aboriginals made flour from the seeds; brooms from the leaves.
prairie cordgrass, Spartina pectinata
Used by North American aboriginals and early settlers as thatching for lodges.
prairie dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis
North American aboriginals ground the seed for use in flour.
sloughgrass, Beckmannia syzigachne
Seed can be ground into flour; used as cereal.
sweet grass, Hierochloe odorata
Considered sacred by Great Plains Indians; used for smudging.
witchgrass, Panicum capillaire L.
Seed was a food staple of the Hopi Indians.

forbs (flowers)

golden Alexanders, Zizia aurea
Used medicinally by North American aboriginals for fever and headache.
Early settlers believed it to be a cure for syphilis.
alumroot, Heuchera richardsonii
North American aboriginals made a tea from the roots. Roots were also chewed then applied to wounds to stop bleeding and speed healing.
Canada anemone, Anemone canadensis
The root was used by North American aboriginals for a variety of ailments.
smooth aster, Symphyotrichum laeve var. laeve
One of the plants used by North American aboriginals in sweat baths.
white panicle aster, Symphyotrichum lanceolatum ssp. hesperium
North American aboriginals dried and crushed the plant for use on abrasions; crushed flowers were inhaled for nosebleeds.
three flowered avens, Geum triflorum
A medicinal tea is made from boiled roots.
Used by North American aboriginals in sweathouses as a body wash.
yellow avens, Geum aleppicum
The Woods Cree Nihithawak of eastern Saskatchewan used the powdered root for various ailments including teething.
northern bedstraw, Galium boreale L.
Roasted seeds are ground and used as a coffee substitute.
A tea was made using the roots and leaves.
Used as a fragrant stuffing for mattresses and pillows, hence its common name.
Hormone-like compounds of this plant make it of interest to the pharmaceutical industry.
wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa
Tea is made from the leaves; think Earl Grey.
Flowers are edible.
black-eyed susan, Rudbeckia hirta
An infusion of the roots has been used in the treatment of colds and as a wash on sores.
blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium montanum
Used in the past by North American aboriginals as a medicinal tea.
purple prairie clover, Dalea purpurea Vent.
Used both as food and medicine by North American aboriginals.
white prairie clover, Dalea candida Michx.
North American aboriginals chewed on the sweet tasting roots.
yellow coneflower, Ratibida columnifera
Leaves and stems used to treat poison ivy, rattlesnake bites, headaches, and stomach aches by North American aboriginals.
A tea was made from the leaves and flowers.
Culver's root, Veronicastrum virginicum
Professional homoeopathic uses include: laxative, minor liver ailments, and inducing vomiting.
gaillardia, Gaillardia aristata
North American aboriginals used the flowers to "paint" the body for pain. A poultice made of the ground plant mixed with bear grease was used to reduce swelling.
closed gentian, Gentiana andrewsii
North American aboriginals used a compress made from the roots for back pain and to treat snakebites.
Canada goldenrod, Solidago canadensis
Several shades of yellow dye can be produced from the flowers.
grass of parnassus, Parnassia glauca Raf.
Used medicinally as a diuretic, sedative, and tonic.
gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
North American aboriginals used the flowers and leaves for treating bronchitis & asthma and as a wash for healing sores.
hoary puccoon, Lithospermum canescens
This plant is used for dyes.
An infusion made from this plant has sedative properties.
scouringrush horsetail, Equisetum hyemale L.
Decoction of plant used as a contraceptive.
giant hyssop, Agastache foeniculum
Anise scented leaves and flowers are a pleasant addition in salads or as tea.
blue flag iris, Iris versicolor
A blue dye from the flowers can be used as a litmus substitute.
A medicinal poultice made from the roots was used by North American aboriginals.
blue lettuce, Lactuca pulchella
The young leaves were used, raw or cooked, by North American aboriginals.
prairie lily, Lilium philadelphicum
Bulbs were boiled and eaten by North American aboriginals.
brook lobelia, Lobelia kalmii
Used by North American aboriginals to treat respiratory and muscle disorders, and as a purgative.
Current day uses include treatments for asthma, food poisoning, and as part of smoking cessation programs. Also as a physical relaxant (nerve depressant).
fringed loosestrife, Lysimachia ciliata L.
The flowers produce an essential oil.
Canadian lousewort, Pedicularis canadensis
Used medicinally by North American aboriginals for a wide variety of purposes:
Leaves and stems were cooked as a pot herb.
An infusion was made from the roots and used for heart troubles, ulcers and diarrhoea.
Grated roots were added to food as an aphrodisiac.
An infusion of fresh or dried leaves was used to treat a sore throat, cough, tonsillitis, and bronchitis.
Yet another infusion was used to treat headaches, bladder and kidney pain.
swamp lousewort, Pedicularis lanceolata Michx.
Leaves were cooked and eaten as a vegetable by North American aboriginals.
showy milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
Currently used medicinally for heart contractions.
wild mint, Mentha arvensis
North American aboriginals used the leaves both raw and cooked for tea and as a spice.
autumn onion, Allium stellatum
In the past bulbs and leaves were eaten raw or cooked.
pale comandra, Comandra umbellata
North American aboriginals found this plant useful in treating sores, headaches, and as a mouthwash.
peppergrass, Lepidium densiflorum Schrad.
Edible; makes a peppery garnish in salads.
yellow evening primrose, Oenothera biennis
Grown commercially for its oil which is rich in fatty acids.
purple boneset, Eupatorium maculatum
Used by Native American Joe Pye to treat fever associated with typhus.
little leaved pussytoes, Antennaria parvifolia
Used medicinally by North American aboriginals to reduce swelling.
red samphire, Salicornia rubra
Salty to taste; may be used in salads, eaten raw or cooked. Also, a source of vegetable oil.
prairie sage, Artemisia ludoviciana
Named *man sage* by North American aboriginals who use(d) it as smudge for ceremonies and purification.
seneca root, Polygala senega L.
Used for centuries by North American aboriginals for a variety of respiratory ailments and snakebites. Upon introduction to European medicine demand greatly increased. The Northern or Manitoban variety was commercially popular due to the large roots.
silverweed, Potentilla anserina
Boiled roots are edible and helped sustain many North American aboriginals during winter famine. Kept many settlers alive when they first arrived in North America.
smartweed, Polygonum amphibium
Used medicinally as an antiseptic.
wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana
Fruit is eaten raw, dried, or used to make jelly or jam. A tea is made using the leaves. Both leaves and fruit are high in vitamin C.
90% of domestic strawberries originate from this species.
narrowleaf sunflower, Helianthus maximiliani
Various parts of this plant used as food, oil, dye and thread by North American aboriginals.
Nuttall's sunflower, Helianthus Nuttallii
Seeds were eaten or boiled and used for dye.
Medicinal use: colds, fever, digestive complaints.
Flodman's thistle, Cirsium Flodmanii
North American aboriginals ate the peeled stems.
blue vervain, Verbena hastata
A snuff made from dried flowers was used to treat nose bleeds.
early blue violet, Viola adunca
Leaves and flowers used by North American aboriginals for a variety of purposes: poultices, during childbirth, respiratory problems.
Flowers are used today in teas, salads.
northern bog violet, Viola nephrophylla
A tea used for headaches and sore throats was made from the flowers. Leaves contain high amounts of vitamin C and A.
water horehound, Lycopus americanus
North American aboriginals found the plant's medicinal qualities useful in treating stomach cramps. The roots were eaten raw or cooked. Also, used as a dye.
wild licorice, Glycyrrhiza lepidota
Used as a natural sweetener in a variety of products.
Medicinal use since 465 A.D.; so valued it was buried with King Tutankhamen.
yellow woodsorrel, Oxalis stricta L.
All parts are edible. May be used sparingly in salads; has a sour taste. High in vitamin C.
yarrow, Achillea millefolium
Young leaves can be cooked as a vegetable.
A sage-like seasoning or tea is made from older leaves.

rushes & sedges

softstem bulrush, Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani
North American aboriginals wove the stems into mats.
threesquare bulrush, Schoenoplectus pungens (Vahl) Palla
Stems were and continue to be used for basket weaving.
Roots and rhizomes were eaten by various North American aboriginals.
common cattail, Typha latifolia
Past uses:
Stems, leaves, and rhizomes as food for North American aboriginals.
Thatch for roofing; pollen used in making fireworks; seeds as lining for diapers.
baltic rush, Juncus balticus
A sugar formed at the top of the plant was eaten as candy; a fermented drink was made from the stems.
Seeds used for food, stems for basket weaving by some North American aboriginals.

shrubs & vines

shrubby cinquefoil, Potentilla fruticosa
North American aboriginals used the dried leaves as a spice or to make tea.
wild black currant, Ribes americanum
Flavourful, edible berries.
riverbank grape, Vitis riparia
Not very good raw, but the grapes make a nice tart jelly.
fireberry hawthorn, Crataegus chrysocarpa var. chrysocarpa
During famines fruit was a food source for North American aboriginals.
American hazelnut, Corylus americana Walter
Nuts are edible by humans.
common hop, Humulus lupulus
Extracts of fruit bracts used to flavour beer.
kinnikinnick, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Kinnikinnick is an Algonquin word meaning tobacco substitute.
North American aboriginals made a poultice for sores using stems and leaves.
prairie rose, Rosa arkansana
Rose hips contain high levels of vitamin C. May be eaten raw, stewed, candied.
North American aboriginals made a medicinal tea from the flowers for diarrhea and stomach complaints. A compress using boiled roots was used to reduce swelling.

A word of caution is in order. There are poisonous and toxic plants out there, too. And some which are edible but have look-a-likes which are not. Be sure to do your home- ... ah ... field-work first!

Robert G Mears

October 2014

More information can be obtained here:

Praire Shore Botanicals:
Botanist Laura Reeves offers informative, hands-on workshops — in the Gardenton area — every spring and summer.

Edible Wild Food:
Writer and part-time herbalist Karen Stephenson presents edibility information on a wide variety of plants, many of which are Native.


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