foraging the Appalachian Trail
8 Finds to Fill Your Belly
While Hiking the Trails
The Appalachian region is such a beautiful part of the country that many folks opt to spend months exploring it on foot via the Appalachian Trail.
The national scenic trail is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, and it measures 2,180+ miles from Georgia to Maine. More than 3,000 people attempt to hike through the entire Appalachian Trail each year, but about 750 complete the thru-hike.
They spend 5-7 months eating, sleeping, and breathing the outdoors nonstop from start to finish. A trek of that sort requires planning – including avoiding severe weather and coordinating meals. Fortunately, the lush region is home to numerous edible plants that provide snacks on long days.
Check out the following list to see what delicious delicacies you might encounter on your hike along the Appalachian Trail.
WARNING: The below is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a source for identification. Please consult professional sources to indicate whether a plant is edible; otherwise, misidentifying plants can lead to illness or death.
Ramps, also sometimes referred to as wild leeks, are a wild onion that tastes like it’s crossed with garlic. It is one of Appalachia’s most treasured foraged finds. If you find a patch of these large leaves shooting from the ground, be sure to take care when harvesting them to assure they can grow back year after year.
This coveted mushroom hangs out around ash, elm, and oak trees, especially those dead or dying. Check the base of trees to find these subtle fungi, which add a delicious woodsy and nutty flavor to meals. However, keep in mind that some mushrooms are toxic and can be fatal. Be sure your morels have a hollow wrinkly cap and beware of false morels.
Blueberries are a tasty treat that can be perfect for a snack on the go or topping oatmeal for breakfast. Spot these poppable fruits growing on bushes about two to ten feet tall. They are easily identifiable as small, round blueberries that may be slightly tart.
Fiddleheads are welcome signs of springs in the forest. These curled-up fern fronds are a bit sweet when sauteed with oil, but they also have a nice snappy texture that can be perfect for brightening up a dish. Add aromatics like garlic and onion to really make them sing.
Those bright yellow flowers popping up on a freshly mown lawn are more than just a nuisance for homeowners. Eat them raw in a salad or sauté the dandelion greens with plenty of salt for a fiber-filled side dish. Just be sure not to take a bite out of a dandelion past its prime – unless you want a mouth full of fuzz.
There’s nothing quite like stumbling upon a blackberry bush in the woods. It’s like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. These sweet treats are favorites of birds and other mammals, so it can be a race to see who makes the discovery first. The black and purple-colored berries grow together in clusters in large bushes. Watch out for the thorns while harvesting those blackberries.
Sassafras is a tree used throughout history for medicine and culinary use. The roots, stems, twig leaves, bark, flowers, and fruit are used for different purposes. Due to health concerns, many commercial retailers removed the root and bark once used to make root beer. However, the leaves flavor soups, salads, or other dishes while outdoors.
Crawdads – or crawfish or crayfish – are small freshwater crustaceans that look like miniature lobsters and live in rivers and streams. Though crawdads aren’t plants or fungi.
Crawdads could be a welcome addition to the bevy of leafy greens and berries found along the trail. Added bonus: crawdads are a low-calorie, low-fat source of protein.
Tasty finds in the woods include mushrooms (chicken of the woods, oyster, and chanterelle), fruits (strawberries, cherries, huckleberries, wineberries, mulberries), chicory, scallions, wintergreen, daylily, and wood sorrel.
Appalachia is full of culinary treasures growing along its trails. It can be a wondrous treasure hunt to pick out these natural delicacies. From sweet and juicy to tart and bitter, you will find a little bit of everything along the Appalachian Trail.
But remember: No bite is worth your health. Be sure to familiarize yourself with what you might find while hiking; your health and safety are paramount. Bon Appetit.