Edible Native Plants

Why grow native plants?

If you plant a garden, you might think of tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, and green beans. But these are all foreign species from South America and Europe. They’ve been domesticated, bred, and brought to Ohio by waves of settlers. Native plants are those which originally existed in Ohio, rather than being introduced by humans. Naturally, plants that have been living in Ohio for a long time have adapted to the weather, soil conditions, competitive species, and predators in Ohio. For these reasons, native plants are generally hardier and require less fertilizer, pesticide, and water than a foreign species would.

Pawpaw

Pawpaw is a small tree with large foliage and yellow-brown fruits. When ripe, the fruit has a delicious flavor that has been compared to banana but with hints of citrus. Unripe fruits contain toxic chemicals and should be avoided. The seeds should also be avoided as they can cause vomiting. Pawpaw fruit is otherwise very nutritious, with more protein than other fruits. It is commonly eaten fresh or used in desserts.

Photo: USDA (public domain)

Maple

The maple, a fast growing deciduous tree, is ubiquitous throughout the Midwest. Their sap can be a refreshing, slightly sweet beverage, but most are more familiar with the concentrated form of maple syrup. Silver, red, and sugar maple are all very common but sugar maples are preferred for making syrup.

Photo: Superior National Forest, License

Milkweed

Ohio has many native species of milkweed. Immature plants can be boiled and eaten, and in the past Native Americans did so regularly. It’s important to properly identify the milkweed, because a similar plant, dogbane, is very poisonous.

Photo: Jason Hollinger, license

American Linden

The American linden, also known as a basswood tree, is a tall tree with weak wood and tough bark. Its leaves are edible, and the oil from its seed pods can be used in lieu of olive oil. Bees love linden trees, and sometimes the interior is found to be full of honey.

Photo: Dan Keck, license

Red Mulberry

Ohio’s floodplains are home to the red mulberry, a tree that rises 50-70 feet in height and carries a red or blackish berry. They are delicious right off the tree or prepared as sorbet, pie, or jam.

Photo by Eric Schmuttenmaer, license

Serviceberry

The Downy Serviceberry is native to Ohio. It is a small tree or spreading shrub with a fruit that looks like a tiny apple. Serviceberries can be used to make pie or jam.

American Plum

The American Plum, aka Wild Plum, is a spreading shrub that can reach up to 25 feet in height. Its acidic fruit makes delicious jam or jelly. Its also makes a beautiful ornamental shrub.

Photo: Homer Edward Price, license

American Hazelnut

American hazelnut is a large shrub native to Ohio. Nuts of the American hazelnut are similar to those you probably know from various desserts, although most often those come from the common hazel, which is from Europe and western Asia.

Photo: Superior National Forest, license

Aronia Berry

Aronia are deciduous shrubs that grow in wet woods and swamps. The aronia berry can be eaten right off the plant but have a sour flavor, which is how it earned its nickname–the “chokeberry”. For this reason, aronia berries are usually used to prepare wine, jam, syrup, or juice.

Photo: Jason Zhang, license

Passion Flower

Passionflower, passiflora incarnata, is a perennial vine native to Ohio and most of the Eastern US. It’s fruit is great for jams, jellies, desserts, and juice. It was also used in traditional medicine. A related species, edulis, is native to Brazil and cultivated widely for commercial use.

Photo: Pollinator, license

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