11 Texas Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (2023)

How many edible plants are growing in your yard right now? It’s almost certainly more than you think. While writing this story, I counted at least six consumable species that have flourished in my Central Austin backyard—and that’s excluding all the typical herbs and vegetables we grow in our garden. My list included yaupon holly, marigold, dandelion, winecup, mulberry, and chickweed, most of which I had no idea I could eat.

Like most Texas Monthly readers, I’ll probably never be a forager—my anxiety level is too high for that, especially after watching a spine-chilling episode of Midsomer Murders in which the victim dies by amanita mushroom, better known as the destroying angel. (Fun fact: this deadliest genus of mushrooms, which can be fatal, flourishes in East and Central Texas.) Luckily, there’s a plethora of unconventional fruits, greens, herbs, and other foods you can plant in your garden, sample at a local farm, or (carefully) find thriving right outside your door. For advice, I turned to Mark Vorderbruggen, a lifelong forager based in Houston and founder of the website Foraging Texas, as well as Scooter Cheatham and Lynn Marshall, who run the Useful Wild Plants project in Austin. All three offer hands-on foraging classes (which Cheatham, delightfully, likes to call a “speedy weed feed”), and these are the best way to get started.

The experts stress the importance of safety above all else. “People often get what we call ‘chlorophyll fever,’ ” Marshall says, referring to enthusiastic novice foragers. “They start thinking that everything they see is Mother Nature’s bounty. Well, it isn’t.” Never rely on a book, website, or identification app such as iNaturalist to decide if a plant is safe to eat. Instead, join a class, go out with an experienced forager, and learn how to confirm multiple identifying features on each plant. “For mushrooms, you need to match up at least eight to ten structural features,” such as color, size, shape, and where it’s growing, Vorderbruggen says. “With plants, you can get away with five or six”—but more is always better, and again, if you’re a beginner, you should partner with someone who knows what they’re doing and is absolutely certain that a specific plant is safe to eat.

With those words of warning in mind, on to a list of edible Texas plants.

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11 Texas Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (1)

Chicken of the woods

Range: Central and North Texas
How to eat it: Sautéed with rice, pasta, and/or veggies

Okay, so it’s a fungus, not a plant. But the chicken of the woods mushroom is the gateway drug that introduced me to the world of wild, foraged, and unconventional foods. A friend dropped off some she’d gathered earlier that day in the woods near Lady Bird Lake, and I sautéed them with a little butter and garlic. The fresh, rich, umami flavor blew me away; I’d even venture to say it’s better than chicken, which can often be bland on its own.

Foraging for mushrooms requires ample caution. Since some species are deadly, you want to be absolutely certain of what you’re eating. That said, chicken of the woods is a good choice for beginners because it’s unmistakable. “It looks like a bunch of raw chicken breasts, stuck to a tree and coated with that orange Doritos cheese stuff,” Vorderbruggen says. Before biting into one, though, make sure to identify those aforementioned eight to ten structural features specific to the species, such as what surface it’s growing on (chicken of the woods prefers rotting trees) and the shape of the stem. You can also make a spore print, which is akin to taking a mushroom’s fingerprint.

11 Texas Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (2)

Chickweed

Range: Statewide
How to eat it: Blend into a pesto or add to smoothies

This humble green weed, which is found in abundance across Texas and the continental U.S., often grows up against the sides of houses. The plant usually pops up in late winter and early spring, though you can pick it year-round. With a texture similar to spinach, it’s a good addition to a sandwich or a salad; Vorderbruggen suggests adding it to a smoothie. “Chickweed has a creamifying effect that makes a vegan smoothie a little more decadent, more like a milkshake,” he says. “It’s good on its own, too, but I highly recommend it in that role.” The folks at Central Texas Gardener recommend using it in a pesto recipe.

11 Texas Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (3)

Chile pequin

Range: Central and South Texas
How to eat it: In a salsa or jelly

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Also known as bird pepper, chile pequin is ubiquitous across much of the state. You might even have one in your yard and not know it. “A lot of people cut them down because they don’t realize what they are,” Marshall says. Texas’s official (and only) state native pepper thrives in both sun and shade; in late summer or early fall, its round, green berries turn red and are ready to pick. Most of the hot peppers sold in grocery stores are descended from the chile pequin, Marshall and Cheatham note, including jalapeño and serrano. This little red chile, whose spiciness Texas Monthly’s Pat Sharpe once described as “incendiary,” is stellar in homemade salsa or jelly. Try our recipe for the latter, which cuts the heat with grapefruit.

11 Texas Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (4)

Dewberry

Range: Central, East, and North Texas
How to eat it: Fresh off the vine, baked in a pie, or cooked in a jam

If you’re skeptical about eating strange and unusual wild plants, this one might be a comfortable place to start. The wild dewberry tastes and looks exactly like a blackberry, because it is one. “Genetically, it’s almost identical,” Vorderbruggen says. “Think of them as two different breeds of dogs.” Find the low-slung shrub growing along roads and highways, as well as in fields and thickets. You’ll want to wear gloves while picking these to avoid getting scratched by the thorns. Dewberry season is early and fleeting, lasting from late spring through early summer.

11 Texas Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (5)

Horehound

Range: Central and West Texas
How to eat it: Brewed in a tea, or boiled down into a candy

A member of the mint family with medicinal properties, horehound is a great natural remedy for a sore throat or cough; cultures around the world have been using it for this purpose for thousands of years. You can brew the leaves into a tea or make a candy similar to a cough drop. Vorderbruggen describes the strong herbal flavor as a pleasant combination of root beer and licorice. His website has recipes for both horehound tea and horehound candy.

11 Texas Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (6)

Jujube

Range: Statewide, especially Houston
How to eat it: On its own, fresh or dried

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Jujube trees are originally from China; the U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced them to America in the early twentieth century. These hardy trees grow well in harsh, dry environments, so USDA officials thought they’d be a good option in California, Texas, and across the arid Southwest. Though it never became as popular as they’d hoped, the low-maintenance plant produces a sweet fruit that draws comparisons to apples, plums, and pears. “It does really well in the Houston area,” Vorderbruggen says, noting that a jujube harvest is usually a big one. “They are very prolific, producing pounds and pounds of fruit.” Unlike the sensitive pawpaw (see below), the fruit is sturdy and easy to transport or preserve. Dried jujubes taste a lot like dates. Can’t find one or don’t want to search on your own? Your local Asian grocer likely has them.

11 Texas Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (7)

Loquat

Range: Statewide, especially South Texas
How to eat it: Fresh, in preserves, or as a liqueur

Another Asian import, cold-hardy loquats grow easily across much of the state. I always look forward to spotting the bright, sunflower-yellow fruits ripening all over my Austin neighborhood in late spring and early summer. While they’re lovely as an ornamental fruit, loquats also have a delicious flavor evoking that of apricots. When I received some in a produce box a few years back, I didn’t know what to do with them, and eventually settled on loquat margaritas, which were a hit. Peeling and preparing the fruit takes a little time but is well worth the effort. Joe Urbach of the San Marcos Daily Record suggests making loquat chutney or syrup, which brings a hit of sweetness to lemonade, iced tea, or the aforementioned margaritas. Vorderbruggen, meanwhile, has a recipe for loquat liqueur, which has an amaretto flavor.

11 Texas Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (8)

Mayhaw

Range: East Texas
How to eat it: Cooked in a jam or jelly

Families in East Texas pass down time-honored jam recipes for this slightly tart red berry, which looks a lot like a cranberry and comes from a tree that’s part of the hawthorn family. At the Jellytree Mayhaw Farm in Huntington, Texas Highways’ Susan L. Ebert writes, you can take home not just an excellent mayhaw jelly, but also preserves with other local wild fruits, such as muscadine, beautyberry, and redbud blossom. Often found along the Trinity River and in other low-lying swampy areas, especially in the Big Thicket region, the tree is increasingly at risk from deforestation and disease. Vorderbruggen points out that the fruit naturally contains a high level of pectin, so you may not even need to add extra when making your own jam (though the folks at Jellytree swear by it).

11 Texas Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (9)

Pawpaw

Range: East Texas and Houston area
How to eat it: Straight off the tree

This elusive, ephemeral fruit has a tropical flavor that’s often compared to banana custard, mango, or pineapple. If you’re lucky enough to find one, give it a gentle squeeze to make sure it’s soft, and look for a light green or slightly yellow hue. Then, don’t hesitate. “The moment you pick the fruit, it starts to spoil,” Vorderbruggen says, “so you have a very short window of opportunity to enjoy it.” Wash and eat immediately after picking, scooping the fruit out with a spoon.

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Because it spoils so quickly, pawpaw is rarely found in processed foods. A recent surge in popularity among young foragers has earned it the nickname “hipster banana,” but the fruit is nothing new—according to lore, it was one of George Washington’s favorite desserts. In fact, this ancient tree evolved before bees, so it’s pollinated by flies. The flowers attract them by emitting an atrocious odor similar to that of rotten meat. But flies aren’t as efficient as bees, so if you want to grow a pawpaw tree, you’ll have to help its unusual pollination process along. “Some gardeners have been successful by hanging strips of raw meat in the branches,” Vorderbruggen says. Thankfully, there’s a milder option: simply pollinate by hand with a small paintbrush, following these tips from the Dallas Morning News.

11 Texas Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (10)

Winecup

Range: Statewide
How to eat it: In a salad (flowers) or as a crunchy snack (tubers)

Also called purple poppy mallow, this cheerful magenta flower is popular with gardeners because it’s easy to grow; the trailing vine spreads quickly, making it an excellent ground-cover plant. I’ve had it in my front yard for years, but never knew it was edible. Vorderbruggen suggests you stick to cultivating rather than foraging this plant, because harvesting it in the wild can be tricky. “They’re almost impossible to transplant,” he says. “So if you dig one up and damage the little fine roots coming off the tuber, it’s going to die.” Better to buy the seeds from Junction-based Native American Seed and grow your own.

Scatter the flowers in a salad or as a stylish decoration on a frosted cake. If you’re feeling more adventurous, slice the radishlike tubers thinly, then roast or fry them. “They taste just like sweet potatoes,” Vorderbruggen says. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has a recipe for wild onion and winecup tuber stew.

11 Texas Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (11)

Yaupon holly

Range: East and Central Texas
How to eat it: Brewed in a tea

The only caffeinated plant native to North America, yaupon can be made into a beverage similar to green or black tea; Indigenous Texans have been drinking it for more than a thousand years. During World War II, when coffee and tea were in short supply, the federal government promoted it as a substitute, but the drink never really caught on. Now, a new generation of Texas tea makers is bringing it back. Buy yaupon tea premade from one of at least four brands—CatSpring Yaupon, Local Leaf, Lost Pines Yaupon, or YAYAYA Yaupon—or make your own. Yaupon holly grows in abundance anywhere sandy soil is found, especially in Central and East Texas. Simply cut a branch and remove enough leaves to spread on a cookie sheet, then bake at 350 degrees F for about twenty minutes. Crumble the leaves, put a few spoonfuls in a tea infuser, and add hot water.

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Unlike tea, yaupon can’t be oversteeped. “The leaves have about fifty percent of the caffeine found in regular tea, but none of the tannins that make it bitter,” Vorderbruggen says, noting that the brew is also rich in antioxidants. “In the morning, I’ll put a handful of dried leaves in my mug and then just sip all day long.”

FAQs

Can you forage on public land in Texas? ›

Public places to forage legally are somewhat limited in Texas. You are NOT allowed to pick plants or mushrooms from city parks, state parks, national parks, city nature trails, nature preserves, state historic sites, or any other "public" property.

What is the rarest plant in Texas? ›

The prostrate milkweed, a rare plant found in southern Texas and northeastern Mexico, spends much of its time dormant and below the surface, a federal scientist said.

What is the most poisonous plant in Texas? ›

POISON HEMLOCK

It can be found in the southern part of the state and can be deadly if ingested by people or animals (just ask Socrates), so it's best to eliminate this dangerous pest plant if you find it growing on your property.

What is a unique food from Texas? ›

20 Texas Foods The Lone Star State Is Famous For
  • 01 of 21. Chicken Fried Steak. SunnyDaysNora. ...
  • 02 of 21. Pecan Pie. Allrecipes Magazine. ...
  • 03 of 21. Brisket. Allrecipes Magazine. ...
  • 04 of 21. Chili. red7206. ...
  • 05 of 21. Chile con Queso. Soup Loving Nicole. ...
  • 06 of 21. Kolaches. Jack Tripper. ...
  • 07 of 21. Tex-Mex. fabeveryday. ...
  • 08 of 21. Migas. bd.weld.
7 Dec 2021

What flower only grows in Texas? ›

Bluebonnet. Lupinus texensis — Begins blooming early spring (but Big Bend bluebonnet can bloom as early as January). All six species of bluebonnet that grow in the state have been designated the State Flower by the Texas Legislature.

What is the national vegetable of Texas? ›

1015 Onion

What fruit is native to Texas? ›

Texas is known for its giant Ruby Red Grapefruit. In fact, it's the official state fruit as well as a symbol of Texas agriculture. The Grapefruit season lasts longer than any other fruit in Texas, running from November to May.

What veggies are native to Texas? ›

Cultivated for centuries prior to the arrival of European explorers and settlers, our country's only native vegetable is also a Texas native sunflower. The “jerusalem artichoke” or “sunchoke” is the enlarged underground stem of helianthus tuberosus, a type of sunflower in the aster family with edible tuberous roots.

What hunting is illegal in Texas? ›

Hair, hide, antlers, bones, horns, skull, hooves, or sinew from the following game animals: mule deer, white-tailed deer, pronghorn, desert bighorn sheep, gray squirrels, fox squirrels, and javelina.

How many acres do you need to legally hunt in Texas? ›

How many acres do you need for hunting in Texas? Most of Texas counties require a minimum of 10 acres to legally hunt or discharge a firearm. There is no statewide mandate but the state has given counties and local jurisdictions the right to establish and enforce 10 acre minimums in the interest of public safety.

Do you need a tag to hunt on your own land in Texas? ›

All Texas hunters that are hunting on private or public land are required to purchase a Texas hunting license. Hunting nuisance animals such as feral hogs and coyotes does not require a license.

What plants are illegal in Texas? ›

  • Ailanthus altissima. Albizia julibrissin. Broussonetia papyrifera. ...
  • Ligustrum quihoui. Ligustrum sinense. Nandina domestica. ...
  • Lonicera japonica. Macfadyena unguis-cati. Pueraria Montana var. ...
  • Centaurea melitensis. Colocasia esculenta. Cyrtomium falcatum. ...
  • Arundo donax. Bothriochloa ischaemum. ...
  • Eichhornia crassipes. Hydrilla verticillata.

What is a Texas Super Star plant? ›

To be designated a Texas Superstar, a plant must be beautiful and perform well for consumers and growers throughout the state. Superstars must be easy to propagate, which should ensure the plants are not only widely available throughout Texas but also reasonably priced.

Is Texas nightshade edible? ›

Medicine. Silverleaf nightshade is classified as a toxic or poisonous plant; poisonous both to cattle and humans. However, some birds feed on the fruits.

Is Texas sage toxic to humans? ›

When a person comes into contact with the spines, they break and venom is released. Reaction to this venom varies from mild to severe. Small children can have severe reactions.

What is the #1 food in Texas? ›

Today, chili is the official state dish. Texas is known for its own variation of chili con carne. Texas chili is typically made with hot peppers and beef (or sometimes game meats like venison) and is sometimes served with pinto beans, either as a side or in the chili itself.

What foods did Texas invent? ›

9 Foods You Can Thank Texas For
  • Blue Bell Ice Cream. Blue Bell Creameries was founded in Brenham, Texas in 1907. ...
  • Frozen Margaritas. PIN IT. ...
  • Whataburger. The first Whataburger opened in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1950. ...
  • Queso. ...
  • Dr Pepper. ...
  • Frito Pie. ...
  • Sweet Tea. ...
  • Chili Con Carne.
25 Oct 2017

What should you not say to a Texan? ›

13 Things You Should Never Say in Texas
  • “So do you ride a horse to school?”
  • “Where are your cowboy hat and boots?”
  • “It's too hot outside.”
  • “Why shouldn't I mess with Texas?”
  • “Y'all is not a real word.”
  • “Do you carry a gun?”
  • “Tacos are not a breakfast food.”
  • “I love Mexican food! Chipotle is my favorite.”
22 Jun 2017

What are the pink wild flowers in Texas? ›

Wildflowers of Texas: The pink evening primrose - Oenothera speciosa. The pink evening primrose is a native Texas favorite that is sown by the highway department in most parts of the state; either scattered or in great masses, it is an integral part of the spring roadside floral displays.

What are the pink flowers in Texas called? ›

Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) blooms April to June across much of the state. The drought-tolerant flower opens at dusk in northern portions of Texas. Flowers wither each day, replaced by new blossoms each evening. Elsewhere in the state, blooms stay open all day.

What is the blue flower that grows in Texas? ›

Bluebonnets are perhaps the best-loved flower in all of Texas (the state flower), and there are lots of reasons why. For one thing, they're absolutely stunning. Each spring, fields of blue blooms pop up along roadways and fields making an incredible sight.

How can you tell if a plant is edible? ›

Before taking a bite, touch the plant to your lips to test for burning or itching. If there's no reaction after 15 minutes, take a small bite, chew it, and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes. If the plant tastes very bitter or soapy, spit it out and wash out your mouth.

What plants are illegal in Texas? ›

  • Ailanthus altissima. Albizia julibrissin. Broussonetia papyrifera. ...
  • Ligustrum quihoui. Ligustrum sinense. Nandina domestica. ...
  • Lonicera japonica. Macfadyena unguis-cati. Pueraria Montana var. ...
  • Centaurea melitensis. Colocasia esculenta. Cyrtomium falcatum. ...
  • Arundo donax. Bothriochloa ischaemum. ...
  • Eichhornia crassipes. Hydrilla verticillata.

Is picking plants illegal in Texas? ›

Picking plants on private property will subject you to laws against criminal trespass, but you are perfectly protected by law to pick public wildflowers, even the state flower the Texas Bluebonnet.

Can you eat Texas nightshade? ›

Toxic Agent

The leaves and fruit are toxic at all stages of maturity; the highest concentration is in ripe fruits. In some instances, an animal can be poisoned by eating 0.1 to 0.3 percent of its weight in silverleaf nightshade.

Which plant is totally edible? ›

Edible stems include celery, asparagus, bamboo shoots, rhubarb, and sugar cane. Other plant stems are also edible, such as broccoli and cauliflower, even though they are not necessarily grown for their stems. Many interesting products come from stems.

What plant can eat you? ›

No carnivorous plant in existence is a direct threat to the average human being. But one of the plants considered to be responsible for rumors of man-eating flora is something known as Amorphophallus Titanum or The Corpse Flower. Experts do consider this to be the largest, most pungent plant in the natural world.

What are wild edibles? ›

Wild edible plants (WEPs) refer to edible species that are not cultivated or domesticated. WEPs have an important role to play in poverty eradication, security of food availability, diversification of agriculture, generation of income resources, and alleviating malnutrition.

Is picking sunflowers illegal in Texas? ›

As to legality, here is a link to the Texas Department of Public Safety that says picking the flowers in the public right of way is legal, but cautions against removing plants. Picking plants on private property will subject you to laws against criminal tresspass.

Is picking cactus illegal in Texas? ›

In Texas. According to state law, individuals collecting cacti on private property in Texas must have prior written authorization from the landowner. Remember, taking anything from pri- vate property without permission, in the least, is considered vandalism and, at the most, stealing!

What is the most illegal plant? ›

Although there are many varieties of poppies that can be grown in the United States, there's one that is considered illegal to own or to cultivate. Papaver somniferum (opium poppy) contains the opium that's needed to create powerful narcotics, and the D.E.A.

Why are bluebonnets illegal? ›

There is actually no law that prohibits picking bluebonnets in Texas, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. However, in certain areas it may be illegal or dangerous. Also, it's important to be courteous and take care of the flowers so that all Texans can enjoy them.

What flowers can you not pick in Texas? ›

With that said, picking bluebonnets on private property is illegal due to trespassing laws. It is also illegal to destroy any plant life in any Texas State Park. While it may be a myth that picking the beautiful blue flowers is illegal, conservation is crucial to preserving these delicate native plants.

Is Pampas Grass illegal in Texas? ›

Growing Pampas Grass

Because it's so tough and aggressive, pampas grass has landed on the list of invasive weeds in California and Texas. It's banned in Hawaii and New Zealand, and also appears on a USDA list of invasive plants to watch.

What are the 5 nightshade vegetables? ›

What are nightshade vegetables?
  • eggplants.
  • peppers.
  • potatoes.
  • tobacco.
  • tomatillos.
  • tomatoes.

What happens if you eat woody nightshade? ›

Symptoms of poisoning include: scratchy throat, headache, dizziness, enlarged eye pupils, trouble speaking, low body temperature, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding in the stomach or intestines, convulsions, slowed blood circulation and breathing, and even death.

How can you tell edible nightshade? ›

It is important to note that only ripe, solid-colored dark purple-black berries are edible. Any berry with a hint of green on the purple surface may be considered unripe. Black Nightshade berries have a smooth, taut, and somewhat tough skin with a dull, matte appearance.

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