At this time of year they seem to be everywhere. With spring comes a blanket of green, creeping plants speckled with plump, delicious looking red berries. They look like a miniature version of strawberries. They also look like they’d be nice to eat.
But are they edible? Are they safe to snack on?
In the past I’d heard that wild strawberries are poisonous, but I’ve been wanting to know for sure what to tell the kids about these bright berries. Up until now, I’ve just been telling them I didn’t know if they are safe, so they weren’t to put them in their mouths. But after doing some researching today, I’ve discovered exactly what we needed to know.
The short answer is: YES, wild strawberries are edible, and delicious, and even used for medicinal purposes!
However… there are two types of “wild” strawberries: True wild strawberries, and “Indian Strawberries”, also called “mock” or “false” strawberries.
Mock Strawberries were introduced from southeastern Asia and can be found growing wild in Japan, Indonesia, and China. They were originally brought to the United States as an ornamental flower, but soon became more of a weed species because they grow and expand rapidly, taking over everything in their paths.
Wild Strawberries, on the other hand, are perennial herbaceous plants and can be found growing natively throughout much of the United States They produce long runners that spread easily as soon as they take root. These plants prefer chalky soils, or even those containing high levels of limestone. Wild Strawberries are unique because the yellow seeds on the outside of the strawberries are technically the fruit.
Mock strawberries are not poisonous, but they don’t have any flavor to speak of. If you eat one you’ll be fine, but you won’t be very impressed by the taste left in your mouth. You might even spit it out for blandness.
Wild strawberries, on the other hand, are delicious. They taste more like the strawberries you might pick in your garden or buy at the grocery store, though arguably better. Though they’re small in size, true wild strawberries are bursting with flavor. Plus, they’re extremely good for you. These low-calorie treats (only 45 calories per cup!) contain more Vitamin C than an orange, and are naturally cholesterol- , fat-, and sodium-free. They contain tons of folic acid and polyphenols and can even inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Wild Strawberries are smaller than their commercial look-alike, but they are actually sweeter as they ripen more quickly. They usually ripen in late spring or early summer and can be found in both undisturbed rural areas as well as more urban ones.
Within the larger “category” of Wild Strawberries, there are three sub-varieties of these tasty fruits. The Virginia wild strawberry is one of the most popular kinds, and has light green leaves with tiny, flavorful berries. The beach or coast strawberry sports dark green, shiny leaves. Its fruits are still edible, but not quite as sweet and distinctive as the Virginia. The woodland strawberry is normally found growing in moist, shady areas and produces large leaves and flowers, along with sizeable berries.
Fortunately for us all, there are a few surefire ways to tell the difference between a true wild strawberry and it’s deceptive cousin.
Here are the easiest identifiers to remember…
Wild Strawberry Blossom
Although the leaves are almost exactly the same shape, size, and design, Wild Strawberries have white blossoms. Mock Strawberries have yellow blossoms. Wild Strawberries look almost exactly like the “garden-variety” strawberries you are used to seeing at the garden stores and in the grocery store. Both varieties of strawberry produce leaves that grow in groups of three, almost like poison ivy (but don’t worry – they definitely aren’t poisonous!)
If you still can’t tell the difference, perform the crush test. Wild Strawberries will have a strong strawberry scent when crushed. Mock Strawberries don’t smell like anything when crushed. Not a bad smell, but not really any smell to speak of at all. You can also taste them. Mock Strawberries don’t really have any flavor.
Wild Strawberries dangle on the vine. Mock Strawberries point straight up.
Wild Strawberries will also have a slightly different texture than Mock Strawberries. They tend to be juicy and soft, while Mock Strawberries are hard, dry, and crunchy. When you bite into a Mock Strawberry, it will have a slightly bitter taste but an aftertaste that is more like a cucumber or watermelon.
Both Wild Strawberries and Mock Strawberries grow along sunny banks, usually along a forest’s edge or another semi-wild area. These tasty treats are entirely edible and also rather nutritious.
- Wild Strawberries dangle on the vine.
- Mock Strawberries point straight up.
So, armed with this new knowledge, I took my oldest daughter outside with me to a spot where we knew of some berries growing. Since there were no blooms on the plant, only berries, we went right to crushing them to test their scent.
And we both agreed. No scent. Not true wild strawberries.
Later on we discovered a patch of true wild strawberries growing among some dead tree stumps behind our house. They’re truly the most delicious strawberries we’ve ever tasted.
It’s good to know that if the kids decide to put either one of these berries in their mouth, I have nothing to worry about. As a matter of fact, they’re both highly nutritious, and packed with vitamin C. Gotta love that!
Wild Strawberries can also be used for medicinal purposes. Their leaves can be used, either fresh or dehydrated, as a treatment for digestive upsets and diarrhea. They can also act as diuretics and resolve issues like rheumatism and arthritis. You can crush the berries to treat a sunburn, or even take the berries as a fever reducer. Look at all of these miraculous health benefits!
So how do you eat wild strawberries? Simple – you can prepare them in the same exact way you would eat cultivated strawberries, or don’t bother preparing them at all and just eat them raw as a tasty snack or dessert! I’ve used wild strawberries in jams, sauces, and fruit salad. They are also delicious on shortcake or pancakes, or even in muffins or other baked goods. The opportunities are virtually endless when it comes to enjoying these fruits, and while they pack the most nutritional benefit when eaten raw, they are good for you no matter how you prepare them.
Another benefit of wild strawberries is that, because they grow wild, they aren’t treated with any of the chemicals you might find on store-bought cultivated strawberries. Yes, it may take more strawberries for you to have a snack that is as large and satisfying as that provided by cultivated strawberries, but boy, is it worth it!
Do you have wild strawberries growing nearby?
You might also like:
- Wild Foraging: Mayapples
- Cooked Dandelion Greens
- I Found A Wild Pawpaw Tree!
- Wild Carrots, Queen Anne’s Lace, and Deadly Hemlock
updated by Rebekah White 08/02/2018