It is common in some regions to stumble upon wild strawberries. Can you eat a wild strawberry? There are a couple of plants considered to be wild strawberries, one of which is in the true family, while the other is a false berry in another genus. Wild strawberries that are safe to eat depends on where they grow, as some may be in areas contaminated by chemicals, animals, or other influences.
Strawberries are a signature of summer, featuring prominently in fruit salads and fresh desserts. You may find the berries while out on a hike, tiny little red fruits, much smaller than the supermarket variety. These are wild strawberries and have a powerful, sweet flavor which belies their small size. Many even think these are preferable to store bought. But are wild strawberries safe to eat? Wild edible strawberries are safe provided they have not been in contact with chemicals or other contaminants.
Are Wild Strawberries Edible?
Strawberries are in the genus Fragaria. The cultivated varieties we enjoy today are bred for pest and disease resistance, as well as size, color, flavor, and other factors. Wild strawberries are just as Nature intended them to grow. The leaves of the plants are similar to the cultivated varieties, but tend to be smaller. The plants are herbaceous perennials which spread from stolons. Large carpets of the notched leaves may develop over time. White flowers are produced from April to May, with fruits ripening weeks later. The berries look just like any strawberry but are half the size. Wild strawberries are sweet-tart, juicy, and delicious.
One plant that was considered to be in the Fragaria genus has moved to another genus. This is Potentilla indica, or mock strawberry. The leaves resemble mint leaves, but are notched like true strawberry foliage. The flowers are yellow rather than white and develop into fruits similar to strawberries. But these fruit are a cluster of fleshy seeds, bright red, with a flavor that is innocuous and vague. Also known as snake berry, the fruits are edible but flavorless, however, in a pinch, they will provide nutrition. This is not a native plant. It is native to China and Japan, but was introduced as an ornamental. It has escaped captivity and may be found in a variety of sites.
Edibility of Wild Strawberries
These small, wild fruits are delicious but care should be taken when harvesting them. Fruits harvested downstream from cattle or other livestock husbandry occurs could be contaminated by fecal run-off. Areas along roadsides may be sprayed with herbicides or contaminated by road water. Wash fruit thoroughly even in undisturbed areas that are not polluted by any impurities. The little fruits are excellent eaten fresh but you can also create a delicious jam or jelly, or even fruit wine.