8 Edible Backyard Plants And Their Poisonous Lookalikes

By Diane June 28, 2019 08:01

8 Edible Backyard Plants And Their Poisonous Lookalikes

There are many wild plants growing near your home which are edible and valuable in a survival situation. Some are relatively unknown, while others, like dandelion, are very well known. I’ve been taught about the edibility of dandelion since childhood and I’ve eaten it a few times. But I’ve really paid very little attention to the plant other than pulling the weeds from my yard as required by the HOA.

Did you know that there is a poisonous lookalike to dandelion? I didn’t. I’m not sure I wouldn’t have ended up accidently eating some of the poisonous plant in a survival situation. So, I thought I’d go over some of the backyard edible plants that have poisonous lookalikes and point out the differences for our benefit.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) Vs. Cat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata)

Sometimes called false dandelion, cat’s ear is a similar plant that might be mistaken for dandelion at first glance. Both plants have similar rosette leaves, taproots, yellow flowers and both form heads of windborne seeds. However, there are differences in the leaves and stems, if you look closely.

8 Edible Backyard Plants and Their Poisonous Lookalikes

Dandelion – stems are shorter VS. Cat’s Ear – notice the extra tall stem

Cat’s ear flowering stems are solid and forked, while dandelion flowering stems are hollow and unforked. Dandelion leaves are jagged and hairless in appearance, but cat’s ear has hairy lobe-shaped leaves.

Related: How to Make Dandelion Bread (With Pictures)

Volunteer Tomatoes Vs. Horse Nettle (Solanum carolinense) and Bitter Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)

There are so many different tomato varieties on the market today that it would be very easy to mistake horse nettle for a wild tomato, especially if the fruit has already been picked. In fact, the horse nettle is a relative of the domestic tomato plants, but it has a much higher concentration of toxic alkaloids and can make you very ill.

8 Edible Backyard Plants and Their Poisonous Lookalikes

Volunteer Tomatoes Vs. Horse Nettle

Horse nettle flowers are white to purple, about 1 inch in diameter and form a 5-pointed star. The leaves are similar to red oak leaves with pointed lobes. Both the stems and leaves have spines. The fruit look like small yellow tomatoes. Domesticated tomato plants do not have thorns like those on the horse nettle stems, however, there is an edible wild tomato with spines called the litchi tomato, but it is a red tomato with yellow flesh inside.

Nightshade, Solanum dulcamara, another poisonous relative of tomatoes, are red fruit that look like tiny tomatoes. The berries are soft and smell like tomatoes, but the fruit is only 1/2 inch long.

Related: How to Cook Spring Nettles

Wild Blueberries Vs. Tutsan Berries

Tutsan berries, Hypericum androsaemum, also known as Sweet Amber, are a potentially deadly lookalike that have spread throughout North America. The berries are similar to the wild blueberries that are so nutritious. Tulsan berries cause gastrointestinal problems, increased heart rate, weakness and other potentially deadly symptoms.

8 Edible Backyard Plants and Their Poisonous Lookalikes

Wild Blueberries Vs. Tutsan Berries

Sweet Amber blooms in the early summer through late summer, producing yellow flowers. The berries are white/green, turning red, then dark purple. Wild blueberries are dark blue when ripe.

Tutsan is a medicinal plant used for treating skin wounds and other medical conditions. In all situations it is important to know the plant before eating or using berries. Many berries are poisonous and easily mistaken for edible plants.

True Morels Vs. False Morels

Hopefully you already know to be very careful when foraging for mushrooms. There are so many varieties that can make you ill and some are deadly. We have been warned since childhood to always consult a mushroom expert. Yet, people still end up in the emergency room from eating the wrong mushrooms.

8 Edible Backyard Plants and Their Poisonous Lookalikes

True Morels Vs. False Morels

The false Morel is one that has the ability to put you there.False morels have a wrinkly cap that mimics the cap of a true morel. Morels have a naturally hollow stem and a well-attached cap, while the false morel has a solid stem.

However, a hollow stem cannot be taken as a certain sign of the real thing, since slugs or other critters may eat out the core of a false morel. Always consult a mushroom foraging expert before eating any wild mushrooms.

Wild Grapes Vs. Moon Seed

Moon Seed is a Canadian plant that has spread into the United States. It is a woody vine that looks very much like wild grapes. The fruit appear in bunches like grapes and can be easily mistaken for the edible wild grape.

8 Edible Backyard Plants and Their Poisonous Lookalikes

Wild Grapes – elongated seeds Vs. Moon Seed

Moon Seed has one identifying characteristic and the key is in its name. Its seed is shaped like a crescent moon. To identify the plant, take one of the grape-like berries and crush it.

Grapes have round seeds while moon seed has a definite crescent shape. If you live in an area where wild grapes grow, make a habit of crushing one grape before harvesting the vine. That way you’ll know you’re getting an edible grape. The leaves of this plant are also poisonous, so be careful when harvesting grape leaves in the spring.

Related: 7 Medicines You Should Know How To Make At Home

Cat Tails Vs. Yellow Tail and Blue Tail Iris

Cat tails are wonderful survival plants if you live in an area where they grow. Every part of the plant is edible and it grows year-round. When the flower head is developed, it will be brown on a true cat tail. The plant has two lookalikes: the iris, which is poisonous, and the calamus, which is not. The plants are lookalikes for a short time in the spring before the seed heads form. The true cat tail quickly grows taller and more distinctive as the summer progresses.

8 Edible Backyard Plants and Their Poisonous Lookalikes

Cat tails Vs. Blue flag iris – looks like cattails in the early spring.

There are two Iris that are potential lookalikes. Blue Flag (Iris versicolor) and Yellow Flag (Iris pseudoacorus) have leaves similar to the cat tail. However, the Iris leaves are flat and smooth at the base with no ribbing. The leaves fan out from the base. Cat tails have a mid-rib that forms around the stalk and the leaves do not form a fan. All members of the Iris family are poisonous.

Rhododendrons vs. Bay Leaves (Laurus nobilis)

Leaves of the ornamental rhododendron look very much like bay leaves; however, rhododendron plants are poisonous. A big danger with this plant is that the nectar is especially toxic, so honey made from the plant is also toxic. It can cause nausea, vomiting, and weakness. Be careful if you have bees nearby and plan to harvest honey.

8 Edible Backyard Plants and Their Poisonous Lookalikes

Rhododendrons vs. Bay Leaves (Laurus nobilis)

Both bay trees and rhododendrons are often cultivated in the US, making misidentification more likely. The plants can sometimes be found growing side by side, making caution even more important.

The easiest way to tell the plants apart is by comparing the flowers. Bay trees usually bloom from May to June and have pink, yellow or white flowers.

Rhododendron blooms from June to July, so there may be some overlap, but rhododendron flowers grow in clusters of 10 to 20 bell-shaped flowers at the end of small branches. Flowers can be white, pink, lavender, or deep pink. Notice the difference in flower shapes below.

Wild Leek Vs. Anticlea Elegans

There are over 900 different species of wild garlic and wild onions that are edible and they are routinely collected and eaten.

8 Edible Backyard Plants and Their Poisonous Lookalikes

Wild leek Vs. Anticlea elegans -one of many poisonous look-alikes

A few varieties, however are deadly. Know as “death camas”, varieties of Anticlea or Toxicoscordion are similar plants with onion like bulbs, leaves, and flowers. These deadly lookalikes do not have the pungent onion or garlic smell that make the edibles so recognizable.

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By Diane June 28, 2019 08:01
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  1. Clergylady June 28, 15:36

    A good reminder to know what you’re eating.

    Reply to this comment
  2. ice June 28, 16:01

    This article was very informative. I also have the books lost ways and lost ways II by Claude Davis Great informative books.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Beyonce June 28, 16:27

    Thanks for the info! Hairy cat’s ear is actually edible as well. Definitely best when cooked, I find it less bitter than dandelion. Made a pesto with it once too!

    Reply to this comment
  4. fred June 28, 16:34

    you popup is getting to be very annoying, i’m close to saying good bye…

    Reply to this comment
  5. left coast chuck June 28, 17:42

    In my town, at least, in SoCal, cat’s ear is called hog weed. Wikipedia says the greek root for its name means pig, so I guess pig weed is an alternative name. I don’t know why it is listed as a poisonous plant by the author. I have read other wild plant authorities who state that it is very similar to dandelion in use.

    Wikipedia has this to say about cat’s ear: “Culinary uses:
    All parts of the catsear plant are edible; however, the leaves and roots are those most often harvested. The leaves are bland in taste but can be eaten raw in salads, steamed, or used in stir-fries. Older leaves can become tough and fibrous, but younger leaves are suitable for consumption. In contrast to the edible leaves of dandelion, cats ear leaves only rarely have some bitterness. In Crete, Greece, the leaves of a variety called παχιές (pachiés) or αγριοράδικα (agriorádika) are eaten boiled or steamed by the locals.

    “The root can be roasted and ground to form a coffee substitute.”

    My rule with regard to wild mushrooms is: I don’t know enough about identifying them, so I leave them strictly alone. If I want to commit suicide, I have other, better choices.

    It would be interesting if the author listed her basis for claiming that cats ear is poisonous. I noticed that she didn’t list any symptoms that cats ear causes. I wonder if that is because it isn’t poisonous and can be eaten just like dandelion. If that is the case, it should be removed from the list of poisonous plants.

    That is the whole problem with wild plants. There are self-styled “experts” who have some limited knowledge about wild plants and as they say, “A little knowledge is dangerous.”

    It’s okay if they limit their forays to just themselves, but when they proclaim to be experts and describe plants of which their knowledge is based on urban legend or worse, they can do some real harm.

    So to reinforce what I have said in the past about information you glean from the internet: Who is the author? What is their claimed expertise? Does their advice seem reasonable? If you have doubts about the accuracy of the advice, it is okay to challenge it in a polite manner but be sure to back your challenge with some verifiable data.

    If you want to consult a real expert on edible plants, I recommend Christopher Nyrges (I am not sure that spelling is absolutely correct, but it is such an unusual name, it will get you to him) He lives the life. He regularly holds classes and has published books generally acknowledged to be accurate. He eats the stuff he recommends to be edible.

    He claims to eat young poison oaks leaves in the spring to give him immunity against poison oak. He says that is what the Chumash (local Indian tribe) did to give themselves immunity from poison oak. That is a little extreme for me. I just do my best to avoid it. I don’t care if it does give HIM immunity, I am not sure it would do the same for me.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck June 29, 03:35

      The correct spelling of the author’s name is: Christopher Nyerges.

      Well, I was close. He has 11 books about wild plants and survival listed on Amazon.

      Reply to this comment
    • red June 30, 16:42

      Pig weed is a wild amaranth. Seeds and leaves are good raw or cooked. Amaranth will accumulate nitrates when stressed. Here in AZ, we have spiny pigweed, oh, for the joy or it. Young, it’s fine but develops spines as trhe seeds mature. https://articles.extension.org/pages/65208/weed-profile:-pigweeds-amaranthus-spp
      Hogweed is a noxious herb. https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/profile/giant-hogweed that can burn or blind you.

      Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck July 1, 02:37

        Red: Perhaps a rose by any other name . . . neither of the references that you posted look like what the guy at the nursery who is their resident “expert” identified a hog weed and which other folks here in town have identified as hog weed. What it does look like is what is identified in the photo accompanying this article as cat’s ear.

        All of which I think goes to reinforce what I originally posted that the whole field of identification of wild plants is filled with land mines and one must proceed with extreme caution.

        Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck July 1, 02:44

        Well, I went on line and checked Galoway Wild Foods and scanned their article on giant hog weed. According to that website the author considers giant hog weed the finest eating wild plant in Jolly Old Blighty. Further down there are all kinds of warnings about the plant giving one a horrendous rash.

        Further reinforces my earlier comment: you absolutely must know what you are doing when messing around with wild plants.

        Reply to this comment
        • red July 1, 15:49

          the best known answer, always, is, are swine eating it? They have the same basic needs as we do. I knew old-timers who would not eat cucumbers because pigs wouldn’t. Other than that and a few other things, they’re usual 100%. No other animal is known to be as good as a test subject.

          Reply to this comment
  6. Clergylady June 28, 18:44

    The mention of the Chumash people is correct but note it was the tiny new leaves of poison oak not yet matured. Just a bit past being buds. And not a lot either.
    I lived on Round Valley Reservation in northern California three years. It had been a compilation of tribes when the native peoples were rounded up and put on two reservations about 300 miles apart. Many families were separated and sent to one or the other of the reservations. Each group did different things, held different beliefs, and refused to eat certain things. Yet the main things in wild foods and stories to keep children safe were much the same.
    Today they are pretty much inter tribal married and whole languages are lost. The baskets made in that area are waterproof and were used for cooking or decorated and given as gifts or rewards. Incredible skills. Also of the medicines of the area several have gain recognition and common use. Probably the best known is Cascara. It is syrupy when prepared and safe for babies that are constipated. It is made of the bark of a bush.. Cascara segrada. The bark is aged a year before being prepared.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck June 29, 01:43

      When my brothers were small I remember my mother purchasing cascara syrup from the druggist who made it in his pharmacy. That was back in the day when a great many drugs were actually mixed by the pharmacist in his shop, not just counted out from a bottle filled by some giant pharmaceutical company in China.

      Reply to this comment
  7. Theodore RedThunder VonBARTHELD June 28, 18:55

    Where is this BOOK 2 ? How do I get it ? I have BOOK# 1
    I Like it very much!

    Reply to this comment
    • spypuppy007 June 29, 01:06

      If you look in the front of book one, you probably can get the address to write and ask to buy Book 2.
      However, from time to time the internet has both books offered for sale. Other times, it’s a sneaky come-on for the two books. They will advertise by some message about a particular thing that is actually taken from the book. But you don’t know that til you click on the email.
      They also offer Long Lost Cures which is very educational.

      Reply to this comment
    • spypuppy007 June 29, 01:08

      Excuse me. That is Lost Remidies not Cures. Sorry.

      Reply to this comment
    • spypuppy007 June 29, 01:11

      If you are reading the other comments as well as comments to your post, my computer is running an ad for both Book II and Lost Remedies.

      Reply to this comment
    • Anne July 2, 11:00

      Hi Theodore,

      I purchased The Lost Ways 2 from the official website:

      And here you can find The Lost Book of Remedies:


      If you need info you can always contact Claude. He is always very helpful. Just click on the contact link in the upper bar.

      God bless,

      Reply to this comment
  8. Clergylady June 28, 19:38

    Yes.. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to eat young poison oak leaves. My Father was so allergic almost every exposure put him in the hospital. I wasn’t nearly that bad but a few welts of runny sores on my legs and a fore arm made me weary and watchful.

    Reply to this comment
    • red June 30, 16:56

      Same here, till I got the serum shots. I still need to use allergy tabs to stop other things, but someone claimed that could kill me! OK, but, I always experiment using a very little of anything. Mushrooms, no, not even going to try anything growing on the ground and very little on trees.
      All the peanuts are out. I’ve been chopping aloe leaves, and adding water and dosing each plant. so far, the birds nailed a few sweet corn seedlings, but now pretty much leave everything alone. Ditto rabbits and ground squirrels. Aloe skins are toxic, but great for topical use. aloe is a healthy benefit to plants, as well as us. All the plants are a healthy, dark green. The last bunch of soaptree yucca seed pods were getting woody, so ground them up, as well. There was enough saponine in them, now, I should have bathed with them 🙂 niio

      Reply to this comment
  9. Clergylady June 28, 20:06

    LCC did you get a chance to read the article in new articles at the bottom of this listing posted June 24. I’d like your input on it.

    Reply to this comment
    • IvyMike June 29, 00:38

      That is a difficult article to comment on.
      Horse nettle comes up wild in my butterfly garden, I let several of them grow and flower because the flowers are pretty, and the hornworms love them. Those hidden spines near the bottom of the stem are a surprise!

      Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck June 29, 01:39

      Clergylady: If you mean the article about testing a plant to see if it is harmful, I believe that is straight out of the Army Survival Manual. If I am correct in my belief, that is solid advice. The only addition I would make to it is Creek Stewart who writes a lot of survival articles relates an incident when he was just beginning where he confused two plants and ingested one that made him deathly sick. I don’t remember all the details to be able to relate the whole tale, but he recommended when trying any new plant to keep the whole plant, including the root so that when admitted to the hospital with dire symptoms, the doctors who are going to treat you can provide the correct treatment. Don’t throw away the plant you have ingested for at least 24 hours. He told the doctors what he thought he ate, but of course, he had wrongfully identified the plant. By the time he got sick, he was really, really sick. Much like poisonous mushroom, by the time you realize that the ‘shrooms were not what you through they were, you are past the point where treatment will work.

      If you meant another article, give me the title and I will read it and respond.

      Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck June 29, 01:56

      Now I know which article you meant. I thought when I read it that was your story. I was surprised that you were able to survive on that diet. Rabbits are not know for their nutrition.

      It is my understanding that some of those mountain men in the early 19th century did not survive winter because their diet was mainly rabbit. Of course they were in a much more severe climate than you and didn’t supplement their diet with grains and salamanders.

      It was a very powerful tale of one person’s will to survive. Thanks for writing it.

      Lots of lessons to learn in it.

      Reply to this comment
      • red June 30, 16:49

        I heard of people starving to death in the winter because they ate wild rabbit as a main source. The cause was a lack of fat. Wild rabbits don’t accumulate enough to feed a predator. Thanks for the posts! niio

        Reply to this comment
  10. tony June 28, 20:47

    Not happy that this article starts with an obvious error. The dandelion picture caption says dandelion has solid stem …and then the paragraph immediately following it contradicts it. Please amend soonest.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Segen June 29, 21:53

    I have a 50lb bulldog. He may have eaten some of the cat ears. Are they poisonous to dogs?!

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck July 1, 02:48

      Segan: I am afraid by the time you get a reply on this website your bulldog will be a goner if cat’s ears are poisonous to pets. The best place to check if you are concerned is your regular vet. If your dog is still doing okay by the time you read this, probably not, but if you are truly concerned, give your vet a call.

      Reply to this comment
      • Segen July 1, 05:05

        Thankfully he’s alive

        Reply to this comment
        • red July 1, 16:42

          Great! I love dogs and they all seem to like me. It always hurts to hear of one in trouble. Read the article and the symptoms, and what can be done if he dies eat the weed. This stuff is supposed to taste so bad it’s a wonder he tried it, but I’ve seen sick cows eating things like yellow dock and wild tobacco, and then they recovered, and didn’t eat it again. niio

          Reply to this comment
          • ethan May 17, 01:17

            Most modern farmers of the past 2-3 generations in my experience know next to nothing about functional botany or ecology, so no I would not “ask a farmer” as a substitution for consulting an actual authority (Yes, some of whom also happen to be farmers). In addition to ignorance, they are often so loaded down with chemical company bias about what is “noxious” or “weed” or “invasive” – like most Americans I should say, in my experience – that they can’t seem to climb out of their own ignorance. Catsear is no more “invasive” than dandelion, and a heck of a lot less “invasive” than white settler-colonizers. I have yet to see any credible discussion on its toxicity apart from it, like so many forbs, being a dynamic accumulator, will accumulate nutrients as well as toxins from the soil, and so gets blamed via “guilt by association” for colonizing and healing destroyed or toxic (eg agricultural) soils.

            Interesting discussion on ingesting baby poison oak leaves. Not sure if I would try it but it makes sense physiologically. Very small doses will “prime” the immune antibody response without it becoming too severe, and after a little while regulatory t-cells will follow on the heals of the antibodies to regulate and mitigate the severity of the response. That’s basically how immunotherapy works. You do periodic exposure below a severity threshold to give your body a chance to produce regulatory t-cells for a substance that is otherwise minimal in harm. That’s also why I react to wheat and peanuts and dairy more violently since cutting them out of my diet. I suspect many americans have immune responses to a lot of the crap they ingest, but ingest so frequently with an already-high baseline level of inflammation (hence the prolific use of NSAIDs) that they don’t notice that their body doesn’t want to consider something “food.” A few of us (un?)lucky ones don’t get by so easily as we lack the regulatory t-cell facility for whatever reason, making us more sensitive to at least some antigens or others.

            Reply to this comment
  12. Kat February 5, 00:06

    You have confused the pictures of Bay and Rhododendron! The yellow flowered plant is Bay (left)!

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