Common edible plants of the Hill Country

You may be surprised how many of the native plants you see in the Texas Hill Country are edible.  Here we’ll go over some of the more common and easily recognizable ones.  Taste is another way to enjoy nature, but keep in mind that you should only taste plants if you’re sure you’ve identified them correctly.

Acorns

Oak trees may go through a cycle of acorn production where there is a very large production of acorns on some years and far fewer on others. It is hypothesized that this keeps the acorn predator population low in general and allows enough acorns to survive on boom years that new trees are allowed to sprout.

Acorns are edible but contain tannic acid that needs to be leached out by soaking in water before they are edible for humans.  Acorns tend to appear on branches in late summer or early fall.  They can be dried and ground to a flour for baking or eaten as a nut.  Here are some acorn recipes.

Agarita

Agarita are very hardy woody bushes that produce tasty red berries in the spring.  The berries are tart and sweet and can be made into jam, pies, and other treats.  The plant has spiky leaves that protect the berries. Spreading a sheet under the branches and shaking the bush helps collectors to avoid getting pricked.  The bark has a yellow residue under it that was used as a dye by Native Americans.

Sumac

Sumac grows red berries that are a combination of fuzzy and sticky. The dried berries are a traditional Middle Eastern seasoning with a tangy flavor.

Prickly pear

Prickly pears produce a dark red or purple fruit that has a very subtle sweet taste reminiscent of strawberry and watermelon.  The fruit has many small seeds in the center and the pulp of the fruit stains skin and many other things a vibrant red color.  

The pads are edible as well and are often eaten in breakfast tacos and other forms as Nopalitos.

Harvest carefully, as they have both large spines as well as tiny spines called glochids. These can be burned off for safe handling.  

You may find prickly pear pads with bite marks in them from hungry or thirsty deer and pigs.

Mustang Grapes

Mustang Grapes tend to have a thicker skin than grapes you’d typically find in a grocery store and can be quite tart and acidic.  However, they can be made into a tasty jam or wine.  The leaves are also edible.

Dewberry

Dewberry are a lot like blackberries but they are more sweet.  You’ll have to be lucky to find some before the birds, but they are worth keeping an eye out for.

Turk’s Cap

Turk’s Cap is a hardy plant that tends to grow in groups in the shade. It puts out a red or pink flower with a neat spiral pattern to it.  The petals are edible, but the main attraction are the red berries that tend to appear around the end of the summer. The berries taste something like apples but are less tart.

Texas Persimmon

Texas Persimmon is a smaller tree (typically less than eight feet tall) with smooth bark that produces small, mildly sweet black fruit with around one inch diameter.  The fruit typically has several large seeds in it and is eaten by much of the wildlife in the area.  The trees tend to grow in partial shade. Berries can be made into jam or eaten raw.

For further and much more in-depth reading, take a look at this great resource for edible plants of Texas. Above images are also courtesy of the same site.

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