Wildscaping & Wild Cultivation of Native Texas Edible & Medicinal Plants

Originally Published for the Native Plant Society of Texas in 2009 Abstract: Wildscaping and wild cultivation of native plants offer areas for wildlife and habitat preservation.  This article explores several native Texas plants that may be used in Wildscapes or even wild cultivated as sources of food and first aid remedies, or even a potential wild crop. The […]

Originally Published for the Native Plant Society of Texas in 2009

Abstract: Wildscaping and wild cultivation of native plants offer areas for wildlife and habitat preservation.  This article explores several native Texas plants that may be used in Wildscapes or even wild cultivated as sources of food and first aid remedies, or even a potential wild crop. The uses come not just from ethnobotanical information, but modern day research and personal experience.  Ecological considerations are given to how plants are selected and how they are harvested so that any management for human use has the potential of being beneficial to the wild land or Wildscape.  A bibliography and link to more resources is included.

woman harvesting vegetables in rural area
Photo by Enric Cruz López on Pexels.com


 Introduction: Wildscapes are typically defined as semi-managed areas on ones property where a majority of native plants are grown that will attract and benefit wildlife by offering food, water, and shelter.  These areas can also be a source of medicinal plants to use as in our homes as first aid remedies and as food.Wildscaping is a way each of us can help offset habitat destruction and increase biodiversity in our communities.  Wild Cultivation of our native edible and medicinal plants is a way of propagating and harvesting plants with significantly less impact than traditional farming.  Wild Cultivation can be done in a similar fashion to Wildscaping on a larger scale and may be a viable source of income in rural areas.  In this article I am highlighting a selection of native edible and medicinal plants that can be Wildscaped and possibly cultivated in the wild.  Edible and medicinal Wildscapes create direct connections between the health of our native ecosystems and the health of humans.  The philosophies of many holistic medical systems( ie. Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine) discuss using plants that are adapted to our environment and in season as better choices when bringing our own bodied  into balance and health.         

Harvesting of Plant Material:   The way the plant material is harvested for human use can actually benefit Wildscapes or Wild Cultivated land.  The harvesting of plant material can be incorrectly assumed to create habitat destruction or injure plants.  Conversely, it is sometimes assumed that just because one harvests plant material, they have an understanding of how to do so in a sustainable way.  Both assumptions are incorrect.  It is essential that anyone foraging plant material, especially from the wild, be well trained not just in botanical identification but being able to evaluate the best and most conservative way to take plant material that may also be of benefit to the stand of plants.  I call this approach to harvesting a form of “wild gardening”,  “eco-herbalism”, or “eco-foraging”.   Some of these considerations include: part of plant harvested, time of year, plant material harvested, soil type, rainfall, and whether the stand of plants needs some sort of tending.   Strategies for ensuring plants are benefitted by human interference can include:  harvesting when plant is going to seed, spreading and collecting seeds, and looking for alternatives to harvesting roots.  If  it is a drought year, one may consider holding back on consuming food or medicine from their wildscape so that wildlife gets first dibs.    By employing thoughtful harvesting strategies, you ensure that everything is well tended and that the Wildscapes  flourish      

How the Plants in the Chart were chosen:  The following chart represents a brief selection of native plants.   The selection of edible and medicinal plants are not only chosen for ethnobotanical evidence, folk usage and modern use, but are botanicals that I have personally collected and used in my practice as an herbalist in Central Texas.  Students, clients, and myself,  have eaten and/or experienced these plants firsthand as effective first aid remedies and as tasty foods.  Sometimes there is a fine line between a plant being medicinal instead of poisonous.  This may be determined by the part used, whether the plant needs some sort of preparation to make it safe for use, dosage, or making sure you have the correct species.  With our native species, we have many variables and some species may be more or less potent than what is in the popular market now for medicinal use.   All of these things take training and experience to differentiate.   When determining edibility you also have to consider that just because something is edible doesn’t mean it is palatable.  I have chosen some plants that taste good and have medicinal value.  This table represents a few of the botanicals I study and in no way is complete.   

 Purpose of this article: The table below shows some suggestions for home owners, plant nursery owners, farmers, and land owners to grow for personal use or for market.   I hope these uses offer new ideas for people to further research. These plants attract important pollinators that are part of our native ecosystems: butterflies, bumblebees, Native birds and small mammals. My own small yard has become host to not only many kinds of useful native edible and medicinals but in the short few years I have been there, more and more critters are finding their way into my gardens.     

Resources:  For a full list of Books, websites, resources for obtaining seeds and plants, and a more extensive list of botanicals you can go to www.nicoletelkes.com and click on the medicinal plant information link.                      

 TABLE 1 Selection of Native Texas Edible and Medicinal Plants

Botanical and Common Name of PlantEdible and Medicinal Uses, WildlifeBrief description, part used, growing considerationsHarvesting & preparation
   Asclepias tuberosaBUTTERFLY WEED Assists in resolves phlegm in lung infection, roots prepared and eaten by Sioux.  Some species the pods are prepared and eaten. Nectar source and larval host.  The flower is the color of the monarch butterflies it attracts.Perennial wildflower with brilliant orange flowers. Sun to part shade. In central Texas, I have found it growing just east of Austin, mainly in the Lost Pines, Seems to like sandy, well drained soil.  Best grown in slightly acid well drained sandy or gravelly full sun. Have found it is hard to keep alive in first year.  POTENTIAL ADULTERATION IN NURSERY MARKET.Root is harvested at maturity in fall.  Usually processed into tea or tincture. 
  Echinacea spp PURPLE CONE FLOWER immune stimulant used to draw poison out of the body topical and internal.  Relieves pain from venomous bites or stings.  Attracts bumble bees and insectsShowy pink to white perennial wildflower.  All species grow well in Central Texas.  Have found a solitary native in the Lost Pines and a 1 lone native stand east towards Giddings. Grows well in full sun.  May need some irrigation if wild cultivating growing for market. Root (at least 3 years old) and seeds harvested in Fall.  Made into tea, tincture, glycerite, paste, powder   Pups may be pulled from main root and replanted.
 Grindelia spp  GUMWEED Aromatic and resinous, expectorant.  Tends to soothe spasms and dry up secretions, used to treat poison ivy.Full to part sun wildflower with yellow blooms in the hottest and driest times of year.  Notable shiny look to leaves and stems. I have seen in Hill Country.Harvest aboveground parts while in flower and going into seed, usually late summer.
  Lobelia cardinalis  CARDINAL FLOWERStrong drop dosage antispasmodic used internally & externally to relieve painful muscular spasming.  Attracts ruby throated hummingbirdsTall perennial wildflower I have found in Hill Country with spectacular red blooms . grows best in part sun to shade and likes wet feet.  I have found in the wild mostly in waterways or on the sides of waterways.  Could do well as a pond plantHarvest aboveground parts while in flower and going to seed.  Made into fresh tincture, vinegar, oil
    Mahonia/Berberis trifoliolataAGARITAAntimicrobial bitter,  contains berberine , used to treat digestive and other infections.  Berries eaten and in jellies, wines. Attracts bees, insects birds and small mammals.  Other species useful but one is endemic and best if cultivated, a “no pick”Large PRICKLY perennial shrub found in full sun to part shade.  I have found it all over Central Texas, seeming  to prefer rocky Hill Country and Blackland gumbo.  Likes to grow under larger trees, like Juniperus.  Wild seeded as an understory may have more success. Some species seems susceptible to fungal infections.Aboveground  parts harvested in spring.  Berries in late spring/early summer.  Roots are not necessary for potent extract.  Made into powder, tea, tincture, oil
  Monarda spp   BEE BALM All parts of plant have high levels of Thymol, an aromatic antimicrobial.  Used for fungal and other infections .   Culinary Spice attracts bees and waspsFull sun showy annual to perennial mint family wildflower with whorls of flowers up stem 1-2 ft tall flwrs vary in color(pink to white)up stem depending on species.  Extremely aromatic.  I have found in Central Texas and East Texas prairies and open fields late spring early summer.Entire plant can be harvested in summer when going into seed.  Made into tincture, oil, honey, tea, and spritzer.
 Opuntia spp  PRICKLY PEAR CACTUSStabilizing to blood sugar  and soothes to mucous membranes.  Helps with burns, diarrhea, and ulcers. Pads, tunas and flowers all used as food and first aid.  All sorts of critters love thisFull sun large shrub, very weedy.  Will spread easily, some would say too easily. Likes full sun, has prominent display of flowers, most common species in Central Texas has showy yellow blooms in spring, fruits in Late summer/Fall.  SPINES.Harvest pads all year, flwrs in spring, frt in fall.  Pads can be eaten, juiced, applied as poultice, flwrs as tea, tincture, or glycerite, tunas juiced into wine or jelly
 Passiflora spp  PASSIONFLOWERAntianxiety agent and sedative, relaxes heart and promotes more restful sleep  Fruits are eaten.  Many species usedPerennial  vine found full sun to shade with unusual flowers that can bloom more than 1x per year.   Some species make large edible fruits in late spring/early summer.  Tough and drought tolerantHarvest leaves and flowers into tea, tincture, glycerite Fruits can be in summer, early fall
Glandularia(formerly Verbena) bipinnatifida VERVAINCalming to heated anxiety &  relieves digestive stress/ IBS type conditions.  Also used for cold and flu.  Other species may be used as well.Full Sun to part sun perennial wildflower with purple to pink flowers.  Species vary in appearance. Aboveground parts harvested while in flower/seed. Made into tea, tincture, glycerite.
  Zanthoxylum spp   PRICKLY ASHCirculatory stimulant, warming, analgesic and antimicrobial popular  remedy for toothaches used in Chinese and Western  herbal medicine. Full to part sun tree, species varying in height.  Citrus family plant with shiny pinnate leaves and spines all over.  Some species make large clusters of dark bluish berries. Woody parts, leaves and berries collected in spring.  Made into tincture or tea. 


Kindscher, K. (1992). Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

Knishinsky, R. (2004). Prickly Pear Cactus Medicine: Treatments for Diabetes, Cholesterol, and the Immune System. Healing Arts Press.

Journal of Medicinal  Food. (2005). Winter;8(4):454-61.Antimicrobial activity of berberine alone and in combination with ampicillin or oxacillin against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

Moore, M. (2001).Personal Communication, The Southwest School of Botanical Medicine.

Persons,a.D. (2008)Growing & Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal& Other Woodland Medicinals. Bright Mountain Books Inc.

Scooter Cheathem, a.M. (1995). The Useful Wild Plants of Texas, the Southeastern and Southwestern United States, The Southern Plains and Northern Mexico, VOLUME 2. Useful Wild Plants Inc.

Telkes, N. Personal Experience.