Can you eat wild strawberries that grow in your yard

Planting Wild Strawberry Ground Cover – Growing Wild Strawberries

Wild strawberries are a common native plant found growing in open fields, woodlands and even our yards. In fact, some people consider the wild strawberry plant to be nothing more than a weed. Yet, it’s so much more than that.

Smaller than store-bought strawberries, which are a hybrid of the wild strawberry and a European species, the berries are a favorite treat to many birds and animals, as well as people. Yes, contrary to what some may think, wild strawberries are not poisonous. In fact, the berries are edible and tasty. There is, however, a similar plant, called Indian mock strawberry, which has yellow flowers (rather than white), that produces berries with little to no flavor.

The neat, clump-forming habit of wild strawberries makes them an excellent choice for edging or ground cover. They can also be grown in containers, hanging baskets or strawberry jars.

Wild Strawberry Flower Varieties

Wild strawberries produce one or more clusters of flowers. The wild strawberry flower, which is white, normally begins blooming in late spring or early summer and lasts about one to two months. These blooms are followed by the familiar red strawberries. These plants are hardy in USDA Growing Zones 3 through 10, and there are several types available, so it’s easy to find one suited to your region. You may already have them growing somewhere on your property. The most common varieties include:

Virginia wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana – This is one of the most popular types of wild strawberry. It has light green leaves and small, tasty berries.

Beach or coast strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis – The leaves of this variety are dark green and shiny. While its berries are also edible, they’re not as palatable.

Woodland strawberry, Fragaria vesca – This type enjoys moist, shady conditions, and is normally found in wooded areas. Both the flowers and leaves are larger than other species and its foliage is more bluish in color. The bigger berries are also quite delicious.

Cultivating Wild Strawberries

The wild strawberry plant is easy to grow and will eventually spread to form a nice ground cover (about 6-12 inches high), so this is something to consider when growing wild strawberries. Give it space. It’s also a cool-season plant, which means that it grows actively during spring and fall but goes dormant in summer and again in winter.

The wild strawberry flower generally prefers full sun to partial shade. It also likes rich soil that is somewhat moist, though is tolerant of slightly dry conditions too. If your soil contains a lot of clay or drains poorly, amending it with organic matter will help.

Wild strawberries spread by stolons (above ground runners) and rhizomes. As the runners grow, they send up new strawberry plants, which can be easily transplanted from other areas of your property into the garden. Divide and transplant in early spring just as the new growth appears. Lift plants and pull apart the crowns.

You can also purchase plants from nurseries. When planting wild strawberry, keep the crowns at ground level and water well. Top-dress the soil with compost and mulch plants with straw to help soil retain moisture and keep fruits clean.

Wild Strawberry Plant Care

Once established, wild strawberry requires little care other than keeping them watered during hot weather and while bearing fruit. During winter in colder climates, you may want to mulch the plants with straw or loose leaves to help protect them.

Ripe berries can be harvested anytime during April through June. They are a good source of Vitamin C and can be used on cereal, in pancakes, fruit salad, sauces and more, much like regular strawberries.

Wild strawberries are an excellent addition to any backyard garden, whether the fruits are enjoyed by you or your wildlife friends.

Few things are more exciting to a green thumb than strolling about outside and discovering a native fruit-producing plant growing wild. I’ve had several such occurrences in just the last few years. I was as giddy as a kid in a candy shop a while back when I noticed a mulberry tree laden with dark, almost black fruit tempting me with its heavy branch hanging over my head and almost brushing my hair on a sidewalk in the middle of a suburban setting. I guess no one ever thought to cut down the tree growing near the runoff drain, but I harvested as many fresh mulberries as I could before I had to leave the area. I’ve often stumbled into wild blackberry thickets in my wanderings, and just last year I discovered four wild American persimmon trees not a mile from my dwelling place.

While blackberries are generally loved and known by everyone, mulberries are less known, and knowledge of persimmons is confined to a fairly small group within the general population. Strawberries, however, are the A-List celebrities of the fruit world. Virtually everyone loves them. So, many people who find what they believe to be wild strawberries in their yard often ask me, “Why aren’t my wild strawberries with yellow flowers producing any strawberries?!” Well, here’s why:

Strawberries with Yellow Flowers … Aren’t.

Strawberries simply do not have yellow flowers. Wild strawberries and most of the strawberry varieties available from nurseries all have white flowers. A few of the F1 hybrids have pink or reddish blossoms, but none have yellow flowers. Maybe genetic engineering will see some purpose in turning a strawberry plant into a strawberry-like variant with yellow petals, but nature signifies something else by putting the canary color on its buds. Namely, that you aren’t looking at a strawberry at all. Rather, you are beholding a somewhat invasive weed that is native to eastern and southern Asia.

So, What Are “Strawberry Plants” with Yellow Flowers?

The weeds that appear to be strawberries with yellow flowers are a close cousin of the strawberry. Coming from the same family, Rosacae, it is of a different Genus: Potentilla. The most commonly encountered trickster in the United States is Potentilla indica. Its appearance is very similar to the familiar garden strawberry with dark green trifoliate leaves, and crowns that produce runner plants (stolons) similar in appearance to those of the Fragaria genus. They often survive winter and invade their territory on a perennial basis as well. Due to these traits, they can easily be mistaken for true strawberries, and often are. The resemblances have given rise to a number of names for the weed. They are most commonly called mock strawberries or false strawberries, Gubir or Indian strawberries, or, as I called them as a child, snake berries.

The Yellow Flower Strawberries Are Edible

The fruit from Potentilla indica are actually edible. They aren’t poisonous, but they aren’t exactly enjoyable to eat either. They are gritty, mealy, and either bland or bitter. The achenes (they contain the seeds) that cover the outer surface of the fruit also detract from the consumption experience, if the taste itself wasn’t enough. So, unless curiosity gets the better of you, there is no need to ever bite into the unpleasant fruits. They are edible, but who would want to eat them?!

Strawberry Plants with Yellow Flowers: Conclusion

If you stumble across some plants in your back yard that appear similar to strawberry plants this spring, watch them carefully. While strawberry plants do grow wild in the United States and most of the rest of the temperate world, they are typically much harder to find than the non-native false strawberry weed. If you think you have some delightful wild strawberries growing near you, just observe them until their flowers bloom. If they are white, you are in for a treat! If they are yellow, feel no remorse in introducing the plants to an untimely demise…

Food Foraging Wild Strawberries and Mock Strawberries

Wild Strawberries are NOT poisonous or I would have died 100+ times already

Growing up, Mom use to tell us that wild strawberries were poisonous and I never tried them until long after she was gone. It turns out that there is a mock strawberry and people mistakenly think they are poisonous. This carries over to actual Wild Strawberries.

Wild Strawberry image source –

The truth is they are both edible but true wild strawberries taste nice and sweet, much like a regular strawberry, Mock Strawberries don’t have much taste at all. You can still eat them and in a survival situation they can keep you from starving, but the true wild strawberry will taste better.

Wild Strawberry image source –

How to spot the difference

Fragaria vesca, commonly called wild strawberry, woodland strawberry, Alpine strawberry, Carpathian Strawberry, European strawberry, or fraisier des bois

There are 3 telltale things to look for.

True Wild Strawberries

1 – When crushed they smell like strawberries
2 – They dangle on the vine
3 – Have white blooms

Mock Strawberries

Duchesnea indica (sometimes called Potentilla indica), known commonly by the names mock strawberry, Indian strawberry, or false strawberry.

1 – Have no smell when crushed
2 – Grow straight up without dangling
3 – Have yellow blooms


A Mock Wild Strawberry Bloom – Source: Wikimedia user thegreenj


Wild Strawberry flower image source

Wild Strawberries are great to grow in your yard

The plants range from about 6 to 12 inches tall and they grow well in USDA zones 3 – 10. If allowed to grow unheeded, wild strawberries will grow to cover a very large area. In the deep south, they grow well in semi-shady spots but cannot take full sun. They do need some sun however, or they will not produce fruit. Further north, they can deal with more direct sun. They need moist but not wet soil. Too much moisture will cause the root system to fail.
They can be grown from seed or root stock and are available from many online plant nurseries. They are a food source for many birds, small animals and deer, elk and moose. All of which help to spread the seeds through their droppings.


Image source USDA plant hardiness zone

How to Use Wild Strawberries

Wild Strawberries can be use any way regular strawberries are used. Add them to your smoothies, cereal, oatmeal, pies or simply eat them fresh out of the garden.

When we moved into this house, the backyard was filled with Mock Strawberries. I have been working on getting Wild Strawberries to take over the are of the Mock Strawberry, but without digging up the Mock’s, it is a slow process. I don’t let that stop me however. If you mix the Mock berries in with the wild and add a little Stevia, they taste pretty good and are much cheaper than buying fresh fruit.

You can help ensure there are plenty of wild strawberries in your area by making seed bombs and tossing them in areas that fit the plant’s needs. See my article on making and using seed bombs

What is this tiny strawberry-like fruit found in a Southern Illinois lawn?

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Birds and Berries

All through the rainy season many birds rely on fruits as a major part of their diet. These birds often travel in flocks, like the Cedar Waxwings and American Robins. Sometimes the flocks are mixed; several different species will travel together, and all are “on the lookout” for resources.

Bright red berries are easy for birds to spot; and large quantities of fruits in one place make foraging more energy efficient. Red Toyon berries (Heteromeles arbutifolia) certainly attract the attention of hungry birds, but so do other red berries such as Cotoneaster and Pyracantha.

Birds will partake of all the edible fruits they find, and therein lies the problem! The fruits are eaten at one location, say your backyard, but then they fly off, sometimes into open spaces, and a few hours later they excrete the seeds that were contained within the fruits. When I walk through the woods and meadows of Marin’s wild lands, I often spot seedlings of Cotoneaster; they can and do grow without cultivation, and over time could displace native shrubs and damage native ecosystems.

Bob and Mieko took these beautiful photos from December through February; Robins, Waxwings, House Finches and Mockingbirds all eating berries. The pictures tell the story! Birds just need to eat and they don’t distinguish between native and non-native sources of food energy.

And, that’s exactly why it’s up to us; as conscientious gardeners we can choose to plant the native species which provide resources for native creatures without possible adverse effects to our native environment. Toyon is a beautiful care-free shrub in any sunny location; the small white flowers in early summer attract lots of beneficial insects and butterflies, and showy red berries follow in the fall. It’s drought tolerant once established; but, does need protection from deer browsing to get established.

On February 11th I sowed Toyon seeds in 4” pots in the greenhouse, using two different pre-treatment methods. One batch of cleaned, dry, seed was soaked in cool water for one hour before sowing; germination started on February 27th and was prolific. The other batch was soaked in hot, black, coffee for 2 to 3 hours; germination was slower, starting on March 1st, and was not as prolific. True leaves are starting to form as I’m writing this blog, but we probably won’t be transplanting the seedlings until the beginning of April.

The pre-treatment a propagator uses to induce germination is all about giving the right signals to the seed coat, which functions as a sort of sensory organ. The seed coat, or testa, is all that protects the embryo within from the outside world. There’s an outer and inner layer to the seed coat, which are often impregnated by waxes or fats, and then another layer or two of thick-walled protective cells. As moisture penetrates the seed coat, cells expand, chemicals are released, and germination occurs.

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The Wild Indian Strawberry or Mock Strawberry

(Duchesnea indica)

Interesting Information About Plant:

The Wild Indian’s fruit and leaves are edible and medicinal. However, the fruit is said to be tasteless, a flavor somewhat akin to a watermelon according to some. The fruit contains constituents such as sugar, protein, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). The leaves also edible as pot herb, also known as a cooking herb. The entire plant is medicinal as an anticoagulant, antiseptic, depurative (purifier) and febrifuge (fever reducer). The herb can be used for stomatitis (an inflammation of the mucus lining), laryngitis, and acute tonsillitis. The fresh leaves can be crushed and applied externally as a medicinal poultice, a soft and moist mass. It is used in the treatment of boils and absesses, burns, weeping eczema, ringworm, snake and insect bites and traumatic injuries. A decoction of the leaves is medicinal and used in the treatment of swellings. An infusion, or liquid extract, of the flowers is used to activate the blood circulation. The Indian Strawberry can also cure skin diseases. In folklore it is said that in India it is to be used as an offering to the gods. The Wild Indian Strawberry is used extensively in China as a medicinal herb, and is being studied for its ability to stop the HIV virus and some forms of cancer from spreading through the body.

TRY THESE RECIPES

A cooling and medicinal drink for an upset stomach: Take 8 oz. of water and add a ¼ cup of the Wild Indian Strawberries. Blend or crush them in the water. Add honey, vanilla, or mint for taste, and drink on ice.

Medicinal poultice (a soft moist mass): Place the leaves and berries in a cloth. Crush them and apply directly to the wound.

Common Name: The Wild Indian Strawberry or Mock Strawberry

Scientific Name: Duchesnea indica

Family Name (Scientific and Common): Rosaceae

Continent of Origin: Believed to be from East Asia, China, Japan, the Himalayas, and the Indies. However, some experts believe it is native to North America.

Most Distinguishing Morphological Features of This Plant: The Wild Indian, or Mock, Strawberry is a weedy ground cover known for it’s small, red fruit, yellow flowers, and little leaves.

Plant Growth Habit: Ground Cover

Height at Maturity: Less than 1 foot

Life Span: Perennial

Seasonal Habit: Evergreen Perennial

Growth Habitat: Full Sun to Full Shade

Manner of Culture: Weed

Thorns on Younger Stem? No

Cross Section of Younger Stem: Roundish

Stem (or Trunk) Diameter: Less Than The Diameter of a Pencil

Type of Leaf: Flat, Thin Leaf

Length of Leaf (or Leaflet): Less than Length of a Credit Card

Leaf Complexity: Palmately Compound

Shape of Leaf: Simple

Edge of Leaf: Serrated

Leaf Arrangement: Whorled (3 or more leaves per node)

Leaf has Petiole? Yes

Patterns of Main-Veins: Parallel

Leaf Hairiness: Somewhat Hairy

Color of Foliage in Summer: Green

Flowering Season: Late Spring to Early Fall

Flowers: Single

Type of Flower: Colorful Flower

Color of Flower: Yellow

Shape of Individual Flower: Radially Symmetrical

Size of Individual Flower: Smaller than a Quarter

Size of Fruit: Smaller than a Quarter

Fruit Fleshiness at Maturity: Fleshy

Shape of Fruit: Oblong-Oval

Color of Fruit at Maturity: Red

Fruit Desirable to Birds or Squirrels? Yes-Birds

Is the Plant Poisonous: None of Plant

Pesky Plant (weedy, hard to control)? Yes, sometimes

Common Name(s): The Wild Indian Strawberry, Mock Strawberry, False Strawberry, She Mei

Louisville Plants That Are Most Easily Confused With This One: Wild Strawberry

Page prepared by:

Meghan O’Brien

December 2006

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