The use of wild plants for food of course pre-dates the written word and is an important part of our early history. Before the onset of agriculture early man depended on big game animals and a few selected plants for food. The dependence on wild plants for food by North American Indians first begins during the Paleo-Indian period. This dependence was a gradual process brought about by changes in the climate. These climatic changes led to the decline of the big game animals. Native Americans had to adjust their lifestyle or die. During the Archaic and Woodland periods the Native Americans developed highly refined gathering skills. Those who were successful used hundreds of plants for a variety of different food products. More than 250 species of fruiting plants alone were used for food. One study in 1936 listed 1,112 species of wild plants that were used for food by Native Americans. About 1% of these were cultivated and the other 99% were growing wild (Driver,Comp. St. 209). The onset of agriculture in the Middle and Late Archaic led to the diminished use of wild plants for food.
European arrival in North America began a new era in wild plant use. Many of these early settlers relied on wild plants for food and medicine. These early settlers obtained their plant lore from the Native Americans. They recorded the uses of these plants and passed the information on to other generations. As the economy developed and urbanization increased the need for edible wild plants decreased. Exceptions to this were in rural areas and in the south during the Civil War.
Throughout the years' people have used wild plants in a supplementary fashion. It is only now that we realize the importance of edible wild plants. Publication of many guides by noted authors and naturalists have reintroduced the edible wild plant to modern man. Increased botanical study is being carried out in hopes of utilizing many of the wild plants as alternate food sources.