Regardless of where you live, the odds that you walk by at least one delicious edible plant every day—whether growing in a park, on campus, or on the sidewalk—are pretty high. Here at UC Berkeley, and in the Berkeley area in general, it’s almost  guaranteed. While there are countless plants growing around that you could eat, some of them are actually common pantry staples hiding in plain sight. Others might even become your new favorite ingredient! Here are four of my favorite pantry items, herbs, and spices to forage on my walks home from class.  


Cynthia Liu

You might be surprised to learn that rosemary is grown in most

places as an ornamental plant, and UC Berkeley has some of its own. There’s a row of bushes that grow in front of the East entrance of Doe library, facing the Campanile. You can identify this herb by its woody stems, small purple flowers, and if it smells like, well, rosemary. Remember to not take a whole armload—instead, pick a few sprigs to try out a new recipe, like these simple roasted potatoes. Or, you can try to propagate your own rosemary plant at home!

Bay Leaves

Cynthia Liu

Yes, you can find your own fresh bay leaves here at UC Berkeley, too! There are two kinds of bay laurel trees that you can find, and while the leaves of both are edible, they have their differences. California bay laurel trees tend to be larger and have a scaly, reddish-brown bark with small yellow-green flowers and elongated leaves. These bay leaves have a stronger, spicier flavor akin to menthol, and can be used in some teas and desserts. However, they aren’t the same as the dried bay leaves used in soups or brines that you’d find at the supermarket.

Those come from true bay laurel trees, native to the Mediterranean and grown elsewhere as ornamentals. This variety is often smaller than California bay laurels, and has smooth gray bark and small black berries alongside the leaves. True bay leaves are milder and sweeter smelling than California bay, imparting a more complex yet subtle flavor to savory foods. A true bay laurel grows next to the Western wall of Doe Library, on the hill between the library and the road. A few California bay laurels can be found off Strawberry Creek, near the Eucalyptus grove and the West Circle on the West side of campus.  

Pink Peppercorns

Cynthia Liu

One of my favorite lesser-known spices, pink peppercorn is a fruitier, floral alternative to black pepper. While not botanically classified as actual pepper, pink peppercorn has a similar earthy spiciness that can be used to accent dishes or shine in its own niches! It’s fantastic on fish and in cream sauces like a simple alfredo. Beyond that, it can be used to add spicy, fruity notes and a nice pink hue into vinegars, brines, and salad dressings. Pink pepper trees themselves are small, with thin vine-like branches that hang down and bear long gray-green leaves. The peppercorns themselves have a thin, papery pink skin around a gray-black center. You can find a group of these trees growing along the path leading from the Hargrove Music Library to the Social Sciences building. Like all foods, it’s possible to be slightly allergic to pink pepper, so be careful if you do decide to forage some for yourself.

Magnolia Petals

Cynthia Liu

This might sound odd but hear me out: they’re pretty damn tasty. Magnolia trees are grown all over the place as ornamental trees, but their flowers have a unique, somewhat bitter ginger flavor. When fresh, they can be used as a gorgeous salad topper. When pickled, though, they become a complex, spicy-sour topping that can lighten up a variety of dishes.

Simply collect a handful of flowers–younger buds are better–and heat a brine of rice vinegar, salt, and sugar. Adding garlic and spices like star anise, fennel seed, or your recently acquired pink peppercorns would be great, too, but the magnolias have enough flavor on their own. Slice the petals into any size or leave them as whole buds, press them down into a jar, and pour in enough brine to cover. Let the jar cool to room temperature, then put it in the fridge for two to three days. When ready, add your pickled petals to salads, rice bowls, or anything that could use some pungency and freshness. Magnolia trees grow all over campus and are hard to miss: they have smooth gray bark and large flowers ranging from white-pink to purple. 

Cynthia Liu

Next time you go for a walk on campus, keep an eye out for these four plants to fill out the foundation of or add new dimensions to your pantry. Just remember to respect the plants and your other community members by taking only what you need!