Top 10 Most Useful Plants for Food, Medicine & Materials

What are the most valuable plants you know for food, medicine, and materials?

One of the better-known is the Aloe Vera plant. It has incredible medicinal value. However, after someone asked a popular online forum for other examples of useful plants, these are the top-voted choices you probably have yet to hear of.

1. Moringa Oleifera

Moringa Oleifera plant

Moringa Oleifera is a tree with leaves rich in proteins, calcium, iron, and vitamin C. One shared, “They grow so fast and have so many nutrients that I haven’t bought meat in seven months. I prepare the leaves in many ways. 

The leaves are helpful for tea, juice, and cooking. My favorite recipe is fried rice with onion, bell pepper, carrots, eggs, and moringa. They burn easily, so add them last.”

2. Dandelions

dandelion flowers and salve

Many in the thread agreed that dandelions grow anywhere and are helpful in many ways. The leaves are a nice bitter green that gets much less bitter when sauteed like spinach or can be served raw in recipes that call for ingredients like arugula. 

It’s more nutritious than spinach, kale, or other popular greens. You can make syrups, whines, and many other things with flower heads. The heads are an attractive-looking edible garnish. The dandelion flowers and stems have a much more palatable, non-bitter flavor. 

One added, “The roots can be roasted to make a lovely tea, similar to regular black tea but without caffeine. I like to have it at bedtime.”

3. Yuca (Not Yucca)

yuca root

Have you ever heard of Yuca? It’s not just a word that sounds like someone’s name, but a nutty and delicious root vegetable that is a staple in many parts of the world. Native to South America and also found in Asia and parts of Africa, this starchy tuber is a fantastic carbohydrate source many enjoy.

However, there’s often confusion between Yuca and another plant that sounds almost identical: Yucca. Although they share similar names, these two plants are entirely different. Yucca is a spiky plant that’s native to the southeastern United States, and while it does bear edible seeds, flowers, and fruits, it doesn’t have an edible root.

So if you’re ever talking about Yuca, make sure you’re thinking of something other than Yucca. While the names might be confusing, there’s no mistaking the delicious taste of this root vegetable!

Yucca is great for adding more fiber to your diet. One noted, “When I was younger, my mother would soothe our stomach aches and indigestion with small amounts of yuca. Then, she would add some ginger and a small amount of garlic. It did the trick every time.”

4. Stinging Nettle

freshly harvested stinging nettle

Stinging Nettle can be used for so much. It’s super nutritious and great for seasonal allergies. You can add the leaves to soup or even make tea with them. It is also possible to dry the leaves, grind them into powder, and add them to capsules to create supplements.

5. Willow Trees

willow bark tea

Willow trees are some of the most beautiful and helpful trees you can grow. Willow bark contains salicylic acid, which helps with pain, inflammation, stiffness, and even period cramps. Willow bark has been used through the generations for medicinal purposes.

6. Hemp

hemp plant

Hemp is a plant with multiple purposes. You can use it to make clothing, paper, food cultivation tools, and much more. Hemp grows quicker than most plants, and with all of the possibilities, hemp could replace many of our non-renewable materials.

7. Plantain

plantain trees

Plantain fibers are tough and pliable, which allows them to be used in survival situations to make fishing lines, braiding, or sutures. In addition, the leaves are commonly used in salads when young. 

They become tougher as they get older and more prominent, and many countries use them instead of plates. The leaves contain calcium and nutrients. You can also grind plantains into a flour substitute.

8. Cattails


One ecology expert explained, “Cattails are the mother of all materials. While it has nutritious edible tubers, shoots and green flower heads, and pollen, it is often risky to consume them from unknown sources due to human contamination. 

However, they unequivocally shine in their abundance of uses as materials. The roots contain thin, strong fibers that make for very strong cordage. 

The stalk has many benefits in weaving, wattling, and basketry, making it an excellent structural material; pounding and washing away the stalk may also produce fibers for cordage, but doing so is often lossful overall. 

The mature seeds make for a fantastic insulating material for shoes, primitive pillows, and plushes. Finally, the leaves may be used for basketry and weaving. Overall, an amazing plant.”

9. Chestnut Trees

chestnut tree

Chestnut trees are incredible. The wood is perfect for building because it is so strong. In addition, the chestnuts are an abundant food source that often goes overlooked. They are comparable to sweet potatoes with their carb content and are high in protein and fat.

Popular Reading: 10 Beautiful Household Plants That Are Toxic for Cats

10. Bamboo

bamboo tree forest

Finally, many agreed that bamboo might be the most helpful plant on this list. It grows extremely fast (which makes it the tallest grass on earth) and is near impossible to over-forage.

Bamboo can be turned into tool handles, bows, fishing rods, spears, arrows, farming tools, pipes, containers, building materials, ladders, shelves, rafts, furniture, baskets, and more with minimal effort.

We hope you enjoyed these Reddit recommendations for the most useful plants.

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.