Wild foods contribute towards the food security of an estimated one billion people. In light of expectations of the contribution of wild foods to sustainable and climate-resilient livelihoods and widespread evidence of their consumption, their contribution to households’ diets requires a more nuanced understanding, specifically with respect to their safety net function during food shortages. Data were collected from two villages in Venda, South Africa, selected due to differences in mean annual precipitation. Semi-structured interviews were administered to 170 households and a Participatory Rural Appraisal was conducted to assess the influence of multiple variables, including household characteristics and site, on wild food use. Household archetypes were defined based on the frequency of consumption in response to increasing food scarcity. Our findings suggest limitations to the safety net function of wild foods including seasonal fluctuations in availability and decreased availability during extreme events, with dependent households decreasing their consumption frequency in response to food scarcity. Given this potential poverty trap, further research is required, particularly in terms of when the safety net function of wild foods may be weak or detrimental to the livelihoods of the vulnerable.