The following are some reasons for learning how to identify, harvest, and prepare a few wild plants for food:
- Crop failures might make foods too expensive to purchase, or scarce due to lack of production (if producers can’t afford to grow it, and manufactures can’t afford to process it you probably won’t find it on a shelf)–
- Lack of hunting/trapping wild game- you are not always going to bag a squirrel, or catch something fishing, coming back empty handed is going to happen sometimes. Deal with it- even setting out 10 snares you ‘might’ get something, but you might not. most likely when you need it most too.
- Scarcity of wild game (over hunting as competition to hunt after a disaster or emergency is going to be fierce, even if laws forbid hunting people are going to try and eat, as seen in a recent Brooklyn New York park where vagrants were fined (Lord knows why, they have no money! ) for fishing, poaching in a public park. If they were stealing plants I doubt anyone would have noticed, or cared.)
- The obvious breakdown of food sources, no power for super markets or local sources of food.
The first option is to stock a good amount of storage food for the bad times. That food will eventually diminish or be consumed at some time- what if you could help stretch those rations by eating common weeds? It takes no resources to plant them and very little energy to hunt/harvest them (same reason early hunters became farmers when game was scarce.) Find the most cost economical way to expend the least amount of energy with the most yields, best results equates to having a full belly with less work. One thing I won’t recommend is going in to an area and stripping it of wild food, be sure to only take what you really need, and let some plants live long enough to reproduce or your local area might become a barren wasteland. This should be common sense, but I think it’s worth mentioning.
It’s important to be knowledgeable about local wild foods – but where to find out information on what’s good to eat?
A couple of easy ways to gain knowledge on wild plant foods.
1. Reading books- libraries are free, watch DVDs (some you can borrow from the library), check the internet if you have access, use the library’s computer if you don’t, –youtube has free information and how-to videos.
2. Go to someone who knows and have them walk you around on a weed walk! Nothing beats first person experience and learning about something hands on.
3. Ask someone older then you about sharing this info if they happen to know anything about farming listen to what they have to say about growing your own food. (just remember we are seeking common weeds that most back yard gardeners would be annoyed at and likely destroy, then not eat.- well, maybe if you have cattails in your back yard, you have more problems that this article can cover.)
The books I’ve seen and read I purchased from Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Noble, and checked out from the local library. The DVD I found online was from a woman who lived in upstate New York, and moved to Arizona.It is called Linda Runyon’s Master Class on Wild Food Survival . I do respect and like youtube videos called the ‘Eat the weeds’ series with Green Deane. There is a wealth of information there! His amaranth video was great, and he mentions many times ‘you know you can make beer with this’. Great info. 🙂
Anyhow about the DVD: Linda Runyon is an expert on wild plants- she not only tells you plant identification she also explains about storing plants by drying and how to prepare plants, in ways I’d never thought of. Linda Runyon’s Master Class  video was worth the $30 on Amazon. Her Wild Cards  flash cards are about one of the best survival buys I’ve ever purchased: 52 playing cards –all food plants/trees! As I recall, I paid $5 for them – again on Amazon. They are very compact and ready to be taken camping so you can ID plants.
Walking with an Expert
The plant walk I took was sponsored by ‘The Good Earth Health Food Store’ in Callicoon, New York (a few years back). If you are in the ‘occupied’ New York area and have time this would be something to bring a camera and a notebook to! (Warning: bring extra batteries, my camera died before the walk ended!) I did, however, take notes! Nathaniel Whitmore, Herbalist  – gave a tour around the town of Callicoon to show what plants people step over daily that can be eaten. The tour lasted an hour and ended up on the banks of the Delaware River. This was a donation event that Nathaniel was doing every few weeks, so it would be best to contact the store for more info on dates and times- (I don’t work for them, or have any stake in their business.) I was however enlightened by the amount of plants that were pointed out in the field, this man’s knowledge of wild plants in astounding.
The top five has been done before on this blog- but let’s recap because these are about the most common plants around- If you know them, your likely never to go hungry!
1. Dandelion -greens.
2. Cat tails –every part, roots baked and eaten like potatoes
3. Queen Ann’s lace –wild carrots (make sure its stems are hairy because poison hemlock is very similar to wild carrot, and it is deadly- Poison Hemlock is hairless, and doesn’t smell like carrots!!)
4. Lambs quarters – cooked like wild spinach
5. Wild lettuce –greens
But what else do you see daily? That is my question! Are you taking the time to question what plants are around and how can you use them?? And it’s something that you as a survivalist need to be aware of in every walk, outing, bike ride…become aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to what nature is growing outside that you can eat for free. Make it a habit to learn what plants are in your area, and how those plants can be used. Next time you are out make a list and take pictures of plants you are not sure of, to find out if it’s something useful or food. You can always open a book or google a description of a plant in your down time, later when your back home.
On my daily walks I see- the white flowers of Queen Ann’s Lace (wild carrots) everywhere, white flowers of wild onions and leeks, the blue flowers of Chicory (roots used for coffee substitute.), the yellow flowers of wild mustard, yellow flowers of dandelion’s, greens of plantain, greens of lamb quarters (probably the best tasting wild plant!), yellow flowers of evening primrose (potatoes), amaranth (pig weed- seeds used for flour) and I didn’t even mention the trees! White Birch buds/twigs/sap, maple seeds/syrup, and acorns… food is literally everywhere – but the key is in knowing and being aware of one’s surroundings enough to find it when you are hungry. Awareness is the key. I have learned that the more I look for something the more of what I am looking for I find.
[JWR Adds: I must re-emphasize the author’s point: Be very careful about plant identification. For example, the Water Hemlock (which is poisonous) to an untrained eye looks very similar to Queen Ann’s Lace!]
Here is a quote from Linda Runyon ‘with the woods being green- 50% of that green is stuff you can eat.’ Knowing this makes it really hard to starve, unless you have given up on living. This simple idea gives me a lot of comfort knowing that someday supplies might run out or become scarce, I’ll be able to find what I need. There really is enough food for everyone smart enough to know where to look for it.
One more thing: I’ll close with a quote. I love this quote because it sums up what people rioting in the UK are doing to themselves by destroying the middle class businesses that are the stalled, damaged, driving engine of their economy. I know it’s very colonial of me: “Life is hard; it’s harder if you’re stupid.” – John Wayne