Long before the days of supermarkets and organized agriculture, people lived. We are the evidence. They lived in small groups and even alone as hunter gatherers. And remember, this was in the days before language! How did we do it? Trial and error? Instinct? If so, the instinct has been lost, but with some simple rules, it may be regained.
The good news is we don’t have to watch Uncle Ogg keel over in agony after grazing on a patch of poison hemlock to know that it’s something to stay away from. Solutions to common problems such as what to eat from your immediate environment can now be had through books, pictures, video and the spoken word.
I am here to tell you that your body can be sustained for long periods of time by taking advantage of the wild edible food that grows from the ground everywhere. I know because I did it, and I practiced what I preach exclusively for many years.
I lived in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York in a homesteading situation for many years without electricity and indoor plumbing and the modern conveniences that come with those things. Town was miles away and visits to civilization were few. The hardships were many, but so were the lessons learned. By degrees, I came to know that abundance is given by design. Believe it or not, we already live in the Garden of Eden, but being “civilized” keeps us from knowing it, and the high pitched whine of man-gone-crazy keeps us from knowing its peace and its gifts.
Some of these foods are known to us already, perhaps instinctively. What child hasn’t blown the little parachute seeds from a dandelion’s puff-ball while laying in the clover? Girls pull the petals from a daisy saying “Loves me, loves me not…” and collect tiny bouquets of violets while boys brave sharp barbs to collect raspberries and blackberries. The helicopters from Maple trees, the burrs from burdock, the fluff from a dried milkweed pod on the wind or the bark of the birch tree have all been child’s playthings at one time or another. Perhaps these warm associations come from a lost knowledge that these are all sources of food?
The average lawn contains many, many food sources. I once published a book called The Lawn Food Cookbook, Groceries in the Backyard due to the sheer amount of material there. This is without taking a walk around the block or going to local fields and waste areas. Needless to say, if you’re trekking from hither to yon, you’ll be passing through many of nature’s supermarkets. Will you know how to use their assets?
All it takes to get started is the will to do so. Take a trip to the library or the Internet for tons of free information. I have found, however, that while many resources are strong on the identification and uses, they can be short on practicalities such as harvesting tips, preparation and especially storage for the long winter months. I have sought out the methods of the early Native Americans to cope with many of these issues, and I’ve used them to great benefit. While many of these foods freeze beautifully, I found that much can be done with drying foods and making flour from the dried material for a concentrated nutritional benefit. This has immediate appeal to people who are on foot.
What if you could make yourself “starvation proof”? What if you knew you could be dropped off anywhere, even on a desert, and not only survive but have all the nourishment a body could need? Well, I’m here to tell you that not only is it possible, but it’s relatively easy for a person of average intelligence to attain. It certainly might be hard on your system to begin to eat wild food after steady diet of sugar filled fast foods and processed grains, but those problems largely come from the sheer amount of nutrition you would be confronted with.
It’s no secret that modern agriculture techniques have depleted nutrients from the soil when they’ve been grown in the same place for a long time ago, but this is not true for wild food and the places where it grows. The very weeds that are giving Big Agriculture problems by becoming resistant to the herbicides that are used to “cultivate” today’s GMO crops tend to be the very same foods that we could utterly live on for centuries to come. Ironic, isn’t it? The “troublesome” amaranth, horseweed, waterhemp and lambsquarters all have edible uses. It’s almost as if Mother Nature is trying to tell us something!
While I am not a “prepper”, I have found over the years that these folks are my best audience. The similarities between my chosen situation in the Adirondacks and the scenario where there is some sort of disaster disrupting the food supply as we know it are too striking to dismiss. The intent might be different, but the techniques remain the same. The truly prudent know that this knowledge is not won overnight. Foraging is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced in one’s everyday life before one could depend on it in an emergency. If you feel that disaster is imminent, my advice to you is “start now.” There is a learning curve, but that curve could begin in troubled times if it had to, assuming you had the information in hand. You could be up to speed in time to stretch your food supplies and be expert by the time they run out.
One note here– if you have a family during troubling times, foraging together has the excellent benefit of reducing fear. As you learn and look around and see that a high percentage of the vegetation around you is edible, you will find that this automatically lessens the worry you may be experiencing while ensuring your family’s survival.
To start with wild food, concentrate on finding one plant that grows in your area. The one’s I teach grow almost everywhere. Identify it and test it using the rules of foraging to be sure that it will not produce a reaction for you or anyone that will be eating it. This means that they, too, should learn and apply the rules of foraging, as stated below. This is important, especially if you are reaching outside the bounds of the plants that are known to you.
Then, having passed the tests, harvest some, process it and try some.
To recap, select one plant and bring it from the field to the kitchen. Learn that one thoroughly. Work it into your menu, but take a gradient approach to learning and using wild food. You would first use a pinch to bolster the nutrition of a stew, for instance. What you’ll be doing is adapting your body to the pure nutrition that is wild food. Realize that it’s 5-7 times the nutrition of any vegetable we have, so going too fast could have a strong effect, such as the runs.
First a few pinches mixed in, later, perhaps, a whole meal of nothing but wild food.
As you forage around, you’ll become aware of other plants that you can work into your diet in a similar fashion. You’ll will become adept and marvel at the ease of harvesting large amounts quickly, taking it and drying it for storage and future use. Remember not to pick an area clean of something, because you could wipe it out for the next time. Leaving some will actually give the plant a chance to resurge and grow like a weed — which of course, they are.
Go slow and have fun while you learn the skill that kept all of humanity alive in the eons before recorded history.
The Rules of Foraging
These rules are for your own protection when investigating plants that are new to you. If followed closely, they will protect you in the field.
1. DO NOT collect plants closer than 200 feet from a car path or contaminated area.
2. NEVER collect from areas sprayed with herbicides, pesticides, or other chemicals.
3. DO NOT collect plants with RED STEMS, or red striations or stripes.
4. ALWAYS BE FAMILIAR with all dangerous plants in YOUR area of collection.
5. POSITIVELY IDENTIFY all plants you intend to use for food.
6. Take a piece off the plant and roll between your fingers. SNIFF CAREFULLY. Does it smell like something you would eat? If it doesn’t, DISCARD IMMEDIATELY. If it does, go to rule 7.
7. Take another piece off the plant and roll until juicy. RUB the tiny piece on your gum above your teeth.
8. WAIT 20 minutes.
9. DOES YOUR GUM ITCH, BURN, TINGLE, SWELL OR STING? If no reaction occurs, go on to rule 10.
10. Take another piece of the plant and put in a teacup. Add boiling water and steep for 5 minutes. SIP SLOWLY for 20 more minutes. WATCH FOR NAUSEA, BURNING, DISCOMFORT. If no reaction occurs, you may ingest a small amount.
11. WAIT ANOTHER 20 MINUTES and watch for any reaction.
12. Keep all samples AWAY from children or pets.
13. Store all seeds and bulbs AWAY from children and pets.
14. Teach children to keep all plants AWAY from their mouths and DO NOT ALLOW children chew or suck nectar from any unknown plants.
15. AVOID smoke from burning plants. Smoke may irritate the eyes or cause allergic reactions QUICKLY.
16. BE AWARE of your neighbor’s habits with chemicals, pesticides and herbicides.
17. BEWARE: heating or boiling doesn’t always destroy toxicity.
After emerging from the woods, I dedicated myself to teaching the lessons that I had learned. In the early 1980s I set up a wild food walk, sort of a museum of plants so people could learn them without having to seek them out first. My first Xeroxed flyer for the walk was eventually to become my first book, A Survival Acre. My materials have evolved over the years to what you can see on my webs ite, OfTheField.com. Nothing makes me madder than hearing about people starving to death when they’re sitting in Nature’s Supermarket! People are always blown away with the knowledge and awareness that comes from discovering the abundance right under their feet. It is my sincerest hope that you will learn these skills.
This is information about wild food. The editors of SurvivalBlog nor the author make no claims as to the correctness, safety or usability of the data.
The information contained herein is intended to be an educational tool for gathering and cooking wild plants. The information presented is for use as a supplement to a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle. The nutritional requirements of individuals may vary greatly, therefore the author and publisher take no responsibility for an individual using and ingesting wild plants.
All data is to be used at your own risk. Using the Rules of Foraging, above, greatly helps to reduce that risk, but they are not fool-proof.
JWR Adds: SurvivalBlog readers will likely recognize the author’s name. She is the author of the excellent Linda Runyon’s Master Class On Wild Food Survival.Her books, DVDs, and flash cards all have a well-deserved positive reputation.