I’ve decided to start a weekly series on foraging for wild edibles. I feel like it’ll help me keep up with posting more often, and it’ll share some of the knowledge I’ve picked up over the years. While most of the homesteading and farming things I do are new to me, hunting down and eating wild plants is not. For years I learned these skills from my mother. She owned every reputable book on plants you could find at the time, a collection I hope to own myself some day.
As a kid we would go camping each year and hunt through the forest for things we could eat. We would find mayapples, danelions and cattails to eat before we retired to our camp for s’mores. We would do leaf rubbings and identify wild plants. We would discuss ones that were deadly poisonous and the ones that were only edible if treated properly.
I was also taught how to build shelters if I was lost in the woods, and how to identify animal tracks. It was all a part of survival to her, in case I ever had to take care of myself in an emergency. Today it’s part of being sustainable to me. Many of these plants run wild as weeds across the US. They’re so incredibly prolific they’re impossible to wipe out. When cultivated, many of these plants get HUGE. They’re normally packed with nutrients and some are things you may even have sitting on your shelf right now.
The most important thing to remember about foraging is to make sure you know what you are eating. One mistake and you can find yourself breaking out in boils, vomiting wildly, or worse, dead. Because of this I have never gone mushrooming. I refuse to forage mushrooms on my own because the risk is too great. However there are lots of plants that are easy to identify, and are completely safe to eat right in your own back yard.
Identifying an unknown plant online is very difficult. If it’s a very common weed you have a good chance of finding it easily, but if it’s slightly rarer or generic in form it can be very hard to find the correct plant. For this reason I suggest that everyone have a book of plants. Specifically, ALL plants, not just edible ones. If you’re trying to identify a plant you’ll want something that tells you what it is no matter what. If you can’t find something JUST like it in an “edible plants” book, you may mistake it for something similar and safe when it’s not. Once you idenify a plant you can always look it up by it’s name online to find out if it’s edible, so buy a good all-purpose plants book instead of a wild edibles book to ensure you know what plant it is you have found. Also, do not buy just a “native plants” book or “wild plants” book either if you can avoid it because many plants are non-native (many north american weeds are imports from europe) or a domestic plant gone wild.
You may also want a decent pair of non-cloth gloves, small clippers and a basket to gather your plants in. Some edible plants like nettle are covered in large spines. You don’t want to touch the spines and they can be difficult to cut, so while these items aren’t nessicary they can be useful. You also don’t want to touch a poisonous plant by accident, so if you are somewhere prone to lots of wild plants (like a campground) you may also want long clothes and high boots.
If you are further south you may also want to beware of snakes, spiders, scorpions or other potentialy poisonous critters. There are many poisonous creatures that hide in the same place your plants do.
Lastly, always make sure to thoroughly wash or cook your edibles. They sit outdoors with lots of wild animals that carry parasites and diseases such as giardia, coccidia or tapeworms, and those are three things you just don’t want in your system. So always wash your plants.
Each week from now on I’ll be featuring a new plant that you can find all over that is edible. I will tell you how to harvest it, how to eat it and what it’s properties are nutritionally to the best of my abilities. In the meantime, happy foraging!