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Free Groceries, Safely Foraging For Wild Foods

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Dandelions are triple good- roots, flower, and leaves
Dandelions are triple good- roots, flower, and leaves

For hundreds, even thousands of years, man lived without a grocery store. Somehow he managed to feed himself and his family by foraging in the wild, finding edible foods and preparing them. Those same foods are available to us today, still free for the taking all over the world.

You must, of course, be able to identify the foods and know how to prepare them for taste and safety. Acorns can be eaten but must be handled a certain way to release the tannins in them. It is important to be able to identify mushrooms because some are deadly. A good guidebook and some common sense can help you not only cut down the grocery bill, but expand your abilities in self sufficiency!

Tools For Foraging

So, you have a warm day ahead of you and you are ready to fill your larder with wild foods! What are some of the tools that you need to take with you?

Here is a list of the basics, as you gain experience there are things you will want to add to it.

  1. A good, sharp pocket knife. This is good for cutting stems, pieces of roots etc.
  2. Moisture-proof bags. You can use zipper closure bags, recycle plastic grocery bags, or sew your own drawstring bags with waterproof fabric. You need to be able to keep things separate.
  3. A small shovel or trowel for digging up edible roots.
  4. A pictorial Guide to edible plants in your area. Sometimes it is hard to tell what something is from just the description. A good pictorial guide is invaluable!
  5. A moist washcloth in a waterproof bag for cleaning your hands.

Gathering Food

Be sure that you get permission to forage on private property and be careful about foraging in state parks and preserves. Always make sure that you are acting with in the laws. Don't overlook your own front yard, though. One year we had dandelion greens several times a week harvested from our own front yard! If you have a few acres it is even more likely that you will be able to find natural foods at home. Like anything, the ability to find edible wild plants successfully has alot to do with preparation and practice.

A good rule of thumb is to take only what you need. Remember, the plants will die out if over harvested. Don't let the materialism mentality create greed. It is important that you learn to be a good steward of the bounty of nature. Taking too much of a plant will kill it, taking too many plants form a patch will mean less plants next year and eventually no plants at all. By foraging carefully you will both preserve nature and learn to live in harmony with the cycles of it.

Decide what you are o.k. with. For example, are you going to stick to plants and nuts or are you going to do some hunting as well? Are you willing to try crayfish, frog legs, or wild duck eggs? What about turtles? By adding hunting and fishing to your list, and keeping an open mind, you will increase your ability to glean wild eats.

Some Wild Recipes

Following are some ways to prepare the free groceries you find. Again, if you are ever in doubt about the safety of a plant best to leave it alone!


Acorns are nearly everywhere and are amazingly versatile little nuts if prepared properly. The bitter taste is from the tannin so it is important to be sure to get all of that out before making your recipe. This is called leaching.

  1. Crack the acorn using a hammer and shell.

  2. Place in a blender with about a quart or so of water and pulse for a few seconds to make the skins come off and float. Skim the skins off and repeat until no more skins come off.
  3. Grind the acorns in the water until it turns white
  4. Pour the milky liquid through a sieve into a bowl. The material in the sieve should be ground again and then the process repeated.

  5. Pour liquid in the bowl through a cheesecloth into another bowl. This material needs to be leached again. Add it to another container of water, shake up and then let set for 10 -20 minutes. Strain again through cheesecloth let sit overnight covered with water. All the milky liquid that passes through the sieve and cheesecloth should be allowed to settle overnight.
  6. Pour the water off and cook equal parts of meal and water, about 1/4c each, to check for tannin. Tannin wil lbe easily recognizable by a bitter taste or the mouth feeling dry.

  7. IF tannin is detected repeat the leaching process. If not then continue with the recipe.

Acorn Pancakes

2/3 c finely ground acorn meal

2/3 c unbleached flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/4c Honey

1 egg (chicken, or duck, goose is too big) beaten

1 1/4 c milk

1/4 c melted butter

Combine dry ingredients. Mix egg, honey, butter, and milk and add to dry ingredients. Spoon onto hot griddle and turn when top begins to bubble.

Makes 10-12


Cattail roots can be dried, ground, and used as flour. The pollen can be used as an extender to flour and also adds a unique flavor.But the easiest way to eat them is as follows, based on a recipe from Prodigal Gardens.

Cattails-on-the-Cob with Garlic Butter

30-40 cattail flowerheads, peeled

Garlic butter:

½ cup unsalted butter

½ teaspoon salt

12 garlic cloves, crushed 1 c fresh basil or cilantro Make garlic butter in a food processor by whipping the butter, salt, fresh garlic and basil together until smooth.

1. Boil cattail flowerheads in water for 10 minutes

2. Make garlic butter in a food processor by whipping the butter, salt, fresh garlic and basil together until smooth.

3. Drain the cattail flowerheads and cover them generously with the garlic butter.

4. Eat them just like miniature corn on the cobs.

from Prodigal Gardens.


The unopened buds of milkweed can be boiled and eaten like broccoli

Dandelion :

The roots can be sauteed with onion and garlic in some olive oil.

Leaves are delicious sauteed with onion, garlic, mushrooms, and bacon.

Sunflower Buds:

Can be steamed and eaten like an artichoke

This is by no means a complete list. Be sure and get a couple of books on the subject and start slowly. Gathering wild foods is a satisfying way to eat organic and save money doing it. There is something empowering about knowing that you can survive without a Kroger if you need to.

Cooking WIth Foraged Food


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    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Just excellent material.

      I live in the Maremma in Tuscany and in 1984- began writing a culinary column for the expat magazine "Wanted in Rome" about the foods to be foraged and eaten in our countryside and along the shores.

      just love cicoria and wild asparagus and think I might write a Hub about them.

      Thanks for your interesting information about acorns!

      We have so many oak trees in our road.

      It's all so fun and delicious when you pick and eat foods isn't it?


    • profile image

      Ted Siok 6 years ago

      WARNING: Acorns must be boiled well for at least twelve minutes at full boil. During which time the vapors can cause blindness if gotten in the eyes.

    • profile image

      Victoria 7 years ago

      Great article. I am doing some intensive learning of local wild foraging and I find it's really exciting, fun, and nutritious too. Kids also love to forage as well!

    • profile image

      paulie L  8 years ago

      Wild Food is not scrabbling around in bins, its about lifestyle, hobby and taste!! I create Wild Food Recipes that my fiends consider gourmet. The food is in a different league to mass produced, out of season supermarket trash. That is close to eating out of dustbins!! Wild Food is Local, Fresh, Seasonal, Organic and Free!! If you are new to wild food start with the basics, the Wild Spring Greens for example Garlic Mustard, Stinging Nettles or Burdock and then work your way up.. Always be careful, but the rewards are amazing!!

    • MoniqueAttinger profile image

      MoniqueAttinger 8 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      It's amazing how the modern palate has lost so many interesting foods that I'm sure my grandparents probably ate. My mother tells stories of her father making her eat dandelion every spring - which was an excellent tonic. Thanks for the interesting hub!

    • profile image

      JJ Murphy 9 years ago

      Marye, I'm always delighted to stumble upon a fellow forager.

      One important note: My mentors have told me never to take more than 20-25 percent of anything I find and leave the rest to grow. Taking what you need is not the issue, but ensuring sustainability is critical.

      Where I live, rampant development and government support of corporate chemical concotions that pass for food have endangered many habitats and their native species.

    • Joni Solis profile image

      Joni Solis 9 years ago from Kentwood, Louisiana

      Learn more about wild plants that you can eat: edible plants and greens...

      Relevant Hubs · Search for "edible wild plants"

      Edible wild plants

      My Seven Favorite North American Edible Wild Plants, by Paul C.


      It is best to eat your wild greens young, freshly picked, and raw. to receive the highest nutrition from them. I add my wild greens to my green smoothies.

    • cgull8m profile image

      cgull8m 10 years ago from North Carolina

      I agree with Jennifer. Sadly my neighborhood has become metropolitan, there are less woods, most of them are converted to housing. But the above ideas are excellent, we can definitely incorporate it.

    • Jennifer profile image

      Jennifer 10 years ago

      Very interesting! I will have to keep it in mind.