Free Food With Wild Edibles
The need for food is a fact of life. Rising costs at the grocery store is another. Did you know that no matter where you live, you can find free food? No, I don’t mean food pantries or free samples, I’m talking about the abundant wild foods in your area.
Many plants that grow on lawns or in parks are sprayed with chemicals. Before you harvest any plant, know the source. Always be confident that the plant you are harvesting is one you know. Identification is key! I have a lot of experience with wild edibles in the area I grew up, but not quite as much where I live now. Just a few days ago I came very close to doing something stupid – picking false hellbore. This plant is very toxic, alkaloids from false hellbore can be absorbed through the skin! Lucky for me, I remembered – unless you’re positive, don’t touch!
Even the experienced make mistakes. Study the common wild edibles of your area before ever trying any food in the wild. Keep a field guide on hand and use it. Your life could depend on it!
Some wild foods grow in almost every area. While I can’t list every wild edible, I hope that you will be able to find at least one of the following and perhaps try one of the following four.
This is probably the most widespread ‘weed’ in the world. Almost everyone is familiar with the yellow blossoms and feathery white seeds of dandelions. The young leaves have been harvested for centuries as a spring tonic. Before people were able to visit a grocer for fresh greens, dandelions were among the first shoots to appear as the earth warmed after winter. The taste can be too bitter for many and should be mixed with mild greens – unless you are fond of a bitter taste. There is no such thing as non-bitter dandelion greens, though the young leaves are milder than older, tough leaves.
Harvest dandelion greens in early spring. The smaller leaves are more tender than older ones. Wash well and pick through to remove all bits of other plant matter. After cleaning, wash again. Trust me, an entire dish of greens can be ruined by grit or stray twigs. Mix with other mild greens to create contrast in a salad or sauté with butter and onions for an interesting sandwich topping.
Chickweed is a low growing plant that is common throughout the United States. It grows in lawns, between rocks in gardens, and in the crevices of sidewalks. In many areas it is considered a pest or invasive weed. If you have a problem with chickweed in your lawn, consider eating it instead of spraying with herbicide. (I hope you aren’t using herbicides at all!)
Harvest fresh chickweed to use in teas, salads, and stews. Chickweed is literally chockfull of vitamins and minerals. This tiny ‘weed’ packs an amazing punch of nutrients.
For more information: http://www.altnature.com/gallery/chickweed.htm
This invasive plant was brought to the United States in the late 1800s for use in cooking. It escaped gardens and has become a serious problem in forests of the NorthEast. Similar to the invasion of Kudzu in the SouthEastern states, garlic mustard spreads through forests and outcompetes native plants. This is dangerous for native wildlife and native flora.
Garlic mustard can grow over 3 feet tall and has leaves similar to the mustard green. Leaves when crushed smell much like garlic, hence the name. The root has a faint horseradish smell. It is edible entirely and is used in salads, stews, stir fry dishes, and more.
If you find garlic mustard in the wild most state environmental departments encourage foragers to rip the plant from the ground completely. Harvest well before the seeds are present. Take as much as you wish from a site. This is one plant that government officials would like you to eat into extinction (at least in the US).
Sometimes called ‘The Weed That Ate The South’, Kudzu is another invasive plant. Growing faster than most other plants around it, Kudzu has strangled entire forests. Once this plant becomes entrenched it is very hard to destroy. Kudzu can grow from tiny bits of root, vine, and seed.
Kudzu has many uses. The entire plant is edible and can be used as a cooked green, brewed in teas, and the flowers make a tasty jelly. A syrup can be made with water, sugar, and Kudzu flowers – this is sometimes called Kudzu honey, not to be confused with honey that is made from bees that have gathered Kudzu nectar.
I cannot say enough good things about the books I recently purchased by Samuel Thayer. The pictures are many, clear, and the writing is as if you are listening to him speak. I enjoy a book that is written for everyone, not just the experts or the experienced. Mr. Thayer expects that we'll use common sense with his guides - he's a down to earth guy with a lot of great information.
If you want to begin to learn about wild edibles beyond the Internet - read Samuel Thayer's works or visit his website. http://www.foragersharvest.com