Forget Growing Your Own Greens: Forage For Wild Greens Instead

At this time of year in my climate, my lettuces and mustards are long-gone. Spinach is of the past. The rockets have lifted off and my kales have gone to seed.

We’ve had a very hot spring.

A few months ago, my salad garden looked like this:

SaladBedFeb2014

Now it looks like this:

Well, not quite that bad. There are a couple of weeds growing in it.

There are greens that handle 90+ degree days, but many of them also require lots of water. We’ve also had low rainfall lately, meaning that if I were to bother growing them, I’d be watering. A lot. And I don’t like to work all that hard for my gardens, particularly since my focus is on growing plants easily and with as little inputs as possible, in case one day we’re living through TEOTWAWKI.

All that said – we’re still eating greens regularly. But most of them aren’t ones we’ve planted. God has provided us with a great assortment of no-work salad and cooking greens… all we have to do is find and pick them.

Sure, wild edible plants aren’t always as tender and sweet as their cultivated counterparts, but they make up for it in other ways.

What ways?

Let’s do the fun internet thing and make a list!

1. Wild Greens Grow Themselves

I know this is self-evident, but it bears mentioning. Wild greens don’t require any digging, fertilizing, watering, weeding or planting. They just grow where they want, waiting for you to come eat them.

2. Wild Greens Are Nutrient-Rich

Unlike cultivated plants, wild greens are often healthier for you than their babied cousins in your garden. As our ancestors bred plants for their taste, they failed to breed for nutrition. Some of the stronger flavors you encounter with wild greens are directly related to their healthiness. Plus, since they are often growing right in ground that hasn’t been “cropped” before, they may be richer in soil minerals.

3. Wild Greens Are Free

This is one of my favorite things about wild greens. You can pick a large organic salad and pay nothing for it other than the labor. Many times my family and I will come back from long walks around our neighborhood carrying a bag or two of goodies we’ve harvested from the roadside and woods. They’re then made into dinner.

4. Wild Greens Are Readily Available

Across most of the country, there are good edibles for the taking. Whatever your climate, there’s a good plant waiting to be eaten. Look up your local wilderness survival types, or better, wild food foragers. Then take a class. It’s well worth the time.

5. Wild Greens Taste Good

It’s true. They’re often delicious, though you’ll have to adjust a bit if you’re used to eating watery, tasteless iceberg lettuce. Wild greens are robust, full-flavored and charactered. We’ve had people join us for a meal that have been blown away by the deep green richness of the salads we serve… only half of which is picked from our gardens. The other half is usually from along our fence lines and unweeded patches of the homestead.

There are five good reasons. Now that you have those, let’s take a look at WHAT wild greens are worth your time.

What Wild Greens Are Worth Your Time?

There are quite a few, fortunately, and they range across the country. Though you won’t have all of these in your area, you’re likely to have a few.

Basswood

Young leaves are reportedly delicious and make a good stand-in for lettuce in salads. Edible raw or cooked. Older leaves are tough and not worth eating. Bonus: the wood is really, really good for carving.

Nettles

We’ve covered nettles before. They’re good.

Dandelions

Everyone knows about dandelions. In Tennessee we deliberately blew their seeds all across our yard to ensure a steady supply of sweet, edible flowers. The young leaves are also supposed good, but I always seem to catch them too late and the bitterness makes them unpleasant. (Dandelions are covered in greater detail in this post.)

Sheep Sorrel

Also known in Latin as Rumex acetellosa, sheep sorrel is a delicious and tart green that’s perfect for Caesar salads. It’s common in horse pastures and in sunny open ground.

Oxalis

There are oxalis plants all across the nation. They’re all edible and everyone I’ve tried has been tart and tasty, much like the afore-mentioned sheep sorrel.

Shepherd’s Needle

This plant has a lot of names. It looks like a small daisy of some sort and is properly labeled Bidens alba. The young greens are good in salads or stir-fries. I also eat them with my scrambled eggs almost every morning as it’s a very prolific weed in my yard. (For an in-depth profile on this excellent wild edible, click here.)

Plantain

Though I don’t like the flavor, the plantain is a common weed across the United States. It’s very medicinal as well, making it a good minor addition to your salad-making. (Kendra Lynne has more on this good guy here.)

Wild Grapes

Though the grapes themselves are my favorite part of these plants, wild grape leaves are also a good, if somewhat astringent, addition to the dinner table. In small amounts young leaves are good in salads. Or you can add them to a mess of greens. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, make stuffed grape leaves. Mmm.

Violets

Violets were a common part of our diet when we lived in Tennessee. There was a big patch of them in the moist shade beneath our backyard hackberry trees. We gathered the greens for salads regularly. I also discovered that the blooms made an amazing blue tea when covered in boiling water. My daughter was particularly enchanted with the lovely drink. We served it in small cups for the children for little “tea parties” and on birthdays.

Beyond these few greens, there are also many other tasty and useful wild greens including dock, purslane, chicory, thistles, amaranth, greenbrier shoots, salad burnet, chickweed, wild mustard, watercress and more.

With so much to choose from, I’ve definitely cut down on the gardening space I devote to leafy vegetables, instead letting God provide foraged alternatives. The space I would have used for greens can now be devoted to high-calorie survival crops and roots.

Get a guide book, take a class, and start getting yourself some free food.

DISCLAIMER: Don’t eat anything you’re not completely sure is edible. Check with your local experts and don’t sue us if your tongue goes numb or if you end up going on an accidental Vision Quest with your long-dead relatives, in your underwear, across the Walmart parking lot.

About David The Good

David The Good is a naturalist, author and hard-core gardener who has grown his own food since 1984. At age five, he sprouted a bean in a Dixie cup of soil and caught the gardening bug. Soon after, his dad built an 8’ by 8’ plot for him and David hasn’t stopped growing since. David is the author of four books, writes a regular column for The Ag Mag in North Central Florida, is a Mother Earth News blogger and has also written for outlets including Backwoods Home, Survival Blog and Self-Reliance Magazine. You can find his books on Amazon here. David is a Christian, an artist, a husband, a father of seven, a cigar-smoker and an unrepentant economics junkie who now lives somewhere near the equator on a productive cocoa farm. Visit his daily gardening and survival blog here: The Survival Gardener And for lots more gardening info, click here and subscribe to his often hilarious YouTube channel.

View all posts by David The Good

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