Can Foraging Provide Enough Nutrition?
Many of us depend on daily multivitamins to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies that would leave us malnourished and vulnerable to disease. How did people get all the nutrition they needed before supplements were invented? Some of them certainly fared poorly when there wasn’t enough food available. But when people lived closer to the land and ate a variety of nutrient dense wild foods they were healthier than your average Joe today.
With the advent of farming we replaced wild foods with grains and livestock that were easier to harvest. Nutritional density dropped as we continually selected crops for higher yields, mild flavor, increased sugar content, or disease resistance. Most people moved away from living off the land and lost all knowledge of the wild foods that can sustain our bodies. It’s a dangerous situation to be completely dependent on the grocery store and big business for all of your nutritional needs. If our civilization is faced with food shortages, economic collapse, or other cataclysmic events, we will need to know how to obtain our vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional needs from the abundance of the wild.
How To Get Started
Don’t wait until you really need to survive on wild foods to start learning what is edible. You can supplement your diet with wild foods for a rich source of vitamins and minerals, and become more self reliant right away. It will give you time to research wild edibles with a clear mind, making it easier to identify, collect, and prepare these foods properly. There are numerous wild edibles that have poisonous ‘look-alikes,’ making it paramount to have a positive ID before sampling.
Start by purchasing a good identification book or two. Keep them in your bug out bag. Having an experienced guide to help on your first few forays into the ‘wild’ is also very helpful. Take a notebook to write down your observations and press the leaves of plants you are identifying between the pages. Have a cell phone on hand to call for help if you become ill from a misidentified plant. Many plants have only certain parts that are edible, or they are only edible at certain stages of growth. Take care not to collect parts of other plants in with your identified edibles. Err on the side of caution and remember that although a plant may generally be safe to eat, you could have allergies or sensitivities to them. Be sure that the identification guide you take covers the plants in your region. Choose a guide that lists edible and poisonous plants, what parts of the plant are edible and the season to collect, what conditions they grow in, how to prepare, and what dangerous plants are similar.
What to Bring
Depending on how far you’re traveling to forage and how long you’ll be gone, you may need to add some extra gear. If you’re going farther than the back yard, but not into seriously wild or unfriendly territory, grab the items from this list:
- Identification guide
- Portable shovel or trowel
- Sharp knife or shears
- Plastic bags, containers for collecting
- Sunscreen and bug spray…unless you really want a realistic experience.
- Map, cell phone, camera, first aid kit
If you’re going into unfamiliar territory, tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Practice for serious situations by bringing your bug out bag and camp for a few days. If you’re surviving in a post apocalyptic scenario, grab more stuff…weapons, ammo, rations, whatever you can carry.
Where To Look
The edible plants you find will depend on where you’re foraging. In a survival situation, you won’t have much choice. You can start now by looking right in your own back yard or walking through an abandoned lot. Avoid collecting plants from lawns that are sprayed with chemicals, along highways, or in areas with pollution or polluted waters. Don’t walk through private property without permission from the landowner. Keep in mind that many nature preserves have rules about collecting plant and animal life.
Common Wild Edibles
Some of these plants grow in suburban lawns and urban weed lots. You can walk out your door and have a salad or a mess of greens for cooking in just a few minutes. Gather young tender plants that will be higher in vitamins and minerals. Deep green leafy plants are rich in vitamins A, C, and K, plus folate, iron, calcium, and fiber. Adding deeply colored wild fruits to your meals will also supply much of your daily nutritional needs. This is by no means a complete list and will vary depending on your area.
Salad or Cooking Greens:
- Shepard’s Purse
- Amaranth (seeds can be ground for flour)
- Curled dock
- Wild Mustard
- Wood Sorrel
- Garlic mustard
Fruits and Berries:
- Wild Apple
- Elderberry (black or purple berries, the kind with red berries is poisonous)
- Wild Grapes
- Wild Blueberry
- Paw Paw
- Wild Stawberry
- Highbush Cranberry
- Kousa Dogwood fruit
- Blackhaw Viburnum berries
- Mountain Ash fruit
Nuts, Seeds, and Acorns:
- Acorns (need to be soaked in warm water to remove tannins)
- Black Walnut
- American or Asian Chestnuts (Do not eat Horse Chestnut or Ohio Buckeye, both are poisonous)
- Sumac- fuzzy seed pods make a tart, vitamin rich drink. (Do not confuse with Poison Sumac, which has toothless leaves and a loose bunch of white berries)
- Redbud – immature seed pods and flowers are edible
- Common Sunflower
Roots and Tubers:
- Water Lilies
- Cattails (tubers, shoots, immature seed heads, and pollen are all edible)
- Burdock (First year roots. Stems are also edible when young. Cook in several changes of water)
- Wild Potato Vine
- Daylily (Flowers, flower buds, young shoots, and tubers are all edible. Do not confuse with Asian Lilies.)
- Ground Nut
- Spurge Nettle
- American Lotus
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Ramps, wild onion and garlic
Tea and Coffee Substitutes (Some have medicinal qualities):
- Elderberry Flowers
- Wild Chamomile
- Pine (needles and bark)
- Canadian Hemlock (needles and bark)
- Slippery Elm (for sore throat)
- Sassafrass (root is used to flavor root beer)
- Gingko (leaves)
- Kentucky Coffee Tree (Seeds must be baked for 3 hours, then can be ground for brewing)
- Chicory Root
- Dandelion Root
- Rose hips
There are many varieties of edible mushrooms available in the wild. Be extremely careful when foraging for mushrooms because some are extremely toxic. This is one type of wild food that might be better left for more experienced foragers.
- Giant Puffballs
- Shaggy Mane
- Chicken of the Woods
Foraging Throughout The Year
In warmer climates, it is possible to gather a larger part of your nutritional needs from the wild year round. In northern areas with cold winters and snow cover, it will be much more difficult to find enough to sustain yourself. There are always some wild edibles to be found. Vitamin rich tea can be brewed from the young needles of pine and hemlock. The inner bark of hemlock, balsam fir, pine, and birch trees can be stripped and eaten in a pinch. In late winter when the days begin to warm, you can tap maple, birch, box elder, and sycamore trees for their sap. Dandelions and plantain will often remain green and nutritious late into the fall. Rose hips will dry on the plant and persist into the winter.
Foraging for wild foods can supplement your diet and give you a greater sense of independence. It’s great to go wild and collect your own food from nature. Just make sure that you have a positive identification on any foods you eat. Having the ability to identify common wild edibles, hunt, and fish will help you stay healthy and survive if you are lost in the wild or we are faced with TEOTWAWKI. In my opinion, this is one of the most basic abilities that can save your life in a survival situation.
*The Prepper Project cannot be held responsible for illness caused by improper identification of wild edibles. Make sure you know what the hell you’re doing before you start nibbling on leaves and fruits in the woods!