Life Saving Forage
Not everyone likes green stuff on their plate. Most people would pass by the colorful veggies and take an extra helping of meat and ‘taters. But will you have heaping plates of pork chops and mashed potatoes after the apocalypse? Unlikely. Everyone should learn to identify the nutritious wild foods that grow, free for the picking, all around us.
You’ll need more than greens to fill you up and provide fuel for your body in survival situations. But if you don’t get ample supplies of vitamins and minerals, your body will show signs of stress and nutrient deficiencies pretty quickly. Without the proper nutrients we have trouble focusing, making logical choices, and remaining positive about our survival chances. Once you start down that path it only takes one slip up to land you in an early grave. So don’t wait until your food supplies are gone to start identifying wild foods. Get started now so you don’t have to hump up the learning curve on an empty stomach.
3 Nutritious Greens You Should Learn to Identify
This short list gives you a good starting point for learning to gather wild edibles. These greens are easy to identify, grow in most every part of the US (that has a decent amount of rainfall), are highly nutritious, and have multiple edible parts for three seasons of the year. Their leaves are best for salads in the spring, but can be used as cooked greens for most of the summer. They also have multiple edible parts with different uses and preparation, so don’t overlook the roots and seeds!
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelions are one of the most common weeds growing in our lawns and waste areas. Just about everyone knows what they look like from childhood on. Our nation spends a huge wad of money each year trying to eradicate this persistent plant from golf courses and suburban plots. Instead of spraying it with poison, we should be collecting it for salads, wine, jelly, tea, and cooked greens. Dandelions remain edible late in the fall and roots can be dug even in winter, making it a great wild edible to learn to identify.
- Identify – The leaves are toothed and grow from a basal rosette. Flowers are single, yellow, and mature to a white seed head with seeds borne in the wind by an ‘umbrella’ of fluff. All parts exude a bitter, milky sap when cut.
- Nutritional value – Raw dandelion greens are high in Vitamins A, C, and K, as well as a decent amount of calcium and iron. They also provide fiber and some protein and lower doses of many other vitamins and minerals. * Eating dandelions provides an array of healthy antioxidants. Many sources report that dandelion is a mild diuretic, blood purifier, detoxifying herb, and it may help alleviate allergies. **
- How to use – All parts of the plant are edible. The leaves are best in salads early in the season when they are still tender. The buds and flowers also make a nice addition to a salad, or they can be steamed, sautéed, or boiled with the leaves. Flowers can be made into wine or jelly with some natural sweeteners you can grow yourself. Brew a hot beverage from the dried, roasted roots to help warm you up in the winter. Be sure to dry thoroughly for storage. All parts can be dried and stored for winter.
Lambs quarters (Chenopodium album)
Also known as wild spinach or pigweed, this plant grows in disturbed soil and waste areas throughout the US. It has a mild flavor compared to most wild greens and many people find it more palatable than dandelion greens. I let parts of my garden grow up with this wild edible each year, just so I can pick it for salads and cooked greens when my spinach and lettuce can’t keep up with demand.
- Identify – This erect, multi-branched plant has a white, mealy coating on the toothed leaves. Lower leaves are somewhat diamond shaped. Flowers are small, green, and inconspicuous. The seeds are black and very small. Grows 1 to 3 feet tall.
- Nutritional value – The cooked greens are high in Vitamins A, C, riboflavin, B6, as well as calcium, potassium, and manganese. They are also a great source of fiber and provide a decent amount of protein (12% of our daily recommendation).* Some sources report that lamb’s quarters has more health benefits than cultivated spinach.
- How to use – Young leaves are great in salads and taste a lot like spinach. As the leaves mature, you may want to cook them up and add a bit of salt. The seeds can be collected (rather time consuming) and used as a cooked cereal or ground for flour.
Mustard (Brassica spp.)
There are several varieties of edible wild mustard plants that grow over most of the US. All are edible cousins of broccoli. The most common in my area is field mustard. Don’t like broccoli? Well, it’s a lot milder than field mustard, but survivors can’t be choosers. I like the raw mustard leaves when they’re nice and tender as an addition to a salad for a bit of tang. But my favorite part is the immature flower head cooked up like broccoli and drizzled with olive oil and vinegar.
- Identify – Lower leaves are broad and deeply lobed. The four-petaled, yellow flowers are borne in terminal clusters above the leaves. The spicy seed pod resembles a small, fat pea pod that points upward.
- Nutritional value – Cooked mustard greens are high in Vitamins A, C, K, and folate as well as calcium and manganese. They provide some protein, a good amount of fiber and many vitamins and minerals in smaller amounts. Flower buds are rich in protein and the whole plant is a great source of antioxidants.
- How to use – Young leaves can be added to salads or boiled. Flower buds are great sautéed or steamed. Young seed pods can be cooked and eaten. The seeds can be collected and ground for seasoning foods or making prepared hot mustard.
Get Your Green On
Gathering wild greens is a great way to supplement your diet, whether you want to save money and go natural now, or you want to learn to identify wild foods in a survival situation. If we’re faced with TEOTWAWKI, you’ll want to take advantage of every available resource to supply the nutrition you need to survive and thrive in a hostile world. Will you be the scavenger searching for cans of dog food in abandoned basements? Or will you take matters into your own hands and gather wild edibles rich in nutritional value? Take the first step toward foraging and learn to gather these three wild greens now!