Learning Wild Edibles

June 15, 2012

Wild Edibles

Eating too much fast food

Why Be Normal?

What I’m about to tell you of my upcoming weekend plans will qualify me as a prepper nerd; I know that. But at this point I’m well beyond what is considered “normal” in society. In fact, I really don’t want to conform to America’s current sense of normal.

“Why?”, you ask. Let’s consider what normal is these days. According to Food Nation by Eric Schlosser,

“In 1970, Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food; in 2000, they spent more than $110 billion. Americans now spend more money on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software, or new cars. They spend more on fast food than on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music – combined.”

That’s certainly not me. And I have no desire to eat more McDonald’s or Subway. I’d much prefer Laura’s homemade bread and fresh greens from our garden. Oh, we still eat out and we still purchase quite a bit of food from the stores. But our goal is to continually reduce that as much as possible by planting a garden, growing fruit trees, and raising our own meat.

Identifying Wild Edibles

eating wild dandelions

There’s another way we’re learning eat better while simultaneously preparing for TEOTWAWKI. We’re learning to harvest from what God has provided through nature. That’s what’s gotten me excited about this weekend.

I’ve registered my oldest two kids and me for a Wild Edibles course that is being conducted by our local Parks and Recreation Department. It’s a short two-hour course being offered in a nearby wildlife park. In it, we’re going to walk through the fields and woods, identifying naturally occurring plants and trees in our area that offer edible, if not delicious, sources of nutrition.

I’ve done some self study and have learned from others who know more than me, including Laura. I know Wood Sorrel, Dandelions, Clover, and Chickweed are edible. I can identify them and have tasted them in the wild. I can seek out wild blackberries and persimmons. But I’d like to know more. For example, I’ve read that Cattails are edible but I’ve never eaten them.

Last year, Laura traveled to another city to take a similar but more in-depth course. She came back with a great deal of knowledge about what we can and cannot eat from nature’s bounty.

There is so much that is edible out in the wild. Yet there is also so much that we cannot eat. It’s important to know the difference. Eating the wrong thing can be dangerous. Even touching some plants can cause weeks of discomfort.

That’s why it’s important to learn from an expert. Books are good supplements, but they are no substitute for being able to talk with a true authority in the subject.

Look for a Class Near You

Interested in learning how to identify and harvest wild edibles in your part of the world? Seek out local resources.

  • a cattail has lots of uses for the survivorLocal Parks and Recreation Departments just may have a program that’s similar to the one I’ve described.
  • Community colleges may offer formal seminars or may be able to put you in touch with an instructor willing to hold an impromptu session.
  • Agriculture extension offices frequently have community outreach programs that may offer classes in gardening, tree identification, and wild edibles.

If you cannot find a local source, consider traveling to an Eat the Weeds class. DVDs are also of some value but there’s nothing better than talking with a true local expert.

What about you? Do you harvest wild edibles? Could you if pressed into a survival situation?

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15 Comments on “Learning Wild Edibles”

  1. millenniumfly Says:

    That’s a good idea I hadn’t considered. Unfortunatley, most every plant looks like a weed to me. 😦


    • Joe Says:

      Me too, Millenniumfly, but I’m getting better at identifying them and knowing their potential uses.

      It’s something that you have to be 100% certain about though. Some edible plants had dangerous look-alikes.



  2. Jarhead Survivor Says:

    Nerd! Just kidding, Joe. Sounds like a fun weekend to me. Cat tails have been called “Nature’s Supermarket” because of the many uses the plant offers. You can make cordage (not very strong, but good for some tasks), you can pull the plant out near the base and eat the bottom few inches without washing it. You can dig up the risome and eat that (all year long from what I understand), and in a pinch you can even make arrow shafts from the straight stalks. The fluff has many uses as well.

    Dandelion greens are good, but are a might bitter until they’re cooked.

    How’s the wife and little one doing?


    • Joe Says:

      Chickweed is another great plant, just about nothing negative to say about it.

      Laura and the newest addition to our family are both doing well, thanks. The baby is health, hungry, and she lets us know that there is nothing wrong with her lungs now. 🙂


    • Tin Man Says:

      Some years ago, I took a summer course at Springfield college, Vermont. Myself and 15 other intrepid adventure types worked all summer at identifying, harvesting and processing all sorts of indigenous wild edibles. Part of my ‘Final Exam’ was to harvest and process, Cattails. Harvesting an entire plant we (the whole class participated in the wild edible smorgasbord), We ate the young stalks raw (tastes a bit like celery) and even barbecued the stalks. The starchy bulbous roots were washed, sliced and fried with butter or can be done on the grill.
      For extra points on my final, I also harvested ‘Indian Potato”, A viney, flowering plant with edible jewels along the plants stringers.
      Others in the class, harvested wild asparagus, Plantain, chickweed, sorrel salad, garnished with impatiens, fiddleheads and violets. We were lucky enough that someone harvested some Morel Mushrooms, although not a fan of eating mushrooms, these tasted pretty good.
      I have expanded my foraging wild edible list over the years to include, Lambs Quarter (better than spinach IMHO), Sheep sorrel, Wild Garlic, Wild Onion, Virginia Creeper, aka 5 fingered ivy, hibiscus and Rose of Sharon flowers.
      There are a multitude of delicious wild flowers, Ground ivy, Chicory,, smooth sumac, (for a citrusy/ lemony drink.
      And least of all, lets not forget the wonders of Pine needle tea (exceptionally good when infused with some wild black berries.
      If you know what to look for, you can enjoy wild edibles throughout the seasons.


  3. Tin Man Says:

    You’d be surprised at what tasty treat you can make from a handful of ‘weeds’.
    I invited a lady friend for a wild foraging dinner a few weeks ago. I harvested Chickweed, Virginia Creeper (five finger ivy), Sorrel and Lambs Quarter. I washed, cut and chopped the weeds, then Sauteed in Olive oil an onion from the garden with a tomato and a bit of garlic, Combined the whole mixture in the covered skillet until it cooked down. Then I combined it in a bowl of fresh Penne Pasta, tossed well, added a touch more Olive Oil for moisture and Voila’ a very tasty and satisfying meal.
    Yes Jarhead, Catails are great survival food year round. I have eaten them raw when young and tender, (a bit like celery). I have had the stalks cooked, BBQ’d on an open fire with a touch of BBQ sauce. I also have boiled the peeled starchy roots and served it with butter. (You can also slice, and fry them as home fries’)
    Some of my other favorites are Jeruselem Artichoke roots (‘Sun Chokes’) cooked like home fries, Thistle, Burdock roots and a myriad of wild flowers like roses (also Rose hips, Borage, even day lilly’s) are all loaded with vitamins and minerals.
    Happy foraging


    • Joe Says:

      Thanks for the comments, TinMan!

      I’ve heard mixed reports on Virginia Creeper and I haven’t had a chance to ask a local forager about it. Some say that it’s toxic (especially the berries), while others say it’s ok. I’ve got to do more research on it.




    • Tin Man Says:

      You are right Joe, I have read that Virginia Creeper has been reported as toxic, especially the berries. I have also read too that the leaves are delicious and nutritious. However, I didn’t find ‘who’ reported it as toxic, and only that it is ‘reported’ as toxic from what other people have said.
      I have read that it is quite delicious and very nutritious (Susun Weeds site) and the flavor varies from the size of the leaves,(true). I can report that I personally enjoy it. My friend enjoyed it too and neither of us suffered any adverse reaction whatsoever. I have found that to be true with other wild edibles as well as wild herbal medicinals, where one person may have had a reaction and reported such then it becomes the accepted norm. Where as also, others have used the plant and have used it with positive results…. Wild lettuce,(Lactuca) comes to mind. Some say it is quite toxic. I have used it for acute pain relief, (especially Muscular/ Skeletal and dental – tooth ache) with fantastic results for many years. Comfrey is another herb now being labeled too as toxic to the liver. Comfrey has been used for centuries as a valid and valuable plant resource. But recently the FDA has ruled against it.. (I still use it in herb teas and as a potent topical because it works).
      As of late the FDA has been on a blatant smear campaign against using herbals and supplements in general. The FDA uses a campaign of smear, demean, demonize and destroy what their bosses over at big Pharma doesn’t like. The FDA has proposed a list of suspected dangerous plants ‘they’ don’t want you (joe Public) to use.
      Most of my my research as a therapeutic herbalist lies with the many proven historical applications. I trust the older reputable herbal books and references prior to 1965 as being the most accurate as I have seen many of the newer books (post 1965) distort the historical applications (always cross reference from as many resources as possible), …. They remove many of the historical validations and quite frankly lie about some of the herbs that I have known and use daily.
      Cross reference
      and learn”….
      It could save your life… It has mine.


      • Joyce Duke Says:

        Hi Tin Man, Congratulations on taking those smart pills and wising up to the fact that the our protective agency stopped working for our benefit, but it goes beyond the big pharm,
        and to the one world global government, aka the new world order.

        For all of you wanting to know what is edible and helpful medicinally, I am still struggling
        with learning more edibles & to identify mor of the medicinal plants myself, but can share a few with you. Those dandelions are both food and medicine, which certainly gives one the idea that if we ate more nutritiously, we would most likely need fewer medicines. I am
        amazed by the number of chemicals in the plants and what those chemicals do.

        If any of you know for sure whether Johnson grass, quack grass and wheat grass are one and the same, please let me know. I can not find Johnson grass in my favorite data base site but believe that the plant the USDA describes as an invasive weed, is the same one my data base calls couch, quack, or wheat grass. I plan to dehydrate a good supply of their rhizomes for future extraction when I find out for sure. If they are I also suggest that all of you gather a good store of them for yourselves.

        One great medicinal plant I have some personal knowledge of and very willing to share,
        is one easily identified called poke sallet or poke weed. When asked for information on safe home remedy for scabies, my reply was that poke root was said to be helpful and that what I had read was that you dug up a good sized root and boiled it in water for 10 or 15 minutes, let it cool off and bathed the affected areas with the poke root water.
        When I inquired later how it worked, my informant laughed and said “She thought it was going to set her on fire but it took care of the problem.

        I have never taken the poke root itself, but have read on Eartj Clinic where someone else had made poke root extract and did take it orally.

        I have been taking poke berries personally since my youngest child was about 1 1/2
        years old and since that child is now 50 and I am still here to pass on this good information to you, they ARE NOT POISON, just good medicine. They work by jump starting or boosting your immune system. I began with 5 berries 4 times per day and increased a few berries each day until I reached 25 berries 4 times per day. Initially I
        picked the berries as they ripened dehydrated the excess for use later, but have since got more sophisticated and extract them, because the extracted herbs retain their helpful ingredients for several years versus only 6 to 9 months when dehydrated.


  4. Sharon Lee Lockhart Says:

    I personally have been eating “wild edibles” for years. My step-father turned me onto them and I still eat them.
    My husband helps me to find enough of them to put them up in jars every spring. We usually can what is called around here, Trillium. It has three large leaves and a lovely flower in the center. If you pick them early, they are very tender when cooked. If you wait till they are larger then you must cook them longer but they are very good “greens.’ Greens is what they call them here in WV.
    I also have picked a lot of different ones thru the years and enjoy them whenever I can. I have bought books to help me to identify them but finding someone who knows them and will teach them to you is the best, for experience is so much better then just reading about it.
    I would suggest finding a book about Edible Plants to help you along. Mine is called
    “Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants” by Bradford Angier. It is old but still helps me to identify the plants that grows locally.
    Good hunting and good eating.


    • Joe Says:

      That’s great, Sharon! You’re right, having someone to teach you is the best way to learn. There are just too many variables to go strictly from a book. The guides that you mentioned are great resources, though. We have them as well.

      It’s nice to walk in through the yard and see edibles rather than weeds.



  5. Justice Robert Says:

    I’ve tried cattail and they have tasted like cucumber. Anyone else feel the same?



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