Eating wild! I know many of you are thinking this is far out and old-fashioned. Old-fashioned it might be, but more in-fashion than you think. Many “normal people” eat things out of the wild, such as soups, salads, meat, and many more “wild dishes” that can be prepared and in a delicious way. No, you will not be malnourished, and, in fact, it can be much more nutritious than your daily diet is right now. Knowing how to eat in the wild can save money, and it can even save your life. I am going to show you how to cook a few wild foods. We are going to cook them over a campfire, but you can cook them in the comfort of your home even more easily.
Here in Tennessee, we have cattails, dandelions, lambs-quarter, watercress, walnuts, wild onions, red clover, chickweed, fish, rabbits, deer, snakes, blackberries, and the list keeps going. Depending on where you live, your wild edible plants, wild game, herbs, nuts, and berries will be somewhat different. All you have to do is to go to your local library and get a book of the edible plants in your state.
Avoid gathering any herbs in contaminated soil. And beware of malodorous look-alikes (Safe-to-eat plants do not emit a bad or resinous smell when you crush their leaves between your fingers.). It is good to start slow when first eating wild plants. The vitamin and nutritional levels can be so high that it takes some getting used to. When researching other edible plants, pay attention when books tell you to double-boil certain plants; follow their advice. If it is a strong plant, it will taste much better boiled in water twice. Double-boiling can also reduce the potential toxicity of the plant.
Young shoots can be used like celery. Flower petals are used to thicken soups/stews. Root tubers can be used just like pearl taters or water chestnuts.
Cattails, dandelions, lambs-quarter, plantain, berries, fish, and red clover can be found almost everywhere, so I am going to show you one way I like “eating wild.”
About Dandelion—Weeds to Food
Dandelions are best picked where the grass grows tall and free. Dandelions in your yard do not always taste as good as they do in the wild. Dandelion greens are the leaves above the surface. To cook the greens, wash them, then place them in a pan and pour boiling water over them—boil for five minutes. Season with salt and butter. Eat hot! Dandelion leaves are best gathered before the plant blooms, just before the bloom bud appears, and before the stalk grows. If you allow them to mature and get old, they will taste bitter, but you can get most of that bitter taste out by boiling them a second time in fresh water. The flowers are great in salads, soups, and in stir fries. The root can be roasted, dried, and then ground for a coffee substitute.
You can find it everywhere. It loves fields, meadows, yards, and more. If in doubt, ask a friend to show you what it looks like.
Dandelion roots, leaves, and flowers have a number of medicinal properties.
Modern science has analyzed dandelion greens and found them to be a good source of calcium, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and to be one of the best blood purifiers.
About Red Clover
Red Clover’s most defining characteristics are the purple-red globe-shaped flower and the v-shaped stripe of white across the green leaves. The flowers generally bloom early—Spring through mid-Fall. You can find it in fields, thickets, and roadsides—about anywhere. Clover in general is healthy to eat and very nutritious, and it is downright delicious. It’s good in salads, as a cooked green, ground to flour, or as a specialty tea. The most commonly-eaten parts of the clover are the flower heads and the leaves. They are easier to eat if soaked for about an hour or boiled.
Clover is high in protein and many other nutrients. It has antispasmodic and expectorant properties that give relief to congestion of the lungs and the respiratory system. It is used to treat whooping-cough, bronchitis, asthma, and much, much more.
Studies show cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries to be among the best antioxidants available.
Fish are lower in saturated fat, total fat, and calories than a comparable portion of meat or poultry. Some fish, particularly fatty, cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, and herring, are high in omega-3 fatty acids, something we do not always get enough of. Anchovies, sardines, and lake trout are other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
You can find cattails beside most water sources. It is often found in swamps and growing beside lakes and ponds. Cattails have a wide variety of parts that are edible to humans. It is a plant you should learn to recognize and use. Different times of the year, various parts of the plant are more tender and tasty. The rhizomes are a pleasant, nutritious and energy-rich food source, generally harvested from late fall to early spring. They are starchy, but also fibrous. In late spring, when they are still tender, there is a shoot that comes up that tastes a lot like a raw cucumber, but when cooked tastes like corn. When the flower spike develops and is still green in early Summer, it can be broken off and eaten like corn on the cob. In mid-Summer the pollen of male flowers is collected and used as a flour supplement or thickener. Mid-July through Spring, the root base starts a new, white-horned root. You can pull the plant up, cut the white horn off, and eat it raw or cooked. I love them sautéed.
They range from one foot to seven feet tall, with long, sword-like, slick, starchy leaves, and they develop a corn-dog-looking-flower on the top of the center stalk. In the fall, it dries and becomes fuzzy, blowing away in the wind.
Cattails can be boiled like a rootstock and the residue used for increasing urination (if that is your health need), or they can be mashed into a jelly-like paste and applied to sores, boils, wounds, burns, scabs, inflammations, and smallpox pustules.
Lambs-quarter is a wild relation of the spinach plant. You can use it on sandwiches in place of lettuce or spinach. It grows prolifically throughout most of the world. The best way to identify lambs-quarter is by its very distinctive mealy, white or lavender powder present in the center whorl and on top of the plant where you see new growth, or just underneath the leaves. The leaves vary from the older diamond-shape to the younger goosefoot ones. Lambs-quarter likes a rich sunny spot. That is why, starting in late Spring, you find it in a vacant lot, in parks, gardens, and any open patch of sunny green space. It especially comes up where the ground was disturbed the previous year. From Spring into Summer, young shoots and leaves are flavorful and tender. Although they might not be as sweet, the plant is still edible until Winter’s first frost.
Lambs-quarter is one of the most nutritious wild herbs/foods you can eat.
One cup of raw lambs-quarter leaves contains: 80 mg of vitamin C, 11,600 IU of vitamin A, 72 mg of phosphorus, 309 mg of calcium, as well as good amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron.
It is also very edible, though a little strong. You can use it all year long, but it is most tender before it flowers. If it is tough, then you can just slice the leaves across the fibers and cook them very well. You can also boil it in fresh water twice to lighten the flavor. The flower shoots provide you with some vitamin B1, and can also be eaten when tender. Plantain is good in fried rice and soup, and can be eaten as greens, and more. Plantain is one of those plants that you can find almost anywhere. From across the world to a New York City sidewalk crack, it loves the sun, but grows in the shade, too. It loves moist ground, but also lives in the drier areas.
Plantain is a very nutritious and medicinal herb. It’s very good for you, containing lots of calcium and vitamin C, and has a good amount of vitamin A. Plantain is also an amazing astringent. It is used to draw poison out of bites and stings. Just grab a leaf. Chew it up and spit it on the bite.
Red Clover Salad
1 big handful of young tops of lambs-quarter. I use lettuce when I run out of lambs-quarter.
1 big handful of red clover tops
Spring leaves of dandelion
A few dandelion flowers
You can crush blackberries or whatever berry you have for a suitable dressing.
Fish ’n Rice
You can cook your fish over the fire like a hotdog, or fry it in a pan with butter. You can even coat it with clay or mud, and cook it in the coals. Any way you cook it, adding a little salt and herbs makes it taste really good.
Rice and Cattails
Wash and cut up into bite size pieces:
1/2 cup of each: young dandelion leaves, lambs-quarter (tops of plant), young leaves, tender young plantain leaves
1 to 3 cups cattail horns or shoots
1 or 2 cups cooked brown rice
Sauté them in butter, sprinkle with sea salt and herbs (I like them with a dash of rosemary, thyme, oregano, and pepper. YUMM!) Don’t feel that you need to stop with my recipe; add wild onions, water crest, and maybe even some cactus. You would be surprised to discover that not only is it good survival food, it is gourmet.
On my website BulkHerbStore.com, I have a list of books and websites for recipes, finding wild plants, and learning to prepare them. Here are some additional books that will help you learn more, also available at BulkHerbStore.com:
- Primitive Wilderness Skills Applied, DVD
- Making Herbs Simple, Vol. I, and Vol. II DVDs (Also available at No Greater Joy!)
Note: The following items (recommended by the author of this article) are no longer carried by BulkHerbStore.com. However, they can be purchased from other vendors—such as Amazon.com:
- Feeding The Whole Family: Cooking with Whole Foods
- Fire and Cordage, DVD