(AUGUST 2005)

Wild Edible Plants


One aspect of survival and being prepared is to also know how to eat wild plants when food storage is not available, or in other emergencies that may happen, such as getting lost in the wilderness on a camping, fishing or hunting trip. Vehicle break down, or many other possible unforeseen situations.

When looking for wild plants to eat, you must first have some knowledge of the plants in your area, knowing what is safe to eat in one part of the country wont be of much help in another where the plants are completely different. It is also vital to know what plants are poisonous because many edible plants are similar to poisonous ones. Poison hemlock has killed people who mistook it for its relatives, wild carrots and wild parsnips.

Some rules apply to using wild plants for food. First is to only eat plants you can absolutely identify. Second is to be careful where you find your plants. Plants that are along roadways or in public areas are often sprayed with pesticides. Plants in water areas can contain parasites, and fruit that is spoiling can contain dangerous fungal toxins. Plants of the same species may differ in their toxic or subtoxic compounds content because of genetic or environmental factors. One example of this is the foliage of the common chokecherry. Some chokecherry plants have high concentrations of deadly cyanide compounds while others have low concentrations or none. Horses have died from eating wilted wild cherry leaves. Avoid any weed, leaves, or seeds with an almondlike scent, a characteristic of the cyanide compounds.

You can make plants taste a little better by cooking them, boiling plants can also destroy parasites and help disinfect them. Although some plants or plant parts are edible raw, you must cook others to be edible or palatable. Edible means that a plant or food will provide you with necessary nutrients, while palatable means that it actually is pleasing to eat. Many wild plants are edible but barely palatable. It is a good idea to learn to identify, prepare, and eat wild foods. Methods used to improve the taste of plant food include soaking, boiling, cooking, or leaching. Leaching is done by crushing the food (for example, acorns), placing it in a strainer, and pouring boiling water through it or immersing it in running water.

Boil leaves, stems, and buds until tender, changing the water, if necessary, to remove any bitterness.

There is a way to test plants for eating if you have no other choice and do not know for sure if they are edible but it requires tasting a little and waiting several hours without eating anything else. Can be a dangerous way to find out. If you are interested in what that test is I found one site that list it as "Universal Edibility Test " http://www.wilderness-survival.net/plants-1.php this is where I have found much of this information.

Many plants in the upper U.S.

CAT TAIL -Cat tail can be found in the spring and summer in or along side water , marshes and ponds. It can be used in salads, as a starchy vegetable, bread, asparagus, cooked vegetable, soup, pickle, and jelly. It is a tall plant (up to 15 feet) with stiff pale-green leaves. The flower is a dense spike that changes in color from green to brown with a cotton-like material being produced on top as it grows. The young rootstocks have a sweet taste and are high in starchy material. They should be grated, boiled, and the starchy material drained out for use.

CHICKWEED -These annual plants can be used in salads and as potherbs. They are found in waste lots, gardens, and disturbed soils, and they survive winter frosts. It is good wholesome green vegetable that, when boiled, resembles spinach in taste. The leaves can also be eaten when boiled.

CLOVER- Clover can be used in salad, to make tea, as a breadstuff, and a potherb. The seeds and dried flowers can be used as a nutritious and wholesome bread food. It can be eaten raw or boiled. Eastern whites can be used to make clover tea by brewing the dried flower heads. It is best to dip clover leaves in salt water before eating or preparation to aid in digestion, and eating the leaves in excess can cause bloating.

DANDELION - This plant can be used as a potherb, in salad, and as a coffee substitute. Young leaves can be picked in early spring before the plant has flowered to add to salads, it can also be used in replace of spinach. The leaves should be boiled in two waters to rid bitterness. The roots can be ground to make a bitter coffee, and eaten for survival during a famine. Dandelion greens also have a tremendous amount of Vitamin A (25 times that of tomato juice and 50 times that of asparagus).

MILK-WEED - Milk-weed is usually found from late spring and through summer in dry, open soil along roadsides, fences, and fields. It cab be used as a cooked vegetable, potherb, sugar, and to make chewing-gum. Young leaves can be washed and the prepared like spinach. The shoots can be prepared like asparagus after rubbing them in your hands to remove their wool. The seed-pods can be boiled and served with meat, or boiled in salted water, with a little soda, and then canned.

ACORNS-  Unprocessed acorns usually have toxic quantities of tannin and may shutdown the digestive track. Proper leaching removes the tannin making them a major wild food item.  The most common steps in leaching are

Hot water leaching is faster and more common with "modern" experimenters but does not thicken or act as a binder (like eggs or gluten) when cooked. California black oak acorns usually are harvested in October to December

A Method of Cold Water Leaching acorns

Shell the acorns, (dried acorns are more brittle) Use nutcracker, rock, hammer… or soak in water until they split open, (about 2 weeks to a month) place 1 cup of shelled nuts in blender with about 1 quart of water, run blender for afew seconds at a time and remove the skins on the top, repeat until skins are all removed. Grind the nuts in the blender to a fine meal, water will turn milky. Pour the nuts and water through a fine cloth strainer, The part staying in the sieve needs to be ground again. The meal that stays in the cloth strainer needs more leaching. The very fine sediment that goes through the cloth thickens when it is cooked. When all the nuts are ground and pass through the sieve, move the cloth strainer and meal to another container of cold water and agitate the meal more fine sediment will cloud the water. After letting it set for about 10 min. remove the meal from the water and pour the water into the first container of murky water. Fill the second container with water again and put the meal into the fresh cold or warm water. The water may need to be change again.

Let the first container of murky water settle for 2 hours to overnight and change the water but keeping the sediment. This water changing may need to be done more than once. When the leaching water is poured off test for tannin by cooking equal amounts of meal and taste for tannin (bitter after taste and/or dry feel to the mouth). Cooking brings out the tannin taste. If there is no tannin taste pour the sediment into the strainer with the rest of the leached meal and let it drain. The acorns are now leached

White man's wiwish (wiwish is a Cahuilla name for acorn mush) 1 cup of drained but wet cold water leached acorn flower
1 cup water (some acorns need more some less)
1/4 to 1/2 teasp. Salt (to taste )
1/4 cup sweetener honey or fruit juice concentrate (optional

Mix ingredients together and bring to a boil, or until wiwish thickens.

I Hope this Newsletter gives you some ideas and inspires you to try some "wild" food. Please use care in identifying plants. There is so much information available., Books, even classes.  Check my website for recipes.

 SEPT-  Dehydrating and preserving the harvests.