Published: 24 March 2015
There is no question that we all need to learn basic survival skills with the crazy things that are happening in our world. One very important skill is being able to forage for food in the wild and knowing what plants are edible. The saying "one man's trash is another man's treasure" holds true even in the plant kingdom. There are several that are considered weeds but are surprisingly edible and nutritious.
The dandelion is the perfect example of a "weed" that many spend a lot of time, money and energy trying to get rid of, while others harvest this tasty delicacy for its amazing nutritional content and the fact that the entire plant is edible. There are actually hundreds of wild vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and herbs growing in our towns, our backyards, our parks and the woods that are nutritious, taste great and are absolutely free. Some are easy to recognize, while others require quite a bit of field training to find.
Although there is a huge number of wild plant varieties, not all of them are available across the world. So here's a list of five wild edibles that you should be able to find no matter where you live.
Five commonly found wild edibles
1. Clover: Clover is actually in the pea family and is one of the few plants that you can find all over the world. The blossoms are the tastier part, but the stem and roots offer benefits as well. You want the blossoms to be white, pink or red (not brown). It is high in protein, contains beta-carotene, vitamin C, many of the B vitamins, biotin, choline, inositol and bioflavonoids. Use caution, as some people are allergic to it and don't know it, so start with small quantities. Clover should be eaten completely fresh or completely dried, never in between, as fermented clover is poisonous. You can use the dried flowers in a tea or to make syrup.
2. Berries: Regardless of where you live, there should be a long list of wild berries available. Wild berries include blackberries, raspberries, dewberries, wineberries, blueberries, huckleberries, elderberries, black cherries, chokecherries, cranberries, serviceberries, strawberries, bunchberries, wintergreen and snowberries. Berries are high in vitamin K, manganese, vitamin C, fiber and copper as well as off the charts for antioxidants. They can be used for homemade jams, jellies, preserves and pie fillings. Another great way to take advantage of free food with wild foraging is to pick a large quantity of berries and freeze them for the winter. You can also dehydrate them to add to your yogurt or granola.
3. Nuts: Many kinds of nuts still grow in the wild, such as walnuts, acorns, pecans, hazelnuts, acorns, beechnuts, chestnuts, chinquapins, butternuts, hickory nuts and pine nuts. Although the nutritional content varies between the types of nuts, most wild nuts are high in vitamins and minerals and a great source of protein. Not all nuts are created equal, and it does take a large amount of effort to extract the nuts from their shells. Many nuts can be quite bitter, and different varieties have a vastly different taste. Pick up a field guide to determine the best-tasting varieties. This free source of food is also easy to store during the winter months while still in the shell.
4. Mushrooms: Mushrooms are also very plentiful and can be found in many different growing conditions. They can be an especially delicious food and readily available, but you must be very cautious in finding an edible variety. Of the over 10,000 species of mushrooms, only about 50 to 100 are toxic. About 6,000 Americans each year end up eating them. Over half of those cases involve unsupervised small children. Mushrooms contain some of the most potent natural medicines on the planet. High vitamin D content and great immune-boosting nutrients make them a popular choice amongst wild food foragers and health food advocates alike.
5. Purslane: This nutritious weed has a distinctive thick, reddish stem and succulent, green leaves. Purslane grows in many countries, because it thrives in poor soil. You've likely seen this plant growing up through the crack of your sidewalk or driveway. It can be eaten as a cooked vegetable and is great to use in salads, soups, stews or any dish you wish to sprinkle it over. Purslane is antibacterial and diuretic, and it's leaves are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Beware of the look-alike hairy-stemmed spurge, which is poisonous. Hairy-stemmed spurge is distinguished by a milky sap which can be seen if you squeeze or break the stem. And as the name implies, the stem appears to be hairy.
When foraging wild edibles, you must use common sense and caution. Use a field guide or consider getting a wild edibles app where you can look up pictures and be more confident in whether a plant is truly safe to eat. For those in urban areas, consider pollution and pesticides that may make plants inedible. Always wash and inspect your foraged edibles before you eat them.