Friday, August 29, 2008

Why Wild Foods?

Why Wild Foods?
By Patricia Neill Boone © 2008

(OK, enough with the copyright stuff or the fancy name. I'll just go by Handmaiden here.)

“We spend millions on herbicides to kill the dandelions in our lawns, while we pay millions more for diet supplements to give ourselves the vitamins and minerals that dandelion could easily furnish.” Euell Gibbons in his essay on Just How Good Are Wild Foods?

In a world that is crumbling before us, and where we might have to live on foods we’ve grown and stored, learning to gather wild foods is an excellent skill to have. It is knowledge that once learned, cannot be taken from you. Even if you lost everything--your job, your family, your prepped gear and foods, you would still be able to eat if you know how to fish and how to forage.

I was reading somewhere how a guy was a POW in Germany in the Second World War. He knew what wild foods to eat and recognized some growing where his prison camp was located in Germany. While many around him died from malnutrition, starvation and disease, his knowledge of the wild nutritious weeds kept him alive.

Wild foods are full of health-giving nutrients, vitamins and minerals. As these elements become more and more rare in our over-processed foods, Americans have become malnourished even as they’ve become obese. We need all the trace minerals, the vitamins, the essential fatty acids, the minerals we can get, and wild foods can give them to you. Here is a wonderful chart of many of the more common wild edibles and their nutritive value.

Purslane and lambs’ quarters, which I found yesterday growing (free!) in my garden, are both high in essential fat, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin C. We had them in a salad last night. These are weeds, folks, hardy plants that you have to work hard to get rid of. I’ll “get rid” of mine by letting them grow into a good size so that we can more fully enjoy them. With purslane, it is good to just break off the stem and leave the root. The stem will grow back.

These foods, these weeds, essentially, grow all around you wherever you are. Once you learn the plant, you will always recognize it, even driving past a patch of something in a car, you’ll still be able to identify the plant. Learning this skill can save your life, it can provide you with food in hard times, it can be your ticket into a survival group, and best of all, no one can ever take the knowledge from you. Once learned, its yours.

When I go out to forage, I carry a backpack with some essential tools. I suggest you get the tools, keep them in a bag of some sort in your car, and you’ll always be ready to forage wherever you are.

When I first started foraging, I just took a folding knife and some plastic bags for whatever I managed to harvest. As I made more foraging trips, I realized that some other tools would also come in handy. Here’s what I carry these days.

I keep a small backpack in the trunk of my car that holds all my foraging stuff. It’s got bottled water, some Avon Skin-so-Soft bath oil (the best bug repellent in the world), lots of plastic bags, a foraging book with color photos and good ID information and my tools.

The tools are standard gardening tools--a hand trowel, a hand cultivator, a pruning tool, and a root digger. I also have a nifty pruning/gardening multi-tool with two knife blades, one with some saw teeth, a saw and a short root digger. Mine is similar to the one shown in the link, but with less tools. There’s a pair of gloves in the pack as well--you need ‘em for those nettles. I also carry a shovel in the trunk of the car for digging bigger roots.

The book I carry in my pack is Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide by Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman. This guide has good photos and good information on each plant, and it isn’t heavy or bulky.

And that’s it--that’s all you’ll need. You don’t have to have the field guide I carry--though I really like this book. Just make sure you have a good guide with color photos and a good description of the plant and its habitat. If you have any doubts about a plant, take a sample--a branch, a shoot, something with the leaves and other key identification aspects, and continue to research it on the web. You’ll soon learn to ID the plants you’re interested in. Good luck and happy hunting!

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