Friday, September 26, 2008

Eating Weeds: How to Keep from Starving

From How to Live on Nothing by Joan Ranson Shortney

I got my copy of this nifty book from a used book seller working with Amazon. I think I paid .08 cents for the book and 4 bucks for shipping. It’s more than worth it! Full of tips and great ideas on living on less, lots less! The copyright is 1968, so a few things are dated, and I wouldn’t use the addresses as sources printed in the book--they’re probably way out of date by now. The first chapter is called “How to Keep from Starving,” and what’s below is excerpted from that. The text is from the book; the links I've supplied, mostly from Wildman Steve Brill's foraging pages and Prodigal Gardens, but other neat foraging pages as well. There’s many webpages for further study if you’re interested in wild edibles, and you should be if you want to eat well!

As the world crashes around us, know that there are foods we can eat for free. Winter will be the hard time, with not that many plants available--but there are always pine needles for vitamin C tea, chickweed can still be found even under the snow, and so on. But for winter you’ll need to store food. That’s what fall is for, so now is the time to be foraging and preparing these wild foods to have them for winter’s cold. Spring brings in a wonderful richness of awakening plant life, packed with all the vitamins and minerals we’ll need then.

(P. 18-22)
How to Eat the Weeds

Below is a list of additional vitamin- and mineral-rich wildings that are free for your picking. Varying only with the region you live in, you can help yourself to a handful from anyone’s garden. People will be glad to get rid of these weeds. Be sure you know what you’re picking. Most plants are safe to eat, but there are a few poisonous plants that resemble edible plants and there are poisonous parts to even old edible familiars, as, for instance, the leaves of rhubarb. You can get books in your library to help you identify the weeds. Don’t rely on the unsupported opinion of a gardener. One’s man’s meat is another man’s poison in this field. I have not included plants that need lengthy treatment to be edible, such as the jack-in-the-pulpit root, which the Indians dried for months before cooking and grinding to flour. It is poisonous when eaten raw. Nor have I included like skunk cabbage, which literally stink and need many vitamin-wasting changes of water to be pleasant. If you wish to eat it on a camping trip, Professor Oliver Perry Medsger in Edible Wild Plants (Macmillan, 1943) will tell you about its preparation. If you find several to your taste in the following list (and sometimes one must cultivate a taste for wildings), by all means explore the field further and broaden your menus. There are many more edible plants that the few I cite. First cook even those I suggest as salad plants. Digestions vary, and even among cultivated vegetables there are plants that some people can eat only cooked and other people can eat only raw. There are also vegetables--both wild and cultivated--which must always be cooked, as in the raw state there are indigestible or toxic ingredients.

GREEN AMARANTH or Pigweed is a weedy relative of red-plumed cockscomb except that pigweed’s plume is green. Eat leaves in spring as salad, later cooked as potherb.

BURDOCK has mature leaves that look like rhubarb’s except that they have a dull finish. (As children, we made baskets of its stickers topped with purple fuzzy flowers.) Burdock is cultivated in Japan for its edible roots. Stems and roots and young flowers stalks can be peeled and steamed. Peeled young stems can be eaten raw in salads. (NB: Use only first year roots, as the second year roots get very woody.)

CRESS, as potherbs or salad greens, including bitter cress, scurvy grass, and the well-known, tremendously vitamin-rich water cress, which should always be eaten raw. (NB: last spring we ate lots of winter cress or creasy greens. Slightly bitter but delicious!)

CHICORY. We’ve told you of the root use of this versatile plant. The basal leaves can be used as salad greens or potherbs. The blanched, second-growth leaves from the root are sold as endive.

CHICKWEED. Use leaves raw for salads or briefly steamed. (See Prodigal Gardens section for more information.)

CATTAIL. Both narrow and broad-leafed varieties are edible. These perennial swamp herbs have ten-foot blunt brown spikes. For spring salad, cut young stems 10 to 12 inches from root and peel off outer skin. Or cook roots, as did the pioneers, or use the starchy root as a meal, ground and dried. It can be added as a root vegetable to stew or boiled with other greens.

CARAWAY. You know the seeds and may have grown the plant in your herb garden. Caraway also grows wild. Young roots, shoots, and tender leaves in late spring can be used to flavor salads. Or use root boiled as vegetable, leaves in spring.

DAYFLOWER. A pretty weed, having three-petaled small blue flowers. Steam leaves in a little water as potherb.

EVENING PRIMROSE. Yellow nocturnally blooming flowers. This plant is cultivated in England for its edible roots, which can be used in stews and soups. In Germany cultivated under the name rampion. Leaves used as a potherb.

GREAT WILLOW HERB OR FIREWEED. Has magenta flowers, long willow-like leaves. Young shoots boiled as asparagus, leaves and young stems as potherbs.

JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE. This plant, with leathery leaves and a yellow flower like a sunflower, yields and edible root with tubers that can be boiled or baked like potatoes.

LAMBQUARTERS. This well-known weed was a favorite of the Indians. Can be eaten raw in salads or later cooked as a green. (We especially love it lightly steamed. It turns an attractive dark green. Mild and delicious, more nutritious than spinach.)

LETTUCE. Both the wild (horseweed) and the prickly are edible. Steam leaves briefly or add to soup.

MALLOW. There are many edible varieties, including cheeses (whose seed pods resemble their name and are edible), high mallow, and whorled or curled mallow. Use leaves and stems as potherbs and young shoots in early spring for salads. Hollyhock is a member of the mallow family and its leaves can be cooked and eaten.

MARSH MARIGOLD, called cowslip. Has heart-shaped leaves and glossy yellow flowers resembling buttercups. Potherbs only, not safe to eat raw. Steam leaves and serve with butter or cream sauce.

MILKWEED. When shoots of common milkweed are a few inches high they can be steamed. Discard first water to remove bitter milky juice. Serve like asparagus. Buds and flowers used by Indians for thickening and flavoring stews and soups. (The link here is to Sam Thayer’s interesting article on milkweed. You can eat lots of different parts of the milkweed, as well as make cordage, and use the milkweed fluff as insulation. Very useful plant.)

MUSTARD. This includes a big family. In addition to wild mustard, there are shepard’s purse, peppergrass, penny cress, and horseradish. Use early leaves for salads or cooked as potherbs. Horseradish root, grated and mixed with vinegar, is a meat accompaniment.

PLANTAIN. I once saw a child picking this most common weed in a city lot. Thinking she was starved for greenery, I was sorry that she had to stoop to plantain for her bouquet. Now, knowing more, I think she may have been told by her mother to collect the dinner vegetable. Steam the leaves briefly or until tender. In China this weed is popular as spring greens.

PURSLANE or Wild Portulaca. Here’s another weed that can be found for sale in Eurpoe and Mexico but that is too often ignored here. This succlent little plant has light-yellow flowers that open briefly on sunny days. Vitamin-rich, the leaves can be used raw in salads or cooked with the fleshy stems as a vegetable or in soup.

SASSAFRAS. This is a tree. Used dried leaves crushed as in Creole cookery for thickening and flavoring soups, fresh young leaves in soups, dried bark of root for a fragrant tea.

SORREL. Mountain or alpine, sheep and wood sorrel may all be used in salads or as potherbs.

THISTLE. Cook tops of Russian and sow thistles when very young; cook roots of elk and Indian thistles. The stinging or great nettle is also edible. Steam the young tops or use them in soups.

End of book excerpt. Well, that's enough food for thought and belly for today. I sincerely hope this information helps you and yours stay alive in tough times.


dennis said...

to bad you didnt mention dandelion that would have made your list ALMOST complete.

Patricia said...

I'm planning on a whole separate post on dandelions--they are a world of nutrition in themselves.