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    Wild ramps

    Foraging For Edible Plants

    ...for nutrition, survival, and fun
    by Samantha Biggers

    Wednesday, June 9, 2021, 2:41 PM

Knowing what plants are edible in your area is a valuable survival skill, and it can be a fun way to add some extra produce to your table throughout the growing season.

What types of plants you can forage vary greatly by what region you are in and specific micro-climatic features like slope, moisture, and how much sunlight is available.

Nutritional Value and Calories

Foraged foods are often deficient in calories, with some being low in calories and essential nutrients. While Wild Onions, garlic, and other greens and lettuces are delicious and contain some vitamins and minerals, you need a lot more than that to take care of your daily caloric needs. For those who are just foraging to supplement the food stocks we have at home, the meat we raise, etc., this is not as big a deal. In a survival situation or Depression, however, it matters a lot more. Foraging takes time and energy that you could dedicate to finding or growing food with a higher caloric payoff.

Most Common Edibles of North America

Below you will find a list of some of the more common edible plants in North America. If you click on any name a separate tab will open with detailed information about the plant.

Some of the plants listed are not technically native but have become naturalized in an area. A few are even considered invasive. A few on this list are often cultivated in gardens but often escape to thrive in the wild or they are found where there used to be a house.

Wild Fruits

American Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis)

Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)

Blackberries  (Rubus spp.)

Raspberries and Wineberries

Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum)

Wild Rose (Rosa sp.)

Apples

It is important to note that some wild fruits differ a lot more from their domestic counterparts than you might realize. Some wild apples, for example, are small and hard enough that you have to cook them to make them edible and get the full nutritional benefit.

Elderberries, domestic and wild, are very good for you, but they require adding something sweet to make them palatable.

Wild Onions and Alliums

Wild Onion

Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum)

Wild Onions 

There are many varieties of wild onion out there. Here in the Appalachian mountains, we look forward to Spring and the emergence of Ramps. The Ramp is a Wild Leek. Many people fry them with eggs, but they can be used in any dish requiring scallions or leeks. They do well when transplanted. If someone gives us some ramps or we buy them at a produce stand, we sometimes keep the white bulb at the bottom and plant them where it is moist on our property.

Wild Ramps

Wild onions and garlic are great choices for beginning foragers because they are so easy to identify, and there are not any lookalikes that have the potential to make you ill.

Greens, Lettuces, and Misc. Edible Plants

Bull Thistle (Circium vulgare)

Burdock (Arctium minus)

Camas (Camassia quamash)

Cattails (Typhus latifolia)

Chickweed (Stellaria media)Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum)

Curled Dock (Rumex Crispus)

Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)

Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album)

Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata)

Plantain (Plantago major)

Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia)

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Red Clover (Trifolium pretense)

Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius)

Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Western Dock (Rumex occidentalis)

White Mustard (Synapsis alba)

Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis)

Amaranth (Amaranthus retroflexus and other species)

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

Wild Ginger (Asarum caudatum)

Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis)

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

Violets (Viola sp.)

Daylilies

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Foraging Wisely

Be careful where you forage. Areas with lots of commercial agriculture could be contaminated with runoff from chemical sprays and fertilizers. Roadsides and areas around railroad tracks are often heavily sprayed, and they have high levels of petroleum product runoff from passing vehicles.

Edible plant walks and classes are a great way to learn to identify edible plants in your area and gain confidence. Many community college and nature groups offer these types of walks and classes for free or a modest fee.

You must process some edibles well before consuming them.

Bamboo shoots are a good example of a plant that has become naturalized in many areas and must be processed correctly to avoid illness.

Acorns from White Oak and hickory trees, and buckeyes can be consumed but only if processed. Processing can take some time which is why most people do not bother with it anymore. It is important to follow processing directions precisely to avoid illness. In a survival situation, where you may already be experiencing fatigue and weakness, even a day or two of stomach upset can be lethal.

Foraging For Mushrooms

Morel Mushrooms. Morels are one of the most highly sought-after mushrooms. They are fairly easy to identify and a good choice for people that just want to forage occasionally for mushrooms. They can be hard to find in some areas. In the Pacific Northwest, where I grew up, there were huge patches.

We grow a lot of Shiitake and Nameko mushrooms on our farm. This provides plenty for our table and to dry. Foraging for mushrooms is, however, a hobby that some enjoy.

I do not encourage people to forage for most mushrooms because to do so safely you really need to be committed to learning proper identification and spending a lot of time outside practicing. This is not something a lot of people have time for nor enough interest. 

It is far less likely that you make a lethal mistake with a plant if you use a good guide. Edible mushrooms can have a lot of lookalikes. Mushroom poisoning is typically far worse and more likely to be fatal than most plant poisonings.

If you want to forage mushrooms, you need to put in the time and effort to get very good at identification. This involves going on foraging expeditions with experienced people or a mushroom club, studying books, and learning what mushrooms in your area are the most common deadly ones.

Some people are more sensitive to certain mushrooms than others. For example, Chicken of the Woods is relatively easy to identify and is considered a choice edible mushroom. Still, it is known to cause some mild to moderate gastrointestinal distress in some individuals. This means the first time; you might want to just eat a little until you see how you handle it.

In a major survival situation, I especially discourage mushroom foraging because it is far easier to make mistakes if you are not functioning well due to hunger, thirst, or exhaustion. Also, suppose you don’t have any experience or know what you are looking for. In that case, it is definitely not worth the risk to eat something that has relatively low overall nutritional value.

Legalities of Foraging

Foraging on the property of others is considered trespassing. Some landowners may be okay with you foraging if you ask but don’t be too offended if they say no. Unfortunately, we live in a country where people like to sue each other for just about anything, so landowners are often very reluctant to allow others to do much on their land.

Some plants that are delicious to eat may be protected as well. The wild Trilliums that grow in big patches in our area, for example, are protected. Part of the reason for this was that so many people were digging them up to transplant or picking them to eat.

National parks, forests, and other public areas may have their own sets of specific rules and regulations. Some plants have more protections than you might realize. You can get a hefty fine and criminal charges for digging Ginseng in protected areas around here.

Always leave some plants. Don’t wipe a spot out.

Want to have more food to forage? Well, don’t get greedy and take all of something. You need to leave some plants to reseed an area in the years to come.

Taking more than you will use is also very wasteful.

Books For Aspiring Foragers

I have compiled a list of region specific edible plant guides that you may find useful. There are plenty of guides out there that are designed to be guides for most of North America. While it may be interesting to have a general volume on edible plants, most will find it a lot more useful to have specific information for a region. Guides that concentrate on one region tend to be better illustrated and are great for those that are just starting to forage.

Northeast

Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries 

Northwest

Pacific Northwest Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Alaska Blueberries to Wild Hazelnuts 

Southwest

Edible and Useful Plants of the Southwest: Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona

Southeast

Southeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Angelica to Wild Plums 

Alaska

Alaska’s Wild Plants, Revised Edition: A Guide to Alaska’s Edible and Healthful Harvest

Hawaii

Wild Food Plants of Hawaii

California

California Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Evergreen Huckleberries to Wild Ginger

Mountain States (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, eastern Oregon, eastern Washington, and northern Nevada)

Mountain States Foraging: 115 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Alpine Sorrel to Wild Hops

Cooking and Preservation of Foraged Foods

If you harvest a lot of wild food at once, you should have a preservation plan. Dehydration works well for some foods. Wild fruits can be frozen or turned into jam and jelly. Wild greens can be trickier to preserve in a tasty fashion.

You can use garlic Mustard and other greens to make a delicious pesto. We make pesto and freeze it from our garden greens every year. Here is a link to how Matt and I make pesto.

A cookbook with recipes based on foraged foods is a good idea if you plan on foraging a lot.

Foraging Cookbook: 75 Recipes to Make the Most of Your Foraged Finds

General Foraging Tips

Foraging involves getting off the beaten path. This is especially true if you want to find a lot. To make foraging worth it, you should set aside a half or full day, especially if you are just a beginner.

Take food, water, and suitable protective clothing. For remote areas, a map and even a compass are recommended. GPS can work too. All hikers and foragers should have a basic first aid kit. Running into wildlife is a hazard of foraging. Bears, snakes, etc., can be very common in some areas, even if you are not far out in the wilderness.

Always check weather forecasts and radars before planning any major foraging trip.

Make sure that you take plenty of mesh bags or other containers to put your foraged items in.

 

Do you forage? What are your favorite plants to gather? Do you have any good recipes to share with the Peak Prosperity tribe? Do you have any websites or books that you recommend? Let’s discuss below!

 

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6 Comments

  • Wed, Jun 09, 2021 - 4:25pm

    #1
    tg43

    tg43

    Status: Bronze Member

    Joined: Apr 02 2020

    Posts: 79

    3

    tg43 said:

    I forage blackberries most years for puddings and jam, and sweet chestnuts from a few trees locally.  Last year was the first berries from a raspberry patch gone wild, and the first fruits on a self-sown damson in my hedgerow.   I used to collect plums locally, but that tree has since died, and I think my new damson sprang from the plum stones.

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  • Wed, Jun 09, 2021 - 5:11pm

    #2
    agnes xyz

    agnes xyz

    Status: Bronze Member

    Joined: Dec 21 2020

    Posts: 132

    1

    Lambsquarters

    Our favorite foraged food is lambsquarters. We forage it from our garden. In North America it is considered a horrible weed in the vegetable garden, but we no longer grow either spinach or chard because lambsquarters are more delicious and grow effortlessly. It is a prized green in India, where people eat a lot of greens. It is the wild form of quinoa, growing wild in Eastern US. Native Americans used the seed, but I find it is impossible to separate the tiny seeds from the chaff, so we don't cook it alone.

    The early greens and tips are tender lightly braised or in a salad. They taste like mild spinach or chard, their relatives. They work well with mixed greens. Later the flowering tips are cooked like asparagus chunks, which they taste like, and buttered. Both are nice in a mixed stir fry or in soup.

    I do collect the seeds, along with the chaff that's stuck to them. I hang a bucket around my waist, bend the stalk over it, and run my fist up the seed stalk. The spilled seeds assure next year's harvest. The bucket fills up fast. I add them, chaff and all, to other grains being cooked in the winter. The chaff is unnoticeable when mixed. It's really just dried leaves and flowers.

    The greens and flower shoots dry nicely in our dehydrator, greens 95*F and shoots 125*F. They aren't as good as fresh but still wonderful to eat in the winter. We have mixed some of the seed into the mash for our ducks in the winter, and they haven't turned it down.

    We tried pigweed, which is wild amaranth. We didn't like it much, so we don't eat it. We get more lambsquarters than we can eat.

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  • Wed, Jun 09, 2021 - 6:51pm

    #3

    David Huang

    Status: Bronze Member

    Joined: Jan 20 2010

    Posts: 97

    2

    Some ideas for using wild edibles

    Thanks Agnes xyz for the excellent info on lambsquarters.  This is a plant I've regularly eaten a bit of but the info you provided opens my eyes to more ways to utilize this plant!  In particular the parts about the flowering tips and seed/grain harvesting.

    What you posted is slightly reminiscent of Samuel Thayer's excellent wild food books.  Though I often am already familiar with the plants he features I've always been very excited to get every new book by him because he so thoroughly covers each plant that I always learn new things and ways to use them.  I think this is key.  Just intellectually knowing a plant has edible parts is not the same as being truly familiar with how/when to harvest and use them.

    I'm no chef but I've done a couple blog posts trying to share ways I've used some "wild" foods if anyone is interested.  (I know I've shared these here on the site before.  I need to write more new ones!)

    Excellent Perennial Vegetables You Can’t Buy in Stores

    A Perennial Food Experiment: Stuffed Milkweed Pods

    While this last post isn't specifically about wild edibles it is a way of using a ton of greens which could be readily adaptable to the generally abundant wild greens.   I've fallen out of the habit of making these "crackers" and really should do it again soon as I'm swimming in greens begging to be eaten/preserved.

    A stupendously healthy “snack cracker”

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  • Wed, Jun 09, 2021 - 6:52pm

    #4
    TamHob

    TamHob

    Status: Bronze Member

    Joined: Feb 13 2020

    Posts: 77

    1

    Nuts and seeds for calories

    I like foraging seeds for calories and protein. Acorns from trees in the park (well soaked before cooking). In Autumn, I pick the green elm seeds off the trees and fry them with eggs into an omelette the way a Chinese friend taught me. They taste a bit like lettuce and apparently very healthy.

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  • Wed, Jun 09, 2021 - 6:53pm

    #5
    Whitney

    Whitney

    Status: Member

    Joined: Mar 21 2020

    Posts: 140

    0

    Food as Medicine

    Great article from Samantha, and I love the lead on lambsquarters, too!

    If anyone wants to nerd out on the medicinal properties of foods and their cultural contexts, Nina Etkin’s work is wonderful - Edible Medicines: An Ethnopharmacology of Food

    There’s also a more popular book called Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson that gives all sorts of practical tips for upping the nutritional and antioxidant qualities of everyday fruits and vegetables through storage and preparation.

    Two examples:

    • “Carrots are more nutritious cooked than raw. When cooked whole, they have 25 percent more falcarinol, a cancer-fighting compound, than carrots that have been sectioned before cooking.”
    • "The healing properties of garlic can be maximized by slicing, chopping, mashing, or pressing it and then letting it rest for a full 10 minutes before cooking."

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  • Wed, Jun 09, 2021 - 9:20pm

    #6
    Durable

    Durable

    Status: Member

    Joined: Feb 24 2020

    Posts: 35

    0

    Edible calories - nuts, tubers

    Great topic. As for wild edibles that can contribute meaningfully I calorie, fat, protein needs - acorns, hickory, black walnut, and in the west pine nuts. Also, tubers like wild yam, air potato, yucca, Jerusalem artichoke, cattails, etc. And let's not forget foraged crawlers like sugar ants, grubs, worms, cicadas - entomogaphy might be the nezt big diet trend.

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