Can you identify edible wild plants when camping or hiking? If you can, kudos to you! However, urban life detaches most of us from nature. And we are losing many vital skills that allowed us to survive and thrive on this planet. Maybe we don’t need these skills anymore?
These days, we seem to be more connected than ever. We have Facebook and Instagram friends all over the world. Our smartphones allow us to stay connected wherever we go. And yet, the more connected and plugged we are, the more disconnected from nature we become. Did we forget that we are a part of nature? Our children can hardly recognize wildlife unless they are cartoon characters. It takes a disaster to remember how vulnerable we are if we lose and forget our natural ways.
Why You Should Learn to Identify Edible Plants in Wilderness
Wild plant knowledge isn’t needed to survive in the concrete jungles that we like to call civilization. Smart and futuristic technologies allow us to function by simply pushing buttons or even using voice commands. Natural skills that we have honed for tens of thousands of years have become pretty much obsolete and a mere hobby for a few of us. However, the rampant march of our “civilization” that literally wipes out wildlife, will put us at risk sooner or later.
When balance is shifted nature responds with disasters. On a long-scale, these disasters allow new beginnings and restoration of natural balance. Anyway, if SHTF for any reason, it’s very unlikely that Instagram, Facebook, and smart home appliances would save your life. We will have to learn our forgotten skills all over again. Or you can start preparing now.
Besides preparing for potential catastrophe there are several other reasons to learn about edible wild plants. Spending time in nature is proven to benefit our mental and physical health.
Wild food is healthy and organic (unless it grows on the outskirts of our cities). You can carry your food on your camping trips and cook it on your propane burner. But, the ability to pick some berries or wild plants for salad will bring you a whole new kind of joy and pride. Not to mention that you will discover many new flavors and aromas.
Also, any kind of survival training or planning to live off the grid must involve lessons about wild food that you can safely eat.
Time to Get Started
Before we move on to the list of edible wild plants you should know that it is not to be taken lightly. While there are so many benefits of foraging for food, eating the wrong one can kill you (Have you seen Sean Penn’s survival movie “Into The Wild”?)!
This article can be your starting point but you should never get ahead of yourself. Get some books about wild plants to cover more plants. But, the most important part is to go out there and learn to identify these plants in the wilderness. Seeing a picture of a plant is not enough to positively identify it. You need to see it in the wild and see it many times before you can confidently identify it. Ideally, you should connect with locals and ask them to help you search for typical wild plants. With growing experience, you’ll learn to spot and recognize these plants easily.
Let’s start with the one that you probably know: dandelions. They grow everywhere, and they are even common weeds in lawns and backyards. All parts of the plant are edible. Young leaves are the easiest to use. You can eat them raw or boiled, usually in salads. Some cultures use flower petals to make dandelion wine. You can use ground roots for a coffee-like beverage. Even the fluffy “parachutes” are edible, although no one eats them due to unpleasant texture and taste.
The fancy name of this plant family disguises garlic, onions, and their wild cousins. These plants were used both as food and natural remedies for many ailments since ancient times. They contain phytonutrients and moderate amounts of vitamins and minerals. You can eat them raw or cooked. All plants in this family have pretty much the same distinctive smell. So, if the plant doesn’t smell like onions and garlic stay away from it.
This plant grows throughout the West, but it’s most common in California. It got its name there during The Gold Rush. Miners used to eat it to prevent scurvy due to high amounts of vitamin C. All parts are edible, but commonly only leaves are used in salads.
Wild asparagus is a good source of dietary fibers, vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc, and calcium. You should eat only young shoots. Even though it’s safe to eat older plants, they become woody and taste bitter.
It’s another wild plant that seems to grow everywhere. It contains calcium, beta-carotene, and some other minerals. You can eat it raw in a salad, but once again only young and tender leaves are tasty. When cooked it tastes like spinach. Old leaves are tough and fibrous but you can use them in survival situations to make a small cord or fishing line.
If you ever find yourself in a distress in arid or desert landscapes, look for prickly pears. These cacti produce tasteful fruit very rich in vitamin C and magnesium. Young stems or leaves are 88% water and they are also edible. They are widely used in Mexico for all kinds of salads, soups, dishes, and even a prickly pear moonshine.
This is probably a surprise to you, but acorns are edible and nutritionally rich. They are high in proteins, carbs, fat, B-group vitamins, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium. The only problem is that they contain bitter tannins. While the quantity of tannins varies wildly in different types of acorns, it is safer to leach acorns to get rid of these phytochemicals.
You probably won’t try to make a blueberry pie or cranberry juice in a survival situation. However, edible and delicious berries grow all over the US and they can be a good source of vitamins in the wilderness. Most of them grow on prickly shrubs. Be careful, though, as some of them are poisonous for humans. However, we are pretty much familiar with these fruits so look for familiar ones to stay safe.
Somewhat forgotten, pawpaw is indigenous to the US and it grows wild in at least 26 states. Pawpaw fruit resembles mango. It has a sweet taste sort of like banana with a touch of mango, and pineapple. Lovely flavor aside, it is rich in vitamins C and A, and very rich in manganese, iron, and magnesium. The only downside is that once picked it can’t last for more than a couple of days.
Edible wild plants are everywhere around us. Some of them have even found ways to grow in our cities and our gardens and we usually treat them as intruders. We have become ignorant of natural treasures, but it’s never too late to start doing the right thing.
Once upon a time parents were naturally passing the knowledge about wild plants to their children. Today, most of us have to start from scratch. However, once you gain enough experience and knowledge, the thrills and satisfaction of eating food you have found and picked yourself, outweigh the effort by far. Start your journey today, you won’t regret it.