What would happen if one day you won’t find food in the stores? Or what will you do if you get stranded somewhere away from civilization with nothing to eat? In these situations you will have to rely on the outdoors and your knowledge about what plants can be eaten without the risk of getting sick. You will have to forage to avoid starving and keep going.
Many of the plants growing around your area have the potential of being turned into a tasty meal and they have been used by our ancestors as a reliable food source. Foraging is a way of reconnecting with nature and re-discover the great outdoors while developing a new perspective on looking at plants. Being able to forage shouldn’t be a forgotten skill as someday we will have to forage in order to survive.
Reasons why you should forage:
- Wild plants have not been genetically modified and are packed with vitamins and minerals
- It doesn’t cost you anything, the food is free and yours for the taking
- Foraging increases your knowledge about the plant world, which can prove decisive in a survival situation
- Foraging provides outdoor exercise and keeps your mind busy
- The food you forage is free or pesticides, herbicides and it promotes health and well being
- You will discover flavors found nowhere else
During summer, the days are long and the heat can sometimes be unbearable. It is recommended to go forage early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat and to beat the birds to the berries.
Also, during summer peaks, most of the berries ripen so that you can get a sweet and juicy treat, but you will also get an extra dose of sugar for a boost of energy.
You should add the following plant on your forage list:
Heat Loving Berries
Blueberries, huckleberries, and manzanita are all woody shrubs in the heath family. Blueberries and huckleberries both have blue berries while those of the manzanita plants are red when ripe. There are also dangleberries, farkleberries, deerberries, and sparkleberries. All have blue berries and are edible. Blueberries and huckleberries look very similar. True blueberries bear terminal clusters of fruits that turn blue or sometimes black when ripe, with many seeds in the center. True huckleberries have flowers in the leaf axils and fruits with ten large seeds and resinous glands on the underside of the leaves. Blueberries can be grouped into two kinds, the highbush and the lowbush. Both are shrubs and are common in the eastern United States. The highbush blueberry can grow up to fifteen feet tall while the lowbush blueberries are no more than three feet high. These forest delight should be on your forage list.
Manzanita species can be found along the western coast from souther California to Alaska and along the northern part of the United States to Maine. These woody, evergreen plants bloom in the spring with white or pink flowers, followed by green berries that look like apples. The berries turn red when they are ripe and can be used for jams, jellies or cobblers.
How to spot when blueberries are not safe to eat?
When you forage for edible blueberries, you have to look for the star at the top of the berry where the five sepals join together. In general this indicates if the blueberries are edible. If the star is missing it can be one of the poisonous type and it’s best to leave it be.
These plants are related to tomatoes, with fruits enclosed in a pappery husk. They look like miniature lanterns, hanging from the stems of the plant. You have to forage the fruits once the husk had turned brown, since it is a sign that the fruits are ripe. Unripe fruits are poisonous but the ripe fruit is very tasty, similar to a tomato. Just like a tomato it can be used in the same way.
This family contains blackberries, raspberries, dewberries and wild roses. They grow in a tangle of thorny stems and spread in all directions. They can cause you harm if you get entangled in the stems. Dewberry is the earliest bloomer and although similar to blackberry it grows closer to the ground. The other species bloom in mid-spring and can be found in open, sunny areas. The flowers can be either pink or white and the fruits can be red or black when ripe, depending on the species. The fruit of the rose is a hip and ripens in the fall. This is a food that hiking enthusiasts like o forage with every occasion they get.
Wild Plums and Cherries
These are plants of the same genus, Prunus. In the United Statest we can encounter about thirty species. Both plants have white flowers and the fruits ripen from late spring to early fall. Wild cherries are small with a large stone in the center and are best eaten raw. The plums have fruits that are drupes with a large stone in the center and their color varies from deep red to yellow or orange wen ripe. They can be picked easily when ripe as they will not cling to the branches. Make sure to add them on your forage list as they are delicious.
This plant can be found in the eastern part of North America in damp woods or shaded clearings, often growing in large colonies. It grows from one to two feet tall emerging from the forest floor. The leaves hide the solitary flower which looks like an apple and blossoms in May. Compared to apple flowers, mayapples have six to nine white petals for each flower. The fruits are ripening when they smell like lemon. If mayappples are on your forage list, scent is your best choice of finding these fruits, since the leaves change color and other plants grow around them when the fruits are ripe. The fruit is like a large berry and it contains many seeds. It can be eaten raw or turned into jelly or juice.
Elderberry is a genus of flowering plants in the family Adoxaceae and it contains between 5 and 30 species of deciduous shrubs, small trees and herbaceous perennial plants. The leaves are pinnate with 5–9 leaflets. Each leaf is 2.0–11.8 inch long, and the leaflets have serrated margins. They bear large clusters of small white or cream-colored flowers in late spring; these are followed by clusters of small black, blue-black, or red berries. The berries can be removed by rubbing the stems gently between your fingers. Fresh berries have a strong flavor that can be mellowed somewhat with drying. You should forage elderberries since you can make jelly, syrup, pies, or wine from them.
These wild flowers are common in most wetlands in late spring when the flower buds begin to develop. To decide if the flower is mature enough to harvest feel with your fingers the swelling at the top of a central stalk. Pull the top leaves back to reveal the greenish flower spikes, two of them, male and female. The male is at the top and the female is on the bottom. The immature flower spikes are edible, although the male is tenderer.
As the flower buds mature, the male flower begins to turn yellow. When you tap the spike and see the pollen being dispersed, you know it is ready to collect. Put a plastic bag around the spike and strip the pollen from the stalk. The pollen can then be added to cornmeal or flower for bread. Don’t forage cattails if it has turned brown, it’s past its peak. Eventually the male flowers dry up and drop off, leaving only the female spike.
The common milkweed is the one most often used for food and people often forage it. It grows up to five feet tall and the flower buds develop in mid-summer, opening into fragrant pink flowers. A pod like fruit follows the flower. Flower buds, flowers and the young pods are all edible if you boil them two times, for two minutes. They can be used as cooked vegetable and make a great side dish.
This plant can be easily recognized by its sharp, dagger like leaves that form a rosette. It has curly and fibrous threads that line the edge of the long leaves. In early summer, a flower stalk arises from the center and produces large, white, bell-shaped flowers at the top. You can often find a moth inside the flowers, the pollinator of the plant. When about a foot tall you can pick and eat the yucca flower stalks. They look like asparagus during this stage and the taste varies from one stalk to the other. The flowers can be eaten too if you remove the reproductive parts from the center, which are known to have a bitter taste. You can eat them raw or cook them as you wish. Make sure you know all these details when you forage for yucca.
Members of the pea family this plants have bean like vines with compound leaves. They can be found along the sunny edges of waterways, climbing up trees and shrubs along the bank. In mid-summer they develop clusters of maroon-colored blossoms that are followed by pods containing edible beans that look and taste like garden peas. This is another must forage plant that should be on your list.
The bean Tree
Also known as redbud, this tree produces pods after the flowers have finished blooming. At first the pods are green to pink in color before turning dark brown by the end of the summer. It is best to forage them when they are still in greenish-pin phase and between one or two inches in length. During this period they are the most tender, with a tart flavor. They can be used as cooked vegetable.
These climbing vines have three leaflets and they look like poison ivy until they bloom. They have a distinctive peal like flower that can be white, pink or light purple. The fruit produced by the flowers is a bean pod, similar to our garden vegetables. In the eastern part of the US we have the Strophostyles genus with fruits that grow in small clusters while in the southwest we can find the tepary bean. The pods can be cooked like green beans when they are very young.
Chewing on the ends of grass blades is refreshing and thirst quenching due to the juice content. The young leaf blades can be juiced like wheat but you should avoid eating the leaves as they are indigestible. You can make tea from these leaves or they can be dried and powdered. Barnyard grass, crabgrass, foxtail grass, and orchard grass are some of the grasses whose leaf blades can be used.
Some plants look like grasses but instead are sedges, rushes, or cattails, especially in wetlands. Chewing on the stems of these plants should be done with caution, especially if uncertain of the water quality. Sedges can often be identified by their triangular stem, while the rushes have round stems without jointed leaves. Cattail leaves are flat.
This is a low-growing, succulent herb that waits until after the last frost to emerge, which is usually late spring (when you should forage). Leaves are rounded at the top and may be either alternate or opposite. These can be trimmed and the plant will continue to grow and sprawl out in different directions. The trimmings can be added raw to salads and soups or eaten as a cooked green. Small, yellow flowers appear in mid-summer followed by black seeds. Leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds are all edible.
Mints can be recognized by their square stems, opposite leaves, and flowers with five petals that form an upper and lower lip. Most members are aromatic.
Horse Balm and Bee Balm
Horse balm and bee balm are members of the mint family that bloom in late summer with a smell that resembles thyme. Horse balm has yellowish, purple-dotted flowers. It grows in dry, sandy soil along the coastal plain and in prairies of the Midwest. Bee balm has bright red, tubular flowers and grows in moist soil along streams. Horse balm occurs over most of the United States and southern Canada. The fresh or dried leaves can be used to make a tea.
There are several types of skullcap you can forage for, but the one that is most frequently used for making tea is mad-dog skullcap. It grows in moist woodlands near swamps and blooms in late summer with small, bluish-purple flowers that grow in one-sided racemes from the leaf axils. Its name comes from its folk use for treating rabies. As a tea, it helps relieve nervous conditions including insomnia and anxiety. This is one of the main reasons why people forage for it.
Wintergreen is a heat loving plant just like blueberries. It is a low-lying, evergreen herb that grows in acid woodlands from Newfoundland to Manitoba and south to Georgia and Alabama. It spreads on the forest floor with horizontal rhizomes just beneath the surface. The leaves contain compounds that add a wintergreen flavor to tea. When you forage, look for the little black, resinous dots under the leaves for positive identification.
Red clover is in the pea family with alternate leaves divided into three leaflets with a V-shaped pattern near the end of each leaflet. This plant has small pink flowers at the top of each stem. It needs to be gathered when the flower heads are fully open, before they start turning brown. Red clover grows in fields, meadows, and disturbed areas throughout the United States. Flowers can be used fresh or dried for tea making.
If you decided to forage for wild edibles make sure you can correctly identify the plants that are safe to eat and that you have the right forage gear.
Stay safe and God Bless!
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