When it came to foraging, I imagine early people groups knew a lot but still had to learn the hard way as they pushed into new regions and even continents. Throughout history, humans have gathered leaves and berries to eat, but they have done this with little information to guide their choices. Poisonous plants don’t advertise themselves with color or shape or texture, so early foraging was a very costly guessing game.
What about such things as the laxative properties of certain plants and to eat only the stems of rhubarb and not the poisonous leaves. Through trial and the occasional fatal error, they sorted the edible from the inedible, the useful from the harmful.
Kerri Conan blogs for The New York Times and keeps a sharp eye on food trends: “When you see ramps (also known as wild leeks) featured in Bon Appetit, you know wild foods are moving into the mainstream.”
She thinks the renewed interest in the humble act of foraging is due (ironically) to the “increasing sophistication of the American palate”.
Through the years I have read about and experimented with eating wild flowers, berries, nuts, and greens that we’ve found on our land, but often distracted with a busy life, I have not taken it too seriously.
Still, there is a feeling that we would do well to know about these natural foods should there ever be an emergency and the grocery shelves bare like Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.
We should be interested, at least a little bit, in what we were given early on: “Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” ~Genesis 1: 29
Fairly Common Edible Plants We Should Know:
Foraging Purple Dead Nettle and Henbit
Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpurea) (left) is similar to Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) (right). Both are edible. Anne-Marie Bilella from Belle Vista Farm in Georgia tells us a little about them and what they are good for.
Alison from Mama’s Weeds has used Purslane in salads, as we have. I love her title: ‘If You Leave Your Purse Layin’ Around, It’s Gonna Get Snatched’!
We (including my husband) love sweet, tender, very healthy purslane, and it is totally undetectable in smoothies!
It can become quite invasive, so I would NOT plant it in a garden setting although many do!
Foraging Dandelion and Violets
Dandelion and violet lemonade sounds so healthy and yummy and is pretty as a sun-tea on your porch. I’m brewing some lemonade right now. If there is nothing else wild and weedy in your yard, at least you might find a few dandelions, one of the most health-giving plants on earth….just reject those that might be sprayed or host pets!
I imagine that our grand- and great-grandmother’s made violet-dandelion lemonade because it is pretty and ultimately nourishing. I have made it by steeping the flowers in boiling water and later adding lemon juice and stevia to taste. It was different but refreshing and delicious chilled! Or make it into a sun tea and then chill.
You can use young day lily to make old-fashioned greens: Free Food: Daylily Greens. If the new leaves are higher than 6″ when harvested, they will not be tender, but I can imagine that if prepared correctly (butter, salt and pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar?), they would be delicious.
Mature day lilies (aka common road lilies) (l.) and young day lily leaves (r.)
Don’t forget that you can also eat daylily flowers! This photo was taken at a birthday party where we all enjoyed the delicate, mildly sweet day lilies.
They are surprisingly delicious!
Foraging Lamb’s Quarter and Mulberries
Kelly Morris at The Morris Tribe shares about the free, organic produce they find right outside their back door.
Kelly finds that Lamb’s Quarter is one of the easiest to harvest and most healthful weeds in their backyard, and they love it right off the plant or added to a green salad.
The health food store shelves are full of pills, including mineral tablets. But nature provides an excellent alternative – one that you take advantage of by eating. Lamb’s quarter is known as nature’s “mineral tablet.”
Lamb’s-quarter, a spinach relative found worldwide in the wild. It probably grows in your garden even if you don’t plant it. Used raw in salad or in juice mixes, 100 grams of lamb’s-quarter (about a cup) contains about 80 mg of vitamin C, 11,600 IU of vitamin A, 72 mg of phosphorus, 309 mg of calcium, and small amounts of thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and iron. These figures are slightly lower when you cook the lamb’s-quarter for a spinach replacement, or in soups, egg dishes, or vegetable dishes.
You could nearly survive on lamb’s-quarter alone!
As for mulberries, check them out for small worms before you pick. On our trees it seems to vary year by year; if there was a hard freeze the winter before, you may find them worm-free.
Clover and Nettle
For a good source of whole, organic Red Clover Tops reasonably, go here.
Lastly, Ariana (r.) (And Here We Are), an American living in England, writes about Nettle foraging with her family.
I know we have this herb here on our Midwest farm, too, and in an accessible place, so I must add it to a soup or stew still this spring. You don’t taste the stingers once it is cooked.
Nettle (r.) is loaded with health benefits for use in a wide variety of homemade medicinal remedies ranging from ointments, tinctures, and herbal extracts.
And check out my delicious old-fashioned elderberry flower fritters!
If you are new to foraging and want to learn more, I would recommend picking up a book or two about it. Foraging is FREE fun, and we practically have a whole year ahead of us of tasty pickings!
Disclaimer: Please note that the author of Deep Roots At Home is not advocating eating any foraged plants without doing your own extensive research. Please take time to study before you harvest. Respect for nature and consideration of others – animal or human – that may use wild food resources is fundamental to sustainable gathering.
Several helpful field guides for identifying and doing beginning research are:
- Peterson’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America
- The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
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Thanks for reading!