Wild Food – Foraging for Food and Edible Plants

Wild Food – Foraging for Food and Edible Plants

National forests, national parks, and remote areas of wilderness can provide several sources for wild foods. Foraging for wild food is a learned skill. Here’s an introduction to foraging, as well as specific reommendations for identifying edible plants and knowing which ones to avoid.

Preparation is often the greatest factor for success, but even the best laid plans can fail when it comes to finding wild food.

Food and water are well recognized as essential elements to survival, but circumstances outside our control could separate us from our supplies.If this happens, there are some effective methods for foraging for food and identifying edible plants.

Native Americans were Hunter-Gatherers, Foraging and Living Off Wild Food

Many Native Americans who roamed the great plains had a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. When tribes would battle each other, or find themselves under attack, many men would stay and fight, and more often than not the women and children would be the first to flee.Those who escaped could find themselves in an survival situation that called for finding wild food.

Often, Native American children were taught about edible plants from a young age. Most people today haven’t had the same learning experience, and most people are likely to fail at finding wild food. You have to have to know how to correctly identify plants, and where they grow, and finally which parts of the plants are edible.

You also have to know where to look for certain foods like mosses, nuts, and berries, and more calorie-rich foods like vegetables (such as potatoes and other teubers) and even fruit that can grow wildly, depending on your location.

Classes on Wild Food and Edible Plants

There are classes on finding edible plants available in many areas. You are encouraged to take a class identifying edible and medicinal plants, and to practice what you learn.Be sure to include include “Wildman” Steve Brill’s site in your research.

Steve is an expert in the field of identifying safe and edible plants in the wild. He is a helpful resource and has designed several programs for organizations like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, garden clubs, or any other group interested in learning more about edible plants.

Steve even provides recipes that can be made using plants found in the wild. Surprisingly, there are a lot of options for recipes using edible wild foods and plants.


Foraging for Wild Food

In simple terms, foraging simply implies searching for wild food and, depending on the situational circumstances, the act of foraging could be dangerous, due simply to the fact that many plants are toxic to humans. Danger is not only inherent in the act of searching, but also in the ability to locate and correctly identify foods that are safe and edible.Learning to identify which plants are safe and which are not before the need arises is an important skill to develop. Because this ability is so important, if you find yourself in a desperate situation and are unable to positively identify a food source as safe, the best course of action is to leave it alone.

Some Areas Are Safer to Search than Others

Some areas are safer to search than others, so here is a short list of areas to keep away from when foraging and the reasons why.* Contaminated or stagnant water: Plants growing in this environment have an increased risk of containing the toxic contaminants as well as invisible bacteria or parasites.

* Commercial and residential areas: There’s a good chance that plants growing in these areas will have been contaminated with dangerous levels of toxic fertilizers and pesticides. (If this is your only option, ensure that you also have a source of clean water and rinse food you feed before eating).

Plants to Avoid

If a plant has yellow or white berries, consider it inedible.Mushrooms: They may look good on the store shelves, but the number and varieties of wild mushrooms that are poisonous or toxic are not worth the risk to your survival.

Plants such as poison ivy and related plants grow with leaves that are grouped in threes.

You may feel hungry enough to eat a plant that has thorns, but by no means consider them.

Bitter tasting plants or those that smell like almonds are best to be avoided.

Identifying Plants correctly

Unless you know exactly what you are doing, refrain from eating any plant that has shiny leaves.Once you have identified a potential food source, the next step is to determine if the plant is edible. There is a universal edibility test that you can perform on plants to aid in identifying safe plants.

1. Separate the food in question into its basic parts. These include the leaves, roots, stems, buds and flowers (if present). As you are separating the plant, examine it closely for insects and other pests.

2. Crush the plant material (separately) and rub the individual parts on a separate part of your skin. Patience is key in this step as you will need to wait at least eight hours to determine if you develop a negative reaction. If you experience such things as swelling, burning, itching or redness, consider the plant inedible. If your plant passes this test, continue to the next step.

3. Hold the plant to your lips for up to three minutes. If there is no sensation such as itching, burning, or tingling, consider moving to the next step. If such sensations occur, stop here.

4. Taste a small portion of the plant by placing it on your tongue for up to fifteen minutes. Any unexpected and uncomfortable sensations are an indication that you should spit the sample out immediately and seek another source. If you continue to experience no ill effects, continue to the next step. (The actual taste of the sample is not necessarily indicative of its edibility. If you encounter a plant that does not suit your taste, but passes all these steps, it is up to you to decide if it is worth the taste to eat it).


5. Slowly chew the plant in your mouth and without swallowing, hold it in your mouth for another fifteen minutes. Remain alert for negative signs similar to the previous steps and if they occur, spit it out immediately and rinse your mouth out with clean water. If, after all of these steps, you experience no ill effects, the final test is to swallow the sample that is in your mouth. Hopefully at this point you don’t yet feel the sensation of starvation because you will need to wait for at least eight hours to determine the effect of the food source on your internal organs. If at any time during those eight hours you feel nauseous, find a way to induce vomiting and then consume a great deal of fresh, clean water.

Even After All These Steps, a Plant May Not Se Safe to Eat

If your sample passes all these steps, chances still exist that your plant may not be considered completely safe, but depending on your individual situation, consuming this plant may indeed be lifesaving. Just remember, each part of the plant can have different qualities and results. Because of this, don’t assume that because one part of the plant is safe that the rest would be as well. Each part of the plant needs to be tested separately.This method can be useful if you don’t know for sure what you are looking for, but as with most survival techniques it is best to learn as many details as possible before you need to use them.

by Patrick Whalen

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