Whether you wish to expand your palette with more adventurous fare or simply want to be informed in case you should encounter a period spent with limited resources, foraging the wilderness for subsistence can be an enlightening and perhaps even life-saving experience. But first, you must know which plants are suitable sources of nutrition and which to avoid.
While there are a variety of fungi and other edible plants dotting forests and sometimes your own yard, their credentials are extensive, and it is all too easy to mistake a poisonous species for a harmless one. Thus, we shall focus our attention on common plant species, most within easy access to your home and certainly existing in abundance throughout rural areas.
Acorns can be harvested in the autumn. Like other nuts, they are an excellent source of protein and fat. You may want to cook or roast them beforehand to remove the tannins they possess. If ground to a fine meal, they make a great flour for baking.
The velvety, oblong flowers of cattails are edible from spring to summer. Once picked, they can be cooked and eaten like corn on the cob. Meanwhile their shoots can be served up like vegetables, eaten raw or boiled.
Named for the lion tooth jag of their leaves, dandelion parts are best eaten during spring and summer. Dandelion greens are a good base for salads, plus they make for whimsy adornments. It is best to pluck leaves while they are young, though, as they begin to develop a bitterness with age. To enhance their flavor, leaves can be steamed or boiled. If you find yourself in want of a warm beverage to chase down those greens, you can make a coffee-like beverage with the dandelion’s taproot. To do so, dry it first, then roast it and grind it up fine for brewing.
The bark and sap of pine trees are safe year-round, however, the cones should be eaten in the summer. It is best to cook the cones, as it makes them tender and allows you to remove the shell easily. They have a nice, nutty flavor eaten as is and can be ground to a flour for baking. Additionally, the sap from the pine tree can be chewed as gum, used to waterproof pans, and can also function as a glue or adhesive.
Although thought of as limp and slimy, algae comes in many forms and serves as a nutritious treat that can be eaten year-round. Of all the algae sub-types, Sea Lettuce, Kombu, and Red Laver are three of the main varieties. Sea Lettuce is great eaten raw or chopped up in salads. It is often used to envelop sticky rice in sushi rolls. Red Laver is also used to wrap sushi ingredients, other times it is eaten fresh or steamed. Kombu is used in many oriental dishes and is sometimes pickled. All make excellent stock for soups.
If the words of William S. Burroughs are anything to conform to, you can always observe the diets of primates when at a loss for nutrition (assuming you’re stranded within region they happen to inhabit). As it is often the case: what they do eat, we can eat. Though we may not want to.
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