7 EDIBLE PLANTS FOR DUMMIES
Well first off let me state right from the beginning that I am not an expert in identifying or eating wild plants, but I am learning. What I am attempting to do here is give a short list off very common plants that are edible that most folks know and will have no problem identifying. The reason I have picked this number is that I don't want to overload you with too much information and you should be able to retain most of this information. If you're in a survival situation before you even think about food you must find water. You can go weeks without food but only days without water. OK - having stated that the list of plants here is only a very small amount of the wild foods that are out there for the taking. Also what I have tried to do is to pick plants that are common through out most of North America. Depending on your region there is much more grub that grows locally. Here where I live the Saw Palmetto grows everywhere, but what good would that information do to someone in the pacific area? When you gather food there are a couple of rules that should be followed. Cooking makes food safer, tastier and more digestible. You should try and gather and eat one meal a day instead of nibbling.
BE ABSOLUTLY SURE OF THE PLANT IDENTIFICATION BEFORE YOU EAT IT!!
There are many poisonous lookalikes out there and just because you see wildlife eating the plant does not mean its safe for humans. Also, not all parts of certain plants are good to go just because one part can be eaten. Look at Rhubarb; the leaves are toxic but the stems are safe. Avoid anything that smells like almonds or peaches when crushed, unless it's almonds or peaches. When you're gathering plants try to pick out the young plants. If you're picking from roadside is there pollution there? If there is avoid it. Has the area been sprayed with a pesticide? If you're gathering from a pond is the water bad? Just a few things to keep in mind. It does you no good whatsoever if trying to survive and you get a bad case of the Hershey squirts - as a matter of fact it can kill you. OK, let's get down to the plants.
Indian tribes of old used to go to war over stands of cattails; their importance to our native folk was that great. It's one of the few plants that nearly all the parts are edible. It grows around lakes and ponds to a height of 15 ft. Even in the winter you can dig out the roots and eat them. Prepare them like asparagas,or eat 'em raw. You can also make a fine white starch out of the rootstock. The young spring stocks can be eaten raw or cooked. In the late spring the green flower spikes can boil and eaten like corn on the cob. When the flower heads are full of pollen you can shake the head in a bag to gather the pollen, very heavy in protein, and you can dry it and add it to flour. Even the leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach.
CAUTION: Make sure the water where they grow is not polluted. Out of all the plants listed here this plant is probably the most important. It's one of those rare do-all plants. You can make bread from the starch and a nice vegetable from the other parts. While it's not edible, in the fall and winter the down that's on the heads can be used as a good fire starter or the same way you would use down in bedding. But I have only used that part to start fires and I think it would be a messy to use it for down bedding.
Stinging nettles! When I was a kid we used to grab them by their base and chase each other around swatting them on the legs of our victims. Never would have thought you can eat them, but you can and it's so easy to identify. You can use the plant after you boil it; this removes the stinging qualities of the plant. The leaves are a excellent source of vitamins A and C. The best parts of the plants are the fresh shoots in the spring and the top pale green leaves in the summer. Just simmer it and you can add to stews or make teas or as a cooked green. Remember to strain the water and rinse the plant. Stinging Nettle usually grow in large clusters of plants which make gathering easier; just remember to use gloves when harvesting. All members of the nettle family are edible so if where you live you only have wood nettles that's good to go also. Look for them in moist areas.
What is up with this guy - first he tells me that I can eat Stinging Nettle now he is trying to get me to eat thistles. You bet! Thistles have saved numerous settlers, mountain men and Indians from starving. Even in the winter the roots can be eaten. The best tasting are the young leaves which can be eaten raw or cooked; just remove the spines first. Stems can also be good eats as long as they're peeled and young. The flowering head of the plant can be boiled and peeled and the base eaten; just remove the flower part. With butter and salt its not to bad and kind of tastes like artichoke hearts, which should be no surprise since thistles are closely related to the artichoke plant. The roots are best when taken from yearling plants and can be eaten raw but should be soaked overnight in salt water and then boiled. As far as I am aware all the thistles are edible, but for sure Bull, Milk, Sow and Russian Thistle are, with Milk Thistle being the tastiest. Just remember to boil the heads 'til tender, which could take as long as 40 minutes.
Burdocks are another real easy to identify plant, especially if you brush up against its burs. The tender young leaves can be added to salads or the older leaves can be boiled in several changes of water to make it taste not-so-nasty. After the rind is removed you can boil the young roots in two changes of water. Since they grow in waste places make sure the plants you gather are not contaminated by pollution or pesticides. Here is another tip: the large leaves of the plant can used as tray or a makeshift plate.
That troublesome weed that you can't get out of your lawn no matter how hard you try is an excellent survival food. Just about everyone can recognize it and it grows everywhere. The best is the leaves of the plant before it flowers, which can be used as a salad or as a cooked vegetable. After it flowers its really bitter. The root can be peeled and boiled; change the water a couple of times and you have a good vegetable. You can even make a coffee substitute out of the roots by cleaning, peeling, drying then roast till its brown and grind it up. The American Indians used the plant for medicinal uses; a tea made from the root was used for a treatment of heartburn. I'm not saying you will need it for this article but its nice to know. Now when you harvest this plant be careful where you pick it; lots of folks try and poison it right out of their lawns. Need I say more?
This is a great survival food. It's rich in vitamins and the flower buds rich in protein. The flower buds before they open can be boiled for a few minutes and make a substitute for broccoli. The young leaves boiled for 30 minutes or so make a great cooked green. The GREEN seed pods can be added to salads. Notice I capitalized the word green I did this for a reason. The pods can be collected for this use only when the flowers are still in bloom, but you can use them in a latter stage to use as a seasoning. This is where mustard condiment comes from. You can eat the leaves raw but it will be very bitter if they are older leaves. Best to boil them like spinach.
Well it's a tree and it's big and if you know what to do with this common tree you won't starve. The green needles are rich in vitamin C and can be steeped in hot water to make a tea. The catkins (the pre-pinecone nub) can be eaten raw. The green cones can be boiled then eaten and of coarse there are the pine nuts. The inner bark of the tree is called the cambium and is a highly concentrated food source. The cambium can be scraped out of the tree and either eaten raw or dried ground and made into flour. It's not going to taste great unless you like the taste of pine but if your hungry you use this to get by.
Well there you have it. Seven common plants (OK, 1 is a tree) that are edible.
Remember to make sure of the plant identification before you even think about putting in your mouth. I can't stress that enough. Here are what some experts recommend to check for edibility of plants. Squeeze some juice of the plant, or rub it on a tender area of your skin; if it brings discomfort, swelling or rash, dump it.
Do the same thing on a small portion of your lips; wait 15 seconds then the same on a small part of your mouth, then tongue, then chew a small portion. If there is any discomfort don't eat it. Next eat a small part and wait 5 hours, drinking or eating nothing else. If there is still no problem the plant should be considered safe. There are all kinds of books and guides and lots of information on the web - use it. Some of the books I use are the Peterson Field Guides, SAS Survival Guide and the National Audubon Society Field Guides to name a few. This is only a taste (pun intended) of what types of foods are out there for the taking. Next time you're outside take a look at the plants at your feet, be aware of what grows locally that's edible, and by all means you should be sampling the fare now before you actually need it. Once again I have got to tell you I do not consider myself an expert in this field, but I can tell you that I have tried all the plants listed here with no ill side effects other then a slight rash from not being careful with the Stinging Nettle.