Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Survival Resources 4: Foraging

The way most people know to get food is by shopping. A step more basic, and one that certainly will help with survival, is to grow food yourself. But, even more basic than that, and more useful in a crisis, is the ability to find edible plants in the wild--or even on your own lawn.

Ironically, it turns out that many of the weeds we dig out of our gardens are not only edible, but very nutritious. Dandelions, lamb's quarters, and purslane, for example, have a higher nutrition content than many of the garden vegetables.

If food becomes scarce, knowing how to forage could be lifesaving. Other useful plants to know include burdock root, groundnuts (apparently groundnuts kept the Pilgrims alive through their first winter in North America--although I've also heard that this wasn't through foraging; they may have stolen a supply the natives had harvested), watercress, chickweed, and curled/curly dock. Cattails and bulrushes, found in swamps, have edible parts. Most seaweed (for those who live near the ocean) is also edible. A lot of unusual things are also edible--the shoots of Japanese knotweed, the leaves of linden trees, and even parts of Stinging Nettle (but be careful while harvesting!).

Some useful books on foraging (at least if you live in North America):

Roger Tory Peterson and Lee Peterson, Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America

Gregory Tilford, Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West

Thomas Elias and Peter Dykeman, Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide

Steve Brill with Evelyn Dean, Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places

Sam Thayer, A Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

and, of course, the Euell Gibbons books, starting with Stalking the Wild Asparagus

Your local library may have many of these books. I also want to single out two very local Boston area/New England books that I have found useful: Russ Cohen, Wild Plants I Have Known... and Eaten, and David Craft, Urban Foraging.

Matthew Stein, When Technology Fails (see my post, SR2: When Technology Fails, 12/13/10), has a couple of nice little sections on foraging. (It was also my source for many of the books listed above.) And Toby Hemenway, Gaia's Garden (featured in my post on Gardens, 11/19/09), has a bit of information on edible weeds.

But now it's winter, here in New England. This is a challenge--what can you forage now? A friend of mine called Russ Cohen with this question and his basic answer was, not much. His big recommendation was cattails--the sprouts near the base of the stalk are available all year round and the roots pack quite a bit of starch in them during the winter. Matthew Stein advises pine needles (which have a lot of vitamin C) and the inner bark of trees--especially aspens, birch, willows, slippery elm, tamarack, maples, spruces, pines, and hemlocks.

Okay, so here's a question. It's the middle of a snowy New England winter, and you want to find a maple to check out the inner bark. How do you know which tree is a maple?

That's what I'll look at in my next post.

Quote of the Day: "Foraging will greatly sharpen your observational skills as you begin to take note of factors that influence when and where the wild edibles can be found. You will learn to keep closer track of the seasons of the year, weather forecasts and patterns, and plants that share similar habitats. After a while, you may develop a sort of 'sixth sense' for foraging. One day, while walking a trail, you will pick up clues that an edible plant you are looking for is likely to be nearby. You'll go around a bend in the trail and, sure enough, there it is." - Russ Cohen


Japanese knotweed said...

Hi Great post!

It's amazing what you can eat. Japanese knotweed in my experience in delicious.

I've made tons of recipes and thought i'd share the one below as its my favourite..

Knotweed crumble:

500g young knotweed shoots, including leafy “spears”, lower sections peeled, sliced into 8cm pieces
50ml water
100g caster sugar
200g plain flour, sifted
100g cold butter, cubed
125g brown sugar

Place knotweed pieces into a 1.5l oven-proof dish. Pour over the water and sprinkle with the caster sugar.

To make the crumble, blend together the cold butter cubes, brown sugar and flour until it makes an evenly granular mixture. Spoon this over the top of the knotweed pieces so that it is completely covered.

Place the dish in an oven at 180 Celsius and cook for 30mins.

Serve with cream, custard or ice-cream.

Although if hunting for suvivial, crumble may be the last thing on your mind!


MoonRaven said...

Thanks for the comment. It's good to know that a weed that is as invasive as knotweed can be used to create delicious foods.

Austan said...

I do recommend taking nature walks with knowledgable folks, because I never could identify plants from illustrations or pix. It's not easy. When I lived in NYC, I took a nature walk tour thru Central Park with a guide who showed us how to forage and what to beware of. It was so useful. I hope these tours spring up all over, we may need to know and sooner than we think.

MoonRaven said...

Absolutely true. We need to learn from each other.

Thanks for the comment.

Jerry said...

Hear hear on learning from each other.

Glad to see this survival thread, but at the same time...can you imagine 350 million humans all out trying to forage in North America? Gosh that first year would be nasty...

MoonRaven said...

That's absolutely true--I sure hope it doesn't come to that. I suspect that only a few places will have that need at any time. As you say, a continental mass foraging would get very nasty

Thanks for the comment, Jerry.