Foraging Wild Edibles on the Pacific Crest Trail

When food ran short while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Sergei Boutenko and his family turned to wild edibles in order to survive.


| October 2013



Hiking

Learning to forage for wild edibles became crucial to finishing the Pacific Crest Trail.

Photo By Fotolia/Philippe Devanne

In this field guide to foraging wild edible plants, explore the health benefits of wild-harvested food and how to safely identify plants. Wild Edibles (North Atlantic Books, 2013) outlines the basic rules for gathering etiquette, and author Sergei Boutenko offers more than 60 recipes to put your foraged food to use. This excerpt was taken from the introduction.

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Wild Edibles.

More From Wild Edibles

How to Forage for Wild Edible Plants
The World’s Best Hummus Recipe
Beginner Green Smoothie

It was a cold morning in mid-April when we ran out of food. We sat on tree stumps at four thousand feet above sea level and watched as Mom rummaged through our shabby backpacks in search of something edible. After several minutes, she managed to round up a half-empty bottle of olive oil, several handfuls of rolled oats, a few cloves of garlic, and a small container of sea salt. We were four days into our journey and had to hike another fifty miles to collect our next food parcel in the closest middle-of-nowhere town in Southern California.

Earlier that year, in January of 1998, my parents decided that as part of our adventurous lifestyle and home-schooling experience, we would hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from Mexico to Canada along the West Coast. Our team consisted of my mom, dad, sister, cousin (who was visiting from Russia for a year to get a well-rounded American experience), and me. None of us had hiked much, but what we lacked in practice we made up for in drive. My mother spearheaded the idea of a six-month, 2,650-mile walk after she read a book about the adventures one thru-hiker had on the Appalachian Trail. She decided on the Pacific Crest Trail because it was more wild and had less traffic than its East Coast sibling. At first my father was not too keen on such a long trek, but my mom’s determination quickly appealed to his adventurous side and he fell in line. There is a saying in Russia, “The man is the head of the family, while the woman is the neck, and the head cannot turn without the neck.” As the neck, my mother steered our Chevy Astro van into a parking lot in front of a Play It Again Sports store in Escondido, California. There we equipped ourselves with top-of-the-line used backpacking gear in preparation for the journey ahead.

Once each of us had a rucksack and sleeping bag, my mother initialized phase two — food planning and management. Since we could not carry six months’ worth of food on our backs, we had to plan how and what to eat in advance. According to the Pacific Crest Trail guidebook, the trail intersects with a small town every sixty to one hundred miles. A backpacker could visit a small grocery store or pick up a general-delivery package full of grub in town. Our finite vagabond budget made it clear that shopping for food along the way was out of the question. My parents invested all the money they had in bulk food, which we repackaged into twenty-six resupply parcels. Because we had little overnight backpacking expertise, we made an educated guess as to how much food five hungry hikers could consume. Our average resupply parcel contained roughly five pounds of rolled oats, six dates per person per day, assorted dried fruit, mixed nuts, sea vegetables, an eight-ounce bottle of oil, random seasonings, and a few other essentials. Once I had wrapped each parcel with a thick layer of tape, my parents shipped them off. Then we packed our rucksacks and had a friend drop us off at the trailhead on the Mexican border.





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