Supplement Your Diet with Edible Wild Plants

A few trips into the wilderness will net edible wild plants, great flavors for your family's larder.


| January/February 2011



Chanterelle Mushroom

The fleshy Chanterelle mushroom fruits from September to February on the West Coast, and almost all summer long on the East Coast.

iStockphoto.com/Evgenia Pogodina

An unmistakable movement is sweeping across the United States today, a dramatic shift from merely eating what’s affordable to eating local. Often forgotten in the locavore movement, though, is the purest, oldest means of consuming local goods – eating wild.  

While we toil diligently in our greenhouses and gardens all spring and summer, an abundance of wild food is growing in the woods and fields around us, most of it ignored or long forgotten by those who planted it. It’s all free for the taking, and, in most
cases, more than enough is available to feed your family year-round.
 

Apples

The price of commercially grown apples has gone through the treetops, but there is a wild alternative that’s essentially untouched – and all you have to do is the picking. There are long-abandoned apple orchards in just about every county in every state in the United States, remnants of heroic attempts of long-ago homesteaders who wanted the joys of eating fresh fruit without traveling long miles to town to buy it. Some of these orchards are still used today by folks whose new homes have been built on land settlers tried to tame 100 or more years ago. 

How do you find “wild” apples? The easiest way to discover old apple orchards is to visit the local town or county tax office and ask to see the plat maps from the early 1900s. These will reveal the locations of homesteads that were thriving at the time. It will take some scouting to find and investigate these old farms, but it’s a sure bet that somewhere out there is an orchard that, generations later, is still producing fruit you can use for cooking and canning. Other options include going for a Sunday drive to scout around,
and talking to local farmers at the nearest agriculture co-op or country store. In all cases, be sure to find the property’s current owner and seek permission for the picking.
 

Berries

Finding wild berries is as easy as taking a walk. Raspberries and blackberries grow wild just about everywhere in the United States and may be found along the edges of walking trails, in city parks, along rural roadsides and even in overgrown backyards. These tasty fruits are fun to pick and are delicious additions to any recipe, fresh or frozen. Rinse well and toss a handful into your morning cereal or pancake batter, add them to bread or muffin recipes, or just fill a bowl and eat them with a spoon. 

Domesticated raspberry varieties often sell for several dollars per pint in grocery stores, but ambitious families can pick all they can use in just a few hours on a warm summer morning or evening. Wear long pants and sleeves when picking berries – the canes are loaded with tiny thorns.  

jhiga
1/14/2011 1:09:20 PM

Great introduction to a timely topic! I appreciate how you've stuck to easily identifiable wild plants that are tasty and safe. One suggestion: Humans in wild places should be careful about depleting the plants in the area. Removing edible weeds may benefit the farmer and homeowner, but, for example, removing all the berries from the bushes may cause the wildlife (bears!) that had been depending on them to come into habitated areas or campgrounds driven by hunger. You may even disturb wildlife (bears!!) as they attempt to harvest in the same area. Let's not be greedy, folks...the consequences could come back to bite us in the b*tt! Literally!!!






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