Wild Vegetables, Fruits, and Nuts
By David Squire
The Ultimate Guide to Self-Reliant Living (Skyhorse Publishing, 2013) edited by Jay Cassell, is filled with ideas about how to buy a property and start a homestead. Learn about the basics that you need know to become self-reliant and how to use your own energy and grow your own food. Plus, discover if you have the survivor skills and supplies you would need in case of a disaster. Find this excerpt in “Hunting, Trapping, Fishing, and Gathering.”
Description: Agave plants have large clusters of thick leaves that grow around one stalk. They grow close to the ground and only flower once before dying.
Location: Agave like dry, open areas and are found in the deserts of the American west.
Edible Parts and Preparing: Only agave flowers and buds are edible. Boil these before consuming. The juice can be collected from the flower stalk for drinking.
Other Uses: Most agave plants have thick needles on the tips of their leaves that can be used for sewing.
Description: When first growing, asparagus looks like a collection of green fingers. Once mature, the plant has fern-like foliage and red berries (which are toxic if eaten). The flowers are small and green and several species have sharp, thornlike projections.
Location: It can be found growing wild in fields and along fences. Asparagus is found in temperate areas in the United States.
Edible Parts and Preparing: It is best to eat the young stems, before any leaves grow. Steam or boil them for 10 to 15 minutes before consuming. The roots are a good source of starch, but don’t eat any part of the plant raw, as it could cause nausea or diarrhea.
Description: Beech trees are large forest trees. They have smooth, light gray bark, very dark leaves, and clusters of prickly seedpods.
Location: Beech trees prefer to grow in moist, forested areas. These trees are found in the Temperate Zone in the eastern United States.
Edible Parts and preparing: Eat mature beechnuts by breaking the thin shells with your fingers and removing the sweet, white kernel found inside. These nuts can also be used as a substitute for coffee by roasting them until the kernel turns hard and golden brown. Mash up the kernel and boil or steep in hot water.
Description: Burdock has wavy-edged, arrow-shaped leaves. Its flowers grow in burrlike clusters and are purple or pink. The roots are large and fleshy.
Location: This plant prefers to grow in open waste areas during the spring and summer. It can be found in the Temperate Zone in the north.
Edible Parts and Preparing: The tender leaves growing on the stalks can be eaten raw or cooked. The roots can be boiled or baked.
Blackberry and Raspberry
Description: These plants have prickly stems that grow upright and then arch back toward the ground. They have alternating leaves and grow red or black fruit.
Location: Blackberry and raspberry plants prefer to grow in wide, sunny areas near woods, lakes, and roads. They grow in temperate areas.
Edible Parts and Preparing: Both the fruits and peeled young shoots can be eaten. The leaves can be used to make tea.
Description: These plants are grasslike and have leaves shaped like straps. The male flowers above the female flowers, have abundant, bright yellow pollen, and die off quickly. The female flowers become the brown cattails.
Location: Cattails like to grow in full-sun areas near lakes, streams, rivers, and brackish water. They can be found all over the country.
Edible Parts and Preparing: The tender, young shoots can be eaten either raw or cooked. The rhizome (rootstalk) can be pounded and made into flour. When the cattail is immature, the female flower can be harvested, boiled, and eaten like corn on the cob.
Other Uses: The cottony seeds of the cattail plant are great for stuffing pillows. Burning dried cattails helps repel insects.
Description: This is quite a tall plant, with clusters of leaves at the base of the stem and very few leaves on the stem itself. The flowers are sky blue in color and open only on sunny days. It produces a milky juice.
Location: Chicory grows in fields, waste areas, and alongside roads. It grows primarily as a weed all throughout the country.
Edible Parts and Preparing: The entire plant is edible. The young leaves can be eaten in a salad. The leaves and the roots may also be boiled as you would regular vegetables. Roast the roots until they are dark brown, mash them up, and use them as a substitute for coffee.
Description: The cranberry plant has tiny, alternating leaves. Its stems crawl along the ground and it produces red berry fruits.
Location: Cranberries only grow in open, sunny, wet areas. They thrive in the colder areas in the northern states.
Edible Parts and Preparing: The berries can be eaten raw, though they are best when cooked in a small amount of water, adding a little bit of sugar if desired.
Description: These plants have jagged leaves and grow close to the ground. They have bright yellow flowers.
Location: Dandelions grow in almost any open, sunny space in the United States.
Edible Parts and Preparing: All parts of this plant are edible. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and the roots boiled. Roasted and ground roots can make a good substitute for coffee.
Other Uses: The white juice in the flower stem can be used as glue.
Description: This shrub has many stems containing opposite, compound leaves. Its flower is white, fragrant, and grows in large clusters. Its fruits are berry-shaped and are typically dark blue or black.
Location: Found in open, wet areas near rivers, ditches, and lakes, the elderberry grows mainly in the eastern states.
Edible Parts and Preparing: The flowers can be soaked in water for eight hours and then the liquid can be drunk. The fruit is also edible but don’t eat any other parts of the plant—they are poisonous.
Description: The nuts grow on bushes in very bristly husks.
Location: Hazelnut grows in dense thickets near streambeds and in open areas and can be found all over the United States.
Edible Parts and Preparing: In the autumn, the hazelnut ripens and can be cracked open and the kernel eaten. Eating dried nuts is also tasty.
Description: Also known as cedar, this shrub has very small, scaly leaves that are densely crowded on the branches. Berrylike cones on the plant are usually blue and are covered with a whitish wax.
Location: They grow in open, dry, sunny places throughout the country.
Edible Parts and Preparation: Both berries and twigs are edible. The berries can be consumed raw or the seeds may be roasted to make a substitute for coffee. Dried and crushed berries are good to season meat. Twigs can be made into tea.
Description: This plant has large, yellow flowers and leaves that float on or above the surface of water. The lotus fruit has a distinct, flattened shape and possesses around 20 hard seeds.
Location: Found on fresh water in quite areas, the lotus plant is native to North America.
Edible Parts and Preparing: All parts of the lotus plant are edible, raw or cooked. Bake or boil the fleshy parts that grow underwater and boil young leaves. The seeds are quite nutritious and can be raw or they can be ground into flour.
Description: Marsh marigold has round, dark green leaves and a short stem. It also has bright yellow flowers.
Location: The plant can be found in bogs and lakes in northeastern states.
Edible Parts and Preparing: All parts can be boiled and eaten. Do not consume any portion raw.
Description: The mulberry tree has alternate, lobed leaves with rough surfaces and blue or black seeded fruits.
Location: These trees are found in forested areas and near roadsides in temperate and tropical regions of the United States.
Edible Parts and Preparation: The fruit can be consumed either raw or cooked and it can also be dried. Make sure the fruit is ripe or it can cause hallucinations and extreme nausea.
Description: Nettle plants grow several feet high and have small flowers. The stems, leafstalks, and undersides of the leaves all contain fine, hairlike bristles that cause a stinging sensation on the skin.
Location: This plant grows in moist areas near streams or on the edges of forests. It can be found throughout the United States.
Edible Parts and Preparing: The young shoots and leaves are edible. To eat, boil the plant for 10 to 15 minutes.
Description: These trees have alternating leaves and acorns. Red oaks have bristly leaves and smooth bark on the upper part of the tree and their acorns need two years to reach maturity. White oaks have leaves with no bristles and rough bark on the upper part of the tree. Their acorns only take one year to mature.
Location: Found in various locations and habitats throughout the country.
Edible Parts and Preparing: All parts of the tree are edible, but most are very bitter. Shell the acorns and soak them in water for one or two days to remove their tannic acid. Boil the acorns to eat or grind them into flour for baking.
Description: This is a tall tree with no branches and has a continual leaf base on the trunk. The leaves are large, simple, and lobed and it has dark blue or black fruits that contain a hard seed.
Location: This tree is found throughout the southeastern coast.
Edible Parts and Preparing: The palmetto palm fruit can be eaten raw. The seeds can also be ground into flour, and the heart of the palm is a nutritious source of food, but the top of the tree must be cut down in order to reach it.
Description: Pine trees have needlelike leaves that are grouped into bundles of one to five needles. They have a very pungent, distinguishing odor.
Location: Pines grow best in sunny, open areas and are found all over the United States.
Edible Parts and Preparing: The seeds are completely edible and can be consumed either raw or cooked. Also, the young male cones can be boiled or baked and eaten. Peel the bark off of thin twigs and chew the juicy inner bark. The needles can be dried and brewed to make tea that’s high in vitamin C.
Other Use: Pine tree resin can be used to waterproof items. Collect the resin from the tree, put it in a container, heat it, and use it as glue or, when cool, rub it on items to waterproof them.
Description: The broad-leafed plantain grows close to the ground and the flowers are suited on a spike that rises from the middle of the leaf cluster. The narrow-leaf species has leaves covered with hairs that form a rosette. The flowers are very small.
Location: Plantains grow in lawns and along the side of the road in the northern Temperate Zone.
Edible Parts and Preparing: Young, tender leaves can be eaten raw and older leaves should be cooked before consumption. The seeds may also be eaten either raw or roasted. Tea can also be made by boiling 1 ounce of the plant leaves in a few cups of water.
Description: A rather tall plant, pokeweed has elliptical leaves and produces many large clusters of purple fruits in the late spring.
Location: Pokeweed grows in open and sunny areas in fields and along roadsides in the eastern United States.
Edible Parts and Preparing: If cooked, the young leaves and stems are edible. Be sure to boil them twice and discard the water from the first boiling. The fruit is also edible if cooked. Never eat any part of this plant raw, as it is poisonous.
Prickly Pear Cactus
Description: This plant has flat, pad-like green stems and round, furry dots that contain sharp-pointed hairs.
Location: Found in arid regions and in dry, sandy areas in wetter regions, it can be found throughout the United States.
Edible Parts and Preparing: All parts of this plant are edible. To eat the fruit, peel it or crush it to make a juice. The seeds can be roasted and ground into flour.
Location: It grows in dry, open areas in much of the country.
Edible Parts and Preparation: While having
a crunchy, brittle texture, the whole plant can be eaten. To remove some of the bitterness, soak it in water and then dry and crush it, adding it to milk or other foods.
Description: This shrub has different leaves—some have one lobe, others two lobes, and others have none at all. The flowers are small and yellow and appear in the early spring. The plant has dark blue fruit.
Location: Sassafras grows near roads and forest in sunny, open areas. It is common throughout the eastern states.
Edible Parts and Preparing: The young twigs and leaves can be eaten either fresh or dried—add them to soups. Dig out the underground portion of the shrub, peel off the bark, and dry it. Boil it in water to make tea.
Other Uses: Shredding the tender twigs will make a handy toothbrush.
Description: The leaves of this plant are quite long and have a triangular notch at the base. Spatterdock has yellow flowers that become bottle-shaped fruits, which are green when ripe.
Location: Spatterdock is found in fresh, shallow water throughout the country.
Edible Parts and Preparing: All parts of the plant are edible and the fruits have brown seeds that can be roasted and ground into flour. The rootstock can be dug out of the mud, peeled, and boiled.
Description: This is a small plant with a three-leaved pattern. Small white flowers appear in the springtime and the fruit is red and very fleshy.
Location: These plants prefer sunny, open spaces, are commonly planted, and appear in the northern Temperate Zone.
Edible Parts and Preparing: The fruit can be eaten raw, cooked, or dried. The plant leaves may also be eaten or dried to make tea.
Description: This plant may grow very high and has long-pointed, prickly leaves.
Location: Thistle grows in woods and fields all over the country.
Edible Parts and Preparing: Peel the stalks,
cut them into smaller sections, and boil them to consume. The root may be eaten raw or cooked.
Description: Walnuts grow on large trees and have divided leaves. The walnut has a thick outer husk that needs to be removed before getting to the hard, inner shell.
Location: The black walnut tree is common in the eastern states.
Edible Parts and Preparing: Nut kernels become ripe in the fall and the meat can be cracking the shell.
Description: With large, triangular leaves that float on water, these plants have fragrant flowers that are white or red. They also have thick rhizomes that grow in the mud.
Location: Water lilies are found in many temperate areas.
Edible Parts and Preparation: The flowers, seeds, and rhizomes can be eaten either raw or cooked. Peel the corky rind off of the rhizome and eat it raw or slice it thinly, dry it, and grind into flour. The seeds can also be made into flour after drying, parching, and grinding.
Description: This vine will climb on tendrils, and most of these plants produce deeply lobed leaves. The grapes grow in pyramidal bunches and are black-blue, amber, or white when ripe.
Location: Climbing over other vegetation on the edges of forested areas, they can be found in the eastern and south-western parts of the United States.
Edible Parts and Preparing: Only the ripe grape and the leaves can be eaten.
Wild Onion and Garlic
Description: These are recognized by their distinctive odors.
Location: They are found in open areas that get lots of sun throughout temperate areas.
Edible Parts and Preparing: The bulbs and young leaves are edible and can be consumed either raw or cooked.
Description: This shrub has alternating leaves and sharp prickles. It has red, pink, or yellow flowers and fruit (rose hip) that remains on the shrub all year.
Location: These shrubs occur in dry fields throughout the country.
Edible Parts and Preparing: The flowers and buds are edible raw or boiled. Boil fresh, young leaves
to make tea. The rose hips can be eaten once the flowers fall and they can be crushed once dried to make flour.
Violets can be candied and used to decorate cakes, cookies, or pastries. Pick the flowers with a tiny bit of stem, wash, and allow to dry thoroughly on a paper towel or a rack. Heat 1/2 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract in a saucepan. Use tweezers to carefully dip each flower in the hot liquid. Set on wax paper and dust with sugar until every flower is thoroughly coated. If desired, snip off remaining stems with small scissors. Allow flowers to dry for a few hours in a warm, dry place.
More from The Ultimate Guide to Self-Reliant Living:
Grow Winter Greens with Indoor Lettuce and Radish
Growing baby greens indoors during winter can stave off seasonal blues while giving cut-and-come-again harvests.
Considerations for Trail-Building on Your Rural Property
The best homemade trails have gravel, support structures, and a way to curb weed growth. These considerations will make for great rural property trails.
Learn how you can add buckwheat to your crop rotation to enhance your soil, feed your livestock, and reap a hefty honey harvest.