“Wild Berries” – Photo Credit: Woopidoo2 at stock.Xchange
Toward the end of July my youngest son Danny, aged 13, who is an unabashed wilderness-loving guy, disappeared into our back forty for three days of rustic, “survivalist” camping. Granted, he was only a quarter of a mile from the house, but the idea was to build his own shelter and gather his own food, water, and fuel and completely survive, unassisted, during that time.
He intended to go out Sunday, but when he learned we were having pizza and watching a movie, he delayed his departure until the next morning. Priorities, you know! LOL!
Still and all, disappear the next morning he did. He built a fabulous lean-to shelter that actually worked well during a downpour that first night. But he had a little trouble foraging for food and finding water in such a small area. Every now and again I’d notice him silently slipping out of the house after a foraging expedition in the refrigerator and pantry. With diligence and stealth he managed to bag a couple of hotdogs, a potato, a gallon of fresh water, and he foraged a baggie of flour. LOL!
By the end of the experiment, though, he was actually eating wild foods – tubers, a garter snake (ew.), bunchberries, raspberries, several kinds of tea: pine needle/wintergreen tea, raspberry leaf, and cloverleaf tea, clover leaves and flowers themselves, teaberries and wintergreen leaves, as well as a really good syrup made of serviceberries (I got to try mine on some buckwheat pancakes). In past adventures we’ve foraged mushrooms and fungi, wild flowers and herbs, various edible parts of cattails, snails (again – ew!), and an assortment of other edibles, as well as just catching and frying up some fish. This would exclude any foods the boys have dragged home from their hunting excursions – small or large game.
So when I got the following Listener Question, I was really interested:
My husband and I are interested in learning more about foraging and teaching our son about good (edible and medicinal) native plants. Do you have any book or website recommendations to learn more about foraging?
Hope you are taking time to enjoy the summer!
I went into a pretty lengthy reply, and I’ll post links to some of my very favorite books through our Amazon affiliate links at the end of the blog post:
Yes, foraging is a fun topic! In fact, my 13 y.o. son is spending the week out in the woods in our back forty, rustic camping and foraging for his food. Except that I keep seeing him foraging in my refrigerator for hot dogs and my pantry for potatoes! LOL! He came in and told me he’d made a soup from some tubers and it tasted horrible! It can definitely be a different experience! LOL!
We actually took a month or so and studied foraging a couple of years ago as part of our schoolwork for the year. We did mushrooms (which takes a pretty sure knowledge as many of them are toxic and a few even deadly), and roots and tubers, and wild greens and fruits.
I would suggest starting with “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” by Euell Gibbons. That’s like the mother of all foraging books! There are a lot of wild greens that are edible. Many of them are somewhat bitter – it’s a bit of a different experience than eating out of your garden or from the produce department! But there are some items, like the violets you just find out in the woods and yard, that are quite tasty and interesting! Cattails have different edible parts during different times of the year. And I’m sorry to say that my kids even went as far as catching and eating snails. Eww. LOL! But they wouldn’t starve, I guess, if they found themselves needing sustenance!
If you want to get started with foraging and edible plants, you’ll want to start collecting all kinds of field guides. I just counted and we have forty books (that I could find – that’s not to say there aren’t a few hanging out somewhere besides the bookshelves!) about foraging and/or field guides. We have field guides to mushrooms, medicinal plants, weeds, wild berries and fruit, flowers, plants, trees, fish, insects, etc… A positive ID is important to make sure you aren’t eating anything that could make you sick. A lot of wild foods that *are* toxic will only give you a belly ache or make you throw up, but some of them can be more harmful. And multiple field guides about the same thing can be great for cross-referencing.
Some of our other favorite books are The Forager’s Harvest: Edible Wild Plants by Smuel Thayer, Billy Joe Tatum’s Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook (my favorite), Edible Wild Plants and Useful Herbs by Globe Pequot, Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places by Steve Brill. Then for more medicinal plants, Stalking the Healthful Herbs by Euell Gibbons. I also have a good half-dozen or more books just about medicinal herbs. You’ll quickly see that many of them are found in your flower garden, herb garden, or vegetable garden, as well as in your yard, out in the woods and along the roads! You can “wildcraft” them if you like. Any basic books about medicinal herbs will do. One of my favorites is “Ten Essential Herbs” but you’ll need to look into “how” to get some of the herbs like slippery elm bark. They won’t all be readily available, but some like garlic, onion, and cayenne will be!
I know there’s a also good basic intro to herbs by Shoshanna Easling (think I spelled it right) that is actually a video tutorial. I believe she goes outside and shows you how to find them and prepare them.
Foraging and medicinal herbs are two big topics in and of themselves! Fun to look into – and if you want to become expert it will probably turn into years of study!
Here is a link to our Recommended Reading
page where there are links to two of my favorite resources that I listed above.