Foraging For Vegan Foods and Wild Edibles in America

October 20, 2019
Vegan Living

A Brief History of Foraging for Food and Wild Edibles in America

Foraging for food and wild edibles in America has a long and interesting history. The Native Americans were the first foragers, and they learned a lot from foraging. Edible wild plants and foods were used for many years by the Native Americans for day to day eating, and also as healing herbs. In fact, it was the Native Americans who first discovered that the same plant growing in different areas had different properties. Were they the first hydroponic gardeners? It very much seems that they were aware edible plants could have different health benefits depending on where they were growing.

Wild Edibles and Early European Settlers

When the first European settlers arrived in America, they soon realized it was going to take some time to get farms and food production established. Many of made contact with the Native American Indians, and learned from them. However, the American Indians also learned from the Europeans.

The ratstail plantain (Plantago major) was one of the plants brought over by the Early Settlers. The seeds were brought over by accident by the European settlers and quickly spread. The plant thrives on rough ground, and Native Americans soon started to use it as a salad herb. They called it ‘English man’s Foot’ and it proves how important foraging foods in America has been important for a long time.

Foraging for Foods and Edible Plants in America 101: What You Need to About Wild Edibles

When you first start to forage foods in America, or anywhere else for that matter, it is a good idea to invest in a foraging guide. Learning how to forage foods safely is important. Not all edible wild plants and foods are meant for human consumption, and some wild edibles need to be harvested and handled in a certain way.

Why do people forage for wild edibles and foods? Foraging for foods means free food, and perhaps this is one of the reasons foraging foods is becoming so popular. But there are other reasons as well. Edible wild plants and foods are packed with nutrition, and are often better for you than the food you may by in the supermarket. Great nutrition can certainly be found in wild edibles.

Are All Wild Edibles Really Wild Plants?

Over the years many cultivated crops have escaped to the countryside. Prime examples are apples, asparagus, berries, cherries, and grapes. Many have thrived in their new environment and there is no reason they should not be part of a forager’s diet. Why pay for apples if they grow wild in your local area?

Wild Edibles – Where Can I Find Them?

Wild edibles can be found in parks, woodland, meadowland, and the seaside. For some reason we often ignore foraging for food along the shoreline, but many seaweeds are perfectly edible. Sea beet (sea spinach) grows just like cultivated spinach along coastal paths and sea walls. It is an excellent source of beta carotene, iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium. Sea beet is used in the same way as garden cooking, and can be frozen for up to a year.

Plants can also be found growing in or near streams. Watercress is a perfect example of a wild edible plant which is found growing in streams. When you get it home, you can either it straight away or you can freeze it. The health benefits of watercress are well known. It has been used as medical herb both in Europe and North America for many years.

Should I Pick the Entire Plant When Foraging for Foods?

When you are foraging for food and gathering wild edibles, there are two things you should bear in mind – sustainability and respect. You may want to come back to the same spot next year and pick more of the plant if you enjoyed eating it. If you have picked most of the plants in an area, there may not be enough plants to sustain growth.

Respect is important as well, and that is something the American Native Indians always kept in mind. They realized they were not alone in making use of a certain plant, and only shared nature with others. Don’t over harvest, you are not doing yourself or nature any favors. Edible wild plants and foods are just as important to many of the creatures that live in the countryside. It is all too easy to lose sight that we are part of nature.

Can I Forage for Food Around Factory and Waste Disposal Sites?

When you are out foraging for wild edibles, you should avoid contaminated sites. Former factory and waste disposal sites may be high in certain heavy metals. The compounds found in heavy metals such as mercury are highly toxic, and the plants growing in the area, will absorb them. Consequently, the toxins are packed passed onto you.

What Plants Are Safe to Eat?

Is it safe to eat stinging nettles? It is perfectly safe to eat stinging nettles (Urtica dioica). You may want to wear gloves when handling the plant, but small fresh shoots found in spring are the best. The “stinging” quality of the plant comes formic acid which is destroyed by cooking. Stinging nettles contain more iron than many other wild edibles so this is certainly a plant you should harvest. Once again, it can be frozen and enjoyed throughout the year.

How to Cook and Prepare Stinging Nettles for Eating

Before cooking stinging nettles, you should remove the any woody and tough stems. Boil the leaves for about 15 minutes, strain the water but don’t discard it, add to a frying pan and fry with some onion. You can also try make an nettle soup using vegetable stock. Whisk in a blender, and you will have a lovely warming soup which really packs a nutritional punch.

Never throw away the nettle water. It is full of healthy compounds. Instead of discarding it, let it cool and then water your house plants or garden with it. Top gardeners around the world claim nettle water is the secret to their success.

Foraging for Burdock

Burdock is another plant which arrived with the early settlers to America. Today it is still very common in the UK, and it is believed the seeds of this plant arrived on the boots of the settlers. It loved the climate of North America, and soon started to spread throughout the continent. Burdock is often called Wild rhubarb and it does look very much like garden rhubarb.

The best parts of the plant to pick are the leaf stems which begin to sprout around May. Just like rhubarb, the stems should be cut into 2 inch lengths and the hard outer peel removed. Burdock tastes great when added to salad along with asparagus, but it can also be used when making stews and soups. Unlike rhubarb, it is a much more complex taste sensation. Burdock tastes nutty with a touch of fennel and an after taste of cucumber.

When you are switching to a plant based diet, it is one of those wild edibles almost certainly the entire family will enjoy. Besides, most family members will enjoy gathering plants and then to prepare them.

Foraging for Wild Edibles Berries

Berries are one of the wild edibles you simply must forage for when you start getting into foraging. It does not matter if you are a prepper or dedicated to a plant based diet, berries are simply one of the the foods you must have in your vegan pantry. When you got out to foraging food, berries are one of the best foods you will come across in the countryside. Not only will you save a lot of money by gathering your own berries, but most berries are packed with great nutrition.

Are All Berries Safe to Eat?

No, not all berries are safe to eat, and you should not eat or berries which you are not familiar with and recognize. Berries are some of the most versatile foods you can find in the countryside. First of all, they are easy to store long term. You can freeze them or dry them in a food dehydrator.

Berries can be consumed in a variety of ways. Needless to say you can eat them raw as soon you come home, or you can freeze them. If you would like to freeze your berries, it is important to give them a wash before you put them in the freezer. This is not done by putting them under the cold water faucet and running cold water over them. If you do so, you can damage the berry which will lead to poor taste and loss of valuable nutrition.

When you would like to freeze berries, invest in good quality reusable cartoons, and freeze them quickly. Go through your harvest, remove any berries which are damaged, do not look healthy and then soak for about 15 minutes in a large pot of cold water. Both blackberries and wild raspberries often enjoy the company of little “hangers on”. When you put them in cold water, these unwelcome visitors will crawl out, and you can remove them with a sieve.

Poisonous Berries that Traveled to the New World

When the early European settlers came, they also brought with them the seeds to some less than welcome visitors. Poisonous berries such as Deadly Nightshade arrived, and did cause deaths among the American Native Indians. Two or three berries are enough to kill a small child so don’t add them to your diet.

Other poisonous berries which are easy to assume are wild edibles are Cuckoo Pint ( also known as Lord and Ladies), Holly and all parts of the Yew tree, and especiall the berries which contain the seeds, are particular poisonous.

Rowan or Mountain Ash

Rowan trees grown in woodland and upland areas. During the fall, orange-red berries appear and the Rowan berries make a great jelly. They are one of the richest sources of vitamin C which can be found in nature and were used to treat scurvy which is the disease you develop when you develop when you suffer from vitamin C deficiency.

Can You Eat Wild Strawberries?

Wild strawberries are perfectly safe to enjoy. They are very small, and used to be used to treat kidney stones. Unfortunately they don’t freeze very well, and are best eaten fresh. You will find them during the summer, and Native American Indians used them to treat disease of the digestive system

Can I Eat Wild Nuts Safely?

Wild nuts should certainly be part of your wild edibles shopping list. Are they safe? Yes, there are safe, but you want to be a little bit careful with wild walnuts. They can be rich in cyanide. However, you should not that stop you foraging for wild walnuts. Instead of eating them raw, you can pickle them. The pickling process will destroy the cyanide in walnuts, and they will be perfectly safe to eat.

Hazelnuts are great when it comes to foraging for wild edibles, and you are not going to be the only to think so. Remember that you need to share your hazelnuts with many woodland creatures. They are rich on vitamin E, and you will find them in nature around September.

Sweet Chestnuts are great as well, and if you are a keen gym goer, they can help to keep your energy levels up. Normally you will find chestnuts trees grow in cluster, and even a complete woodland area, may be taken up by chestnuts trees. Of course, you should store them and keep them for both Thanksgiving and the Holiday Season.

Can I Eat Wild Garlic?

Wild garlic is safe to eat, and just like cultivated garlic, it can be dried. The active ingredient in both cultivated and wild garlic is called allicin. Wild garlic is richer in allicin than its cultivated cousin. The drying process of wild garlic is a little bit different as the high level of allicin makes it a little bit “wetter”.

Keep your wild garlic intact until you get home, and then remove any dirt of leaves which do not look so healthy. Tie off just above the bulb and place in a brown paper bag.

But before you hang it up to dry, cut the bottom of the bag out making sure the bulb is not exposed. This will ensure your wild garlic will dry without going moldy due to the high allicin content.

There are two types of wild garlic in the United States. The white variety is a native variety which can also be found in Europe. It looks very similar to lily-of-the-valley.

In the Southern United States, you are much more likely to come across the pink variety. It is thought to have come across with the Spanish settlers to the New World, or even made its way up from South America. Pink garlic was more than likely introduced to the American continent by the Conquistadors. One things is for sure, wherever they went, wild pink garlic can be found growing. Wild pink garlic can be grown in a kitchen garden, and make an excellent companion plant for many of your vegetables.

Should I Pick Fungi?

Unless you are very familiar with the fungi, it is best not to forage for fungi. Take a local class and find out what fungi grow in your area. Some fungi are very poisonous and can even kill in a matter of hours. Unlike some other plant poisons, there may not be any anti-dotes for many poisons found in fungi. The Death Cap fungi may look innocent, and a bit like a mushroom. It is one of the deadliest fungi on our planet, and should be avoided at all cost.

Is Wild Celery the Same as Cultivated Celery?

When you are out foraging food and wild enables, this is one plant that you should try to find. You will find it growing near rivers and in marshes. It is very similar to the cultivated variety, but is much richer in the antioxidant phenolic acid which makes it important as a healing herb.

The wild variety of celery has diuretic properties, and can be used to treat arthritis, rheumatism, and gout. The Ancient Egyptian swore by its healing properties, and it was even found in the funeral garland of Tutankhamun. Clearly, it was one of the “must-have” healing plants to have in the afterlife.

Dos and Don’ts When Foraging for Edible Wild Plants and Foods

Whenever you are foraging for food, there are a few gold en rules you should follow. Keep it simple, and you will soon have a kitchen pantry full of interesting and healthy foods.

1) Take your time and study the subject before you start your new adventure. Buy a good quality book and make sure you take it with you when you foraging.

2) Don’t pick mushrooms that YOU are not totally familiar with you are out and gather food.

3) The best golden rule is to leave alone if you are in doubt about a certain plant.

4) It is not a good to forage near cultivated crops as they may have been sprayed with fungicide.

5) Stay away form busy roads as plants may have been contaminated by vehicle fuels.

6) Children should not be encouraged to go foraging on their own. They may even pick a poisonous plant and become very ill.

Foraging for wild food and wild edibles is a learning experience. You can learn a lot about the nutritional value of edible wild plants and foods. Can it save you money? If you do it properly, foraging for foods and wild edibles can save you a lot of money.

Joshua Eldridge

Hey I'm Josh!

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