By Brigham Madden-Cox
Maybe you like “living off the fatta the lan,’” working on your survivalist skills, or are just in touch with the "Eaaaarth, man." Regardless, eating just any ole plant that you come into contact with is a surefire way to end up majorly ill and/or dead. To prevent that, read on for a couple of rules about how to stay safe in nature’s dining room.
Some Foraging Essentials
The constant rule is that if you aren’t completely sure what it is, then don’t eat it, especially if you are far from a Poison Control Center/hospital. Also, be careful to make sure that plants haven’t recently been sprayed with herbicide. Tell-tale signs are dead vegetation, stunted growth, or uneven leafing.
Lastly, if you’re out in the woods or in a more wild part of the country, know that bears like berries, too! So make a ruckus to keep them away or to let them know that you’re coming. I am just barely holding back from making any “bear” puns.
Beyond the Blueberry
The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word “forage” are memories of the times where I picked blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries with my family as a child. But everyone knows that you can eat those!
Some other good wild berries for your primal consideration are elderberries, which are better/safer cooked (do NOT eat the leaves or stems); mulberries; and, my personal favorite, huckleberries, which can be found at higher elevations out west and up and down the eastern United States.
Both elderberries and mulberries are relatively easy to identify, but be careful with huckleberries as they can vary wildly in size and color. Before eating any berry that you think is a huckle, be sure to discern what they look like in your specific location. Also—pro-tip—even though the nursery rhyme references mulberry bushes, the better and more edible forms grow on trees in both white and black variations!
If you’re a desert wanderer know that you can eat prickly pear, so long as you’re careful about the spines in the fruit. Oh, and if you live in Canada (or regularly travel to Scandinavia/Siberia) please find some cloudberries and let me know what they taste like!
If you’d like more information on these berries or others, take a look at the National Wildlife Federation’s website, pick up a good flora and fauna guide, or simply Google some images of the berries in question as a discerning eye will make it easy to match most berries to the real thing.
Friendly (and Sometimes Medicinal) Plants
Researching wild plants that you can eat kind of blew my mind because there are just so many that are edible. Weeds that we all hate such as dandelions, slimy and annoying seaweed, and even pine needles can all be made into survival food in a pinch! Now, I’m not saying that it’s going to be delicious, but hey, stranded-on-a-deserted-island beggars can’t be choosers:
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