O.k., so just in case sh*# does hit the fan, economically speaking, it might be a good idea to brush up on some of those ol’ lost arts. Plus, wild plants, unlike their cultivated cousins, have much more in the way of nutrition and tend naturally to be organic. Unless you happen to enjoy spraying your yard regularly with sevendust or gathering them on a freeway (which I wouldn’t recommend.) However, some plants can make you sick or even kill you. DO NOT EAT ANY WILD THING IF YOU ARE NOT ONE HUNDRED PERCENT POSITIVE THAT YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS. IF YOU ARE NOT A PROFESSIONAL SCOUT, OR OTHERWISE TRAINED IN WILD EDIBLES, DO NOT EAT ANY BERRIES OR MUSHROOMS EVEN IF YOU HAVE BROUGHT ALONG A GUIDE BOOK. SOME OF THESE HAVE LOOKALIKES THAT ARE DEADLY TOXIC. I would also recommend bringing along a guide or knowledgable friend the first couple of times you go out. My community hosts “walk- alongs” with trained guides who help you to identify wild edibles and their poisonous lookalikes. Be safe.
Dandelions, the bane of most people’s back yard. This little plant is not only extremely common but also very edible. Young leaves and flowers are great in a salad, while the larger, tougher leaves can be parboiled in lightly salted water and eaten warm. Some people enjoy the medicinal properties of these mature leaves steeped to form a tea, and the bloom is often used to make dandelion wine. The only part of the plant to avoid would be the stem of the flour and the milky fluid it secretes. This fluid isn’t toxic, but it is very bitter.
Cress, or shotweed, is in the mustard family. Its young leaves are great in salads, older leaves may be steamed until tender.
Here are some cleaned cress greens I found right outside the front door. These were young and tender enough to mix other salad greens for lunch.
The plantain, not to be confused with the fried bannana-like things served in Cuban restaurants, can also be used as a ‘pot herb’, although only the very young leaves are eaten due to their stringy texture. These are usually simmered 15 minutes or until tender.
The burdock is used for both food and medicinal purposes. The ‘bur’ of the burdock is frequently used to make tea, purportedly helping to ease a variety of ailments including exema, colds and infections, and diabetes. The root of the burdock plant is commonly eaten as any other root vegetable, however it is best harvested in spring from the first year of the plant. Once you see the burs form, the root is in its second year and more or less unpalatable. The first year burdock will have a rosette on leaves with a small shoot in the middle, looking like this.
image from wildmanstevebrill.com, click for link
You will not be ble to pull this by hand, it’s much stronger than it looks! Grab a shovel. The roots should be white and somewhat pliable.
Roast them with a mixture of other root vegetables and tubers, or chop and throw into a pot of soup.
Aptly named quickweed, this garden demon is apparently quite tasty. The young plants are simmered in salted water for 15-20 minutes and served warm with butter or sometimes vinegar as a dressing.
“Uh, yeah…..that’s a pine tree. I don’t think I’ll ever be forced to eat conifers barring some Survivor Man-esq hiking incident.” Seriously, though, they are edible and actually not bad. Really! When eaten raw it’s best to gather the bright green new needles in spring, they’re surprising tender and un-piney tasting. I like to make tea from the needles year round (Christmas tree tea!), especially when I’m ill. Conifers are extremely high in vitamin C. The settlers used to use pine to ward off scurvy. Most pines also have edible nuts inside the cones come late summer to fall.
These are just a couple of edible plants that can be found in my area. I ‘d love to hear about edibles in other regions or maybe even some recipes. Happy hunting!