Monday, April 11, 2016

Wild Foraging - An Essential Survival Skill

Wild foraging may sound like a foreign concept to those of us from the western world accustomed to selecting from the very best produce available in the grocery store. However human being have survived for thousands of years employing this simple skill to naturally obtain food and medicine from plants that nature decided to grow. Humans helped Mother Nature along by planting certain food crops that have since become known as weeds and haven't been harvested in so long that Americans forgot they are a viable food source. It's true that wild foraging for food and medicine is a great way to ensure that you and your family are fed and healthy but there are also many psychological and entertainment values associated with this practice. Getting started in the wild foraging world is much easier than you might think. You can provide your own sense of security and fulfillment knowing you can provide food and medicine from the natural world around you.

There is a viable food source waiting for you right outside your door, you just have to know where to look. This food source does not require any planting, weeding or watering. Plus, if TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) were to come you can continue to eat from your natural world around you when others are lost wondering if something is edible or poisonous. A lot of the tasty edibles in nature we now identify as weeds and aggressively try to eradicate. For example, how many of us have cursed the dandelions growing in our green grass? While the grass looks pretty and is cool on our feet in the hot summers, the dandelions are much more useful to your dietary needs. All the parts of the dandelion are edible (as long has the neighborhood dog hasn't visited them). In addition to these weeds filling the space in our bellies, many plants from the same family will have a totally different flavor profile that will their own unique notes to any meal. For example, water cress and wild lettuce both come from the sedum family of plants but their flavors are very different.

Beyond being a great food source, wild foraging can also provide you with medicinal benefits that the western world is just beginning to tap the potential of. When you learn what plants are beneficial to different conditions a whole new way of healing is available to you. If TEOTWAWKI were to happen you can be confident knowing that there are remedies for ailments available to you without having to go to battle with your neighbors raiding the local CVS. Your reliance upon a pharmaceutical industry that destroys the natural buffers in plants to extract the healing elements and overload your body with that element often creating nasty side effects will be greatly reduced. In addition to reducing your need to rely upon an industry that seems more concerned about the bottom line of their company rather than the health of their clients, you will be providing an element to your health that is often overlooked: variety. Our diets consist of mostly the same ingredients combined in different ways, which provides us with a lot of the same vitamins.  What is the real difference between spaghetti and pizza? The way the flour is cooked? Your body naturally craves variety and a diet rich in wild foraged goodies can provide this palate and vitamin diversity.

Wild foraging is not just a food source or a medicinal cabinet, wild foraging is fun! When you walk through the woods, drive down the street or even stroll through a parking lot, the plants that created a wash of green will now be individual varieties, readily identifiable to the trained eye. Participating in wild foraging can be a welcome relief from life in a city. What a great excuse to head out into nature and enjoy yourself. But, wild foraging doesn't just happen in the country. There are many plants available to you in the city or suburbs. You just have to know what they are in order to enjoy their benefits. Kids delight in the fact that they are learning the different types of plants and which ones they can nibble on. As a parent you have to be highly vigilant and ensure that your child understands they need to ask you first before they eat anything! But, a nature walk with your child to identify plants is a great way to spend time together and it educates both of you at the same time!

Photo Album: Some photos of our last wild foraging adventure
Fun on the trail walking the dog.
Plantain a valuable plant found along the way.
Pineapple weed: a camomile substitute found along the way.

The prize we were after fiddle head ferns. Yum, yum!
Getting started with wild foraging is not as hard as you might think. However, you need to exercise extreme caution! There are many plants that have look alike species that are very poisonous. Before eating anything you need to make sure that you have that plant 110% identified without a doubt. I don't want to scare you off but you can't underestimate the importance of being careful, learning the plants, and starting very slow when you introduce a new type of plant to your diet. As always you should keep in mind any allergies that you have and listen carefully to your body.

When you get started wild foraging you need some good books to start with. I say books because the pictures in plant books are images of one plant at one time during one season. Plus, the authors are individuals as well and they might highlight different aspects of each plant. Plants are like humans and can have their own small variations, ever hear of a four leaf clover? This is a variation but it is still a clover. Plus, plants can look very different depending on the season and even the weather conditions. With multiple books you can cross reference the plant with many different sources and be sure that you have found the right one.

Books are wonderful but nothing beats a great instructor. As I mentioned books can be tough to use and phone apps (at least the ones I've tried) are even worse! A hands on instructor is priceless. Just an hour in nature with someone who is already trained will provide you with a plethora of viable options for harvesting. They already have their eyes educated to see the difference between the green and the individuals. They will be able to point out so many types of plants to you in just an hour that you will need a camera and a note pad to remember all the valuable information they can provide. Learning all these plants and their uses takes time and practice! You will need to return to an area over and over and test your skills.

When you start out wild foraging, learn the easily recognized plants first. Plants that most of us can identify already are things like dandelions, chickweed, clover, mint, blackberries and cattails. There are so many uses of just these plants! It will take time to learn recipes, harvesting techniques, medicinal values and physical uses (for example cattail leaves make great woven mats). Start exploring the easy plants to get your wild foraging juices flowing. Then you can move on to more difficult plants with the help of your books, your instructor and your curiosity.

Wild foraging provides a certain type of security and fulfillment when you know you can provide food and medicine for you and your family. It provides a viable food source that is readily available in all types of environments, whether you live in the city, suburbs or our in the country. The medicinal qualities of plants that are naturally available can literally save your life. Plus, the entertainment value that wild foraging provides and the bonding you can do with your loved ones while wild foraging are irreplaceable. Getting started is not as intimidating as it may seem so get out there and start experimenting with the food available outside your door today!

Sara F. Hathaway
Sara F. Hathaway is the author of the The Changing Earth Series: Day After Disaster and Without Land. She also hosts The Changing Earth Podcast which blends her fictional stories with educational survival tips. Sara grew up in the country where she developed a profound interest in the natural world around her. After graduating with honors from The California State University of Sacramento with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, she launched into a career in business management. In her fictional novels her research and experience with survival techniques and forgotten life-sustaining methods of the generations past come to the forefront in a action packed adventures. She has used her background in business management to pave new roads for fictional authors to follow and she delights in helping other achieve the same success. She currently lives with her husband and two sons in California where she is at work on the sequel to her first two novels. For more information and a free copy of “The Go-Bag Essentials” featuring everything you need to have to leave your home in a disaster visit:
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