Spring into wilderness foraging

When there is plenty of food in pantry and the ice chest at camp is full of groceries the idea of searching for survival food rarely comes to mind. But for those who want to prepare themselves for wilderness emergencies this is the time of year to get outside and get reacquainted with wild edibles. While it’s true that desperate people can survive for weeks without food, why starve and be miserable when the woods and fields around us are full of wild, healthy food?

The key to survival foraging is to prepare in advance and learn what plants to eat and which ones are dangerous or just not worth the trouble. Foraging is one of those skills that takes a lot of study, practice, and practical experience outdoors. There are plenty of books and apps for smart phones that will help us learn the plants we need to know, but those tools won’t always be around when we need them most. That’s why it pays to know memorize the plants and spring is a great time to get outside, and start learning or relearning this important skill.

Common Blue (Purple) Violets are just beginning to unfurl in the woods and across grassy lawns. These tender plants go by the name Viola sororia, Violaceae, of which there are hundreds of species. The flowers and the leaves are both edible raw and could be eaten alone or as salad mixed with other plants like roasted clover heads or chickweed. They have smooth, heart shaped leaves which are dark green with deep veins and scalloped edges. Violets may grow singly or in patches where it is easy to gather enough flowers to make a good nibble or snack. Common blue violets are high in vitamins A, C.

Chickweed has got to be one of the best tasting vegetables in the wild and, in fact, Chickweed is sold in Europe as salad greens. The small pointed leaves, stems & flowers make a great nibble or will rival any salad green you can find at the grocery store. Each of the five white flower petals are split and appear like 10 petals. Chickweed is a great source of vitamins A, C, iron, calcium, potassium, Thiamin and much more. It also contains chemicals known as saponins that have been shown to lower cholesterol levels and may actually inhibit cancer cell growth.

Common Plantain is one of those plants you find everywhere along pathways, in lawns, and along roadsides. Like all wild plants the smallest, newest leaves will be the most tender and the least bitter. Early in spring the leaves may be eaten raw in salad or as a nibble. The larger the leaves become that can be bitter and stringy. In this case the leaves should be boiled before eating. Common plantain contains calcium, iron, as well as vitamins A, C, and K. Plantain also has the added benefit of providing medicinal value for stopping bleeding and helping to heal a wound. The leaves may be chewed into a poultice and applied directly to the skin. The leaves contain allantoin and emulsifiers that definitely gives this plant a prominent place in wilderness first aid.

Dandelion gets its name from the French for “Teeth of the Lion” and is easily recognizable by the layers of long leaves with deep sinuses. For those who have tasted Dandelion salad or tried a nibble before and found the leaves too bitter, that is because they ate the larger mature leaves. While that makes sense from the standpoint of collecting the greatest amount of plant, those large leaves are the least tasty. The young, newest leaves can be eaten raw while the larger leaves should be boiled or cooked in another dish to improve the taste. The young, peeled flower buds can also be eaten and the root can be cleaned, dried, chopped, roasted and ground up like coffee. Dandelion contains vitamins A, B, C, potassium, zinc, antioxidants, and have more Iron and calcium than spinach.

Clover, either the white or red species, is found almost everywhere and is a great source of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and potassium. The edible parts are the flower heads that can be roasted and used in salads or cereal, and the young leaves boiled as pot herbs.

Every season of the year provides more edible plants for us to study and enjoy. Find out more about wilderness skills and survival at www.mountaineerwilderness.com.