THERE’S FREE FOOD OUT THERE
What if I told you that there is no reason for anyone to go hungry? You would say, “Then how come there are so many people in the United States or the world for that matter, that are starving.” I would have to tell you that it’s a matter of education or not knowing what there is to eat out there and remind you that it’s out there and free for the picking – at least in the United States – I don’t know about the rest of the world.
Bradford Angier has written several books on eating wild edibles, two of which are in my collection. I’m sure that if you check there are several books in your local library that will tell you the same things. I have in my own collection of books: a Field Guide To Edible Wild Plants, and Free For The Eating by Bradford Angier, as well as a Field Guide to Edible & Useful Wild Plants of North America by Myron C. Chase. I also have a book on eating flowers called, The Flower Cook Book by Adrienne Crowhurst who also authored another book called The Weed Cookbook.
And who among you has not heard of Euell Gibbons? He has authored many books on eating wild plants of which I have two: Stalking The Wild Asparagus and Stalking The Healthful Herbs. I also have a book called Poisonous Plants, (a color field guide) by Lucia Woodward. It only stands to reason that if there are a lot of wild plants out there that are good to eat then there must be some that will do you harm if eaten. It’s best to know the difference.
Now that you know go forth and try some. Ok, maybe it doesn’t appeal to you to eat your yard or consume the weeds in the vacant lot on your block but it is nice to know that if you had to do it you could. I often did a walk around the immediate area when I took my troop camping to see what there was to eat in case we had to do a survival stint in the wilds. Be reminded that since dehydration will set in sooner than starvation, food will be way down on your list of survival needs. You can go about thirty days without food, but normally not more than three days without water. Shelter will be on top of your survival list, then warmth (fire or blankets), and after that comes water and then food.
In a walk around behind Calvary United Methodist Church, the sponsor of Boy Scout Troop 38 at the time and which is also located beside the St. Mary’s River, I found that there was enough food back there to feed the troop easily.
The ‘free’ foods I found were:
Dandelions – Blossoms are edible, leaves are good cooked or raw in salads, and the roots can be cleaned, dried, and ground into a substitute coffee.
Cat tails – The roots can be boiled and eaten like potatoes, the small spikes are good to eat in the spring, the pollen is good to mix in with your bread flour, and the leaves can be woven into mats and made into shelters.
Roses – Rose pedals are edible and make a decent tea when brewed with hot water; the rose hips are high in vitamin ‘C’.
Pine – Needles are good for making tea and the inner bark is edible.
Wild onion/garlic –They are like eating green onions only smaller and great for seasoning other foods.
Poke greens – Eat the leaves only or the new small spikes that first come up; do not eat the berries, roots, or stalks but you can use the berries for ink if you need something to write with.
Raspberries – The berries are edible and the leaves make a nice tea.
Wild grape (in season) – The vine can be cut and the end put down into a canteen for a small source of pure drinking water.
Sassafras – The roots make great tea when cleaned and boiled. The leaves can be dried, crushed, and added to soups or stews as thickening. Chew the flavorful ‘new’ growth bark while hiking and you won’t get thirsty as often.
Nuts and berries – In the late summer and fall hickory nuts and walnuts will become available as well as elderberries, may apples, and wild grapes.
Catching live food – Being by the river, they could catch fish, mussels, craw crabs, and other edibles that I didn’t go into other than to mention that one could survive by also catching and eating small animals, birds, turtles, snakes, and insects that frequent the area.
I use to go with my mom along beside the railroad right-of-way that ran behind our farmhouse in West Virginia. She would say, “Grab a poke (her word for a grocery sack) and get me the butcher knife.” I knew we were going ‘green pickin’ as she called the sojourn. We, or rather she, gathered wild mustard, lamb’s quarters, dandelion, plantain, and other wild greens too numerous to remember. She would bring them back to the farm house and wash and clean them and put them on to boil with maybe a change or two of water before they were “. . . fit ta be eat,” as she would say. She also served them up cooked in bacon grease with vinegar and sliced boiled eggs on top and said, “Eat’em; they’s good for you.”
A member of the lily family, the common Day Lily, found along almost every country road and around old farmsteads around June – July, are very good to eat and I love them. Pick the buds before they open and steam or boil them until tender. Drain them. Slather melted butter over them, and serve them up like green beans and that’s what they remind you of, eating green beans with a touch of onion flavor. Be warned; they have a laxative effect if eaten in quantity so try just a few to start with and wait a while to see if they affect you like they do me.
The opened Day Lily blossoms are good when dipped in batter and fried like squash blossoms or dandelion heads. Salt and pepper to taste.
Every fall we have an over abundance of purslane growing in our flowerbeds and where we used to garden. Purslane, pursly, or pusley as it is sometimes called ‘down home’, is a good garden green that comes up wherever it wants to. By whatever name you may call it, don’t overlook it as another plus for your table fare. It can be dropped into salted boiling water for about five minutes or until tender and then served up with melted butter. It can be eaten like greens or added to soup and stews as a thickening. The stems can also be pickled and eaten like pickled cucumbers, although the stems are a lot smaller.
Another way to enjoy purslane is to snip off the tender leafy tips, rinse them in clean water (to remove the grittiness), roll them in flour, dip them in beaten egg, and then roll them in bread crumbs before frying in hot oil for about five to ten minutes or until brown. Drain and serve. By just using the tips of the plant it will sprout again and just a few plants will furnish you with greens from late June until it starts to frost in the fall.
“I learned that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength. I have made a satisfactory dinner off a dish of purslane which I gathered and boiled, yet men have come to such a pass that they frequently starve, not for want of necessaries but for want of luxuries.”
~Henry David Thoreau~