November 29, 2023

(Continued from Part 1.)

Foraging Best Practices

1.) Make sure you are collecting in a legal manner. Many state forests or public lands allow foraging for personal use (not for profit/resale) and as long as the plant is not endangered/protected. It is your responsibility to find out those details.

2.) Ask for permission on private land just like you would if you were hunting. Be responsible, be reasonable, be considerate, and be ready for people to think you are a weirdo. When possible share a taste of your harvest. People will more readily understand why you are foraging if they know how delicious your passionflower fruit is that you just collected from the fencerow.

3.) Be careful not to overharvest and destroy a plant population. Understand the effects of harvesting on a specific plant. For example, fruits can be collected aggressively because you will not hurt the plants, and they will produce again the following season. You may still want to spread some seeds and spread the patch a bit. If you are digging wild leeks you must understand you are removing the entire plant and it will take much longer for the patch to regenerate. In these scenarios, it is best to only harvest where the plants are abundant, and harvest less than 10% of the plants to ensure the population of your patch does not decline. In my opinion, foraging is not a danger to plant populations. A diehard forager cares way more about the health of their favorite patch of wood nettle than any tree-hugging greenie ever will. Indifference is a bigger danger to our wild places. Foraging makes us care more about our environment, and the stewardship of the land.

Resources to Start Foraging

In this section I’ve highlighted a number of real experts who have helped me on my foraging journey.

Sam Thayer’s foraging books are all excellent and I have pre-ordered his field guide which will be released soon (Starve the beast: order directly from the author at www.foragersharvest.com or use the Survival blog affiliate link to booksamillion)

  • The Forager’s Harvest by Sam Thayer (detailed profiles, identification tips, harvesting, and preparation on 30+ plants)
  • The Forager’s Harvest DVD (next best thing to taking a class with Sam Thayer, but if you live in the midwest you might be able to make it to one of his classes)
    -Nature’s Garden by Sam Thayer (detailed profiles, identification tips, harvesting, and preparation on 30+ plants)
  • Incredible Wild Edibles by Sam Thayer (detailed profiles, identification tips, harvesting, and preparation on 30+ plants)
  • Sam Thayer’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants (available for preorder)
  • Northeast Foraging by Leda Meredith (over 200 plants included but not as much detail)
  • Tyrant Farms www.tyrantfarms.com (blog with info on foraging, wild food recipes, and other gardening & homesteading info)
  • Meat Eater Wild + Whole Foraging Section
High Value Plant Profiles

In this section, I will focus on 25 high-value wild plants. I have eaten most of them personally, and the rest are on my list to try and either I’m still searching for a chemically safe population or they do not grow in my area. Some areas of the country will not have some of these plants available and you will have to focus on what is prevalent in your area of the country.

The list is admittedly biased towards the upper Midwest and everything east of the Mississippi because that is the plant profile I am most familiar with. I’m not going to get into identification as that is beyond the scope of this article. I will simply describe why the plant might hold foraging value as a source of calories, nutrients, and culinary uses.

The nutrition info I found on some of these wild foods was pretty variable (due to the variability between plants, small sample size for some wild plants, and multiple species within a plant group). I am providing nutrition info to give you a general idea of how these plants might fit into a calorie/nutrition plan.

Staple Foods-Starches/Fats/Protein:

Black Walnut-Juglans nigra

Black walnuts are a great starter tree to add to your foraging catalog. The trees are distinctive and easy to identify for a beginner. The leftover nut shells are a dead giveaway, and the green clusters of racket ball-sized fruit are easy to spot from the ground. Come back in the fall for a harvest of tasty but hard-to-crack nuts. Black walnuts have the highest protein content of any tree nut and are a great source of fat (as much as 60%-70% oil content). There are also medicinal uses for the plant in herbalism.

Warning: You may want to wear gloves to collect them, especially if the hulls have turned brown, or your skin will turn orange/brown and it won’t wash off. It’s simply a cosmetic stain and will wear off in a couple weeks.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size

1oz (28g)

Daily Value

(%)

Calories

176 9%

Total Fat

16.8g 22%

Saturated Fat

1g 5%

Total Carbohydrate

2.7g  1%

Dietary Fiber

1.9g 7%

Protein

6.8g 14%

Hickories & Pecan-Genus Carya

Hickories are another great staple crop with a lot of value in terms of quality nuts and potential calories. They have the highest fat/oil content among our native nut trees. This is a group of tree species, not a single tree. This will require more work to learn to differentiate the species in order to get the most bang for your buck.

The shagbark/shellbark varieties are considered by some to have the best flavor, and pecan also has very good flavor and is much easier to shell. Some varieties are almost impossible to shell without obliterating the nutmeat (mockernut). Bitternut hickory is high in tannins making the nuts very astringent. However, the tannins are not oil soluble so these nuts can be pressed and the resulting oil is very good (I have purchased some from Forager’s Harvest and it was great as a salad dressing or on popcorn).

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size

1oz (28g)

Daily Value

(%)

Calories

187 9%

Total Fat

18.3g 23%

Saturated Fat

2g 10%

Total Carbohydrate

5.2g  1%

Dietary Fiber

1.8g 6%

Protein

3.6g 7%

Oaks/Acorns-Genus Quercus
Acorns have made this list because they are easy to identify, easy to harvest, and have a high calorie/oz content. Acorns have been used as staple foods by traditional people groups in every part of the world where oak trees are prevalent. Acorns are often stored dried in their shells, and then processed into acorn flour.

Acorns are high in tannins, a bitter astringent compound. These tannins are water soluble and can be removed by leaching the crushed acorns. There are abundant resources online showing how to leach and prepare your own acorn flour, as well as baking recipes. You may even be able to buy it online to try it out and see if you like it.

Typically, acorns in the white oak family are lower in tannin content. Some southern varieties of small red oak acorns have been found to be higher in oil content and can be pressed for oil. I purchased acorn oil from Forager’s Harvest and found it to be very good. It has a stronger flavor than hickory oil, and a much darker color but it was good as a salad dressing and on popcorn.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size

1oz (28g)

Daily Value

(%)

Calories

145 7%

Total Fat

8.9g 11%

Saturated Fat

1.2g 6%

Total Carbohydrate

15.2g  5%

Dietary Fiber

Protein

2.3g 5%

Chestnut-Genus Castanea
The American Chestnut was at one time the dominant forest tree east of the Mississippi before being almost wiped out by a blight in the early 1900s. Some trees have survived and there are several breeding programs in progress to try and bring this tree back. Blight-resistant varieties of American Chestnut are starting to become available if you are interested in planting some of your own.

For foraging, you will have more luck in suburban environments where Asian or European chestnuts have been planted. Chestnuts are higher in carbohydrate content than most other nuts, and are typically more consistent producers with strong crops every year. Most other nut trees produce larger crops every few years, and can be inconsistent producers.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size

1oz (28g)

Daily Value

(%)

Calories

103 5%

Total Fat

.5g 1%

Saturated Fat

.1g

Total Carbohydrate

22.7g  8%

Dietary Fiber

Protein

1.9g 4%

Cattails-Genus Typha
Cattails are easy to identify and widely available. Their new shoots can be eaten as a green. Immature flower heads can be eaten. The pollen can be collected as a “flour,” and the starchy rhizomes can also be eaten. Downside, prepare to get wet, cold, and muddy. In some areas, it may be difficult to find a cattail pond clean enough from chemical runoff to be worth trying. A nutritional profile is not available for this plant.

Sunroot/Sunchoke/Jerusalem Artichoke-Helianthus tuberosus

Sunroot is a member of the sunflower family. It is a tall perennial plant (mine got to be about 10? tall) that flowers in late summer. The flowers are reminiscent of small sunflowers. The plants produce many multi-fingered tubers (see photo) that look a little bit like ginger. Healthy plants produce them prolifically, and if you miss any they will become a new plant in the spring. If you decide to plant some, be careful where you put them since they are hard to eradicate and harvesting seems to encourage them to grow back. Harvesting the tubers is best done after several freezes.

Sunroot is high in inulin which breaks down into digestible starches after freezing weather. Harvest too early and you could have a bad case of gas. We felt like it tasted like a mild combination of sweet potato and carrots, and would work well in a variety of roasted vegetable dishes.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size

1 cup
(150g)

Daily Value

(%)

Calories

110 5%

Total Fat

Saturated Fat

Total Carbohydrate

26g  9%

Dietary Fiber

2.4g 9%

Protein

3g 6%

Wapato-Genus Sagittaria

Wapato refers to several related species of wetland and river plants with edible tubers. The tubers are harvested by stomping in the mud in late fall or early spring knocking them loose and they float to the surface. They can form large colonies and were prized by native tribes as a reliable source of carbohydrates. Bring your waders. There was no nutritional profile available for wapato.

Wild Rice-Genus Zizania

Areas of the Northern Midwest are abundant with wild rice. Typically harvested with a 2-person team in a canoe. One poling, and one using “knocker” sticks. Rice is a great starch staple. Most of us will not have access to forage for this food, but it is abundant enough you can purchase it online if you would like to try it.
Nutrition Facts

Serving Size

1 cup (164g)

Daily Value

(%)

Calories

166 8%

Total Fat

.6g 1%

Saturated Fat

Total Carbohydrate

35g  13%

Dietary Fiber

3g 11%

Protein

6.5g 13%

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 3.)