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I enjoy incorporating locally foraged plants into our daily diets. It supplements, and occasionally replaces, a meal at my house. It also gives me another “tool” in my tool belt of survival skills. In this guide, I’ll share how I began to learn how to forage for food, provide some resources, and share the wild edible foods I began with.
How My Foraging Journey Began
After the bank crisis of 2007-2008, I began to think there could be a possibility that our currency wouldn’t be worth anything someday. I wanted an alternative way of providing for my family. If hyperinflation occurred, I may not be able to afford groceries at the store. What could I do?
If I could learn how to find wild edibles, we could be more self-sustaining until things got back to normal. I’ve heard many people say they would just hunt for their food, but what if over 200 million other people are doing the same thing? We would quickly run out of animals.
In addition, a meat-only diet isn’t very appealing, nor is it nutritionally optimal. At the very least, most meals need some herbs and spices! I wanted to learn what plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers could be resources for me.
Learning How to Forage
Of course, I went online and learned about plants for food and medicine. I talked to my local county extension office and spoke to “experts” in many areas. Nobody, though, would teach me about mushroom hunting due to the liabilities. (It’s too easy for newbies, especially, to misidentify and think a poisonous mushroom is safe to eat.)
Finding Hands-on Training
I looked for places to go that offered hands-on learning that was free or had a minimal cost. The goal was to meet local people that had useful skills that were willing to share their knowledge, and especially I wanted to meet “my own kind.” My hope was to form a group and share what we learned.
Around 2010, things started happening. An awesome place called Willow Haven Outdoors in Anderson, Indiana offered a FREE Skills Day once per year to showcase survival skills and techniques. I learned:
- how to operate a bow drill,
- observed flint knapping,
- how to craft a grote (fish hook carved from bamboo),
- and made a three-prong spear to impale fish.
I would go down once or twice per year to learn things and buy survival gear. It’s operated and owned by Creek Stewart, author and host of a couple of TV shows.
READ MORE: Learn about basic forager skills to get you started.
Forming My Preppers Group
Then in 2012, my friend, Madelynn and I began our own preppers group, North West Indiana Preppers. We wanted to prepare for man-made and natural disasters by assembling a group of people with a variety of skills that could help teach self-reliance. It was awesome to have like-minded people to talk to and learn from.
One of our members, John, taught me how to build a solar cooker from a Fresnel Lens from my old TV. Another member, Bill, taught me how to tap Maple trees. Creek Stewart even came and took us into the woods to hunt for Wild Edibles. We had many, many events.
The lesson I learned from this? Surround yourself with people smarter and more knowledgeable than you!
READ MORE: Learn how to start your own preppers group.
What I First Learned to Forage
Everyone has to start somewhere. These are the wild foods I first foraged.
It is very easy to misidentify mushrooms and eat something poisonous unless you really, truly know what you are doing, which is why it can be so hard to find anyone willing to teach this skill.
Of those who sought medical attention for accidental consumption of poisonous mushrooms during 2016-2018, 8.6% had a “serious adverse outcome.” PLEASE exercise extreme caution if you choose to do this yourself.
I still wanted to mushroom hunt, so I joined the Indiana Mycological Society. (There are regional and state clubs from Mexico to Canada.) I get great information, photos, and advice from them. They also take people into the woods to hunt mushrooms that are in season.
Last summer and fall, I spent a great deal of time in the woods around my subdivision, armed with a smartphone and my Field Guide. I would pick a mushroom or two, then find a place to sit, study, and photograph my finds.
If I felt I could positively identify a mushroom, I would be the first one to eat it. I can’t figure them all out, but I can harvest Sheepshead, Chicken of the Woods, Puffballs, Oysters, Boletes, and an unusual one called Purple-gilled Laccaria.
Spore tests and propagation
I learned how to perform a “spore test” when the color of the spore is a critical factor in identification. I would get two of each kind of mushroom, placing one on a piece of black paper and one on white paper. Then I set a drinking glass over each one. In a few hours, remove the glass, and you will see a beautiful spore pattern appear. You need to see the spore color for the identification of some mushrooms.
This video demonstrates.
I also deliberately spread the edible mushroom spores in as many locations as I could to increase their numbers. Simply cut a mushroom into a few pieces, and insert the pieces gill side down onto a type of wood they are partial to, and new mushrooms will grow there.
Be your own “Johnny Appleseed” and plant a few secret gardens in off-the-beaten-path locations using heirloom perennial seeds. If someone takes all your stuff or takes over your property, you still have these little “hidden gardens”.
READ MORE: Learn more about the ins and outs of harvesting wild mushrooms from this woman’s experience.
These trees are beautiful and abundant and you can easily forage some very useful parts of the tree.
The needles make a good foraging option for a number of reasons:
- Nutritional value: As just mentioned, pine needles are a good source of vitamin C, which is important for a healthy immune system. They also contain antioxidants and other beneficial compounds.
- Abundant and widespread: They’re common in many parts of the world and can be found in a variety of environments, from forests to urban parks.
- Versatile: They can be used to make tea, which has a refreshing and slightly sweet flavor. (See directions below.) The needles can also be used as a seasoning for meat, fish, and other dishes.
- Medicinal properties: They’ve been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat a variety of ailments, including respiratory infections and inflammation.
- Survival food: In an emergency or survival situation, pine needles can provide a source of nutrition and hydration.
However, it’s important to note that not all pine species are safe for consumption, and some may be toxic. It’s important to research and identify the specific types of pine trees that are safe to use before consuming them. Additionally, pregnant women and individuals with certain health conditions should consult with a healthcare provider before consuming pine needles.
How to make pine needle tea
Green pine needles can make a tasty tea that will warm your family’s spirits on a cold day while providing much more Vitamin C than most citrus fruits.
Follow these steps to make what’s also known as pine straw tea:
- Clean a few handfuls of green pine needles
- Break them into pieces
- Simmer for 10 minutes or so
- Let the tea steep for another few minutes.
Simple, nutritious, and flavorsome!
The inner bark: edible cambium
The light-colored inner bark of pines is called the cambium layer. It rests underneath the outer bark and just above the harder interior of the tree.
To harvest cambium, cut a square shape in the side of a tree with a knife and then peel away the layers. The cambium can be peeled or scraped into strips like bacon, then fried or roasted for consumption.
Also, please don’t damage standing trees frivolously – this is a survival skill!
Pine nuts can be harvested in the fall and provide a great taste and a lot of protein.
- Gather them using a ladder while wearing gloves because the cones that contain the seeds are sticky.
- Store the cones in a sack, and place the sack in the sun for a few days so that the cones will dry out and open up.
- Rotate the sack daily.
You could also roast coast by a fire or even in an oven. Once dry they will open to reveal the nuts.
For more foraging options, consider insects. In 2013 it was estimated that about 25% of the world’s population (approximately 2 billion people) regularly consumes insects as part of their diet. There is a reason people in dire circumstances are often seen eating them: We will never run out of insects.
Why are insects good foraging?
Insects are really quite a remarkable wild food source for many reasons:
- Nutritional value: Insects are an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Some insects, such as crickets, contain more protein per gram than beef or chicken. (Fun fact: Crickets are also highly digestible and considered a complete protein because they contain all nine amino acids that the human body needs to function properly.)
- Abundant and sustainable: Insects are abundant and can be found in many parts of the world. They are also more sustainable than traditional livestock farming because they require less water, food, and space to grow.
- Easy to catch: Insects are often easy to catch and do not require complex tools or equipment. This makes them a good option for survival situations or foraging in areas where other food sources are scarce.
- Versatile: Insects can be cooked and prepared in a variety of ways, from frying or grilling to baking or sautéing. They can also be used as a protein source in soups, stews, and other dishes.
- Cultural significance: Insects have been eaten by humans for thousands of years and are still a staple food in many cultures around the world. Foraging for insects can provide a unique culinary and cultural experience.
It’s worth noting, however, that not all insects are safe or edible, and some may be toxic or carry diseases. It’s important to research and identify the specific types of insects that are safe to eat before consuming them. Sound familiar?
Wild edibles are meal-worthy!
Last summer I served guests dandelion and bacon soup for dinner, and dessert was a delicious protein bar made with CRICKET flour. Cricket flour is 60% protein, and when it’s mixed in with chocolate, peanut butter, coconut, or lime, it’s really good.
The company that made these bars is called “Chapul”. You can order them online, but I just wanted to introduce this idea to you, in case you ever need another source of protein. It’s gluten-free and doesn’t taste any different than “regular” flour.
What edible resources surround you?
Learning about wild edibles in your local area is a valuable skill that can help you in emergency situations, and also provide an opportunity to connect with nature and explore traditional food sources. Identifying the plants, fungi, and other organisms that grow in your area and learning how to distinguish edible species from poisonous ones is an important step in preparing for emergencies.
I know my area pretty well. Get to know yours, too. I located walnut and hickory trees, which are a source of nuts. (These aren’t the easiest nuts to crack, so be prepared with a good nutcracker or two.) I can also use the hickory bark to smoke meat.
From numerous mulberry trees, I’ve made syrup, jam, and jelly with some friends. I also have apple trees with small sour apples that make great apple cider vinegar.
I’ve identified the locations of a few creeks not far from me. So, I have a water source but also found crayfish. Don’t forget, animals need water, too. You can hunt close to the water, eventually, they’ll all come there.
Other wild edibles I’ve found in my area
I’ve also found:
- raspberry bushes
- wild asparagus
- stinging nettles for medicinal tea
- dandelion leaves (blanch them and they taste like a delicate spinach)
- Queen Anne’s lace for making jelly
- my maple trees for making syrup
- white willow for making salicylic acid (aspirin) in my own yard
- those “helicopter” type seeds that come from maples are edible (toast them first).
Get a good book for your area (see the next section) and begin identifying what wild edible plants you have. Perhaps asparagus, purple dead nettle, miner’s lettuce, wild violets, or something you’ve never considered that might be in your own backyard!
All these amazing resources and more are probably all around you, and you may not realize it. There are just too many to list here!
Other Useful Foraging Resources
Probably the most valuable investments are a great field guide and spending time in different types of terrain to locate plants in your book. I always have the Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America by Steven Foster and James Duke in my car. (There is also one for western North America.) It has glossy-colored photos accompanied by great descriptions of the plants and their many uses.
Another wonderful resource is this website for wild food hunter/gatherers. Although the site isn’t much to look at, the resources are organized by location, so you can easily find options in your area of the U.S.
When I reflect back on all the weeds I’ve pulled, I can’t believe how many were actually edible plants! My garden was loaded with purslane, lambs quarter, and plantain. (I eat the first two while they are still young and tender, and use plantain as a poultice for skin irritation or injuries.)
Learning about wild edibles can also introduce new and exciting flavors to incorporate into your diet and provide a sense of self-sufficiency and empowerment.
My main points for anyone wanting to learn about foraging are:
- It’s never too late to start. Learn at least a few new things.
- Look for resources to help you. It can be people, books, groups, or the internet.
- But be prepared to learn by yourself if no one else is interested.
- Learn to identify local wild edibles (plants, trees, nuts, herbs, mushrooms).
- Learn to prepare these items and eat them.
- Become the Resource Person.
Start looking and learning now, before anything bad happens.
What tips do you have for learning how to forage?
Originally published August 29, 2015; updated by the Survival Mom editors.
Mary is a graduate from Purdue University with an Associates in Applied Science. Her work experiences in Nursing have included surgery, dialysis, prison and drug rehab nursing.