Be it berries, weeds, fungi, or roots, all things wild are not automatically best. We’ve only dabbled in the wild food around us. Richard likes chokecherry jam and syrup. I don’t. There, I said it. I like a few Morrell mushrooms, he doesn’t want any of them. We love photos of wild violets, but have learned we could eat both leaves and petals. They are not ‘weeds’ in our yard, but magical floral fairies scattered through the grass.
Enjoying wild food can be good or not so good. Yet, it is a resource you should be aware of, just in case. Or be aware of just for the independent delicious experience of gathering. You will have some enriching tasty experiences along with some ‘duds’. Getting outside with friends or family is a side benefit that turns any ‘dud’ a definite win.
- Spring growth brings on the wild eating with:
- lambs’ quarter,
- violet blossoms,
- young pokeweed,
- wild onions (more ‘garlic-y’ than you would expect)
lambs’ quarter, dandelions, violet blossoms, young pokeweed, mushrooms, chickweed, plantain, wild onions (more ‘garlic-y’ than you would expect)
Summer will bring on fruit: BULLET plums, blackberries, currants, rosehips, sheep sorrel (I grew up calling it sheep shower)
Autumn brings chokecherries and PERSIMMONS — the epic failure
Wild plums are wonderful in a ‘butter’ or jam form. The taste is tart without being sour. Wild plum jam mixed with butter on fresh bread or warm toast is a treat at any time of day.
R. likes to make jelly or syrup from chokecherries. The process is intriguing because one boils the berries in water, then makes the sweet treat from the berry infused water. He’s been able to boil the betties in two or three batches of fresh water and get a jelly to set for each boiling. We don’t have chokecherries in our Ozarks neighborhood, just as we don’t see service berries.
If you walk gently through a spring field, you may come across some wild strawberries. They are tiny. Better be quick because I’m sure there is a mouse nearby who has been watching and waiting for the rosy blush of a strawberry
Persimmons are popular in the Ozarks where we live. (More about that later when we get into FAILURES)
Currants resemble gooseberries on the bush, but are much smaller. So small that picking them is a real job. They can be dried, then resembling hard little raisins. Elderberries are appealing for the edible flowers.
Blackberries thrive in the woods of the Ozarks. People venture out to pick for their families and to sell extra berries. Berry thickets resist invasion by the pickers. The thickets are armed with the most amazing thorns. Pickers also compete with wildlife for the berries. Small animals and birds depend on wild berries as part of their diet. Larger animals, including bears enjoy adding blackberries to their menu. Other wildlife inhabits the ‘patches’. Pickers can encounter spiders, snakes, hornets, ticks and chiggers. All of them want to enjoy their home and may not appreciate the invasion. The ticks and chiggers see the pickers as a food source! Yet, it is difficult to have a dessert tastier than fresh, wild blackberry cobbler. Maybe it is the extra work that goes with the hunting.
Not all wild berries are wild food
There are countless berries in the woods in the fall that I’m not willing to test as edible. Blackberries and strawberries are easy to identify. Others are better left for the birds who have a more ‘berry efficient’ digestive system. Nature offers birds the smorgasbord of wild berries to tide them over through winter. Hey, who are we to take food out of a songbird’s mouth? Check with experts before eating bush or brush honeysuckle berries, pokeberries, monkey grass, dogwood berries or various nightshades growing wild or tame. At our house, we leave these treats for the birds!
Lamb’s quarter or dandelion leaves are embraced in spring when the heart craves something green and crisp after a dark and doughy winter season. R and I understand if we were starving, those things could be good to have around. We are willing to wait for starvation time to get into serious weed eating.
Dandelions are an early spring source of greens.We are surprised to find few the golden harbingers of spring in our yard. Not enough to get too excited about eating them. When lambs quarter weeds are the prominent weed, we pull them and feed them to the chickens. A friend once said, “Eat them.” Seriously? We tried them and found our taste for fresh, steamed lambs quarter greens to be a FAIL.
Wild eaters watch for tender young pokeweeds because the little ones in very early spring can be eaten. The ‘little’ sucker plants that regrow when the parent plant is cut back are not safe even though they resemble the spring leaves.
Wild onion stalks, stand out, dark green, in the brown or early green grass of spring. They often have their tips bitten by frost. The bulbs are strong flavored and difficult to get out of the ground whole. The flavor is strong and closer to garlic than onion.
Our dogs have a yen for a specific fescue grass. Tales have it that the dogs eat grass because of a tummy ache. These dogs eat their grass salad because they crave it. History reveals several hours later that their tummies were just fine. (Thank goodness)
Munchy Weeds and More
Chickweed with a mild, nutty flavor on the bright new greens is considered a noxious weed in our neighborhood. I understand how people in times past could enjoy this spring green as a fresh, salad treat. Times when the produce aisle in the supermarket didn’t offer many fresh choices. Times when there probably wasn’t a supermarket handy!
Our chickens love to eat chickweed. They are more enthusiastic about the weed patches that have bolted, full of seeds that jump out when we pull gobs of it for them. Surprisingly, I think one of my favorite patio container plants, Mouse Ears, may be a chickweed variety.
Some consider Plantain leaves and seeds to be excellent food sources. We definitely endorse the medicinal properties of plantain for external use. Picking and pulverizing a leaf into a poultice can relieve a sting or bite or contact with poison ivy before you get to the house for help.
I’ve long made simple cremes using both dried chickweed and plantain leaves, olive oil, coconut oil and bees’ wax with a dash of geranium essential oil added for scent and aromatic benefits. Good for bites, rashes, poison ivy (and others). A moisturizer that heals. I’ve shared my ingredients with my family so that each household can make their own.
We are ‘meat and potatoes’ people and seldom think about the possibility of flowers in our food. Violets grace the lawns at The Legacy Gardens all summer, with most in the spring. We have never tried to eat them, either leaves or flowers. Wild violet flowers and leaves are supposedly high in vitamins and good to eat. They certainly make a delicate, lovely garnish for spring foods. The wild violets at The Legacy Gardens are the first to show up in spring. Their pretty blue faces in many shades stay around for us to enjoy.
Very few traditional wild roses in the woods. They are overtaken by the obnoxious, invasive multiflora rose. The multi-flora roses have tiny, single flowers with no particular scent. Petals that we would eat would have to come from a tame rose — technically not wild eating. Rose petals would work better as sachets if we could bring ourselves to pick them. Usually we enjoy the flowers to their fullness at the rose bush. After May 5, 2019, episode of P.Allen Smith’s gardening program, I’m going to try rose petal jam/jelly this season.
Fungi are part of the life around any moisture (even in drier, high desert locales) and organic decomposition. Few are should be on the human menu. I hunt them with my camera. There are stunning little fungi showing up on old wood and the ground.
I enjoy a good ‘mess’ of mushrooms, mostly Morrells because i can tell what they are. All fungi growing in the wild is not GOOD food. Testing can be dangerous, even deadly. Since R. doesn’t care for mushroom texture, we don’t get them often. He has agreed to eat some mushroom soup from time to time. He doesn’t want to run into a mouth full of morrell. I feel safer hunting fungi with my camera.
EPIC Persimmon Failure
We decided to CAN persimmon pulp for later use. The result was my perceptionme of autumn colored barrium (which I have never actually SEEN.) I couldn’t ever get a hankering for eating it. A pioneer friend said she had often made persimmon pudding. I decided to try it. The pudding was a further waste of ingredients! I missed something because I found a wide collection of recipes online from Missouri resources.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture kitchens have been experimenting with RIPE persimmon recipes. They have an impressive collection at their website. I respect their testing and would be agreeable to try again if I can get to the persimmons before the cows eat them.
Ripe is NECESSARY
Sampling a persimmon in the woods before it is ripe (overripe) can make you believe they are always nasty. Sort of like a big bite of alum!
Persimmons have a peculiar ripening process. It is called ‘bletting’. With persimmons, when they are dropping from the trees, they are probably ready. They can be ripened in an open box (keeps them safe from the wildlife and cows looking for a dainty bite.) Pick the persimmons at ‘almost ripe stage, then lay them in a shallow box or pan lined with parchment paper. Check frequently because they will ripen fast!
More fun than eating
Country predictions of winter conditions use persimmons. If you open a ripe fruit and examine the seed, you should be able to see a shape in the seed. According to weather history, when you see a fork shape in the seed, winter will be mild. Should you find a spoon, expect a lot of heavy wet snow as the spoon represents a snow shovel. Intense, cutting cold will be in the future winter when there are knives portrayed in the persimmon seeds!
Beyond the Smack Talk
As with any menu, tastes vary from palate to palate. We may talk ‘trash’ about our experiences with wild plants, fruit and fungi while someone on the next road makes these all a major part of their menu.
Just as you clean the produce from the store, always wash your wild food before eating. Soils on the roots can contain manure contaminates from animals running through the fields and woods. We aren’t totally isolated, so commercial fertilizer may be present. While they ‘look clean, leaves and stems have had piddling bugs and rodents running over them. Pets can stop to relieve themselves on your wild violet patch or that tender young dandelion. Take a little care and WASH everything.
Rotten or Mysterious? Leave it be!
Don’t eat rotten things. If you are suspicious that something isn’t good anymore, dump it. If you are suspicious something isn’t good in the beginning unknown leaves, berries or fungi, stay away. There are trustworthy stories about people who eat things that weren’t created for human digestion.
Be safe. Be happy It is good to know a few things that could stave off starvation if I were stranded in the wild. That doesn’t mean I have to enjoy them, or eat them regularly. How about you? Enjoy the Wild Salad video from another spring gatherer.
- Do you eat wild food?
- What are your favorites?
- Have you had some ‘epic fail’ experiences?
- Can you name some that I’ve missed which you’ve tried?
- I would love to have your comments.