I went to visit a friend one beautiful summer afternoon. As we sat
on his deck overlooking his huge garden, drinking a cold beer he
told me of the awful morning he had spent pulling weeds. He promptly
asked me to follow him to his garden, where
he proceeded to show me two large lawn waste recycling bags full of
in his words, "those damned weeds". I looked in the bag and could
not stop the smile from splitting my face. I asked him why he plants
a garden. He looked at me like I was an idiot. I asked him to
humor me, and answer my question. He said "for vegetables to eat".
The "you idiot" part of his answer was implied. I said do you like to eat salad? Again he looked at me like I had
lost my marbles, but simply said "yes", humoring me much the way you
would a child. I said he had just spent the day pulling what is
arguable the best salad green he will ever eat. He just looked at me
like I had lost my mind. I continued without waiting for his
response. This bag appears to be full of Purselane. He said it is,
as a matter of fact the other bag is full of it as well. I reached
in and grabbed a handful of the succulent plant, put it in my mouth,
chewed it up, and swallowed it. He could not take it any longer;
"are you nuts?" "Yes but that is beside the point" I answered.
"Purselane is grown across the world as a food crop, and it has
centuries." It is not native to the North America, but was rather
brought here by immigrants as an easy to grow highly nutritious food
source. It was not until the early 20th century that it fell from
our diet, and was relegated to the status of obnoxious weed. At my
insistence, he warily gave it a try. "Hey this is pretty good. It
has a really mild flavor." I found out a while later that he then
had his wife research Purselane on the internet. He called me to say
I was right. That even his sister-in-law knew about Purselane.
wild plants are a tasty, healthful, food source available free for the
taking. It bothers me that so many people in this country go to bed
hungry each night because they are unaware of the largess available
just outside their front door. You may be thinking this all
sounds great, but you do not feel comfortable heading out into the
forest to look for your food. I completely understand your
apprehension. Most Americans have never set foot in the forest. They
think of it as that foreboding place described in the fairytales
each of heard as a child. The same fairytales which were written to
scare European children of the middle ages, and keep them from
venturing into, and becoming lost, in the forest. I am here to tell
you, there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. With a little
knowledge and common sense, you can spend a safe and rewarding day
in the forest.
All that aside, you do not even have to go
into the forest to find delicious wild plants. Many varieties grow
right in your yard, or garden, or that of your neighbors, or local
parks, or even roadsides and abandoned lots. It truly saddens me
that children have to go to bed hungry because their parents are
unaware that a delicious salad is more than likely growing right
outside their door. And it is all free for the taking. Lets look at
my yard and garden as an example. In my yard I have dandelion,
chicory, wild lettuce, Queen Anne's Lace (wild carrot), sow thistle,
red clover, white clover, violet, wood sorrel, plantain, creeping
charlie, chickweed, pineapple weed, mullein, wild mint, and last but
definitely not least purselane. All of that growing on a city lot
less than ¾ of an acre in area. We are all surrounded by highly
nutritious foods, free for the taking.
There are almost as many
books available on edible plants as there are edible plants
themselves. While the information many of them provide is top
notch, there are those that are written by people who have all kinds
of theoretical experience with the plants, but little or no
practical experience. For example, I have read that Cattails are a
wonderful winter survival food; that their starchy rhizomes, corms,
and tubers persist throughout the winter, and provide a bounty of
caloric benefit to anyone who simply breaks through the ice to get
to them. While this may be the case in more temperate regions,
across much of the northern regions of the USA and Canada, this is a
real PITA. When I was younger, I read this very thing in a book, and
subsequently spent hours hacking through the ice to get to this
bounty of winter time sustenance. The amount of root I actually
harvested was pretty small. I know damned well that I burned a whole
lot more calories getting at the roots than I gained by eating them.
This resulted in a net loss. Survival is all about risk versus
reward. In this case caloric expenditure versus caloric intake. It
does not take a rocket scientist to realize that you cannot survive
very long if you are burning more calories than you are taking in.
While a stand of Cattails is the closest thing you are going to find
to a wild mega mart, it is not always as easy as some make it sound.
It is very
important that you understand, that if you are
unsure about the edibility of a plant, DO NOT EAT IT. With that
being said, you can try unknown plants by precisely following
the Universal Edibility Test. This
test will allow you to determine whether or not a plant is edible.
It is important that you are aware of the fact that some plants are
edible only at certain times of year, or during certain stages of growth.
Furthermore, just because the root of a plant is edible does not
mean the leaves or stems are. There are numerous instances of plants
where one part is edible, but the others are toxic.
Below is a list of a fraction of
the edible plants common to
the Great Lakes region. I have chosen these pants because they are
wide spread, and aside from Queen Anne's Lace and Milkweed, do not
have any poisonous look alikes. I included Queen Anne's Lace and
Milkweed because they are both abundant, and quite nutritious, so it
is worth your time to learn their identifying characteristics.
List of Edible Plants