This is a guest post by Donna in MN and entry for our non-fiction writing contest.
In a crisis where you are forced to leave your home, or run out of stored food, it is good prepping to acknowledge the edible wild food in your surroundings. Your garden could be raided as well as a break-in to rob your food storage, or food could run out over duration of time. You may have a BOP where a garden has not been planted ready to harvest when you arrive, or it could be a famine in the dead of winter. What do you do to eat?
Nature abounds with edible food so study up on edible plants and wildlife, even if some of them don’t taste very good, they could be a life saver. When I had a huge debt to pay, I looked for ways to cut my electric and food bills to pay it off quickly because I saw problems with our economy ahead of time. This is when I supplemented my food with what I found in northern Minnesota which could be found elsewhere in the northern states, and some in the lower regions.
NATURE’S FAIRIES GROW THE BERRIES
I found blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, June berries, wild strawberries, cranberries, wild grapes, and wild red cherries for jams, syrups, in muffins, pancake/waffles, on cereals, pies, in teas, juice, teas, and most of these fruits were eaten raw. These fruits contain dietary fiber, and are a very good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K and Manganese. They are found all over the edge or in the forest. They are good dried, pounded with beef or venison to dry that Natives called pemmican, and berries can be made to last as preserves, pie preserves, and syrup up to 2 years. When I didn’t have pectin for the preserves, I used Jell-O or corn starch to thicken them up. I mixed several infusions to come up with delicious flavors when I didn’t have enough of one flavor for the pectin package. My favorite mix is wild grape-cranberry-raspberry jam. I also found crabapples growing wild in their natural state and an apple tree growing wild along a highway. I made trades from neighbors because I had an over abundance of jam and jellies.
SLURP THE SYRUP
Native Americans introduced maple syrup to the pilgrims from 4 types of maple trees in spring when sap starts to run. The Sugar maple tree is the best because of its 2% sugar sap content, although Silver, Red, and Boxelder maple are used but have less sugar in the sap. The pilgrims never knew maple trees in their homeland of Europe could be tapped for this sweet confection. It takes 36 to 40 gallons of maple sap boiled down to produce 1 gallon of syrup, so it is labor intensive and needs a cold winter to activate sweeter sap in the spring. I used real maple syrup when I was young, then out came flavored corn syrup I used for many years. It was surprising to go back to real maple syrup again. It took a getting used to, so I cut the corn syrup and added the real stuff to blend it. I get it for trade these days since neighbors are willing to do all the work to process it. I sew a zipper in a coat; I get a bottle of maple syrup.
Birch syrup is another sweetener like maple syrup made from a black birch tree or paper birch found in boreal forest climates. Birch syrup is a little spicy sweet like sorghum or like different varieties of honey. Its boil ratio is 100 to 1, where maple syrup is 40 to 1. It takes more to get syrup but is a great substitute for a sweetener that is a fructose base. Birch and maple syrup is high in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, manganese, thiamin, and calcium.
Fruit syrup from berries is the best. If you have no sugar, use honey or maple syrup to sweeten it up for natural fresh syrup over pancakes, in fruit drinks, and cake/icing flavorings. Just add a little starch to thicken it a bit while cooking it up.
FED WITH BREAD
Flour can be made with abundant grass grains such as crab, goose, foxtail, blue, rye, wild rice, and orchard, plus wild oats and millet in late summer. If you come across an old cornfield you may find some kernels to use for cornbread. All (but wild rice) is found growing along roadways and open fields. You want to collect the seeds with the largest seed heads, then dry, parch, and winnow the seeds (separating the hulls from the seeds by tossing the grains up in the air) and grind them to a powder like flour, or boil them whole for porridge.
A hand grain grinder comes in handy to process the flour when living primitively. With the long time to pick and prepare these seeds, it
may be better to make wheat bread with other ingredients mentioned above to stretch the amount you have and you also can use cattail pollen, duck potatoes, or even birch sawdust. The intense work of preparing and picking your own grains makes you appreciate wheat flour you pick up at the store even more.
I made a nice tea from the pineapple weed growing in my driveway. Related to chamomile and asters, it has an apple-pineapple scent when they are crushed. The wild roses along my woods walk produced rose hips for added vitamin C, along with berry juice infusions. I also found wintergreen (Teaberry) in my yard, which made a great tea and it numbed my gums chewing it along with their fall red berries so I didn’t over do it. Little did I know it acts as an aspirin like salicin (Salicylic acid) found in willow bark. I also made teas from spruce, yarrow, and pine needles. It is best to know which foods are safe to eat because some plants resemble poisonous ones. I always did a test of a pea sized morsel to see if it was safe with the new food I discovered, even though I had a clear picture and description of it in my hands of it being safe. After 24 hours, I found out if it was okay for me. Some people have allergies and reactions they never thought they had, so this is very important.
EAT LIKE A RODENT
The wild surprise salad I made was good to share with others. I experimented at early summer wild game dinners with this concoction salad, and they ate it all up—people loved it and were surprised it was so tasty. I wrote the ingredients in front of the salad so they knew what they were getting. I used fried puff ball mushrooms, wild rose petals, spring dandelions, young paper birch leaf sprouts, clover flowers, roasted wild hazelnuts, wild onions, lambs quarters, cattail shoots added with a little bit of lettuce from my garden with buttermilk ranch dressing.
Wild hazelnuts are prolific in the Midwest and up north, but they are work to crack open and hard to gather before the squirrels get them. One good thing is they grow on low bushes so they are easy to reach. When I heat them on a cookie sheet on my wood stove with a dash of salt and coating of oil they are fabulous. Hazelnuts are very low in Cholesterol, also, a good source of Vitamin E, Copper, Manganese, and are a strong high anti-inflammatory with 8% protein. These are available late summer- fall. Acorns, if found, should be pounded, boiled 5 times with water changes, squeezed with cheesecloth to leach out the tannic acid each time and dried, made into bread flour.
I PINE FOR THEE
Not much is it known about this, but a great food source and Vitamin C are pine needles and the inner bark of white pine related trees. The needles of pine and spruce can be steeped for a tea, high in vitamin C, and the inner bark next to the pine’s white wood can be cut in slabs, shredded finely as possible and fried in oil to be crispy or it can be dry roasted and pounded into flour. The Donner party never knew this as they starved to death under the pine trees.
THE BLACK SHEEP OF GREENS
Lambs quarters grow wild here so as a spinach substitute, most people look at it as a nuisance weed. This little known weed is delicious steamed and buttered, leaves added raw to salads, and roasted seeds for any toppings on salads, or breads. Lambs quarters are the most nutritious greens around, containing a good source of Niacin, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of dietary fiber, protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. It is high in oxalic acid so eat it only several times a week. (Coffee has it too, and so does tea but not as much) I helped a neighbor farmer weed the lambs quarters from his large garden and he didn’t understand why I kept the weeds. Little did he know. In an age of hybridization, crop failure, inflation on food, and food shortages, the weeds will rule and it will be lambs quarters!
SWAMP FOOD ANYONE?
Cattail shoots and lower stems (peeled back for the white part) are a wonderful survival food in a salad served raw. Male flower spikes in late spring and early summer can be cooked like corn on the cob or fried. The pollen in late summer can be made into flour. Flour can be taken from the lower stems if dried, pounded, and then separate the fibers from the flour for baking nutritious breads. Reeds found in the lakes up north can be eaten near the root as well, along with certain rush grasses.
Wapato, as the Natives called it, or duck potato, is found in ponds and lakes. The potato-like bulb has to be dug up with a pitchfork and can be eaten raw, cooked like a potato, or cooked and dried and pounded into flour. Natives made flatbread with it, and can be used as a soup thickener.
Wild rice is gathered in northern lakes in the early fall which is really a wild grass, not a rice. This was a staple of the Native American’s diet in the old days, and it is often cooked for stews, soups, sausage, hamburger, bread, and used instead of regular rice with all meals. It is hit with a stick into the bottom of a boat and prepared like other gains Once dry, these grains have a long storage life. I kept some for over 5 years and it tasted great. It contains
83% Carbs and 14% protein.
SOMETHING FISHY IS GOING ON
I always carry a fishing line, sinkers, and hooks for my preps. I fish for smaller freshwater game fish, (1/2 lb to 5 lbs) and they will bite on a leftover wimpy string of spaghetti, bugs, earthworms found in my grease dump, small pieces of raw meat, and minnows caught in my plastic bottle trap—no cost for bait. Smaller, younger fish have fewer pollutants in them so they are healthier for consumption. Shore fishing is okay but fish linger near drop-offs so I went mostly with a boat which I rowed to my spots when I had no gas. Artificial bait that caught the most fish was a twister worm.
Smoked fish and pickled pike are great, but frying breaded fish over a campfire with my mom in my old TiPi was the best. If you are short on oil, cooking a nice fillet in butter, dill and lemon pepper wrapped in foil or large wild grape or Basswood leaves over hot coals is delicious. Pickled Pike was used as barter for other items I traded. Trout fish can be smoked with fruit woods or oak as the best smoke fuel. They are treated with brown sugar and salt before the process, and it gives it an out of this world flavor when you are hungry.
Salmon is a treat if you live near their spawning grounds and often I delight in a friend bringing back smoked salmon from Alaska. Crayfish is the poor man’s lobster, and don’t throw away rough fish. Deep fried carp was one of my favorites, along with catfish, bullheads, white fish, white bass, suckers and fresh water eel.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD ROAD PIZZA
Now fresh road kill can add a lot to the table if hit and not squashed. I have often hit grouse with my truck or they committed hari-kari in my picture window, and I saw cars in front of me hit deer and ducks which made it into my hungry pot. I would have to know it is 1 minute fresh kill in summer but when it is 20 below zero in winter, it could be days. Hey, don’t throw up, I found perfectly good meat this way! If it was a little off or too tough for me, the dogs loved it.
I have eaten odd creatures like raccoon, groundhog, bear, snake, muskrat, and beaver that were very good tasting, but I didn’t hunt of them, someone else did for me. As an odd stew, I would go for them if I had nothing else for meat except skunk. I have caught and ate frogs, fried bees, crayfish, snapper turtle, quail eggs, snail, grasshoppers, and ants, so I am not too squeamish; however maggots or worms would have to be hidden in the recipe, cooked by someone else and be told a day after that I ate them. That’s how I found out about the snake stew and it was great. Sorry I just spoiled your appetite. Protein is protein, right? Secret on snail is to add a flavorful sauce and
swallow it, not chew it! I never got sick. Oh, wait…I take that back…the grasshopper pizza prepared for me tasted bad because the tobacco producing head was left on it!
Not so odd creatures to eat up north are wild turkey, grouse, partridge, deer, squirrel, moose, elk, caribou, duck, and geese and a rare cache of pronghorn sage sausage while I was in Wyoming. All were delicious cooked or prepared in the best ways. A great meat sauce can cover wild tastes if one is not used to it, so it would be handy to have. Save all the grease, lard, or bones from large wild game. It comes in handy for soup, for frying food, a hand softener, soap making, a water protector, and oil in lamps. Small game is easier to hunt, but large game is harder on the average to find and very rewarding once it is caught. One must weigh the calories you burn to acquire food. If it contains fewer calories than what you are burning to get it, forget it.
ARRIVING IN THE DEAD OF WINTER
Winter in cold climates can be a killer if you arrive to your BOP without food supplies. What do you do? You can check out neighbors if you have a good relationship with them, or you can steal food from an unoccupied cabin but that can be dangerous because snow prints can lead right to and from your camp. That’s why most break-ins happen in summer. You can’t start a garden, but maybe sprout some seeds you have packed, but where can you get more food? Hunting will help and ice fishing will give you protein. If you didn’t pack an auger or a chainsaw, chipping the ice will be labor intensive with a pick or an ax. Learn how to make snares along rabbit trails found in the snow.
However, there will be days unsuccessful for this type food so what else can be eaten? The white pine inner bark (and some other pines) I mentioned before can be shredded, roasted and/or made into flour and its needles for tea can be scavenged along with.. uh, yep, the white gross frozen grubs found in dead stumps and trees. Close your eyes and pretend it is a juicy steak. Large carpenter ants are found too when splitting old pine wood with holes in it. Fry them up and add to your crunchy edibles.
Winter makes it hard to identify trees, so in the summer study bark and limbs of trees to know them in winter without their foliage. Adding a few winter berries like wintergreen, rose hips, cranberries and wild grapes all wrinkled or missed by the birds would be heaven to the starving. Acorns for flour could be found under the snow consumed partially by bugs during winter, unless you find a squirrel’s stash in a hollow tree. Basswood trees have sauerkraut-like lining next to the pulpwood that tastes like cucumber and buds are edible.
Everything on the birch tree is edible except the outside bark itself is too hard. Sawdust from birch wood was mentioned earlier as an extender for breads and the inside bark is edible. If you live in the southern range of the northland, walnuts can be scavenged, and of course some wild grass and grains will still have some seeds left over along roadsides, clearings, and ditches. A bonus would be a wild honey bee’s nest with wild honey left in its cells. They can be found in hollow trees or under old homesteads. They can’t sting you in winter being dormant and frozen, and don’t forget wild honey bees with stingers removed are a tasty treat fried crisp in oil or butter.
I was fortunate to discover my survival skills and find a balanced nutritional diet in the wild which fed me during a time not only of need, but for knowledge and prepping as well. Some samples I tested were “just in case” and will stay “just in case”. The wild plants and other creatures I mention here are mostly from my experience eating and/or preparing them but I don’t have room for all of them here.
Acquiring wild food isn’t easy and takes most of the day. That’s why early hunter-gatherer tribes didn’t have much culture until they developed domestic crops and animals that made their lives a bit easier. Make sure you know what plants you are eating and find good references to identify them, particularly a skilled naturalist in person. If you use the white pine, basswood, or birch inner bark for food, taking it will kill the tree. If you want to sample what you can eat, ask a lumber contractor if you can make use of their stumpage.
I want to hear what others found for good use in their areas, add to mine, and share what they found to help others in a survival environment. What is your best wild food?
Prizes for this round in our non fiction writing contest include…
- First place winner will receive – A Volcano Grill courtesy of LPC Survival a $134.99 value, a $150 gift certificate for Remington ammunition courtesy of LuckyGunner, a 60 serving bucket of Wise Freeze Dried Food courtesy of EmergencyFoodWarehouse.com and a Wonder Junior Deluxe grain meal a $219.95 value courtesy of Kitchen Neads and a USB Portable VPN courtesy of unspyable a $275 value. Total prize value of $899.99.
- Second place winner will receive – A Sopakco Sure – Pak MRE – 12 Meals courtesy of Campingsurvival.com, a $98.95 value, a Tatsu360 Tenkara Rod a $72.00 value courtesy of Dragontail Tenkara and a one year subscription to Personal VPN service, a $100 value, courtesy of unspyable. Total prize value of $270.95.
- Third place winner will receive – a copy of my book ”31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness“ courtesy of TheSurvivalistBlog.net and a copy of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” courtesy of www.doomandbloom.net.
Be sure to read the rules before entering… This contest will end on November 10 2013