I know a lot of you are starting to grow your own food. Some of you have been doing it for a while. And a lot of you, like me, have been trying it off and on with limited success. My tomato seedlings look pretty poor right now but I think a few peppers are going to be viable. It’s a hit and miss affair with a lot depending on how healthy the seeds are to begin with. Anyways, some of you are doing this because of concerns over the quality of the food we are being sold and others are doing it simply because money is tight. From my vantage point, money is very tight and growing food can help lift some of that stress. It can also give our bodies a reprieve from all the additives and chemicals in our commercial foods.
However, there are options other than growing your own and those of you who don’t have the time or inclination to grow things might consider these. Bartering, dumpster diving, freeganism and foraging. They are all sort of the same idea with different angles. Bartering means finding somebody with a garden who is willing trade some of the bounty for your labor or other goods. Dumpster diving, believe it or not, sustains many people in this world. It requires getting into dumpsters behind groceries, co ops and big box stores but some of the finds are exciting. Stores often just dump food when the box gets bent or the can gets a ding. They also dump volumes of stuff that expired today and is still good but just can’t be sold. Although many stores have started to donate their older and damaged goods to charities there are still those who waste it. This is also the concept of freeganism, where you get almost everything you want and need from a trash can. Not everybody is cut out for this and it does require some equipment like flashlights, helmets or special clothing (you don’t want to ruin the day to day clothes). It also requires a bravery that many people lack- there is no telling what critters might be in that dumpster or when a cop might show up! So this might not be for you. But have you considered the last option? Foraging. This is the same thing, in concept, but doesn’t require getting into the trash. However, it does take some bravery as well to wander through the woods and over hill and dale seeking wild growing food. You will need gloves and a hat, no doubt, and also buckets, boxes or bags to bring back the bounty.
I know some of you are groaning. This is isn’t going to be prized foods like meats or cheeses or bakery breads. It isn’t going to be easy; how on earth do you know what wild foods are good to eat? And how disappointed is everyone going to be when you serve up some dish of nuts and tubers? Ok. Settle down. Do not dismiss this idea out of hand until you look at all the facts. Here in Florida, where I live, the Indians lived on wild foods for generations and did not have large agricultural endeavors. You do not see Seminole Indian reservations with corn fields or strawberry fields. Now, I know that these days the Indians are using grocery stores like the rest of us and few of them are eating berries and tubers any more, but the opportunity to live that way still exists. And you have to realize that I am not suggesting that you can feed the entire family night after night on foraged foods. But it is a great addition to your store bought foods and can stretch things out a bit. In the long run, it saves money.
Now, I am not suggesting that foraging is as easy as going to the grocery because, in fact, it can be easier on one level and harder on another. Easier because you don’t have to get in a car, fill it with gas, fight a hundred other cars, get to the grocery, park, work your way through a hundred people grabbing for the same stuff you are, get in line and wait forever and then sweat it out as the girl rings up the total which will wipe out your wallet. Not to mention, driving the same gauntlet back home, rushing inside to get the cold food put away and wresting with everyone as you put the food away while everyone is trying to snatch it up and eat it! Sound familiar. Hey, that’s our house, too. Foraging is easier because you put on your hat and gloves, grab your bucket and go! But it’s harder on another level. You have to know what to look for, a general idea of where to look and a clear knowledge of what NOT to pick or eat. Some things look good but they are poisonous. So the hard part about this is the learning. That is what I’m going to help you with today.
Here is a list of a number of edible foods you can forage:
Acorns are the fruit of the Oak tree. Every species of Oak has an acorn. They have been harvested and eaten by native peoples for centuries. They are primarily used for their flour which you can obtain by crushing them to dust or boiling them down to a mush. The sweet varieties can be ground directly into flour while the bitter ones should be boiled first. Test the nut by shelling it and touching it with your tongue. If it’s bitter, then drop it into boiling water and boil for a few minutes and then drain. Repeat this process until the water remains clear after boiling. Once ground into powder, acorn meal makes excellent pancakes and muffins. You can find acorns anywhere there are Oak trees.
Coontie Palm (Arrowroot)
This root of this plant renders a kind of arrowroot. This is very similar to the arrowroot you buy in the store. It is a good source of starch. It can be ground to a powder and used as a thickener for gravies and sauces. It also makes a good bread which the Seminole Indians of Florida used to eat and hence the plant was called “Seminole Bread”.
The plant looks similar to the Sago Palm. It grows wild in pinelands and hammocks all over the southern states and in the West Indies. When you find the upper leaves (that look like Sago Palm), you can dig down into the center and get the root. It looks like a big pinecone. Boil it and peel off the hard nodules and rough surface. Eat the meat like you would a potato although, in fact, it tastes a lot like celery.
Black mustard and field mustard are two varieties of wild mustard. These are weeds that grow in fields and disturbed areas. Most mustard leaves should be harvested in the spring, but some in the mustard family are good throughout the summer. Seeds can be harvested, ground, and mixed with vinegar and made into a condiment like commercial mustard. Mustard seeds can also be ground and used like pepper or mixed with vinegar to make a quick spread. Mustard seeds can also be dried and used in Chinese dishes. The young plant has a basal rosette that looks similar to dandelions, only there is no milky sap or flowers.
Burdock grows throughout the United States on roadsides and in fields and disturbed areas. The plant has large, broad leaves and a spiky flower that looks like Milk Thistle. Milk Thistle is a valuable herb but it isn’t good to eat, so be careful. Milk Thistle produces a milky sap and Burdock does not. Also, the leaves of Burdock look like Rhubarb so make sure it’s not Rhubarb before you eat it. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous. Make sure you have both the broad leaves AND the purplish, spiky flower. You will want to harvest the taproot of the plant. Leave the leaves behind. Peel the roots, slice and then boil or fry. Once you are sure the plant is several years old, stop harvesting it. The root gets bitter as the plant ages. In the first year, you can also take the flower stalks and peel them to eat raw or boil them along with the roots.
You can find cattails in shallow waters of swampy areas. Sometimes called “corn dog plant”, they have a single, jointless stem topped by a cylinder shaped flowering spike. They are an aquatic plant and can be found around ponds, marshes and streams. They usually line along the bank of a shallow, slow moving stream or river. In the spring, if you dig up the roots you will find delicious sprouts that can be eaten raw. Later, into the summer, get out and find stalks up to 3 feet tall and harvest them. You can peel them and eat them raw, steamed, or boiled. Sprouting buds (the “corn dog”) should be picked before the pollen ripens and can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob. Harvest the roots year round, peel, and then pound into flour. This can be used to make breads, pancakes or biscuits. It can also be added to regular flour to make it last longer.
Chicory looks a lot like dandelion and they both make a great tea. You won’t get hurt it you snatch up dandelion leaves by mistake but they do taste differently. Fresh dandelion leaves are great in salads but chicory leaves are too bitter for that. The way to tell the difference is to check the leaves closely. Chicory leaves are hairy in spots and the flower stalk can also be hairy. The flowers are blue and not yellow. If you do have chicory, dig out the root and take it home. Roast it at about 250 degrees for 3-4 hours until brown and then grind it up. It makes a great herbal coffee substitute when commercial coffees are too expensive, the caffeine is not wanted or you are in the mood for something different.
You can harvest these from Coconut Palms. These palms grow wild throughout the waterfront regions of both coasts and can be found on barrier islands. These trees have been naturalized in many regions as an ornamental. They render coconuts, which, when harvested, render coconut meat and milk. The way to identify the coconut palm is to look for the bundle of large melon sized coconuts dangling from stems in the center. This is the exact same coconut they add to the foods you buy in the store. Wait until the nuts drop from the tree and pick them up when they are no longer green and have gotten hairy. The shell will be a light brown. Crack the shell by slamming it onto the hard ground several times until it cracks open. It will not crack at all if it is not ripe. Once cracked, handle it carefully to keep the milk from spilling out. You can drink the milk and eat the meat fresh or use it in baked goods you make at home.
There are many varieties of dock. Curled dock, yellow dock, and sour dock. The photo is of curly dock. This plant grows a rosette of long, narrow leaves with curly edges. The leaves can be as long as 2 feet from the center. Like dandelions, burdock and chicory, it is often removed from the yard as weeds. But the first leaves in early Spring are delicious. You can steam them or boil them and eat them as a vegetable like spinach. These young leaves are also good when eaten raw in salads but just be sure to wash them first! Harvest in spring because if you wait too late into the year, the leaves may become bitter and will need to be boiled down in several water changes to rid of the acids. But if you have a lot of dock, the work is worth it. It makes a great side vegetable when the coffers are low. Do not take the taproot because it is way too bitter to eat although it has medicinal uses. You can find dock growing in the countryside in open fields, disturbed soil in urban areas and anywhere near water. Sometimes you will find it in your yard.
You know this plant because it grows in your yard and they sell versions of roundup weed killers made just to destroy it. At the same time, big vendors are cultivating it and selling it as a tea in health food stores. Go figure! But the truth is dandelions make a fantastic tea, the flowers and leaves are delicious in salads and the roots are tasty vegetables. As well, they have many medicinal qualities and are a popular diuretic. If you don’t have a lawn or your lawn does not have dandelions, you can find these plants all over the place. They are found in open fields in the countryside, in disturbed wastelands in urban areas, in unkempt yards and gardens in the suburbs and right alongside the roadways. They are so worth finding because the young leaves are excellent as salad greens and are more nutritious than any you can buy in the grocery store! You can peel the young roots and eat them raw or slice them thin and boil. If you wait until the plant is older, into the summer, for instance, the leaves and roots may be more bitter. Boiling them in several water changes will take the bitterness out and make them edible again. As a delicious snack, try dipping the flower blossoms in fritter batter and fry in oil, like tempura veggies. They make great finger food.
Bracken is a kind of fern and is commonly used in herbal dyemaking. But bracken, also known as “fiddlehead fern”, is good to eat! Another fern that is really good eating is the Ostrich fern which is much sweeter and not as bitter as bracken. Bracken or fiddlehead ferns require fur removal, which means they must be washed until the scales are gone. The best tasting variety is the young fern, in the early to mid spring, when the “fiddleheads” just start to unfurl. They should not be any taller than 8 inches. Take the fiddleheads home at this stage and steam or boil before eating. Ostrich ferns can be eaten without so much washing first and can be eaten the same way as the bracken. These ferns are expensive delicacies in many upscale restaurants. Add them to regular greens for an exotic salad treat. When you harvest, please leave a few sprigs behind so that the plant will return the next year.
Jack In The Pulpit (Indian Turnip)
This is a tall terrestrial herb with lobed leaves. It produces a colorful green to maroon striped spathe which can be as long as 8 centimeters. This spathe encloses the cylindrical spadix with contains many tiny flowers. Seek out the corm (the bulb at the root). It smells very strongly so follow the scent. Dig it out and you can boil it or fry it and eat it. Identify the plant by eye and by seeking out the spathes to verify it. You can find it rich wooded areas with dark earth all along the eastern coast of the US. Look in heavily forested areas with lots of rich soil under older, larger trees.
Also known as Goosefoot, Lamb’s Quarters have long been among the most nutritious natural foods. It is also one of the easiest plants to locate and identify. One easy marker is the lack of smell; if it smells like anything at all, it’s not goosefoot. It has alternating leaves with a triangular shape. The leaves have blunt tips and jagged or serrated edges. Leaves sometimes develop a white color but even so they are fine to eat. Harvest the shoots from young plants for cooking. These shoots can be as tall as 10 inches but they shrink by over one half when cooked so you need twice as many to have as much! You can find goosefoot in large open fields, along the sides of forested roadways and in weedy areas and lawns. It can actually be anywhere!
This is a huge philodendron that looks like elephants ears with slits. The leaves are glossy, perforated and deeply cut in strips. It is a vine and can be found growing on old home sites and along tall fence lines. It also grows on the limbs of trees. Locate the leathery looking green cones on the plant. These are a tasty fruit that reminds of pineapple. The fruit is up to 25 cm long, 3-4 cm diameter and looks like a green ear of corn lined with hexagonal scales. When it first flowers, the fruit contains so much oxalic acid that it is poisonous, causing immediate and painful blistering and irritation, swelling, itching, and loss of voice. It takes a year for the fruit to ripen, at which point it is safe to eat.
You can tell that the fruit is ripening when it’s scales have started to lift. They rise up like acorn scales. It will have a pungent odor at this stage. To hurry the ripening of the fruit, cut it and wrap it in a paper bag. Set it aside until the kernels begin popping off. The kernels are then brushed off. Once they fall away the edible flesh underneath is revealed. The flesh, which has a texture similar to pineapple, is then cut away from the core and eaten. It has a fruity taste similar to jackfruit mixed with pineapple. Eating fruit which has not matured and still has the kernels firmly attached, exposes the throat to the oxalic acid and is dangerous. So be sure that the kernels have fallen away on their own before harvesting.
This is a small tree with a soft, unbranched trunk that looks like a thick stem. It is usually only about 5 centimeters tall. The crown of the tree has large, palmlike leaves with lobes. The fruit grows in bunches and can be seen hanging in bundles from a center stem. Harvest the fruits and eat fresh. When the fruit is ripe it is a reddish color. You can also harvest the sap from the leaves and use it as a meat tenderizer. You can find these trees in agricultural areas where they have escaped farms and cultivated ground to populate the outlaying regions. This includes open fields and cultivated rural homesteads in agricultural areas. The fruit is ripe when it is yellow and soft. The flesh should be a reddish pink color. It is best to leave on the tree until ripe or until you find them fallen.
Passion Flower Fruit
This plant is hard to miss. It is a climbing vine with many intricate, exotic flowers in a wide range of colors with large sprays of tiny petals surrounding a circular cone. They have a distinctive large center calyx with shoots of large anthers. There are literally dozens of genus and as many varities that have been cultivated. You could find any variation in any area at any time. You just have to remain vigilant. In colder regions you will find a similar species called the “maypop”. The fruit is sweet, yellowish, and roughly the size of a chicken’s egg; it enjoys some local popularity.
Once discovered, you will find, among the leaves and flowers of the Passion Flower plant, small ovoid fruits that are green in color. These are round or elongated in shape and from two to eight inches long and an inch to two inches across. These are edible and can be eaten once ripe. Once ripened, they will be a purple color with a lot of wrinkling. This is called passion fruit and you can sometimes find it in ethnic markets or in the grocery. The flowers can also be eaten, either by themselves or in salads.
Passion Flower plants can be found worldwide. Because they are important for the insect colonies in the wild, they should not be over harvested. These plants can be found growing wild in waste areas, old fields and along roadsides throughout the central and southern United States. In some areas, the plants can be found still growing on old lattices on abandoned buildings or on supports abandoned by gardeners past. Check fence lines and the trunks of old trees.
Pigweed is an amaranth that is similar to lambs quarters and lambs quarters are sometimes also called pigweed. Confused? To help you out, I chose a picture of amaranth as the guide. Remember that “amaranth” pigweed has smoother, more elongated leaves than “amaranth” lambs quarters. Compare this photo above to the photo for lambs quarters. This is a lovely weed that tastes really good in salads. It has been used as a substitute for lettuce out of season and fancy restaurants sometimes add it to their high end salads. You can also harvest the seeds and grind them into a flour. Amaranth seeds have more nutrition and higher protein than other grains, believe it or not. If you buy it ready ground you will pay a lot. So save some money with an afternoon outing. As well, amaranth was a key staple cultivated by the Aztecs specifically for its seeds. Use the seeds in cooking or grind them into a flour for thickening soups and sauces. Pigweed concentrates nitrates, so use sparingly if taken from fertilized fields or agricultural regions. There are heavy amounts of nitrates in commercial fertilizers.
You can harvest your own pine nuts from the hard, green pine cones that fall in autumn. You won’t find them in the brown, softer cones that fall in the spring. Once gathered, open the cones over a fire or other heat source to soften them and make them easier to open. If you find cones that are already open, leave them. They have probably already lost their nuts. Pine nuts from the Piñon pines were once a staple food for the indigenous peoples of Nevada. The government destroyed these pines in that area to force the tribes off the wild lands and onto reservations. That’s what a great food source pine nuts can be. Roast the nuts in oil and salt them. You can use them in a dish of linguine with garlic and olive oil or toss them over asian and indian cuisine. You can also use the needles, which can be boiled in water to make tea. This tea is high in Vitamin C and is good for general detoxing. If you get into a food crisis you can also strip the bark and eat it. However, remember Yule Gibbons? Don’t eat too much! Bark can end up clogging your system over time.
This is not the same as the plantains you see in the fruit market. Those are a type of south american banana. These plantains are weeds you have probably seen in your yard. The most common type is the broadleaf plantain that grows everywhere and is often seen alongside buckthorn. It can be identified by 5 to 9 distinctive parallel veins, running the length of the leaves. The leaves grow in a basal rosette that sends up a long, green, central flower stalk. Each leaf is oval with an acute apex and a smooth margin. The flowers are small, greenish-brown with purple stamens, produced in a dense spike on top of the long, green, central stalk.
This plant has a million uses, many of them medicinal and cosmetic. They are actually a wonder herb and it is a concern as to why it fell into such disrepute. No doubt, when you see one, you grab up the herbacide. And yet, it is truly a wonder herb! If you read the posts on this blog you will find plantain more than once in a recipe for medicine or cosmetics. So put away the herbicide and start harvesting plantain. Harvest young greens and new growth for salads or as a pot herb. After midspring, the leaves become very fibrous and are mostly good for vegetable stock or as survival food. Harvest seeds for storage and sprouts.
You can find plantain everywhere. Start in your own yard and your neighbors’ yards. They might even pay you to cart it away! And when you’ve exhausted that area, move on to disturbed ground in urban areas, open fields under the sun and then on grassy knolls and medians along the highways and interstates.
Pond Apple (Custard Apple)
This is a small tree that has a thick trunk. The tree can be as tall as 12 meters. This tree produces a fruit that looks like an apple. Identify the tree by it’s simple, glossy, oval leaves and it’s flowers that hang on short, drooping stalks. The flowers are about 3 centimeters in size. Check photo. You can harvest these “apples” and eat them right off the tree, like regular apples. Look for these small trees around ponds, swamps and mangrove thickets. They are most often found in the southern areas of the US but not along coastlines. Inland thickets and forested areas mostly.
You know this weed. It is in your yard and you have been killing it with weed killers. It is not a pretty plant and is often referred to as “spurge”, which is a similar plant. In fact, purslane, spurge and chickweed get all mixed up in general knowledge and all are killed on a regular basis. Of the three, chickweed and purslane are valuable for both food and medicine. At one time in our history, purslane was cultivated for it’s nutritious greens and seeds. The way to differentiate purslane from spurge or chickweed is that purslane looks like a succulent. It has small, smooth, fleshy leaves that are often a reddish-purple. The plant tends to lay flat in thick mats, which is what makes them so unattractive.
When you find a purslane plant, pinch or cut off the leafy tips. Try to do this in the summer, when the leaves are plentiful. Once harvested, you can cook the shoots and eat them like asparagus or add the raw leaves and shoots to salads. In fact, you will see cultivated purslane in salads in some fancy restaurants that serve mixed greens salads. Where to find purslane? Look in the yard and your neighbors yards. If they’ve effectively killed off that stock, then look in waste areas, sandy fields and lots, disturbed ground in urban and suburban lots and anywhere where people are not tending the grass or killing off weeds.
Don’t you just love it when you come across a thicket of wild roses? Nothing smells more lushious or looks more lovely than a flush of colored blooms in the midst of tangled chaos. And if you are going to find wild roses, you will have to look in weedy, overgrown areas where people do not venture. Otherwise, most of the flowers will have been picked clean. The fruits of wild roses, as with all roses, are a valuable source of vitamin C. In fact, you have most likely taken a C tablet or pill that contains rose hips. You have maybe also had a glass of rose hip tea. And the most common type of rose hip you’ve actually seen has already been dried.
The natural hips, picked fresh from the roses, is not hard or dry. It is soft and plump and easy to eat just like fruit. The larger the rose hip, the better. Try to dig out the seeds because they are bitter like orange and lemon seeds. They won’t hurt you though if you eat them; they are not poisonous. If you want to make the tea, use the smaller fruits and simply percolate them like you do tea bags. Clean out the seeds first and strain the tea afterwards to get any pulp out. Use the pulp to make a mushy sauce similar to applesauce. It can be kept and eaten exactly the same way.
This is a small bushy tree. It is very aromatic and you can smell it as you approach it. It grows leaves that are two or three lobed and 20 centimeters long. The bark of the tree can be taken in from the stems and used to flavor tea, root beers or gumbo. You can mix it in as is (like cinnamon sticks) or grind it into a powder and add it that way. You can also use the root. Get recipes for cajun gumbo and homemade root beer. These will help you make delicious use of Sassafras root!
These are low growing Palms with long, thin, serrated leaves. They have a fan appearance in their growing habit. They spawn black, juicy fruits that the indians eat. You can eat them fresh like you do any fruit. The fruits will be on a netlike spray of long stems with tiny leaves. The fruits are very obvious when looking at the plant. These plants are common on sandy areas, prairies, dunes and pinelands all along the coastal areas of the Gulf region. Common in Florida, Louisiana, North and South Carolina.
Sheep sorrel is another weed you have probably never noticed. It is an excellent green that can be eaten in the summer. This plant does not turn bitter so the leaves are good for use year after year, no matter how old the plant gets. They are tangy, tart and have a lemon flavor. They can be mixed into salads with regular greens to give them a citrus flavor; you can use less dressing when you add the sheep sorrel! You can find this weed by looking for it’s long, arrowlike leaves with “ears” that make the leaf look like sheep’s head. It can be found mostly in sandy fields and disturbed areas of poorly tended ground. This plant often grows near nightshades and bindweeds so be careful not to take some of them as well. Bindweed tastes horribly and nightshades are poisonous. Nightshade also has arrow shaped leaves but they don’t have the “ears” so be careful to double check.
This is the source of commercial Vanilla. The plant has to be cured in order to be eaten. If you gather Vanilla orchids and want to cure the beans, check here for a recipe. You use only the fruit pods and should discard the flowers unless you want to use them in a crafts project. Although this plant is largely cultivated today for use in the food industry, it has often escaped back into the wild. You can find it in hammocks and swamps. It likes moist, damp areas with water, trees and plant debris. It grows mostly in the deep south and won’t be found in cooler climates. If you cure the pods you can use them in sweet potato dishes, pies, cakes and puddings.
Watercress is also among those most nutritrious wild greens. It ranks up there with dandelions and lambs quarters. Introduced to America by European travelers, it was long cultivated for salads. The rising popularity of iceberg lettuce sent it into oblivion, from where it escaped into the wild. Although you can still buy watercress in the grocery, it’s not as plentiful as other greens. But you can gather wild watercress for free and it’s just as good. The wild variety looks exactly like the store bought varieties but it is a bit rattier and wilder looking. On the wild varieties, each sprig of leaves grows alternating off the main stalk. These sprigs contain paired leaves with a single central leaf at the tip. It flowers in clusters of small, white, four-petaled flowers. The plant also produces seeds in a slender capsule that measures almost an inch in length.
Look for watercress near waterways, rivers, ponds and streams. You will find it floating on the surface of the water like lily pads do. It will be a dense, thick carpet on the surface. Hunting is best in spring and autumn but you can collect young growth year round once you find a source. This green is delicious with a slight peppery taste. It is excellent in salads, sandwiches, and can be cooked and served like spinach.
Related to wild garlic and wild onions, wild leeks are also a delicious treat. The plants are identified by their long leaves with parallel veins, similar in appearance to lilies. Please make sure what you are looking at is not a lily because if you take lily leaves by mistake, it would be dangerous. Lily leaves are poisonous. To double check, take a piece of a leaf and crush it with a rock. Smell it and if it has a strong onion smell, you have found a wild leek. In spring, when they first sprout, they look like tiny versions of grocery store leeks. But the leaves will soon shrivel and a slender stalk will emerge with an umbrella of small white flowers on top. Return to the plants in the fall and if some of these clusters of flowers still remain, then there are bulbs. These bulbs are delicious. You can dig them out and harvest them like garlic or onions.
Wild leeks are found ranging from the Great Lakes to New England and south to the mountains of Georgia. They thrive in partially shaded, moist, rich woodlands and are often found under maple trees or in forested stands. Once located, you can harvest leaves in the spring and go back for the bulbs year round. You can use these like you do commercial leeks, in soups or stews. You can also saute them like onions.
You can find wild onions almost anywhere. The only place they have trouble thriving is in the deep south or in very hot, dry areas in the west. They won’t grow in desert regions. Actually, they are often found on wide open, grassy plains or on small hills. In northern regions, they are found on mountainsides. When you think you’ve found some, give them a whiff. They will have a strong onion or garlic smell that is hard to miss. The bulb is usually reddish-purple, and the plant has tall slender stalks with a typical allium cluster of white flowers at the tops. You can just dig them out and use both the bulbs and the shoots, like regular onions. Be careful about onion look alikes. Check for the strong onion odor to be sure before harvesting.
This plant is made up of heavily branched culms or flower stalks. The flowers all have large, reddish brown anthers that are conspicuous. The flower stalks can be as tall as 3 meters. You can find colonies of wild rice in brackish or fresh water regions (not saltwater) and marshes. Grows prolifically along swampy marshes with lots of overgrowth. It is growing wild all over the U.S. and can be found anywhere there is water.
The grains of this plant are just like the rice grain you are familiar with. Once located, harvest the grains of rice along the tops of the stalks. They can be boiled up like regular rice and eaten. It is more delicious than store bought rice because it has not been bleached, dried and polished. It has a stronger, richer flavor that you may enjoy. Wild rice was a delicacy among native folk but is not eaten that much anymore in favor of rice grown in the far east. Once you find a strand of wild rice, you can harvest it year round and eat it. It just never goes bad.
So there you have some great foods you can start foraging right away. Do not forget to check out your area for unattended orchards where you can pick up discarded oranges, limes, lemons, apricots, grapefruit, plums or bananas. In fact, in southern regions there are many abandoned banana plants just dripping with fruit ready for picking. Help yourself. Of course, check to be sure they are not on private property or if they are on public property they are not the property of someone. If you are sure they are abandoned or the owner doesn’t care, have at it! We get lots of grapefruit and oranges around here. They are mostly free for the taking.
In your adventures you do have to be careful not to pick something poisonous. It is hard to give a definitive list of poisonous plants with pictures and other guides in a blog post. For one thing, right out of hand, I can advise you not to harvest wild mushrooms. Leave them alone. There are so many species and genus out there that it is almost impossible to determine which are which. But I do want to give you some resources you can investigate to be on the safe side. If you do decide to harvest mushrooms, please check out this website first: Edible Wild Mushrooms . I have used this guide myself and was lucky for it. Please look it over before you go.
Also, before you start foraging the plants I’ve described here, you might want to give a gander to this site: Wilderness Survival . If you find a plant that you think is one of the plants on this list but you aren’t sure, then bring it home and search for photos and info online for help in varification. As always, if you cannot be sure that a plant is the one you think it is, discard it. It is always better to be safe than sorry. But, again, don’t be too afraid to try. So get out and give it a shot! The wild foods are waiting.