Sunday, April 11, 2010

Nature's Pantry- Wild Edibles-Part I

work in progress- stay tuned

I have liked nettle tea for some time. About 8 months ago, I learned to make an herbal shampoo that contained nettles as well. Recently, however, I encountered fresh nettle at a seminar I attended, and have turned my brain back to some things I learned in scouts, as well as a lot more things I've learned on my own through the years, about wild edibles. I purchased a bag of carefully harvested stinging nettle buds from the gentleman, who told me they are a nutritional superfood, and loaded with one of the highest concentrations of protein, minerals and nutrients to be found in nature. I took it home, cautiously evaluated it for a minute or 2- didn't want to get stung! (even though in my head I kept thinking "I don't remember stinging nettle stings to be particularly bad", eating them seemed somehow counter-intuitive) brewed some tea, and now I'm hooked. Of course, paying someone else $5 for your weekly nettle allowance is a bit much, so when I learned that these people were putting on a nature walk to learn about wild edibles, what they look like, and their uses, I just had to go.

Of course, harvesting food from nature (DH hunts, why shouldn't I gather?) really speaks to my desire to live off the land and save money. Not to mention, you can find a terrific variety of foods that you just never encounter in the local super market. And spending time in the great outdoors is great for one's state of mental and physical health.

I'll start this segment by just listing the wild edibles that were pointed out on the nature walk. They are all native to Missouri (save day lily, which we actually didn't see), and obviously can be found in the KC area. In fact, 4 species are found in my front yard alone. Since more detailed information on habitat, recipes, seasonality and so forth can be obtained online, I'll leave that out. While I have only included plants that were covered in the initial walk (which are VERY safe, hard to mistake, and I'm guessing that's why they were chosen for demonstration), I have added some additional information that I found in doing research on them. Unfortunately, there are probably better illustrations/pictures of these plants online too, but I'm working on some better quality pictures. Eventually, I hope to include more wild edibles that I am aware of, that I have tried, my favorites, and perhaps my favorite recipes, but we'll just start here for now :D


Growing up, I used to call this stuff "sticky weed" and it grew in the playground of my elementary school. We used to stick it to each other's clothes- as it does cling REALLY well. Now I finally know it's real name. Some sources say it was the sweet smelling hay used in the manger at Bethleham. It also was recommended ages ago to "stout" women to encourage a lanky, thin figure. (Really? I am totally going to eat this stuff all the time!) It is supposed to tonify the blood. The leaves and stems are edible, and if the seeds are harvested they can be roasted and ground and have an aroma and taste much like that of coffee.


Everyone is familiar with cattail. It grows wild in ponds and roadside culverts, and maybe you've even played with the fluff as a kid. They are super useful. The fluff can be used to stuff in your clothes to protect you from cold (in a survival situation) and is also very absorbant. The reeds also used to be sewn(not woven, as this would not keep out the elements) into mats by native american women for use in construction of wigwams and dwellings, as Also called Cossack Asparagus, the shoots, roots, and stalks are edible, and commonly eaten.
The shoots, of course, taste something like asparagus. The stalk and flowers are said to taste a bit like corn. The pollen is even used to make biscuits and pancakes! Really, if one is looking for a good plant to start experimenting with wild edibles, this is perhaps the best- it literally has hundreds of uses, and recipes are easy to find. We didn't see any cattails on our walk, but I plan to look for some very soon to try some of the fantastic recipes I've seen.





A very versatile plant! It's found almost everywhere- even in your own yard. The leaves are best eaten when small, as they tend to be bitter. The flowers may be eaten in salad, or also may be battered and fried (like morel mushrooms). The flowers may also be made into dandelion wine. The root is also edible. There are bunches of recipes available online for various things to do with dandelion. The ones that occur in suburban yards and are frequently mowed (and treated with various chemicals) tend to be more bitter and the ones you find in a wild setting will be better tasting.

Day Lily

Eastern Redbud


Stinging Nettle

This is a nutritional superfood, only the very top bud (apical bud) is harvested, in spring and fall. They may be eaten raw (be careful to not touch your lips as they will get stung, but the inside of your mouth will not- trust me, I snacked on them all day), sauteed in butter, used like spinach (in omlettes or on pizza for example), or brewed into tea. The tea is very pleasant tasting, although the first sniff of it smells very similar to broccoli. Stinging nettle as a vegetable is quite pleasant tasting.

The key to preparing it is to get it above 140 degrees (just a little hotter than tap water) and that causes the needles to drop off and no longer sting. The sting is caused by tiny little hairs on the underside of the leaves which contain boric acid and histimine. Mostly, the stings just feel warm for a while, sometimes as the plants mature they sting harder. If a bit of plantain is rubbed onto the skin prior to picking nettles, then they will not sting you for an hour. If you have already been stung, some plantain rubbed on the area will stop the stinging. Nettle is very high in protein, as well as being quite dense with nutrients, minerals and vitamins, as it can only grow in very rich soil.



These are another wild edible that is commonly found in our own backyards. The flowers have a relatively high sugar content, and the leaves are also edible. The new tender leaves are best.

How to find Morels:
Morel mushrooms are widely known to be one of nature's most delicious offerings. Most people at least know someone who collects them, and if they're lucky, they either know how to find them themselves, or know someone who will share their bounty! Of course, one can always find them for sale (if at painfully high prices). Morels can be elusive, but worth the search. Their delicate flavor is really unequaled, and particularly favored in french cooking. They are quite easy to identify. They are known for their distinctive "honeycomb" like appearance of the pits in the cap. By distinguishing this from the more "brainy" or "wrinkled" appearance of false morels. False morels, being toxic, can be dangerous to eat, but usually cause little more than an upset stomach. Morels themselves should never be eaten raw, or consumed with alcohol (according to some sources), due to containing small amounts of toxins (which do cook off). While collecting, you should put them in a mesh bag so that spores may seed the area you walk through. Also, when you pick one, tap it gently so that the spores fall out into the area that originally produced them.

To prepare, make sure you wash them to remove as much soil and other undesirable material as possible. Many people then soak them for a time in salted water. Others claim that like other fungi they should not be washed or the flavor and texture will be ruined. They should be cut in half lengthwise, then be dipped in egg and flour or cracker crumbs and lightly fried- they do not benefit from lengthy cooking. When they are golden brown, they should be removed and are ready for tasting!

To find morels, there are a number of "tricks". First, the season can be identified by a period of several weeks in early April usually, when temperatures in the day are in the 60's or 70's and it doesn't get much below 50 at night. A good rain during this period will usually cause them to sprout like mad. Another way to know when to look is to look around you for lilac bushes. When these start to bloom, you know it's morel season!

To find morels in Missouri, look for them in freshly cleared areas, recently burned areas (these will be darker in color), and at the bases of sycamore trees or in areas where mayapples grow.
Sycamore trees

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