Today is the third in our series for Wilderness Survival Week. We at Hike Like A Woman want you guys to have a fun and safe time in the wilderness. Each post this week is centered around safety in the woods. Welcome Brand Partnerships & Sponsorship Team Leader Annie as she discusses wild edible plants.
Ever been strolling through the woods and wonder what exactly you’d survive on should you become lost or stranded? Well I did so I followed two Biologists into the woods on a hike to learn more about what was out there in my woods to eat.
Every region has different plants available that grow only there or a few other sporadic places. The wild edibles I’m going to cover today are commonly found in the Southeastern United States but are available in other regions. DO NOT take this article as your one and only source to wild edibles. Learning the differences between edible and poisonous plants takes considerable time and study. If this article peaks your interest I suggest investing in further education and study.
One simple mistake can end your life in the wrong place and situation. Ever read or seen “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer? If not and you are interested in wild edibles I suggest you do either or both. Besides being an amazingly told story it teaches a valuable lesson about wild edibles.
Alright I hope I’ve scared you enough now to take this serious enough not to base your judgement on my article alone. Now lets get on with the wild food in Southeastern US.
One of my favorite is the fruit of the Pawpaw Tree. These trees are indigenous to the Eastern, Midwestern United States as well as Canada. Once thought of as poor man’s food. Well I been a “poor man” most my life and “poor man” eats pretty damn good. Pawpaw prefer to grown in well drained soil so don’t go browsing around the swamp for a grove of them. This fruit bearing tree doesn’t grow more than 35 feet tall typically and has trunk of 12” or less. No swinging from a Pawpaw tree!
The fruit has a yellow custard type consistency with 4-10 or so large blackish brown seeds inside. I can only compare the taste to a cross between a dragon fruit and a mango but wow! It makes amazing bread!! Truth be told you can smell a ripe Pawpaw grove before you can see it in a thick forest and you better hope you beat the critters to the punch. Pawpaw fruit is typically ripe during late Summer to early Fall but like any fruit they can ripen earlier or later depending on weather.
Another good way of identifying the Pawpaw is by its leaves. When bruised they smell almost like a green bell pepper. The leaves are quite long, around 12” and less than half that in width. You can see from the picture they are somewhat oval in shape.
Click here for some great Kentucky Pawpaw recipes from cakes to pies, custards and bread!
#2 Black Walnuts
Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of Black Walnuts, I prefer their cousins the English Walnuts but that preference is reserved for non-survival situations. Black Walnuts have a stronger flavor than their English counterparts. Eastern Black Walnut trees can actually be found from Canada to Texas and South Dakota to Florida.
The bark of the Eastern Black Walnut tree is a dark brown……and if you’re like me, suck at identifying bark types! Easiest way to find a Black Walnut tree…look at the ground. You’ll see large green balls laying everywhere. No, they aren’t a new kind of golf ball, those are black walnuts inside there!!
The green covering is a husk that surrounds the actual nut shell but be careful! Black Walnut husks can stain your hands and have actually been used to dye clothing for centuries. Black Walnut husks also have a pungent spicy odor, not a smell you want to stick around for a while.
This wild edible is ripe in the Fall and much easier gathered from the ground rather than climbing the tree itself. Husks are to be removed then the nut shell cracked to gain access to the nut meat. Black Walnuts can be eaten raw or made into recipes of divine creations. Cakes, pies, cookies, ice cream, and even Black Walnut Brittle! Check out the many recipes for Black Walnuts here!
Yes you can eat what the deer eat, that is in the case of Persimmons. Guess what else they are called…Sugar Plums!! There are many different types of Persimmons and some can be inedible. Luckily Persimmons indigenous to the US, American Persimmons, are perfectly edible when ripe.
Guess where the American Persimmon grows? Yup, you guessed it, Eastern to Midwestern United States. NEVER pick a Persimmon to eat, there’s a reason deer eat them from the ground. Tannins make unripened Persimmons difficult to eat to say the least. Tannins can also be an irritant and interfere with a body’s ability to metabolize protein. It is said in some areas frost is needed to finally ripen the fruit enough to be edible.
Another good reason to gather Persimmons from the ground is the trees can grow up to 80 feet tall!!! Yup, I’ll wait for those bad boys to come to me. Another fruit of the Fall season, I can bore you with bark and leaf descriptions or you can simply walk in the woods in Fall and find the smushy fruits scattered about the forest floor. Another good idea is to ask a deer hunter, hunters will usually look for signs of food sources like Persimmons when looking for somewhere to post up for the season.
Persimmons can be eaten whole or cooked into a delicious jam, jellies and even pudding!! Click here for recipes to your Sugar Plum Paradise!
Yes another food predominantly eaten by deer and squirrels can be eaten by humans also. Most people can easily identify acorns and they are readily available to be gathered from the forest floor. Acorns come from Oak trees and there are several different types.
Each type has a different level of Tannins in them. How are they edible then? You have to leach the tannins out of Acorns. This is done by removing the nut meat from the shell and soaking in several changes of water till the water no longer turns brown. Leaching the Tannins out of Acorns can take several days to a week or more. Native Americans sped this process up by placing acorns in baskets then into a running stream. The constant movement of fresh water through the nut meat removes tannins much faster.
Personally I wasn’t fond of acorns but again in a survival situation, beggars can’t be choosers. Nuts about nuts? Check out all the ways to transform Acorns here!
Yup another Eastern to Midwestern tree that you can gather edibles from and much, much more! Many maybe familiar with Sassafras from its ties to Root Beer, it’s where Root Beer gets or got it’s distinct flavor. Banned from commercial food production since the 1960’s for causing Liver issues as well as being a carcinogen it still has lots of practical uses. Many still consider it safe if not consumed in large quantities. Besides adding flavor to your fare Sassafras has been used to treat acne, urinary disorders and even high fevers.
Sassafras trees have several different leaf types from a simple oval to a mitten and a leaf with three points. Several parts of the Sassafras tree can be used from the root, leaves and even the fruit when ripe.
Another note about Sassafras, Native Americans typically used it to start fires when available. Oils and resin make Sassafras a fire bugs dream.
Add some sass to your kitchen with these Sassafras recipes!
#6 Prickly Pear Cactus
Surprise! Prickly Pear Cactus is native to the Southeast! From the Western desserts, lowlands of the Rockies all the way to the sandy beaches of Florida. There are several different types of Prickly Pear including types found in Canada.
Along with all those different types of Prickly Pear growing all over the Americas are a myriad of ways to eat them! Most common uses include the fruit which depending on region, is ripe anywhere from Spring until Fall.
Another portion of the Prickly Pear that is edible is the Pads. No waiting for ripe season on those! An important note, no matter which part of the cactus you decide to consume, is to carefully remove all spines. Failure to do so could cause discomfort of the lips, tongue or throat. Spines easily lodge in skin as well so you may need to be creative about removing them.
On my biologist lead hike I tried a commercial Prickly Pear soda. Best description is a fruit punch with a lot of carbonation. I wasn’t fond of it either but could definitely see it being more palatable without the carbonation.
To put some prickle in your Prickly Pear check out these recipes!
Another surprise! I had no idea Lotus was edible or at least part of it anyway. You can find Lotus from Minnesota to Florida here in America and other types abroad.
Lotus is not to be confused with water lilies which are poisonous. Easiest way to discern the two, Lotus leaves are whole while Lilies have a slit.
Flowers, seeds, leaves, rootlets, stamens and stems can all be eaten. Most often the Lotus is used in Asian cuisine. Petals, leaves, and rhizome (Root) can all be eaten raw but you run risk of getting a parasite. Best to cook it if you can but again survival or situation can dictate otherwise.
Remember water lilies are poisonous, have a “V” slit and rest on the water’s surface. Lotus leaves are whole and rise above the water level. Same goes for their gorgeous flowers, water Lilly on the water, Lotus above.
Found just about anywhere in the world this aquatic plant has multiple uses. Edible and great for starting fires…maybe even carpentry!
The rhizomes of the Cattails are starchy, comparable to potatoes. The shell of young plants can be removed, leaf bases, and sheath from the flower can all be eaten, though the later needs cooking. For every season there is part of a Cattail that is edible.
Boil then mash the roots like potatoes, boil the sheath for Cattail on the cob, process the pollen to thicken flour, etc.
Nope, I don’t eat wild berries. Why? Because I’m not good enough to discern good berries from bad berries. If you can’t be certain then go hungry.
Nope, I don’t eat mushrooms. Notice I didn’t say wild here. I can’t stand them in any form or fashion of any type. Morels are very popular here in the Southeast, people regularly hunt them in Spring to bring home and make a feast of. In other areas other types are popular such as Chanterelles, Hen of the Woods and more.
I can not express the amount of EXTREME CAUTION needed when foraging mushrooms. Just this year in California 14 people were sickened with several requiring liver transplants. If you can’t identify with 100 percent certainty then let it be.