Five More Surprising Wild Edibles That You Can Eat Now!
FREE FOOD part 2: Five More Surprising Wild Edibles That You Can Eat Now!
Here are five more wild, free foods that you can eat right now. And of course, here is our little quasi-legal disclaimer:
Disclaimer: Always be sure to correctly identify plants before you eat them. By using this information, you hold us blameless in the event of any consumption of incorrect wild edibles or allergic reaction with any plant. Thanks!
Now for the fun stuff! Four of the five plants listed below are edible and in season right now, as of the date of this blog posting.
Prickly pear cactus with ripe fruit
Prickly Pear Cactus (Optuntia spp.)– This common cactus is found in dry places in all 50 states and even into southern Canada. In many places, prickly pear is considered a weed. But for those who want to eat free wild plants, the prickly pear is a cornucopia…with a few (ok, a lot) of spines. Both the pads and the fruit have vitamin C and some beneficial fatty acids.
What to eat: The fruit (also called tuna) is sweet and can be eaten fresh when it is fully ripened. Fully ripened tuna are a bright red/purple color. The juice of the fruit is commonly made into jellies and jams or it can be consumed fresh or chilled. The pads can be fried, pickled, or eaten fresh (warning: eating too many raw cactus pads can lead to stomach upset). Grilled prickly pear pads are an ingredient in some Mexican cuisine.
When: The fruit is ripe in the fall (now!) and the pads can be consumed year-round.
WARNING: Prickly pear cacti pads are covered in longer spines and smaller, hair-like spines are on both the pad and fruit. Cut or burn off these spines to safely consume this plant. Use thick gloves when handling to avoid being poked!
Goldenrod in bloom
Goldenrods (Soldiago spp.) – Across the South, goldenrods are in bloom this time of year. While not as nutritional or calorie-filled as some plants, these native flowers (or weeds, depending on your perspective) can be used a couple of ways.
What to eat: The young flowers and young leaves can be added to salads. The young leaves can be boiled into a tea.
When: The young flowers are available now (in the fall); the young leaves are available and edible throughout the growing season…just be sure that you are eating from a goldenrod plant.
A ripe acorn
Acorns – The tree genus Quercus (oak trees) is widespread across the entire country. In the fall (including right now and over the next month or so), oak trees will be dropping their acorns. If there has been plentiful rain fall, the trees should produce an abundance of acorns. Acorns are naturally very bitter and full of tannins. Deer, squirrel and most other wildlife consume acorns over the winter. Native Americans also found the acorn useful as a winter food source…and you can too!
What to eat: After they have been thoroughly soaked with water to wash out the tannins, the acorns can be dried and ground into flour. To remove the tannins, Native Americans used to place the acorns in nets in the creeks and let the action of the water remove the tannins over several days; today, we can boil the shelled acorns in water. Remove the woody outer shell and place the center of the acorn (it looks like cheese!) in water and boil it. Change the water out when it becomes completely discolored and continue to do this until the water remains clear. Let the acorn “meat” dry out and grind it into powder – now you have nutritious wild flour to play with.
When: The fall and winter; properly stored acorn flour will last several months
Southern sugar maple (Acer Floridanum)
Maples (Acer spp.) – Maples are another extremely common tree in North America. We are blessed to live on property that has plenty of southern sugar maple trees (those exists!). Maples are traditionally used for syrup making, but in a pinch, they can provide other things for human consumption as well.
What to eat: The sap can be boiled down to syrup; the young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach or greens; the seeds can be collected and boiled until soft; and the inner bark can be eaten fresh or dried and made into a flour.
When: The sap can be harvested year round, though there is more flowing through the tree in the spring; the young leaves can be harvested in spring and summer; the seeds are only available in fall and winter; and the inner bark can be eaten any time of the year.
Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) – Redbud trees are one of my favorite wild ornamental trees. Besides being beautiful in the spring across the southeastern U.S., Redbud trees also provide some fairly nutritious food for the adventurous person.
What to eat: flowers and young seed pods
When: Eat flowers when they are fully opened in spring (add them to salads!); eat young seedpods as soon as they form after flowering. Both flowers and seedpods have carbohydrates; seeds have some protein (and due to a hard seed coat on mature seeds, most redbud seeds won’t germinate anyway)
What other strange wild edibles have you come across? Let us know in the comments!