Today’s FB/IG Post Link: Merriwether's Foraging 101 for Wazoo Survival
Yesterday’s FB/IG Post Link: Business Insider Video Interview

Join the tribe over at the Foraging Texas "DrMerriwether" YouTube Channel weekday mornings for the live show Donut Shop at the Beginning of the World (7:30am-8am Central Time M-F) and the live Wednesday evening  Merriwether's World! (8pm-9pm Central Time).

Donate to Foraging Texas: Merriwether on PayPal

This ancient plants website and its associated social media are run on some ancient computers. I want to keep sharing this information for free so upgrading the computers on my own isn't an option. If y'all feel this foraging information has helped you toss a coin to the forager.

This is what I'm trying acquire.

Or support Foraging Texas in other ways
Buy my book Idiot's Guide Foraging from Amazon.com 
70 easy to identify, easy to use wild edible plants and much more!

How to Use This Website

There are three ways to find a plant on this blog.
1. By common name as listed in the sidebar to the left.

2. On the right sidebar you can look for the plant based on the environment it grows, season, plant type, flower color, fruit or seedpod color, use, and Geographic Location in North America. Note in that last one plants tagged "All USA" won't show up under the individual USA regions.

3. The blog search box at the top of the page can be used to search for key words such as scientific names.

Foods edible raw have been marked with the Raw label to make them easier to focus on by raw foodists. Please read the plant details to identify which parts of the plant can safely be eaten raw and thoroughly wash any plants, especially if collected from ponds, streams, marshes, or swamps.

As to where to start when trying to identify a mystery plant, please check out Identifying Unknown Plants & Mushrooms. This will lead you to a number of great resources that I use when trying to identify a new plant.

Finally, please read and take to heart the Foraging Ethics. This is to insure that the joy of wild foods remains available to all.

Benefits of Foraging

Solvitur ambulando, St. Jerome was fond of saying. "To solve a problem, walk around."
~Gregory McNamee


I forage, which means I walk. It means I bend, stretch, and dig. It means I constantly have access fresh, vitamin packed foods that cost no money. It means I bond with my family, friends, neighbors and complete strangers. This bonding expands past my community and into the heart of nature, whose rhythms I must follow to find the foods I seek.

Foraging requires walking. Often lots of walking, usually while carrying stuff. It also requires bending (usually lots of bending!) digging stuff, climbing stuff, shaking stuff, and occasionally running from stuff. In Texas summers, foraging means carrying lots of heavy water with me as I hunt the wild edibles. The physical labor of foraging greatly surpasses that of pushing a shopping cart down a grocery store aisle! Because of this and also due to the nature of plants themselves, I often burn more calories than I gather when foraging...which isn't a bad thing.

The domestication of plants changed them at a genetic level. They have been bred to remain fresh-looking, resistant to shipping damage, and have a mild flavor, as well as be convenient to harvest and store. In return, these well-trained plants gave up much of their best nutritional compounds. Meanwhile, wild plants have to fight every minute of every day to stay alive. To help them in these battles they load themselves up with a huge selection of chemical warfare agents...agents that we refer to as vitamins, minerals, flavanoids, lycopenes, anti-oxidants and many other beneficial compounds. As I usually harvest and eat the plants within a few hours, they are much, much fresher than any store-bought and even farmer's market-bought foods.

Foragers are the only ones who truly can get a free lunch. My backyard, with nothing more than removing the grass beneath a few pruned branches on which birds perch, has brought forth amaranth, lamb's quarter, dollarweed, chickweed, dandelions, cat's ear, purslane, sow thistle, dwarf palmetto, scarlet pimpernel, pony's foot, and many other edible "weeds". I bought no seed. No water, fertilizer, or pesticides are needed. These plants thrive on neglect, as any gardener could tell you. And at mealtime they are ready and waiting for me and my family. Is there any better food security than this?

But my yard is not big enough to supply all my family's needs. Every evening my two daughters and I walk around the neighborhood and we see lots of wild edibles. Texas law forbids harvesting any plant material from property you do not own without the owner's permission. To be a ethical forager here in Texas means you need to talk to people. It's easy to talk to other family members or friends to ask if you can harvest the spiderwort in their flower beds. It takes much more effort (and charm!) to knock on a stranger's door to ask if you and your children may have the white clover heads from their yard. Over time, we've talked with just about everyone in the surrounding five blocks and while some think I'm crazy, most welcome me and the knowledge I bring. Inadvertently through constant talking with everyone, I became the neighborhood "connector". When Rick needed to a particular tool I knew Bob had, I got the two of them together. When a new family on the block had to leave town for an unexpected emergency, I hooked them up with a trustworthy pet sitter. By the time hurricane Ike hit our neighborhood, most people already knew each other and happily worked together to clean up the wreckage.

Gardeners often talk about their joy of bonding with "nature" but I just smile at that statement. To me, gardeners seem more often at war with nature than bonding with Her. They plant plants that couldn't possibly survive in the wild. They tear up the plants nature gives them. They spread both poisons and fertilizers. They rely on a faucet rather than rain. The main contacts they have with nature is sunburn and mosquito bites.

Without looking at an iPhone app can you tell me what phase the moon will be tonight? With foraging, as the seasons pass new plants become available on nature's schedule, not mine. I needed to learn nature's cycles to find the plants I wanted. But not just the seasonal cycles, but also the relationships between nature and Her plant gifts. Sun, shade, woods, fields, river banks, sandy soil, clay soils...all these influenced what plants would grow in a particular location. As I wrapped myself deeper in this web I saw more and more relationships...for instance, up in the Sam Houston National Forest I discovered that wherever there was sassafras one would also find bull nettle. No plant book has ever mentioned these two plants grow together, yet they do.

And deeper still. The secret to learning edible wild plants is to first identify the plant then search the literature to see if it is edible. In the way you eventually learn most of the plants in your environment, edible or not. As you are out looking at plants you will also find bugs, tracks, and scat. Natural curiosity will drive you to identify these discoveries. Being outside as much as foragers are leads to a heightened weather-sense over time, too. Clouds, wind, and the actions of some insects, animals and plants can all be used to tell what sort of weather is close at hand.

As a forager, eventually you stop getting your entertainment from tv but rather from the sky, the ground, and the people around you. Your physical health improves due to getting exercise and better nutrition. Your mental health improves because you are surrounded by friends, laughter, and having a sense of belonging. Your finances improve because your foods are free. Your sense of security improves because you no longer are completely dependent on others (farmers, shippers, stores) for all your food. What's not to love?

Foraging for Calories

Let's talk about finding calories in the woods for a bit. Most vitamins and minerals are easy to come by from edible wild plants but calories are a lot more difficult. There's a basic rule of thumb which states that while at rest your body will consume calories equal to ten times your body weight. If you are working hard this can jump up to twenty times your weight (find your calorie requirements here).

I'm 6'5" and 230 pounds (yeah, 25lbs overweight). To meet my energy needs to make it through a hard day backpacking I'll need 20 x 200 = 4,000 calories. Food-wise how much is this?

Snickers Bar...........136 calories per oz
Peanut butter..........168 calories per oz
Whole wheat flour......97 calories per oz
Baked potato (plain)...26 calories per oz

A regular Snickers Bar is 2oz, so I'd need to eat FOURTEEN of them to fuel myself. I kind of like the sound of that, though the resulting dentistry bills would suck. What if I eat something healthier like potatoes? A large, plain baked potato weighs about 10oz, so I'd need to eat FIFTEEN of them.

I don't want to carry fifteen potatoes per day when I'm out in the woods.

So, what about wild edibles?

Acorns................112 calories per oz
Pecans................197 calories per oz
Apple..................15 calories per oz
Cattail tuber..........19 calories per oz
Blackberries...........12 calories per oz

Nuts are definitely the main source of non-animal-based calories in the wild. I would need to eat 35oz (2.2 lbs) of acorn nut meat, which means collecting somewhat more than that weight of acorns as I need to shell, crush, then extract the tannin from them before eating. Pecans do much better, I'd only need to eat 20oz of shelled pecan nut meat.

But nuts are only available for a short time. What about berries or some sort of tuber? Unfortunately, these have approximately 1/5 the calories of nuts. One of most common sources of calories in the woods are greenbrier roots. They have slightly fewer calories than potatoes so I'm going to have to dig up around ten pounds of them which is time consuming and hard. Plus they don't taste very good. Cattail tubers are easier to dig but give even less calories than greenbrier. Berries give still fewer calories, I'd need to find twenty pounds of them to meet my energy needs.

Most of us have some built-in fat reserves to get us through short periods of famine. However it does not take long for irritability, confusion, and weakness to set in when the body is deprived of its necessary calories. For more information on the effects of starvation I recommend reading They Starved So That Others Be Better Fed: Remembering Ancel Keys and the Minnesota Experiment

Acorn - Oak

Scientific Name: Quercus spp.
Abundance: common
What: nuts
How: leach out tannins with lots of water then grind to flour, roast nuts then grind for coffee
Where: oaks (white, red, live, burr, post, pin, etc)
When: fall
Nutritional Value: protein, minerals, fats and carbohydrates
Other uses: tanning leather
Dangers: very bitter if not tannic acid isn't leached

Medicinal Summary:
Galls - astringent, hemostatic; antibacterial; antifungal, may reduce symptoms of Parkinson's disease (tisane)
Acorns - astringent (tisane)
Bark - astringent (tisane)

Acorns



















Bur oak acorns are the biggest at over 1" across.



















Shelled acorns.


















These are the oak flowers that eventually become acorns.






















Assorted oak leaves.



































Bur oak leaf.






















An oak gall, created by chemical warfare between a type of wasp and the oak tree.























Stately oak trees can grow over 100’ tall and hundreds of feet in diameter under ideal conditions. Their bark ranges from smooth to deeply fissured. Branches tend to give oak trees a round or oblong shape. They usually prefer full sun and loose, well drain soils but with fifteen different species to choose from in Texas along, there’s a good chance you’ll find an oak somewhere nearby.

The calorie-laden acorns of oaks have supplied fats, oils, and protein to mankind for thousands of years. A one ounce (28.3g) serving of shelled acorn meat contains about 110 calories in the form of 6.8g of fats and 1.7g of protein, plus a small amount of calcium. Acorns can be ground into a gluten-free, high-protein flour good for making flat breads and batter-style baked goods as well as to thicken stews and to make gravy. Roasted acorns have been used as a substitute for coffee grounds, but all that can be said about that is the resulting liquid is brown and bitter, any similarity to it and coffee is strictly due to the desperation of the brewer.

Acorn must have their tannic acid leached out before consumption. Luckily tannic acid is very water-soluble and easy leach out by placing the shelled, crushed nuts in a mesh bag then submersing them in running water for several days. An easier method is to coarsely chop them in a blender or food processor then repeatedly running them through a coffee maker until they no longer taste bitter. The hot water will extract the tannins but do not allow the acorns to cool between flushes or the tannic acid will bind more tightly to the acorn meat. Also, do not grind the acorns finely before leach them as a flour-sized particles will clog the filter.

Unfortunately, the fats and oils in acorns turn rancid fairly quickly. Fresh ground acorn flour will go bad in as little as four weeks if exposed to air and warm temperatures. Freezing the flour, especially if vacuum-packed (a messy process) can stretch its usable life to six months. You are better off freezing the un-shelled acorn and just leaching and grinding as you need it. Frozen, vacuum-packed acorns still in their shell can last up to a year.

White oaks (Quercus alba) produce the least bitter nuts, followed by Red oaks (Quercus rubra) but even both of these need the tannins leached from their acorns. White oak acorns mature in one year while Red oak acorns take two years to complete their growth. Pin oaks (Quercus palustris) are related to Red oaks while Bur oaks (Quercus macrocarpa) are related to White oaks. Live Oaks (Quercus fusiformis) produce the least desirable acorns as they are hard to remove from their shells and are very bitter.

To use acorns as a caffeine-free coffee substitute coarse-grind them then roast them at 400F in an oven to a dark brown color. At this point you can use them just like ground coffee.

The oak gall wasp likes to lay its eggs under the tender bark of new oak twigs. Doing so somehow triggers the formation of a round oak gall. The oak tree doesn't like this much and starts pumping assorted chemicals into the gall to try and kill the wasp larva. The end result is a small, hard ball loaded with medicinal properties. These galls were crushed and then used to make ointments, tinctures, medicated oils, and teas to fight infections inside and outside of the body. The crushed oak galls were also combined with iron salts in vinegar to create a very dark, non-fading ink.



Buy my book! Idiots Guide Foraging covers 70 of North America's tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.

Privacy Statement

I use third-party advertising companies to serve ads when you visit this website. These companies may use information (not including your name, address, email address, or telephone number) about your visits to this and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like more information about this practice and to know your choices about not having this information used by these companies, click here.