Showing posts with label Techniques. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Techniques. Show all posts

Foraging Ethics

1. Respect the law. You must have permission from the property owner to collect plant matter. To forage without permission is considered stealing and you can be arrested. Most state and federal land prohibit gathering plants except in survival situations. Illegally harvesting plants can result in fines and even loss of park privileges. 

2. Respect the land. Leave no trace. Fill your holes, pack out your garbage (and garbage left by others), don't hack/slash/smash/burn your way through nature. Don't harvest a plant if there are just a few around.

3. Respect the plant. Please harvest sustainably so that there will be plenty of plants year after year. I've coded each plant with an Abundance tag which are defined as follows:
Invasive - harvest ALL of it
Plentiful - harvest up to 50% of this plant from the location
Common - harvest up to 30% of this plant from the location
Uncommon - harvest up to 10% of this plant from the location
Rare - harvest only in an emergency or one small bit to taste
Very Rare - harvest only in a dire emergency 

Also, don't strip all the leaves from one plant, just take 1 shoot or 2-3 leaves from many plants. Minimize damage to the plants by cutting leaves off the plant with a sharp knife or shears rather than tearing them off. Harvest inner bark using long, thin vertical strips on one side of the tree, do not cut a ring all around the tree which will kill it. Sterilize your cutting tools with alcohol or bleach to prevent transfer of diseases.

4. Respect yourself. Please positively identify any plant before eating it. Eating the wrong plant can lead to illness or in rare circumstances, even death. Also be aware of any environmental hazards in your foraging location such as snakes, bears, or chemical hazards from old oil fields, roadways, lead paint around old buildings or areas subject to flooding from sewers.

Legally Foraging in Texas

Public places to forage legally are somewhat limited in Texas. 

You are NOT allowed to pick plants or mushrooms from city parks, state parks, national parks, city nature trails, nature preserves, state historic sites, or any other "public" property without permission.
Fines for illegally harvesting plants or mushrooms start at $500 and can go to $2100.
  1. You can harvest the above-ground part of plants from Texas roadsides. You can not dig up plants.
  2. You are allowed to harvest 1 gallon of mushrooms per person per day, for private use only, in the four National Forests of Texas - Sam Houston NF, Davy Crockett NF, Angelina NF, and Sabine NF. You can not pick other plants without first getting a park ranger's permission.
  3. You can harvest 1 pint of fruit, nuts, or berries per person per day for personal use from the Big Thicket National Preserve.
  4. You can harvest plants from private property with the landowner's permission. You can find a list of campsites and other private properties which allow foraging HERE.

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

Wazoo Survival Foraging Bandana

Wazoo Survival Foraging Bandana
You can purchase it here!

This bandana was a joint project between Wazoo Survival Gear, Alone star Dr. Nicole Apelion, foraging author Samual Thayer, and me.

#1. Burdock
Scientific name: Arctium minus, Arctium lappa
Abundance: rare
What: young leaves, flower stalks, 1st year root
How: young leaves raw, as tea, stir-fried, or boiled in 2-3 changes of water; peel green skin of plant stalks to reveal inner white core which is eaten raw or cooked; root of 1st-year plants less than 1" in diameter and must be peeled then boiled in two changes of water until tender; roasted roots for coffee
Where: open fields, sunny areas, woods
When: leaves in spring, flower stalks in summer, roots summer and fall
Nutritional Value: Roots contain some minerals, vitamins C & B6, and some calories. Leaves contain many vitamins and phytochemicals
Other uses: you can stick a bunch of the burrs together to make a crown, but that usually ends badly
Dangers: burrs are clingy, do not confuse with toxic Cocklebur (Xanthium pennsylvanicum)

Close-up of Burdock flower and seed bur.

Burdock stem.

Burdock root (partial).

More burdock roots. These are up to 32 inches long.

North American distribution of Burdock, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

#2. Dandelion
Scientific name: Taraxacum officinale
Abundance: common
What: leaves, flowers, roots
How: young leaves in salad or boiled; flowers are used in wine; roots are roasted to make a coffee substitute or boiled for twenty-thirty minutes before eating
Where: yards, sunny
When: spring, early summer
Nutritional Value: Vitamins A, B, thiamine, riboflavin, minerals, and protein

Single dandelion plant.

A mature dandelion root can be twelve feet long! This one was a little over one foot.
Dandelion Root IGFB12

North American distribution of Dandelion, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

#3 Arrowhead
Scientific Name(s): Maranta spp. and Sagittaria spp.
Abundance: uncommon
What: tubers, young leaves, young flower stalks
How: boiled, roasted
Where: marshes, water
When: tubers all year, best in late fall and early winter; young leaves in early summer; flower stalks well before flower buds have opened.
Nutritional Value: carbohydrates
Dangers: Beware the similar-looking arrow arum, (Peltandra virginica) plant which has an arrowhead-shaped leaf and produces tubers same as Sagittaria species.

Arrowroot tuber (photo courtesy of Samuel Thayer).
Arrowhead Tubers ST IGFB25

Arrowroot plants have many long veins radiating outwards from the center (palmate).

Arrowroot leaf and flower stalk with white flowers and unopened buds.

North American distribution of Arrowhead, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

#4. Turkey Tail Mushrooms
Scientific Name(s): Trametes versicolor, also called Coriolus versicolor
Abundance: common
What: mushroom
How: tea, tincture
Where: dead trees
When: spring, summer, fall, winter
Nutritional Value: medicinal
Dangers: beware of mimic False Turkey Tail crust mushroom (Stereum ostrea) and Gilled Polypore (Tremetes betulina)

Turkey Tail mushroom clusters. Many different colors are possible.
Mushroom Turkey Tail

Mushroom - Turkey Tail

Turkey Tail mushrooms are barely as thick as a dime.
Mushroom Turkey Tail

Turkey Tail mushrooms are connected to the dead wood with a narrow, thin point.
Mushroom - Turkey Tail

Mushroom - Turkey Tail

Mushroom - Turkey Tail

Close-up of top of Turkey Tail mushroom. This one is slightly larger than a US quarter coin.

Close-up of bottom of Turkey Tail mushroom. This one is slightly larger than a US quarter coin.

The mimic False Turkey Tail (Stereum ostrea) grows from a crust rather than a point.
Topside view of False Turkey Tails mushrooms.
Mushroom - False Turkey Tail

Underside view of the "crust" covering most of the dead log.
Mushroom - False Turkey Tail

The underside of mimic Gilled Polypore (Tremetes betulina) has gills rather than pores underneath.
Tremetes betulina

North American distribution of Turkey Tail Mushrooms, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

#5 Maple
Scientific name: Acer spp.
Abundance: common
What: Inner bark, seeds, leaves, sap
How: Boil inner bark or dry into flour, cook seeds, young leaves raw or cooked, boil sap down to syrup
Where: everywhere
When: anytime
Nutritional value: sugar in sap, protein and carbohydrates in seeds, minerals in leaves, carbohydrates in inner bark.

Maple leaves and almost-mature "helicopter" seeds.

Maple leaves.
Maple 1

Red maple seeds. They are ready in the spring before the tree puts out its leaves.

Unripe Box Elder (also a maple) "helicopters". The seeds will be opposite the "fin". They'll be twice this size, dry, and tan when ripe.

Mature seeds of a Box Elder.
Box Elder IGFB

Box Elder compound leaf (top). They have five leaflets.

Tapping sugar maples is best done in late winter when daytime highs are 40-50F but below freezing at night. Texas weather rarely gives such a clear sign so some luck is involved in getting the timing right. Note that it takes boiling down 40 gallons of sap to get one gallon of syrup. Complete directions for making maple syrup and maple sugar are HERE.

North American distribution of Maples, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

#6 Stinging Nettle
Scientific name: Urtica chamaedryoides, U. dioica, U. urens
Abundance: common
What: leaves and young stems
How: cooked greens, tea
Where: woods, borders, abandoned areas, woods, sunny and shady areas
When: spring, early summer
Nutritional Value: Rich in vitamins A,C,D,K, many minerals, and high in protein.
Dangers: can cause skin irritations, handle while wearing leather gloves. Cook to remove stingers before consuming.

Close-up of stinging nettles (Urtica chamaedryoides).

Patch of stinging nettles (Urtica chamaedryoides).

North American distribution of Stinging Nettles, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

#8 Wild Violet
Scientific name: Viola species
Abundance: uncommon
What: Leaves, flowers
How: Leaves and flowers raw (great in salads), tea from flowers
Where: small, heart-shaped flowers in shady, moist areas
When: Winter (in Houston), Spring, early summer
Nutritional Value: very rich in vitamin A,C
Nutritional Value: Violets contain the chemical Violine which, in VERY large doses, can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Wild violet plant.

Close-up of wild violet flower.

North American distribution of Wild Violets, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

#9 Plantain
Scientific name: Plantago species
Abundance: plentiful
What: leaves, young seed pods
How: raw, steamed
Where: Sunny fields, urban yards
When: Spring
Nutritional Value: minerals, vitamin B
Other uses: Rub mashed leaves on insect bites to relieve pain/itching

Redseed Plantain (Plantago rhodosperma)



Close-up of plantain leaf.


Really big plantains, probably Plantago virginica.


Plantago lanceolate
Plantain Lanceolate

Close up of Plantago lanceolate flower/seed stalk.
Plantain Lanceolate

Even closer-up picture of Plantago lanceolate flower/seed head.
Plantain Lanceolate

Out in West Texas look for Woolly Indianwhesat plantain (Plantago patagonica).
Plantain West Texas Woolly Indianwheat (Plantain) Plantago patagonica Jacq.

Plantain West Texas Woolly Indianwheat (Plantain) Plantago patagonica Jacq.

Plantain West Texas Woolly Indianwheat (Plantain) Plantago patagonica Jacq.

North American distribution of Plantains, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

#10 Cattails
Scientific name: Typha latifolia
Abundance: common
What: Tubers, shoots, male portion of flower, pollen
How: Tuber starch granules are removed by hand from fibers, young shoots cut from tubers, older stems can be peeled back to get soft, white edible pith, male (top) part of flower steamed before it become fluffy, pollen from male section is shaken into paper bag from flower and use as flour
Where: Shallow water
When: Tubers in winter, shoots in spring/summer, pollen and flowers in spring
Nutritional Value: Young shoots have low amounts of minerals. Pollen is high in protein. Tubers are high in calcium, iron, potassium, and carbohydrates.
Other uses: Fluff is good tinder and insulation, leaves can be woven into baskets and used to thatch huts.
Dangers: Fluff may cause skin irritation. Wash thoroughly before eating parts raw so as to avoid picking up any infectious, water-borne microbes.




Close-up of cattail bases.

Cattail rhizome and new shoot at its tip.
Cattail Rhizome


Cattail tip, best cooked like asparagus.

Grilling up some cattail rhizome along with brats.

Peel off the outer, charred skin to chew up the starchy core.

A tender shoot.
Cattails Shoots Harvest IGFB25

Cattails Seedling IGFB23

Flowers (brown top is male portion, green part below male is female section)
cattail heads

Pollen coming from the male portion of the cattail flowerhead.

North American distribution of Cattails, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

#11 Prickly Pear Cactus
Scientific name: Opunita lindheimeri
Abundance: plentiful
What: fruit (tunas), pads (nopalito), flowers, juice
How: peeled pads can be pickled, fried, made into jerky; fruit can be raw or blended into a smoothy/icee drink; juice from strained fruit can be drunk, made into ice cream, mixed drinks, preserves.
Where: sunny fields
When: fruit-late summer, pads-all year though younger pads taste better.
Nutritional Value: vitamin C, some minerals and omega-3 fatty acid
Dangers: The spines and tiny, fine hairs are very irritating and can even be fatal if lodged in the throat. Burn off the spines/hairs to remove.

Prickly Pear.

Close-up of prickly pear flower.
Cactus - Prickly Pear

Ripe fruit.
Cactus Prickly Pear


North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

#12 Willow
Scientific name: Salix spp.
Abundance: plentiful
What: twigs, inner bark
How: tea made from chopped up twigs; inner bark is an emergency food and is eaten raw or dried and ground into flour
Where: woods, water, sunny fields, landscaping
When: twigs highest in salicylic acid in early spring; inner bark any time
Nutritional Value: inner bark contains carbohydrates
Other uses: Willows contain salicylic acid which is a precursor of aspirin.
Dangers: Salicylic acid can cause stomach upset in high doses and trigger Reye's syndrome in young children.

Mature willow tree.

Medium-sized willow tree.

Close-up of leaves.

Willow trunk

Boiled willow bark makes a beautiful, red-colored tea that reduces fevers, pain, and swelling due to its salicin converting to salicylic acid.

North American distribution of Willows, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Meet the Creators
Dr. Nicole Apelion
Scientist, mother, educator, researcher, expeditionary leader, safari guide, herbalist and traditional skills instructor. A leader in the field of transformative nature education, Nicole is excited to share her knowledge and expertise of nature connection, indigenous knowledge, natural wellness and survival skills with the world.

Samual Thayer
Renowned author and forager and internationally recognized authority on edible wild plants. His mission is to promote responsible foraging, appreciation and conservation of Nature, and sustainable food production systems.

Dr. Mark "Merriwether" Vorderbruggen
Forager, chemist, author, inventor, adventurer, rogue botanist, husband, and parent!

Wazoo Survival Gear
A couple of NASA engineers designing compact, wearable survival kits that can be worn every day. After all, the only survival kit that works is the one you have with you when you need it. No one wants to feel helpless or hopeless so join the movement and practice self reliance. Be ready for any adventure life offers you.

Buy my book! Outdoor Adventure Guides 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.

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