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.

Agarita

Scientific Name(s): Mahonia trifoliolata
Abundance: common
What: Berries
How: raw, cooked, jam, jelly, wine, syrup, roast seeds for coffee
Where: Hill Country, dry grasslands
When: Spring
Nutritional Value: Vit. C

Medicinal Summary:
Leaves - anti-nausea (tisane, tincture, chewed)
Root/Wood - antimicrobial; antiviral; antidiarrheal (tisane, tincture, oxymel)

Agarita shrub.


















Agarita flower buds (picture taken in February in the Hill Country).























Open agarita flowers (picture taken in February in the Hill Country).


























Closeup of ripe and almost ripe agarita berries.




















Closeup of agarita leaf.





















The inner wood of agaritas is a deep yellow color due to the medicinal compound berberine.




















Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.















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















The evergreen agarita is a common 2’-6’ shrub found across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Its unusual, three-part leaves are grey-green, very stiff and pointy so harvesting their fruit can be a bit painful. The yellow flowers appear in late winter followed by red, edible fruit in the spring. Agaritas prefer dry areas with well-drained and somewhat alkaline soil along with full sun to partial shade. The shrubs usually gather around mesquite and other small trees. I haven't seen any out standing alone.

In Spring agarita shrubs are loaded with small, bright red berries. These sweet, slightly tart berries can be eaten raw or cooked in any manner one would prepare any berry such as jam, jelly, or wine. The juice from these berries has a pleasingly complex sweet and sour flavor. The small seeds can be roasted then ground for a caffeine-free coffee substitute.

Agaritas have multiple medicinal uses. The leaves can be chewed fresh or dried to help relieve nausea, especial that accompanying hangovers and motion sickness. A tea made from dried leaves will also offer relief. The yellow wood of the roots contain anti-bacterial and anti-viral compound berberine along with bitter components to help with digestion and other stomach issues such as diarrhea. The root wood is usually finely shaved and then made into a tincture with vodka.


Agave

Scientific Name(s): Agave spp.
Abundance: rare
What: flowers, stalks, leaves, body/root, sap
How: flowers are cooked; flower stalks are roasted; sap is fermented (woo hoo!); leaves are cooked; body/root is slow roasted.
Where: dry areas, landscaping
When: all year
Nutritional Value: Calories
Dangers: Raw agave juice can cause long-lasting burns to skin, eyes, and other sensitive tissues. Be careful when cutting this plant so as not to splatter this juice on you. These plants also contain large quantities of saponins (soap).

Medicinal Summary:
Leaf Pulp - antibacterial; anti-inflammatory; wound-healing (poultice)

Agave1

Agave1

Agave flower stalk.
Agave2

Texas Distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
AgaveTX

North American Distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
Agave

Looking like a cross between a cactus and a squid, slow-growing agave plants are found wild the arid Southwest but also as a decorative landscaping plant all over Texas and the South. Mature agave can stretch up to 16’ across and send flower stalks 10’ or more into the sky.

Agave plants are a regular smorgasbord of food, though all parts of the plant except for the sap must be cooked in some manner to make them sweet and destroy their bitter-tasting saponins. Unlike most wild edible plants, when harvesting agave you want to find the biggest, oldest plants as these will have the most sugar. Traditionally the flowers and leaves were boiled or roasted. After removing the leaves the body & root should be slow roasted, often for two days, to release its sugars. The sweet flesh is chewed off the fibrous body/root. Flower stalks are also roasted, but for shorter time as they are smaller. Note that removing the flower stalk will kill the plant. After roasting the food can be dried and stored for later use.

If the top of the agave plant is removed but the root left in the ground sap will flow up for hours. Collect and ferment this sap to form a weak tequila. A sweet syrup can also be pressed from the roasted body & root of agave. This syrup forms the basis for mescal alcohol. The seeds can be toasted then ground into a flour.

Uncooked roots contain high levels of saponins, a soap-like compound which will lather in soft water and can be used for washing. This soap was also used by natives to kill fish by tossing pounded globs of root into small ponds. The soap screws up the functioning of fishes' gills, causing them suffocate and float to the surface.

Fibers in the leaves can be used for cordage. Pound the fleshy leaves between two logs to separate the fibers from pulp, then braid into rope.

Warning: The moist, fleshy interior of the leaves is somewhat acidic and can cause permanent eye damage.



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.

Foraging Texas is a labor of love...but love, as you know, extracts a cost. If y'all feel this foraging information has helped you there are several ways you can help in return.

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 Foraging Texas is a labor of love...but love, as you know, extracts a cost. If y'all feel this foraging information has helped you there are several ways you can help in return.

Purchased a Medicine Man Plant Co. Product:




Shop for foraging and survival books/gear on Amazon
Buy Foraging Texas clothing or gear from CafePress Foraging Texas
Donate directly to Foraging Texas: Merriwether on PayPal

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