It’s my first spring in Texas in years, and I am brimming with excitement just witnessing the bluebonnets and indian paintbrushes bursting with color.
I’m a firm believer in natural living–food, medicine, housekeeping, cosmetics, and whatnot. I also tend to follow an evolutionary-style diet consisting of meat, nuts and seeds, plants, eggs, and some dairy. I shouldn’t eat dairy, really: we know that it hinders weight loss, interferes with hormones, exacerbating hypothyroidism, and most adults can’t digest it properly. These are just the reasons why I personally sshouldn’t be eating it, but my tastebuds oftentimes win that battle.
I digress. One thing I really feel is important is being involved in growing or procuring your own food. When we can hunt and keep chickens we plan to (right now it’s just not possible). We have a few hanging baskets and boxes right now for our temporary setup.
But here’s some food for thought: what is more natural than the food already growing outside your door? The weeds that many people seek to eradicate can often be a wonderful and free food or medicine. Truth be told, this is the real reason that spring makes me feel so invigorated. What else can make you feel so primal as foraging the woods for food (perhaps hunting and fishing)? I’m going to share a few easy, basic foods that can be found right now. Quick disclaimer: never eat something that you cannot 100% identify, people make themselves incredibly sick or die doing this.
Dandelion means “lion’s tooth” from the deeply toothed leaf structure it bears. They thrive in disturbed soil and cracks and crevices. The hairless, smooth leaves can be eaten raw or cooked, but are best before flowering occurs. Flower petals can be sprinkled in salads for color and flavor or be fried, steamed, or boiled. Some even use flowers to make a wild wine. The root can be used as any cooked root vegetable, and is sometimes roasted and ground up for use as a coffee subsitiute. There are no toxic look alikes.
I love yucca flowers, they’re definitely one of my favorite wild foods. My favorite edible part is the flower petals, which are best picked when they first open. I love to throw them in anything that I’m stir-frying. The flavor can vary depending on the variety of yucca–I’ve eaten spicy, horseradish-like petals and mild, cauliflower-like petals. The unopened flower bud and the fruit of some varieties are supposed to be edible as well, but I have never tried this.
Oh, wonderful, lemony oxalis. My 2 and a half year old calls this plant “lemon taste,” and it’s a fight to keep her away from it. The entire plant is edible and tastes like lemon. It is commonly mistakenly called clover. Wood sorrel has beautiful flowers that add great color to salads. One day I plan on using these as a topping for something like lemon cake, I think that would be delightful. Contain oxalic acid, so do not eat more than a few leaves at a time. The tubers can be used like carrots. Note the heart shaped leaves, which help identify this plant.
It isn’t quite the season for these yet, but the vines and flowers are sprawling. Now is the right time to make a mental note of everywhere you see the beautiful white flowers so that you can go back for berries later! I grew up picking these off of vines in our field, taking them home to wash, and devouring all that I could.
They are like scrubby, lanky blackberries. They are ripe when they turn black, but can usually be found easily among red, unripe berries. Be careful for the thorns! They also sometimes tend to grow where poison oak or poison ivy like to grow as well. I do believe that you can probably make tea out of the leaves, but I have never tried.
Another addition that isn’t quite ready for harvesting yet but I just had to include is the thorny-foliaged agarita bush. This unique plant protects it’s bounty with spiked leaves in bunches of three–anyone who has encountered one knows exactly what I’m talking about. The yellow blossoms exude an intoxicating sweet scent in the spring before turning into little green berries that ripen red. The ripe berries are edible, though I remember them being a bit tart (I haven’t had one in nearly 20 years, but I’m going all out this year). They supposedly make great wild jam. The wood and root of agarita contain a compound called berberine which is medicinal.
Knowing your environment and understanding everything that surrounds you is such a lost art. I want my children to understand where their food comes from–it doesn’t magically appear in a grocery store. Someone grows it, someone raises the chickens that lay those eggs, someone else slaughters the animal that we eat. Having a hand in growing and procuring your own sustenance is something that every human should be involved in. Anyway, I’m not going to preach any more, I just think that free, wild, nutritious food is something to be considered. If it does happen to interest you there are some great resources out there (I’ve included some below).
Mark Vorderbruggen, aka Merriweather, is one of the nicest guys I’ve talked to and really knows his stuff. Texas area: http://www.foragingtexas.com/?m=1
Green Deane is based in Florida but is knowledgable all around, and very famous because of it. Extremely thorough with his plant profiles: http://www.eattheweeds.com
Samuel Thayer, genius in the field: https://www.foragersharvest.com
Steve Brill was arrested for eating a dandelion in Central Park! I really love how well his website is laid out: https://www.wildmanstevebrill.com
Christopher Nyerges was featured on the first season of Doomsday Preppers (don’t hold it against him), which is how I heard of him. We took an acorn processing class with him when Karissa was young and he is great. Southern California area: http://www.christophernyerges.com/index.htm