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Wild plants: winter foods.


Most writers and teachers in off-the-grid living, country lifestyles, wilderness studies, outdoor education and so on, have almost studiously avoided any treatment of surviving off the wild landscape during the winter, despite the life-threatening challenges posed by extreme weather conditions. The most glaring omission is any discussion of wild plant food, on the assumption that we will eat meat, canned garden vegetables, and supermarket goods--or nothing at all. In this article I try to fill this gap, showing how we can store up wild plant food for the winter, and even find it out in nature itself.

Eating wild plants in the middle of winter is a topic hardly addressed by experts in survival in remote locations (for an exception, see Schufer, 1997). But there are a lot of reasons for taking the issue seriously. First, hypothermia is our biggest threat in the outdoors, and the more ways to fuel our internal fires, the better.

Second, the usual ways of getting animal protein for food in the wild--hunting, trapping, fishing, egg-gathering--are limited by animal migration, hibernation, and ice and snow conditions. In some situations, plants may literally be all there is to eat.

Third, despite the common view that edible wild plants, especially out in nature itself during the winter, quickly lose their taste and nutrition, in fact there are many ways--natural ones--to prepare and store them to preserve their values.

So, while enjoying the wild, why not gather your winter plant food at the same time?

Some principles

If you follow just a few principles, stored wild plants rival any fresh food in terms of taste, nutrition, shelf-life, and so on.

* Time your foraging for maximum nutritional and other values. For instance, gather the roots of biennials in the late fall of their first year when they're biggest--when nature has just finished supplying them with all the necessary nutrients to survive the coming winter. Likewise, pick leaves just before flowering for most nutrition.

* To reduce spoilage, gather fruits directly from the trees and not from the ground, and nuts as soon as possible after they drop.

* Store the material as whole as possible. The less the processing, the better the preservation.

* You can use organic protection for your stored plants. Pack the material with natural preservatives, like antibiotic essential oils as in mints, and store in containers that repel plant-eating pests, like cedar bowls, to reduce losses. (So, when studying any plant in the field, note whether it has any insect damage; if not, it might be a good storage protector against the pests. And so on.) In fact, many such preservatives are valuable food sources in their own right (say, honey) (see Buhner, 1999). (Table 1 offers several such possibilities gathered from personal experience and that of other wild crafters.)

* By cleaning both plants and containers thoroughly before storing, the chances of deterioration are reduced.

* Store each plant separately to avoid mixing flavors. Especially store fruits and vegetables separately, lest the former spoil the latter.

* Pack in sturdy containers (say, clay pots, glass jars) in a cool, dark, dry, low-lying, and well-protected space to reduce loss.

* Label containers with expected date of expiration.

* Eat the earliest-gathered material before the later-gathered, and the fastest-deteriorating food before the longer-lasting. For example, leaves, flowers, and fruits rarely last more than six months, whereas roots and seeds can last up to three years. Dock seeds have been found buried in ancient Egyptian tombs, whereupon exposure to water caused them to sprout!

* Whenever possible, consume the water used to store and cook the material, since it contains valuable nutrients that have leached out of the plants. For this reason, soups and stews are the ideal dishes.

In this article I omit most of the common civilized ways of storing food (canning, brewing, fermenting, juicing), since they're well-known and involve a lot of work, ideal conditions, much equipment and materials, and so on. Instead, I focus on simpler, easier, less costly, and more natural methods, namely "nature's fridge," freezing (including "cold caching" and "forcing"), drying (including "sanding"), and pickling. I concentrate on the plants of the U.S. northeast, while paying special attention to those commonly found across North America (say, dandelions).

A natural selection

Which plants should the beginning forager, who has a day job and limited time and energy, start working with? Some species are far more amenable to winter storage than others.

I decided to find out by scoring the plants I've enjoyed in winter on 23 criteria comprising a variety of factors, including nutrition (for instance, abundance on the landscape), ecology (non-threatened species), conservation of energy (ease of preparation), economics (monetary cost), convenience (seasonal availability), health (value for winter ailments), enjoyment (taste and texture), flexibility (ways to store effectively), and other applications (non-food uses). The criteria, with examples of less and more useful plants, are shown in Table 2.

For example, one criterion is taste and texture, which matter a lot, even in a critical starvation predicament. Your body benefits little if it rejects a nutritious--but vile-tasting--plant. For example, I've yet to find a way to eat stored fern fiddleheads without a grimace--they're horrible dried or frozen, and worse pickled. Other plants, in contrast, like bee balm, taste wonderful even after months of storage.

Another criterion is suitability for the special physical problems posed by winter, such as protection against hypothermia (say, stimulants that warm and increase peripheral circulation such as mullein); immunity from colds and flu (anti-virals like elderberry); richness in protein, given limited animal sources (such as cattail pollen); and high concentration of vitamin D, given reduced sunshine (such as nettles).

Using this list, I scored each plant on each criterion from 1 (lowest) to 3 (highest). For example, seaweeds received a score of 2 on geographical range, since they can be found on both coasts but not in the interior. I then added the numbers for every plant, which resulted in a final score for each ranging from lowest (23 or all 1's) to highest (69 or all 3's). The "premium plants"--those receiving the top 15 scores--are listed in Table 3.

The winner, perhaps not surprisingly, is the cattail, the famed "supermarket of the wild." It scores high on almost all criteria, such as geographical range (widespread), food parts (rhizome, corms, shoots, reproductive spikes, pollen), ways to store (dry pollen, pickled shoots, frozen spikes), and so on. The runner-up, again not surprisingly, is the much despised--but amazingly versatile--dandelion.

Unexpectedly, though, goldenrod and coltsfoot ranked very high. Goldenrod leaves and seeds store nicely, the leaves can be used in soups or as a tea, and the galls can be pickled for an appetizer treat. Coltsfoot flowers can be frozen for stews, roots boiled with honey for a dry candy, and leaves dried for tea, soup, or tobacco for respiratory problems.

Also making the list are day lily, a much underestimated food source (although the Chinese know better), which can be used as a dried condiment (flowers) and delicious pickles (tubers and shoots). The seeds of amaranth and lambs quarters, of course, are ancient grains for porridge or soup thickener, while the leaves are highly nutritious veggies. Nettles store very well, and have so many medicinal values that I once heard a world-famous herbalist advise, "When in doubt, prescribe nettles."

Finally, elderberries are a powerful anti-viral against winter colds and other ailments (think: bird flu, for which there's no effective vaccine as yet). Mints, sassafras, and wild strawberry are always tasty, eaten whole (leaves or berries) or brewed as a tea (leaves or root bark). Plantain seeds are abundant and store well. And seaweeds are packed with nutritional and health benefits, making excellent additions, chopped or powdered, to soups and stews. (Also receiving high scores but not listed are, in ranked order: mushrooms; Japanese knotweed; jewelweed; wild carrot; chicory; prickly pear; blackberry; blueberry; violets; acorns; marsh marigold; thistle; wild apples; burdock; leeks; wintercress; and milkweed.)

A variety of storage containers can be used, from glass jars to underground pits. You can make natural ones out of bark (baskets, nets), rawhide, coal-burned wood, and so on.

Which storage method?

Which storage method is best? In Table 4 I've listed a number of criteria, including financial cost, storage space, and so on, and judged each method on each. For example, with respect to monetary cost, according to one study using supermarket food, drying is far cheaper ($24.29 per 500 lbs. of food) than either canning or freezing ($31.00 and $81.17), while also proving superior for retaining nutritional value (Excalibur/KBI, 1999).

Clearly, "nature's fridge"--just going outside during the winter and gathering the plant in its natural state--ranks as the best method. Except for the extra labor involved in gathering (bundling up in warm clothes, trudging through the snow, trying to find the plants, and breaking through icy substrate), your best bet is to do nothing--let nature do the storing for you.

Drying (naturally, not with a commercial dryer) clearly ranks second, with freezing and pickling trailing far behind. Drying may be done almost anywhere. It requires no pots or pans or fuel for cooking; no ice or electricity or plastic bags for freezing; no vinegar or salt or large bulky containers for pickling; and so on. The greatly reduced moisture allows for very safe storage, and you don't have to deal with the possibility of pickled mush or freezer burn. For the backpacker, of course, dried food makes for minimal weight and volume. Shelf life too is optimal, with leaves and flowers lasting up to one year, and roots, barks, and seeds up to three. And you don't have to worry about power crashes or broken and leaky jars. Clearly, nature's fridge and drying should top your list of best storing methods.

Nature's fridge

So, why work hard to store food in your shelter--and take up valuable space there--when nature can do it for you? Just go out and forage--you'll get the benefits of fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and no bugs at all. You'll also get relief from the boredom, "seasonal affective disorder," and "cabin fever" of winter.

A fair amount of plant food remains available in the winter wild for the hungry forager (see Table 5). Let's start with "nature's antifreeze"--the constituents in evergreen boughs, which make for wonderful teas. Try pine, spruce, fir, hemlock (the tree, not the stalked plant), cedar, and juniper (make sure of identification--the yew, for example, is toxic). Use the boughs right after you bring them home (recall the needles under your Christmas tree). Just toss a handful of sprigs into boiling water and let seep for a warming brew.

Some of the same trees can yield edible inner barks (an acquired taste, I admit) that's easy to remove in late winter and early spring when the sap is running. Here the animals can help--they know exactly when a plant source provides the most nutrition. (Never use animals to determine edibility; many eat plants toxic to humans.) I look for sapling trunks recently foraged upon by whitetails in early spring.

Acorns may still be available beneath oaks--deciduous trees that retain some of their leaves (as well as acorn caps) in the winter, so just look up for brown leaves rustling in the wind. In early spring, of course, you can tap maple and birch trees for sap to make syrup.

You can also find dried and frozen fruits still on their stems--remember that sour fruits may turn sweeter after the first frost. Frozen persimmons, for example, are delicious. I've eaten highbush cranberries well into March.

Lichens may also be found on the ground or trees. Also, don't discount small seeds. I've eaten plantain seeds still on their stems in January. A tasty treat as well is brooklime, a plant used much like watercress, that can be seen atop icy waters. You can look under the snow for hardy greens like wild strawberry leaves. Even some delicate greens like bedstraw persist well into winter.

Also available may be the dormant roots of biennials, waiting for the spring to start their second year's growth. These roots have stored up a lot of nutrition for the coming year. Look for tall stalk "flags" of old second-year-growth plants. Or, mark the sites in the fall before snowfall, then cover with a thick layer of grasses and leaves. They can then be dug up just after snowmelt and ground--thaw. Even the old second-year root may have some survival nutrition left.

You can also search for Jerusalem artichokes, cattail rhizomes, and other nutritious subterraneans. Sometimes a distinctive "clearing" or other sign marks the site on the landscape.

Realize too, of course, that in the previous spring you could have planted edibles for your flower garden, then harvested the food results this winter. They're close by, and you know exactly where they are. Day lilies, roses, and Jerusalem artichokes are beautiful--and delicious--an emergency larder right outside your door.


You can also store in your home freezer. Use high-quality plastic freezer (not sandwich) bags with zipper-seal tops, or plastic or glass containers. The disadvantages of freezing, of course, are appliance and electricity costs, freezer burn, loss of nutrients, and the ever-present possibility of power failure.

More primitively, in the fall you can "cold-cache" the plant food by digging a "cold-storage root cellar" outside, lined and covered with stones, grasses, leaves, and soil. Put the plant food in baskets or lay directly into the pit. Another possibility is simply laying the food on grasses, then covering it with a high mound of debris. Don't wash the plant material--just remove the unwanted parts, then brush clean. Leave a small piece of the stem attached to the tops of roots. Experts recommend several small caches rather than a single huge one, so that all the food can be removed at once without the need to repack.

The cache sites should be cold, semi-humid, ventilated, dark, well-drained on high ground, and close to your shelter, with the food likely to spoil first placed near the top. Pack materials loosely, store fruits and vegetables separately, and layer with bark or other separations. Cover the site with grasses, or better, insect-and rodent-repelling plants, and very large slabs of rock or bark that can act as roofs, deter small critter-marauders, and allow for easy retrieval. Mark the site well with a tall sign lest the food get lost under heavy snow. Alaskan natives, for example, stored containers of food in the frozen tundra for winter dining--a "natural deep freeze." Food in such caches has been known to last for decades (Hobson, 1981; Storey Communications, 1978).

Another cold-storage possibility is "forcing"--bringing soil and dug-up roots into your shelter in the fall after the first frost, and growing the plants in containers in the dark with nothing more than an occasional watering. Don't be surprised to see the leaves blanched--that is, your greens suddenly looking white (without light the leaves don't turn green with chlorphyll). Wildcrafters have had success with roots of nettles, wild rhubarb, poke, dandelion, chicory, violet, plantain, and mint in these "wild winter gardens."

Prior to the storage of plants in your freezer, materials should be well cleaned, cut into small pieces, patted dry, and placed in small containers for easy retrieval. Some edible plants with toxic principles (say, marsh marigold, milkweed) should first be boiled in changes of water. Remember that water expands upon freezing, so leave a little room at the tops of containers. Eat immediately after thawing.

Most plants lend themselves to freezing quite well (see Table 6). High-fat materials like pine nuts and acorns might be frozen, as well as berries without skins (say, strawberries, raspberries). Soft, overripe fruits can be juiced, then put in ice cube trays for winter popsicles. Plants that make wonderful teas but lose their oomph upon drying (say, cleavers) can also be so "popsicled." Shelled and leached acorns freeze well, as do most thick and succulent greens such as sedum and wintercress.

But I've gotten poor results freezing wild parsnips and evening primrose roots--tough and stringy would be the best descriptors. I've also seen strawberry leaves turn brown. Coltsfoot leaves and flowers proved disappointing, as did hawthorn haws and partridgeberries.


Drying is best for nuts with shells, fruits with skins, as well as thin leaves and stalks. The plants with which I've had the best results are shown in Table 7.

On the other hand, I've had singular lack of success drying some parts of certain species. I've seen leeks shrivel to nothing, and fail to rehydrate into any meaningful shape. Mushroom stems turn to nails, almost endangering one's teeth (freezing produces much better results). Leaves of cinquefoil, ground ivy, plantain, and cleavers lose any semblance of flavor and so, presumably, nutritional and medicinal value. Dried dandelion leaves, as well as mayweed, goutweed, Canada mayflower, and clammy everlasting, leave much to be desired. I've had aster leaves turn brown, and those of dame's rocket turn yellow. Wild grapes have dried into nothing resembling raisins, and chokecherries always seem to collect mold (juicing these fruits, I think, is the way to go, although Indians ate a lot of dried chokecherry cakes).

For best results, forage when the weather is dry and the dew has disappeared, especially after a few days of hot and rainless weather. Don't gather acorns with holes in the shells--weevils are busy at work inside. Upon arrival home, prepare the plants for drying immediately lest wilting, molding, and other problems arise.

Prepare the material in a warm, dark, dry, and well-ventilated space, especially during a period of hot and dry weather, since nutrients, flavor, and texture are best preserved if drying is fast. Realize that aquatic plants, such as horsetail, may require longer time to dry.

Experiment with drying outside and inside. If outside, you can spread the material on the ground, or hang from branches or horizontal tripod racks suspended over fire coals. Be sure that the temperature is hot and humidity low; that the material is in the shade but exposed to the south and a breeze, and covered by some porous material like cheesecloth, newspaper, mosquito netting, or door-screen; and that the plants are brought in every night.

If inside, dry the material as high in your shelter as possible (say, an attic)--remember, heat rises, and the plants won't be under foot. Try clothes hangers and hooks, collapsible hat racks, nails, threads strung along your fireplace, and so on. If you dry on the floor, put materials in line with open doors, windows, and heating vents, and turn over every day.

Long stalks of leaves are best bound together at their bases, then hung upside down from branches or nails, or from cords strung in between them. Tighten the bindings every few days, since the stalks will shrink upon drying, or use rubber bands. Seaweeds can simply be draped over cordage "clotheslines." Loose leaves like dock can be put in paper bags and shook daily. Dry any catnip stalks well away from cats, especially if you live in an African village.

Experts agree that microwaving is a bad idea. The machine can be damaged, and the plants may well wind up burnt on the outside and moist on the inside. A 150[degrees]F oven with door ajar, however, produces good results for many. A commercial food dryer is expensive but does the job well. Some foragers dry their plants under the rear window of their car that is facing south with the other windows open.

If cutting is necessary, make the parts the same size so their drying rates are the same. Be sure to remove all unwanted parts before drying, since shriveling and curling can mask a host of defects. Thick roots should be cut lengthwise, right after gathering, for fastest drying speed.


Nuts should first be husked, then stored whole and shelled just before eating. Or, they can be shelled right away and parched in a large frying pan, or on flat smooth stones propped next to a campfire. Smaller seeds are also best preserved and palatable after roasting. Parched dock seeds, for example, are surprisingly tasty. The roasted nuts and seeds can then be stored, or further ground up into flour.

Large fresh fruits like apples can be sliced thin, dipped in citric acid and salt, then dried on a horizontal thread. Smaller fruits can be dried as is, and the smaller they are, the faster and better the drying. Elderberries, for example, dry well right on the umbel (if you remove the berries first, mold can form where the skins have broken). For soft overripe fruits, and those without skins, you can make fruit leather by crushing, straining out the seeds, and spreading the puree over large, flat, smooth rocks next to a fire. Turn the material several times so both sides dry well, then roll up for storage.

Lichens can be soaked overnight, boiled, then dried. Mushroom tops can be dried, gills down, on plastic door-screen stretched between wooden slats, which then can be stacked to save space. Put cloth or newspaper underneath the slats unless you want spore print designs on your floor or carpet. Some roots, like sweetflag and wild ginger, can be boiled in honey (a natural preservative), then dried for winter candy.


Put the material into storage containers on a hot dry day. Avoid packing too tight--I like to think of the residual moisture needing space to exhale. If leaves are on thick stalks, strip them off (called "garbling") and compost the stalks. I've ruined many a good leaf that remained on a thick stalk still moist inside. If leaves are stored in glass jars, check after a few days for condensation inside. If present, remove the plants and try re-drying. If you pack in jars, remove any cardboard inside the lids, which tends to keep moisture. You might also try topping the jars with cotton, or absorbent leaves of mullein, elecampane, or similar fuzzy species. Nuts in the shell are best stored in porous containers, such as bags of paper, parfleche, leather, netting, or cloth. Put all storage containers in a cool, dry, dark space.

Another possibility for dry storage is "sanding"--simply layering the material, especially roots, in large containers of sand in your shelter. This works very well for roots of dandelion, Chicory, burdock, and wild parsnip. Don't be put off by the shriveling--rehydrate for a day and the roots will return more or less to normal. I've also heard of similar "sawdusting"--if you have a lot of pileated woodpeckers near you, this may be easy to pull off in a purely "abo" way.

When ready to use, test for quality with the vision test (looks fresh), touch test (feels crispy, crumbly, leathery), and sniff test (smells fruity, rooty, nutty, herby). Rehydration is fastest if pieces are cut very small and boiled in water.

You can consume the dried plants in many ways. Leaves, lichens, nuts, and seeds can be pulverized to thicken soups and stews. Crushed and powdered sumac berries make a delicious "Indian lemonade," dessert topping, or after-dinner smoking tobacco. Powdered seaweed serves as a nice salty condiment. Dried seeds can be ground into flour. Tiny seeds like lambs quarters can be mixed with cream-of-wheat or other hot cereal. Some ground-up roots like chicory and dandelion make excellent "coffees." Some dried leaves, such as coltsfoot and mullein, make excellent recreational or medicinal tobaccos. Others, like goldenrod, can be ground into a "parsley" for sprinkling over spaghetti, granola, porridge, fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, and so on. Still others can be cut into flakes for a dried soup mix.


Pickling is a much underrated method, requiring only vinegar with a 5-6% acid content (ordinary apple cider vinegar does fine) poured to about a third of a container's volume, natural non-iodized salt (a couple tablespoons per quart), and boiled water up to the top of the container. You can experiment with making your own vinegar from wild apples, cider, or wine (see Mindell and Johns, 1999; Proulx, 1980; Romanowski and Larrow, 1999). You can also try seaweeds for salt (which you can also eat as "pickles from the sea," which are surprisingly tasty if a bit slimey).

Prickly pears

For added safety and taste, you can add the anti-microbial herbs listed in Table 1 (just like using dill with cucumber pickles), or honey, maple sap or syrup, or other natural sweetener. Just make sure the containers and plants have been well cleaned and boiled for safety (see U.S. FDA, 2003). Store in a cool, dark, low place (remember, cold sinks).

The pickles will last until spring if not longer. In fact, one crate of pickles that sank on a Mississippi steamboat proved fresh and tasty after 132 years of "cold storage" in "Davy Jones' Locker." Just be prepared for some strange colors (recall how supermarket pickles look different from cucumbers).

Many plants are excellent pickled (see Table 8). Dandelion roots are wonderfully crisp and succulent, and lose their bitter taste. Marsh marigold flower buds are also very tasty, but a bit mushy. Evening primrose roots too are delicious, even after losing some of their peppery taste and radish-like flavor. You're also bound to enjoy the crispy, tangy taste of pickled day lily shoots and tubers. Cattail shoots are positively delicious. After eating the wild pickles, save the vinegar to spice up boring salads, soups, and other fare.

I've gotten far less successful results with other plants. Burdock roots turned out sandpapery, while chicory roots kept their horribly bitter taste. Redbud flowers produced a soggy texture and horrible color. Sedum tubers turned to mush.

Bon appetit

Upon consuming, be creative. Many people complain about the bitterness and other features of wild plants, but this only reveals their unwillingness to experiment. Bitter roots like sweetflag, for example, can be boiled in honey and dried for a delicious candy snack. You can put less tasty greens into a blender with yogurt for a wild green smoothie, boil them with a single--very inexpensive--bouillon cube for a delicious soup, or cut them into small pieces and mix with tastier plants in scrambled eggs and so on. They can also be powdered and sprinkled lightly over hot dishes.

You can even make that paragon of supermarket pseudo-nutrition--Jell-O--work for you. I've enjoyed, without so much as a grimace, some of the bitterest herbal teas on the planet--gentian, wormwood, and the like--made with this dessert. I didn't believe it till I tried it. Trust me on this--your sugar-junkie kids will thank you later (the idea is herbalist James Green's [2000:230-232]).

In the beginning, you can just substitute wild for supermarket food. In the end, though, you may want to serve this complete winter meal. Open with an appetizer like pickled stalks of Japanese knotweed or shoots of cattail. Go on to a steaming bowl of nettle soup, followed by a salad of sedum, dandelion, jewelweed, and violet leaves, topped with apple cider vinegar and parched dock seeds. Continue with a stir-fry of burdock root, then a dessert of blackberries covered with maple syrup. Top it all off with a hot cup of dandelion root coffee, while you enjoy a relaxing smoke of mullein leaf tobacco.

But I've only showed you some of the ways to store wild plants. You can also try fermenting (soaking succulent plants in salt water)--dock leaf "sauerkraut," anybody? You can also try cultivating "mushroom logs" in your shelter--just keep them wet and warm. You can also make fruit jams and jellies using honey, maple syrup, or molasses.

So, here's a challenge. See if you can replace 20% of your civilized diet during November-March with wild plants. Then next year try for 30%. And so on.

Bon appetit.

Resources on food storage

Ball Corporation. N.d. Ball Blue Book of Preserving. Muncie, IN: Alltrista Consumer Products.

Bingham, Riota, and Esther Dickey. 1999. Passport to Survival: 12 Steps to Self-Sufficient Living. Edmond, OK: Natural Meals.

* Bubal, Mike, and Nancy Bubel. 1991. Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables. North Adams, MA: Storey.

Buhner, Stephen. 1999. Herbal Antibiotics. Pownal, VT: Storey.

* Chadwick, Janet. 1995. Busy Person's Guide to Preserving Food. Pownal, VT: Storey.

Chesman, Andrea. 2002. Pickles and Relishes. North Adams, MA. Storey.

* Chioffi, Nancy, Gretchen Mead, and Linda Thompson. 1991. Keeping the Harvest: Preserving Your Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs. Pownal, VTG: Storey.

Coleman, Eliot. 1999. Keeping Food Fresh: Old World Techniques and Recipes. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.

Costenbader, Carol. 1999. Food Drying Techniques. Pownal, VT: Storey Communications.

* Costenbader, Carol W. 2002. Big Book of Preserving the Harvest. North Adams, MA: Storey.

DeLong, Deanna. 1992. How to Dry Foods. New York: HPBooks.

Dickey, Esther. 1993. Skills for Survival: How Families Can Prepare. Bountiful, UT: Horizon.

* Eastman, Wilbur. 1975. Canning, Freezing, Curing, and Smoking of Meat, Fish, and Game. Pownal, VT: Storey, VT.

Excalibur/KBI. 1999. Preserve It Naturally II: The Complete Guide to Food Dehydration. Sacramento, CA.

Green, James. 2000. Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook: A Home Manual. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press.

Gullett, Walt, and Jane Gullett. 1981. Everyone's Guide to Food Self-Sufficiency. Happy Camp, CA: Naturegraph.

Hertzberg, Ruth, Beatrice Vaughan, and Janet Greene. 1975. Putting Food By. Brattleboro, VT: Stephen Greene.

Hobson, Phyllis. 1981. Build Your Own Underground Root Cellar. Pownal, VT: Storey Communications.

* Hobson, Phyllis. 1994. Making and Using Dried Foods. North Adams, MA: Storey.

Holm, Don, and Mytrle Holm. 1996. Food Drying, Pickling, and Smoke Curing. Caldwell, ID: Caxton.

Kaysing, Bill, and Ruth Kaysing. 1996. Eat Well for 99 Cents a Meal. Port Townsend, WA: Loompanics.

Kerr Group. N.d. Home Canning and Freezing Book. Jackson, TN.

Macmaniman, Gen. 1973. Dry It--You'll Like It. Fall City, WA. Self-published.

McTague, Imogene. 1980. Jams, Jellies, and Preserves. 1980. Pownal, VT: Storey Communications.

Mindell, Earl, and Larry Johns. 1999. Amazing Apple Cider Vinegar. Los Angeles: Keats.

Neff, Bernice. 1984. Let's Dry It. Blaine, WA: Hancock House.

Peterson, Marlene. 1998. Marlene's Magic with Food Storage. N.p. Self-published.

Proulx, Annie. 1980. Making the Best Apple Cider. Pownal, VT: Storey Communications.

Romanowski, Frank, and Mark Larrow. 1999. Making Vinegar at Home. Northampton, MA: Beer and Winemaking Supplies.

Schufer, Vicki. 1997. "Winter Foraging." Wilderness Way 3, 4 (Winter):35-38.

Stevens, James. 1998. Don't Get Caught with Your Pantry Down. Austin, TX: Historical Publications.

Stoner, Carol. 1977. Stocking Up: How to Preserve the Foods You Grow, Naturally. Emmaus, PA: Rodale.

Storey Communications. 1978. Cold Storage for Fruits and Vegetables. Pownal, VT.

Survival Press. N.d. Food Storage for Survival. E1 Dorado, AR: Delta.

U.S. FDA. 2003. Preventing Foodborne Illness. Washington, D.C.: Publication No. 03-1300.

* These titles are available from the Countryside Bookstore. 1-800-551-5961

Biographical note

Dr. David Kowalewski is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies at Alfred University, where he has taught courses on Wild Edible Plants, Wildlife Tracking, and related topics. His articles on wild plants have appeared in Educational Research Quarterly, Green Teacher, and elsewhere. He is the author of Deep Power: The Political Ecology of Wilderness and Civilization (Nova Science, 2000).



Table 1. Natural preservatives for storing wild plants.


Salt, honey, sugar, vinegar, alcohol, citrus juice.


Antibiotics: hops, allspice, cloves, mace, cinnamon, cardamom,
paprika, chilies, nutmeg, turmeric, vanilla, bamboo, thyme, garlic,
onion, oregano, juniper, tarragon, cumin, lemongrass, rosemary,
marjoram, mustard, bay, sage, fennel, coriander, dill, basil,
eucalyptus, parsley, tobacco, yarrow.

Anti-fungals (vs. mold or mildew): eucalyptus, alfalfa, thyme,
crowberry, red cedar, coltsfoot, usnea, garlic, angelica, club
moss, tansy.

Anti-insects: wood-smoking, white fire-ashes, fleabane, black pepper,
cloves, sagebrush, cedar, birch bark, fir, elder, chokecherry,
pineapple weed, bay, eucalyptus, pennyroyal, mints, catnip, tansy.

Anti-oxidants: tannins, vitamins C and E, plantain chicory, heal-all,
huckleberries, haws, grapes.

Anti-rodents: walnut leaves, sagebrush, peppermint, cedar, juniper,
Labrador tea, mints, birch.

Anti-mice: spearmint.

Anti-rats: catnip.

Table 2. Criteria of desirability for winter storage of wild
plant species.

 Non-threatened species (wild ginger vs. chicory)
 Environmental impact (root vs. leaf)
 Invasive species (wintergreen vs. purple loosestrife)
 Unavailability in winter (Jerusalem artichoke vs. nettle)
 Seasonal availability (aster vs. dandelion)
 Geographical range (day lily vs. wild asparagus)
 Abundance at a site (agrimony vs. violet)
 Winter value [tonic, anti-viral, fat, protein, vitamin D]
 (strawberry vs. elderberry)
 Ease of gathering (burdock root vs. sedum tuber)
 Ease of preparation (thistle vs. dandelion leaves)
 Cost [containers, electricity, menstra, and so on] (Japanese knotweed
 vs. dandelion)
 Edible parts (elderberry vs. wild strawberry)
 Amount of food [weight and volume] (violet vs. dock leaves)
 Nutritional value (wild lettuce vs. cattail)
 Safety [toxic look-alikes, contraindications] (wild carrot vs. lambs
 Taste and texture [personal and wildcrafter consensus] (mountain ash
 vs. raspberry)
 Food uses [appetizer, soup, salad, stir-fry, potherb, and so on] (bee
 balm vs. nettles)
 Ways to store (fleabane vs. day lily)
 Natural preservative [see Table 1] (dandelion vs. mint)
 Storability [maintenance of color, texture, taste, aroma] (coltsfoot
 flower vs. day lily)
 Storage space (wild apple vs. elderberry)
 Shelf-life (dandelion vs. clock leaves)
 Other uses [medicinal, cosmetic, craftal, insect repelling, and so
 on] (chicory vs. mullein)

Table 3. Top 15 list of
wild plants for winter

Score Plant
62 cattail
61 dandelion
61 coltsfoot
61 mints
61 goldenrod
60 dock
59 nettles
59 amaranth
59 elder
58 lambs quarters
57 day lily
57 wild .strawberry
57 plantain
56 sassafras
55 seaweed

Table 4. Criteria for judging storage methods.

Criterion Nature's Fridge Drying Pickling Freezing

Gathering labor high average average average
Preparation labor none low high average
Nutritional value high high low average
Financial cost very low low high high
Storage space none low high high
Safety high high risky average
Shelf life average very long average short
Storage loss low average average high
Flavor and texture high high average average
Portability weight none very low very high high
Portability volume none very low very high high

Table 5. Best plants in
"nature's fridge."

Subterraneans (A): arrowhead;
biennial first-year roots (B); cattail;
chicory; dandelion; day lily; Jerusalem
artichoke; sedum; sweetflag; thistle

Needle boughs: non-toxic evergreen
trees (C,T)

Lichen: reindeer moss

Leaves: bedstraw; brooklime;
chickweed; Labrador tea; partridgeberry
(T); watercress; wintercress;
wintergreen (T)

Fruits: barberry; bearberry; cranberry;
crowberry; highbush cranberry;
juniper; mountain ash; nannyberry;
persimmon; rosehip; sumac; wild

Seeds/Nuts: acorns; dock; plantain

Sap (D): maple; birch

Inner bark (D): edible evergreen
trees (C)

Key: Italics: excellent color, taste,
and texture, according to personal
preference and other wildcrafters' consensus.
A--roots, rootstocks, rhizomes,
tubers, corms. B--say, burdock; these
might be found next to dead second-year
stalks of the previous year. C--say,
pine; D--late winter or early spring;
T--normally used only as a tea.

Table 6. Best plants for

Subterraneans: burdock; cattail;
chicory; dandelion; garlic; leeks;
sweetflag; wild onion

Spring shoots: cattail; day lily;
Japanese knotweed

Stems/stalks: milkweed (E);
mushroom stems; thistles (F); wild

Leaves: amaranth; aster; daisy;
dame's rocket; dandelion; dock;
field pennycress; garlic mustard;
heal-all; Japanese knotweed; jewelweed;
lambs quarters; leek; mallow;
marsh marigold (E); milkweed
(E); prickly pear (F); sedum; sow
thistle; wild lettuce; wild mustard;
wintercress (T)

Reproductive spikes: cattail

Buds/flowers: day lily; heal-all;
milkweed (E); rose; wintercress

Fruit: barberry; blackberry; blueberry
(including bilberry, huckleberry);
elderberry; mountain ash;
mulberry; prickly pear (F); wild raspberry;
sumac (G); wild strawberry

Juice (H): wild apple; black
cherry; chokecherry; highbush
cranberry; sumac (G); wild grape

Seedpods: milkweed (E)

Seeds/nuts: acorn (E); pine nut

Key: E--boil in 1-2 changes
of water first. F--remove spines
and glochids first. G--make juice
with cold water. H: for ice-cube
popsicles, purees, and sauces.

Table 7. Best plants for drying.

Subterraneans: blackberry (T); cattail (I); chicory; coltsfoot;
dandelion; burdock; sassafras (T); sweetflag; wild ginger; wild

Leaves: amaranth; bee balm (T); bird-foot trefoil; blackberry;
black-eyed Susan (T); blueberry; blue vervain (T); catnip (T);
chickweed; coltsfoot; dock; fleabane (T); ginkgo (T); garlic
mustard; golden ragwort (T); goldenrod; green-headed coneflower
(T); hedge bindweed (T); comfrey; hemp nettle (T); horsetail (T);
Japanese knotweed; mallow; marsh marigold; melilot (T); mints;
motherwort (T); mugwort (T): mullein (T); nettles (J); pearly
everlasting (T); prickly pear; purple loosestrife (T); raspberry;
sassafras; seaweed; sheep sorrel; turtlehead (T); vervain (T); violet;
wild basil; wild strawberry; yarrow (T)

Lichen: reindeer moss (K)

Flowers/tops/buds: clover; daylily; honeysuckle (T); mushrooms (L)

Pollen: cattail

Fruit: barberry; bearberry; blueberry; cranberry; currant; elderberry;
haw; juniper; serviceberry; sumac; wild apple (M); wild cherry; wild
plum; wild raisin

Seeds/nuts/grains/pods/keys: amaranth; acorn (N); bulrush; dock;
fennel; goldenrod; hazel; hickory; lambs quarters; maple; nettles;
peppergrass; plantain; reed; sunflower; walnuts; wild carrot; wild

Key: I--peel rhizome, dry well, then eat soon to avoid mold. J--stings
are removed upon drying (after 24-48 hours) or boiling. K--soak 24
hours, boil, dry, grind to powder. L--dry the tops, gills down, on
screens and store in cloth or paper bags. M--slice thin, dip in sumac
juice, and dry on hung thread; or puree then dry as "leather." N--in
shells in mesh bags, or ground-up as flour.

Table 8. Best plants for pickling.

Subterraneans: dandelion; day lily;
evening primrose; leek; wild carrot;
wild parsnip.

Spring shoots: day lily; cattail;
Japanese knotweed.

Galls: goldenrod.

Buds/flowers: dandelion; day lily;
marsh marigold (E); milkweed (E).
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Title Annotation:Foraging
Author:Kowalewski, David
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Sep 1, 2007
Previous Article:What can an inventive couple do with old pipes? Plenty!
Next Article:Gourds: for homesteaders and gardeners.

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