Some people take great pride in their ability to ‘rough it’ out in the wilderness. Relying on your own skills and the land around you is a wonderful way to connect with beautiful natural settings. Traditional survivalists enjoy taking nothing more than can be carried as a backpack. Yet, traveling via RV in no way disqualifies you from an opportunity to enjoy nature in all her glorious beauty. Finding edible wildlife and eating local plants that are both safe and good for you is one of the most fun and personally challenging endeavors in nature-focused camping. Not sure where to start? Here’s a quick and helpful guide to several plants that you harvest on a hike and eat back at camp either raw or cooked.
You’re probably familiar with these very common flowering weeds. The bright yellow flowers and delightful seed balls they turn into are both easy to spot, and most people have been seeking them out for fun since childhood. They are great for wilderness eating because they can be found in such large quantities. While the entire plant is edible, the flowers are considered the best part. You’ll want to harvest them at the base of the flower just above the stem because of the bitterness of white sap in the stem. Flowers can be eaten raw or boiled into dandelion tea.
2) Coniferous Trees
No, we’re not suggesting you eat the tree itself. But, there are many parts of an evergreen that are both edible and tasty. Check the tips of branches and break off a few long green shoots. These have the same kind of enjoyable acidic taste that their unmistakable scent would suggest and can be safely eaten raw. Male pollen cones can also be edible and a few have been known to have a sweet flavor. Pine nuts, found inside cones, are also usually edible both raw and roasted over a camp fire.
3) Check the Brambles
Walking through forested areas, there are often fairly large thickets of thorny brambles. While you would normally steer clear, if you’re on an edibles scavenger hunt, thorns are a great sign that something delicious might be inside. The thorns are a plant’s way of keeping some of its tasty fruit for its own purposes. Blackberries and raspberries are the most common and delicious options to find among brambles.
A favorite of gardeners and adventurous children alike, honeysuckle also grows freely in the wild and likes to climb things. Honeysuckle can be easily identified by its very distinctive flowers. They are pale yellow or white and splay out with long protruding pollen stalks. To eat them, simply pick a flower, then pull the green nubbin off the bottom. This should produce a long white string that pulls out the back of the flower until a little droplet of deliciously sweet nectar pools at the base. This you can eat.
5) Oak Acorns
You may have been told a lot of conflicting things about acorns, but let’s clear up the myth. Acorns are not poisonous, but they are quite bitter due to an abundance of tannic acid that can give you a mild upset stomach if they’re not prepared correctly. The recommended way to eat them is to break open each acorn and soak the chunks of nut-meat inside in warm water. About once an hour, replace the water with a fresh batch. After a while, the bitterness will be gone and you’ll be left with tasty nuts.
Much like dandelions, purslane is often considered a virulent weed but it’s also incredibly edible. Gandhi himself once named purslanes as a favorite food. They grow low to the ground and have thick, fleshy leaves shaped like wide smooth paddles. When flowering, purslane feature little yellow flowers in the center that open for the sun. These plants have a distinctive sour flavor, if you like that, or can be boiled to remove it. They can be eaten in many ways, with stir fry being one of the more entertaining options. You can even pickle purslane.
7) Wild Mustard
If you’ve never eaten a wild mustard plant, now is your chance. Like broccoli, cabbage, kale, and turnips, mustard belongs to the brassica family of vegetables. Wild mustard is very common and is most easily identified by a bountiful supply of small yellow flowers atop a long somewhat ridgy stem. The leaves are jagged and, in most cases, are covered in small hairs. Yet, the entire plant can be eaten. Wild mustard leaves have a distinctively sharp flavor and can be used in recipes in place of spinach. The flowers can also be used to make homemade mustard.
8) Wood Sorrel
This is a beautiful and well-known edible plant with incredibly distinctive little white flowers. Wood sorrel flowers have five rounded white petals detailed with thin darker lines and a dark yellow center. It has been used as a medicine for centuries and contains a surprising amount of vitamin C. The thick roots can be boiled into a starchy snack that tastes a lot like potato.
9) Green Seaweed
Camping near the ocean? You can pluck fresh green seaweed from the ocean floor for a food eaten worldwide. To eat it, start by rinsing in fresh water to avoid consuming too much ocean residue. Seaweed can be safely eaten raw, but you could also hang it out to dry until it becomes nori, the dried green layer of many sushi rolls. You can also boil it into a soup if you’ve got a few other ingredients to work with.
Named for the distinctive purple color and peppery taste of the flowers, fireweed is hard to miss if you’re camping nearby. They grow on tall reddish stalks with slender layered leaves protruding up to where the flowers begin. The flowers themselves are small, bright purple, and grow in tall clusters topped with a spike of seeds. The leaves are best eaten when young and tender and even the stalk is edible. Both the flowers and seeds are known to taste somewhat like pepper and are therefore a great way to spice up your foraging adventure.
11) Cattails / Bullrush
If you’ve spent any time in moist freshwater regions, you’re probably familiar with the distinctive look of cattails. These tall stalks with long grassy leaves are topped with a cylindrical cluster of dark brown seeds. The stalks and roots can both be eaten raw or boiled, and the most delicious part is the stem closest to the root. In fact, the dark brown flower end can be eaten just like corn on the cob and has a reasonably corn-like taste.
Found covering fields and backyards all over the world, clover is absolutely edible. They can be eaten raw, boiled, sauteed, or prepared however you like your leafy greens. Even the white or red flowers can be eaten when they’re blooming. Like dandelions, they can be eaten raw, cooked, or dried and boiled into a lovely clover tea.
Many people love to spend time surrounded by nature and enjoy finding new and creative ways to connect to it. Perhaps you have a book of pressed wildflowers or have made collages from foraged leaves, but nothing gets you closer to nature than eating the things you find in the wild.
Contact us today to get on the road towards your next edible wildlife adventure!