Common Wild Foods

by Pat Veretto

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Rose hip tea. Purslane casserole. Dandelion salad. Daylily fritters. Those are just a few free or almost free foods you can enjoy from the wild or from your back yard. Even a small container will grow enough wild or easily grown vegetables and seeds to supplement your food budget.

When you plant a garden, you're instructed to plant seeds a number of inches or feet apart to give the plants plenty of room to grow and to make weeding easier. You plant them in rows or blocks the appropriate depth and then you water and wait.

There's an easier way if you eat from natural sources. Most "weeds" grow easily even in small pots, reseed themselves whether they're perennials or annuals, and need nothing more than an occasional rain. They can grow densely and thin themselves, following the idea of the survival of the fittest. Now, if I said that about a vegetable or grain, wouldn't you be interested? I just did.

All of the vegetables and grains we grow (fruits and nuts, too, but that's for a different discussion) came from wildlings to begin with. Cultivation (meaning watering during dry periods, removing competing plants, and hand seeding bare areas) made harvest more easily manageable. Some say it made harvest surer, but that can be questioned, as we shall see.

Weeds are the forerunners of our garden foods, both flowers and vegetables, as well as grain, fruit and nuts. As time went along, people chose the "best" seed to carry on the garden. I say "best" because the biggest and tastiest is not the best in the eyes of nature. The biggest and tastiest attracts animals who then eat the vegetable, sometimes before the seed is mature. That stops the plant from propagating.

Smaller fruits with harder skins or rinds fare much better and can fall near the roots of the parent plant, creating a thicket or stand of plants, which is a natural event in a natural world. This stand of the same kind of plants isn't in rows and it doesn't get hoed or weeded. It gets beaten by the wind, watered by the rain and warmed or scorched by the sun. The stands tend to be small unless they're undisturbed for a long time and then the centers, or older areas, are usually unproductive.

What does all this have to do with frugal food sources? Everything. Garden vegetables take much more care from germination to harvest than their wild counterparts do. Wild foods tend to be tastier but sometimes harder to harvest. Wild foods are free. Free is frugal.

If you're up to a little experimenting, try giving an edible weed patch a little tender loving care. Water it when the weather is dry, put a little mild fertilizer on it and pull a few competing plants to allow them room to grow.

No, don't let your garden go to the weeds. You no doubt have a bigger variety of food in your garden than in a local weed patch, so go ahead and grow your vegetables, too.

Don't despair if you don't have a yard or area where you can let the weeds grow. All you have to find is one plant alongside the road and you can harvest the seed and grow "weeds" in a container. Don't eat the plant you found along the road. It's not safe, but if you harvest the seeds and plant them, they'll be fine. Most will happily grow on the windowsill or any sunny place in the house. (Be prepared for some odd looks and questions!)

Which weeds? Start with one that lawn lovers hate: Dandelions. They're not only edible, but also they're good for you. Other edible "weeds" that are systematically removed from lawns are amaranth and clover. Look in the library or look them up on the Internet to find definitive images and descriptions.

It would be worth your time to go to your library and see what other wild edibles grow in your area. Some that you'll find now were cultivated at one time. Some were moved from their native habitat and escaped gardens to grow wild, competing with local plants. Some are still cultivated in different areas and some are specialty foods, even in your area.

Caution: Never eat anything you're not sure of, and never eat anything that grows along roads or highways because plants tend to absorb toxins from vehicle exhaust. Don't eat anything from an area that's been treated with chemicals like pesticides or herbicides.

Pat Veretto is a work-at-home grandmother who has homesteaded, homeschooled and happily lived frugally most of her life. She currently freelances.

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