This started as an article on foraging wild edible and medicinal plants. Then Schoeny asked about a “Wild Garden” on the SurvivalCache forum and my mind started asking questions: 1) Why do we just forage what has grown? 2) Why can’t we plant and harvest the very same plants we look for?
The two answers I came up with are:
1. We do not need to “find” the plants
2. We can help Mother Nature by planting these very plants to enhance our ability to “find” and harvest them when needed.
I hope this will help and I am NO expert at planting many of these plants myself. I have foraged several and have tried to reseed the area when I harvest the plants or wait until after nature has reseeded to try and preserve my “plot”.
I went back through my notes and books to find plants that are not only commonly found by me but are common in most of the United States (sorry to our Outside the United States Survivalists and Preppers) or have shown they will thrive in most soils and climates. This list and information is not all inclusive but I hope it will offer enough of a start to allow everyone to begin a “Wild Garden” and find other plants that can be added to their personal plots.
The Wild Garden
The basics with a wild garden are the same as any garden plot, we must find the plant/crops that will thrive in the natural soil conditions for our area or create conditions to allow the plants to grow. The great thing about planting in a forest is the natural compost that has been building for years. Many of the herbs and plants were abundant in the mature hardwood forests of the eastern United States and thrived in the natural order of flora cycles (germination, sprouting, living, dying, decomposing, nourishing the next crop). These plants have shown a hardiness to survive without man’s cultivation and the need for constant attention. Some of these plants were imported from Europe, Asia and Africa by the early settlers and colonists to be used for landscaping or grown to be a food source as they were in the “old” country. These plants are used for food or medical purposes and many work in both fields by utilizing the different parts of the plants or they are just multipurpose by “design”.
I will try and give a brief overview of the plant and it’s many uses, whether for food, medicine or both. On that note, remember to consult your healthcare provider to ensure no harm or death will be caused from taking herbal remedies. The information on health benefits are taken from different books published on the subject and they will be included at the end of the article. I cannot recommend enough to study several authors, including Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy’s website (www.doomandbloom.net) and cross reference the information to gain as much insight as possible. Also, field guides with pictures (color if possible) are extremely important to ensure you harvest the correct plant; you do not want Cicuta, known as Water Hemlock (extremely deadly) when trying to harvest water lily.
Amaranth is a great source of plant protein and has grain and vegetable varieties. The grains can be used to feed livestock, which will help add meat faster with the higher protein count and unlike corn, Amaranth is digestible for our ruminant friends. The grain varieties can be used in lieu of other grains for breads and desserts and the leaves can be used as an herb. Amaranth also has some medicinal properties which help with the blood cleansing and digestive systems.
Burdock is of great benefit and grows about anywhere there is sunlight, dirt and water. The roots can be dried and ground as a “healthy” coffee substitute, or peeled, boiled and eaten. The leaves and stems can also be eaten. Burdock is most useful for its medicinal properties. It was a commonly used antidote for many poisons and still is in use, along with helping as a blood purifier/cleanser, allergies, hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, skin rashes (including poison ivy/oak), and many other inflictions which can be common and debilitating in a survival situation.
Cattails (Typha) are probably one of the most essential “wild foods” we have. The young shoots, roots and even the tops are edible. The fluffy pollen tops can be harvested and used to make a nutritious “mush”, the roots can be cooked and eaten as a high starch energy potato substitute. They are also useful in weaving mats and thatching for shelter coverings.
Dandelions (Taraxacum) are also highly beneficial and they will grow anywhere (ask the homeowner who spends lots of money trying to eradicate them from their lawns). The blossoms when picked early can be fried and eaten like mushrooms, the leaves and stems can be used as greens in salad and the roots make a very healthy tea. Dandelion root is high in potassium, a much needed mineral especially when physical activity is high. It is also helpful in cleansing the liver, one of the body’s main “filters” and helps fight high blood pressure.
Clover has the added benefit of being a highly sought after food of animals such as deer, moose, elk, larks, nuthatches, and many more. It is also edible to humans either raw or cooked. A tea can also be made from the dried mature blossoms; which is used to help ward off scurvy (illness that can lead to death from vitamin deficiency) and is known as a blood cleanser.
Wild onions (garlic, leeks and chives are members of this “family”) are very helpful in adding flavor to bland dishes and helping make foods more palatable that you are unused to eating. This is another beneficial plant in helping avoid scurvy. Drinking a “tea” made from steeping the cut up roots on an empty stomach was purported to get rid of intestinal worms.
Shepherd’s Purse leaves can be used in salads and the seeds ground into a healthy meal. Shepherd’s Purse is a natural blood coagulant used to help stop bleeding (something to think about if you run out of Quik Clot or Celox) and control blood pressure. It is also effective is stopping diarrhea which can lead to dehydration, especially in a survival situation.
Common Plantain or Soldier’s Herb, is another one of those plants that people spend time and money trying to keep from their yards (commonly found growing in the cracks of sidewalks and driveways). This plant has high nutrition value and the leaves are eaten in salads when young or cooked and eaten like spinach. Common Plantain is high in Vitamins A and C, was and is used to kill and expel intestinal worms, and as poultices for wounds and cuts to name a few uses.
Alfalfa is a great plant and is highly nutritious. It also makes great food plots for wild grazers like deer, moose, elk, and rabbits to name a few. It is also great for pasture if you are raising livestock, so it is a very beneficial multi- purpose plant with unlimited potential. Also, most other grains/grasses (rye, oats, quinoa, etc) fall into this category and can be planted and harvested or left for wild animals.
There are several other plants/herbs/weeds that can be planted and “forgotten about” in Mother Nature. These will have food and/or medicinal qualities that will be very beneficial to preppers during an event. Some of these, but not all, are Lamb’s Quarter, cacti, milkweed, chickweed, horseradish, mint(s), dock, chicory, mustard, tiger lily, sunflowers, sweet flag, water cress, hawthorn, sage(s), pig weed, and stonecrop to name a few.
Then we get to mushrooms but please be EXTREMELY careful when picking and using these fungi for food or medical treatments. I highly recommend books and pocket guides on identifying mushrooms that are carried with you at all times. Some mushrooms are purported to help with diabetes and blood pressure and reduce cholesterol.
Many fruits can be planted in the wild and will thrive. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, mulberries, grapes, apples, pears, peaches, etc are all able to be planted and will normally thrive in open areas of forests and will draw wild life which can then also be on the menu. If possible, read on local Native American tribes food and recipes for suggestions on what grew in your locale for the best options. Fruits and berries are full of vitamins and minerals, have many medicinal values and will thrive in the wilderness without attention. These can be preserved or made into pies (sugar is NOT required) and these comfort foods can be a major benefit for morale of your family/group if a long term event occurs.
Trees are another source of wild foods, which can be planted. The seeds from almost every, if not every, tree are edible and nutrient rich. Oak, walnuts, beech, willow, hickory, pine, maple, and sassafras are all beneficial and have many uses. The nuts and seeds are edible, some the inner bark can be eaten or formed into natural remedies, needles or roots made into teas for human consumption and wild game will be found foraging these foods so they become “magnets” for harvesting dinner. Most trees require years before they produce nuts or fruit, so planting now may not guarantee you a food source, but we prep to give our future generations the best for surviving also so this is planning forward for our children and grand children.
I gave only a very small listing of the plants, trees, and fruits that can be grown in the wild with little to no care from us. These plants have thrived in the woods long before the settling of America cut down our massive hardwood forests and cleared the land for our ever increasing population.
I promote planting trees and other plants to keep a healthy balance in nature and gain back some of our lost forests. I hunt, fish, camp and enjoy my outdoor activities and conservation is important to me as a user of these resources. I try not to cut down trees for firewood, but use what has fallen naturally to reduce my impact. I want my children and their children’s children to enjoy the same activities I do and hope by planting a few trees and plants this will be possible, maybe even to a greater extent than I have.
Remember when harvesting wild plants, if there is no use in the root, leave this to grow again. If possible, shake off the seeds to reseed the plot for the next time you need it. Also, according to some of the books referenced below, harvest plants by the moon cycle. If you need the leaves, flowers, stems, etc, pick while the moon is visible and harvest roots when the moon is set. This falls in line with the moon’s ability to influence the tides; which in respect to plants, a high tide will pull the “juices” up into the plant whereas a low tide will “push” the juices into the root (thinking about some of the old wives’ tales, this made sense to me when I read it).
With so many people harvesting plants whole and NOT reseeding or taking care to maintain balance, we have decimated our natural resources for food, shelter and medicine, not only for ourselves but animals we rely on for food as well. The game populations are in direct line with food sources in the area, so animal populations will dwindle from starvation and disease, which can lead to our losing valuable resources when needed. The added pressures of hunting will only create a dimmer future in the event of a situation where people are forced to subsist more on our ancestral foods and not from the grocery store’s shelves. If you have the time during a hike and the extra money or ability, plant some food plots for the local animal population; their boom in numbers may mean whether you and your family/group eat steak or inner pine bark, which would you prefer?
I am including a list of books I have, or are on my shopping list (which I have browsed in bookstores but had to budget my purchases), for use as references. It is not a complete list and I add more books every chance I get. I recently found several books from different authors on Native American gardening, wild foods and medicines and recipes which I will be adding to my library. If anyone has other books or web sites to offer for the readership, please do so. We have the platform to offer much information to each other and even if it does not fill the exact need of everyone; it may help 1 person so the time I spend typing a comment is worthwhile and valuable to me. I only hope the information written will help others in their quest for self sufficiency and survival. As stated previously, I use my gardening, foraging, fishing, trapping and hunting to offset my grocery expenses to allow the money to be saved, paid on other bills or add extra income if produce or pelts are sold. These “hobbies” also allow me to learn about the history of our ancestors by “re enacting” their lifestyles to a degree and gives me my most valued asset, Family Time.
Stay Alert, Stay Alive and Happy Growing,
Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants by Bradford Angier
Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants by Bradford Angier
The Little Herb Encyclopedia by Jack Ritchason N.D.
Common Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of the Northeast by C. Leonard and Charles Fergus
Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival by Tom Brown Jr
Native Plants, Native Healing by Tis Mal Crow
All New Squarefoot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew
Indian Herbalogy of North America by Alma Hutchens
Cherokee Plants and Their Uses (Click Here)
Authentic Native American Recipes (Click Here)
Cherokee Publications (Click Here)
These are but a few of the resources available to begin your own journey in this wonderful and fulfilling skill and past time. I get several books by different authors to compare notes and cross reference the information to be as accurate as possible. This also gives me multiple books for each family member to use as a guide if we get separated or split up in our foraging.