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Poisonous plant, False hellebore (Veratrum viride) large ovate, stalk-less leaves, clinging and spiraling up sturdy stem; flowers yellow-green, in branched clusters.  Grows in wet, swampy areas, mountain slopes.  This Western variety found in North Cascades.  Eating may cause asphyxia, convulsions and death.

 Edible Wild Plants from God's Garden

 An Interview by Commitment Magazine see: www.committment.com 

Learn how to grow and forage edible and medicinal plants, herbs and wildflowers with Jim Meuninck, author of "Basic Essentials: Edible Wild Plants & Useful Herbs." Here is advice on how to find and grow plants that can improve your health.

Jim, what tips do you have for those who are interested in looking for edible wild plants and useful herbs, but have no idea where to start?

1. Begin foraging with someone who has done it before. Forage with an expert.

2. Start simple: eat easy to identify wild foods, eat dandelions. They are high in calcium, vitamin A with ample amounts of folic acid, vitamin C and health protecting bioflavonoids. We eat dandelions almost everyday. Tear up small pieces and blend them with your numerous salad greens. As they get more bitter, don't back off.

3. Bitter is good. It prepares you for digestion, starts the secretion of digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid. It speeds peristalsis, improving mechanical mixing and stimulating better elimination. Bitter plant foods improve digestion and absorption. Bitter plants are being used to treat anorexia. Bitter foods make for a more pleasant personality (This needs more research).

4. Get a good field guide with color pictures like Elias and Dykeman's, Edible Wild Plants; or Peterson's guide to Edible Wild Plants, or Meuninck's Basic Essentials of Edible Wild Plants and Useful Herbs....I like this last one because the guy thinks like me and the book is about half the price of the other two...I'm cheap, that's another reason I eat "free" wild foods.

5. Go to your nearby nature center, botanical garden, or adult education class and request edible and medicinal classes. You will discover they are already being offered.

6. Start a garden and begin bringing in edible wild plants you enjoy.

7. Grow some herbs...Grow salad greens, tomatoes, peppers. Edible flowers are great and will make you famous in the neighborhood.

8.  Of course don't eat wild foods from polluted ground or roadsides. Don't use herbicides or pesticides on your garden or lawn.

9.  Try to follow plants that you are not certain of for one year. Watch they go through their growth cycle. Match them with your field guide or edible plants video (see our Edible Plants Video) during their various stages. Develop a relationship with your plants in your own yard. Get to know them and love them. Watch the bees and butterflies enjoy your flowers.

10.  First encounter: Eat only a small amount of any plant to see if you have any immune reaction. Sometimes one will get a scratchy feeling in the throat. They may flush. Avoid plants in families that you may have allergies too

11.  Purchase wild plants from seed and live plant purveyors if you cannot get a wild supply. Try Richter's free catalog (905) 640-6677 (www.richters.com) Horizon Seeds free catalog (505) 438-8080.

12. Learn your poisonous plants, our book has photos and descriptions of common poisonous wild plants...Be particularly aware of the carrot family: poison hemlock and poisonous water hemlock.

13.  Practice conservation, never collect more plants than you intend to consume.

What are your top ten favorite edible wild plants?

Difficult to answer...I will have to leave out some wonderful, nutritious, delicious health protecting foods. So I will gang them up on you:

* Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and mulberries have health protecting chemistry. Ellagic acid from these plants is being used in clinical trials to fight cancer. Bioflavonoids, pectin and other dietary fiber also protect your from cancer, and heart disease. Chemicals in berries protect the gut from runaway harmful flora growths. Eat one or another of these berries three times a week or more.

* All culinary herbs should be a regular part of your diet. These are foods untampered with, complete with what God and Nature intended us to eat. We co-evolved with them and they are so good that we have in most cases avoided hybridization...You can't improve on perfect.

* I grow Echinacea and you can grow it almost anywhere in the United States. The leaves and flowers make a health protecting, immune stimulating tea...Great when blended with mountain mint. In our herbal preparations video we show you how to make your own Echinacea tincture for year around protection.

* Keep mullein handy as a medicinal tea. Use the leaves. This tea has been beneficial against the particularly stubborn upper respiratory infections of the past year. Crush a couple of mullein leaves in a pot and pour boiling water over it. Slightly bitter, an expectorant, that thins and gets mucus flowing moving harmful organisms from your body.

* Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and wild leeks (Allium tricoccum) are my top three edible wild foods. Dandelions in salads or as a tea. Stinging nettle steamed or saute (pick the top new whorls of leaves throughout the year, it gives and gives and gives).

Older stinging nettle can be simmered in a pot to release minerals and flavor....The start of a great vegetable bullion.

Wild leeks are wonderful. Quick to appear in the spring (and quick to leave), the leaves and bulbs are edible, memorable and full of health protecting sulfur compounds...Similar to garlic, wild leeks are more potent than an onion or shallot and a notch below raw garlic.

* Elder (Sambucus canadensis) and Daylilies (Hemorocallis fulfa) have edible flowers that have a long tradition.

Elder flowers are high in rutin and quercitin bioflavonoids that protect the heart, strengthen blood vessels and improve circulation. There is some evidence that they may provide cancer protection and flower and elderberry extracts have been used to fight acute infections like colds and flu. I like the taste.

Day lily blossoms are picked daily, the petals stripped away from the reproductive organs and added to salads. Young leaves can be eaten in the early spring, and a few foragers it tuberous roots.

* Plantain (Plantago species), violets (Viola spp.) and chickweed (Stellaria spp.) are in my yard, readily available.

Plantain is chewed and applied to wounds and insect bites. Defensin an antibiotic in our saliva improves the effect of plantain on wounds and bites.

Blue woodland violets have long ago been transferred from a shady woods to a shady spot in my yard and provide ample flowers and leaves as food. High in vitamins and A and C this is a must in your garden. Chickweed is a good source of potassium as are all wild foods. I like to pick a bunch and slap it on a vegetable sandwich (it's a sprout substitute when out of sprouts).

* Mints: mountain mint, peppermint, chocolate mint, spearmint, lemon balm, beebalm make great cold and hot teas. They are excellent in salad dressings. Are beautiful flavoring agents for sauteing peas, stir fry, hummus, salsas. Essential oils from the cold infusion of the leaves are either relaxing or enervating depending on your need.

Try stuffing a few of all of these leaves in a gallon jar, fill jar with water and stick in refrigerator over nights. In the morning slice in a lemon and enjoy a potent cold infusion...That will make you the most brilliant and creative person on the block.

* Watercress, wild rice and cattails are wetland inhabitants that are tops on my menu. Cream of watercress soup is wonderful (remember full of awe). Watercress sprayed with canola and grilled is delicious. Make certain it is harvested from a clean water source, or bring it into your yard and start in a moist area (or keep the area watered).

Wild rice goes in every waffle and pancake I make. Boil the rice for 8 to 10 minutes then add to batter. Cattails have so many uses that time and space inhibit me.

Young cattail shoots in the spring saute with Italian dressing. Male flower heads in June stirred into corn bread. Roots beaten in water to make a starch rich soup thickener. Older flower heads cooked with an egg and milk make a passable dog food.

* Hawthorn gets honorable mention. It has white flowers in the spring that are brewed into a heart protecting, thrust improving, coronary artery strengthening, circulation improving tea.

The fruit is used in China and in my yard as food and medicine. Eat it off the tree or slice and dry it. It has the same heart protecting powers as the flowers.

What are your top ten favorite edible wild flowers?

We have a video called Cooking with Edible Flowers and Culinary Herbs that takes you into the kitchens of the best edible flower restaurants and herb cottages in Canada and the United States...

If you are interested in edible flowers call me at 800 487 0522. On the wild side here are my top choices:

1.  Woodland violets (Viola spp.)

2.  Bee balm (Monarda didyma and fistulosa)

3.  Elder flowers (Sambucus canadensis)

4. Wild carrot, Queen Anne's lace (do not confuse with hemlock) (Daucus carota)

5.  Cattail flowers (Typha latifolia and angustifolia)

6.  Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale)

7.  Mint flowers especially mountain mint (Mentha spp.)

8. Day lily (Hemerocallis spp.)

9.  Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)

10.  Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis)

What are your most important rules for foraging wild plants?

* Don't eat any poisonous plants.

* Don't eat plants that you are allergic to.

* Don't eat plants you don't know are safe.

How did you first become involved with foraging for edible and medicinal wildflowers?

Foraging for wild foods has become a way of life. My great grandfather Wally Ort was a herbalist and pulled me out of school now and then to wander his woods and meadows in search of dandelions, milkweed, wild berries.

During hunting season Wally would lay a trail of corn to his smokehouse. There was a little blood trough entrance on one side and he would lead the trail of corn through the hole. Quail and pheasant were soon to follow.

Then he would close the little door and trap them there for two weeks until the hunting season was over. The game warden knew what was going on but nobody trespassed on Wally's land, not even the law...

Wally was real ornery. I got my orneriness and love of plants, animals from Wally.

In high school, I would spend part of my summer "living off the land" in Canada with Joe Ganser and Ray Campbell. We had no money, so we foraged for food.

One time a forest fire in Ontario burned everything that was green and edible. Only thing left to eat were some seagull eggs under a very determined mama seagull. We launched our raft toward the small rock island sheltering the gull and her clutch of eggs. About 20 yards from the island the gull launched.

She rose high toward the sun and then dropped like a bomb on our heads. Screeching, pecking, rising and dropping she kept us from putting a foot on the island...That gull made me a vegetarian.

One time in British Columbia, Ray and I ate some magic mushrooms.

They didn't get us high right away. But they made us sick. Good thing too. We were starving to death, having had nothing to eat for 5 or 6 days. The creek around us had swollen to a river with the spring thaw and it was now a quarter mile wade through glacial water to the old Lark station wagon...A really lousy car by any standard.

The battery was dead on the Lark, but we had it pointed downhill. Anybody who owned a Studebaker always pointed them downhill when parking so they could use the "gravity battery" to start the car. Anyway, Ray pushed the Lark, it rolled, I popped the clutch and the engine ignited...We were on our way. Ray's chest tightened up as I bolted down the mountain toward Banff. He couldn't breath. The mushrooms and altitude were playing games with my mind. Here on one hand was Ray dying and on the other hand was one hell of a joyous ride through the Rockies.

I called it a wonderful sight...Wonderful in the old sense of the word: full of awe. By the time we hit the city limits of Banff, Ray had the dry heaves and I was pumping the brake trying to build hydraulic pressure and put some shoe metal to the drum. That's when the police pulled us over and rushed Ray to the hospital and me to the jail. For a couple of days Ray ate hospital stew and I ate roasted rat. On our way out of town the police filled our Lark with gas, pointed us toward Montana and said, "Don't stop until you reach Chicago". Well we were out of money and 2000 miles from home.

That's when my wild plant foraging skills really developed. For the first two days we ate wild onions, bitter buffalo berries and June berries. As we moved east the diet changed to elderberry flowers, daylilies and dandelion greens. The Lark drank gas from wherever we could find it: roadside crews sometimes would give us some.

One family in North Dakota filled our tank a few minutes after they drove off to church...It was self service, if you know what I mean. I'd like to take a second to thank again the guy from Minneapolis who parked his car in an alley from which we siphoned freely one full tank of gas. Then a gas station in Chicago gave us a quart of oil and five gallons of gas...We bought an apple and a pack of cigarettes in Gary, Indiana from the twenty six cents we found under the seat. I ate the apple, Ray smoked.

By the time we reached South Bend the Lark would not go over 30 miles per hour.

A week later I got $35 dollars for it from a junk man. There were many pleasurable experiences like these and a few too rough to talk about that got me started eating wild plants.

What do you enjoy most about foraging for wild plants and flowers?

* It's free.

* It's healthful.

* It gets me away from this computer (hint, hint!).

* I've made many friends that have this similar interest.

* It has added a dimension to my gardening...I have a garden full of nutritious, delicious foods that are endemic, come up every year, require little or no attention, are genetically pure, untampered with.  Their nutrient profiles are superior tomany cultivated foods, and require no herbicides or pesticides.

They have potent flavors and evoke responses from my body that are primal and good. They get me off the pavement and into the fields, streams and woods.

What are the five most common mistakes made by those looking for edible wild plants? How can these mistakes be avoided?

* Misidentification! See answers to question 1.)

* Harvesting food from roadsides.

* Picking from protected areas.

* Picking rare plants.

* Failure to have your own garden.

What dangers must those who forage for wild plants face? How can they avoid these dangers?

* More people die from eating hamburgers than from eating wild plants.

* Eating wild plants is reasonably safe. Misidentification even by experts occurs.

* Get expert help but also double check with a field guide or two, watch a video, attend a class, stick in one toe at a time....Start with a dandelion. Learn how to make it taste the way you like it.

* Follow recipes. Some plants like pokeweed greens, milkweed, marsh marigolds require special preparation.

What are some places that a person can look for edible wild plants?

Start looking for wild plants around your house. Mulberries are near by. Dandelions are in the yard.

Plantain and chickweed are along the fringes of the yard and garden.

Cattails are easy to identify, watercress is sitting right there in the water cooling its heels.

Meadows are full of wild onions, chives, echinacea, dandelions, thistle, wild asparagus, blackberries, raspberries...A forest provides acorns (grind in a blender, blend with water and strain through panty hose to leach away bitter tannins).

Walnuts, gooseberries, blueberries, currant, beechnuts and two hundred other good things can be found in a forest.

What are some of the medicinal uses of your favorite edible wild plants and flowers?

We have a couple of great videos Native American Medicine and Little Medicine the Wisdom to Avoid Big Medicine that show, test and prove (disprove) many of the thousands of medicinal uses of Native American flora.

Native Americans used tannins from acorns and oak leaves to treat infections and wounds.

Wild onions can be used to fight colds, flu.

Yucca root water extract was used to kill lice, stun fish, and treat baldness.

Dandelion root is used to treat anorexia. It improves digestion.

Yellow dock root decoction is high in iron and is used as an iron supplement that does not cause constipation in pregnant women.

Evening primrose oil is used to treat mild forms of depression and acne.

Plantain leaves are used as poultices over wounds, bites and stings.

Spotted touch-me-nots (Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis) are crushed and rubbed over poison ivy providing a itch stopping, inflammation fighting antihistamine.

Blueberries are used to fight diarrhea.

Polypore mushrooms like Dryad's Saddle (Polyporus squamosus) have immune stimulating polysaccharides.

All plants have phenolic compounds called bioflavonoids that are proving themselves in clinical trials as anticancer, hypotensive, antiallergic, antihistaminic, circulatory stimulants, antioxidants, capillary protectants and more...

This research is exciting proving that food is our best medicine. After all, we eat plants or we eat animals that eat plants, therefore our chemistry is made from plant chemistry...We are a plant with wheels!

Thanks for the chat. You are well on your way to a rewarding new dimension in living.

P.S. If that dandelion is too bitter pour a bucket of water over it and eat it the next morning, saute with leeks, peppers, onions in an omelet.      

To order the book:  "Edible Wild Plants & Useful Herbs"

To order our foraging videos click: Edible wild Plants the video

Trees, Shrubs, Nuts & Berries a video field guide to edible trees and shrubs

 For more superfoods, wild foods and herbal medicines from our ancestors pantry see:   
Native American Medicine
Little Medicine; The Wisdom to Avoid Big medicine
Edible Wild Plants, 100 Useful Wild Herbs
Trees, Shrubs, Nuts & Berries