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.
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
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.
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.
conservation, never collect more plants than you intend
are your top ten favorite edible wild plants?
answer...I will have to leave out some wonderful,
nutritious, delicious health protecting foods. So I will
gang them up on you:
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
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
* 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
* 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
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.
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:
violets (Viola spp.)
2. Bee balm (Monarda
didyma and fistulosa)
3. Elder flowers
4. Wild carrot, Queen
Anne's lace (do not confuse with hemlock) (Daucus carota)
flowers (Typha latifolia and angustifolia)
6. Dandelions (Taraxacum
7. Mint flowers
especially mountain mint (Mentha spp.)
8. Day lily (Hemerocallis
9. Hawthorn (Crataegus
primrose (Oenothera biennis)
are your most important rules for foraging wild plants?
* Don't eat any
* Don't eat plants
that you are allergic to.
* Don't eat plants you
don't know are safe.
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
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
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
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
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.
do you enjoy most about foraging for wild plants and
* 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.
are the five most common mistakes made by those looking
for edible wild plants? How can these mistakes be
See answers to question 1.)
* Harvesting food from
* Picking from
* Picking rare plants.
* Failure to have your
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
* 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.
are some places that a person can look for edible wild
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
blueberries, currant, beechnuts and two hundred other
good things can be found in a forest.
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
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
Wild onions can be
used to fight colds, flu.
Yucca root water
extract was used to kill lice, stun fish, and treat
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
Evening primrose oil
is used to treat mild forms of depression and acne.
Plantain leaves are
used as poultices over wounds, bites and stings.
(Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis) are crushed and rubbed over poison ivy
providing a itch stopping, inflammation fighting
Blueberries are used
to fight diarrhea.
like Dryad's Saddle (Polyporus squamosus) have immune stimulating
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
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
order the book: "Edible Wild Plants & Useful Herbs"
To order our foraging
videos click: Edible wild
Plants the video
Shrubs, Nuts & Berries a video field guide to
edible trees and shrubs