It's been an amazing journey towards self sufficiency since Jesse and I moved to our off grid property in Idaho a year ago. We've made big gains towards self sufficiency by producing our own electricity with solar panels and starting our own garden from scratch. Along the way, we've been searching for ways to stretch our definition of living sustainably and fending for ourselves. One of the things we have tried to focus our attention on is learning the ways that nature can provide food resources for us without us having anything to tend to.
We've found that foraging in the woods has been a great way to increase our sustainability, improve our survival skills, and provide food for ourselves without having to rely as much on grocery stores. It's been an adventure in experiential learning. Once we started to realize just how much food was available in the forest around us, we dropped everything we were doing to gather as many gallons of free fruit from the surrounding woods as we could cart home with us.
Not only have become more intimately familiar with our own region of the world, gathering berries has been a great crash-course for us in learning how to can and preserve our own food. I'm happy to say we now have delicious jams stockpiled away for the colder months.
Whether you live in the Rockies like us or somewhere else entirely, there are bound to be edible plants near you. I hope that our experience inspires you to start seeking out what nature has abundantly provided.
Below are some of the berries we've been capitalizing on in our region of the world.
Tangy like a blueberry, huckleberries are a big deal around us. They grow in higher elevations and are often hard to come by, so people will go to great lengths to acquire them. In some cases they can sell for over $40 a gallon!
After several picking sessions, we've gathered close to five gallons of huckleberries. The time upfront is well worth it for the opportunity to be in nature and make some incredible berry-filled recipes.
Though these berries looked slightly poisonous when we have walked by them in the past, we can guarantee to you from personal experience that they are perfectly edible and delicious! Our region of Idaho is just ripening up with these berries and we've found that they are better suited for jams and jellies than casual snacking. So far we've harvested a quart and anticipate getting more as they continue to ripen, turning it all into a thimbleberry jam.
Surprisingly smaller than their cultivated cousins, wild raspberries are an awesome trail side snack this time of year. Juicy and delicate, wild raspberries often don't keep well and are best eaten right away or cooked down into jam. Because of their similarity to thimbleberries, the two can be combined in recipes for added complexity of taste.
Far from our favorite berry, serviceberries are actually quite bland and tasteless, though they are fairly common in our area. We will be making a jam out of these berries to give them a try, or we may even try to make an ice cream out of them! Worst case, these berries can be combined with other fruits to make the end-product more palatable, but we have high hopes for making something delicious out of them alone!
We've done a lot of experimentation with wild foods in our area so far, but we're only at the tip of the iceberg with this new found food source. There are dozens of wild plants we haven't had the chance to try yet, but hopefully with time we'll be able to knock more off our list.
Cattails. We didn't know that cattails were edible until just a few weeks ago, but now I'm eager to try some! The peeled stocks are apparently great for pickling, and the pollen can apparently be used as a superfood or even as a flour substitute. Can’t wait to try these wild ideas out!
Camas. A beautiful purple-flowered plant, the roots of camas are not only edible, but were once considered a delicacy! The roots supposedly taste sweet with a slightly sticky texture. Though I don’t know that I’d consider them to be an everyday meal option, camas would be a great survival food to have on hand or access to in an emergency situation.
Stinging Nettle. Though difficult to handle (it really does sting you!) this type of nettle loses all its prickles when cooked. Nettles grow just about anywhere and recipes for cooking with them are in abundance the internet, so there is no excuse to not try this forest delicacy.
Fireweed. As these are scattered throughout the forests around us, we're hoping this fun plant is a delicious as it is gorgeous! The flower petals are supposed to make a great jelly, though you will need a bit patience to harvest the quantity of flowers needed.
Though it’s natural instinct to think of the grocery store first when it comes to food, there is plenty of free food available in nature, so long as you know what to look for. Take some time to cultivate your edible forest product side by taking a hike with an experienced friend or guidebook to educate you about what you can eat.
This should be common sense, but remember to never try eating a plant you can't identify. That's just asking to get poisoned. Once you identify an edible species, sustainably harvest some it of and research some recipes that you can use it in. Then, impress your friends with your “local food”.
We think that will a little time and effort you will find foraging food from the wild as fulfilling as we have. Good luck with your adventures, and be sure to let us know of any delicious species we are missing out on!
Alyssa Craft moved to Idaho after purchasing 5 acres of land where she will build an off grid homestead from scratch with as little money as possible. She is blogging about the journey from start to finish in hopes of inspiring others that wish to take a similar path. Follow her many DIY projects, including building with reclaimed materials, building an off-grid hot tub and milling lumber with an Alaskan chainsaw mill. Follow Alyssa on her homesteading blog, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. View Alyssa’s other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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