Food Without Farming: Wild Edible Plants

Foraging for edible wild plants can result in a bounty of fresh food ideas including acorn bread, cattail flour, dandelion salad, turtle soup and more. Originally titled "Food Without Farming" in the May/June 1970 issue of Mother Earth News.

| May/June 1970

I hope no one who reads this article will ever go to bed hungry again. There is free food all around us. Here in Wisconsin it is impossible to walk through any field or forest and not spot dozens of edible wild plants. There are acorns, cattails, milkweeds, dandelions and many others. Look closely and you'll also see many edible and unprotected animals and birds. Turtles claw along sandy roads. Woodchucks peer from grassy knolls. Gophers sit up like tent pins. Crows and blackbirds whisk overhead. And, every time you pass a pond or river, you are passing fish and clams and crayfish and frogs.

I speak from experience, having studied wild foods for years and having spent many weekends living entirely on foraged fare. Last year I passed my final exam by living the entire month of August on wild foods alone. All my foraging was done on weekends and after a regular eight-hour work day, and I never felt a serious hunger pang. Matter of fact, I gained two pounds. This article details some methods and recipes for finding and using wild foods.

Foraging For Acorns

One thing to watch for is the tendency of a year to produce bumper crops of a food source. Last year, here in Southern Wisconsin, it was acorns. Acorns fell to the ground so thickly that even a multitude of squirrels could not begin to store them. This spring, when the snow melted, so many acorns lay on oak shaded lawns that homeowners earnestly discussed ways of raking them. To me, of course, it was all manna from Heaven.

 Experts say there are 54 varieties of oak in the United States and most bear acorns. Nearly all can be classified in either the White or the Black (sometimes called Red) Oak group. The White Oak family matures a sweet acorn in one year while Red Oak acorns grow more slowly, mature when they are two years old, and are usually more bitter. In our area, we find the best-eating acorns by selecting the biggest ones. All acorns are edible and the biggest ones are usually the sweetest.

Making Acorn Flour

The degree of bitterness in acorns is caused by the amount of tannin in the meat of the nut, and tannin is soluble in water. To make acorns edible first peel or shell the nut.

Peeling can be done with a wide variety of gadgets. One of the best combinations for small amounts is a nut cracker and nut pick. A hammer and helper are advised for larger operations! The helper sorts meat from shells after the hammer has smashed them.

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