The Nutritional Value of Wild Foods

For people enthusiastic about foraging wild foods, here is an honest attempt to assess their nutritional content.

| November/December 1979

With the prices of most commercially available foods (which are, in many cases, of questionable nutritional value) skyrocketing, a multitude of Americans not only have turned to organic gardening as an alternative source of many wholesome edibles, but also supplement their homegrown diets with free-for-the-finding wild foods.

And, although most foragers have assumed right along that wild food—free of additives and genetically untampered with—is naturally wholesome, the increased public interest in wild food plants has created a demand for some hard facts on the nutritional quality of such edibles.

How Good Are They?

Having taught courses in foraging for some years, I've been challenged many times with the query, "How do you know this plant is nutritious?" In most cases, I could only quote the author of a book on wild foods as my source, who—often as not—referred to an earlier writer, who may well have based his statements on folklore.

This lack of solid data led me to work up a systematic collection of all available scientific research on the subject. I then compared each particular wild edible with the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) established by the National Academy of Sciences' Food and Nutrition Board, which represents the absolute minimum requirement for nutrients in normal, healthy people.

A typical male adult, for example, needs 5,000 I.U. (International Units) of vitamin A per day, and he can get much more than that in a scant half-cup of cooked dandelion greens! Or take that bane-of-the-farmer, amaranth: Just 10 ounces of the leaves or tips of this prolific plant can provide an adult's daily calcium needs, plus almost all the iron requirement for men and half that for women. A mere 3.5 ounces of the greens will meet the daily needs for vitamin A, thiamine, and ascorbic acid.

You see, then, that you can assure yourself of a well-balanced diet by combining produce from your garden with wild edibles in season. Beyond that you can freeze, dry, can, or pickle many of your surplus wildlings for out-of-season-use.

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