Before we had supermarkets, we had to grow our own food.
And before we even had farms, we had to gather our meals from the forests.
But while we have evolved to Hunters of bargains and deals, and Gatherers of Hummel figurines and Beanie Babies… Our forests have evolved very little from the early days of humanity. There’s a whole feast we can gather in our forests, we only have to learn what they look like and how to use them!
Dandelions: The broad leaves of these plants can be eaten like lettuce, or steamed. The blooms are sweetest when they are young – unopened and close to the ground. These too can be eaten raw or steamed. Be sure the dandelions you are picking are far from roads and homes- since they can be considered weeds, they could have been sprayed with pesticides and weed killers.
Cactus: The large, wide paddles of certain Cacti (called nopales in Spanish) can be boiled until soft and eaten- they taste similar to green beans. Wear gloves when picking cactus paddles and removing the needles- there are small hairlike needles that are a pain to remove from skin and clothing. Remove the needles by shaving them off with a knife.
Many cacti also grow prickly pear (called tunas in Spanish) – a grainy, seedy fruit with the texture of a pear that tastes like fruit punch. You can shave the needles off of these and eat raw.
Miner’s Lettuce: This plant is common in mountainous areas all over the country. It gets its name from the California Gold Rush men who ate it to prevent scurvy. Eat it raw in salads, or cook like spinach, as its taste is similar but rougher in texture. Collect and consume before the flowers bloom for best flavor.
Marigolds: This common garden bloom’s petals can replace expensive saffron in a variety of dishes. It can also be used in salads as it has a citrus flavor.
Lavender, Roses and Violets: You know they all smell great, did you know they taste delicious too? They taste just like they smell- Lavender and Violets are sweet with a hint of citrus, and rose is rich with berry and apple flavors. They are a great garnish or additive to desserts and mixed drinks- roses need their petals trimmed of the bitter white end before using. The unique flavor of Lavender will also work well in savory sauces and stews. Violet leaves can be eaten- cook the heart-shaped leaves like spinach.
The Internet is full of advice on how to test your own local plants for edibility. Recipes for how to prepare your favorite plant edibles are also online. You don’t have to have a garden to enjoy Nature’s bounty; you just have to know where to look!