Foraging the Wild Life

7 Jun 2016
Author: Lindsay Johnson
Read time: 10 min
Category: Archive

This nutritious food comprises the hundreds of fascinating, delicious wild vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and herbs growing in our neighborhoods, backyards, parks, and forests. They are everywhere and yet we so often over look and disregard them.

I was first introduced to "Wild Foods" by a fellow in New York City: Steve "Wildman" Bill. Steve takes groups to parks all over New York pointing out the edible weeds and explaining how they are such a valuable nutrition source, but very neglected.

After my stay at Hippocrates 18 years ago, I went back to New York looking for the highest quality foods and was pleased to meet "The Wildman." Back then, there weren’t too many people around teaching about edible weeds and wild herbs. But today the numbers of teachers has grown and the Internet has become a treasure of information on the topic.

My good friend and fellow raw food author, Sergei Boutenko, was practically raised learning and consuming wildly grown foods. It didn’t start out that way. Sergei ate the Standard American Diet until he got his wake-up call at a very young age. By changing his diet, he overcame his poor health and is now in thriving condition. You can read more about Sergei and his amazing raw food family in their book "Raw Family." Sergei has now become one of the leading raw food teachers in the field of wild foods. I mention this because no matter where you are starting, you can quickly and easily get the knowledge to learn about wild edible plants, just like Sergei has.

As I struggled with finding wild foods in my area, Sergei gave me great advice. He told me to find a weed and search for it using Google or Yahoo images. It may take a while, but you’ll most likely find it within the thousands of images if you do a search describing what the weed looks like. He said after researching it for a while, you’ll also remember it. His advice helped me a lot, but there were wild plants I couldn’t find on the net, so I went to my local botanical gardens and the lady there helped me find my area’s native plants in books.

Many edible weeds are not too difficult to identify and are easy to recognize once introduced to them. They are easy to collect and enjoy, with no harm to the environment. Many are fine eaten raw, some are better cooked, and many can be dried and stored.

Once you start foraging, be careful because a small number of plants are poisonous. In fact, I found two poisonous in my front yard. But don’t worry, most weeds are safe to enjoy. Because there are some poisonous wild plants, you must be 100% sure you know what you’re eating. Someone told me 98% of the weeds in the world are edible, but if you get the 2% that aren’t, you are not going to make that mistake twice. They can be deadly, so you must be 100% sure. Even the ones you feel confident are safe, make sure they are picked in a place that hasn’t been sprayed with any harmful toxin Also, herbs less than 100 feet from major roads should be avoided.

Indentifying Wild Plants

Leaves, flowers, fruits, roots, shoots and thorns all have distinctive characteristics to help assist in identifying edible weeds. Most weeds have flowers attached to them, but they are not very visible to the human eye. A helpful tool in identifying plants would be a magnifying glass. The color of the little flower heads usually unlocks the mystery of the weed. In identifying leafs, the edges are either sharp or round. Some roots and shoots have small hairs coming out of them while others are smooth. There are many exciting ways to help identify each weed. Other than the Internet, the most useful source is a good guide book. You want to get one that covers the types of weeds that grow in your area because it is different everywhere. A good guide book will even say what region of the country or world the weeds usually grow and where they are usually found, such as near lakes or the sea shore.

I can say so much more about the value of wild foods, but I want to introduce you to the most common wild, edible plants so you can get started.


Before vitamins and minerals were identified, people used chickweed as an all purpose health food. Its wonderfully soothing to eat, great for an upset stomach and in strengthening to the bowels. It’s as safe a food as you can find anywhere, containing no harsh or irritating substances. You can have as much as you feel you need.

Chickweed has tiny, paired oval to spade-shaped, toothless sleeves growing along its stringy, flexible stem. The tiny, white flowers bloom in terminal clusters, at the ends of the plant, accompanied by some leaves. The five petals are shorter than the live sepals. The petals are so deeply divided they look like ten.

Chickweed is a nutritional powerhouse. It pro vides plenty of vitamin C, rutin, biotin, choline, inositol, PABA, vitamin B6, B12, vitamin D and beta-carotene.  It’s an excellent source of minerals magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, manganese, sodium, copper and silicon. It also contains steroidal saponins responsible for its ability to increase the absorptive ability of all membranes, and to eliminate congestion. As a result, the liver, kidneys and lungs become healthier and nutrients are more readily available to every cell. Blockages and waste are cleansed from the kidneys and gallbladder, as is congestion from irritated lungs.

Hundreds of species grow throughout North America, an d worldwide. You'll find chickweed on lawns, in open sunny areas, and in partially shaded spots. Look for it on lawns and disturbed areas.

The stem and the leaves are equally good in all recipes. Some people insist that chickweed is best eaten raw. It has a mild corn like flavor and crispy tender texture.


Purslane is a smooth, herbaceous plant that can cover your yard with a doily-like mat. It produces many prostrate and erect thick, smooth, succulent, creeping, reddish-green stems, with branches 4 to 10 inches long. The fleshy, tooth-less, opposite or alternate stalkless, paddle shaped leaves grow from ½ % to 2 inches long, at the end of the branches. It grows tiny pale yellow flowers with five petals and two sepals.

Of all the foods in the world that have the most essential fatty acids, purslane has the highest content! So throw your fish oil away and get to your yards. lt also provides good amounts of iron, beta-carotene, vitamin C, calcium, phosphor us, and riboflavin.

Purslane grows in sunny, sandy soil in fields, vacant lots, disturbed soil and lawns all over the United States. I’ve seen purslane plants for sale at Wal-Mart and farmer’s markets. It is great in salads, raw soups or juiced. It gives a gel that taste like raw okra. It’s very cooling in the summer time.


Plantains grow in basal rosettes. The leaves, hairless or slightly hairy, all have distinctly parallel veins. A green, central flower stalk extends above the leaves in late spring, summer or fall. Early on, its covered with many tiny, greenish white flowers, each with four transparent paper-thin petals.

Plantain contains large amounts of beta-carotene and calcium. Plantain also contains Mucilage-a carbohydrate fiber. This fiber reduces both the L.D.L (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and triglycerides, helping to prevent heart disease. Plantain also contains monoterpene alkaloids, glycosides, sugars, triterpenes, fixed oil, linoleic acid, and tannins and is high in chlorophyll.

Plantains are terrestrial, growing in open sunny meadows, lawns, waste places and between cracks in concrete. They are very common. You can consume them raw in salads and soups and smoothies.

Lambs Quarter

The long-stalked, alternate, simple leaves are mealy white underneath. The leaves can grow up to 4 inches long and are diamond-shaped. They have no order.

Lambs quarter contains beta-carotene, calcium, potassium and iron superior to spinach. It also provides trace minerals, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C and fiber.

It is very common throughout the country. Found in back yards and vacant roadsides. It does especially well in poor or disturbed soil, but it isn’t particular, and will thrive in the sandy soil near the seashore just as well. Lambs quarter taste like spinach, so use it like spinach.

Wood sorrel

Wood sorrel has a three-parted, palmate compound leaf, consisting of three hat-shaped leaflets suspended on a slender stem, usually no more than 8 inches tall. The smooth leaflets fold along their seams under adverse conditions Wood sorrel’s small five-pedaled, radically symmetrical flowers colors vary from species to species. My front yard is full of wood sorrow that looks like 3 hearts on a stem. It tastes like lemon. Really, amazing! It contains lots of vitamin C, potassium oxalate, and mucilage.

Wood Sorrel grows in moist, partially shaded areas such as woods, disturbed areas, lawns, and lawn edges. You can find various species throughout most of the United States. It goes well raw in salads, soups, juices and smoothies.

There are many great books out today on wild foods, but the best book I have read is " identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and not so wild) Places" By Wildman Steve Brill with Evelyn Dean.

Raw Foods Chef and Educator Paul Nison has been eating a raw food diet for many years curing himself of Ulcerative Colitis more than 15 years ago. Paul has been featured on The Food Network and in several magazines and newspapers around the globe. He travels the world, giving lectures on raw food nutrition and raw food prep classes to show people how easy and fun the raw life can be. Paul is the author of 7 books and continues to work on new books.

Vol 28 Issue 3 Page 36

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