Unlike our ancestors, modern man has not had to learn to live off the land. However, nature provides a bountiful array of plants that can be used as food if properly identified and prepared. Care must be taken when foraging for wild, edible plants, and it is suggested that individuals be advised by seasoned field guides or enrol in survival courses that teach foraging safety prior to eating wild plants.
Several types of edible leafy plants can found in North American forests that can be eaten raw or cooked. Some plants found in the wild are asparagus, purslane (which has a favour somewhat like fresh peas), and wild onions. Dandelion greens can be eaten raw or made into a tea, but are better when young; mature greens have a bitter flavour. Young leaves of berry plants, such as raspberry and blackberry, can also be eaten or brewed into tea. The leaf of the raspberry plant is said to help ease the pain of menstrual cramps. Fiddlehead ferns, found in the spring season, are delicious when sautéed. They must be cleaned well to rid them of dirt before eating. Wild garlic, leeks and mustard plants are also abundant and are good eaten raw or cooked into soups.
Roots and Tubers
Edible roots and tubers are abundant in North America, and can be found year-round. Some root plants that can be eaten are dandelion, arrowroot, chickory, and water lily. In fact, chickory and dandelion root can be roasted and ground to prepare a drink similar to coffee. Other edible roots and tubers include Indian cucumber root, trout lily, wild carrots, salsify, agave and Jerusalem artichokes, which when peeled and boiled taste similar to potatoes. Burdock root can also be eaten or used to make tea.
Nuts and Tree Products
Nut trees are abundant in North America and are found growing in the wild. Black walnuts have a tough exterior and slightly bittersweet nut inside. They are prized for use in cakes and cookies. Other nut trees that yield edibles are beechnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts and pine nuts. Acorns, the fruit of the oak tree, may also be eaten, but are quite bitter. Even deer will save them as a last resort for food. Sap from the maple tree can be tapped in the winter and boiled down to make a sweet syrup.
Berries and Fruits
One of the most fun types of foraging is berry picking, and North America is rife with several types of wild berries. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries grow with abandon across the United States. They are used for cooking, baking and fresh eating. Other fruits available in the wild are mayapples, gooseberries, quince and persimmons.
Several types of fungus and mushrooms are edible, however a greater percentage of those found in the forest are inedible or poisonous. Great care should be taken when foraging for mushrooms, and it is suggested that mushroom hunting only be undertaken with an expert in the field. Some edible types of mushrooms are morels, some types of puff balls, and chanterelles.