Foraging for Food: 10 Useful Plants to Look For

Ed Wike
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Cattails

The Cattails

Cattails are a marshland plant that grow in wet lands such as rice paddies and along the edges of ponds and rivers. These plants are so high in nutritional value that the Native Americans considered them fish food.

Cattails can grow to a height of up to five feet. The plant's "cattle cake" heads like a small globe, which have spikes that protect it. These heads can grow up to 8 inches wide.

Cattails are commonly harvested in Autumn, before they become brown. The tall, upright shoots are often undamaged by freezing temperatures during this time, so these can easily be gathered for winter shoots. The cattail is the only type of plant that shoots more of itself when it grows old. To harvest, remove the plant from the ground and use sharp scissors or knife to sever it. The white inner stalk is soft, and can be eaten raw or cooked.

As well as being used as food, the cattail's roots can be used as a natural remedy for an upset stomach, to treat eye inflammations, and a decoction made from the plant can be used as a demulcent.

Yarrow

This perennial plant packs a medicinal punch and is another excellent wound-stopper. To make a tincture, infuse two cups of dried yarrow in one cup of vodka.

Place your yarrow infusion in the darkest cabinet where you keep your herbal goodies, or somewhere with a lot of sun exposure. Shake your tincture daily to help dissolve and distribute the herbs.

One cup of yarrow infused vodka will equal twenty five dried yarrow flowers. This one cup will easily last you six months and more. Keep it by your bedside, in the car, in your purse or in your bug-out bag, ready to be put to use.

There are many ways to use a yarrow tincture, including:

  • as a styptic to stop bleeding from cuts and scratches
  • to pack a wound
  • with comfrey to help heal a sprained ankle
  • to sterilize a needle when doing a piercing
  • with arnica to reduce the healing time of a bruise
  • as an astringent compress for insect bites

Mullein

Mullein is a herbal remedy used in cough drops and anti-tussive teas.

It’s main medicinal value is its use as a demulcent, meaning that it is used to soothe and lubricate inflamed mucus membranes. Mullein leaves are typically dried and used in teas. As a tea, it is capable of soothing dry throats, reducing mucus, and providing an alternate soothing breathing option for those suffering from respiratory discomfort.

It may also be used for a number of other medicinal purposes including soothing irritated gastrointestinal tissue and treating vaginal discharge.

Rose hips

These are the dried fruit of a rose plant, and they’re packed with vitamin C. Rose hips are often available as dried fruit or as a juice in health food stores. The stems of the plant should not be eaten, but the resulting fruit you’ll find resembles a berry. It’s a little tough to eat one, though, since the seeds in the center are tough and you need to break it apart. Take your time; it’s worth it. Rose hips are high in vitamin C and antioxidants, and have been a useful food source for many years.

You can also make an extract of the rose hips. The berries can be pickled or preserved in a stew. If you’re foraging, make sure the plant is not invasive in your region. If it is, don’t pick it, or it will grow in your yard.

Blackberries

These are small, tart, sweet fruits, and you’ll often find them growing on their own in a patch. Blackberries resemble grapes, except they lack the thick, fleshy seed you’ll find in grapes. If you find a blackberry bush, keep in mind that blackberries produce lots of fruit and are invasive in some regions, so they can choke out other plants.

Cedar Trees

Cedar is a tough, lightweight, wood that will float for years and years.

You can make small wallets and pouches out of the wood and tree bark as a piece of emergency identification for you and your loved ones. Take a small branch, strip off the bark, scrape the fluffy stuff off the inside, moisten, and mold the inner wood into something flat, to hold credit cards or other ID. Start a fire with the wood, and the cedar smoke will repel mosquitoes and nettles.

Beyond that, look at the inner bark and near the edges for bright red-purple flowers. They can be eaten, and with a little preparation, cedar tips can even be eaten raw.

Nettles

Nutrition Facts, Common Uses, and Growing Instructions

Nettles (Urtica dioica) are a common and valuable wild ingredient in many areas. It is said that in days gone by they were a staple food amongst the poor in Britain, and they were once added to animal feed in the USA. They contain calcium, potassium, and iron and are also a great source of vitamins A, B, C, and D.

The leaves have been used to make nettle soup, which is said to alleviate allergies, and also to treat skin problems and bites.

To harvest, shake the plant in a jar to dislodge the flowers, seeds, and leaves. Alternatively, you can do as the Romans did and harvest after the plant has flowered, and the leaves have gone yellow and withered – this makes harvesting much easier!

Dogwood Trees

The Dogwood is a beautiful tree, known for it's white berries. Yellow-barked Dogwood Bears that climb up and down the branches with talons that look like a hawk's feathers. These berries attract many kinds of wildlife, including birds, bears, and even goats. The bark has been used medicinally and has been used to make dyes for wool.

Wild Comfrey

Comfrey is found in Europe and North America in wet places such as ditches, streams, and the edges of forests.

It has thick green leaves with a blueish cast, and the flowers are a pretty blue.

Although comfrey has a sweet flavor, it has a slightly poisonous root that you should discard.

In ancient times, comfrey root was made into a tea to stop bleeding. The leaves were made into a poultice for wounds, and the tea was served as a nerve tonic.

In modern times, comfrey is used to heal broken bones, and it is a popular ingredient in herbal teas.

Horsetail

(Equisetum arvense)

Horsetail is a great edible plant to take on any survival hike.

It is very easy to identify, abundant in many areas, and it has the nutrients required for quick energy.

The plant can be eaten raw, but it tastes better when you cook it.

Horsetail contains vitamin C, calcium, B-complex vitamins, and iron.

It is a very effective vitamin C source.

Horsetail is not a good source of protein, so eating it in conjunction with other protein-rich plants is recommended.

Eating too much horsetail can cause diarrhea.

Walnut Trees

Accept no substitutes here. The walnut tree is the only type of tree in which the flesh of its green walnuts are edible. Black walnuts are inedible at all stages of ripeness. Just take a tour of a few on a nice day so you know what they look like, and you can always ask someone for help if you happen upon them when you are lost in the woods.