3 Edible Northwest Plants

cattailsThose who spend a lot of time hiking or backpacking in the wilderness understand the importance of bringing extra food and other emergency supplies. You never know when an accident, injury or wrong turn can cause you to become lost or stranded. In such a situation, your emergency food store would ideally last you until help arrived – but what if it didn’t?

Although the likelihood of becoming stranded in the wilderness for that long is small, it’s not unheard of. Occasionally, news reports crop up of hikers who were lost for days or even weeks before they were found. Not all of them survived long enough.

In a wilderness survival situation, the most immediate threats are hypothermia and dehydration. Lost hikers are far more likely to die of either before starvation becomes a threat. However, a prolonged lack of food can impair your mental faculties and inhibit your ability to make prudent decisions. For that reason, it’s a good idea for outdoor enthusiasts who like to venture off the beaten path to develop foraging skills and learn to find edible local plants.

When foraging for edibles, it’s helpful to have a sturdy multi-tool or sporting knife available with which to harvest plants and cut away the non-edible portions. It’s also important to be aware of poisonous plants in the area and understand how to correctly tell them apart from vegetation that’s safe to eat. Practice safe foraging by using a guide with color photographs, and never eat a plant you’re not 100 percent sure of.

Following are three edible plants common in the Northwest wilderness and suggestions for how to eat them.

1. Pine trees

Pine is one of the most readily available natural food sources, in the Northwest as well as elsewhere – in part because it’s available and edible year-round. Its needles can be brewed into a tea that’s loaded with Vitamin C, while its inner bark offers an array of nutrients.

Pine needle tea is easy to make. Simply gather a handful of needles, use your multi-tool or sporting knife to dice them as finely as possible, and plop them into about a cup of boiling water. Boil for a few minutes, until the water turns a pale yellow color.

The inner bark can be either boiled or fried. To harvest, choose a large, mature tree – white pine has the best flavor, if you can find one – and use a stick to help drive the tip of your sporting knife through the outer bark. This is where a heavy-duty hunting knife comes in handy. Drive the edge of the knife down the bark until you’ve etched out a rectangle. Peel away the outer bark and continue peeling off strips of the softer inner bark. The farther in you go, the sweeter and more tender it is. Never peel off the bark all the way around; take only a single patch from each tree.

To make the bark less chewy and easier to eat, peel it into thin strips or cut it with your hunting knife, and boil the pieces in water.

2. Dandelions

Dandelions are another abundant Northwest food source. Not only can they be found just about anywhere, but they can be eaten cooked or raw, the entire plant is edible and they have no poisonous look-alikes. Their leaves are rich in iron and calcium, and they’re also a good source of vitamins A and C, along with a host of other nutrients.

Dandelion leaves are commonly eaten in salads despite their bitter taste, which can be relieved by boiling them in water. The flowers can be eaten or brewed into tea. You may need the help of your multi-tool or hunting knife to dig up the roots, which can then be cooked like carrots.

3. Cattails

In wet or marshy areas, the cattail plant can provide a feast. The inner shoots can be eaten raw or boiled; the flower spikes can be cooked and eaten like corn on the cob; and the yellow pollen can be eaten raw or used as flour. The roots are edible, as well. Peel them and crush them underwater, allowing the white starch to separate from the fibers. It can then be used as flour.

The Northwest wilderness offers an abundance of wild food sources, provided you know where to look. It’s a good idea to learn how to safely forage before you end up in a survival situation. Just remember to bring a durable sporting knife or multi-tool with you, and never eat a plant if you’re not certain it’s edible.

[ photo by: Muffet ]

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