When living off-grid, feeding a family takes on a variety of new challenges. If one of the options chosen is to live primarily off the land, knowing how to find safe things to eat from the things that grow wild will be very helpful.
Farming can provide food throughout the summer and fall if one is careful to take care of it – as long as nature does not through a wrench in the works with a drought or a storm or some other sort of problem. While farming can be a good option, it is unlikely to be reliable enough to feed a family indefinitely.
However, as long as there is anything growing in the area, there is likely to be edible things. The first step in being able to feed the whole family by foraging is to learn what the plants are that grow in the area that can be eaten, and how to gather food in the wild and preserve it for later eating.
Learning how to hunt will also help. Both small and big game can provide needed protein, as can some insects. While some may seem unappetizing, in a situation where food has become scarce, knowing how to prepare and enjoy things that might not be a preference can be the difference between living or starving. Because of this, learning about cooking in the wild can be a wise thing to do.
Having the necessary tools for hunting and gathering may not be crucial but they would definitely make the whole thing a lot easier. It is possible to dig with one’s hands, gather by hand, use hand-made traps, and other manual ways to handle tasks. Using tools streamline the process and ends up using a lot less time.
Useful tools include a shovel, a couple types of net, and a range weapon, such as those listed below. Shovels help to break through obstructions and dig up edible roots; sweep nets can be used to gather edible insects; cast nets can catch fish; and a range weapon can bring in small wild animals.
A carbon steel folding shovel is sturdy and compact. Use it to garden, to harvest wild roots, and to bury things that need to be buried. This one comes with an extra pickax and one side works as a saw with rugged teeth.
This 12″ diameter net hangs 24″ long. A 59″ handle gives plenty of space for swinging at whatever one wants to capture; the telescopic handle can be closed down to 15″ for storage.
Strong monofilament is reinforced and woven into a 3/8″ mesh that can handle 1 pound per foot. An efficient way to fish without bait, this net is attached to a double lead line that is set up to prevent tangles. It also includes an e-book with instructions and a repair kit; it is available in five sizes.
This bolt-action .177 caliber air rifle can be used to practice and improve accuracy, as well as taking down small game such as squirrels, birds, rabbits, and other small creatures.
Plants and Foraging
Wherever there is greenery, there are edible plants. However, it is also true that wherever there are edible plants, there may also be poisonous plants. Many of these types of plants look very similar. Knowing the difference can mean eating well instead of becoming very ill.
DO NOT EAT ANYTHING IF YOU CANNOT IDENTIFY IT. This is very important. Learn to identify edible plants before you need the information. Always make a certain positive identification before ingesting any wild plants.
Chickweed has a delicate flavor that makes it an excellent green for salads and to add nutrition and freshness to a meal.
Cress or garden cress is greenery that grows fast and is tangy, similar to mustard.
Dandelion leaves have a peppery taste and are extremely nutritious. All parts of a dandelion are both edible and highly nutritious.
Deadnettle comes in red and purple that grows well in shade. They tend to take over an area of ground. They contain tannins, which are also found in tea; these leaves can also be used for tea.
Plantain grows wild in many areas – including a lot of yards – and is edible as well as being an excellent herb to use in poultices on wounds when needed.
Sow thistle or Sonchus is often used to feed rabbits but are edible with leaves that are very lettuce-like when young.
Wild onions and wild garlic pop up in many places and taste very like their domesticated counterparts. These can be used to spice up dishes and make them more palatable.
Wood sorrel has a lemony taste and goes well in salads or with freshly caught fish cooked over a campfire.
Belladonna, or nightshade, is a common plant that looks similar to blueberries. The plant is toxic in every part, but especially the root. It causes increased heart rate, hallucinations, and dizziness. It tastes very bitter, though, so it is unlikely anyone would eat it.
Castor beans are the source of castor oil. The beans contain large amounts of ricin when raw; proper cooking will remove the toxicity. Ricin will cause permanent nerve damage.
Doll’s Eye is also called white baneberry. All of it is poisonous, but the berries are lethal. The berries look a bit like the eyes of a doll and have a sweet taste, but the toxin will slow the heart until it stops completely.
Hemlock is known to be poison. It looks very similar to Queen Anne’s lace or parsnips, but it is toxic and will cause damage to the nervous system. Symptoms include pain, vomiting, tremors, dizziness, seizures, kidney failure, and potentially death.
Horsenettle look – at a glance – like heirloom tomatoes. They are quite poisonous, however, and will cause severe abdominal pain as well as issues in circulation and respiration.
Oleander is a beautiful flower, but every part of the plant is poisonous. However, eating is not the only way this plant presents danger; it is also toxic when burned. If the sap gets on the skin, it should be washed thoroughly as soon as possible.
Pokeberries grow on attractive plants and the tiny berries are toxic – a mere handful can be enough to be fatal to a child. Other poisonous berries include holly, juniper, and yew.
Rhododendron looks beautiful blooming, but eating it will result in nausea, vomiting, and weakness. It can cause serious illness or death.
Rosary Pea is also known as jequirity or crab’s eye. The plant is pretty, but it contains abrin, a toxin that is fatal when ingested. Along with ingestion, if the plant’s toxin enters an open wound, it can also be fatal.
Wild Cherry trees bear berries that are edible, but the leaves and the seeds contain cyanide and must be avoided by those who want to stay healthy.
Edible Wild Plants
This illustrated guide will assist in determining which plants are safe to eat, organized by what is available in what season. It explains where to find it, what to look for, what part is best to ingest, and what poisonous plants may look similar. It also includes recipes for preparing the harvest.