Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Why Eat Wild Foods?

Now...this one I did not make up. I stumbled across it here. I think it is a great list of reasons to consider learning how to forage for wild foods...and then doing it!

Why Eat Wild Foods?

Wild foods are NUTRITIONAL POWERHOUSES! They are so full of vitamins, minerals and trace minerals that they act like medicine in our bodies, preventing and reversing all manner of ills related to deficiencies in our modern diets.

Wild foods are NUTRITIONALLY SUPERIOR to our domesticated vegetables. Our standard grocery store produce is generally grown in depleted soils, shipped long distances and in long storage, losing nutrients all along the way. Not to mention all the chemicals used to produce it, store it, ripen it, and keep it fresh.

Wild foods are FRESH! Each day that our produce spends in storage, it loses nutrients. Once a living plant is harvested it is literally cut off from its life support system, and its health and vitality diminish rapidly. Consider the amount of time from the field to the truck to the market to the fridge to the table. Wild foods are fresh, often only a few hours lapse between the harvest and the table.

Wild foods are FREE! It does not cost a dime to harvest a dandelion. Supplementing your diet with wild foods can help you save on groceries. They can also help you save on the expense of costly vitamins and supplements. And you will save on the high cost of health care, too!

Wild foods are AVAILABLE! They are everywhere, all around us, city or country. In fact, people spend millions of dollars every year trying to eradicate them (consider the plight of the dandelions). A short walk from anywhere you live can provide a wild feast. Wild foods also have a much longer growing season than farm and garden crops. They are available as soon as the snow melts until it blankets the ground again, whereas our first garden peas and lettuce aren’t ready until late May or June!

Wild foods are ABUNDANT! The word ‘prodigal’ means recklessly abundant, lavishly bountiful. Our wild foods are such, they grow in such profusion that it is impossible to over harvest them and there is always enough for everyone (including the birds, the butterflies and the four-legged ones)!

Wild foods are DROUGHT-RESISTANT! In a drought cycle, while the lawns and gardens are suffering and turning brown, the wild plants are thriving. Wild plants and weeds are much better equipped to handle extremes in our weather than our tender garden variety plants.

Wild foods are SURVIVAL FOOD! It’s a secure feeling to know that if the grocery store were to close tomorrow or some major disaster cut off supply lines, the wild food is always there. Y2K caused many to take a second look at our dependency on centralized power and supply systems.

Wild foods are GOOD EXERCISE! The very act of harvesting wild foods is healthy for you! Going grocery shopping in the fresh air, in beautiful places is food for the soul as well as the body.

Wild foods are LESS WORK! Harvesting wild food is much less labor intensive than gardening and farming. Consider the labor involved in preparing the soil, planting, weeding, watering and caring for your garden. In the wild gardens all that work is already done for you! All you have to do is harvest! Consider also the hours of labor that you do at your job to afford to buy your groceries….

Wild foods are ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY! Harvesting wild foods helps you become more sensitized to the environment, more in tune with the seasons, and more aware of unfriendly practices like spraying, mowing, overgrazing, and dumping.

Wild foods are POLITICALLY CORRECT! Eating foods grown in our own environment means less dependence on industrialized agriculture. And it’s organic!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Eat the Weeds...

Marches Ensign has an article by Marion G. Romney that includes a Readers Digest article that reads as follows...

“In our friendly neighbor city of St. Augustine [Florida] great flocks of sea gulls are starving amid plenty. Fishing is still good, but the gulls don’t know how to fish. For generations they have depended on the shrimp fleet to toss them scraps from the nets. Now the fleet has moved. …
“The shrimpers had created a Welfare State for the … sea gulls. The big birds never bothered to learn how to fish for themselves and they never taught their children to fish. Instead they led their little ones to the shrimp nets.

“Now the sea gulls, the fine free birds that almost symbolize liberty itself, are starving to death because they gave in to the ‘something for nothing’ lure! They sacrificed their independence for a hand-out.

“A lot of people are like that, too. They see nothing wrong in picking delectable scraps from the tax nets of the U.S. Government’s ‘shrimp fleet.’ But what will happen when the Government runs out of goods? What about our children of generations to come?

“Let’s not be gullible gulls. We … must preserve our talents of self-sufficiency, our genius for creating things for ourselves, our sense of thrift and our true love of independence.” (“Fable of the Gullible Gull,” Reader’s Digest, Oct. 1950, p. 32.)

There is much that can be taken from this story regarding the ills of a welfare state...self reliance and so on... One major thing that stuck out to me is that it is totally possible to die of hunger...and be totally surrounded with food! Without the knowledge of how to use the resources that are all around us...we could end up in a similar situation to those gullible gulls.

There is a man out of Florida called "Green Deane". He has a website called "Eat the Weeds". Through articles...and a multitude of videos...he seeks to help us "gullible gulls" recognize and use the food that is all around us. While many of the plants he identifies are indigenous to his area...many can be found across the they will be recognisable to us on the West Coast. Here he talks about the classic dandelion. Here is sow thistle that is so common in the Sacramento Valley.

He is very knowledgeable...and the classes are free!!! And you don't have to go across town to meet him for the it in your pajamas when you feel like it! Eat the weeds!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Acorns can be people food...

When the United States really falls into hard times...and we are looking for ways to feed our can give peace to know that there are ALL KINDS of wild foods all around us that are ready to be gathered and enjoyed....if only we take the time to learn to identify them...and how to use them. I bet that in your lawn right now...there are several weeds that are quite tasty and you know which ones they are!? From time to time I will do an article on what is generally called "foraging"...or "wild foods" and post it here to bring to light some of these foods that are in our region. The first wild food that I will highlight...that I am really excited acorns!

Acorns are a wild food that even the smallest of children can identify. To the children that find them they are a novelty...and to most adults they are a nuisance...litter to be discarded. They drop from Oak trees in the Sacramento valley by the barrel full. A friend of mine recently told me how he had filled up his green waste bins multiple times with nothing but acorns! He exclaimed to me "What a waste...I know there is a way to make them into the Indians did! I got a bumper crop and they are just going straight to the green waste".

If you have ever been adventurous and tried even the tiniest bite of raw probably regretted putting it in your mouth. When eaten raw...they are BITTER. What is so bitter is what is called "Tannic acid" or "Tannin". This is the stuff that can be used to tan leather...that LDS people often cite as a main reason why coffee is bad for you. So how can acorns be people food with all of that tannic acid? How are they processed to make them good to eat?

The last few weeks I have been investigating that...and here are some highlights and some thoughts....

I would guess that at some point we all did a report on the American Indians...and how they pounded acorns into flour. While not all tribes made heavy use of acorns for their sustenance....some tribes used acorn as their main source of food. I just checked out a book this last week from the library called "It will live forever". It was a really interesting peek into some of the methods of acorn preparation of the Miwok and Paiute Indians that lived in the Yosemite valley. The book outlines how to process acorns with the most rudimentary of tools...and much of the culture revolving around the "people of the acorn". One thing that the book made clear is that there is no "one way" to do the can be done a variety of ways. Methods vary from tribe to tribe...and even within tribes...or even families.

I am sure that the thought of sitting around for hours pounding acorn with rocks doesn't sound all that appealing to many. You will probably be pleased to know that you don't have to lift and drop an rock for hours to get a product!...There are modern methods that can be employed.

This last week I tried out one of these methods. Without getting into all of the details...I collected the acorns that are still falling from my "Interior Live Oak's" in my backyard...and followed this method to prepare the acorns. The flour was completed yesterday...and today I made my first acorn muffins! The kids in our preschool all loved them...and asked for seconds...and for thirds (to which we said "no".) They turned out to be like a spice cake...they were really good. I had some family eat some of a muffin and I asked them what they thought the special ingredient could which they guessed at various spices and nuts. Imagine their surprise when I told them it was made with "Acorn!" My grandmother exclaimed..."Like the Indians!!"

Here are some interesting points about acorns...and stuff to get you to want to use them!...

1. They are probably the most easy foraging food to identify! You aren't going to make a mistake and poison yourself! Identifying oak tree's can be difficult...because of the hybridization between the species...but you will not mistake the acorn that drops from it.

2. In hard times...if you took the time to learn how to use would probably be the only one within miles that would have any idea how to eat them.

3. All acorns are edible from all varieties of Oak. They have differing flavors....different amounts of oils...differing amounts of tannic acid...etc.

4. They can be dried and stored for a LONG time. The black oaks acorn can be dried and stored for upwards of 13 years!! Tannic acid is a natural preservative...the higher the tannic acid content...the longer it will store.

5. Once leeched of the tannic acid...the acorn can be made into a mush that is so mild an infant can eat it! It can be eaten without adding anything to it...or it can be mixed in with other foods to bulk them up. It is versatile!

6. ACORNS ARE A SURVIVAL FOOD OF THE HIGHEST DEGREE!! Acorns are extremely nutritious, containing up to 18 percent fat, 6 percent protein, and 68 percent carbohydrate as well as vitamins A and C and many amino acids. 100 grams of acorn flour (roughly one cup) contains a whopping 500 calories, 30 grams of fat, and 54 grams of carbohydrate.

7. Oak tree's are EVERYWHERE! Oak tree's are to be found all over the world...and across the US. While other wild foods are only can be assured that an Oak tree can be found most anywhere in the US. In the Sacramento valley they are especially plentiful. The food they drop is ready to be picked up by the barrel full!

8. You don't have to plant and tend the crop! In contrast to growing your own garden...which takes a lot of time and effort to get the fruit...acorns just fall from the trees without any thought of taking care of the tree! Oaks drop their acorns according to a cycle...weak years followed by a strong year...and the timeline is based largely on what variety Oak it is. Then there is also a phenomenon called "masting" where an Oak will drop an unreal amount of acorns (often really large) my friend experienced.

9. You can actually have a really long season of harvestable acorns! Many Oaks are dropping acorns back in October...November...and here it is mid-February and I am still collecting!

10. If things got really rough for our nation...and people came to you for help...if you knew how to process could send them out to gather what they want to eat!

So...what did I learn from my first attempt at using acorn as a food?....

1. If you over bake the will take forever to get all of the tannic acid to leech out. I think next time I will not bake them...I will dehydrate them a bit instead. It will be one of those things that will develop as I go.

2. Ideally you will collect your acorns when they have freshly fallen. The Miwok and Paiute Indians both selected their acorns like we would our oranges at the grocery store. Taking only the acorns that had no holes or bumps...and looked healthy. I used substandard acorns...and it was still time I want it to be even better!

3. I want to get a Davebilt nutcracker. After leaning over a pile of acorns for a good stretch of time...whacking them with a hammer...breaking the shells...winnowing...etc...I found that my back was tired and my fingers were tender from cracking the shells. This is work I would gladly do to survive...but it sure would be nice to mechanize to process to make it easier. The Davebilt is THE way to shell acorns...according to people that use acorn as a means of opposed to a hobby. Watch this video of the Davebilt in action.

4. You can be a total rooky...and still get a product that your kids will eat...and love...and could even thrive upon...and this from the ground in my backyard! Better in our bellies...than in the green waste!

Here is the way I will try it next time...just to try another method

Julia F. Parkers New Way Acorn (from the "It will live forever book")

Crack 4 pounds of acorn with a hammer. When cracking, tap shells lightly enough that the nutmeats will split into halves or thirds, but won't shatter into small pieces.

Remove shells by hand, returning shells and any bad nuts to the earth.


To loosen the skins, lay acorn on a cloth on a table in the sun. Split grooves open by pressing down with the sharp edge of a knife held lengthwise in the groove. Sprinkle the acorns with water and allow to dry. Rub handfuls of nutmeats between hands to remove skins. Scrape any adhering skins off with a knife. Taking bad nuts into account, 4 pounds result in about 4 cups of whole, cleaned acorn.

Blender Crushing
Measure out 4 cupfuls of whole, cleaned nutmeats. Put 1 cupful (5 1/2 oz.) in a blender and break up at low speed. The acorn will jump around in the blender. Once the nutmeats are broken up, switch the blender to high speed and run until no more acorn falls from the edges onto the blades. Mix acorn up with the handle of a wooden spoon, making sure to include the acorn nearest the bottom, which tends to get sticky. Repeat blending and mixing until acorn is reduced to fine flour. (If acorn gets oily as blended, add a few whole nutmeats at a low speed to absorb the oils.) Remove the now fluffy flour and set aside in a bowl. Add second cupful and repeat the process. Add a third cupful and repeat. Add a fourth cupful and repeat. This results in 5 fluffy cupfuls of flour.

If there are chunks of acorn in the flour, it needs to be run throught the blender again. Don't put more than a cup of acorn in the blender at a time - any more might cause the motor to burn out.


Put flour into a 5-pound flour, sugar or salt sack. Fill the sack full of water and allow it to drain so the flour is saturated. Tie the sack to a faucet and turn the faucet on just past a drip, so that a very slow, steady stream of water drips over the outside of the sack (which serves as a waterbreak) all night long.

Place leached acorn (when wet, it reduces again to 4 cups) in a stainless steel pot. Add 3 cups water and mix with acorn. Cook at high heat, stirring frequently. While acorn cooks, gradually add 7 more cups of water. Keep stirring. Let the acorn boil for 15 minutes, until it has the consistency of tomato soup. For cornmeal mush consistency, add less water. Makes 11.5 cups nuppa. If using fresh (newly gathered) acorn, increase the amount of water used, as fresh acorn thickens more than older acorn.