When I first started wildcrafting, I got a reference book called Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons. It’s got great photographs and information to help you identify each plant. I decided to start with something that I could easily identify. There are many plants that look similar to each other so you really need to be positive you know what you’re picking. If you’re not one hundred percent certain, don’t pick it.
There are a few rules to remember when wildcrafting. Never take every plant you find. Leave some for the next person or animal who needs a snack. Never take part of the plant that you don’t need. If you only need the leaves, don’t rip the entire plant out of the ground. It won’t grow back next year so you’ll be destroying your supply.
Also, you need to make sure that you pick from an area that’s safe. Never pick near a road side because all plants will be covered by exhaust from the cars and trucks. Do not wildcraft around telephone poles or any other area where they may have sprayed weed killer. I generally wildcraft in my backyard to be safe. If that doesn’t work for you, try a park or a friend’s house.
The first plant I wildcrafted was dandelions. It’s pretty much the most easily identifiable plant out there that’s edible. Make sure you consult the book to be certain the plant you’ve found is a dandelion and not something like coltsfoot. When I first started wildcrafting, I picked dandelion greens for a salad. You want to pick these very early in the spring so that they aren’t bitter. Don’t wait until the plant has flowered. If your dandelions have flowered, it’s time to make Dandelion Blossom Syrup. This delicious syrup can be used much the same was as honey.
Dandelion Blossom Syrup (from the Prodigal Garden http://www.prodigalgardens.info)
Makes just over 1 pint (2 cups)
- 1 quart (4 cups) dandelion flowers
- 1 quart (4 cups) water
- 4 cups sugar 1/2 lemon or orange,
- entire fruit including peel,
- chopped (optional)
This is a traditional recipe passed down from the old world Europeans. It can be used in place of honey in most recipes.
Put blossoms, and water in a pot. Bring just to a boil, turn off heat, cover, and let sit overnight.
The next day, strain and press liquid out of spent flowers. Add sugar and sliced citrus and heat slowly, stirring now and again, for several hours or until reduced to a thick, honey-like syrup. Do NOT boil or it will reach the candy stage & will be rock hard when it cools. Still tasty but not syrup consistency. Can in half pint or one pint jars.
You can double or triple this recipe if you want. Store this in the refrigerator since it isn’t actually *sealed* like water bath canning.
Wildcrafting can be a great way to help keep your grocery budget in check and to learn to survive on what you can forage. There are lots of options as you become more confident in your abilities. I’ve wildcrafted ramps (wild leeks) for a stir fry, fiddle head ferns for a quiche, chicory for a coffee like beverage, and a number of other wild edibles. Don’t forget the obvious choices like wild berry bushes or apple trees that have been abandoned by their owners.
Have you tried anything that you’ve wildcrafted? What’s your favorite plant or recipe?