Organic greens like spinach or kale can be pricey at the grocery store or farmers market. Add a pint of fresh berries and an omega 3 supplement like flax or fish oil, and your grocery bill rises further still. Throw in some fresh tropical fruit, organic nuts and wild mushrooms and it’s difficult to afford to eat healthy whole foods these days. Yet all of these foods are available at your doorstep for free, even if you live in the city.
Wild foods are abundant all around us now, in summer and fall. Wild greens like lambs quarters (Chenopodium alba) can be substituted for spinach in any recipe or salad, eaten cooked or raw. This green has a mild flavor all season, never turning bitter like dandelion greens. It is high in protein and has more calcium than kale. A good field guide such as Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods by Thomas Elias and Peter Dykeman, can help with positive identification.
Growing through the cracks of city sidewalks and popping up in empty planters is another green which is in abundance now: purslane (Portulaca oleracea). This succulent green has appreciable amounts of omega 3
fatty acid, which is the same beneficial oil as in fish and flax oil supplements. Add wild purslane to a salad or smoothie daily to get your dose of omega threes.
In many places of the country blackberry brambles are considered an invasive weed. Right now their thorny branches are covered with large juicy berries. American Paw paw trees contain tropical fruit native to this country,
and grow as far north as Michigan, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. These fruits look like champagne mangoes yet their flesh tastes like banana custard and is closely related to the cherimoya.
In the midwest and northeast black walnuts and hickory nuts are getting ready to fall from the trees in great abundance. These can be gathered, hulled and dried to be cracked and eaten year round. All across the country
acorns are falling from oak trees yet few people realize that acorns are edible. Many of them are bitter from the high concentration of tanins, but these can be easily boiled away. Crack the shell to remove the acorn meat, then boil, changing the water as it turns brown until it no longer does. The nuts can be dried in the oven and ground into flour as the Native Americans did. If one has access to a creek or spring, simply tie the acorns in a cloth and set in the running water. In a day or two the bitter tanins will have washed away and the nuts can then be dried in a dehydrator.
While gathering acorns check the base of the oak tree for a wild mushroom called Hen of the Woods. This delicious edible mushroom is sold in specialty stores. It is also known by its Japanese name Maitake and is used to treat cancer and enhance health. Tea and supplement from this mushroom is also sold at stores. Growing on the ground are the yellow chanterelle mushrooms, another expensive find at specialty stores. These mushrooms are distinguished from the poisonous Jack O’Lantern because chanterelle grow singly from the ground and found in larger groups, while the Jack O’Lantern grows in clusters on wood. Before eating any wild mushroom, identification should be verified in person rather than from a field guide. Check the North American Mycological Society for a mushroom group near you. If you are in Western Pennsylvania, definitely check out The Western PA Mushroom Club.
This is only a sampling of the delicious healthy food that grows wild all around. Wild food is high in nutrition and cannot be priced out of reach or otherwise restricted. It is worthwhile to learn to identify these and other plants to take control of our budgets and health.