For anyone interested in wilderness exploration, survival skills, sustainability, or living off the land, knowing a number of useful plants in your area is essential.
Outside of modern civilization, wild plants provide for almost every human need. Food, shelter, tools, clothing, medicine—all these and more come from plants. To someone who really knows the plants of a region, walking into the wilderness isn’t so much like walking into danger, but rather like walking into a fully-stocked pantry.
Why Harvest Wild Plants?
Harvesting wild plants can be fun, delicious, and can even save your life. In a survival situation, knowing local plants for medicine and food can be essential. Even in everyday life, wild plant foods tend to be more nutritious than their domesticated cousins—and can be even more delicious.
Anyone who has ever tasted wild blueberries knows what I am talking about.
Getting out in nature can be a great way of connecting with the land and is a good family-friendly activity. Children should be taught where food comes from, and ultimately that means getting your hands in the dirt. Kids love digging wild roots, picking berries, and gathering shoots, and they’ll pick it up quickly.
That’s not to say that this skill is easy. Learning plants takes time. We recommend that you begin learning in person. Find hikes or outings locally that are guided by skilled naturalists, or make friends with people who have good plant knowledge. Ask plenty of questions. Bring a camera, and review your pictures after the hike.
We also highly recommend that you purchase a good field guide to your area. I use this fantastic guide to the Pacific Northwest. Read it carefully, and use it as a reference as you learn more. Periodically flip through the book to help you remember plants that otherwise may slip from your memory.
After learning a new plant, try to solidify your knowledge by learning more.
For example, I recently learned how to identify the Saskatoon bush, which grows widely across North America. It’s one thing to remember an abstract name, but I also learned that Saskatoon bark and leaves can be used to make a tea that’s great for digestive issues, and that the berries were widely used to make Pemmican before the arrival of colonizers. The strong, thin trunks of Saskatoon bushes were also widely used as digging sticks for harvesting wild roots, and I put this knowledge to use to harvest some Camas in a local meadow.
After drinking the tea, eating the berries, and using the digging stick made from Saskatoon, I won’t be forgetting that plant quickly.
Ethics and Sustainability
Whenever we talk about harvesting wild plants, we have to talk about ethics. Native people I’ve worked with have used a roughly 1-in-10 approach to harvesting; never take more than about 10% of a given plant, or group of plants.
However, this approach needs to be fine-tuned. For example, when the plant in question is rare (either overall or locally), it’s appropriate to take none. Look for more common species, and species that are thriving in a local area.
Some plants grow so slowly that taking 10% year after year eventually leads to zero. Others reproduce quickly, and taking half or more of a given stand won’t put a dent in their population. Apply common sense and make sure enough remains for the plant to reproduce and for future generations to enjoy the benefits.
Go Forth and Gather!
Foraging wild foods is experiencing something of a resurgence as people discover the benefits of this ancient practice. This is wonderful, but it’s also putting a great deal of pressure on limited populations of wild plants. Some species, like the Wild Leek in parts of the US, are becoming more and more rare.
Err on the side of caution to protect these plants for the future—but don’t let that stop you from getting out there. Even identifying without harvesting can be great fun, and a good excuse to get your butt off the couch and into the forest. Enjoy!
Author: This article is written by Daniel a freelance writer based in the U.S.A, Chief Editor for one of the most popular Survival blogs. Check out the Ultimate Survival Kit List