Survival Food - What to eat when food is scarce

Survival Food - What to eat when food is scarce

In many countries, eating bugs, grubs and worms as well as what we term weeds,is part of a normal daily diet.  As the Earth changes start to take a hold and increased crop shortages become the norm, new food sources will be sought after and utilized in daily diets.  For those who have back gardens or go to parks etc, they will notice that dandelions, goosefoot, and mushrooms along with other wild edibles are readily available. 

For instance the whole of the dandelion plant can be eaten, providing a lot of nutrition.  That creeping garden weed, chickweed is a lively peppery addition to salads.  That pervasive variegated plant in the corner of the garden - groutwart - the leaves can be eaten just like spinach.  There are  many surprising plants and insects that provide the nutrition we need when food is scarse.  

There are plenty of plants and insects that provide delicious meals and snacks.  What has been included here is just a sample, showing how to prepare, cook and eat wild edibles and insects.  As always safety comes first and safety tips for collecting wild edibles and insects has been included.  

Cooking

https://www.realfoodforlife.com/cooking-with-wild-plants/

https://foragerchef.com/plants/ (includes safety tips when foraging)

https://www.pinterest.ca/wildsuperfoods/wild-edible-plant-recipes/?...

Safety tips on foraging wild plants 

https://www.eatweeds.co.uk/foraging-safety-guidelines

https://www.gore-tex.com/blog/foraging-food-wild-plants

http://www.zetatalk.com/passage/passage8.htm (an excerpt on foraging from the story written by Nancy Lieder - http://www.zetatalk.com/passage/story.htm )

http://www.zetatalk.com/food/tfood122.htm

Plants

https://basisgear.com/edible-wild-plants/#tab-con-2

Insects

Eating Insects/ general - Zetatalk

https://www.backpacker.com/survival/12-edible-bugs-that-could-help-...

https://canadas100best.com/edible-insects/ (check your local area for edible insects)

http://www.wolfcollege.com/tips-for-eating-edible-insects/

Water Weeds

https://www.offthegridnews.com/how-to-2/feed-your-livestock-and-you...

http://www.ediblewildfood.com/cattail.aspx

http://www.eattheweeds.com/american-lotus-worth-getting-wet-for-2/

https://wildplantguide.com/foraging-watercress-facts-need-to-know/

Mushrooms/Fungi

https://northernbushcraft.com/guide.php?ctgy=edible_mushrooms&r... (check your local area for edible mushrooms) 

https://tastessence.com/types-of-edible-mushrooms

https://www.wildfooduk.com/articles/how-to-tell-the-difference-betw...

Birds and Other Small Mammals 

https://www.outdoorhub.com/stories/2015/07/30/survival-scenario-sna...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J46qjt7T8RE (catching, skinning and cooking rats)

Snails, Slugs and Worms 

https://www.outdoorlife.com/blogs/survivalist/2013/09/survival-food...

http://www.zetatalk.com/index/blog0809.htm

http://www.zetatalk.com/nonproft/worms/purging.htm

http://www.zetatalk.com/food/tfood04r.htm

http://www.zetatalk.com/food/tfood04m.htm

Wild Edible Seeds 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_edible_seeds

Zetatalk - Edible Seeds

Sprouting Seeds 

It is recommended to use organic seed produce as most stores sell produce that has been irradiated and the seeds will not sprout.

Here are some seeds that are good for sprouting:: broccoli - lentils - peas - sunflower - pumpkin and mustard..

https://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/sprouting/how-to-sprout-sun...

6 Easy ways to sprout seeds

Edible Grass

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leymus_arenarius

http://www.naturalmedicinalherbs.net/herbs/e/elytrigia-repens=couch...

http://www.eattheweeds.com/quack-grass/

Kitchen Scraps 

https://www.diyncrafts.com/4732/repurpose/25-foods-can-re-grow-kitc...

Quick Recipes and notes

Dried and powdered worms/bug stores well and can thicken soup. Corn and Amaranth ground up together makes a corn cake equivalent to red meat in protein.

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Comment by KM on August 14, 2019 at 2:20pm

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Bugible 

This site has an array of everyday foods with bugs, showing how they can be cooked and prepared for the everyday meals!

Comment by KM on August 4, 2019 at 4:34pm

https://www.ediblewildfood.com/broadleaf-plantain.aspx

Broadleaf Plantain is a perennial broadleaf plant that grows in many locations from spring to autumn. Not only is this a vital wild edible plant for overall good health, this wild weed can be used to treat chronic diarrhea as well as digestive tract disorders. Broadleaf plantain is packed with nutrients and is safe to ingest. If a person chomps on some fresh leaves, these can be applied to the skin to treat minor burns, insect bites or open wounds.

Distinguishing Features: Broadleaf plantain has green, oval to egg-shaped leaves that grow in a rosette. These leaves have thick stems that meet at a base. When these stems are broken, they reveal string-like veins that resemble those in celery. Long-pointed, green, petite flowers grow from the base; these also contain a small pod housing dark seeds.

Flowers: Plantain flowers occur in compact spikes on erect, leafless stalks from among the basal leaves. Each spike is about the size and shape of a pencil but consisting of many, tiny, stalkless, greenish flowers giving it a coarsely granular texture. Each flower measures 2 to 3 mm (1/12- 1/8") across. Each flower has four petals, two stamens, and one pistil. Egg-shaped seedpods develop beneath the withering flower.Flowers from spring until late autumn.

Fields of NutritionFields of Nutrition has medicinal benefits and vitamin/mineral content of Broadleaf Plantain.

Leaves: The leaves grow in a rosette and can range from 5 to 30 cm in length. Plantain leaves have stems that contain string-like veins and these veins are seen on the leaf. There are five to seven prominent parallel veins from the base. Leaves are generally broadly lance-shaped to egg-shaped, are hairless or sparsely short haired.

Height: Can grow to a height of 12cm.

Habitat: Can be found growing throughout Ontario and most of North America as well as in Europe and Asia in meadows, pastures, lawns, roadsides, gardens, and waste places.

Edible parts: The entire plant. Young leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. They are somewhat bitter and tedious to prepare because it’s generally preferable (though not required) to remove the fibrous strands before use. Many people blanch the leaves in boiling water before using them in salads in order to make them more tender. Once blanched, plantain can be frozen then used later in a sauté, soup or stew. Seeds can be eaten raw or cooked and can be tedious to harvest. The seed can be ground into a meal and mixed with flour. Dried leaves make a healthy herbal tea.

Other name: Common Plantain.

Similar plants: Rugel's Plantain.

Recipes: Baked Plantain, Chicken Weed Wrap, Nutty Plantain Snack, Plantain Oil, Plantain Salad, Sesame and Wilted Green Saute, Wild Pizza

Comment by Juan F Martinez on July 19, 2019 at 1:05pm

The Honorable Harvest

Comment by KM on July 13, 2019 at 5:14pm

Six of the most common 'weeds' in the garden - https://youtu.be/XkoZDkGI6RQ

Comment by KM on July 6, 2019 at 12:27am

A short video on how to collect and make a dandelion salad!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51VhG8MKxJY

Comment by KM on June 30, 2019 at 1:15pm

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40% OF ALL THE FOOD THAT IS GROWN, HARVESTED AND PROCESSED IS WASTED.

It's a scary thought, but it's about more than the huge waste. When food scraps go to landfill they break down without oxygen, causing them to release methane into the atmosphere - a greenhouse gas 30x more potent than carbon dioxide. But don't fret! There's plenty of ways of making sure you waste as little food as possible. Even what we might consider 'scraps' are actually still packed with heaps of nutritious goodness and can be used for the base of entire meals! One of the best ways to do this is by turning your leftover food scraps or sad wilted greens into vegetable stock. Here's how to do it:

1. The first thing to do is collect all your scraps! Keep them in Tupperware container in the fridge or freezer so they don't rot or go mouldy.

Pretty much all vegetables can be used to make your stock! Wash and save the roots, stalks, leaves, ends, and peelings from vegetables such as leeks, scallions, garlic, fennel, chard, lettuce, potatoes, parsnips, green beans, squash, capsicums, eggplant, mushrooms, and asparagus. You can also throw in Corn cobs, winter squash skins, beet greens, and herbs like parsley and coriander.

On the other hand, vegetables like cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and turnips can have a very overpowering taste so you might want to avoid putting them in your stock. We once used kale stems and it turned out somewhat bitter tasting. Plus, you can eat broccoli stems (like in a stirfry) so there's no need to throw them out in the first place!

If you really want to bulk out your stock, you can also use fresh vegetables such as chopped onion, carrot and celery. These three vegetables are usually used as the base for regular vegetable stocks.

Now to the cooking stage!

2. Put 1-2 litres of water in a pot on the stove and add your food scraps to the pot. There's no hard and fast rule here for water to food scrap ratio but I use about 2 litres of water for a 1 litre tub of food scraps.

3. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil, then partially uncover the lid and simmer for about 45 minutes.

4. Strain the liquid into a container or jar and let it cool down on the bench before refrigerating.

This is your stock! It can be a different colour depending on what veg you put in there. If there's any beetroot cuttings or red onion it might be a purpley colour. If there's heaps of greens there may be a more yellowy green tinge and if it's mainly roots potatoes and onion it will probably be more brown. They're all good so don't worry if the colour is a bit funky!

The stock can be used right away or stored in the fridge for 3-4 days in a sealed jar or container.

If you're not ready to use the stock soon, you can also pop it in a container in the freezer for 4 to 6 months!

Now, although this is a good way to make the most of the nutrients from your food scraps, there will still be leftover bits and pieces after the stock is made. The best thing you can do with these scraps is put them in a compost heap or worm farm. If you don't have access to one yourself you can jump online to find someone close to you who has a compost or even chickens! You may even know a friend or family member who can take the scraps with you.

Now all that's left to do is enjoy your delicious homemade veggie scrap stock!

Comment by KM on June 28, 2019 at 3:52am

A video on wild edibles - each area is different for edibles Be sure to  research as to what your part of the world offers.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_cJjAZGbbE&feature=share

Comment by KM on June 14, 2019 at 2:31am

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Foraging Wild Amaranth; Wild Edible Green and Pseudo Grain

I really love when there's a plant that I forage and can write about that literally grows around the world. It makes me feel really connected to people around the world and in various cultures, despite our differences. Today's plant that I wanted to talk about, slender amaranth, is exactly one of those. I saw a map about its worldwide distribution and it shows that amaranth grows in every place on the globe other than the extreme north and south parts of it. Not surprisingly, its used as a staple crop in many parts of the world.

I've written before about local foraging, and how some plants are super well known among the native foragers here, such as purslane, wood sorrel, mallow, and mustard, and yet there are other plants like black nightshade, cactus paddles, and amaranth that no one local seems to forage for whatever reason. For years I knew how to identify one of the varieties of amaranth that grows around me, but until I finally met someone locally who foraged it, a family of immigrants from Mexico who called it quintonille, I was hesitant to try it. Finally I got over my hesitation and amaranth has been a regular part of my summer foraging.

Where I live it doesn't rain in the summer, so foraging can be a little bit harder, because not so many things are growing in the dryness. Fortunately, over time I've discovered plenty of summer forageables, from amaranth to lambsquarters to cactus paddles to black nightshade and purslane and much more. Amaranth is one of those plants I can find year round, but locally it seems to grow to its full capacity in the summer.
There's posts on this blog in which I've talked about foraging amaranth before, I've included recipes using amaranth before, but I've never actually written about on how to identify it and use it, and figured that its now time to rectify that.
Part of the reason it took me so long to write this post is because, like with wild mustard, there are so many different varieties of wild amaranth that its hard to pinpoint the exact species down, so I didn't feel competent enough to share this knowledge with you, even though I know they're all edible.
The types of amaranth I'll be talking about in this this post are either amaranthus blitum or amaranthus virdis, commonly known as purple amaranth or Guernsey pigweed and slender amaranth or green amaranth respectively. (I honestly can't tell the difference between the two, and I honestly don't see a reason to unless that is something about which you're passionate, in which case I would gladly hear what the difference between these two plants are.) I'm choosing these to share because they have the most easily recognizable features, making them an easy to forage plant.

If you're hearing amaranth and thinking "Hey, wait, isn't that a grain?" you're right and also wrong. Amaranth is a pseudo grain, meaning that it is not a real grain (which come from the grass family) but has many similar properties and can be used as a grain and turned into flour. Local health food stores sell amaranth grains here.

However, the more useful, in my opinion, part of the plant is its leaves.

A summer forage of capers, lambsquarter leaves, amaranth leaves and grains, and mustard seeds
Scientifically amaranths are a genus in the Amaranthaceae family, known colloquially as the amaranth family. I've previously written here about foraging two other members of the amaranth family, sea beet, which is in the Beta genus of the amaranth family, and lambsquarters, which are in the Chenopodium genus. A cousin of theirs, the Spinacea genus, is the genus that contains spinach, so it's probably not surprising that all of these are sometimes referred to as wild spinach, as they can basically be used interchangeably for spinach in any recipe.
Likewise, Chenopodium, which is the genus that contains lambsquarters is also the genus that contains quinoa, the well known psuedograin, which is why the fact that amaranth's seeds/grains also grow in a similar fashion is unsurprising.

Nutritionally amaranth is a power house, chock full of vitamins A, K, B6, C, B2, B9, not to mention calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese.
Mushrooms stuffed with amaranth and chestnuts, vegan and paleo and ...
While amaranth can be eaten both raw and cooked, I'll admit that I'm not a fan of it raw (I taste this slight chalkiness when I eat it raw). Cooked though, even slightly cooked, even a couple of seconds sometimes, is enough for me to love it.

It tastes pretty much identical to spinach. Earthy, green, slightly bitter but not in an unpleasant way.

Potatoes with three cheese sauce and amaranth greens
Any way you'd use spinach, you can use this. The sky is the limit. Soups, patties, lasagna, stir fries, ravioli, creamed, etc...

So, how do you identify it and are there any poisonous look alikes?

Well, I don't live around the world, so I can't tell you if there are absolutely no poisonous look alikes anywhere in the world, but I can tell you how to tell them apart from the only plant that looks somewhat similar to it locally, pellitory of the wall.

Pellitory of the wall. NOT amaranth.
Amaranth and pellitory both like growing near walls. If you've noticed, nearly every picture of amaranth growing here is taken near walls. It is such a common weed where I live, growing from cracks between sidewalks and walls. Of course its there in abandoned lots and yards, but the most common place I see it is along walls.
Both plants have overall almond shaped green leaves. However pellitory's leaves are pointy at both ends, like an eye, whereas the base of the amaranth leaves are flat.
Both amaranth and pellitory next to each other. Pellitory more in the foreground and smaller, and amaranth bigger and higher up.
Both plants tend to have purplish/reddish/brownish stems, but sometimes the stem can be more green as well.
A very good way to identify wild amaranth and to tell it apart from all other possible look alikes unfortunately isn't always there. And I'm not quite sure why. Some plants have it on some leaves and not the other. Sometimes it's faded and sometimes its there clear as day.
Its this white or light green chevron going across the leaf. Each leaf only has one. The only other plant that I know has this is certain varieties of local clover, but they are very different looking so there's no way you'd confuse them.

Clover with its white chevron
Here's a few more pictures where the white chevron is clear.


Here.

And here its there, but a little less clear.
And here you have it there, but faded. Look closely.
Can you see the chevron here?
What about here? Do you see the chevron?
That was a trick question. There isn't a chevron there, not even faded. But that's still the same type of amaranth. I really have no idea why it's sometimes there clear, sometimes faded, and sometimes non existent. If a plant geek wants to enlighten me, I'd be fascinated.
So basically, if you see the chevron there, you're good to go (as long as its not clover, but clover isn't poisonous). If you don't see it, look for the other signs I mention.
Remember how I mentioned that amaranth is a pseudograin? They grow at the top of this gorgeous "flower". I know, doesn't look like much of a flower, but that's it right there. Pellitory, on the other hand, has flowers along its length, not at the top of it.
At first this is a flower, and then it gets fertilized, and once it does, there are a bunch of grains hidden in here.
Me, demonstrating to some children at a foraging class, how you expose the seeds
To expose the grains, pick off the seed heads on top and run them between your hands briskly. That will loosen them from the stalk and remove some of their covering, and you'll see these black seeds that look not too unlike poppy seeds.

If you want to do a lot of hard work, you can collect the seed heads, let them dry, and then thresh and winnow them, to remove the chaff and stem from the seeds.



Or, you can do like I do and just collect the seed heads, let them dry, take out the stems and leaves (if you want, not so imperative) and then grind them up like that. You can then grind it up as is, and you'll have flour together with ground greens, which isn't necessarily something you'd want to be using for a sweet dish, but they work well for savory pancakes, for example, or any other recipe where using greens and grains together taste good. (I haven't tried it to make homemade pasta, but that's on my list.)
There are two more local plants that have similar seed heads that I wanted to point out.

Annual mercury, poisonous semi look alike.
This poisonous plant, in my opinion, looks nothing like amaranth, even the green is entirely the wrong shade. However, because they sometimes have similar seed heads, I am mentioning it. But notice how the leaves have jagged edges? The leaves of amaranth are completely smooth. Sometimes they frill a little bit, but the edges themselves are smooth.
Lambsquarters, amaranth's cousin, mentioned above, also has similar seed heads. The difference here also is with the edges of the leaf, in that the edges of lambsquarter leaves look like the webbed foot of a duck, hence its latin name, chenopodium, which mean's goosefoot.
I think at this point, I gave enough information that even the most skeptical forager will be able to identify this plant.

So now let's go ahead and forage!
Comment by KM on June 7, 2019 at 6:18pm

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FORAGING SPRUCE TIPS (AND OTHER CONIFER TIPS)


Spruce tips have a bright, citrus flavor that works well in both savory and sweet dishes. Almost all conifer tips are edible, and the only exception is yew trees. Pine and fir tips have their own unique taste, and as an added bonus, all conifer tips have medicinal properties.

Conifer Tips ~ From left to right: Hemlock tips, Spruce Tips, Young Fir Tips, Older Fir tips and Pine Shoots

Conifer Tips ~ From left to right: Hemlock tips, Spruce Tips, Young Fir Tips, Older Fir tips and Pine Shoots

A spruce tip is the new spring growth at the end of a branch.  The tree hunkers down for winter, but then in the spring they send out tender (and flavorful) new growth.  The flavors can vary from tree to tree, ranging from bright and citrus-y to warm and resinous.  

While spruce are the most famous, other conifer tips are also edible.

IDENTIFYING CONIFER SPECIES

We don’t have many spruces on our land, but we have a plethora of hemlock, pine and fir trees.  I’d had my eye on making spruce beer for years, but without a source of spruce tips, it seemed out of reach.  A few months ago, when I was doing research for an article on how to eat a pine tree, I learned that all conifer tips are edible with the exception of yew trees which are questionably toxic.  That’s a pretty big selection of conifer tips, and a lot more options than spruce tips alone.

I found a really excellent guide to identifying different conifer species here, and it takes you through all the ins and outs of different varieties.  I’ll give you a quick rundown of each species as I know it.

Various conifer tips

SPRUCE TIPS

As it turns out, we do have spruce or two in a few landscape plantings around our house.  Spruce tips tend to stay inside a papery covering when they’re young, which helps you identify them at a distance.

Beyond that, spruce trees:

  • Tend to have short and stiff needles, that feel a lot sharper than the other conifers.
  • Each needle comes out of a single small woody projection (instead of in groups like pine needles) and if you pull out a needle the woody projection remains (unlike needles on fir trees which come off clean)
  • Needles are square in cross-section, and they can be rolled between the fingertips.

Spruce tips are the canonical “tip” that’s used by fancy chefs to create real world class foraged food.  This spruce tip ice cream is served in classy restaurants, and they’re also used as an exotic veggie mixed with pasta or in stir-fries.

Still though, my favorite are fir tips…

Handful of fir tips...mostly indistinguishable from spruce tips at this stage.

Handful of fir tips…mostly indistinguishable from spruce tips at this stage.

FIR TIPS

My favorite thus far, all the fir tips around these parts are lightly sweet with a hint of citrus.  Grapefruit maybe, with an ever so slight bitter note.  They’re also a lot more pleasant to harvest than spruce tips, since the needles are soft and you won’t get spiked if you trip into the tree.

Fir trees have:

  • Soft, flat needles.
  • Needles grow individually from the branch (unlike pine) but they’re attached with what looks like a tiny suction cup (rather than a woody projection like spruce).
  • a white-ish color on the undersides of the needles.

fir tips on the shoot

Thus far, I’ve been eating fir tips raw out of hand because they’re so good.  I have a boatload of them squirreled away in the fridge, and I’m hoping to get creative over the next month or so.  Tips keep really well if they’re refrigerated promptly, so these will be coming out for fun projects all the way into mid-summer.    

I did make a lovely fir tip posset, which is a simple eggless custard that simmers cream until it thickens and then adds a bit of lemon juice to help it set up.  If you summer the spruce tips in the cream, they infuse beautifully.

Spruce tip posset (eggless custard)

PINE SHOOTS

Probably the easiest to identify of all the conifers, pine trees have many long needles coming out of a single point of origin.  Beyond that, pine trees have:

  • Upturned branches that tend to grow sparsely in comparison to other conifers.
  • They grow in whirls circling the trunk, and the tree puts out a new ring of branches each year (handy for approximating the age of a pine tree).

Edible Pine shoots

Pine shoots are a bit different than all the other “tips” in that they’re more of a tight shoot and they don’t really look like conifer needles.  It’s the shoot of a new branch coming out, and there are no needles visible yet.  They’re pretty plain looking, but they’re packed with incredible flavor.

Warm, spicy and resinous, pine tips taste like sweet pine candy to my palate.  Imagine the smell of pine, but without the “green” taste of the needles (if you’ve ever recreationally eaten pine needles).  Slightly bitter, but still warm, comforting and mildly sweet. 

I made a pine shoot syrup that’s totally out of this world, and just uses sugar to draw out the natural liquid from the pine shoots.  Add in 2 parts pine shoots and 1 part sugar to a jar, then give it a good shake.  Allow it to sit for about a week, shaking it any time you think about it, and then spoon out a taste of heaven.

Pine Shoot Syrup

I dipped a spoon in for a taste, and I’m glad I was alone because I actually let out a soft moan…so good!  Next year I’m making a huge batch of this stuff.

This pine shoot syrup can be used to flavor meats, and I’m thinking it’d make a really unique baklava-like treat.  It’s also a natural cough syrup, in the same way as this pine needle cough syrup.  

HEMLOCK TIPS

Thus far I’m not a huge fan of hemlock tips.  They’re wicked tiny, and they taste distinctly sour to my palate.  Hemlock trees have needles that are flat, and come out in one plane from the stem like a fan.

hemlock tips

They can look a bit like yew species, but the underside of hemlock needles are white, while yew are a uniform green.

While I’m passing on hemlock tips, I am loving baby hemlock cones.  The underside of mature trees produce tiny hemlock cones that you can harvest at the same time as tips.  They’re sweet and flavorful, and much better tasting than the tips.

A little later on they produce a lot of pollen from those little proto-cones, and I’m trying to come up with some way to gather it.  Give the branch a whack and you’ll see what I mean, as a huge cloud puffs off the branch if your timing is right.

baby hemlock cones

AVOIDING TOXIC YEW SPECIES

Your best bet in avoiding a potentially toxic yew tree is to positively ID the conifer as something else edible.  Pretty simple.

In the northeast, we do have some yew species, namely Taxus canadensis, which looks quite a bit like young hemlock trees.  The main difference is hemlock trees have a white underside, and this species of yew is evenly green on both sides.

I’ve never seen a yew tree to my knowledge out here, and I think they’re maybe more common in the Pacific Northwest.  You can see I’m no expert on these, so do a bit of research to see if there are any in your local area to avoid.

SPRUCE TIP RECIPES

Regardless of the type of tips your harvesting, search for “spruce tip recipes” because that’s the one that everyone knows.  Each conifer tip has a slightly different flavor, but so does each individual tree.  They all produce slightly different flavors, so if you find one you don’t like, that doesn’t mean the next tree might not be better.

Comment by KM on June 1, 2019 at 6:43am

https://permaculturenews.org/2016/08/15/7-perennial-shrubs-trees-ed...

7 Perennial Shrubs and Trees with Edible Leaves

Mama always insisted I eat something green. I think a lot of moms are that way. Frankly, now, some thirty-odd years later, I’m quite thankful to her for teaching me to appreciate a variety of flavors and textures for making sure I stayed on the healthy straight and narrow. As an adult, I don’t find it difficult or disconcerting to try new foods, but in fact, it’s exciting. Eating leaves has certainly been that way for me.

Funny thing, moving from my mother on to my wife, a hardcore vegan (as am I), when frustrated with the state of the world, Emma used to often joke about just living in a tree and eating leaves.

Then, a few years ago, we were farming in the hot and humid tropics, where lettuces and cabbages don’t grow so readily, so we learned to make salads from other plants, namely perennial trees and shrubs. In other words, things were starting to move that direction for her. (Luckily, permaculture has provided us a great state to be in, so we can do more than just eat leaves.)

What the experience did for us is open the door to whole new assortment of salad greens. The great thing about eating the leaves of perennial trees and shrubs is that the supply is so great, a tree’s worth or whole hedge rather than a small herbaceous plant. What’s more is that perennial plants are the permaculture way. We may not all-out reject annual crops—I’ll be honest: I still love a tomato sandwich on potato bread—but we do acknowledge that they are not the way forward, not the focus needed on making more sustainable food systems.

Eating the leaves of trees and shrubs is a great option for transitioning food sources from high-energy annuals to high-yielding perennials.

1. Moringa (the Moringa genus)

Moringa Leaves (Courtesy of Forest and Kim Starr)
Moringa Leaves (Courtesy of Forest and Kim Starr)

This is just a top tree for me in general. It’s fast-growing, drought-resistant, and highly productive. The leaves are small and can be eaten raw, as salad greens or additions to omelets, stir-fries, soups and so on. I can hardly walk by a tree without grabbing a few leaves for snacking. They have a spice reminiscent of mustard greens or rocket, with a bit of nuttiness.

Plus, moringa is renowned for the health benefits it provides. In the garden, it has a deep-tapping root and can work as a chop-and-drop nutrient accumulator. It can be coppiced, grown as a hedge/living fence, or allowed to be a good understory tree. The seeds—as are the roots and stems—are also edible, and they can be used purify water.

2. Mulberry (the Morus family)

Mulberry is another permaculture favorite, mostly because it is also a quicker grower and a big producer, known for its berries rather than leaves. It’s drought-resistant, works in a multitude of climate zones, and can be regularly pruned as chop-and-drop mulch or animal fodder. It’s a great utility plant that has the potential of being a huge tree.

As for the leaves, they are edible but with some restriction. They need to be cooked, and the water can then be discarded for a side dish for greens. The leaves can also be stuffed with a rice and spice mixture in the same fashion as grape leaves. Mulberry leaves has also been used for centuries to make tea.

3. Katuk (Sauropus androgynus)

Tiny Flowers of Sweet Leaf Plant (Courtesy of Evelyn Avila)
Tiny Flowers of Sweet Leaf Plant (Courtesy of Evelyn Avila)

Katuk, also known as sweet leaf bush, is amongst my favorite greens from trees and shrubs. They have a really nutty/pea flavor and are produced in abundance by the plants. The leaves are also nutrition packed, especially with regards to protein, iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C. Also, the tips of young branches are often eaten, and they are referred to as tropical asparagus.

Katuk is good for wet soils, tolerates a bit of shade (its an understory jungle shrub), and roots well in water. It likes the heat of the tropics but can work in a greenhouse. After being misused as a weight-loss supplement, the perfectly safe food got wrapped up in an unsafe to eat scandal. This was the result of eating katuk in exceedingly rare abundance.

4. Goji (Lycium barbarum)

Goji berries, or wolf berries, are native to China but have recently garnered a lot of attention in the international superfood circles. They have highly nutritious berries with a wallop of antioxidants to fight cancer, as well as high levels of amino acids. Generally, the berries are consumed dried. Goji leaves are also delicious and nutritious, and they can be eaten raw (on the bitter side) or cooked in a broth or a stir-fry.

Goji berries are easy to grow and can even work in containers. The plants prefer a more alkaline soil, and left to their own devices will readily spread, via roots, over an area. They can be trained on a trellis or grown as shrubs. Young plants like moist soil, but once established, they are drought-tolerant.

5. Chaya (the Cnidoscolus family)

Chaya
Chaya

This tree is rapidly becoming one of my favorites. I’m reproducing it in abundance by simply breaking off branches and shoving them into the soil to root. Just cut a short bit of branch off, allow the sap a day or two to dry, and stick it in the ground. It’ll take some time, but it will root. Then, the shrubs grow upwards of seven feet and require very little attention to be wildly productive.

This is another highly nutrition choice, reminiscent of spinach, and chaya must be cooked (not in aluminum, which we should be cautious with anyway) as it is toxic raw, not unlike kidney beans, chicken, and potatoes. (No need to be afraid!) They are great in eggs, stews, rice, pizzas, and any way spinach might come.

6. Hibiscus (specifically, Hibiscus acetosella)

There are several members of the hibiscus clan that have edible leaves. I love okra for the veggie, one that I grew up with in gumbos and as deep-fried side dish, but my favorite hibiscus for leaves is the cranberry hibiscus, which has dark red leaves that provide a mildly tart taste, a la cranberries, and provides amazing color to salads. The flowers can also be used to make fancy lemonade.

The plants are easy to grow, and I constantly root clippings in bottles of water to expand the number of plants in the garden. It also self-seeds readily and vigorously. They can reach up to about two meters and will get dense if pruned regularly. They like full sun but can deal with a little shade, prefer slightly acidic soil, and tolerate a little drought.

7. Linden (the Tilia family)

Linden Trees (Courtesy of pwiwε)
Linden Trees 

Also referred to as basswood, linden trees have species from the Americas, Europe and Asia. Outside the US, they are often called lime trees, despite not having a close relationship to citrus. They are one of the few large trees with leaves that are not toxic, disgusting, or ridiculously tough. Linden trees are another fast-grower, great for shade and full of flowers.

The leaves of linden trees, especially young ones, are viable substitutes for lettuce in sandwiches and salads. Plus, being a good-sized tree, the abundance of leaves is very encouraging for foragers. Linden flowers can also be used to make medicinal tea for colds, coughs and throat problems.

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