Foraging for Wild Food and Edible Wild Plants

When Jesse and I talk about becoming self-sufficient, we’re not just talking about producing our own power via solar panels, having our own water supply and having our own garden. We want to be self-sufficient on a deeper level and one of the things we desire to do is have the skills and ability to go out in our big backyard and survive, at least on a basic level of being able to feed ourselves.

Not only do we wish to strengthen our survival skills, but there is an abundance of food in the forest today that we can take advantage of to lower our grocery bill, mainly in the form of fruit.

Who knew that there are a ton of edible plants in this beautiful wilderness?
Who knew that there are a ton of edible plants in this beautiful wilderness?

For the past week, Jesse and I have dropped everything we were doing to forage for wild food and fruit in the forest. Not only did we pick gallons of fruit, but we learned to preserve it for months and seasons to come.

In this post, we wish to share with you some of the things we’ve been gathering and what we’ve done with them. We hope this inspires you to look around your forests and neck of the woods to see what you can find to both lower your grocery bill, increase your food quality, and strengthen your preservation skills if they need working on!

Purple Gold: Huckleberries

The most obvious thing that led us into the woods this past week was huckleberries! Jesse was on a 10-mile hike when I was in LA a couple weeks ago and saw huckleberries on his path, so he took us back there the first chance he got!

We've been picking so many huckleberries that I see them at night when I close my eyes!
We’ve been picking so many huckleberries that I see them at night when I close my eyes!

Huckelberries are a hot commodity in Idaho. People get extremely secretive about their huckleberry-picking spots and people sell them for $40/gallon. We decided to jump on the huckleberry bandwagon while they are in-season and see what we could come up with.

We’ve picked huckleberries four times so far, 2-3 hours each session, and we’ve probably picked close to 5 gallons. Each time we picked them, we picked at a lower and lower elevation and they were in abundance! It’s a little time-consuming, but in the end it was time well-spent in nature.

IMG_9315
We’ve spent so many hours doing exactly this! Pure bliss.

So far, we’ve put these to use in huckleberry BBQ sauce, huckleberry pepper jelly (used this recipe but huckleberries instead of blueberries), and huckleberry ice cream! We are in-love with all of these things, and have loads of extras for months to come.

Huckleberry BBQ sauce! In go the huckleberries... yum!
Huckleberry BBQ sauce! In go the huckleberries… yum!
Real huckleberry ice cream with cream, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and huckleberries. That's it!
Real huckleberry ice cream with cream, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and huckleberries. That’s it!

The Cutest Fruit in the Forest: Thimbleberries

The next fruit we’ve been obsessing over is Thimbleberries! The funny thing is that both Jesse and I have been walking past this plant for what seems like years and neither of us knew they were edible! They do look kinda poisonous in my opinion so I guess it was good to trust my instinct to be on the safe side, but these red little gems are actually quite tasty!

Isn't this fruit cute?
Isn’t this fruit cute?

The trails in Idaho are lined with Thimbleberries and they are just now getting ripe. While we wouldn’t necessarily eat handfuls of the fruit just walking on the trail, we think they will be extremely tasty in a jam or jelly.

This week, we were able to forage about a quart of this lovely fruit and over the next couple of days, we will turn it into a beautiful, red jam.

These thimbleberries will make such a rich, delectable jam.
These thimbleberries will make such a rich, delectable jam.

An Oldie But Goodie: Wild Raspberries

I had no idea that we had wild raspberries in our forests, but luckily, Jesse knew and spotted a raspberry bush! The raspberries in the wild are actually quite small from what I’ve seen and while we might not make an entire jam out of them, they are delicious to eat on the trail. We also learned that raspberries and thimbleberries seem to have a similar taste in habitat!

Isn't this little guy adorable! Wild raspberries are oh so tasty!
Isn’t this little guy adorable! Wild raspberries are oh so tasty!

For us, foraging is not all about finding food to can, but understanding what is available in the forest if we’re on a hike or somehow stranded in nature for a prolonged period of time. Had Jesse not pointed out the raspberries to me, I don’t know that I would have spotted them on my own and even if I did find them, I don’t know that I would trust them enough to eat them!

We did collect some of these to stick in our thimbleberry jam although I’m not sure there will be enough to offset the flavor of the thimbleberries.

A Seemingly Boring Fruit: Serviceberries

Another fruit we found in the forest are serviceberries. This is another berry that I would never think to put in my mouth because I was taught to not eat berries I was unfamiliar with! Assuming we actually found serviceberries, this fruit actually has a very bland taste – almost non-existant.

We are pretty sure this is a serviceberry... we ate one anyhow and didn't die hahaha!
We are pretty sure this is a serviceberry… we ate one anyhow and didn’t die hahaha!

Because I’m adventurous when it comes to the kitchen and trying new recipes, I may try to make a jam out of this for fun because why the heck not?

Jam or no jam, we’re both happy to have learned about this berry and feel somewhat confident that we could identify the plant if in a pinch. Even if the berries aren’t delicious, they are definitely edible, and could hold us over if we are ever in need.

Wild Food We Have Yet to Try

While we’ve done a pretty good job at identifying a few new food sources, there are others that we have yet to spot or have yet to try out! These are definitely on the adventurous side but we’ll tell you about them anyways because it just may inspire you to see what you have growing in YOUR forest that could be in your pantry!

Pickled Cattails – Did you know that cattails were edible?! I had no idea! Apparently the leaves are edible (don’t take my word for it though, do your own research) and the stocks when peeled are great for pickling! This does sound like it could be tasty… if so, would it be so terrible to can a few jars of it?

Camas – There is another beautiful purple flower that’s roots are great to eat. Apparently, this was a desired dish “back in the day”. The roots are apparently sweet yet have a slightly gummy consistency. I’d be willing to try to make it taste good and can a few jars for our emergency stash… or, I’d at least like to know how to identify / prepare it if I’m ever in need!

Stinging Nettle – There is another edible plant in the forest called Stinging Nettle and while it should really be handled with gloves, apparently it’s pretty good and non-prickly when cooked! There are all sorts of nettle recipes, and I’m really looking forward to finding some!

Fireweed Jelly – This beautiful plant is sprinkled all around our forests and little did we know it’s edible! One of the things we want to try with this plant is to make jelly out of the flower petals. Check it out… I don’t think we’d have the patience to make this twice but we would like to try it once!

Foraging for Edible Plants and Wild Food in Your Own Area

Even though were all taught to buy our food from the grocery store, or even grow it in our own gardens, there is likely edible food in almost every part of the world! Why not turn your everyday hike into an educational opportunity and learn about some of the plants available for you to consume? Better yet, why not collect some of the plants and see if you can find a recipe online to prepare them?

foraging-wild-food

To find edible plants, first you can do a quick search on Google for “edible plants (your area)”. There might be a PDF you can save to your phone so that you can access it even if you don’t have cell service. The other thing you can do is visit your local Forest Service office and see if they have a book on the matter. Ours does, and it’s free, so we keep that in our hiking backpacks so that we can access it on a moment’s notice.

Bartering with Wild Food

The last thing we want to share in this post is the idea of bartering with foraged food. I’m not saying this will work with every wild plant (cattail pickles, anyone?) but for us, huckleberries are in high demand as is anything huckleberry-flavored. We’ve found that keeping canned huckleberry jam with us in the car wherever we go can go a long ways!

Canning some huckleberry preserves.
Canning some huckleberry preserves.

We recently met a guy that gave us 24 brand-new half-pint mason jars with lids… he didn’t need them, we did, and he was happy to give them to us! We thanked him with a jar of huckleberry jam we had in the car and he was elated! It was a win-win for us both.

We also feel that we may be able to trade some of our unique berry jams for things like vegetables or meat. You’ll have to get creative, but bartering can be one way to get what you need at a low cost.

Just putting the idea out there if it gets anyone’s wheels spinning… why not take something for free out of the forest and turn it into something of value? This is one tiny way to circumvent the need for money as we know it today.

Get Involved!

Do you have any experience with wild foods in your areas? Have you tried any wild recipes like cattail pickles? Have you been able to barter with food you’ve foraged or grown yourself? Maybe you are having an excellent huckleberry season as well? As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts!

Did you enjoy this post? If so, help us produce more of them! We put a lot of work into bringing you the best content possible. Learn how you can support our blog here, without spending a dime!

The following two tabs change content below.
I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.

Comments

    • says

      In the recipe I linked to, it was noticeable but not up to our liking. The next batch I upgraded to habaneros and left the seeds in, but also only used 2 habaneros and 2 jalapenos to 10 cups of hucukleberries. This was much better and the heat lingered, although still not hot and we could handle more. One day I’ll perfect the amount of heat!

  1. says

    This was a great video! We are big foragers and love gathering wild food to preserve, you mentioned many we’re not taking advantage of! Our favorite are wild strawberries. They look like a miniature strawberry – with leaves and red vines just like the domestic variety – they grow very low to the ground and pack the flavor of a handful of strawberries in one small berry the size of your pinky nail! But you probably won’t find more than a snacks-worth. You’re a couple months past morel season, they grow best where there’s been a recent burn…here a post from our haul this past year as well as a description of the difference between real and false morels (the false ones are poisonous). Happy preserving! https://everydayfull.com/hunting-morels/

    • says

      We haven’t seen wild strawberries yet but I can imagine that there would only be enough for a small snack! We are bummed that we missed morel season… next year for sure. We are trying to study up on other edible mushrooms though because there are lots… we live in such a beautiful area don’t we? Those morels you got look delicious! We picked up some at the farmers market that were harvested last week (apparently they are still in season somewhere in the woods of Idaho? HAHA!) we are curious to see if they’re as good as everyone says they are. Keep us posted on other cool edibles you find! Next I hope to tackle serviceberries, salals (if they’re in the area… not sure yet), chokecherries, St. John’s Wort, fireweed and more!

  2. Lela says

    I just discovered Autumn Olive berries last fall. I have several big bushes and they get tiny little berries and make wonderful jelly. You just have to be faster than the birds.

  3. Dan of Longmont says

    You guys rock! Great video on foraging. I grew up in New England and use to do a lot of what you guys are doing in my own back yard. We had many types of berries within arms reach right out our back door, and the point you guys make of getting out and enjoying the forrest while doing something productive, is a great one. Also, great point on picking up after the “stupid people” who think mother earth is their dumping ground. I’ve enjoyed all of your videos and am always looking forward to watching the next one. Keep up the great work!

  4. Mike in Illinois says

    Harvesting berries is awesome. We always went black berry picking with my grandma when we were kids. She knew where the biggest and best black berries grew in the woods by her house. She made the best homemade cobblers and then we would make some home made ice cream. Grandma sure knew how to make those cobblers! We couldn’t wait for her to pull them out of the oven. So good. Maybe you guys could plant some blackberry bushes in your woods if you don’t now have them. I know you would never be sorry that you did!

    • says

      Your grandma sounds like a great grandma! Such fun memories! I’m not sure how blackberries would do here but I know in Oregon they were quite invasive… I’m sure we’ll plant some fruits no doubt but not sure which ones. All of them?! Haha!

  5. says

    Salal berries are another bland berry but generally Oregon grape and Washington holly berries are available at the same time. combining those tart berries with the bland ones can make them both palatable.
    We have an abundance of the evergreen huckleberries here and the endemic Hymalayan blackberries. I have carefully trained the black berries so they are easy to pick and will be delivering them to the local food co-op tomorrow. Had a snack off of my transplanted thimble berries on my way back from putting the chicken up for the night.
    My homestead is over 100 years old but I am still adding to it.

  6. says

    How lucky you are to have all these berries growing in the wild! Around here it’s too hot for berries, but we also have some wild-growing bounty: figs, carobs, wild grapes, almonds and prickly pears. I just made some fig jam this week.

    • says

      Wow, all of those things grow in the wild? You might not have berries but those things are pretty awesome too! We love a good fig… would be fun to have a non-wild fig tree but we haven’t seen them grown locally yet. I guess the lesson is that wherever you are, there is likely wild food, but it changes from region to region!

  7. Patricia says

    Have enjoyed watching you and your journey………and had gotten me to wonder if I could do something like that……..I got the buying water in town ……..would like a video or post about your everyday hygiene……..like how do you shower, can you show your shower and how it works, how do you wash clothes is a huge question I am wondering about also……….

    I would love to get off grid as far as the water supply is concerned……not sure financially I could get off grid as far as electrical is concerned……..atleast not right now……

    Thank You
    Patricia Mendez

    • says

      Hey Patricia! We’ll take note of that for a video recommendation. Our hygeine is pretty similar to that of “normal” people. We shower at least once a day now that we are hooked up to a cistern. We still don’t take long showers because we try to be conservative with our water use, and also our hot water tank in the RV is pretty small, but the shower works similar to a normal shower as well. I guess it would be good to do a tour of the basics since we haven’t done that yet. We do laundry at a laundromat in town – pretty boring – but it’d be nice to be able to do tiny loads on the property! For electrical, we ran 100% off a generator for the first 9-10 months and our fuel bill was maybe $100/month (more in winter). Stay tuned and we’ll show how we’re getting started with solar on a budget and by taking baby steps… more in this video and more to follow on the blog! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ov7ArKkm07c

  8. Paula says

    might try looking for lambsquarter. usually grows in a ”disturbed” area of dirt, along side roads. I have a whole front yard of them. wild spinach.

  9. says

    Thanks for sharing this article. Lots of good foods in it that are free if your willing to put in effort and connect us with the long heritage and health our species has enjoyed due to eating and gathering wild foods.
    Some ideas about common wild plants
    nettle grows like crazy in compost heaps and other high nitrogen areas (old pastures, wherever animals empty themselves), it’s easy to dry for winter and so good it’s hard to eat enough of!
    cattail’s mail pollen spikes- the green/yellow part that emerges between the leaves in early to mid summer- are delicious and full of vitamin c and protein (as are many wild plants)
    milkweed is a three season edible- the shoots, flowers and pods are all delicious after a 2-3 minute boil

    • says

      Thanks for the info! Nettle is on our to-find list but we haven’t found any yet… then again, I’m not sure if we’ve been in high nitrogen areas? The others we’ll also have to keep an eye out for! Wild food is so much fun :-)

  10. says

    Hi Alyssa and Jesse! Hope you are doing great! I enjoy reading your blog and watching your videos.

    Some ideas:

    do some research and plant some good vegetables around your property, plant plant plant. The earlier you start the earlier you will enjoy fruits. You can get plant branches for free from nearby farmers. Make a wineyard too. If berries are good, you can increase your productivity planting more of them. These plants love acidic soil, and this is easily found under pine trees where pine needles decompose.

    Another idea related to wood. Save some good piece of wood and set it aside to dry somewhere. In a few years (when proper seasoned) jesse could start making good quality and natural furniture out of that. In the meantime, during winter, learn how to do some woodworking with just manual tools (tools are not cheap but you do not need that many).

    Start raising chickens, and/or ducks. They will provide you with eggs and meat. I have three chickens and three indian runner ducks, and i get plenty of eggs all the year. Needless to say that your natural chicken eggs are much better than the ones from the supermarket.

    For taking care of the unwanted weed, maybe a goat could help, but it would be hard to keep her away from your veggies, and a fence is needed.

    For reducing heat during summer, have some water evaporate in the roof of your house. It will help, and not much is needed. Try to dig a hole/trench in the soil and lay down a pipe to a nearby place in a higher altitude and in the shade. Then have a small fan pulling in cold air from the buried pipe.
    Another pipe could go from your house to an higher altitude hot place, and this would naturally act as a chimney, since hot hair wants to go high, therefore sucking in air from the sides, and creating a nice draught.

    @mgua

  11. Ronnie Maiden says

    About cattails–nibble the green stalks, before the plant produces the actual cattail, it tastes like a very mild cucumber. Peel any coarse leaves first. They are quite tasty.

  12. says

    Serviceberries are also known as Amalanchier. We have a bush/tree in our back yard. Makes a great jam, if you can beat the birds to the harvest. I believe it is primarily a shrub type of plant but you can prune it to be more of a tree.

    I know that someone already said that you found a Saskatoon. (I had those also when we lived in Edmonton — sour, but make a good pie) Just thought I’d share some notes about Amalanchier’s.

    Maybe when you start your own orchard you can think about some different plants/trees like that!

    Are there any nut trees in Idaho?

    • says

      I’ll have to catch up on all of these different berry names… I thought a Serviceberry was a Saskatoon but maybe I’m mistaken. I just discovered through the Master Gardeners course that there are TONS of nut trees in Idaho! I can’t wait for summer to find some of them! Foraging is way too much fun…!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *