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Foraging on your own land

Posted Friday, November 8, 2013, at 9:43 AM

Every prepper knows the importance of being prepared. But I'm often surprised by how many folks I've met who don't put in the leg work to be fully prepared for any situation. Case in point -- just how well do you know your bug out location? We've owned our 43 acres since 2005, and I can tell you when the mushrooms sprout, where the Spring water springs are, and when our various patches of wild berries are ready for picking.

How do I know this? By walking my land, every week. You read that right -- every week. Things change quickly in the wild, and just like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, slight changes to the flora and fauna on your property can give you a heads up about coming weather conditions, pest problems and more.

By walking your land each week, you'll not only become intimately familiar with the lay of the land, you'll also learn to detect food sources, animal trails, seasonal water supplies and so much more. Think of it as having home field advantage -- the better you know your property, the easier it will be to defend it.

I'd also advise getting in touch with your local extension agent and any native plant societies in your area and inviting them out to your property for a walkabout. You could learn valuable information, such as identifying plants that are poisonous and plants that you can add to the dinner table.

One plant we found on a walk with our local extension agent was a wild oregano called dittany, which adds a wonderful spiciness to salads and steaks. We now know where the spring chickory grows and can identify several medicinal plants that we can harvest in the wild.

Here are some rules that every forager should live and breathe by:

Familiarize yourself with the weeds, herbs, bushes and trees on your land, try to learn as much as possible about the ecosystem of which you are a part.

Learn to identify them correctly and investigate all their uses. Try to understand it as part of a larger ecosystem. With which other plants does it form communities? Is it native or invasive? Does it protect the ground or deplete it of any of its nutrients? Building this kind of holistic knowledge base will give you a much deeper insight into the nature of a plant and its role within the ecosystem.

Learn to identify the poisonous plants you are likely to encounter. DO NOT EAT ANYTHING YOU CANNOT POSITIVELY IDENTIFY AND DEEM SAFE.

When you think you know a plant, always cross reference to be 100 percent sure because non-edible look-alikes can fool you.

Don't be greedy! Familiarize yourself with the plants that are listed on the endangered species list for your area. Apart from being unethical, it is also illegal to pick endangered plant species. Instead of taking rare plants, consider sowing their seeds in the wild.

Only pick as much as you need and never take ALL the plants of any one kind in a given patch. After harvesting an area give the plants plenty of time to recover before returning to the same patch. Be very careful when it comes to harvesting roots. Remember that often harvesting roots means the death of the plant, so before you start digging ask yourself if this plant is really plentiful and if it can sustain a harvest of its roots. If in doubt, don't collect.

Once you have collected your wild edibles make sure your body will not reject this new food:

First, rinse or wash the parts of the plant you are using.

Test one plant at a time -- preferably only one new plant per day.

Test the plant first by rubbing it on your skin. If there is no reaction, then rub part of the plant on your lips. If there is no reaction there then eat a small portion of the plant. If you experience no reaction at all, then all should be well.

Wild edibles should be harvested when the oils responsible for flavor and aroma are at their peak. Proper timing depends on the plant part you are harvesting and the intended use.

If you are collecting wild edible weeds for their foliage then to maximize the nutritional content, they should be harvested before they flower. After flowering they are still good for you and they still contain vitamins, minerals and nutrients, just not as plentiful.

Optimal time for collecting flowers such as chamomile should be done just before it reaches its maximum size.

Harvest roots, such as burdock, chicory or goldenseal in the autumn after the foliage fades.

Some general guidelines are:

Begin harvesting when the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth.

Harvest early in the morning, after the dew dries, but before the heat of the day.

Harvest the wild edible before flowering, otherwise, leaf production declines.

Most flowers have their most intense oil concentration and flavor when harvested after flower buds appear but before they open.

The Mycological Society of America is a scientific society dedicated to advancing the science of mycology - the study of fungi of all kinds including mushrooms, molds, truffles, yeasts, lichens, plant pathogens, and medically important fungi.

Our local MSA representative walked the land with us and has added significantly to our understanding of what mushrooms are safe (and tasty) to eat, as well as which ones to avoid. I was amazed at the wealth of food available on our property, and now have a calendar in place with reminders as to what types of mushrooms are sprouting when, and the best time to harvest them.

Any time you can identify an additional food source on your property, it's a win -- and in this case, it was a delicious win for us.

You also need to be able to identify what animals live on your land - from bats to birds, deer to bears, and even coyotes and mountain lions -- knowing what animals call your home their home will help you better understand the ecology of your land, and clue you in to any changes that, while imperceptible to us, affect the behaviors of the animals, giving you a heads up on changing conditions.

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A New York city girl has relocated to the Ozarks and is now having the adventures of her life, living in a cabin out in the country and learning about living an off-grid, sustainable lifestyle.
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