Sergei Boutenko is the author of Wild Edibles: A Practical Guide to Foraging, which will be released tomorrow. —BBL Editor
Would you like to save money, expand your diet and boost your health this summer? Eating weeds and wild edibles can easily help you reach all three of these goals. Here’s how:
1. They’re free! Wild edibles are free! To date I’ve visited over 40 counties and have witnessed how rapidly food costs are rising worldwide. For example, in Australia, during the winter months, one bunch of kale can cost as much as eight dollars. For many people, spending that much money on greens is not realistic. By eating wild edibles you can still be a greeny without breaking the bank.
2. They’re wild, therefore healthier. Weeds and wild edibles are the origins of all of the produce we see at the supermarket. Wild edibles grow the way nature intended them to. They have not been hybridized, modified or engineered, and thus they remain pure. Wild-growing plants also tend to have longer root systems, which allow them to survive in harsher environments (i.e., without watering systems and constant human care). These long roots also enable weeds to draw significantly more minerals from the soil around them, thus making them nutritionally superior to store-bought food.
3. Eating weeds diversifies your diet. In his book Native American Ethnobotany, Daniel Moerman writes that North American native peoples utilized thousands of different plants for food and medicine on a regular basis. When you look at the diet of modern-day humans, you can easily observe the opposite. Corn, wheat, dairy and meat make up the bulk of what we eat on a day-to-day basis. I believe that the key to good health lies in food diversity. Different foods consist of different nutritional elements. Some foods are high in zinc while others are high in protein. Thus if we eat a plethora of different foods regularly, we can better ensure that our bodies have a steady supply of vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients to keep them running properly. Eating more wild edibles is the best way to expand your food options. When you learn to identify one wild edible, you expand your food scope by hundreds of potential choices. For example, a common dandelion has roughly two hundred edible varieties. So if you add dandelions to your meals this year, you can expand your diet significantly.
4. They’re local. This one is a no-brainer. Eating food that’s been flown and trucked all over the world is wasteful. Weeds and wild edibles should be the textbook definition of local food because the only energy expended in the harvesting of wild edible plants is your own. I call this kind of energy “expenditure exercise” —yet another benefit to wild edibles.
Now you know. Wild edibles are awesome. But where do you start? Even after learning about the major benefits of wild edibles most people are hesitant to eat them because of the negative publicity they continue to receive in the media. Weeds are not dangerous. They don’t have the ability to jump down your throat involuntarily. I believe that with a little caution and common sense, you can enjoy wild edibles without any negative repercussions. Consider these simple guidelines before harvesting and eating wild edibles:
Don’t eat something if you don’t know what it is: If you’re not absolutely sure it’s edible, do the research necessary to find out. Read some books, consult with an expert and do what you have to do to take out all the guesswork. (Here’s a funny rap song I put together about this subject.)
Try all new edibles in small amounts the first time. Even the most edible plants can affect people differently. To avoid any negative reactions, approach new foods cautiously. Take a nibble and see how it makes you feel. Once you know how your body reacts, you can eat it to your heart’s content.
Don’t mix wild edibles until you know how your body reacts to them. If you mix a lot of different plants in a salad or smoothie and then have a reaction, it will be very difficult to pinpoint which particular plant caused it. That’s why I recommend not mixing wild edibles.
Get more foraging tips and wild edibles recipes at sergeiboutenko.com.