Category Archives: Survival Guide

Elderberry – Wild Edible

Elderberry – Wild Edible

Elderberry is a native shrub like plant that attracts birds, butterflies and wildlife. It is a prolific plant that can reproduce from seeds, sprouts, planted branches, and root suckers.  It does require stratification at 36-40 degrees F for two months for spring planting.

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Common Names

Arizona elderberry, American elder, sweet elder, wild elder, flor sauco, tree of music, Danewort, Walewort, New Mexican elderberry, velvet-leaf elder, hairy blue elderberry, and dwarf elder. 

Description

Elderberry is a shrub like plant that grows 10 ft- to 15 ft tall.

elderberry compound leaves

The plant’s compound leaves are set oppositely in pairs. The leaf surface is bright green.  They are oval to lance-shaped leaflets are up to 6″ long and 2 1/2″ wide and have finely serrated margins.  They are abruptly narrowed at the tip and lopsidedly narrowed or rounded at the base.  Leaflets are usually held on short stalks.

Flowers open in early summer as small white, roughly ¼ inch each, flowers borne in large, flattened clusters measuring 4″-10″ across. Flowers usually develop in the second year on older canes and are arranged in branched clusters of 5.

Purple-black round fruit appear in late summer and fall. Individual berries are less than 1/4″ across grouped in large clusters. Each berry contains 3-5 small seeds. 

Range & Habitat

elderberry map showing the North American areas this native plant family can be found

As the map indicates, some form of elderberry can be found throughout the US and Canada – from California and all western states, south into northwest Mexico, north to Canada and to the North American east coast.

Elderberry grows on moist, well-drained sunny sites, usually occurring in groupings in moist areas and moist areas within drier, more open habitat. You can find them around streams, open areas with access to moisture.

American elderberry prefers slightly acid soil bordering streams, and in the adjacent bottomlands.  It likes full sunlight.

Harvest

elderberry berries grow in clusters as do the flowers

Elderberry fruit normally matures between mid-August and mid-September and turn a dark purple when fully ripe.

The easiest way to harvest elderberries is to use scissors to snip the entire cluster from the shrub and then remove the berries from the cluster.

The annual average yield per plant is 12 lbs. -15 lbs.

Storage Refrigerate immediately after harvesting or freeze for later use.

Edible

Elderberries right off the bush are usually tart. You should not each too much raw though

The berries are gathered and made into elderberry wine, jam, syrup, and pies.

The entire flower cluster can be dipped in batter and fried while petals can be eaten raw or made into a fragrant and tasty tea.

The flowers add an aromatic flavor and lightness to pancakes or fritters.

Interesting Facts

At least 50 species of songbirds, upland game birds, and small mammals eat the fruit of American elder during summer and early fall as do the White-tailed deer that browse the twigs, foliage and fruit during the summer.

American elder is a nesting cover for small birds.

American elder can be used for erosion control on moist sites.  It pioneers on some strip-mine spoils and may occasionally be useful for reclamation planting. 

Elders can be propagated from 10” to 18” hardwood cuttings taken from vigorous one-year-old canes in which cane each must include three sets of buds. 

Edible berries and flower are used for medicine, dyes for basketry, arrow shafts, flute, whistles, clapper sticks, and folk medicine. 

Elderberries are high in Vitamin C. 

The wood is hard and has been used for combs, spindles, and pegs, and the hollow stems have been fashioned into flutes and blowguns. 

Elderberry branches were used to make the shaft of arrows. 

Birds and other animals disperse seeds as they poop them out after feasting on the fruit. There are about 230,000 seeds per pound.

There are several look alikes you should be careful of. The first is pokeweed, the second is devil’s walking stick and the third is poison hemlock. Learn to identify the differences – especially poison hemlock since eating that by accident will kill you.

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Indian cucumber Wild Edible

Indian cucumber

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General

Indian cucumber plant when mature have two tiers of leaves and grows to 3 feet

Indian cucumber is a member of the lily family and can be found in Eastern North America. It grows from seed and spreads by rhizome. It is a long-lived perennial that has been over harvested for many years in certain areas so, please do not harvest unless it is an urgent food need or if it is legal in your area. The plant does lend itself to domestication so if you do find a small plantation of Indian cucumber in late autumn take a few seeds or better yet order online.

Common Names

Indian cucumber-root

Description

Indian cucumber berries are not edible but will help you identify the plant

Stems have two tiers of whorled leaves when mature and ready to flower. The lower tier typically bears between five and nine lance shaped leaves. The second tier is produced when the plant flowers and consists of approximately three to five leaves. When the plants are mature and have the second set of leaves, they will be approximately 30 inches tall.

The green leaves are hairless and have an entire smooth edge. Their size is between 3 inches long (upper) – 6 inches long (lower). Since this is a deciduous plant, leaves will turn purple/red to lavender in the Fall.

Indian cucumber flowers are yellow-green and grow off the top layer of leaves

The flowers, about 1 inch wide, have yellowish/gold – green coloration and are somewhat trumpet like. They appear in late spring into summer and typically point downward like wild onion flowers – they “nod”.

The 1 inch berries are dark blue to purple and appear above the top tier of leaves. The berries mature in early fall.

Range & Habitat

Indian cucumber range map

As the map indicates, Indian cucumber grows from Ontario south to Louisiana east to Florida and north into the Canadian Maritimes.

Indian Cucumber-root is found in hardwood, conifer, and mixed wood forests throughout its range. It grows in shade or partial shade on moist, well drained slopes.

Harvest

The berries are not edible. The root which is choice may be harvested at any time. It is not overly large and will fit within the palm of your hand – so to have a meal you need several. It may be eaten raw or cooked.

Edible

The plant bears edible roots (rhizomes) that have a mild cucumber-like flavor. They may be eaten raw or cooked like root vegetables.

Look a-Likes

Starflower, which is not edible, has similar leaves, but the leaves are only on one level. Also, Starflower has small white flowers that don’t hang down.

Whorled Pogonia – poisonous, but root is different

Interesting Facts

It is listed as an endangered plant in Florida and in Illinois.

Iroquois used the plant both as food and a medicinal herb.

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Poison hemlock Identification

Poison hemlock Identification

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General

poison hemlock can be found through out North America

Poison hemlock is a biennial plant – it typically has a two year life cycle. First year plants are low-growing and may resemble carrots. They can be distinguished by the lack of hairs on the stems along with purple-reddish blotches. Second year plants may stretch over 10 feet tall.

Poison hemlock was brought to the United States from Europe as a garden plant. It took a bit less than a few centuries for this noxious plant to populate the North American continent. Just another case of poor thoughts and dire consequences.

Common Names

poison parsley, spotted corobane, carrot fern, devil’s bread and devil’s porridge

Description

Poison hemlock stems are hollow and hairless.

Poison hemlock stems are hollow and hairless. They are green with reddish or purple spots and streaks.

The triangular leaves are green and look like fern leaves. They are toothed on edges and have a strong musty odor when crushed.

Flowers grow on second year plants. They have 5 petals that are tiny and white – approximately 2 to 3 inches across. They are arranged in small, umbrella-shaped clusters on ends of branched stems – much like Queen Anne’s lace. Flowers are followed by green ridged seed cases that turn brown as the seeds mature.

Range and Habitat

As the map shows, poison-hemlock grows throughout the United States.

It likes sunlight and grows along fence lines, in irrigation ditches, and in other moist waste places.

Poison Parts

Poison hemlock range map across North America

Poison hemlock is acutely toxic to people and animals, with symptoms appearing 20 minutes to three hours after ingestion. All parts of the plant are poisonous and even the dead canes remain toxic for up to three years. Eating the plant is the main danger, but it is also toxic to the skin and respiratory system.

The seeds and roots are toxic. Roots of poison-hemlock are poisonous and may be mistaken for wild parsnips.

Poison Effects

The typical symptoms for humans include dilation of the pupils, dizziness, and trembling followed by slowing of the heartbeat, paralysis of the central nervous system, muscle paralysis, and death due to respiratory failure

Toxic Look-alikes

Poison hemlock Flowers grow on second year plants. They have 5 petals

Water hemlock stems may have purple spots, but leaves are not lacy. Highly toxic to humans and livestock.

Giant hogweed, which can cause severe blistering and swelling when the sap contacts human or animal skin, stems may have purple spots, but its leaves are not lacy.

Queen Anne’s Lace has lacy leaves, but stem has hairs and does not have purple blotches.

Wild parsnip does not have purple spots on the stem. Wild parsnip can cause severe blistering and swelling when the sap contacts human or animal skin.

Interesting Facts

Socrates is the most famous victim of hemlock poisoning

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USDA plant guide

Wintergreen Plant Identification

Wintergreen Plant Identification

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General

The wintergreen plant berry is red

Once growing, the wintergreen plant, spreads out by its rhizomes. When you find a grouping of wintergreen, chances are there is an underground root system connecting most of the plants together. Plants also start by seed but stratification, a period of cold, is necessary.

Wintergreen is still highly regarded and used by foragers and herbalists for both food and medicine.

Common Names

Boxberry, deer berry, Ground Berry, Spiceberry, wintergreen, checkerberry, tea leaf, teaberry, and creeping wintergreen

 Description

The oval-shaped leaves are green, leathery, shiny, hairless, and slightly toothed and grow on stems that are 3” to 7” tall. They are, broadest beyond the midpoint and coming to a rounded point at the tip, about 1″-2″ long and 1/2″-1″ wide. In autumn the leaves turn reddish.

The flowers are colored white to pale pink, bloom during the later summer (July – August) and are shaped like blueberry flowers. They have five terminal lobes.

Range and Habitat

The wintergreen plant is native to Eastern North America from Georgia north to New England to Newfoundland to Manitoba and south to Mississippi – Eastern US and Canada.

It can be found under white pines or in moss, and in mixed forests. The plants do well in low nutrient soil as long as there is good drainage.

Harvest

A wintergreen plant growing in leaf litter in a mixed forest

Although wintergreen plants are evergreen the leaves turn reddish during winter months. They can still make a good tea but it will not be as good as fresh greens leaves would make. With that said, you can harvest leaves year-round and use.

The berries will turn red in the fall. This is the time to harvest. They are at their freshest. Just like with wintergreen leaves, you can harvest the berries throughout the winter. Later in the winter they will lose some of the taste and become dryer, but they can still be harvested – they don’t necessarily go bad.

Edible

The berries of wintergreen plants are edible for people and a wide range of animals.

Wintergreen plant leaves are used in herbal teas.

Interesting Notes

wintergreen plant can be found in eastern North America

The volatile oils of winterberry deter most insect pests.

Native Americans brewed a tea from the leaves to alleviate rheumatic symptoms, headache, fever, sore throat, and various aches and pains.

Wintergreen is a common flavoring in American products ranging from chewing gum, mints, and candies to smokeless tobacco such as dipping tobacco

The berries are high in vitamin C and contain wintergreen oil

Wintergreen essential oil is much more concentrated. It is potentially not safe to ingest in any amount – click the link and read the potential issues from NDNR.com

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Hazelnut Plant Identification Guide

Hazelnut Plant Identification Guide

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General

hazelnut leaves are serated and oblong

The Hazelnut is a native shrub to North America. You should be able to, except for the US southwest and Gulf coast, find hazelnut plants growing. Once located, remember where they are since nuts are an important food source. Count yourself lucky if you can forage such a free food. Their leaves, twigs, and catkins (male flowers) are important for wildlife. They are browsed by rabbits, deer, and moose and are winter food for turkey and ruffed grouse to name just a few of the dependent animals. The dense shrub provides cover and nesting sites for many wildlife species.

This plant has separate male and female parts on the same branch. A single shrub will produce some nuts, but as a wind-pollinated species 3-5 shrubs are recommended for optimal nut production.

Common names

American hazelnut, American Filbert, American hazel, America hazelnut, beaked hazelnut, California hazelnut

Description

The shrub is deciduous and grows from 3’ – 15’ tall. Once established, it grows by its spreading rhizomes forming thickets.

The main stems are straight with spreading branches. The coloration is light brown with red-hairs. 

Leaves grow alternate and are broad oval with a heart-shaped or rounded base. They are approximately 3 inches – 6 inches long and 4 inches wide. The leaf edges are doubly serrate, hairy beneath, the petiole with stiff, glandular hairs. The leaves turn orange to red or purple in the fall.

hazelnut fruit grows in clusters

Male and female flowers are separate, but both types grow on each plant. Male flowers, in small clusters – maybe 2 to 3 flowers per cluster, form as catkins that are 3 inches to 5 inches long in the fall. They will winter and open the next spring as yellow. Female flowers form and are tiny and inconspicuous with only bright red stigma and styles protruding from the gray-brown buds near the end of the twigs.

Clusters of 2 -6 of the acorn-like nuts about 1 inch long and a bit wider will grow after pollination. The nuts are enclosed in two toothed leafy husks

Location

Plants can grow in sun or partial shade in moist, well-drained soil.

Hazelnut map

They (several species) are widespread in North America, Maine west to Saskatchewan and North Dakota, south to eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Georgia, not found along the Gulf coast region or Southwest USA

When foraging, look in moist to dry woods and thickets, forest margins, roadsides, and fencerows and other disturbed areas. Also search streamside as long as the soil is not boggy.

Harvest

Hazelnut shrubs flower from March thru May before the plant leaf’s out. The nuts (fruits) form and ripen in the July – October time period. Late summer thru fall is the time to harvest. Be careful if you wait to long you will lose out to wildlife. Visa versa – if you get there first, make sure you leave a good amount for wildlife.

Edible

The nuts of hazelnuts are sweet and may be eaten raw, dried and roasted or ground into flour (gluten free).   

Interesting Notes

The nuts of American hazelnut, which have a higher nutritional value than acorns and beechnuts, also are eaten by squirrels, foxes, deer, northern bobwhite, ruffed grouse, turkey, woodpeckers, pheasants, and deer. 

Plants of American hazelnut may begin producing seed after the first year and produce good seed crops every 2-3 years. 

American hazelnut is not affected by any serious pests. 

Hazel flowers are wind-pollinated, so no bees or butterflies are needed for pollination.

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Rose Plant Wild edible

Rose Plant Wild edible

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General

The wild rose plant found widely across North America

The wild rose plant found widely across North America, as well as many places around the world, is an overlooked forage food. Most people look at the plant and see flowers and thorns not thinking of the multitude of food choices the entire plant provides over an extended harvest period. For the semi-initiated into foraging, wasted comments such as, “You can make rose hip tea.”, is about all you will get. Yet this is a must if you want to forage wild food. Rose hips contains vitamins such as C and A as well as antioxidants, along with nutrients such as zinc. The seeds can contain vitamin E.

There are 35 or so species of the wild rose family in the USA. Some species were brought to North America and became naturalized over time (invasive).

Common Names

Pasture rose, Scotch briar, Prairie rose, Wood rose, Wild brier, Sweetbrier

Description

Roses grow on thick canes; the ends of old canes turn gray to tan. Newer growth is dark green in color; all stems and branches have thorns

Wild rose can be anything from small bushes to large shrubs to vining plants growing upward

Most truly wild roses have flowers with only five petals, usually pink to white. Most also bloom only once, in early summer. Any rose blooming later in the season may be a cultivated variety gone wild.

The plants, because there are so many varieties, can be anything from small bushes to large shrubs to vining plants growing upward. The most important visual characteristic will be the thorns on branches and the leaves that look very much like domestic rose plant leaves. In late summer to fall the hips developed from pollinated flowers are the dead give-away.

Location

As the map shows, wild roses can be found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. They prefer partial shade and moist well-drained soil in dry fields to open woods.



Harvest

You can pick the ripe hips in the fall when it is full and, typically, red. The buds can be picked right into winter.

Harvest young shoots and peel off any thorns during spring and summer.

Pick flowers when they are in bloom. Make sure to take only healthy looking flowers. Cut the portion at the base as that may be bitter.

Leaves can be pick and used in teas.

Edible

Rose hips can be eaten raw or cooked. wild rose edible

Rose hips can be eaten raw or cooked. There are multiple ways to use them. You can bake rose hips into breads or pies, puddings, soups, jellies and their pectin has been used as a thickener. Remember, rose hips and leaves make a nutritious tea!!

The rose petals are edible. You can candy rose petals add to cakes for decoration and yes they can be eaten. Petals can also be made into jams, jellies, vinegars and syrups.

The young shoots peel and eat the young shoots raw or cooked with other vegetables.

Interesting Notes

The pollen and nectar of the wild rose is a valued food source for many beneficial insects, including many types of bees.

Rose hips are a winter food for birds and mammals such as waxwings, pine grosbeaks, grouse, squirrels and mice to name a few.

Native Americans used the roots as an ointment for sore eyes, and the wood of the plant for arrows as well as a food source.

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USDA plant guide