Additional plants that you will want to learn to identify include burdock, cattail, wild onions and leeks. Burdock has wavy arrow shaped leaves and can reach up to 6 ft tall. Burdock can have pink or purple flower clusters and a large fleshy root. It is often used to relief the sting from nettles. Strip the stalks and eat them raw or cook them up in water. The roots can be boiled or baked. The leaves can be eaten in the spring but may require boiling to soften.
Cattails are grass-like plants that can grow to 6 feet tall. The leaves are 0.5 to 2″ in width. Cattails are found around the edge of water. The tender shoots can be eaten but you should boil them in water to kill any protozoa. The roots are starchy and can be pounded, to remove the starch and create flour. The green cattail flowers can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob. The brown cattails can be broken apart and used as insulation in a light jacket, or turned into a pillow. The cattail fluff also makes good tinder for starting a fire.
Wild onions and garlic can be easily identified by their distinctive odor. The tender shoots and bulbs can be eaten raw or boiled like a vegetable in soups or to flavor meat. The plants can be found in sunny areas. Do not eat bulbs that do not have an onion smell as they could be poisonous. Wild leeks are found in eastern woodlands and can be gather easily when the ground is soft.
To avoid being poisoned stay away from plants you don’t recognize. A general rule of thumb is to avoid plants that have any of the following:
• Milky or discolored sap.
• Beans, bulbs, or seeds inside pods.
• Bitter or soapy taste.
• Spines, fine hairs, or thorns.
• Dill, carrot, parsnip, or parsley like foliage.
• An almond scent which indicates cyanide, in any of the woody parts and leaves.
• Any grain heads with pink, purple, or black spurs.
• 3-leaf growth patterns.
This list might eliminate some useful foods but you are better to be safe than sorry.
If you are by the ocean you should not overlook seaweed as a good source of food. Find living plants attached to rocks or floating free. You don’t want to use seaweed that has washed ashore as it may be spoiled or decayed. Thin and tender varieties of seaweed can be dried in the sun or over a fire until crisp. Some species can be eaten raw, others will need to be boiled to make them more palatable as a vegetable or in a soup.
In large quantities seaweed can have a laxative effect, so eat seaweed in moderation at first. Seaweed is a valuable source of iodine and vitamin C. There are also some fresh water varieties that can be eaten. As with making water safe anything collected from fresh water sources should be boiled in water to kill any protozoa that may be present.
Seaweed species you might want to learn to identify include:
• Dulse (Rhodymenia palmata)
• Green seaweed (Ulva lactuca)
• Irish moss (Chondrus crispus)
• Kelp (Alaria esculenta)
• Laver (Porphyra species)
• Mojaban (Sargassum fulvellum)
• Sugar wrack (Laminaria saccharina)