Could a food foraging guide help you through the recession?
Dr. Nicole Apelian is an herbalist, biologist, and survivalist who has over 20 years of plant knowledge and experience. Dr. Apelian spent time living with one of earth’s most ancient cultures, the San Bushmen in Southern Africa, from whom she learned survival and plant identification. In 2000, Nicole was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She was wheelchair-bound and bedridden in extreme pain for years before she healed herself completely through herbal remedies. In 2015, Nicole was one of only a few women chosen to compete on the History Channel’s “Alone” show – she survived 57 days completely alone, and treated her Multiple Sclerosis with herbal remedies while on the show.
Dr. Apelian believes that food foraging is a way of life that can save people from disease and help them radically save on grocery and pharmacy bills – critical lessons during this uncertain economic time. She has shared her 20+ years of plant and herbal knowledge, guiding you through the steps of plant identification by photo in her new book, The Forager’s Guide to Wild Foods.
In this blogpost, we are sharing just a handful of these common, nutrition-dense, medicinal plants, hoping that by spreading Dr. Apelian’s knowledge, your family can save money and reconnect you with the earth’s healing power.
Why is food foraging important right now?
We are experiencing significant economic inflammation in America. Food prices have risen 11.4% from August 2021 to August 2022. Common items like bread and eggs have risen 16.2% and 39.8% respectively in only one year. Along with food, prescription drug prices have risen dramatically in the last decade. Since 2014, prescription drugs have increased in price by 35% and since COVID, medications have risen in price 2.5%.
A recent Insider article revealed economists believe that the U.S. is headed for a “swamp recession.” What this means is the recession will be mild, not anything like the Great Depression of 1930 or the Great Recession of 2008. But because of this recession’s mild nature, there will be less motivation for the government to intervene with a fiscal stimulus which could potentially lead to a long, slow recovery for our economy. Food and medicine are two of the most critical elements of our wellbeing, and they are not cheap in our country. In the Great Depression, when millions of Americans suddenly lost their jobs and faced radical conditions, their sources of food and nutrition came in the form of plants.
The benefit for people in the Great Depression was that this knowledge was still somewhat common. Plant identification is something very few of us know offhand today. While the recession we are experiencing is very different from that of the 30’s, one similarity between our ancestors’ experience and our experience post-pandemic may be that plants are here to save the day again.
Whether foraging for food is a supplement to your meals, a boost to your nutritional and immune health, or an alternative, cheaper solution to certain pharmaceuticals, it can help ease some of the financial and emotional stress during this time.
What is the meaning of forage?
“Forage” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to wander in search of food.” Food foraging is the process of taking natural resources from the land and using them as food.
This foraging practice dates to prehistoric times when nomadic hunter-gatherer populations foraged for their sustenance.
The Neolithic Revolution, or the Agricultural Revolution, marked humanity’s shift from living in small nomadic tribes to abiding in larger settled tribes that farmed and cultivated land.
Today, many people in America and around the world now rely on supply chains and modern-day agriculture to provide them with food. But when food systems break down, as they did during COVID-19, what can we do to provide for ourselves? This is a question that many during COVID apparently asked themselves upon seeing how fragile the food system was. When food supply shortages first started happening during the Pandemic, foraging educators noticed a significant uptick in people’s foraging interest.
Whether foraging is simply an activity to get us out of the house and reconnected with nature or a supplement in times of food shortages or inflammation, foraging can provide us with critical nutrition and peace of mind in uncertain times.
What’s this plant?
Here are 11 common North American weeds you can forage that will provide you powerful nutrition and medicine. These plants can be canned, pickled, fermented, or powdered so you can enjoy them year-round.
This is just a handful of the wealth of knowledge and identification help provided in Dr. Apelian’s book. Dr. Apelian includes detailed colored images as well as poisonous look-alikes for each plant she outlines in her foraging guide so you are 100% safe every time.
This is one of the most nutrient-dense plants on earth. It holds the highest degree of Omega 3’s compared to any leafy green veggie and can be turned into a poultice to lessen inflammatory issues. One cup of this raw succulent provides 8.6 calories, 0.9g of protein, 1.5g of carbohydrates, and 0.2g of fat. You can identify purslane by its succulent nature, how it grows low to the ground, and the way its leaves grow out of the stalk in a star-shaped pattern.
2. Lamb’s Quarters
During the Great Depression, this plant saved many from malnutrition. People collected it in bathtubs and canned it to save for later use. Also known as wild spinach, it is nearly a 4-season plant and is alive and well in most parts of North America. The good news is this plant is a kind of invasive super-weed, popping up wherever there is disturbed soil – in abandoned lots, landscaped lawns, gardens, along sidewalks. We say let it invade as its nutritional value is higher than kale and spinach and it is a terrific source of protein, fiber, and iron.
Lamb’s quarter leaves come in all different shapes. The best way to identify it is by the waxy undercoating on the leaves. If you wipe off a sort of white powder, you most likely are dealing with a lamb’s quarter plant.
You’ve probably seen this plant before and just didn’t know it. Common across North America, amaranth is a particularly beautiful plant, with a reddish stem and burgundy flowers, that can grow to 8 feet tall! Identify it by its upright growing flowers, thick and hollow stems, and oval-shaped leaves with pointed tips.
Young amaranth leaves can be picked in the early spring and used raw in salads or eaten cooked. These leaves taste like spinach and Dr. Apelian recommends you harvest them early in the day and plunge them into cold, salted water for 15 minutes after picking. But the biggest surprise to this plant is its seeds! Amaranth seeds are the size of sesame seeds. Put them in a tall pot and heat them on the stove. The seeds will instantly begin popping and you can eat them just like popcorn with tastier and more nutritious results!
Survivalists call cattails the supermarket of the swamp because you can eat literally the entire plant, including the stems and pollen. These are easy to identify – if it looks like a browned corndog on top of a thick stem, that’s it!
Cattail shoots that can be harvested in the spring taste like a cross between a zucchini and a cucumber, making them incredible additions to salads. The shoots provide a power-pack of nutrition with beta-carotene, niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin C! The leaves can be harvested in late spring and eaten raw or cooked. The cattail pollen is an amazing source of protein and can be collected for flour or a thickening agent.
5. American Beech Nut
This nut used to be a staple in grocery stores less than 100 years ago. Though many of us have probably seen these at some point, this nut’s bristly exterior put many off the scent. To identify an American Beech tree, look for large leaves with wavy edging and paralleling veins branching out from the middle stem.
Beechnuts contain 50% of fat and 20% of protein, making them a great Fall snack besides apples! These nuts are best forested after the first frost when they are sweet and delicious. Take off the spikey exterior burs by hand and sun-dry or cook these nuts for best and safest enjoyment.
These nuts are also anti-inflammatory, relieve headaches, provide antioxidants, and contain high levels of vitamin B6 which is excellent for pregnant women.
Morel mushrooms grow in all 50 states. Not only are they nutty-tasting and incredibly delicious, but if you’re looking to make some money, morels can fetch you a pretty price! They are typically worth $50 a pound with a bag of dried morels costing up to $200 on Amazon!
Why so popular?
Morels have loads of nutritional value that make them desirable. They contain lots of dietary fibers which help to regulate digestive issues. They also provide a high amount of protein and fat with a low amount of calories, making them perfect for diets and muscle building.
To ensure you’ve picked a morel, slice it in half and see if it is hollow inside from top to bottom. If it is, you’ve bagged a morel. You can dry these and resoak them later in water for a tasty snack. Or try your luck selling them on the internet!
7. Wild Lettuce
This lettuce contains the elixir of painkillers! This plant looks like many other thistly plants. To identify it, look for distinct hairs on the midrib of the leaf. After breaking the stalk in half, you will see a thick milky substance, similar to that of the opium berry but not nearly as potent.
This is a substance called lactucarium which is highly effective as a painkiller. If you milk this wild lettuce, you will have an incredible, natural painkiller on hand!
This is the magical mushroom that finally got Dr. Apelian out of her wheelchair. Dr. Apelian makes a tincture of reishi that dramatically helps her MS symptoms. While there are different species and you should always be careful with mushrooms, reishi mushrooms generally grow on wood (trees or stumps) and are kidney shaped with a shiny red-brown cap. It’s best to harvest them 1-3 months after they appear, in spring or fall.
Reishi is a very powerful medicinal fungi that has been used in eastern medicine for generations. It produces white blood cells that are effective in killing cancer and other infections in the body. Reishi boosts the immune system, reduces fatigue, helps ease depression, and may be helpful in improving cholesterol and blood-sugar levels.
9. American Lotus
This aquatic plant’s food offering lies under the water’s surface in its long roots. To identify, the flowers are often yellow or white and can grow as large as 10” with round leaves that stand above the water and are very large.
When cooked, the roots taste like sweet potatoes. The holes throughout the stems give them a bizarre alien appearance which makes cooking with them an aesthetic treat! The lotus root has many health benefits including improving blood circulation, reducing stress, and regulating blood pressure.
Many Asian countries have incorporated the lotus root into their cuisine, often pickling them. The American variety is found in eastern North America from Ontario west to Minnesota, and in southern states like Florida and Texas. The plant also has chestnut-flavored seeds known as “alligator corn” that can be ground for flour or pressed for oil.
Unblock your air channels with a swift kick of coltsfoot! This will be your best friend during flu season – its Latin name is “Tussilago” which literally means “to act on cough.”
Coltsfoot is traditionally used in both eastern and western medicine as an herbal supplement to fight colds, flus, and persistent coughs. It is a perennial plant with golden flowers that is often confused with dandelions. Tell them apart by their leaves – dandelions have toothlike leaves while coltsfoot leaves are rounded.
This plant likes to grow in cool, wet places with clayey soil. It is best to harvest in early spring when the flowers are at their peak. You can use the flower either fresh or dried for medicinal purposes. The leaves, which come after the flowers have died, should be harvested in late spring and can be eaten raw in salads.
11. Yarrow Leaves
Yarrow is a flowering perennial with a rich medicinal history due to its many health benefits. Wild yarrow flowers are often white or light yellow and the heads are clustered together in groups. The leaves alternate in size from 7 – 12 cm with many leaflets on the midrib, giving it a fern-like appearance.
Its leaves have historically been used as a poultice to stop infection and bleeding. Dr. Apelian recommends chewing the leaves and applying them to a wound for 2-3 minutes. Other benefits of yarrow include relieving inflammation, easing anxiety, encouraging menstruation that has been put off-schedule, and helping gastrointestinal issues. While it’s a delicate looking plant, it packs a big punch!
Foraging is not THE answer to all our problems. But it can be a powerful way to ease some of our financial stress, build up our health, reconnect us and our families with nature, and remind us of the self-sufficiency that is our birthright as humans during a time where the systemic provisions are uncertain.
If you end up going around your neighborhood to forage, we’d love to hear about your experiences. Follow us on Instagram at @nj_institute_of_nature and tag us in any foraging experiments you try! Let’s learn together!