If you were starving and came upon a patch of cattails you would have great cause for celebration. You have found food, and water. You will survive. But if you are not starving and do not have all the time in the inter-connected world you just might find cattails highly overrated.
It is true that no plant can produce more starch per acre than cattails, about 3.5 tons under cultivation. And it can produce a lot of starch economically if you can mechanize the extraction. But hand extraction is time consuming and labor intensive. It is also wet, smelly work all of which can be worsened significantly by harvesting in cold weather. So yes, cattails are food but the time demand is such that harvesting food has to be your prime occupation.
A similar argument can be made for kudzu. The roots do have edible starch but it takes a gargantuan amount of work to get the starch out, literally hours of steady pounding. It is not a calorie positive activity. It moves you closer to starvation. But, mechanize the process with some hammers run by falling water — or hammers run by a horse fed on an endless supply of grass — and it becomes a reliable calorie-positive food.
Just how good are these wild “staples” came up in a foraging class this weekend when it was asked why did the Native Americans eat acorns when they need so much processing? There can be several answers. One is the natives had no choice and they had a lot of time to process acorns. It was their 9-to-5 job, so to speak. Another is acorns are nutrient dense and have fat which is not only nice but essential to have if you can’t run down a buffalo. A third answer is variety. The menu only changed with the season so variety was important. One could also add that acorns, if care for, store well for a few years making a food bank one could rely on.
All these foods if approached efficiently are calorie positive. But they take time and calories to make edible. Another variable is whether the food is for one on the run or for a group in a settled situation. It makes a difference. Personally I look for shortcuts. I roast the cattail root reducing the labor and time needed significantly. I look for Live Oaks (white oaks)that have acorns with minimal tannin thus requiring less work. And I reduce that work by crushing the nutmeat in an oil expeller first. This extracts the oil and mashes up the acorns so they leach faster and more completely. Having a nutsheller to shell them also reduces hours of work down to minutes. As for kudzu I look for little roots the size of my fingers, or I feed the leaves to goats and let them turn it into something easier to work with, such as milk.
Some wild food requires little work some a lot. Much of what comprises success with wild foods is knowing the difference and the most efficient way to harvest a particular food. Still interested? Here’s an article on “wild’ flours.
While seasonal changes are not as dramatic in warmer climates we definitely do have them regarding plants. Pellitory is all but gone for the season. We shouldn’t smell its cucumber-like aroma again until Thanksgiving or so. Sow Thistles are reaching the end of their season as well. Most are past the stage of eating. On the gangbuster side are Blackberries and Creeping Cucumbers. Blackberries will be done soon the the cukes will keep on producing until a fall frost, freeze or the really short days of the winter solstice. Dare I also mention we are getting our first crop of Black Nightshade berries, Solanum americanum. I have yet to make a pie out of them — I really don’t like to bake — but I eat the berries all the time as a trailside nibble. Just make absolutely sure they are ripe. And in reference to ripe our Lantana berries are not in season yet and are still toxic green. That’s another berry that must be totally ripe before one eats it.
Giant Hog Weed which turned out to be Queen Anne’s Lace, Pine Pollen’s Up, Unidentified Animate Object, I call her Needles, Help on ID, Bamboo, Bay Foraging, Yellow/Pink Pyracantha, and Foraging Safety Tips… all were recent discussions on the Green Deane Forum. On the Forum we post messages and pictures about foragering all year long. There’s even a UFO page for Unidentified Flowering Objects so plants can be identified. The link to join the forum is on the right hand side of this page.
Upcoming foraging classes are always being updated on my “classes” page (see button above.) Some dates are yet to be scheduled. Saturday, May 17th Mead Garden, 1500 S. Denning Dr., Winter Park, FL 32789, 9 a.m. Saturday, May 24th, Bayshore Live Oak Park, 23000 Bayshore Rd., Port Charlotte, 33980, 9 a.m. Sunday, May 25th, at John Chestnut Park, 2200 East Lake Road, Palm Harbor, FL 34685. 9 a.m
My foraging videos do not include alligators but they do cover dozens of edible plants in North America. The set had nine DVD. Each DVD has 15 videos for 135 in all. Some of these videos are of better quality than my free ones on the Internet. They are the same videos but many people like to have their own copy. I burn and compile the sets myself so if you have any issues I handle it. There are no middle foragers. And I’m working on adding a tenth DVD. To learn more about the DVDs or to order them click here.
Answers to What Do You See #13 had four edible species. This is a very common sight in scrub areas locally. 1) Is wild blueberries. 2) Is wild grapes. 3) Is gallberry. The berries of this species are not edible but the leaves make a nice caffeine-less tea. 4) Is a young Smilax, but whether the root is large or small would require some digging.
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