Benefits of Wild Edibles

by Mark on September 4, 2014

Benefits of Wild Edibles

by Bethany Staffieri

Foraging for wild food is an ancient practice. Our forefathers knew this practice to be a direct physical connection to the Earth, a connection that brings a person to the deepest appreciation and understanding of the natural world.

Stinging Nettle a wild edible plant photo. Benefits of Wild Edibles

Early spring growth of Stinging Nettle – Benefits of Wild Edibles

Benefits of Wild Edibles

Today’s modern lifestyle interrupts this foraging tradition and is nutritionally one of the missing links in today’s food system.  Many folks do not even know what living food is.

Food purchased in boxes, bottles, jars and cans is not alive.  With our fast paced lives many people neglect the simple basic nutrition that living food provides.

Consider for a moment the benefits one derives from a common plant like Stinging Nettle, belonging to the genus Urtica (the name derived from the Latin, uro, to burn.)

The stinging hairs of this plant contain formic acid, while the leaves and stems contain an array of vitamins and minerals which make this plant a valuable food medicinally and nutritionally.

The Wild Plants are our green herb allies and they offer numerous benefits by eating them.

Wild plants are free

Wild plants are genetically stronger and more potent than commercially raised greens or herbs. Eating local wild plants means the plant fights off the same organisms as your body does. Making the wild plant more beneficial to your immune system.

Foraging means you are walking and yep that’s right your get exercise and vitamin D all in a relaxed natural setting.  Food costs are rising

Wild plants can help treat a large variety of health conditions.

While I was in Texas with Mark Wienert, director of Lifesong Wilderness Adventures, we found an abundance of spring greens just emerging this past March during LWA’s  L.O.S.T. – TX camp.

As this camp was an introduction to survival skills, the participants were interested in how to forage and eat off the land.

While foraging we found stinging nettle and had tea.  Then we also used the plant stem to relieve sore aching muscles by gently tapping the effected area. One brave man, Chris Watters allowed me to treat his shoulders and later reported relief from the treatment.

One point I’d like to make is to not forage along the road side where you will see many of the most common food and medicine plants.  Exhaust fumes and toxic wastes are consumed by these plants on road sides. Rule of thumb, forage 10 feet away from any roadside.  Also take note of the water run off, where is it coming from, Chemical plant run off, cattle field, un-clean waste water?  Don’t pick in these areas as the plants will have the same chemicals or toxins in them as the land and water.

Once you take the time to look around and get familiar with your area you will find that clean, pristine picking spot, of healthy food and medicine plants.

Now remember you will want to come back each year to this great picking area, so take care not to pick it all, allow each plant to have enough of its parts left to re seed itself. I usually take 1/3 of the plant or several leaves from each plant in a cluster, then, there will be enough for others and myself for years to come.

Also get a good field guide, Peterson’s makes some excellent ones and please learn the poisonous plants first. There are fewer of them and correct ID is part of a good foraging practice. If you’re not sure of the plant, don’t pick it and by all means don’t eat it until you correctly identify it.

Time to get out there and enjoy spring and fall and enjoy the benefits of wild edibles!

To Your Health

Bethany Staffieri

Certified Herbalist


The Amazing Blue Elderberry

by Mark on August 9, 2014

The Amazing Blue Elderberry

I am a push over for the wild blue elderberry. An amazing shrub that offers the forager a tremendous bounty of uses. Parts of the elderberry can be used for making fire, musical instruments, hunting weapons, traps, and in late summer and autumn prepare the ripe blue elderberries for a sweet and delicious syrup.

“The syrup is, as you imagine, a beautiful rich purple color, incredibly delicious on home made pancakes, vanilla ice cream, or in elderberry cream pie!

Elderberry Cream Pie from Wild Edibles

The elderberry is a shrub that we cover in depth at outdoor survival Camp. Elderberries grow in riparian habitats, road banks, meadows, and damp forest openings, up to timberline.

Wild blue elderberry: Sambucus cerulea and S. racemosa range from British Columbia south to California. S. mexicana ranges from northern California south into Mexico and east into Nevada and southwestern New Mexico.  The S. callicarpa species (Pacific red elder) grows in coastal habitats from southern Alaska to central California.

Basic Elderberry Syrup

1 quart blue elderberries
Juice of one lemon
3 cups water
1 tbsp cornstarch or flour
1/4 cup sugar or honey

Crush elderberries, add 1 cup of water and sugar or honey,
and simmer for 15 minutes.  Strain, and then add 2 cups of water
to the seeds and pulp and strain again.
Add to the liquid the lemon juice and adjust sugar if desired.
Bring to a boil and thicken slightly by stirring one-tablespoon cornstarch
or flour in one-tablespoon cold water and stirring this into the simmering syrup.
Makes 5 cups
According to the author of this recipe, “This syrup has few equals when used over pancakes or ice cream.”  I have to agree, completely and happily.

I first began working with this shrub when I lived in the Sierra’s where I discovered the local Mi-Wuk community has used that blue elderberry extensively for many thousands of years as an important part of their material and musical culture.

Warning! Blue elderberry and more so, the red elderberry, contain the compound hyrocyanic acid, a compound that may lead to mild cyanide poisoning if consumed in large quantities uncooked.  The bark leaves, and roots contain the highest concentrations of the acid.  The flower clusters are non-toxic, edible, and medicinal.  If the elder berries are red, do not eat them raw!  They need boiling or drying before consumption!

Cooking or drying removes any toxicity from the blue elderberries, and this is our recommendation before consuming the berries!

A few of the very neat survival applications about the elderberry wood is its soft center pith which can easily be scraped and removed to make a hollow stem.  Straight long shafts of the wood can be made into a serviceable “Blow Gun,” and shorter sections of the wood are split part way and hollowed for clapper stick.  (A musical instrument enjoyed by the Pomo and Mi-Wuk peoples.)

If you are using the elderberry stalks green, you will want to carve off, strip, scrape, and remove all the green bark, and let the wood dry some.  A spindle made from the elderberry is excellent either for the bow drill or hand drill friction fire making process.

If you are a fan of the Man vs. Wild or Born Survivor series with Bear Grylls, Bear made fire in the Sierra episode using a long slender spindle from the wild blue elderberry.

The reason I really wanted to share the blue elderberries many qualities is elderberry cream pie, makes my mouth water just thinking about it.  We have been harvesting the ripe berries this fall.  With great anticipation and delight, we have cooked and reduced the berries in preparation for making elderberry syrup.  The syrup is the main ingredient you must make first before you make the actual elderberry cream pie itself.

We almost did not get a picture of the pie it went so fast.  Oh, and the syrup is, as you imagine, a beautiful rich color, incredibly delicious on home made pancakes, vanilla ice cream, or in elderberry cream pie!  The berries make an outstanding wine.

The berries are important food for, Western blackbird, House Finch, Red-Shafted Flicker, Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Black Headed Grosbeak, Scrub and Steller Jays, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Bullock’s and Hooded Oriole, and Phainopepla.  Please leave some berries for the birds.

Remember; positively identify any plant before use, edible, medicinal, or utilitarian application.

Recommended reading:
Edible and Useful Plants of California” by Charlotte Bringle Clarke (Great wild food recipes include the elderberry pie and syrup I am sharing here.)

“Edible and medicinal Plants of the West” By Gregory L. Tifford

Elderberry Cream Pie

3 eggs, separated
2 Tbsp grated orange or lemon peel
3/4 cup elderberry syrup
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup of sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 baked 9-in pie shell.

Blend over heat until smooth:  the egg yolks, elderberry syrup, unflavored gelatin, 1/3 cup sugar, and salt.
Do not boil.  Add grated orange or lemon peel and pour into a bowl; refrigerate until slightly firm.

Do not refrigerate too long, (like overnight), just until it is slightly firm, this does not take very long. Otherwise, you will not be able to blend the whipped cream and meringue with the jelled juice.
Beat the egg whites until stiff and add cream of tarter and 1/4 cup sugar, beating continuously.

Beat heavy cream until fluffy and fold half into the egg-white mixture.
Fold the egg-white mixture into the refrigerated sauce.
Pour into pie shell and garnish with remaining whipped cream.
Serves 6

The Amazing Blue Elderberry, Thank you Charlotte Clarke, for the delicious recipes!


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