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Foraging in the Backyard

Get to know the feast all around us — just in case.

 

As I've been studying various apocalyptic thinking (see "Doomsday Scenarios" in this issue and "Apocalypse Now?" in July), I got to cogitatin' about what emergency food sources are available to me in my own back forty. What I discovered would make a vegan's heart tremble with utter joy!

Surprisingly, there are quite a few food sources available to me if I would need them. I've already mentioned sources of meat protein in another column, but what vegetation is available in a pinch? Here is the list of those around my house in edible abundance.

First and foremost is one that I never would have considered; it is what others refer to as a "super food." What is it? Common ordinary wild grass! We all have heard of the grain grasses such as wheat, barley and oats, but how many of us realize the benefits of green grass in our backyard or in the wild?

Research reveals that there is as much as 25% protein content in green grass. It contains hundreds of vitamins, minerals and enzymes and is considered to be one of the few plants that is a "complete food." We can eat it freshly picked, dried, ground or juiced. Its seeds can be picked and utilized as we would wheat and oat seeds.

Number two in abundance around here is the lowly juniper berry; it can be used in a brine, eaten in a salad, or squeezed in a juice. I have harvested berries and cooked them as a brine with wild meats in a crockpot. One can also eat them raw — just watch out for the pesky seeds! If you prefer, place the berries in a potato salad or de-seed them and make a jam. Remember, they cannot be used until they ripen and turn blue and usually this is after they have fallen from the tree.

You can also use the green juniper twigs and berries in a tea. The fruit, when green, can be used to flavor drinking alcohol (as in gin). The wood can be burned for cooking and used for smoking foods — quite tasty!

As an aside, for medicinal purposes, juniper can be used to treat urinary tract and bladder infections: Crush a teaspoon of berries and steep in a covered cup of hot water for 15 minutes; drink one to three cups per day. Caution! If you are pregnant or have kidney problems, do not use!

Number three in abundance is the white oak acorn. Most of the scrub oaks around here, as well as the tall Gambels oaks of the forested valleys, are actually types of white oak.

Acorns are filled with tannin or tannic acid; this must be leached out of them before they are edible. The best method is to boil the shelled acorn meat. As soon as it comes to a boil, drain it off, then boil again with new water; repeat five times.

After the final drainage, pat dry and then place acorns on a cookie sheet in an oven at 200 degrees for two to three hours with the oven door cracked open. Let cool.

Acorns are rich in protein and fat. Salting is optional. Use acorns any place you'd use regular flour. Or they can be eaten like a nut.

To make acorn flour, mix the acorns and corn meal one part acorn to four parts corn meal. Add salt and sweeten to taste; allow to stand for an hour, then make into pancakes, bread, etc.

Leeched acorns can be a coffee substitute. Roast the nut until brittle, then grind.

Number four is the piñon pine, whose nuts of course can be harvested and dried and eaten or eaten fresh. The pine nut is full of protein and the oil is good for the heart as are all nut oils.

The ever-present yucca is next on the list. The root is the main food source, and has anti-inflammatory properties. It is high in vitamins and carbs; it can be cooked like potatoes. Caution! Yucca must be eaten in small doses or could be toxic. Boil the roots through two changes of water to remove toxins and boil the second time for no less than 15 minutes. Strip off the outer bark before boiling.

The yucca flower born in late June or early July is mild and sweet and can be eaten raw or boiled or in stews. The fruit can be cooked like the root, but be sure to check that it is white and tender on the inside — don't use it if it otherwise!

Next is the prickly pear cactus; the pads contain beta-carotene, iron, vitamin B, C and calcium. They can be diced as a topping on yogurt and other desserts.

To prepare, de-spine the quills using a potato slicer and take off the skin in the process. Rinse the meat, then steam over boiling water for two to three minutes, slice and eat! You can also sauté in oil. If steamed, the pads can be added to scrambled eggs or eaten with acorn tortillas!

The ripe, purple prickly-pear fruit is utilized after burning off the spines, then skinning them. It is very rich and sweet and can be used as an wine, a juice or as a jam spread on acorn bread. It also works well for syrup, candy or tea.

Then there is the elegant cholla cactus. The buds are good for food and the fruit is edible raw or boiled. To remove the spines (called glochids), rub on a coarse, wet towel or burn them off. Peel the skin, then impale cholla fruits on a stick and roast them over those juniper coals for 30 minutes. Add salt to taste. You can also boil and mash into a honey. The fruit can also be dried and eaten like any other fruit.

Cholla stems are edible, too. Burn off the spines, put in a fire pit in the ground, cover with dirt for 30 minutes, then rinse and eat.

Cholla buds can be boiled in water to remove the thorns, then drain and wash with a veggie brush. Return to a water pot and cook until tender. Or you can grind the buds into powder and mix with acorn flour. Buds can also be ground and mixed into water and cooked until it is a thick porridge. Also the powder can be sprinkled on meats as a seasoning.

Use the flower the same way as that of the prickly pear.

Dandelions can be found in abundance in the yard and in the wild. Rinse the fresh leaves and use as a salad, although they can be somewhat bitter. They are best used when they first green in early summer or late spring or wait until fall. Boiled, the leaves can be used as a tea or added to complement other veggies.

The dandelion flower can be eaten raw, or used to make a very sweet and delicate white wine. I've had it and it is of the very best of wines! You can also stir-fry the flower in olive oil. The taproot can be cooked as a veggie or put in soups; boil twice first. As a tonic it is good for the liver and gall bladder. The plant is high in beta-carotene, iron and calcium.

I have wild mint of some sort growing in many places. We pick the leaves and use them in a self-standing tea, or as an additive to green tea (a couple leaves will do) or in lemonade or just plain water.

The last on my list is the venerable clump of bear grass. It seems to be everywhere! It is best to find a small plant of two to six stalks of grass so you can efficiently dig out the root, which is the edible part. Bake until fully cooked and add seasoning. The root can also be chewed raw and used as a dressing on cuts and wounds.

Well, there you have it, enough food sources to give a person a variety of diet for many years to come!

As always, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may The Forever God bless you too!

 

 

When not ramblin' outdoors, Larry Lightner lives in Silver City.




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