Wild Edible Plants . . .

This site is a database for wild edible plants of North America. I encourage any users to leave comments reflecting their experiences with a certain plant. Much of our knowledge of edible plants is either lost, superstitious or incorrect. There's a lot of hype about how dangerous wild plants can be, when in reality most are not only safe they're critical for your health.

My perspective is somewhat unique in that my family and I have camped as a lifestyle for over a decade - essentially lived with edible plants and used them on a daily basis. We have also been raw fooders for a very long period. Becoming 100% raw vegan sparked my interest in edible plants like nothing else. Every day I was out hiking the trails barefoot, eating grass, eating flowers, trying parts of the many plants I came across with a clean palate . . .

Using wild edible plants is the best way we can defy the system, maintain our health, and get our independence back.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Chestnut Oak (quercus prinus)

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The acorns are coming in on the Chestnut oak (quercus prinus), so we went for a walk to gather them from the trees. They begin falling from the ground now through September here in the South. Chestnut oak acorns are typically the first acorns to appear - they are also nearly the largest, about 1" long, and 3/4" wide. Since the leaves have rounded lobes, chestnut oaks are part of the white oak group, and thus the acorns are very mild - the bitter tannin taste is not as strong as those of the red oaks. I find chestnut oak acorns not quite as mild as white oak's (quercus alba - some have no taste of tannin at all) - however, they're still on the tree at this stage, and not yet ripe.

Here's a shot of the huge acorns:


Chestnut oak grows everywhere here, on the dry rocky slopes, and all have acorns - of course most are out of reach. It's fun to gather the first crop straight from the trees when they reach full size - there's no worry about something having already bored into them and spoiled the flesh.

Chestnut oak is easily identified with its large rounded teeth, or shallow rounded lobes along the leaf edges:


Along the way we couldn't help notice all the muscadines, and took some time to gather and snack on some. When they're nearly black they have a sweet bubble gum flavor, though the seeds are somewhat bitter, just like any commercial grape seed:

A closeup:

They're littering the ground beneath this vine, which is sprawling through the pines:

[9/6 update: There's a great way to eat muscadines, especially when you're gathering them from the ground, and you want to make sure they're not rotten. For the most part, you can smell whether they're good or not. There should be a sweet grape smell to the ones on the ground, and they should be still firm . . . if they've begun to ferment you can usually smell it. Those that have split open or become soft have almost always begun to ferment.
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I next bite a very small hole out of the top of the muscadine. Now for sure I can smell the insides, as well as taste it a little, to be sure they haven't gone bad. Don't try to bite too large a hole or the contents of the grape will explode all over you. Just basically break the skin.
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Then through the small hole I suck out the sweet bubble gum pulp on the inside. It flies right out. I spit out the few small bitter seeds. The pulp really is like bubble gum, and you can chew on it for quite a while. You're then left with the empty dark puckered skin of the grape, which I eat next. It's somewhat tart, but loaded with all the nutrients.
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This is the way to truly enjoy a muscadine, rather than swallowing them hole, and crunching them up - the bitter seeds somewhat spoil the flavor. And if the muscadine has begun to rot, and you have a whole mouthful - it's not a pleasant sensation. The seeds of all grapes are bitter - so there's nothing unusual about it. I think the common wild summer grape found throughout the U.S., with the little champagne grapes, have probably the least bitter seeds - and these can be eaten in huge quantities just like you'd eat any other grape.]
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Here's my gathering bag full of acorns and muscadines - they're both so large it didn't take long to fill it - we brought along a canvas tote as well:

Back home we divided them up and set them in baskets:
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The few muscadines we didn't eat are in a beargrass basket I made when living off the Gila River in southwest New Mexico. I remember gathering the beargrass above the hot spring in Brock Canyon like it was yesterday - the basket still smells of fresh beargrass. The acorns are in a pine needle basket I made camping off the Guadalupe River in the Jemez Region of northern New Mexico. The needles are from the Ponderosa - I like to leave the 'toes' visible, though they can break off.
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Acorns are one of the most important wild food sources, but like any starch or grain, most need some processing first. You start by letting them dry out, so the flesh is easy to remove from the shell. So I'll store the acorns in the basket a few days and wait for them to dry.
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The next step is leaching out the tannins. First the acorns are shelled. This is easy to do, next to walnuts and hickory nuts, where the thick-shelled nuts need crushed and the flesh needs picked out of crannies. Acorn meat fills the whole shell, and the shell is thin. If you're eating them on the spot, I just bite them in half with my teeth. You can also use a nutcracker.
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If the acorns are to be boiled and leached in hot water, they don't need minced. But if they're to be leached in cold water, such as a stream or the tank of your toilet, they need diced up small and put in a bag. The acorns can also be buried whole without shelling to begin the germination process - burying them shelled in marshy soil is another option worth trying. It's similar to how nuts are treated in raw foods - trying to jumpstart the germination process and remove enzyme inhibitors. Except with acorns, the tannin is what you're trying to remove. I think of the tannin as a sort of all-natural preservative - it's found in many wild foods.
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Having had a preference for raw foods for many years, most of my experience with acorns has been eating them raw straight from the ground. I'll never forget the first time I ate white oak acorns. I was accompanying someone making a bid on a construction job, and the guy's driveway was just littered with acorns from the white oak (quercus alba). I picked up and cracked one open with my teeth and ate it . . . and no tannin whatsoever! I couldn't believe it, and ate several more.
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Our property in Tennessee has several mature white oaks down by the creek - our first year camping there the acorns rained down on our tents all through the Fall. And coming and going from camp I often ate several. These had a trace of tannin, but the more I ate the more I didn't notice it. And they're very filling.
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Camping off the Guadalupe River in September in the Jemez Region of northern New Mexico, we were surrounded by gambrel oaks. The trees were loaded with acorns. As the acorns began falling to the ground band-tailed pigeons arrived, cooing in the trees like owls. They spent all day eating acorns. I ate them also but found them, though in the white oak family, with too much tannin to really enjoy. So I shelled them and diced them up and put them in a bag in the river. After one week of leaching in the water the acorns tasted the same. I didn't have any more time to keep leaching, as we were breaking camp in mid-September, and heading south to camp in the Gila.
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As a sidenote to this Guadalupe River area, there were not only unlimited acorns, but chokecherries half a mile down the river which I set out on wooden plates in the sun all day - this sweetened and ripened them into perfect dried cherries. There was wild grape everywhere, alfalfa, gooseberries, a wild apple tree covered in large apples, several springs, and tons of rosehips. The rosehips were large and red but with no flavor. They needed dried to bring out the sweetness, and to make removing the seeds easier. We took baskets of apples, acorns, and rose hips down with us to the Gila, and guess what happened? Chipmunks stole our acorns and stashed them in the air filter box of the vehicle - we found out later when we stopped to get an oil and lube.
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As far as our chestnut oaks, for now I think I'll try the boil method - about a dozen changes of water. Tom Brown has this idea of taking the processed acorns free of tannin, rolling them in brown sugar, and roasting them in the oven for an hour. It's not the most healthful use of the acorn, but I think it would be a fun thing to bring in to my wild edible plant class for homeschoolers. The kids will love acorns after that!
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2 comments:

  1. We continue our journey up the NET spur along hard knobby rocks much older than the traprock of the mainline. Fast Growing Tree Nursery

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  2. It's been so long since your last post! When's the next one coming?

    ReplyDelete