“Lutefisk? Perhaps this is why the Vikings were so feared, if they were man enough to consume rotten fish, or fish cured with lye or urine, well…you think they’d be afraid of your silly little swords and arrows?” ~Ill Lich
The longing to travel into the unknown began when I was a child. It was a call to a kind of sacred relentlessness and I had no choice but to give into the unyielding hunger. As my bravery grew, so did my boundaries until I could no longer see the wall. Throughout the years, my voyager spirit has led me deep into the mountains, wilderness, deserts and coasts of the United States and beyond. In Greek mythology, Hermes, the son of Zeus, would protect ancient travelers who, like myself, were beckoned to the journey. The idea of being watched over as I navigated undiscovered terrain, was comforting however, I never just relied on guardian angels.
The allure of the road is beautiful but if a traveler does not prepare, even with the help of an immortal, the trek can be dangerous. Today, our main protector when embarking on an odyssey, is knowledge. Travelers need to be in touch with the earth and everything that flies in the heavens and roams the ground.
Native Americans had it right. They were masters of their domain. They observed and studied their environment, never taking more than they needed. They were well versed on what plants, berries, insects and animals would nourish their bodies and which would harm, and this is a lesson that I have heeded well, and one I wish to share with you. Why share? Because trekking and hiking, while not only a terrific pastime or hobby, are also perfect training routines for when disaster strikes or you find yourself in a hurried, bug-out situation. Let’s face it, in a situation where food is not apparently available, most people will either starve or revert to violence to save themselves or their loved ones, often with dire consequences. But knowing what is available in your immediate environment can, and will, save you.
What I’ve included below is just a jumping off point for you. Know your surroundings. Acquire resources that are specific to your area. And most importantly, explore your world.
When trekking through various landscapes over a period of time, the last thing a person wants to deal with is a heavy pack. Traveling light is a must. I will usually pack staple foods like:
- Beans & Lentils: They are compact and easy to cook. You only need to boil.
- Pasta: Another lightweight choice. Also easy to prepare.
- Rice: Fast & tasty (when mixed with beans & spices)
- Spices: Powdered Garlic, Onions, Pepper & Salt
Homemade Trail Mix: Various Recipes
In addition to the fundamentals, I always pack my well-worn copy of Peterson’s Field Guide. It has been my Bible — my 101 in identifying edible and poisonous plants & berries for years now. My golden rule when hiking is: Never rely solely on what you pack for food sustenance. There are a ton of things that can go wrong, very wrong on a trip and a wise traveler will be prepared for anything.
Edible Berries and Plants
“Arsenic is edible. Only once” ~Unknown
There are a number of benefits to eating wild edible plants, not just do or die reasons. Even if your trip is going smoothly, eating edible plants and berries from the wild can be a wonderful supplementary boost to your nutritional arsenal, as well as gift to your taste buds. Edible plants and berries can be appetizing and most are even more nutritious than processed store bought produce. I always eat what’s offered by my environment and in the summer months, the trail becomes a seasonal buffet.
- Asparagus: Wild asparagus is common in many parts of the United States. It’s akin to the asparagus that you find in a grocery store but the stalk in thinner. Wild asparagus is most common between March and June. It is a great source of Vitamin C, thiamine and potassium. You can eat it raw or boil it.
- Bear Grass: Found in open meadows and forests in the Western U.S. on dry slopes or forest clearings. Edible when roasted or boiled and Native Americans use the roots and stems to weave baskets.
- Cattail: Found near freshwater rivers and ponds, most parts of these tall plants are edible. The best part of the plant is the white part of the stem near the bottom. You can boil or eat them stem raw. I haven’t tried Cattail myself but many who have say it taste like corn.
- Chickweed: Chickweed is most common in the months between May and July. You can eat the leaves of this highly nutritious plant raw if you like. Boiling it is also good.
- Dandelion: Dandelions are everywhere and they happen to be a great source of nutrient and are completely edible. Unlike with other plants, after you boil dandelions, you can drink the water. Another plus is that the roots can be boiled and used as a coffee substitute! Great source of potassium, vitamin A & C.
- Elderberry: Elderberry’s are found in the eastern part of the US, and grow near marshes, lakes, rivers and ditches. Only the flower and fruit portions of the Elderberry plant is edible. The rest of the plant is poisonous. So, after boiling the Elderberry plant, discard the water.
- Green Seaweed: On the coast, seaweed is your best buddy. After pulling the seaweed from the water, you will need to rinse it with fresh water and then let it dry out. You can eat the seaweed raw or make a soup out of it.
- Prickly Pear Cactus: I have personally eaten this wonderful plant. The taste, especially when seasoned, is very pleasant. If you are trekking in the desert or lower Rookies, you will most likely run across this delicious treat. You will of course, need to remove the cactus spines from the outer skin before cooking-trust me on this one.
- Blackberries: These are abundant in July in the Midwest and South. I always grab handfuls when I find them. Great source of energy and vitamins and minerals. Be careful of the thorns!
“The first time you see something that you have never seen before, you almost always know right away if you should eat it or run away from it” ~Scott Adams
Insects are eaten regularly by 2 billion people around the world. There are between 1,000 to 1,900 edible species. They contain protein, vitamins, minerals and fats. For example, Mealworms contain as much omega-3 fats as does fish. Crickets are high in calcium. Grasshopper and Caterpillars provide 20-28 grams of protein per serving compared to the 27 grams of protein that a person can get from eating beef. As a precaution, my advice is to cook whatever insect you are planning on eating. The heat of a campfire, will break down any natural toxins that an insect may be harboring and also kill off any parasites that may be taking up residence inside your insect of choice.
The best advice I’ve ever received regarding which insects are edible and which are not is to stay away from anything that is brightly colored. In nature, animals use bright colors to warn a potential predator to stay away. These vibrantly colored arthropods are beautiful to look at but, I keep them off my menu-better safe than sorry. Other types of insects to probably avoid are hairy (exception Tarantula), or disease carriers like ticks and mosquitos.
The edible insect list is long and that’s a good thing. The following are a few that I’ve encountered:
- Ants (one of the few exceptions would be the Fire ants)
- Bees: Bees are known to be very tasty. They live their lives eating nectar and pollen from flowers-sweet stuff!
- Cicada: Principally found in the Eastern US-Crunchy. Advice: de-leg and de-wing before cooking. That will make them more palatable.
- Cockroaches: Not the cockroaches found around the house but the ones that are clear of pesticides and have lived their lives eating wild fruit.
- Crickets and Grasshoppers: Add a few spices and then roast, boil or sauté
- Earthworms: Worms are high in protein and iron and are plentiful in nearly all regions in the U.S. Just dig, wash off the dirt and enjoy. They are a favorite of the Yekuana tribe of Venezuela.
- June bugs: As with many insects, June bugs are full of nutritional value. Native American would routinely roast June bugs over hot coals and eat them like popcorn.
- Tarantula: A delicacy in areas of the Amazon and Asia. If you find yourself trekking near the desert region in the U.S., try it. Fry it, season it and you’ve got yourself a tasty and nutritious meal
- Termites: A great source of protein and taste best when they are slightly roasted. They are regularly eaten raw by Kenyans-yes, straight out of the mound!
Hunting and Trapping Animals
Animals are a core resource for cultures around the world and in the U.S., it is a heritage. If hunting is your thing, here is a list of some of the most common animals you will come across when traveling the U.S.:
- Fish: Bass, Tarpon, Trout, Crappie, Cod and Salmon are some of the varieties of fish that can be found in the different provinces of the United States.
- Rabbit: There are many species of rabbits living wild and free amongst the grub worms and dandelions. Jack Rabbit (Central and Western region), Cottontail (throughout the States), Swamp Rabbits (Lives in the marshes of Eastern Texan, Oklahoma, Eastern Kansas through Northwestern North Carolina), Marsh Rabbit (Lives in the marshes of Florida and throughout the coastal plain North to Virginia)
- Frogs: When a person is searching for sustenance, the goal is more bang for the effort. In the frog category, my energy will usually be focused on the robust Bullfrog. I would recommend skinning the Bullfrog and removing its entrails. I’ve eaten the back meat and legs-actually, quite tasty!
- Birds: There are many species of birds that you may encounter in different regions of the U.S. Sparrows are abundant but tiny and the payoff may not be worth the effort. Ducks, Pheasants and Pigeons, will be a more satisfying meal.
Into The Wild Recipes
The following are a couple of my favorite recipes for preparing things found in the wild…
Mealworm fried/steamed rice
A simple and nutrient rich rice dish. Protein, vitamins, carbs, minerals…You name it, this dish has it.
1 large egg (optional-Nearly all bird eggs are edible)
¾ cup of water
Powdered onions (season to taste)
Powdered garlic (season to taste)
Salt (season to taste)
Pepper (season to taste)
1 cup rice
1 cup mealworms or crickets (sauté the mealworm or crickets to a few minutes and then add the other ingredients)
Sauté the mealworms or crickets in a pan until golden brown. Cook the rice and then scramble the bird egg. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. After the bulk of the ingredients have boiled, add the cooked rice by stirring it into the mixture with the mealworms or crickets and Walla! A balanced meal
Dry Roasted Crickets
Not only nutritious but seriously tasty…If you can get over the fact that you are eating crickets.
Any number of live crickets
Salt, or preferred seasoning that can be shaken or sprinkled onto the batch of crickets after they have been roasted. Arrange crickets in a pan, making sure they don’t overlap. (If at home, preheat your oven to 200 degrees and place crickets on a cookie sheet). Cook for about 30-45 minutes. (At home, bake for about 60 minutes). The object is to dry out the crickets as much as possible, until crisp. Once roasted and cooled down, place a few crickets between the palms of your hands and carefully roll them, breaking off the cricket’s legs and antennae in the process. You are now ready for your wilderness popcorn!
I haven’t been able to bring myself to try this recipe however, I am assured that it is a winner in the edible insect category. I was hiking in the South West some years ago with a friend and he found and prepared a version of this for me. There was something about seeing it prepared that, well, made me stick with my rice and beans. Some of these ingredients are not field supplies and you will not have them with you on the road. Nonetheless, if you catch a tarantula and save him for a home meal…or, follow the directions below to prepare the spider and simply fry over campfire and season to taste.
2 cups vegetable oil
2 frozen tarantulas (adult, Texas brown, Chilean rose or similar)
1 cup tempura batter
1 tsp smoked paprika
Tempura batter ingredients:
1 medium egg
½ cup cold water
½ cup plain flour
½ tsp baking soda
To make the batter, beat the egg until smooth. Slowly add cold water while stirring. Add flour and baking soda and then allow the mixture to sit. Using a saucepan or deep-fat fryer, heat the vegetable oil to 374 degrees. Use a sharp knife to cut out the abdomens of the tarantulas and singe off the spider’s body hairs with a lighter. Thoroughly coat the spider in batter and ensure the legs are not clumped together before frying (fun). Then deep fry the tarantula for about a minute or until the batter is browned. Allow the spider or spiders to drain on a paper towel (make sure you use an absorbent paper towel-you don’t want me to describe to you why). Cut the tarantulas body in two (lengthways) and sprinkle with paprika to serve. It was recommended that the spider legs be eaten first, and then nibble at the extra meaty bits (avoid the fangs!)
Baked Autumn Trail Mix
I made this trail mix for the first time last winter and it is delicious! It was featured in the November 2013 Outside Magazine. It is simply too good to be believed. It is one of the best trail mixes I have ever tasted. You can substitute the nuts and fruits to suit your tastes. I always make this to take with me on my treks. Energy galore!
1/2 cup each raw walnuts, almonds, and pecans
1/2 cup each raw pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup or less raw honey
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Coarsely chop nuts and mix with seeds, coconut oil, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Spread on a cookie sheet or rimmed baking pan lined with parchment paper.
Toast in the oven for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally to be sure the nuts and seeds are merely toasted, not burned.
Take pan out of the oven. Drizzle the honey and sprinkle the salt over top.
Toast in oven for another 4 minutes, stirring often.
Remove from oven. Add dried fruit and mix thoroughly.
Wild Carrot-Onion Soup
The wild carrot can be tricky because it can look like other wild plants that are poisonous. Be very careful to be certain that you are actually cooking wild carrots. Make sure that they smell like carrots and are growing in a dry field. Use your field guide!
4 cups of wild carrots
2 to 3 vegetable bouillon cubes (Optional)
2 tbs. arrowroot or kudzu powder
Wild onions or powdered onions
1/2 tsp. black pepper
I raise my glass and salute all explorers of near and faraway places …
“May the road rise with you and the wind be ever at your back” ~Irish Toast
- Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Wild Edible Plants by Samuel Thayer
- A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and central North America (Peterson Field Guides) by Lee Allen Peterson
- The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, Revised: 40 Ways to Cook Crickets, Grasshoppers, Ants, Water Bugs, Spiders, … by David George Gordon
- Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet by Daniella Martin
- Field: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish by Jesse Griffiths
- Wildwood Wisdom by Ellsworth Jaeger
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