Winter is good for a lot outdoor activities, though the early darkness can be a limiting factor to many of them. When the day reaches the point that I can’t see anything when I am outside, I usually retreat to the cabin and enjoy another activity that seems best accomplished in winter—studying fieldguides. This year I am working on learning more about the local edible and poisonous plants.
Over the years I’ve learned the basics of my native plants, but I’ve never felt really expert about that level of knowledge. Things like birds, animals, animal tracks and even trees, ferns and fungi were always more exciting and interesting to me. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling that I need to spend some time improving my knowledge of the smaller plants around me.
In part, my interest this year is based on two things—the economy and the idea that I’ve pretty well studied most everything else already. My original hope was that I could cut down my food bill by doing some fairly serious foraging in the warmer months. I gave that idea up pretty quickly. Most of the fieldguides are kind of liberal in their take on what is edible. Edible includes many plants with medicinal uses, but far fewer that might actually end up on a dinner table for more than a garnish.
For years, I’ve gathered black raspberries and blueberries. Sometimes I’ve added fiddleheads and dandelion greens to a dinner salad. I gather hickory nuts when I can get to them before the squirrels. But if I put everything together in a box, it might, just might, be enough to feed me for perhaps a couple of days. If I added a few home-caught fish to the mix, I would add a few more days to my grand total, but the bottom line is that my home-gathered food isn’t going to last me very long.
This year I’m hoping to improve that dismal total a little bit. For the record, I’m not planning to eat any mushrooms, so don’t worry about that. I don’t trust my knowledge or lack thereof enough to try those anytime soon or maybe forever. I’m talking more about things like cattails or watercress, maybe burdock. Unfortunately, I don’t even hope to be able to go "off the grid" of the grocery store. I simply want to try the wild things that are out there and get a few free meals from the experience.