Even when times are good, foraging can save you a good bit on your grocery bills. In a crisis it can make the difference between life and death.
When society is falling apart, stores are empty or looted and you’re trying to make your food stores last as long as possible, foraging is a resource you can turn to right away.
Growing your own crops is a great way to ensure your food supply, but if you don’t already have them in the ground when disaster strikes you’ll probably be waiting months before you get your first crop in.
Foraging will help get you through until your garden starts producing.
If you need to move to a new location foraging, along with hunting, is one of the food sources you can start to exploit right away.
Foraging should have a role to play in any prepper’s plans. Of course, how much food foraging can provide depends on where you are.
Some environments will produce food quite easily, while others are more challenging – and in some, most people will struggle to find any food at all.
So, if you want to be able to forage productively, what are the best states to do it in?
All the West Coast states are good for foragers, but Washington is probably the winner.
Rocky areas of the coast have plenty of shellfish, including clams, mussels and oysters. Collect healthy-looking ones, which have closed shells and are firmly attached to the rocks.
It’s also worth checking rock pools for crabs and trapped fish. Meanwhile you can also collect edible seaweed.
Further inland, around half of Washington is covered in forest. Some of these trees are a good source of food.
For example Douglas firs are very common, and in spring the soft tips of the branches can be collected and eaten.
Camassia plants are common in the forests, and their bulbs are nutritious; they can be roasted or boiled. There are also plenty of wild berries in and around the forests.
Eastern Washington has few forests and foraging there is more difficult, but look for wild asparagus along roadsides and on the banks of ditches.
On the other side of the country, Maine has many of the same foraging advantages as Washington. On the coast you can find edible kelp, Irish moss and other seaweeds.
Sheltering under the seaweed are green crabs, and on the rocks look for mussels and periwinkles. Muddy banks are a good place to find quahog clams, the basis of the classic New England clam chowder.
Inland there’s still plenty food to collect. In spring fiddlehead ferns are common; collect the young, curled tips and boil them.
If you have the skills to identify edible mushrooms you’ll find plenty of them in Maine, including morels and chicken of the woods.
The state’s ponds and marshes have endless supplies of cattails, one of the most versatile plants you can forage. Then, of course, there are huge expanses of wild blueberries.
In fall there are wild apples to collect. Pine nuts take some work to collect, but there’s no shortage of pine trees. In winter you can collect reindeer moss, which is edible; just boil it for a couple of minutes.
Maine is a great place to forage even when there isn’t a crisis. The state has permissive land laws that allow foraging on any land unless there are posted signs forbidding it.
Iowa is a major agricultural state – 60% of it is farmland.
While farmers don’t like foragers helping themselves to their produce there’s plenty food around if the SHTF.
Major crops that can turn into forage in a crisis include corn, soybeans and oats.
Because these are cultivated species they’re highly nutritious; all of them are energy-dense, and soy has a lot of protein too.
If you don’t want to forage in the fields there are non-crop foods to be foraged in Iowa. Look in hedges and along roadsides for berries and wild asparagus. There are also patches of woodland between farms where you can find more berries and mushrooms.
In a crisis, your best bet is to forage around farms. As well as large-scale agriculture there are a lot of smaller organic farms in Iowa – around 800, and the number is growing – and seeds from their crops often escape over the boundaries.
Whatever the farm is growing you have a good chance of finding some that’s taken root outside the fence.
With the nation’s biggest agricultural industry, including large farms producing cereals, fruit and onions, Texas has all the same post-apocalypse possibilities as Iowa.
If farms haven’t been abandoned there are plenty of wilder areas where food can be found.
Sorrel is common in grasslands and forests, and can be used as a green vegetable. Wild carrots are also abundant, especially along roadsides; just make sure you know the difference between them and hemlock, which is poisonous. Wild carrot leaves are the ones with hair.
Texas also has a good range of wild nuts, including black walnuts and pecans, which can be harvested in fall. Look out for loquats, a yellow fruit that originally comes from China but now grows in many parts of the South.
Many species of grass in Texas and other Southern states are edible. The seeds can be collected and either boiled or dried and ground into flour.
If you can identify an edible species you should be able to harvest large quantities of carbohydrates and fiber. Other edible plants that grow widely in Texas include smilax, wild grape and purslane.
The California coastline, like Washington’s or Maine’s, is a great place to forage for shellfish and seaweed. Search rocks for barnacles, clams and mussels – but be careful. If there’s a “red tide” of algae, shellfish can collect lethal doses of toxins, so only collect shellfish when the sea is clear. Edible seaweeds including sea lettuce and nori are common in California.
Inland, Northern California has a variety of berries and other edible plants.
Wild radish has edible seed pods and stems can be shaved to reveal the crispy edible center. Further south you can find amaranth, wild asparagus, chickweed, pennycress and even prickly pear cactus.
Although I’ve rated these five states as the best for foraging, you can do very well in most other states too. There are edible plants everywhere; you just need to learn to recognize the ones that grow in your state, and where to find them.
You should also know how to do the taste test to check plants for edibility:
- Only test one plant at a time.
- Rub a small piece of the plant on your forearm and wait 15 minutes to check for a reaction.
- Touch a piece to your lip to check for a burning or itching feeling.
- Put a small piece in your mouth then spit it out again. A burning or prickling sensation, or a taste of almonds, means it’s toxic and should be avoided.
- If there’s no reaction or almond taste, swallow a small piece of the plant and wait an hour for any reaction. If there isn’t any reaction the plant should be safe to eat.
- Remember this test only works on plants. IT DOES NOT WORK ON MUSHROOMS.