Wild Foraged Foods

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‘Day After Disaster’ Features Wild Plant Foraging

By Sara F. Hathaway

My new book Day After Disaster is an apocalyptic, adventure in which a dynamic woman, mother and wife struggles, against all odds, to find her family. The woman, Erika, must traverse foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains while Mother Nature rages upon the landscape. During the adventure, she has many instances where her knowledge of foraging basics comes in handy.

I wrote this aspect of survival into the novel because this topic has absolutely fascinated me since I read Valley of the Horses by Jean M. Auel. She gave such an abundant amount of details on the foods and naturally foraged medicinals that her character used to survive. I had to find out if what she was describing is true. I started researching and learning about all the abundant edibles in our environment and the medicines growing right in our own backyards.

Although there are many plants highlighted in the book, I decided to discuss a couple of the more common plants that Erika forages on her adventure: cattails and dandelions. These are found across the United States and are very noteworthy. We will also be discussing a plant called Yampa. It is a much more mountain specific plant. I thought it would be fun to discuss this lesser-known plant as well.


Cattails grow all across the United States and are easily recognized by their tall, stiff flower stalks. They usually grow in swampy, wet areas. The flower stalks shoot out from spearhead shaped leafy clusters. In the story, Day After Disaster, they dine upon the shoots of the plant. These shoots are the young growth of the cattail. There are many more uses and edible parts of a cattail but the focus here will be on the shoots. The shoots, once pulled off the rootstock, are usually harvested in early spring. If you are going to harvest these shoots, you need to watch your cattails carefully throughout the year and make sure you are picking actual cattail shoots. The shoots closely resemble plants from the Orchid or Lily family, which are toxic.

From Flickr: Dendroica Cerulea License

Like many other vegetables, there are many ways these shoots can be cooked and eaten. Whichever way you choose to prepare them, they should always be peeled and sliced before being eaten. You can eat them raw. Their texture is similar to a carrot and the flavor that of a cucumber but they generally taste better if you cook them. They can be fried like okra and when you steam them the flavor closely resembles that of bamboo in Chinese cooking. They can also be boiled for an easy dish, just like you would a green bean.

Dandelion Greens

In the story, Day After Disaster, they were very smart to dine on nature’s super green. Dandelion greens are packed full of delicious nutrients. Dandelions grow all throughout the United States, much to the dismay of many landscapers. If they knew the wonderful benefits of eating this plant they might change their minds. Even the flowers of this power packed little plant are edible and can be used to make fritters but in the story they dine on the leaves so that is where we will focus.

From Flickr: Mike Mozart License

The leaves should be picked when they are young or they will be very bitter. They can be mixed with other lettuces and made into a yummy salad. You can also collect a lot of them and mix them with spinach or beet tops in a steamed bowl of goodness. I like to pan fry this mixture with some garlic and a dash of red wine vinegar thrown in at the end.

The dandelion didn’t originate in the United States. European settlers, who used it as a cure all plant, originally brought the dandelion here. It is still grown in Belgium as a cash crop to this day.
Medicinally it is a wonderful plant to be supporting the body with. You can read more about the medical benefits at my blog: http://www.authorsarafhathaway.blogspot.com
In western medicine the plant is best know for it’s proven diuretic properties.

When harvesting the dandelion there are some look alike plants that you should watch out for. A sow thistle is similar when it is young but they are dramatically different as they age. A spotted Cat’s Ear is similar but it has rough hair on the leaves when it is young. Other wild lettuces also resemble the dandelion but have obvious spines on the leaves or develop a central stalk with branches coming off of that. Remember that dandelions have no branches and will always grow from a central cluster.

Yampa Roots

Yampa is an obscure plant that grows in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. When I research plants, I use many books and I cross-reference them along with Internet sources and of course field work. I have only found this particular plant listed in one of my “go to” edible plant books: Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West. I was fortunate to have found one gentleman on the internet who shared his experience harvesting and eating the yampa root in his blog post at: http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com

Yampa photograph courtesy of T. Abe Lloyd of Wild Harvest

Yampas are very thin plants and belong to the Parsley family. The white flowers that form an umbrella or umbrel at the top identify them. This is common in many plants but the leaf stems and roots set the yampa apart. The plant itself comes from a single wiry stem that grows one to three feet tall so this plant is very difficult to identify until the flowers bloom in Mayand June. The leaves are very thin and needle like. They grow about one to six inches and are divided into three to seven distinct, thread like parts.

When you harvest this plant you must dig very carefully around the base to extract the root. One wrong tug and pop the stem will break right off the root. The root is about the size and shape of
a peanut. This plant can be found on moist hillsides and open meadows no higher than 7,500 ft. In the Arcandianabe.blogspot article he drew a correlation between the amount of leaves on the plant and the size of the root. He found the more leaves the bigger the root. He also found that when cooking them it would be better to steam them with the shells on and then peel and season them so that they do not fall apart so much during the cooking process. The yampa will have the flavor of a water chestnut or parsnip with a texture similar to that of a potato.

About the Author

Sara F. Hathaway is the international author of the fictional novel Day After Disaster. She is an avid student of Wilderness and Urban Survival.
To receive a special gift of “The Go Bag Essentials” and access to the full virtual book tour visit: http://www.authorsarafhathaway.com

My References:

Reader Digest (1981). Back to Basics, How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills. Pleasantville, New York / Montreal: The Readers Digest Association.

Gregory L. Tilford (1997). Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West. Missoula, Montana:  Mountain Press Publishing Company.

T. Abe Lloyd (2012). Yampa, More than a Taste. Retrieved July 10, 2014 from http://arcadianabe.blogspot.com/2012/06/yampa-more-than-taste.html

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

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    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for joining us today. Yampa roots are native to the North American Mountains so this is not something that you will find in NJ. I tried to pick items from my book that grow on a wider range so everyone could relate but I included the Yampa because it is a mountain plant that is not widely known. I actually have only found it’s description in one of my foraging books.

  • Wow, happy to see people taking an interest in foraging. I have a wonderful book called “Edible and Medicinal Plants” that I have been learning from. Did you know you can eat day lilies? All of the parts of the plant too. The flowers taste great if you pick them fresh. They are rich in vitamins too. How about Asian day flowers? I have always cut them down or mowed them over thinking they are a pesky invasive plant. I have recently discovered that a good deal of the stuff that I have always considered weeds in my yard are very nutritional plants! I could go on and on but it’s best to just get books and start walking your area with them.

    • Hi Shay,

      Good to see you so pumped up on foraging! It’s one of the messages I try to stress the most: you have to know what’s available in nature if you intend on surviving there. I have also studied the “Edible and Medicinal plants book” and sighted it here. It is a great resource. It is the only place I have found the yampa root. It is hard to believe how many plants we attack as pests in our yards that we could be eating, isn’t it?

      It’s also not a bad idea to learn the plants of multiple areas because if you go 100 miles in another direction the plant availability might be totally different. Study and explore, sounds good to me!

      • Thanks for responding to my comment. Yes, it’s amazing how many plants we consider weeds are actually far more nutritional than store bought junk. It’s a shame kids aren’t raised knowing this stuff!

          • This is too weird. I re-read your article here and realized that I had read the entire series of Clan of the Cave Bear YEARS ago. About 25 years I think! What a small world. Right? Not sure how old you are but I read these books and barely remember what they were about except for a young tribe member being kicked out of her tribe and having to learn to fend for herself. She watched the animals around her and copied their behavior. Am I far off? It’s been decades since I read those books. This is really amazing to me to meet someone on Daisy’s site that not only has a full knowledge of these books but also was inspired to write her own books because of them! WOW!

  • Sounds like a book right up my alley!
    I know that strawberries don’t have anything that mimic them that are poisonous, so if you come upon some, they are edible.
    I have the same book previous commenters mentioned but have yet to read it. :/

    • Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for stopping by and for the interest in my book! You are so right about the strawberries. One of the few things that doesn’t have a look alike. I keep the book, Dibble and Medicinal Plants of the West in my go bag so it would never get left behind! Enjoy your weekend!

  • I don’t know too much about wild edible plants so maybe I should read your book.

    I know we used to make mint tea from wild plants and ginseng grows around here somewhere (lol). The neighbor knows which roots to use for root beer and what part of the birch bark to get for birch beer but I don’t.

    The one plant that I do make use of is the dandelion. They are good fried in a little bacon grease and every spring I pick buckets of the blossoms for my dandelion wine.

  • We live in Florida so we have lots of wild edibles year round. My favorite is sea purslane. Anyone in Florida that is interested in learning more should check out Green Deane-he teaches local edibles.

    • Hi Kym,

      Great to hear your input here. I have only visited Florida once and I am not very familiar with the plants there. I am going to research sea purslane and pass the information on to my cousin that lives there.

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