One the best things about being human can also be one of the worst: we have to eat food fairly regularly. Not as often as we have to hydrate, of course, but still. This can be nice, like when your company is forced to give you a lunch break, or when you live within easy driving distance of a really good Mongolian BBQ.
But what about times when eating is neither convenient nor entertaining? When you go hiking and find yourself in the middle of that large, unadorned green area on the map, you’ll see what we mean. You either carry a few dozen pounds of food with you, making your pack just that much more uncomfortable, or you leave it behind and just eat the soles of your shoes instead. But what if there were a third option? Well, there is. For short hikes through known terrain, you can just live off of the land.
Here are a few edible plants that you can use to fill your belly when there isn’t a hotdog-stand in sight. (Warning: Make sure you know how to identify edible plants before you eat them. There are many different species of very poisonous plants out there that will kill you dead if you’re not careful).
Edible clovers don’t only show up in marshmallow form in your bowl of Lucky Charms cereal; it turns out that the actual multi-leafed grass accessory is perfectly edible as well. No poisons, no toxins, no barbs, no thorns; the clover is just perfect for filling your stomach while you tromp through nature (assuming you can find enough of them). For an added treat, try boiling them. Avoid red clover, however, as it can be mildly poisonous. Clovers can be found in fields, meadows, and forests, such as in Olympic National Park.
Another plant that you’re probably already familiar with, the dandelion is the lawn keepers’ nightmare. Well, don’t think of it as a weed to be exterminated from your yard; think of it as naturally grown emergency food storage. Every part of the dandelion can be eaten raw, and it’s a great source of potassium, calcium, and vitamins A and C. Best of all, they’re easy to identify when you’re out hiking. They grow all over North America, and can be found in places such as Acadia National park.
3. Pine nuts
Most people have a vague notion that pine nuts come from pine trees, but how are you supposed to harvest them? The nuts themselves are located in pine cones, and are dispersed once the cones ripen and open. However, unless your timing is impeccable, there’s a good chance that some of the other foraging animals such as birds or squirrels are going to get to it first. For a better bet, climb a tree and find some of the unopened cones. Use a pocket knife to open them up and enjoy the tasty treat of nature. Make sure to check on local laws, however, as some parks forbid or regulate the harvesting of pine nuts. They can be found wherever pine trees are located, such as in Yosemite national Park.
In addition to eating the seeds raw, which everybody already knows about, sunflowers can be consumed in a variety of ways. You can eat the sprouts without having to cook them. You can boil the kernels into gruel. The shells can even be roasted and ground to make a coffee substitution. Sunflowers can be found in many areas in North America, including national parks such as Yellowstone and Arches.
Perhaps not as well known as some of the others on this list, fireweed is nonetheless a useful morsel for the peckish hiker. The shoots and the flowers can be eaten without having to be cooked, and pith from the stem can be added to soups as a thickener. It can also be fairly easy to spot, given it’s brightly colored blossoms and cone-like shape. Fireweeds are considered a pioneer species, and so will often colonize entire fields, making it easy to collect enough of them to eat. They grow in foothills, alpine, and sub alpine areas, and can be found in national parks such as Denali.