The Benefits of Wild Edibles

A diet rich in wild edibles can offer many health benefits, while helping you avoid potentially harmful food additives.

More than a listing of plant types and general facts, Guild to Wild Foods and Useful Plants, Second Edition (Chicago Review Press, 2014) is full of fascinating folklore, personal anecdotes, and tasty recipes perfect for anyone who is interested in living closer to the earth. Christopher Nyerges — co-director of the School of Self-Reliance — offers hikers, campers and foragers an array of tips for harvesting and consuming wild edibles. This excerpt from the second appendix presents the argument for wild edibles, and why they may be superior to typical grocery store produce.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants, Second Edition.

“Live light upon the land if you would not be earthbound.” —Shining Bear

For years I thought, “Wild food would get me through an emergency, so I’m glad I’m familiar with the local wild plants.” Though I used wild food somewhat frequently, this context lurked, unacknowledged, as one of my major motivations for using wild food. It was only after marketing Wild Salad (a mix of wild greens) through the local certified farmers’ markets that I began to appreciate the broader opportunity that my knowledge affords. I was listening to our sales pitch:

These greens are fresh picked every morning. Many of them are more nutritious than regular produce. They have never been fertilized, waxed, or treated with pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. They’ve not been genetically engineered. We wash our hands before we pick them and then use tongs or gloves for any subsequent handling. And your dollars don’t support greedy “agribiz.”

As I considered the deeper meaning and ramifications of these words, I saw my knowledge of wild edibles in quite a different way and realized that there were several very good reasons to use wild food on a daily basis.


Studies have shown that fruits and vegetables tend to lose both vitamins and minerals as they age. When one knows and uses local wild foods, genuine freshness is assured. By harvesting your own food, you can also know for certain that the plants are at their peak of readiness.

It’s hard to tell how fresh grocery store produce is. We know that most produce comes from far away and thus must be at least a few days old. Irradiation, refrigeration, fungicide, and wax prolong the appearance of freshness long after an item would have normally begun showing signs of deterioration.

In agribusiness, salability takes priority over real freshness. Produce is hybridized specifically to make it more marketing hardy (such as more durable in transport, longer shelf life), and many fruits and vegetables are picked before they are ready in order to minimize spoilage and bruising during the trip from farm to store. Many farmers pick the whole crop at once and then preserve it for the selling season. Apples, stone fruit, and grapes may be weeks or months old due to cold storage. Many objectionable things are done to produce to make it appear fresh.

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