8 Ways to Forage for Wild Edibles in Orange County

Nature can be a fairly abstract concept. You might ask, “What is the point of
nature? Sure, it makes for a
decent picnic spot. It can be
photographed for screensavers and glossy calendars. It's a great location for a fantasy film shoot. But, who really cares about some wild
plants and animals anyway? Besides, isn't it too far away? What can it do for me? Can
it pay my bills? Can it entertain
me? Can I eat it? Will it eat me? I don't have time or money for nature,
so why should I care about it?”

I'll tell you why! You CAN eat it, it is VERY close by, and it is FREE! Well, not all of it…just the abundant
tasty bits that won't kill you. Don't get me wrong; I'm not endorsing a feeding frenzy in the Santa Ana Mountains. There are some rules about eating nature. These rules have been around for thousands of years.

The local Acjachemen (Juaneño) and Tongva (Gabrieleño) tribes knew these rules. As the original human inhabitants of OC, they thrived in nature without desk jobs, stores, restaurants, TV, or video games. All they did was watch Grizzly (the bear). Grizzly picked tasty berries off the shrubs and vines. Grizzly dug up bulbs and tubers from the grassland. Grizzly devoured acorns from the oak woodland. Grizzly caught trout from the streams. Grizzly found grubs in the rotten wood. Grizzly caught a rabbit or deer. Grizzly traveled extensively to avoid depleting food resources. Grizzly was a very busy guy and he comfortably populated a vast territory by the thousands. It was obvious that the best way to survive was to copy Mr. Grizzly.

As centuries pased, Acjachemen and Tongva tribes improved upon Grizzly's survival strategy. They learned to take only what was needed to survive. They made regular offerings to express their gratitude. They collected and processed acorns. They dispersed seed. They groomed plants to keep them healthy. They burned areas to favor certain plant species. They hunted game with tools made out of rocks and sticks. They varied their diet throughout the seasons. They treated nature with respect and appreciation because it allowed them to flourish like Grizzly. By following these simple rules, they managed to healthily coexist with Grizzly for over ten thousand years in OC!

Nature Eating Rules (AKA Foraging for Wild Edibles):

1. Only eat what you know

On our Tribal Survival tours in Silverado Canyon, hungry and curious participants immediately point at random plants and ask, “Can I eat this? How about this? What is edible out here?” My answer is always the same. Everything is edible in nature. The real question is, “Will this kill me, if I eat it?”

I am reminded of my canyon friend, Jesse, a dashing young lad with a courageous soul. During a naturalist training, we came across a young leafy green alongside the trail. I remarked that it looked sort of like a carrot. Mind you, deadly hemlock is related to carrots and happens to grow all over OC. The mystery plant was abundant and appeared to line the trail for some distance. I decided to uproot one and take a closer look. The root looked like a white carrot. It smelled a little like a carrot. The sprig of leaves reminded me of wild parsley or carrot, but I was hesitant to say for certain. Jesse was intrigued by the chance of eating something related to vegetables from the store. I expressed my reservations about tasting the white carrot, but Jesse just grinned and stuck a piece in his mouth. He chewed slowly, while we watched in astonishment. I imagined the horrifying possibility of Jesse collapsing in front of us. He continued his rebellious grin until the piece was swallowed. “Well?” I asked. With a slightly wavering confidence, he assured us that “It didn't taste poisonous.” Hours later he was still alive and joking with us. When I got home, I looked up the plant and found that it was a form of wild parsley, which is related to domestic carrot. Thankfully, Jesse's risky move did not put him on the evening news!

2.  Only take/eat what is permitted.

3. Only take/eat what you need to survive.

4. Understand how to prepare different items for consumption.

5. Always assess foraging locations for signs of pollution or degradation.

6. Always give back to nature by expressing appreciation and gratitude, removing litter and graffiti, restoring your own yard with wild indigenous plants, dispersing seed, pruning carefully, and providing a symbolic offering.

7. Only take/eat 5-10% of available resource, so it may renew for future generations.

8. Always learn from an experienced guide. You can follow me on one of my Tribal Survival tours on October 6 or November 3: http://www.naturalist-for-you.org/calendar.htm

By the way, I am featured in more than one film at the 1st Annual Silverado Film Festival, Saturday, September 29 from 6PM-10PM at the Silverado Community Center. “Like” the festival and find more information on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SilveradoFilmFestival

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