While the notion of eating seasonally and locally may seem like a novel idea to some, it’s actually a practice that our ancestors have been doing for years and one that our grandparents could probably share quite a bit of knowledge about if asked. One reason, people ‘lived off the land’ out of necessity, but more importantly to obtain the best possible heath by being entirely in sync with nature.
When the settlers first moved into the lands we lovingly call home here in West Virginia, living off the land was already and established way of life. Whatever Mother Nature happened to provide was what was eaten. That meant morels mushrooms and dandelion greens in the spring. Wild ramps and various greens were bountiful in summer. Apples and persimmons were the fruit of fall. Most food was stored and rationed for winter, but Mother Earth continued to provide in subtle ways with wild ginger, various mushrooms, saps, berries and barks. Of course, wild animals were harvested, but to supplement meals in times of scarcity, not as the main course, and were a rare but privileged treat. Spring water was readily available and could be enjoyed as is or flavored with twigs from the Birch tree or sap from a Sugar Maple. Honey was a rare, but welcomed treat.
The dawning of the industrial revolution among other shifts in way of life, allowed for more foods to be harvested and traded and fewer foods to be foraged for. Farmers became really good at one or two crops and those that were the most ‘shelf stable’ were the ones prized and cultivated in mass quantities.
While Mother Nature continues to provide, we rely on her natural offerings less and less and on modern conveniences more and more. It’ worth pondering, if nature continues to thrive in perfect harmony with the seasons and without ills of epidemic proportions (how many obese deer or squirrels with type two diabetes have you seen roaming the lands?), perhaps we could as well if we simply provided to and took from her in a similar fashion? The ancient art and science of Ayurveda has much to teach us on that note, but we’ll save that for a separate post.
So maybe you’re not ready to live entirely off the land, but your curiosity is piqued to learn more. Below is a list of some of the foods that can be found growing naturally in our region of the Appalachia’s. If you’re looking for a historic overview of foods eaten in our area, you’ll want to check out this lecture on Thursday, September 17th in Charleston. Or, maybe you’d like to do a little more foraging with a trusted friend. The West Virginia Native Plants Society. is an invaluable resource. Both Beech Fork State Park and the Huntington Museum of Art have established nature trails that highlight native species and can be a great place to begin your adventure while Heritage Farm just outside the city of Huntington hold reenactments of traditional farming and cooking techniques.
Show off your harvest by tagging us in a picture of what you’ve found in your own backyard!
black morel, ramp, wild ginger, violet leaf & flower, redbud flower, daylily shoot and tuber, burdock root, Japanese knotweed shoot, creasy greens, bittercress, onion grass, stinging & wood nettle, dandelion leaf & flower, dead nettle, evening primrose root, waterleaf, sweet cicely, sochane, chickweed, wild mustard, garlic mustard, daisy leaf, oyster mushroom, toothwort leaf & flower, spring beauty leaf & flower, spiderwort, basswood leaf, solomon seal leaf, stone crop, sweet birch twig, spicebush twig, trout lily leaf, angelica leaf & stem, cattail pollen, trout, turkey
waterleaf, violet flower, leaf, onion grass, ramps, yellow morel, wild ginger, bamboo shoot, wisteria flower, black locust flower, milkweed asparagus, dryad’s saddle mushroom, chickweed, money plant pods, stinging & wood nettle, sochane, reishi mushroom, greenbriar tips, spruce & hemlock (tree) tips, strawberry, elder flower, chicken of the woods, rose, sassafras leaf, sweet birch twig, spicebush leaf, stone crop
chicken of the woods, strawberry, reishi mushroom, greenbriar tips, mulberry, serviceberry, feral cherry, elderflower, day lily bud, daisy, honeysuckle & other flowers, blackberry, wood nettle, milkweed flower buds, sassafras leaf, sweet birch twig, mimosa flower
chanterelle mushroom, lambsquarter, wineberry, blackberry, may apple fruit, purslane, elderberry, bee balm leaf & flower, day lily, milkweed, & rose of Sharon flower, quickweed leaf, sassafras leaf
elderberry, blueberry, lambsquarter, purslane, milkweed pod, paw paw fruit, lobster mushroom, leatherback milk cap, boletes, and other mushrooms
honey mushrooms and many others, fairy potatoes, autumn olive berry, amaranth seed, paw paw, persimmon, wild black cherry, chestnut, kousa dogwood fruit, pears, apples, quince, lambsquarter seed
acorn, hen of the woods mushroom, fairy potato, autumn olive berry, kousa dogwood fruit, persimmon, chestnut (for grubs), chickweed, beauty berry, calendula, honey locust pod, nettle, sochane, waterleaf, fox grape, prickly pear fruit, red sumac berry, quince, hickory nut, spicebush berry, hawthorne berry, evening primrose seed, squirrel
acorn, jerusalem artichoke, burdock root, dandelion root, sassafras root, lambsquarter seed, chickweed, black walnut, beauty berry, prickly pear fruit, passionfruit, red sumac berry, deer, acorn grubs
burdock root, dandelion root, sassafras root, chickweed, foxtail millet, oyster mushrooms, brick top mushrooms
onion grass, bittercress, rose hips, sweet birch twig, sassafras root, dandelion root, honey locust pod, turkey tail mushroom & chaga fungus (both year-round), carpenter ants
rose hips, onion grass, bittercress, sweet birch twig, pine needle, honey locust pod, chaga fungus, carpenter ants
pine needle, sweet birch twig, tree syrups, wintercress, chickweed, dead nettle, garlic mustard, chaga fungus