Month: October 2013

6 Reasons To Eat Wild Food

wildreasonsThere are too many reasons why a wild food diet makes sense.  Remember, it does not have to be all or nothing.  Even incorporating just a small portion of wild edibles into your current diet will provide numerous benefits.

Here are 6 reasons to practice Wild Foodism:

1:  It is the most natural diet

For a long time, it seemed as if local and organic were enough.  Then raw foodism exploded onto the scene, raising the point that humans are the only animals that cook their food.  And more recently, we have the Paleo diet, which advocates an ancestral way of eating.  But the proponents of these diets rarely mention the kind of food that Homo sapiens consumed for the majority of their time on this planet:  food from the wild.  No matter how local, organic, raw, or Paleo a diet may be, none can be as natural as a wild food diet.

2:  More nutritious

Wild edibles are, on average, more nutritious than their cultivated counterparts.  They generally contain more phytonutrients (antioxidants), more vitamins and minerals, more fiber, less calories, and a better omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio.

3.  Connection to your ecosystem

Modern humans consume meals with ingredients sourced from all over the world.  Even something as simple as a fruit salad can contain apples from New Zealand, bananas from Ecuador, and pineapple from Costa Rica.  Eating wild organisms directly from your ecosystem connects you immediately to your land.  You know where the food grows, when it grows, and what it looks like.  Harvesting wild food creates a story between yourself and what nourishes you.  Those who do not share this same connection will be less likely to express concern when wilderness is cleared to make room for the next big-box store, for these individuals experienced no value from the land in the first place.

4:  Food security

When you can locate, identify, and harvest your food, food security is greatly increased.  Many of us are completely dependent upon grocery stores for our food, and pharmacies for our medicine.  But knowing how to source our food and medicine directly from our land provides a huge safety net, especially in times of need.  In an emergency, would you be able to feed yourself from the land?  Could you locate and harvest clean water?

5:  The cost

Many people claim that eating healthy is expensive.  “I’d buy organic, but it just costs too much,” they say.  Well, what if I told you that you could eat healthier (much healthier!) and do so for free?

Eat wild food (plants, animals, fungi) and watch your food expenses drop.  Sure, nibbling on wild greens from time to time may not save you much, but if you know how to source the calorically-dense wild foods, like nuts, tubers, fruits, and animals, you will really see a difference in your expenditures (and your health).

6.  Outdoor experience

Many of us spend most of our hours indoors.  We sleep indoors, play indoors, shop indoors, cook indoors, and work indoors.  Is it any surprise that we long for a summer vacation with a beautiful landscape – the beach, the mountains, the woods?  Harvesting wild food is not feasible indoors.  Instead, it requires you to get outside and immerse yourself in a door-less world.   As you begin the foraging process you will discover many more reasons to step outside.  Need some greens? Berries for a smoothie?  How about some roots for a hot-water decoction?  Explore the outdoors and see what you stumble upon.

Of course, there are so many other reasons why a wild food diet makes sense.

What are some of the reasons that inspire you?


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Thank you!
Adam Haritan

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Clay Removes Tannins From Acorns

redoakOne of the most under-utilized foods in our current culture is the acorn, the majestic nut of the oak genera (Quercus).  Many people think of the acorn as a strictly Native American food, but its consumption has been documented all over the world, including in Europe, Asia, and northern Africa.

There are plenty of resources available detailing the instructions on processing acorns (web sites, videos, books) in order to decrease their levels of tannins, so I will not belabor the subject.  Once you master the art of leaching, you may be interested in another traditional processing method to remove the tannins.  This involves the use of clay.

You see, tannins are astringent substances of plant origin that, when consumed in sufficient amounts, can interfere with mineral and protein absorption.  In small amounts, however, they can be quite beneficial.  It is rarely discussed that, in addition to hot and cold water leaching, mixing clay (specifically red clay) with non-leached acorn meal can reduce bitterness, increase palatability, and decrease tannic acids.

Two researchers, Timothy Johns and Martin Duquette, studied the uses of clay amongst the Pomo people of California and the natives of Sardinia (1).  These geographically separated groups produced acorn bread in slightly different ways using clay to increase palatability.

To make acorn bread, the Pomo would mix clay with ground acorn meal in a ratio between 1:10 and 1:20, to which water would then be added.  Small loaves would be formed and baked in an earth oven for 12 hours.

In Sardinia, the natives would stir clay with cold water, then add the mixture to a pot of dried acorn meats (1:8, clay to acorns).  After boiling for five hours, ash from grape vines would be combined, allowing the entire mixture to cook for a few more minutes.

Through these methods, as much as 77% of the tannin content could be reduced without any prior leaching.  But when Johns and Duquette experimented with the adsorption capacity of clay for tannins in the laboratory, they discovered something different*.  Only about 8-12% of the tannin content of acorns could be reduced in the recommended amounts by the Pomo and Sardinian natives.  This is clearly not a significant reduction, and could render the acorns slightly toxic with levels of tannins still too high.

How, then, were the natives able to consume the acorn bread, and how did Johns and Duquette arrive at the original reduction number of 77%?  It turns out that when acorn bread (with clay) is baked in oven temperatures at or above 100° Celsius for many hours, the tannin content can be reduced by several times what can be achieved through laboratory adsorption alone.  According to the researchers, heat may increase the adsorption capacity of the clay for tannins, but more likely increases catalytic activity in actually breaking down the tannic acids.

Takeaway message:  If you’re looking to use clay for the purpose of leaching acorns, using heat will dramatically improve the leaching process for the reasons stated above.

Oak trees are found in abundance all over the world, which means that food is available for all who are interested.  Acorns are very nutrient-dense at around 13% fat, 41% carbohydrate, 8% fiber, and 3.5% protein (2).  I encourage you to gather acorns and learn the traditional art of processing and cooking them, both through leaching and through the addition of clay.

Acorns are true superfoods, and making them a regular component of your diet will benefit your health, your family’s health, and the planet’s health.

*Adsorption, different than absorption, is the adhesion of a chemical species onto the surface of particles.  In this example, tannins are adsorbed by the clay.


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Thank you!
Adam Haritan

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The 10 Most Utilized Plants By Native Americans

westernredcedarIf the saying is true, that we are what we eat, it’d be fair to say most Americans are walking columns of corn, soy, and wheat.  These three crops are grown in abundance for many reasons.  Most people consume manufactured forms of these foods, like wheat-based cereals and breads, soy-based emulsifiers and oils, and corn-based … well, pretty much everything from sweeteners to thickeners.  Animal feed is also supplemented with these crops, so when we’re eating the animals, we’re essentially eating more corn, soy, and wheat.

And then there are hundreds of other reasons why these items are mass-produced.  We produce fuel, plastics, paints, pharmaceutical excipients, candles, etc. from food crops.

Here is a chart detailing seven major agricultural crops produced in the United States in 2011.  It does not include root, citrus, and vegetable crops, like potatoes, tomatoes, and oranges, but instead presents a more generalized snapshot of American agriculture.  Take a look (click to enlarge):

majorcrops

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to very many people.  From a Wild Foodism standpoint, however, these foods aren’t too exciting nor promising.

As a resident of North America (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to be exact), I am far more interested in the foods that the Natives utilized as treasured resources, rather than the foods that make the most profit.  This is valuable information for anyone attracted to Wild Foodism.

Believe it or not, there are indeed certain species that once possessed more utility than someone today might imagine.  These plants were incorporated into cultures as drugs (medicine), food, fiber, dyes, and other things (incense, talismans, toys, fragrances, tools, etc.).

I have included two charts, similar to the one above, examining the most utilized plants in Native American culture.  Both tables are taken from Daniel E. Moerman’s tome, Native American Ethnobotany (2008).

The first table outlines the 10 plants with the greatest number of uses, and with uses in all five categories (click to enlarge).

Moermantable1

The second table outlines the 10 plants with the greatest number of uses, regardless of category (click to enlarge).

Moermantable2

It’s important to note that not all of these plants grow throughout North America.  Western red cedar, for example, is primarily found in the Pacific Northwest.  Stinging nettle, on the other hand, grows throughout most of the United States and Canada.

If you are not familiar with these organisms, I encourage you to seek out more information regarding their uses.  There are reasons (very good reasons!) the Natives chose these particular plants to be their allies in everything from medicine to food.

Sure, Triticum aestivum (common wheat) may serve a purpose in your life.  If nothing else, it’s pretty neat to watch bread rise with the help of yeast.  But never forget:  dietary diversity is crucial for robust health, and consuming an agricultural diet of corn, soy, and wheat in their various adulterations may not be the greatest health strategy long-term.

What is a great strategy, however, is to include more wild foods into your lifestyle.

What can you do right now?  Take a look at the latter tables above and see which plants inhabit your ecosystem .  Research their traditional uses and begin to incorporate them into your life.

And ask yourself, from what building blocks do you want your body to be built?  The genetically modified, chemically-laden inferior foods of agriculture, or the wild and hearty organisms of the natural world?


Like what you’ve read?  Sign up below to receive notifications for new posts, and don’t forget to check out the Facebook (facebook.com/wildfoodism) and Twitter (twitter.com/wildfoodism) pages to learn more about wild food nutrition and identification!

Thank you!
Adam Haritan

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