Linda’s History Teaching Children Wild Food
Linda has taught the subject of wild edible food to children for many years starting with her son while she was still in the wilderness of the Adirondack mountains of upstate NY. She taught many groups over the years, from scouts to bona fide wilderness training camps who specialized in teaching kids.
Her approach to the topic has been honed over the years, and she has always made a point to capture the wonder years and take the opportunity to introduce kids to wild food before they became completely “civilized.” Linda has noted that kids take to wild food quite naturally, and she knows it’s important to teach them correctly before any bad habits arise. “Some of the most fulfilling work I have ever done has been teaching children,” she says. A few of her remembrances follow.
James from Ireland
A delightful boy, 11-year-old James from Ireland, stayed with me for a month in the early 1980s. Our Church brought him over because his parents had been killed in a bomb blast. The conflict between Catholics and Protestants had been going on for centuries, and many innocents such as this boy were affected by it.
I will never never forget this experience.
My first surprise was when I found out that James had never seen a marshmallow. One night over a campfire he ate too many of them, got overexcited, and tried to turn a burning log over with his bare hands. Ouch! And thus a lesson on mullein, so he could begin to learn firsthand how wild plants can benefit people. I showed James how to cut a mullein leaf and pulverize it with a stone. When the leaf was juicy, we wrapped it around his finger to stop the pain, and the healing process was begun. The other boy in this photo, the one holding the mullein plant, had gotten a wasp sting the day before, and he was doing the same thing, using mullein to help heal a hurt.
James soon realized the extent of my wild food knowledge, and he decided to learn to identify the plants by sight and taste. What I remember most was the expression in his eyes and his face every time I told him about a plant that he could eat all he wanted to of it. Of course, I focused only on plants that were very safe and common, and that I knew he could find in his country, such as clover.
I also explained to him that his body might not like it if he ate too many of certain plants at one time, such as wood sorrel, and I made sure he knew which those were. We were very careful to always review the “Rules of Foraging” every day, and he had them memorized in no time.
By the end of his stay with me he was on his way to eliminating his fears about living in his home area to the point where he could state, “When there is bombing, I can run away to New Castle (a city nearby) and survive.”
This time with this boy had a profound effect on me, because it was one of the earliest times that I fully understood how important my wild food survival data could be to children around the world.
One Child’s Clover Adventure
Some younger children will take to wild food right away, with no prompting. And as long as the parent is always there during a wild food foraging outing, it’s a true adventure of discovery for child and parent, one with the life-long benefit of food certainty.
There was one little 3-year old girl who was so precocious that I remember her very clearly, even though my teaching time with her was many years ago (1982), and she was just one of thousands of students that I taught. But a child like this, you remember.
I was teaching her the first foraging rule about not collecting plants within 100 feet of a car path or contaminated area. So we started walking away from the road, wading through a gigantic field of red clover, calling out every 10 feet from the road. Very soon she was skipping along and she would call out, “dirty, dirty,” getting more focused on both the plants and the outward movement until we reached the 100 foot point, where she said, “Clean” and sat down. It had rained heavily the day before and the clover buds were freshly clean and ready to eat. So thee little girl began stuffing her mouth with red clover buds, beaming all the while.
She had her fill (4 or 5, for her), and then we were able to gather enough red clover buds to return home, where I included the buds in a spaghetti sauce for dinner. You can see from the expression on her face how delighted she was with everything clover.
One of the more entertaining wild food outings was when we would pick wild roses. The children were taught to be careful about how to pick them, and I taught them about wearing gloves to protect their hands. Actually, it’s a good idea to wear gloves whenever you are picking wild food, but especially plants like wild roses, thistles, any cacti for sure.
By the time I was teaching children, I’d had many years of perfecting my harvesting skills and I truly enjoyed taking part in the enthusiasm and wonder of the children as they happily foraged for their dinner.
Once we got back with our loot, the children learned how to separate the rose leaves from the stems, and a key skill was mastering the ability to “de-pricker” the stems.
Then there’s de-barking the green “fabric” from the stem, as well as pulling apart the rose petals for use in a syrup, or finding the rose hip and discussing the nutritional value of that part. Not to mention the fun (and mess!) of making rose hip jam so the kids could take home their own jar of jam to taste and to remember their wild food adventure.
Times like those, watching the children have such delight in making Rose Petal Candy, for example (recipe in The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide), were very rewarding for me because I knew those children would always know how to find healthy food nearby.