Meals Over Medicine: Healing Properties of Food from the Trail

Meals Over Medicine: Healing Properties of Food from the TrailFoods you find along the trail can replace lost rations and add to your food supply without increasing pack weight. Many wild plants are edible and full of fiber and vitamins. Encountering these plants in nature can change your mind about them and their healthful properties.

Dandelion Greens

dandelion greens

Dandelion greens, which are present in the early spring, can reduce swelling and support digestion. Eat them in a salad or boil them and drain away the water to remove some of the bitterness. Dandelion buds have a buttery flavor.

Avoid picking dandelions in areas that are frequented by pets or where runoff or chemical sprays may have coated the plants. Dandelion is high in vitamins A, C and D, B complex vitamins, potassium, calcium, iron and zinc. The flowers have antioxidant properties, the leaves antiviral effects and the root may improve digestion. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests you avoid using antacids if you are eating dandelions.

Rose Hips (pictured at the top)

rose hips

Rose hips (pictured above) are the fruit of the rose plant and one of the richest plant sources of vitamin C. They also contain vitamins D and E, soluble fiber, essential fatty acids and antioxidants. Vitamin C can act as an antihistamine. Ingesting rose hips may help with cold symptoms. In dried form, they are lightweight and easy to pack.

Collect and boil rose hips to make tea. Boil them longer (10 minutes is recommended for dried rose hips; 2 tbsp. to 1 pt. water) to enhance their flavor and potentially add more nutrients to the water. The hips themselves can be eaten boiled and mashed.



Cattails can be eaten as food, with the edible portions changing as the seasons pass. Cattail stalks should be harvested while they are immature; otherwise, when you break them open you will find a wood-like reed (and maybe a few worms). The rhizomes are edible boiled or dried, but the rhizome is labor-intensive to harvest and prepare.

Grasp the outer leaves and bend them downward to expose the main shoot. The shoot can be cut, twisted or pulled to remove the center of the plant. Be prepared for the slimy residue. Washed and sliced, cattail shoots have a flavor like mild cucumber. They make a filling snack, vegetable side or salad ingredient.

Steam and eat the male flower head or collect the cattail pollen to make bread. You will have to mix the pollen with flour, because unless you time your collection perfectly, the amount you collect per plant will be small. To collect pollen, place a bag gently around the flower head, bend the stalk and shake it.

Try eating cattail if you have an upset stomach. Cattail also is a mild diuretic and a tonic. The gel emitted when the stalks are harvested soothes irritated skin.

Article Written By Alice Moon

Alice Moon is a freelance writer with more than 10 years of experience. She was chosen as a Smithsonian Institute intern, working for the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and has traveled throughout Asia. Moon holds a Bachelor of Science in political science from Ball State University.

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