Some of the best wild edible plants are only available for a short window of time. With summer berries and many of the wild vegetables coming into season soon, now is a great time to get set up for the preservation of these free seasonal foods. Two of the easiest methods to preserve your wild harvest are drying and pickling. Here’s how to get started.
Electric home dehydrator units are an excellent way to preserve many foods while cutting down the food’s weight and volume, but these units are expensive. Solar drying boxes are an electricity-free option, but these, too, are very expensive to purchase or build from scratch. The least expensive option is to make your own dehydrator from something you probably already have: window screens.
Screens: Pop the plastic screens out of your home windows, set them up on a few cinder blocks to allow air to flow underneath, and use them as platforms to dehydrate many types of food in dry, sunny weather. Just avoid galvanized wire and other metal wire screens, as these materials can leach into your food creating off flavors and potentially introducing toxins (especially from the galvanized screens).
Processing: Slice fruits and bulky vegetables into thin pieces about a quarter-inch thick. Next, apply a little fruit preservative powder (available at most grocery stores) or dip them in lemon juice. These treatments provide acid that makes the fruits and vegetables less inviting to bacteria and it helps to preserve some of the food’s nutrition.
Drying: Dry the food in the sun for a day or more, until they don’t appear to change further. Bring the screens indoors each night to avoid dampness and animal thieves, and bring them in during damp weather.
Most fruits and berries can be dried with good results. Wild vegetables can usually turn out well, too, especially if they are leafy things like herbs. Leaves can be dried as-is on the window screens, while other foods should be cut thin like the fruit. Fleshier wild vegetables (like milkweed pods) can be sprinkled with a little salt to help pull out the water and act as a preservative. Most vegetables are dried until brittle, except for fruits which will be leathery no matter what.
A salty, vinegary brine can be a quick and easy way to increase the storage life of fresh wild vegetables. It also provides a lot of flavor to vegetables that could otherwise be considered bland. To make a simple brine, blend 1 quart of water and 1 quart of distilled vinegar in an enameled or stainless steel pot. Bring this to a boil, then add salt and/or sugar to suit your taste. I use both, but more sugar than salt. Let the brine cool to room temperature before adding your food to it. Many vegetables can be stored by submerging them in the brine. Spices could be added as well. I am very fond of ginger, garlic, and dried red peppers in my brine. Your home-grown cucumbers become crunchy pickles this way, and wild edible greens take on a whole new flavor. Fresh chickweed leaves and stems are my favorite wild veggie in this brine solution. Wild edibles submerged in brine can last from 2 to 4 weeks in cool temperatures or in a refrigerator.
And when you’re ready to eat your preserved wild foods, trust your eyes and nose. Don’t eat any of your foods that have molded, look rotten, or have become ill scented.
Please tell us in the comments how you preserve your wild harvests.