Foraging In The Ozarks

While growing up in the Central United States (US), I often wondered if I could ever live exclusively off of the land. What would it be like to be “dropped” into the wilderness at any given season, and what would it take to not only survive, but thrive?

Water, shelter and food are definitely top of the list.  If you, too, should go exploring the densely wooded Ozark region, you’re bound to find numerous rivers, creeks and lakes as excellent sources of water. (CHECK) You could likely use timber, bark, leaves, maybe even clay to make a shelter (DOUBLE CHECK). But what about food? There is no doubt in my mind that I would make a terrible hunter; I can’t catch my shoes in my own closet! So realistically, I would need to find something other than wildlife to keep going. Foraging would be my only bet.

Throughout my childhood in the Central US, I would go mushroom hunting and berry picking. Morel mushrooms and a variety of berries grow wild in this region, if you know where to look! But those come at seasonably ‘green’ times of the year, in the spring and summer, respectively. This made me wonder what I could find in the midst of winter. I used to think there were very few, if any, options available, especially in regards to protein. So when I returned to the region this past winter, I was surprised by what I found.

If you ever decide to go foraging, or for whatever reason are lost in the Ozarks, then these three finds may offer you something natural for the winter table, or even keep you survive in the great outdoors.

Black Walnuts

Find a Black Walnut Tree (Juglans Nigra) and you will be in for a treat! Black walnut shells are identified by their dark brown or black colored husks and usually drop from the tree in fall and winter (so no climbing necessary). Once you crack these open, the nut inside is exceptionally delicious eaten raw or roasted. One ounce of black walnuts has seven grams of protein and is also rich in minerals like manganese, magnesium and copper. I found a black walnut tree and was really excited to see some of the nuts still on the ground. Although some of the husks were split, this really doesn’t damage the nut inside so if you’re in a pinch, it likely wouldn’t hurt to eat it.

Wild Onions

This was really surprising to me! I don’t remember ever seeing these before, but there they were: one of the only small patches of green in an otherwise natural brown and gray environment. I got a little stick and dug them out (tugging only ripped off the top “onion greens” and left the bulb in the ground). If you pluck off one of the top greens you will know these are onions i-m-m-e-d-i-a-t-e-l-y! I was able to spot dozens in one patch of forest alone, and am confident that these could be eaten raw or cooked up for a delicious meal with other foraging finds.

Dandelions

Yes! The weed that survives all year long can be eaten as a stew or tea. Dandelions are extremely vitamin and mineral rich plants, and are excellent in reducing inflammation and boosting the immune system.

Other wild plants in the Ozarks you can keep in mind for wintertime foraging:

Rose Hips

Gooseberries

Turkey Tail Mushrooms (Trametes Versicolor)

Acorns

Wild Garlic

Hickory Nuts

And if you’re especially lucky, late season wild persimmons, crab apples and paw paw fruit.

The Midwest is a much more ‘temperate’ environment than other places and, as I’ve discovered, has many more options for food resources than other places might offer. I would love to know what you’re foraging in your neck of the woods (field, desert or even tundra)! Show me your finds in the comments below.

Happy Foraging!