Foraging for Vegans: 15 Wild Proteins
You want to live off the land? You gotta hunt!
For wild edibles, of course! No, but in all seriousness I hear this all the freaking time. So many homesteading groups and discussion boards are filled with people who got the notion that it’s impossible to live off the land without hunting.
Their concern is that gardening is not good enough. What about crop failures? Point taken folks, so to go along with my 16 Vegan Protein Sources that You Can Grow in Your Backyard I’ve put together a list of wild proteins.
It’s by no means comprehensive but for many new foragers it’s a good place to start. Plus it answers my own questions about what we’d gather to survive.
In case you’re curious, most sources I’ve read (both Vegan leaning and not) conclude that the average adult should consume about 55 grams of protein per day. If it was available I included the protein content of each edible.
They’re not just for squirrels! Oak trees are abundant and acorns are an excellent source of wild nutrients. In every 100 grams of acorns there’s 8.1 grams of protein and they’re also full of healthy fat. However the protein and fat content can vary widely between oak species.
It is important to note that acorns have tannins making them impossible to eat without leaching them first. Leaching can be done in “hot” or “cold” methods. The hot method involves bringing shelled acorns to a boil and changing the water several times. When the acorns are done they won’t be bitter and the water being poured off will be clearer.
The cold method is basically soaking and rinsing shelled acorns. It can be done in a variety of ways. I’ve even heard of people simply leaving their acorns in a cloth bag weighted down in a clean creek.
For more information I love this article, The Mechanics of Eating Acorns.
In the last year nettles have become one of my favorite wild edibles. I cannot wait for them to come up this year and keep checking the spot where they grow. You’ve probably heard about stinging nettles but there’s also wood nettles which is what we have on our homestead. Both have stingers but don’t worry it’s totally not a problem.
The stingers on nettles are dissolved through drying or cooking so just wear gloves to harvest them. To cook all you need is a quick dunk in boiling water, just until they start to turn dark green. They taste like spinach and are great in many dishes or can be dried and used for tea. Nettles are considered by many to be a superfood. As with many wild foods their exact nutrient content seems to be a bit debated but they are known to be high in both calcium and protein!
Note: Nettles can have a diarrhetic effect. It won’t hurt you just make sure if you’re stuffing your face with them like I plan on doing this spring that you drink plenty of water.
When Madeline & Zak from Stone Axe Herbals visited us they harvested nettles and wrote about it. Check out their how-to article here.
Beech nuts fall from the American Beech Tree in September, October, or November. They form in spiky little pods which have usually begun to split open when they drop.
Even in a beautiful stand of North American Beech it can be a bit difficult to find these gems. They’re coveted by all sorts of wildlife including deer, turkeys, squirrels, bears, chipmunks, and other rodents. Their production also varies greatly from year to year.
If you’re lucky enough to find a bunch they make delicious, mildly sweet nut butter. However their skins contain fagin which is slightly toxic. The skins can be easily rubbed off after they’re roasted if you plan to eat a lot.
Beech nuts are a pretty good source of protein offering 6.2 grams per 100 grams of nuts.
Eat the Weeds has a neat article on all things American Beech you can check out here.
Here in West Virginia black walnut trees are super common however you won’t find many people who bother to gather and shell them. It’s much tougher than shelling cultivated english walnut varieties but it’s totally worth it. I think that they’re sweeter and more flavorful than their domestic cousins. Plus the black walnut husks can be used as an easy natural dye.
100 grams of these guys offers 24 grams of protein.
Learning and Yearning can teach you everything you need to know about black walnuts.
Lambsquarter is a wonderful wild green that probably grows right in your garden. It’s mild flavor makes it super versatile. It can be eaten raw as a sale green or in wraps or tossed in with your favorite recipes. The seeds can also be harvested from mature plants and either boiled like rice or ground into flour.
Lambsquarter is packed with a boatload of calcium and vitamin C and offers 4.2 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Mother Earth News has an excellent article all about it here.
Oyster mushrooms are a great source of protein and an excellent beginner mushroom. They’re easily identified growing in clusters on trees or rotting logs. They tend to have wavy edges, and down turned caps. They have delicate, thin true gills and the different varieties vary in colors usually whitish, brown, or grey.
They’re also fairly common and the different varieties grow at different times during the spring, summer, and fall offering a wide varieties of harvest times.
The oyster mushroom offers 3.3 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Our friends at Stone Axe Herbals can help you safely forage for oyster mushrooms.
We don’t harvest pine nuts around here simply because the Virginia Pine has small cones that would take a lot of time and effort for little gain. However if you live in area with species containing larger pine cones and larger pine nuts you should totally be harvesting them!
I mean they have 13.7 grams of protein per 100 grams and hello pesto!
If you’re up for a challenge with delicious results be sure you check out this post by Penniless Parenting.
I’ve never harvested wild rice but I everyone I’ve met who has is fanatic about it. Cooked wild rice provides 4 grams of protein per 100 grams, not too shabby! Sadly much of its native habitat has been destroyed so you’re most likely to find it around the Great Lakes and in remote areas of New England and Canada.
Mother Earth News provides all the info you need to forage for wild rice here.
This guy is everywhere. Plantain is one of those plants that has evolved to live alongside humans and livestock. It thrives in an environment where it’s stepped on, grazed, or mowed so you find it frequently in lawns and fields. There are two common types of plantain you’ll find and both have very similar properties, Plantago major or broadleaf plantain and Plantago lanceolata or narrow leaf plantain.
Avoid harvesting in places where people may have sprayed chemicals (sorry, people are awful).
Both the leaves and seeds are edible though the seeds contain more protein. The seeds can be eaten raw, roasted, or ground into flour for all sorts of goodies. The leaves can be eaten raw but are often cooked to get rid of any bitterness. The leaves are tasty when very briefly fried with a bit of oil. They’re also a great plant-based source of iron and many other important vitamins and nutrients.
One more thing! Plantains are a powerful medicinal. They are great for poultices and teas. Go look them up.
While American Chestnuts may have all but disappeared from the landscape you can still harvest Chinese, Sweet Chestnuts, or American/Chinese Chestnut hybrids. Chinese Chestnuts are often grown in urban areas as decorative trees so they’re great for urban foragers!
100 grams of roasted Chinese Chestnuts can provide you with 4.5 grams of protein. Read more about foraging for chestnuts at Sacred Earth.
Another common tree in West Virginia and much of Appalachia, Hickory nuts are a great way to collect some tasty protein. There’s different species of hickory but around here we have good ole’ shagbark hickories.
You can find everything you need to know about hickory nuts at one of my favorite blogs, One Acre Farm.
Chickweed is another one of those super common garden weeds. It’s mild and succulent making it great for salads. Thankfully for us veggie lovers it also has a good bit of protein.
Permaculture has a great Chickweed Plant Profile.
Hopniss/American Ground Nut
Another lovely wild edible that I hadn’t actually heard of until doing asking around for ideas for this post! This contribution is another from Madeline and Zak of Stone Axe Herbals.
American ground nuts aren’t actually nuts. They’re legumes however eating them is more like eating potatoes or another root crop. They are typically found along river banks.
Check out Foraging for Hopniss by Stone Axe Herbals.
Chicken of the Woods
Sometimes called sulfur shelf, chicken of the woods is this wicked awesome mushroom that tastes like, you guessed it, chicken! It’s super easy for even mushroom newbies to identify and it packs a ton of protein at 14 grams per 100 grams of mushroom.
It also makes a badass vegan “fried chicken.” I just dunk mine in some beer or almond milk, coat them in flour, and fry them in sunflower oil. It’s probably one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
Once again Stone Axe Herbals has you covered if you’re looking to find some of these beauties.
You know those funny little helicopter seeds that kids love to play with in the fall? Well you can actually remove the “wing” part and roast and eat them. I’ve heard they taste like pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
Foraging Texas has a great article about all the edible parts of maple here.
General Foraging Etiquette
- Don’t harvest all of what you find no matter what you’re harvesting. It serves an important purpose in nature.
- Carry mushrooms in mesh bags. This allows spores to fall as you walk through the forest.
- Cut mushrooms and plant material with a sharp knife rather than tearing or picking. This prevents the rest of the organism from being disturbed.
- Leave any damaged foods where you find them. Nature can still use them!
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