"Live light upon the land if you would not be earthbound."

by Shining Bear

For years I thought "Wild food would get me through an emergency, so I'm glad I'm familiar with the local wild plants." Though I used wild food somewhat frequently, this context lurked, unacknowledged, as one of the larger motivators for that use. It was only after marketing Wild Salad (a mix of wild greens) through-the local Certified Farmers' Markets that I began to appreciate the broader opportunity that my knowledge affords. I was listening to our sales spiel: "These greens are fresh, picked this morning. Many of them are more nutritious than regular produce. They have never been fertilized, waxed, nor treated with pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. They've not been genetically engineered. We wash our hands before we pick them and then use tongs or gloves for any subsequent handling. And your dollars don't support greedy agribiz. "

From hearing that spiel, and thinking into the deeper meanings and ramifications, I saw my knowledge of wild food in quite a different way, and realized that there were several very good reasons to use wild food on a daily basis. From that process within myself; this chapter sprang to life.


It's hard to tell how fresh grocery store produce is. We know that most produce comes from afar, and thus must be at least a few days old. Irradiation, refrigeration, fungicide, and wax promote the appearance of freshness long after an item would normally have shown signs of deterioration. Aging produce loses its vitality quickly. We have seen reports from studies which measured the vitamin and mineral loss as various fruits and vegetables sat on the grocery shelf.

In agribiz, salability takes priority over real freshness. Produce is hybridized specifically to make
it more marketing-hardy, and many things are picked before they are ready so that spoilage and bruising will be minimized during the trip from farm to store. Many objectionable things are done to produce to present a fresh appearance.

Until I actually worked in the Certified Farmers' Markets, I had generally assumed that the produce available there was fresh and that asking the merchants was a reliable way to get information about their produce (was it sprayed, etc.). I hasten to interject that I've concluded that the Certified Farmers' Markets are the best "commercial" source of produce available to those fortunate enough to have access to them, but one needs to shop with discretion. Many farmers pick the whole crop at once and then "preserve" it for the selling season. Apples, stone fruit, and grapes may be weeks or months old due to cold storage. One must ask each farmer/merchant, always recalling that not everyone sees the value of honesty. A fruit merchant lied to me for a couple of seasons about having unsprayed fruit. Discovering the lie was a shock — it awoke me to the need to be more careful.

When one knows and uses the local wild foods, genuine freshness is assured. One can also harvest the food when it is at its peak of readiness.

Avoid Hybridization/Genetic Engineering

As we've mentioned, plants destined for the table are hybridized with salability as the main goal. Nutritional value, flavor, and other important qualities are given less consideration. Though this is a controversial subject, there is research material available which suggests that agribiz hybridization is an unsound practice. Many hybrids couldn't survive without the intense agribiz processes of "farming."

Consider, for example, the seedless grape and watermelon --how would they propagate in the wild? Genetic engineering is yet another means to the goal of maximum-salability. Avoiding such "creations" will probably be challenging, in the foreseeable future, even if laws require they be identified on the grocers' shelves. Produce ends up in many food products (such as frozen pizza), and the manufacturer of same may not know as much as we'd like about the produce bought for his product, nor will he necessarily be required to share such details with us, the consumers. Not only might the processed food in the grocery store be of uncertain "heritage," but the dishes served in restaurants as well. Our ability to choose what we eat is seriously threatened. If, for example, one has opted for vegetarianism on moral grounds, it will probably become ever more difficult to be certain we aren't eating something we'd object to.

Wild edibles have the opportunity to be naturally strong, healthy, and adaptable. "Survival of the
fittest" is their unspoken motto. Without the unwise intervention of Mammon-focused humans; the unfit plants simply don't survive.

We don't advocate "just letting all the plants grow wild." The nurturing of flora is a crucial part of humanity's spiritual development. Such nurturing might properly include the type of work done by Luther Burbank; some of his creations live on today as testimonials to his loving efforts toward the exercise of dominion in the world of flora. Both agriculture and horticulture must have begun that way; but gradually fell to ignorance, pragmatism, and greed.

Avoid Unnatural Fertilizer

Nature fertilizes flora in many ways, via animal droppings, earthworm castings, and decaying organic matter such as fallen leaves. This natural plant food is delivered in balanced, appropriate amounts. The Mammon-focused human farmer applies commercial "plant food," which today is nearly always from petro-chemical sources, creating "floraddicts", which become unable to live naturally.

There are many other recognized objections to the use of commercial fertilizers. We cannot properly deal with this complex and controversial subject here, and suggest you study already-published information. Wild flora grow where conditions favor them, and continue to survive, even thrive, without applications of commercial fertilizer. This speaks for itself.

Avoid Pesticides/Herbicides/Fungicides, etc.

There are many good works in print which detail the myriad chemical applications used on/in our food, and the many detrimental health effects that have been scientifically documented. We highly recommend that you read the books listed in our bibliography, and study these issues yourself, rather than "taking bur word for it."

By now, most of us are aware that food, including produce, is treated to a wide range of potentially hazardous chemical processes, all to enhance salability. Soil, seeds, seedlings, growing/mature plants, fruits, and even packaging and storage facilities may receive doses of poison for one "reason" or another. In many cases, "they" don't have to tell us.

For several years I owned and operated a commercial organic garden service. An associate of mine who had a "regular" garden service became severely ill and spent weeks in the hospital with a perplexing disease of the immune-system. He told me one day that he felt a deep certainty that his problems had resulted from years of handling the pesticides and herbicides he routinely used in his garden service. And I felt a deep certainty that what he was saying was right. "Scientists" would dismiss this as anecdotal evidence, but, given the compromises and dishonesty that riddle our sources of "scientific evidence," I often find that a heart-felt response to anecdotal evidence is worth as much or more than statistics.

Wild plants are, for the most part, free of chemical treatments of any kind. Those of us who choose to avoid chemical additions to our food have a great resource in the wild flora. There are ways, of course, that wild flora can be contaminated. Some cities/counties use pesticides and herbicides in areas under their jurisdiction. Select your wild food picking areas carefully!

Avoid Wax

It's fairly common knowledge that many items of grocery produce are coated with a "food-grade" wax in order to retard spoilage. What many people don't know is the extent of the recipients of the wax applications: would you believe chili peppers? Eggplant? Did you know that grocers are not required to
list the pesticides and fungicides that are added to the wax, nor explain to you that lac resin (a standard wax ingredient) is excreta from the insect Laccifer lacca, the very source of shellac (with which we paint furniture)?

Wild flora are not coated with any such possibly-toxic and unappetizing-sounding substance. Any "bug poop" thereon was applied naturally, and can easily be washed off.

Avoid Irradiation

For a thorough explanation of irradiation, see chapter 13 of Diet For a Poisoned Planet by David Steinman.

Though some health food stores display sign's proclaiming that they won't sell irradiated food, my understanding is that, at this time, spices are the main type of food item that get this treatment. We can be certain that no wild foods have been irradiated and there are many wonderful spices growing indigenously about. In our area we have bay leaf, fennel, California pepper, and several types of sage, just to mention a few.


In recent years we've heard more and more about food-borne disease. E. coli and salmonella are well-known, having been widely discussed in the news. We associate these with undercooked meat, not realizing that E. coli in particular could easily be spread via any food (like salad) that was handled and not subsequently well-cooked or, at least, washed in very hot water.

Many types of produce could easily bring dozens of socially-transmissible diseases directly onto our plates, simply because much produce is used raw, and is too delicate for washing in water hot enough to kill any bacteria or viruses present. Though this may be uncomfortable to consider, the fact is that hands pass not only E. coli, but many cold and flu types of illnesses. Tuberculosis is passed fairly easily by various social interactions. Inquire, to discover, who picks the produce you buy, and if they can/do frequently wash their hands with hot water and soap throughout the workday. Do they always shield the produce from sneezes and coughs? How? And, then, what about the employees at the Central Market where the produce goes between farm and grocery store? Next, think about everyone who might handle produce in the grocery store, including perhaps dozens of customers each day.

Chances are the wild foods you pick and consume will have been handled only by you and/or your family.

Some Moral and Spiritual Considerations

We will all bear the responsibility for what we have supported with our dollars. Though, probably, it's neither possible nor wise to utterly isolate oneself from the "evil world," one need's to exercise choice for the better at every opportunity. The food industry, speaking particularly of America, is fraught with unconscionable practices that we ought not to support. Learning about and harvesting those wild foods available to us is one way to remove dollar-support from, at least, the agribiz part of the-food industry.

The Influence of Thoughts and Desires

The thinking and desiring, done by the humans who are involved in our food-production and handling, can have an effect on us through the food. Much produce is imbued with greed simply because of the reasons for which it is grown (i.e., solely to make money). Added to this, are the thoughts and desires entertained by the pickers, packers, shippers, wholesalers, and grocery employees. The saying "you are what you eat" has more meaning than we supposed. Many packaged goods can be stored long enough for these influences to dissipate. Not so with fresh produce.

Learning to identify and to use the wild flora around your area to replace as much of your purchased produce as possible will offer the unusual benefit of freeing you from a lot of non-physical pollution. You may then pick it with love and care and bring home elevated ingredients for your sustenance.

Harmless Harvesting

To put it boldly, many regular produce items are killed plants. The head of lettuce, the bunch of spinach, the root crops like carrots, the celery ~ all plants destroyed in the picking. Wise stewardship involves gentle nurturing of the flora that sustain us. Killing (of animals or plants) is not necessary in order to live, and is, in fact, part of the thinking-pattern that produces cancer. Wherever possible, it is best to leave at least one-seventh of the plant so that it may continue to live. A Great Teacher of ours, Shining Bear, pinched the little tips, buds, and flowers, and collected the-seeds of his wild food sources. He never, to my knowledge, destroyed these flora-friends.

Other Health Benefits

We have all heard of the damaging health-effects of worry and stress. Preparedness and the ability to be self-reliant can contribute to a general sense of well-being and ease. The fresh air and exercise available through active food-foraging can also be beneficial. Information is available on the favorable health-effects of a raw food diet. With a good food-processor, one can make fresh, nutritious raw drinks, dips, dressings, seed butters, and hot (but not cooked) soups with wild flora, in addition to the more typical salad-type dishes. Simply being in a meadow of wild flora can be joy-promoting.

Try this experiment: find a commercial field of produce and just stand in it. Note what you feel and what thoughts you have. Then spend some time in a field of wild flora (I feel quite uplifted in the midst of a golden expanse of flowering wild mustard).


We've considered a number of reasons to learn to identify and use wild plants for food. Wild flora often have superior nutritional qualities, whether eaten cooked or raw. Such foraging is a great way to avoid the drawbacks of agribiz produce: hybridization, genetic engineering, commercial fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, lack of freshness, fungicide, wax, socially-transmissible diseases, and unhealthy thought/desire influences. Foraging also allows us to withdraw our dollar-support from agribiz. It's also good for us to get out in the fresh air, get some exercise, and spend time with truly happy flora, and to harvest the useful ones in a loving manner.

We regularly forage in selected areas around our city.

Also, here at home, we generally allow wild flora (i.e. "weeds") to grow wherever they choose to on our property. We thoughtfully avoid tampering or willful domination, while simultaneously trying to discover the ways to lovingly nurture these wonderful flora-friends.


  • Diet for a New America by John Robbins.
  • Diet for a Poisoned Planet by David Steinman.
  • The Findhorn Garden by the Findhom Community.

Thanks to:

  • Shining Bear for unique guidance and training.
  • Susan Robbins of the Vegetarian Forum on CompuServe.
  • Chris Mitchell of the Vegetarian Forum on CompuServe.
  • Johnny Lynch, teacher of the Vegetarian No-Cooking Class [Box 1708, Topanga, CA 90290].
  • The preceding is a chapter from the 4th edition of Guide to Wild Foods by Christopher Nyerges. Guide to Wild Foods can be purchased from School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.


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