As I am going through my own rewilding process I realized how important it is to me to go back to my roots and live a natural life. I love that now I’m able to spend as much time outdoors as I’d like (my happy place). I’ve been taking long walks every day around the sea and the river bank, going on hikes in the mountains and started to forage for some delicious wild foods such as ramps, dandelions, violets, chickweed, oyster mushrooms, chanterelles and nettle. Some of these I use for food and some for medicine…and some for BOTH!
Many of these plants made up the diets of our ancestors, even long after agriculture began. Our ancestors knew all the healing properties of these plants. In fact, wild foods were a “medicinal cuisine” used widely by our ancestors around the world.
Many of these plants still showed up on plates, filled pantry shelves, and medicine cabinets just a few generations ago. Today they’re either forgotten or classified as weeds. I remember my grandma teaching me about the benefits of chamomile, which we added to our plates and turned into tea, but also used to steam our vagina. Yes, vaginal steaming wasn’t invented by Gwyneth Paltrow. Back then it was normal. Then, it seems like everyone forgot about these things after the 90s and now it comes back around with trendy new names and celebrity fans. Interestingly enough, many modern chronic diseases ran rampant as wild foods slowly disappeared from our diet.
You might be wondering what exactly is an ancestral diet, right? The concept of the ancestral diet is all about avoiding modern, processed, industrialized food. These days, most people eat a diet full of heavily processed foods filled with preservatives, made with ingredients you can’t even pronounce. Eating ancestrally means avoiding these and instead, focusing on real food—food that is as close to its natural state as possible.
You don’t need to mimic exactly what our ancestors ate. To eat ancestrally, you simply eat food in its most natural state that our ancestors would have had access to, such as organic fruits and vegetables, wild edible plants, healthy, traditional fats like olive oil, nuts and seeds, and fermented foods. As you may have guessed, an ancestral diet may not mean naturally vegetarian or vegan or gluten-free, but you can easily adapt it to your own dietary needs.
My favorite way to embrace an ancestral diet is to grow my own food and forage in nearby wild spaces. You wouldn’t imagine how many nutritious, delicious plants are to be found right in your own backyard or nearby in the form of wild edible plants and weeds. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, phytonutrients, and antioxidants; the very things in short supply in our conventional diet. These are the world’s most nutritionally potent superfoods—and the best is: they are free!
I love to learn more about edible wild plants we can forage and the different uses of them. I recently attended a workshop lead by our local ranger Drew, who taught us about all the plants that grow around us in the wild and their health benefits, and showed us how to make tinctures for different causes. It was so exciting to learn about plant medicine and how we can cure headaches, colds, insomnia or skin irritation on our own. Every season has its signature illness, like allergy or flu, but at the same time, nature provides you with the treatment in form of seasonal plants. How amazing is that?
Here are some ideas of widely accessible plants that you might want to consider foraging if you’d like to give a go to the ancestral diet.
- Dandelion– There are few weeds that can rival the many health benefits of dandelion. A couple of my favorite things to make with it are dandelion tea, deep fried dandelion flowers, dandelion root coffee and dandelion root tincture which can be used to support overall health and well-being as well as for liver, kidney, digestive, and gallbladder support.
- Nettle– nettle is a highly nutritious wild edible herb that also has many medicinal properties. I like to use it in my soups or stews or for tea. It can be used on itchy, dry, irritated, chapped skin as well.
- Chickweed – Chickweed has many medicinal benefits, like to throw it in my salads and teas.
- Violets– Violets are a delicious and add an elegant touch to cakes and cookies. They are also healing herbs with anti-inflammatory, expectorant, and diuretic properties. My favorite ways to use them is violet syrup and violet honey.
- Ramps– One of the first things I look forward to in early spring is foraging for ramps (or wild garlic). I mainly use it in my soups, but you must try to mix it in your vegan butter or add it to your scones or bread.
- Garlic Mustard– Garlic Mustard is an wild green with a pleasant peppery taste that is reminiscent of arugula.
- Lemon balm – You can eat them raw in your salads or cooked in your meals or use a tea, vinegar or herb butter from it. Lemon balm is a traditional herbal remedy for digestive problems, even in small children and the elderly.
- Watercress – As the name indicates, you will probably see growing near the ponds and lakes in your neighborhood. Watercress contains vitamins A, C and a B, and folate. You can add raw leaves to salads or sauté or stir fry them like other greens.
Many of the wild plants are also crucial for the survival of pollinators, butterflies or bumblebees, so leave plenty for them and consider growing and/or spreading native plants around if you can. Never pick every single plant when your foraging, the ratio should be 1 out of every 20 plant. Gather only plants that you are familiar with. Carry along a handbook of edible herbs with clear pictures and descriptions to help identify them.
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Photo: Abigail Ducote via Unsplash