Food/Survival — Native American Style

51obnqdgasl_sl500_aa240_1horseheader11.jpgForgive my late post today.  Too many things going on in my life at the moment.

Okay.  Have any of you ever heard of Linda Runyon?  Taking a page from Mary’s book, I thought I might post about food — survival style — just in case.  There’s never a need for anyone to ever starve — if they know what to look for in the wild.  Linda Runyon is a woman who spent years living off the land in upper state New York.  She has published a book about wild edible foods, called THE ESSENTIAL WILD FOOD SURVIVAL GUIDE, and her website is:

images2Did you know that many wild plants that are found in lawns and woodlands everywhere are just as nutritious as plants and foods that we find in our grocery store?  The dandelion, for instance is very nutritious for humans — now for cows, by the way.  And they are found almost the world over.  It’s a perennial herb — grows to about 2 inches and when mature with seeds, has the white, fluffy pompoms that blow in the wind.

Indeed, the last time I was at a Whole Foods Market, I found a section devoted to the dandelion.

images3Because I have my nose in a history book so much nowadays, I became aware that over the centuries, there are governments that have used food (or lack thereof) as a weapon.  The Soviet Union, China, Thailand, Africa, Ethopia are examples of this type of warfare against the people. However, according to Linda Runyon, there is never a need to starve if you simply are educated on the wild plants and know what to look for.  In truth, I ordered her book because I decided is might pay someday to know what’s edible and what isn’t.

images6This is thistle, which is an edible plant.  It’s a North American plant and has been used as food or herb by Native Americas for thousands of years.  It’s a biennial plant — it is eaten raw or ground to a fine, green flour.  It can also be used as a tea or steamed.  Even its roots can be used as food and can be boiled for a tea.  It also has a medicinal uses. Milk thistle as an herb is known to treat liver problems.  It’s a good liver tonic.  This plant is found in fields and roadsides everywhere.

images5The wild blackberry can be used as a fruit (as I’m sure you all know) and is gathered in the summer.  It can be used in jams and candies and cakes and cookies and is found all over North America in woodland areas.

Now, I’m wondering how many of you know that clover is also an edible food.  If you’re like me, you might not like to see that clover growing in your yard, and yet in times of stress, it could be a food that would stave off hunger.  It has a strawberry colored clover (red clover) when it has a long stack — and the most common short stalk is the white clover.  It can be used as a cosmetic.  It can be ground for flour.  The flowers can be eaten raw and it can be used for tea and can be used in soups and stews.

images10The Cattail is not only a good food source, it can also be used as a fuel source.  This plant is about 30 % complex carbohydrates.  It’s flower heads also have medicinal use as a control for diarrhea.  It is found in swamps and bogs and wetlands.   But be sure that the area you gather it from is polution free.  Did you know that its leaves were once used to weave baskets and mats?

images8One thing that is a must — and Linda goes over this in detail in her book — is differientiating between edible plants and poisonous plants.  For instance, certain types of summac are edible, while other types are very poisonous.  There are, unfortunately, look-alikes in nature.  Perhaps this is why in Iroquois culture, it is believed that there were twins that populated the earth with plants — one created edible foods, the other poisonous foods.

 af07hujca05x63wca8apj3ccazzzs03caqg6acdcap7r2mycaswv8a3caovi14kca21bhjgcauzzng8cay2zrsocami7pdmcayi5ddjcaa32ss5ca3vnhw2ca5gwul9ca87p7fccazdces5cazj96j2cai4cl7xFor instance field horsetail is very poisonous, yet looks alot like grass, which is food.   Or spreading Dogbane is very poisonous, yet looks alot like common milkweed, which is food.  Then there’s dallis grass, which is poison — it is a very deadly poison to both cattle and to humans — this looks alot like jungle rice, which is food.

I would highly recommend Linda’s book, which again is The Essential Wild Food Survival Guide. As Linda herself says, “Starvation is impossible with this book.”

I hope you have enjoyed this little post today about food and keeping away starvation, if it might ever come to that. As a girl scout I learned to be prepared. Perhaps this book might help us along that way. I’ll be giving away a free copy of the book, Soaring Eagle’s Embrace and/or War Cloud’s Passion to two different posters who leave a comment for me today.

Do remember, if you haven’t already done so, please pick up a copy of BLACK EAGLE today. It’s on sale at bookstores everywhere.

Website | + posts

KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
Please refer to for all contest rules.

118 thoughts on “Food/Survival — Native American Style”

  1. I am unfamiliar with Linda Runyon… I knew a bit of the info you shared about plants, but it is amazing how much more was and is unknown to me. Thanks for sharing! 😀

  2. Great post Kay, I knew about the dandelion, because people cook them for greens. I have also picked my share of wild blackberries and rasberries, but the ones I picked were not thornless. We use to make jam when I was a child.

  3. Hi Kay, I did know about dandelion greens but confess I pull them out and toss them in the green waste LOL. Maybe I should learn how to make a salad of them.

    Interesting about the thistle. I do think the artichoke is a thistle relative although it sure looks like nothing I’d think to try eating. Somebody must have gotten hungry enough LOL…and I’m glad. Artichokes are one of my favorites.

    This is a wonderful post, Kay, and Linda’s book sounds like one to have on my shelves. As well as Black Eagle.


  4. What a great post. I have learned a lot. I think I need to get this book. Thank you for sharing this information with us.

  5. HI Tanya!

    Interesting, it is the Native American way to ask the plant what it does and how to prepare it. In this way is how some of this knowledge came to be known. That’s why Native American always tell the plant that it is needed for suvival before they pull it. 🙂

  6. Hey there Kay. No, I hadn’t heard of Linda Runyon but I’ll have to bookmark her website.

    I actually posted a blog a few wks ago about this tall yellow stuff that hubby was clearing out of the garden. I posted pics and even gave away a book to the person who could identify it. Turns out it was wild mustard. After doing some checking, I found where they’ve just discovered that wild mustard has anti-cancer properties. I love that! A throw-away plant can save a life. 🙂

    When I lived in Northern Alberta, I used to grow and collect flowers and herbs for sale to a wholesaler. One surefire seller was the silvery colored Coltsfoot that grows in ditches and fields. The fuzzy soft leaves are used for medicinal purposes and can be found in many herbal cough syrups.

    Great post, Kay.

  7. Hi Kay, can’t believe I really got your email on the day you posted. Most of the time I am so lax about reading my email everyday, that I miss many of the ones you post. BUT NOT TODAY. Hooray! I loved the information you shared. It was so information and helpful. It reminded me of when we had the triple hurricanes in Florida and all the grocery stores and 7/11’s were closed or boarded up and food was hard to come by. After 7 days one 7/11 in our area was still boarded up and when I passed it, I saw a man beating on the boarded up doors wanting to get in. And I remembered thinking to myself that we are in a bad way in America if we cannot go seven days without a convenience store. Heaven help us! We do need to be prepared. I was a girl scout, too, I do so enjoy the P&P site.
    Best, Carol Ann

  8. Hi Kay,

    Another informative blog! I’ve learned a lot, but I think the fear with most people is that they aren’t SURE what’s poisonous and what’s not, so they stay away from all wild flowers. It’s neat to learn anyway, what other sources of food we can find in the earth. Loved to learn about the Iriqois believing that twins populated the earth because of the good food versus the poisonous.

    BTW- off subject, I heard lots of nice comments about your Ask and Author session at the meeting!

  9. Hi,Kay I remember when we were kids we would go with our grandma into the woods an hunt for berries to make pies or just eat!She always knew what was good an what wasnt,she gathered plants to make homeade remidies with,I wouldnt do that today but back then in the country they did

  10. Hello Karen

    Both my husband and I loved your post today. Some of the information we already knew. However, there were a few new facts for us. I’m going to look into her website. Thanks. Have a great day.

  11. Enjoyed the Blog today Little One and intend to get the book on Essential Wild Food Survival Guide, never to old to learn. I did know about the Dandelion and the Clover and of course the Berries. Take care and looking forward to your next book and all that are to come out in the future.

  12. I did know about dandelions being edible, but I didn’t know about clover and cattails. We sure have plenty of that in our yard right now! I know there are some flowers that are edible but I don’t know how nutritious they are. Very interesting about the poisonous plants, too.

  13. Hi, Kay,
    What fantastic timing. I am not familiar with Linda Runyon, but will certainly go hunting for her. I had a great deal of fun doing research on various herbs, wild plants, etc. for my time travel, House Call to the Past. Living in the Chippewa National Forest in northern MN, we ate many of the wild plants. I didn’t know about the clover, though. My back yard is full of it. I have a Native American (Menommenee) couple coming over to fix supper tonight. They are fixing “Indian tacos.” Guess I’ll go pick a few dandelions and clover to add to the menu.
    Janet Elaine Smith

  14. Hi Antia Mae!

    Isn’t that interesting — a weed that could save lives. Makes you wonder sometimes about the effectiveness of our education, doesn’t it?

    Great comment.

  15. Hi Charlene!

    Yes, it’s why I don’t go mushroom hunting — I can’t tell the difference between what’s edible and what will kill you. Luckily, Linda has a full section on telling the difference between these plants.

    Oh, thanks also for the compliments on the Ask an Author. It was fun!

  16. Kay–Very informative information. My teaching field was biology and I took two botany courses. In one, I had to collect 100 different species of Texas wildflowers, dry them (had to learn how)–and present them in plastic sheets, fully identified. My children were young, so they “helped”. I had dried flowers all over the house and the garage. I can still name many species. I’d have to stop and research before I ate something wild–the milkweed, for example, is poisonous!In Central Texas, the wild dewberry was once prolific–I used to gather these and make preserves or sugar them and eat with ice cream. You cannot find a dewberry anymore-very sad. I truly enjoyed reading this post–thank you–Celia

  17. How cool is that i would of never known i knew that in some countries the dandylion is a flower not a weed like ppl believe they are here what a cool blog ty for the invite to check i t out will have to deff look for that book.

  18. Hi Vickie!

    Yes, my mother used to do that too — but she didn’t pass the knowledge on down to me – and that’s a shame, I think. In our modern society, we forget that an awful lot of people have lived before us and have knowledge.

    I think we should really help our elders and learn from them. 🙂

  19. Hi Paty!

    I did know that there are poisonous plants out there that are copy cats — I guess it’s why I really wanted this book, so that I would know the difference. 🙂

  20. Hi Celia!

    Now isn’t that interesting that the milkweed in Texas was poisonous – because in this book the milkweed is food — guess it might be a different species.

    How fun collecting all the dried flowers.

    Thanks for the post.

  21. Hi Janet!

    You always make me smile. Indian tacos — yum! I love them — although they are fattening — me and my constant vigilance about weight. Goodness!

  22. Oh I really enjoyed that and everyone really should know that stuff. Especially with pictures – too many times I’ve read about plants but without a visual it’s not much help. My mother ate dandelion as a child but like you mentioned, you have to worry about pollution and/or pets lol.

  23. Hi Cynthya!

    Yeah, I think it really pays to know the difference between these plants and really be able to tell the difference. I wish I knew how to talk to the plants like the Native Americans — they will tell you what they do and how to fix them.

  24. Hi! (Many are calling you Kay so I gather you go by that?) This is very interesting and the Runyon book sounds like a handy book to have! I often look at plants in the woods and wonder which are safe. I know I have had dandelion and clover teas! Those beautiful purple “berries” look so good but I remember that they are poisonous! Thanks for sharing such good info!

  25. Kay/Gen, thanks a lot for describing Dandilions, they sound vaguely familiar. 🙂

    I wonder why we don’t use these plants more? I wonder what the real truth is. Are they medicinal but only mildly? Why have we lost all this information with ‘progress’?

    I made a bane out of hemlock in my book Golden Days. I had to do so much research, it was set in Alaska, to find the right plant that would be there and could be used to suit me.

    Very interesting reading.

    I wish I could live off the land. Does the land ever have hot fudge sundaes?
    Because if it doesn’t, then I won’t survive long. 🙁

  26. Hi Karen, This is great news, especially with all that is going on around us The Native Americans were very wise and I hope to learn a great deal more from them. I will get Linda’s book as soon as I can. I wonder how this will help my weight and Diabetes. you give us so much insight but also good books which by the way when is our next read lol Love Lois Gosline Pomeroy

  27. Hi Karen, thanks for being here today, This is a great blog very interesting I will be getting that book.

  28. Hi! Interesting post! I went on a hiking trip about 10 years ago where we learned all the ways you could prepare and eat ants. It was positively disgusting, but I guess you could do it if you were hungry enough.

    Personally, I’d rather just grow a garden. =)

  29. Very informative article. Now I can look on my backyard with a different eye. Will have to look for the book and look up the web site.

  30. Hi Kay, this is really interesting! I love survival stuff and it’s crucial to know what we can eat and what we can’t that grows in the wild. The frontier people were very knowledgable about this kind of thing. I’m going to make a better effort to become more aware of food in the wild. We never know when we’ll need the information.

  31. What a marvelous fact-filled blog you keep! Fun and informative – such a great way to share your research and care with friends and fans. Thanks so much for keeping it up despite your busy schedule. – You forever fan, D. Jan Houston

  32. I remember growing up on a farm in Jasper County, Illinois, and my father pointing out to me various wild plants (I don’t like the word “weeds”) that were edible, although we never ate any of them on a regular basis.
    I think that as people become more aware of the importance of eating natural, locally grown foods, some of these forgotten wild plants will have a place in our diets again. The health benefits are immense.

  33. Kay
    I hav e never heard of linda. But I will get her book. As a young girl walking from my grandmoms house i would pick the wild blackberries and eat them on the way home. Now I know about the dandis i will not be in a hurry to cut them.

  34. I knew that some of these plants were edible and about cat tails being used to weave baskets.
    Linda’s book sounds very interesting.

  35. Your post was very informative. I don’t expect to need to know what wild plants and things I could eat, but who knows for certain? I was fascinated and want to read more.

  36. Great post!

    I’ve done a great deal of study, and had the opportunity to meet with one of the Kumeyaay native healers, who shared bits of her grandmother’s teachings on local San Diego native plants, for medicine, food, and as Estella said, for making baskets or incense.

    Glad to see you all, and will do my best to get by more often.


  37. Hey, Karen,
    Wonderfully informative blog! I’m always lookin’ for food information I can slip into my historical work.

    You mentioned folks all over the world never having to go hungry if they know what to look for. That’s one reason a “scorched earth” policy was used intime of war in some of the bloody history of ancient or not so ancient times.

    When we owned a ranch, we planted flowers of different varities in our garden to add to salads. Yummy eatin’! The “tea” made from boiling jalapeno peppers makes a great spray to kill aphids and those icky tomato worms. Does a number on fire ants here in Florida, too!

    Thanks for the tip about Linda Runyon’s book. I’ll pick-up one, for sure.

  38. Your posts are always really interesting and informative, Karen. As always, I enjoyed today’s blog. 🙂

  39. Many years ago my grandfather made wine with dandelions. Great tasting stuff. The book sound fantastic, I’d love to win it.

  40. Karen your post was very informative; since I tend to be allergic to several things I’ll stick to the thistle tea. I should also stock up on coffee beans & cacao. Doesn’t hurt to be prepared. 🙂

  41. Karen-you always post such informative, yet interesting blogs!

    This is something that I think everyone should know and I would love to get that book on it-just in case!

    We love to watch Survivorman-he goes out into the wild and survives for 7 days! It is amazing to watch someone live off the land and I am always in awe of his knowledge! It is really cool to see how he makes it!

    And who know that those pesky dandelions actually served a purpose-other than us feeding them to our bearded dragon lizard! LOL (HE LOVES THEM!) 😉

  42. I’ve never heard of Linda Runyon before today. Her book sounds really interesting. I’ve added it to my to be bought list.

  43. This was a great post, Kay! Thanks for sharing this wealth of information. I’m also fascinated that the Iroquois have a legend about two spirits that created “good and evil plants”, if you will. These interesting tidbits make your novels even more fun to read than contemporaries. 🙂

  44. Very interesting and informative post, Karen. Thank you for sharing this useful info. I’m going to look into getting Linda Runyon’s book. It sounds like a good item for an emergency kit.

  45. Thank you for another wonderful article! We should all learn to “think outside the pantry” and look for alternate food sources. We could all end up healthier and happier!

  46. Hi Martha!

    Thanks for stopping by today — yes, I think that it really pays to know these plants — and Linda’s book also has pictures galore. Gee, I’m really pitching it, aren’t I?

    But it’s not too expensive and I think in the long run it will be worth it.

  47. Hi Martha!

    Yes, there’s a berry out there that looks alot like the blue berry, but it’s poisonous — again, it’s just good to know the difference, and yes, in my real life people call me Kay — although I’ll answer to most anything. 🙂

  48. Oh, Mary, you made me smile. I don’t think the land has hot fudge sundaes — can you imagine a world without ice cream? Don’t even want to think about it. 🙂

    Thanks for posting, Mary!

  49. Hi Lois!

    Thanks so much for your post. By the way, my next book is due out in 2010 — April, I believe and is called Seneca Surrender.

    Lois, I can’t remember the site name now that goes into some info on Diabetes — I’ll ask my husband when he gets home and let you know. Interesting, interesting site.

  50. Hi Stephanie!

    Me, too. I’d rather grow a garden. I hear the ants are tasty — I guess if you grew up eating them, you might look at them in a different way — maybe.

  51. Hi Linda!

    Yes, I think it pays to be aware and be prepared — just in case. Hopefully the reason to know this kind of thing may never be upon us — but preparing is better than starving, if the conditions that would make that a fact of life ever came about. May they never, knock on wood.

  52. Good info! Could also be important if I ever find myself surviving alone in the wilderness, God forbid. LOL


  53. Hi Kathy!

    Thanks for coming to the blog today — my friend from Jasper County, Illinois. Great to hear from you. That’s great that your dad did that with you. I never did get the information passed along to me — so I read books about it and take hikes and try to see what’s out there that could be eaten.

  54. Hi Emma!

    Isn’t that something about the dandelions. Truly, there is a special place for them in Whole Foods Market now. Nice to see you here today!

  55. Hello Estella!

    That’s so much better than me, Estella. I didn’t know any of this. Did you know that violets in the wild are also edible acconting to Linda. I used to grow wild violets just for their beauty.

  56. Hi Ashley!

    How exciting that you got to know and share in some of the knowledge of the native healers. There is a walk here that one can go on where the guide points out edible foods. I think I just might sign up for this.

  57. Hello Joyce!

    I love this information. I’m going to show your post to my husband who’s always looking for something natural to handle those pesky worms. Thanks!

  58. Hi Wilma!

    Dandelion wine. How inventive — I bet it was good.

    Just so you know, I’ll be giving away my own books — not Linda’s — but hopefully that would be okay with you too!

  59. HI Susan!

    I agree. You might also think of stocking up on protein foods, since those might be the hardest to find — certain grains thrown together with beans makes for a good protein and a good bread. Eziekiel bread takes this into consideration — and grains have a long shelf life.

    Hemp is another source of protein that has a long shelf life.

    I have allergies, too. I do understand.

  60. Hello Melissa!

    I echo your thoughts. I don’t watch TV — I haven’t for well over 10 years now, so I’m not familiar with that show.

    One point I do want to make about survival — people survive better with others. These shows that make it appear as if one only survives well if he cuts off another is full of &*^&$%&. The exact opposite is true. So true that it was like a death sentence for a man to be turned away from the tribe. In the old days this was the penalty for murder (besides having to sidestep the victims relatives).

    Just a mention.

  61. Wow, what a lot of interesting information. Just had a sample of dandelion wine at a winery in Iowa. Not bad. I think my grandfather used to make it when I was a child but I do not remember tasting it then. Thistle I did not know was edible. Must be a different type of thistle than the farmers have to spray to kill around here. Have to check that out. Thanks for sharing such a wealth of information.

  62. My husband teaches survival to our Royal Rangers Boys and I bought him a book for his birthday on wilderness survival. I did not know about all the things you listed but did some of them as my Grandma was part Indian.
    I wanted to drop by and say “Hello” as it has been sometime since we talked.
    Enter me to win

  63. Oh, Jane, it’s wonderful to talk to you. Yes, it’s been a while since we talked. I did know that your husband is involved in survival activities — and that’s great that you had passed along to you some Native American survival techniques.

    You are, indeed, entered. 🙂

  64. Hi Connie!

    You never know — it might be edible — some of these plants are considered weeds — they are hard to kill, which is why they are so readily available.

    I don’t think, however, that I’d be one for a completely vegetarian diet. I like my meat very well. But these food could at least stave off starvation.

    Thanks for your post.

  65. Hi Karen!

    Thanks for the post. I think it’s a good idea to learn about what’s edible and what isn’t. I also think that having that kind of knowledge would be very beneficial to the world and it can help alleviate some of the starvation already going on in the world.

  66. Hi Kay,
    I love your whole website, its awesome and totally in tune with your writing techniques. I do love that you have introduced the whole food blog to bring our awareness back to nature. I do feel people have forgotten we need to get back to basics these days, and that is the key to our survival with the changing times. Anyway, thanks again for the awesome blog as well, most comments have been great. Hugs
    Suzy J

  67. Enjoyed your post. As kids in the Adirondacks, we did a lot of foraging. We knew where all the wild asparagus was, picked strawberries, raspberries, mulberries, elderberries, and blueberries. We even found wild grapes, apples and pears. We collected butternuts (and now that we are in the south, pecans and hickory nuts). Tried acorns, but didn’t know they needed to be blanched before using. I used to cut cattail leaves and weave mats for our fort. We collected the two type of mushrooms we were really sure about to eat. We have since discovered fiddleheads (emerging fern leaves) which are excellent sauteed in butter. We have used dandelions for wine and salads. There are wild onions.
    My husband gained weight on his week long AF basic wilderness survival training. He managed very well to find plants, catch fish and crayfish , and snare rabbits. He ate very well. Our children can manage if they have to. We aren’t survivalists. It was just an interest in our rumored native american ancestry that started some of it. Much of the food collecting was because we liked it and there were 8 of us in the family.

  68. Need to tell you I finished Black Eagle while in NH and Upstate NY this past week. Was nice reading a book and recognizing the places things are taking place. Good representation of the Iroquois culture and the Confederacy. Enjoyed it and look forward to the next one.

  69. Karen-this really makes sense-not to be alone! I can definately see how it would be very difficult to survive alone!

  70. Hi Ashley!

    Now that’s an idea that I should have thought of and didn’t — that it would help those people in the world who already don’t have enough to eat. I keep thinking in terms of survival for these several united states. Thanks Ashley.

  71. Hi Suzy J!

    Thanks so much for your comments on my website — by the way soon, I hope to have a few of my seminars on the site — one will be strictly audio and the other will be video. Soon, I hope.

    Thanks for your compliments, also, Suzy. 🙂

  72. Hi Patricia!

    I love that area of the country — like I said, I used to live in Vermont and treked over to upper NY state often. Sounds like the trip was great and I’m glad you enjoyed the book.

    What a great way to grow up, also, Pat. I didn’t grow up this way and so I really admire it. Thanks for the post.

  73. Hi Melissa!

    Yes, like I said, these shows that pit one man against another is just pure false data — that isn’t how you survive — that’s succide. Man does best with man (so long as those other men aren’t an enemy and out to kill you).

    Thanks Melissa.

  74. Wow, lots of info! that sounds like a good book! We used to have some and unlike some of the other comments here, I have actually eaten alot of wild plants. We lived in a community and money was non-existant for the most part at times and we tried alot of things that I won’t hardly admit to. Anyhow, cattails were one that I recall the most as tasting good and I could easily identify and eat again. We ate the tiny baby ones and steamed them, they tasted good!

  75. Karen,

    Thank you for your article about food. That was very interesting and eye opening, as far as what plant makes fuel. I love blackberries. When I was younger my mother, brother and I walked up a mountain road near our home and picked berries. Have you heard the name of a food called Wilted Lettuce? If you have, could you make the same food using dandelions instead of lettuce? I have been reading Native American Indian romance books and in them they mention plants and roots that they used in making ointments. I will tell you something that I don’t share with very many people: I got interested in reading Indian romance books and that is the only kind of book that I read. Other categories of books don’t interest me near as much. I have 2 shelves full of these books and also have a shelf space under the television that I have books in. I have an interest in books and when I see one that I like. some of yours too, I go ahead and buy it. Have a very nice weekend!

Comments are closed.