In a total collapse scenario, seeds can be eaten, exchanged for goods, or even replanted for future consumption.
I make a living researching and teaching the culinary uses of wild edible plants. 2015 wasn’t a good year where I live. It was a terrible year. We had just had three years of drought in Southern California, and the local wilderness looked like the backdrop of a Mad Max movie.
I remember hiking with a friend in the local hills near Los Angeles in July. It was close to 100 degrees, and the place was a good representation of how the end of the world would look: Nothing was growing.
All the plants that had been so green a couple of months ago were now thoroughly parched by the relentless hot sun and desert temperatures that characterize our local climate. It really looked like a different world—inhospitable, unforgiving … and surely unsurvivable.
My friend, mildly interested in edible wild plants, looked at me and said, “There’s nothing out here; it’s just dead, dead and dead!” And, to all appearances, my friend was absolutely correct. However, to the trained eye, the reality was very different.
A desert paradise
Sixteen years ago, I would have agreed with him. But after years of studying wild edibles, that dreadful landscape looked like the loaded aisle of a health food store.
I know it’s quite a fascinating contrast in evaluation and perception of the environment, but it was actually true!
What made that difference?
One word: seeds.
The power of seeds
Knowledge is power—survival power. Lack of knowledge can make you blind to the obvious. I often tell people that once you learn about a plant, you often see it everywhere afterward. It’s quite true. I receive countless messages from my friends telling me how they “suddenly” see these edible plants everywhere in their environment after I showed them said plants.
The plants were always there, but they didn’t have the training to recognize them. What my friend didn’t see that day was the fact that the dreadful landscape was really an incredible scenery, loaded with tiny superfoods.
I quickly looked at the dried-up plants around me and could see three types of mustards, lambs-quarter (a type of wild spinach), curly dock (related to rhubarb), wild amaranth, chia, stinging nettles, white sage, black sage … and the list goes on.
All the plants had pretty much dried up and gone to seed. Nevertheless, in front of me was an incredible volume of nutritious food and flavors and more variety of edible seeds than my local supermarket could even dream of offering me.
It might seem like an exaggerated statement, but it’s quite true. Seeds are a concentration of all the nutrients a young plant will need to grow. It’s pure, unadulterated life in a tiny space—often loaded with vitamins, oil, minerals, proteins, and essential oils. And we’re talking high-quality, nutritious food, not survival food.
By studying ethnobotany (the scientific study of the traditional knowledge and customs of a people’s use of plants), I discovered that seeds were an essential part of the native diet. So, I started studying and collecting edible seeds a few years ago.
During my research, I learned that more than 100 edible seeds were collected by various tribes on the West Coast. This was during pre-Columbian times. In modern times, you can probably add another 50 seeds from non-native plants, such as curly dock, several types of lamb’s quarter, chervil, amaranth, sedge, and more.
Back to the present
In modern times, foraging wild seeds has become a forgotten skill. That’s really too bad because they’re plentiful all over North America.
Locally, native people used them to make various types of mush called pinole, which I’ve experimented with. The flavors were fantastic (after experimenting with possible recipes), and the pinole was definitely a full meal, in itself, that could provide you with good nutrition and energy during the day.
Another use of seed was to create a type of energy superfood by mixing wild seeds, sugar, nuts, and wild berries (pretty much identical to the expensive “energy-bars” you buy at health stores).
Farther north, I would imagine that some traditional pemmican recipes could have also included wild seeds.
Edible Seeds and Grains of California Tribes and the Klamath Tribe of Oregon is a fascinating, 216-page document you can download for free from the Internet. It’s a study of seeds that were collected long ago by ethnobotanists or found inside containers in various caches. Seeds were sometimes hidden and stored for future use. Also, seeds were so valuable that they were sometimes used as a type of “money” or unit of exchange in more-primitive societies.
It’s amazing how much information can be found online about edible seeds available in your area via a simple search.
How to start
If you are interested and just getting started, look for common wild edible plants with plentiful seeds (mustard, lamb’s quarter, curly dock, amaranth, stinging nettles, broadleaf plantain, and others). In no time, seeds will become part of your pantry items.
In terms of nutrition, seeds have very definite survival uses. In a total-collapse scenario, seeds can be eaten, exchanged for goods, or even replanted for future uses.
A large bag of stinging nettles or lamb’s quarter seeds can provide a lot of edible wild greens in the spring.
Seeds have countless culinary applications. They can be used in a mush or porridge, ground into flour and made into flatbreads, placed in stews or soups for added nutrition, used to create condiments such as mustard, and can even become an additive in delicious energy drinks. I love using chia seeds in my foraged prickly pear juice. By itself, it is a fulfilling meal.
Many seeds, such as fennel, mustard, chervil, coriander, and countless others, can be used as a flavoring agent. Seeds can also be medicinal. For example, milk thistle seeds are known to help support the liver.
Harvesting and storage
There are several methods of harvesting seeds. Very often, it’s a matter of experimenting with the most efficient way to do it.
For example, to collect mustard seeds, I usually place the dried stems that are loaded with seed pods in a plastic bag. Using a stick or my hand, I beat and crush the contents. The seeds and shafts collect at the bottom of the bag.
Cut a little hole at the bottom of the bag afterward, and let everything trickle into a large bowl or bucket. Pour the content back and forth from one bucket to another in the wind. The shafts will blow away, and you will end up with mostly seeds.
For instance, some other seeds—lamb’s quarter or nettles—are better collected by hand, while others, such as black sage, are collected on location by beating the seed pods with a paddle into a large container or basket.
All the seeds you manage to harvest should be stored in a cool, dry place. Some seeds can contain a lot of oil (flax seeds are a good example) and go rancid if improperly stored. I place my freshly foraged seeds in small paper bags. Many of them still need to dry a little. If you place them in a closed jar, they might end up rotting, and you lose your harvest. Also, watch for insects and grubs.
Recently, I foraged 2 cups of wild chia seeds in the desert and discovered a lot of small insects mixed in with them. If I had stored the seeds without getting rid of the insects, my harvest would have been lost in a matter of weeks.
To get rid of them, I simply placed all my seeds on a large flat plate and into a sunny location for a couple of hours. The insects could not take the heat and promptly vacated.
One of my friends likes to place wild seeds into her freezer for a few hours; this might work well for culinary uses, but it’s probably not a viable procedure if you want to use the seeds later for planting and growing food.
A word of advice: As with any wild food, you must properly identify the plants and seeds before using them. Some seeds can be extremely toxic or deadly (poison hemlock, datura, or castor bean seeds, among others.
Harvesting seeds from wild edibles is a great way to make sure you have food available during times of adversity. It may not seem like much, but the seeds you obtain from all the edible flor around you can be used in a multitude of ways to sustain life and provide nourishment.
Get a local foraging guide, learn to identify and harvest wild edibles, and don’t forget to save their seeds. Some of the best lessons for survival come from people who have lived close to the edge of existence for many years. The Native Americans and the first pioneers are good examples. They learned how to use everything Mother Nature had to offer, and they turned the knowledge of seed saving into a survival skill.
Andrew Nold has written this article for Prepper’s Will.