A Wild Foods Diet

By: Jamie Weaver

I have a tendency to hoard wild foods like a squirrel.  My freezer is filled with wild meats, berries and rendered fats, the cabinets are packed with grains, nuts, dried fruits and herbs, and every excess corner has a bucket of acorns or some other yet-to-be processed wild good hiding in it.  This would not be so bad if I was not such a transient person.  Unfortunately, last week I was moving for the third time this year and found myself faced with the task of dealing with these hoards of food.  As an added difficulty, I could not simply move the frozen goods to a freezer at my new place as there was no such place.  I was putting all my stuff into storage for a month and a half while I go to Alaska.  Luckily, I knew what I was in for and decided in advance that I would take this opportunity to go on a wild foods diet.  

Wild Foods Diet

Day 1:

 Acorn / amaranth / cattail / HUCKLEBERRY Pancake 

Acorn / amaranth / cattail / HUCKLEBERRY Pancake 

  • Acorn Pancakes – acorn flour, sea salt (dehydrated from local ocean water), huckleberries, water, fried in deer fat
  • Nettle Tea – dried stinging nettle leaves steeped in hot water
  • Pan Fried Trout – trout, sea salt, wood sorrel, fried in deer fat
  • Smoked Salmon – salmon, salt, smoked over fire
  • Raccoon Stew – raccoon meat, nettle, wild amaranth, salt, water

Day 2:

  • Pancakes – acorn flour, cattail flour, amaranth, huckleberries, salt, fired in raccoon fat
  • Smoked Salmon
  • Raccoon Stew
  • Huckleberries

Day 3:

  • Amaranth & Huckleberries
  • Fresh Berries – red huckleberries, salmonberries, and a few early blackberries
  • Clams with Raccoon Fat and Salt
  • Dandelion Greens sautéed in Deer Fat with Salt
  • Choke Cherry Cakes – choke cherries ground up, formed into cakes and dried
  • Raccoon Stew

Day 4:

  • Amaranth & Huckleberries
  • Cold Tea Infusion – dried nettle, dandelion and wood sorrel steeped in cold water overnight
  • Smoked Salmon
  • Choke Cherry Cakes
  • Raccoon Stew
  • Cattail Battered Trout – trout coated in cattail flour batter, salted, stuffed with wood sorrel and fried in raccoon fat

Day 5:

  • Amaranth, Acorn Flour & Huckleberry Porridge
  • Smoked Salmon
  • Choke Cherry Cakes
  • Deer Stew - deer meat, nettle, wild amaranth, salt
  • Deer/Raccoon Stew – mixed leftovers
 Acorn Flour leaching

Acorn Flour leaching

The point of this diet was to use up what I had, not acquire more.  And since I was spending most of this time working and moving out of my house, I was not spending much time harvesting fresh food.  This resulted in a meat heavy diet, though that was not my intention.  I had several 5 gallon buckets of acorns saved up that I was planning to use as my main staple.  Acorns are one of the wild foods that I have put the most energy into experimenting with.  I have made muffins, pancakes, pie crusts, porridges, breads, biscuits, gravy, etc.  And I was looking forward to playing with keeping my recipes 100% wild.  Which is why it was unfortunate when the acorns didn’t work out.

Acorns contain tannic acid, which is incredibly bitter, and can damage your kidneys if ingested in large quantities.  It therefore must be leached from the acorns before eating.  In preparation I started cold leaching a bunch of acorn flour a week and a half before starting my diet.  The method I used involved soaking 1 part acorn flour in 2 parts water and changing out the water several times a day.  

 Cattail Flour, Acorn Flour & Wild Amaranth

Cattail Flour, Acorn Flour & Wild Amaranth

Acorns with lower levels of tannins, like our native Garry Oak, can leach in a few days to a week. However most of my acorns came from a red oak with much higher levels of tannic acid, and after 2 weeks of leaching the flour was still quite bitter.  It wasn’t until I had completed my diet that the flour was finally ready to eat. 

This didn’t concern me at first as I had a quart and a half of previously processed acorn flour ready to go.  But as it turned out, this flour wasn’t finished leaching either (I guess that’s why it was still sitting around).  I used some of the flour for pancakes the first few days of my diet.  They seemed pretty tasty at first, but after a few bites they started to taste really astringent and were hard to get down, even when mixed with other flours and adequate portions of huckleberries.   This is the way with acorns; you don’t always notice the bitter at first, which it is why it is easy to quit leaching them a little too soon.  

 Smoked Salmon

Smoked Salmon

In the absence of acorns, wild amaranth made a good alternative for porridges and stews and I had a small amount of cattail flour to add to the mix.  But that was about it for starches.  

The majority of my calories therefore came from meats and fats.  This I didn’t mind at first.  I tend to stick to more of a Paleo style diet anyway, as I find that it helps balance my energy levels.  I am not particularly strict about it though, as I love delicious things. 

Among the meats I had available were a couple salmon that I harvested in the fall and smoked over an open fire the week prior so they would be ready to go for quick meals.  I also had a hind leg and a shoulder leftover from a road-kill raccoon I harvested some months ago, along with much of its fat which I had rendered and saved in mason jars.  Not many people know you can render raccoon fat to cook with.  In fact I have never heard of anyone doing it - I just did it as an experiment.  But it actually has a really mild taste, much like bear fat (which is greatly prized in the world of wild fats).  

 Cattail Battered Trout

Cattail Battered Trout

There was also one deer roast leftover from a bunch of deer and elk meat my girlfriend’s dad gave us awhile back, as well as a bunch of deer fat I had rendered.  I had additionally put some shelled and unshelled clams in the freezer a few months prior to see how they would keep frozen.  Then there were two trout that I had shot with my bow.  The best meal that I made during this week was definitely one of these trout.  I seasoned it with salt I had dehydrated from ocean water, stuffed it with wood sorrel leaves to add a lemony flavor, coated it in a cattail flour batter and pan fried it in raccoon fat.  Super good!  And not just for wild foods, I would make this any day!

Despite the large amount of meat and fat I had available, I did lose some weight over the course of the week and was feeling a bit weak and slow.  This led me to calling off the diet after the fifth day.  I could have made it another day or so on the food I had, but I was working construction the next day and the thought of running a table saw while feeling a little out of sorts wasn’t sitting well with me.  I was starting to feel the effects of insufficient calories and I didn’t want to compromise my work performance, or my safety, for a personal experiment. 

But, what was strange to me was that I thought I was getting plenty of calories.  The food all tasted pretty good and I was eating until I didn’t want to eat anymore, a feeling I equated to being “full”, even though I was still craving other foods.  I contribute my lack of sufficient calorie intake mostly to a lack of carbohydrates in my diet, although I believe taste can also make an important difference in my desire to eat larger portions. 

To exemplify this, after I called it quits on my wild foods diet, I simply added some potatoes, garlic, rosemary, thyme and black pepper to the deer/raccoon stew I had leftover and was easily able to eat my fill.  Adding some seasonings certainly made the meal more enjoyable, but it was the potatoes that allowed me to eat a larger portion, made me feel fuller, and provided more immediate energy.   

Resources I have read on the Paleo diet often like to point out that carbohydrates are not an essential nutrient for proper body function.  The body requires specific amino acids (from proteins), fatty acids (from fats), vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes for proper cell growth and function, along with an adequate supply of macronutrients which provide the bulk of the energy for metabolic processes.  Carbohydrates are generally considered a macronutrient along with fats and proteins; however many believe that the body can obtain all of its necessary energy from proteins and fats alone, without carbohydrates. 

Although this may be true, I found it difficult during this diet to fill myself without adequate carbs.  When eating modern processed foods I find that I feel very hyperglycemic if I am not careful to limit carbs and focus more on proteins and fats.  However, in an actual primitive hunter-gatherer world, carbs are a treasure.  There is a reason our bodies crave them.  They provide valuable calories necessary for our survival.  Wild grains, nuts and rhizomes used for flour and starch sources are a more complex carbohydrate than our modern overly processed grains.  Not only are they gluten-free, which makes them easier on our guts, but they generally have a much higher nutritional value and don’t have the same fluctuating affect on blood sugar levels.

Another important difference in a wild foods diet versus a modern diet is the lack of vegetables.  In the wild you don’t find high calorie vegetables like broccoli, squash, or even salad greens.  Such vegetables are a modern adaptation of wild foods.  Although there are a wide variety of edible shoots and greens, these foods are not nearly as fleshy or filling as modern vegetables and many of these plants have a very high nutrient density.  These foods thereby provide much needed vitamins and minerals, and are essential to a balanced diet, but they will not satiate you.  The way I understand it, your body has a limit to how much of those nutrients it can metabolize, and forcing yourself to eat past that point can make you sick.  This has happened to me often on survival trips in which the most readily available foods were wild greens.

Eating a balanced diet can be a difficult task for anyone without the added difficulty of trying to locate, harvest and process all those food from the wild.  I put a great deal of energy into obtaining meats and fats as I believe they are an essential staple for a healthy wild diet, but I equally pursue starch sources like grains, starchy roots and nuts.  I additionally make sure to incorporate some fruits and greens for nutritional value and can’t help but pursue seasonings like sea salt, maple syrup, wild onion, and various herbs to make it all taste good.

If you would like to learn more about providing for your food needs from the wild, join us for the Hunter-Gatherer Immersion Course starting in September!