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Growing in the Garden: Edible Wild Foods (Part 1)

Growing in the Garden blog posts originally aired in 2019 as a radio show produced by the Food Sovereignty Initiative for KOYA 88.1 FM, the community radio station owned and operated by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. They have been transcribed and adapted to be shared here as a community resource.

Hello, Rosebud! It is FINALLY spring and we are so excited for all the things that come with the warmer weather and longer days: baby plants, starting seeds, prepping soil, planting, and especially wild foods harvesting.

Identifying and harvesting wild plants and foods is something our ancestors excelled at, and allowed them to be powerful warriors. Food is medicine, and many of the medicines we can go out and harvest ourselves, even today, to help ourselves become strong and healthy. Harvesting and preserving wild foods is another small step we can take to be more food sovereign here on the Rosebud.

When you go to harvest wild foods, here are some suggested guidelines to keep in mind: bring an offering of tobacco or sage and offer a prayer to thank the plant relatives for their medicine and the health they bring us. Have a good mind and heart when you harvest, as the plants can sense the energy we bring to them. And when harvesting, be mindful of the generations that are to come and our animal relatives, as they also depend on these plants to provide food and medicine. If you are harvesting berries, make sure to leave some to help the plants return in future years. When harvesting plants like sage or ceyaka, make a clean cut or break at the stem. If you pull the roots, the plant will not return the next year.

Deanna Eaglefeather shows SFSI interns Shanice Nez, Michelle Haukaas, and Kerian Hanson how to spot the difference between wild grapes and Virginia creepers, August 2019.

So the next question is, what types of plants are available to harvest this time of year? Spring is a great time to get outside and harvest some wild foods!

The first plant we’ll talk about is quite common, and can be found almost anywhere. Many people consider it a weed, but this plant is actually a superfood. Can you guess what we’re talking about? Dandelions! Yes! That small yellow flower that grows in so many yards can actually be used in a variety of ways. The flowers can be made into a tea, which has tons of antioxidants and can help regulate blood sugar. The roots of the plants can be ground up, roasted and made into coffee-like drink, or can be put into soups and salads. Even the leaves can be eaten! They provide great flavor and texture to salads. The leaves should be harvested in the spring when they are still tender, but the rest of the plant can be harvested throughout the summer.

Another plant that you can find in the spring is cattails. These are mostly found near the edges of water and in marshy areas. Once you find them, you can do a lot with them! The roots can be eaten like a root vegetable (such as a carrot), or you can dry them and then grind the roots to make a flour! If you plan to grind the roots to make into flour, you should collect cattail pollen, as it can be added to the flour for extra flavor and nutrition. Even the stalks can be eaten, though the younger stalks will taste better than older ones.

Cattail flowers are the part of the plant that turn brown and get all fluffy when you break it apart. Each stalk usually has two flowers: one is male and the other is female. How do you tell the difference between the flowers? The female one will turn brown after it has been pollinated. When the male flower is green, you can harvest it, then roast the flower and eat it like corn! If you are harvesting the flowers, it’s a good idea to take a few from each area, to ensure that there will be enough remaining for the plants to repopulate. And if the idea of eating cattails isn’t appealing, that’s okay! If you look between the leaves of young plants, you’ll find a jelly-like substance that has antiseptic properties, and can be used as an itch or pain reliever.

SFSI interns harvesting wild foods at Keya Wakpala (Turtle Creek) in Mission, July 2019.

Finally, when foraging cattails, or any plants found near water, make sure you check the source! These plants are water cleansers, and will hold any toxic chemicals that might be found in the water. If you see a lot of waste or garbage in the area that you are harvesting, then we would recommend you find a different location.

That’s about all the time we have for now, but tune in next week for more information about other plants you can go out and harvest! In the meantime, we hope you get out and explore your community to see what you can find! Thanks for listening!

For more information about gardening, harvesting, local foods, and to keep up with the Food Sovereignty Initiative, find us on our Facebook page, Sicangu Community Development Corporation.

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Phone: 605.856.8400

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