Thistles for Dinner!

Even our four-year-old enjoys the thistle greens

For dinner last night we ate wild sow thistle!  My hubby grew up in the south, eating collard greens.  Sow thistle is similar, but even more nutritious!  In fact, it has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and some minerals than any domesticated green (domesticated plants are bred for looks, season, easy growing, etc, NOT necessarily for nutritional content).

A section of our backyard has recently become overgrown with sow (mama pig) thistle, since Silver Oak went along with his wife’s crazy idea to let wild edibles (weeds) grow during this slow growing season here in Central Florida.  Sow thistle is not a genuine thistle, but bears that name because its leaves have a spiny appearance, and the mature, stiffer leaves are prickly because of their pointed tips.

The girls harvest sow thistle from our back yard

As long as buds have not opened, the top six inches of each stalk is very tender and tasty and can be cooked and eaten like asparagus, or even raw in a salad.  Once the buds open, a bitter flavor sets in, although not nearly like dandelion greens.  Boiling more mature stems and leaves reduces bitterness, also relaxing stiffness and prickliness.

Our main entrée last night for eight cost under two dollars; the only store-bought ingredients were seasonings and a box of pasta.  Talk about a frugal menu, tons of nutrients, and harvesting food we didn’t plant!  Sometimes blessings are too close and common to see!  We steamed the tops of the stalks and seasoned them with salt, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic, serving them like asparagus.

The bounty from one harvest

Our favorite was the pasta with sow thistle leaves sautéed in extra virgin olive oil.  We had chopped the washed leaves so they would tenderize more easily.  We added salt and lots of garlic, mixed it with cooked and drained pasta, and topped it with parmesan cheese.  It was very tasty, and confirmed once again that wild foods are more filling than normal foods.

Sow thistle

We have books about wild edibles, but an interesting one that taught the most about sow thistle is Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate, written by a PhD in nutrition who has spent time getting all of his vegetables from wild plants.



Preparing For a HurricaneGrab button for Prep-Utility-Vehicle

Linked w/Creative HomeAcre Hop, Barn Hop, Natural Living Mama, Chicken Chick, Eco-Kids, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Homestead Abundance, Down Home Blog Hop, Rock n Share, Frugally Sustainable, Seasonal Celebration, Country Garden Showcase, Country Homemaker Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Natural Living, Tasty Traditions, HomeAcre Hop, Live Renewed, Simple Lives Thur., Old Fashioned Friday, Little House in the Suburbs, Farm Fun Friday, From the Farm Blog Fest, Farmgirl Friday, Simply Natural Saturday, Great Blog Chain, and Eat Make Grow.

Children and Survival Skills

Dutifully picking burrs off sister's skirt

When my brothers and I were growing up we made “forts” in the nearby vacant woods.  We used old discarded pieces of things for “furniture.”  Interesting plants (potatoes from potato vines, etc) were our “food.”  What fun!  I’m sure you have similar stories.

In our quest to learn survival skills (basic life skills which were common knowledge before our modern lifestyle) I’ve noticed our children’s natural interest in them.  They think it’s really cool to build a shelter, and one of the girls is taking it upon herself to learn to make a small kitchen lean-to for the water and cooking pots next time.  After several failed attempts to make something that actually stays standing, she is learning the principles of constructing a sturdy shelter which could be a valuable asset to her someday.

One attempt to build a small shelter

Fire is interesting to children, and boys especially tend to love it.  Our four-year-old makes it his job to keep us supplied with firewood.  He will gladly be in charge of starting and keeping the fire going as soon as he is allowed.

Finding water also catches our children’s interest.  When the main work of setting up camp is done, some of the girsl have been found digging for water.  In Florida that is not too hard, and a four-foot hole can be successful in yielding water if you’re patient, giving time for it to slowly seep in.

Our six-year-old has learned to recognize certain wild edibles and loves to take the initiative gathering them for our salad.  Her older sister also does a good job collecting them.

Our oldest daughter is old enough that learning survival skills is more of a serious thing for her, but she enjoys throwing herself into helping with the construction of the shelter and helping organize the younger ones for various tasks.  She is becoming our wilderness adventure photographer, and we enjoy watching her video recordings of our experiences.

Over all, this has been a great family adventure and learning experience, making good memories which will not soon be forgotten!

Surviving Peer Pressure

Survival toys: sticks and spades

Building a kitchen lean-to

Survival Cooking

The frying pan sets over hot coals by straddling logs taken from the fire

As the head cook at our house I should teach my children to cook without a stove in case of an emergency.  Everyone should at least know how to boil water without modern technology, in case there is no other way to purify it.  I used to be clueless about starting fires, let alone cooking over them.  It is a basic life skill everyone used to have because there weren’t other options, and in many countries this is still the case.

I’ve learned it works best to start a fire early so there are hot coals available when I am ready to cook.  It doesn’t work to simply set a pot on top of a fire.  The pot will scorch and get ruined.  Rather, a hanging pot just out of reach of low flames and hot coals gets the quickest and easiest results.

Cut three sturdy branches approx. 6' long, fasten them together by wrapping cording about 8" from one end, and tie securely

 You can purchase fancy tripods for this purpose, or make your own.  On our recent family wilderness adventure we used what was available: large palm branches.  In northern climates three small sturdy saplings cut to the same length would work great, but in Florida those are hard to find.  The photos demonstrate how my hubby made our tripod, strong enough to hold a large heavy pot full of water or food.

Open the tripod and place over fire

Another method that is a little trickier is with hot coals moved to the side of the burning fire.  The coals must have ventilation to keep them hot.  Dig a trench for the coals and use the sides of the trench to hold up the pot.  Or use a three legged dutch oven to allow air to flow under the pot.  Or find a few small hot logs in the fire to place around the hot coals to set the pot on.  Using only hot coals often takes longer and is more work.  It helps to keep them as close to the fire as possible without scorching your pot, and to keep stoking the coals and adding new ones.

Give it a try now when it can be fun (not an emergency) and let me know how you do!

Surviving Peer Pressure

The pot hangs over the fire

Cleanliness for Survival

The older girls wash dishes in the “sink”

Without clean running water like we are accustomed to, cleanliness in the wilderness can be challenging.  One might think that in such a setting cleanliness is a lost cause.  But the contrary is true.  Without doctor or medical supplies, sanitation is even more important.  Preventing sickness and infection is vital.  Chances of surviving are greatly enhanced if preparation can be made for cleanliness.

Cleanliness also greatly impacts our emotions.  A big enemy in a survival situation is depression or hopelessness.  Enduring hardship requires a positive mental attitude.  Dirt can have a negative impact on our emotions, whereas cleanliness gives us an emotional boost and strengthens our resolve to press on.

I am very protective of the water used to wash my kiddos’ hands or a dirty dish when it had to be hauled from a nearby stream, strained through a cloth, boiled over the fire, and then cooled to a usable temperature. Waste is not tolerated because the amount of time and work to get a gallon ready is too great.

It takes skill to practice cleanliness with little water.  The best way to learn is to practice!  First of all, NEVER place a dirty hand or utensil or soap into the storage container of clean water.  Always dip or slowly pour the clean water over the dirty object, catching the waste in a different container.  This waste water can rinse off soil or other grime from dirty hands or utensils before doing the final wash.  Using this method gives you maximum use of clean water.

Keeping our entire body as clean as normal may be impossible in a survival setting, but washing hands, faces, utensils, and injuries regularly and brushing teeth has worthwhile benefits.  This week turn the water valve off for an afternoon, preparing ahead with one quart per person in buckets, and practice using very small amounts of water to wash with.  Then let me know how it goes.  🙂

Silver Oak cleans off our sleeping bags, hanging them on a bar he fastened between two trees

Surviving Peer Pressure

A Yard Full of Salad

A bowel of wood-sorrel leaves & flowers, and wild violets, washed for the salad

Yesterday the kiddos went out into our yard and picked several small buckets of salad greens. And we hadn’t planted it in our garden, either. In fact, the lettuce I sowed this past hot summer miserably failed. Yesterday’s salad greens grew by themselves without any help from me! How is that for convenience? And free food?

Winter here in Central Florida means our yard hasn’t needed mowing for nearly two months, a perfect opportunity for wild greens to thrive. You can’t get this lucky with a well-manicured yard of thick grass with fertilizers and pesticides.

After the children had fun gathering wood-sorrel and a few wild violets, I methodically went through them to make sure no other green things (or other foreign objects) were volunteering for our evening salad. If we don’t recognize it, we don’t eat it.

Wood-sorrel growing in our already picked out

We have several varieties of wood-sorrels in our yard. With three heart-shaped clover-like leaves growing on the end of each stem, they have violet, yellow or white flowers. The younger leaves, stems and flowers are tender and add a tasty tangy flavor to salad. If the stems are too big and tough, snip them off halfway down. Tie the discarded stems in a bundle to make a tea useful for fevers and urinary infections. This plant is high in vitamin C, so it’s a great winter edible.

 Two years ago I was clueless about identifying edible plants, even though herbs and natural medicine have long been my interest. I found a gold mine years ago in Bulk Herb Store, and most of what I’ve shared about wild edibles I’ve learned from the wealth of resources they offer. We’ve learned much about homesteading, nutrition, making herbal remedies, disaster preparation, survival, and much more. If you have any interest in these subjects, take a look, if you haven’t already!

Surviving Peer Pressure


Some of our eager wild edible harvesters

Survival Tea in the Wilderness

Tea time in the woods

Many wild plants are not edible because they are too woody or fibrous to digest properly, but steeping them in hot water releases valuable nutrients.  On last week’s wilderness adventure we found some great wild plants that we could “drink” even though we couldn’t eat them.  I noticed a definite difference in my energy level after consuming one or two cups of the brew we made.

I believe I already mentioned in an earlier post that we found wild citrus trees, including lemon, near our camp.  Lemon juice is high in electrolytes, is a natural refrigerant and helps reduce thirst. The essential oils in the peels are a good digestive aid.  I squeezed the juice and added the peel and rinds of one very large lemon to our brew.

Sitting for a spell; not too common an event in wilderness survival

Even though it is winter, we managed to find enough black raspberry vines to add about a cup of leaves to the pot.  A close relative of the red raspberry plant, it is high in vitamins and minerals.  It cleanses and alkalizes the blood and is a good stomach tonic. 

Last we found some dry goldenrod and a few wild violets and their leaves.  Goldenrod is antibacterial, fungicidal, worm expellant, and used for fevers and snakebites; not a bad idea to have in a survival setting. 

Over some hot coals I brought my pot of canal water to a boil, removed it from the heat, and added all the above ingredients to steep for about 15 minutes.  It was very pleasant to taste, and gave a good energy boost.

Surviving Peer Pressure

Enjoying tea after lunch