Holly’s Wild Shopping Guide

Shopping for Bee Balm

Every woman was born to shop… I think foraging scratches the shopping itch quite well!

Wild Shopping Spree journal entry from April 16th:

“Had a blast at our local educational organic farm yesterday with two of my herbie friends! I love ‘shopping alone’ with my faithful collie but there is something exhilarating about being with kindred spirits who appreciate natures’ gifts as much as I.  We sounded like little kids in a candy store. Constantly exclaiming “look at this!” and “can you believe how much ______ there is, it is taking over!”  

Dandelion flowers were opaquing the fields with brilliant yellow rays. I was so enamored with their joyful beckoning that I spent most of the time lovingly collecting them between my fingers filling a basket. They are now steeping in several gallons of water for the end result of Dandelion wine to cheer a dreary winter.

Picking Spring Dandelion Blossoms at the ASU Farm

I also dug Burdock root, Evening Primrose root, Queen Anne’s Lace root and Dandelion root of course.  Another plant that was happily taking over the farm was Cow Parsnips.  We dug those tasty roots as well.

We transplanted some twisted Elecampane roots into neater rows and Serene harvested about 20 pounds of the root to dry for medicine and for sale.  A few other scores to transplant into our gardens: Blue Vervain, Motherwort, Comfrey, wild Mustard and I got a fine Chicory to start a field of blue on my mountain…

Finally home around 1:30ish and between that and 3 o’clock I washed all the roots, PLANTED the transplants, washed my wild greens for future use, made a whole dandelion plant vodka tincture in a quart (my key remedy)… I was flying and so was the dirt.

Felt strangely wealthy when all was put up for future use…

Here is the handout for a talk I give on Shopping Wild.

Tips for Shopping in God’s Wild Grocery Store


A. Be prepared to go ‘shopping’

(I keep these things in my backpack so as to have what I need while foraging)

1. Backpack contents: whistle, pad and paper, field guide, pen, Bible and journal, glasses, trash bags, personal needs (kleenex, Osha root, Echinacea), pruning shears, scissors, rubber bands, small spade, pots, camera, long sleeve shirt, water, cell phone, white sheet (to remove bugs with ease), seeds to spread, homemade jam as a gift

2. Carry a walking stick to poke under bushes to scare off critters!

B. The Shopping Cart (depends on what you are shopping for)

Baskets, paper bags, plastic 5 gallon bucket when transplanting plants to your land

C. Where to Shop
Best to think of where NOT to shop
avoid foraging next to busy roads
pesticides or fertilizers
dog and cat dropping grounds
avoid foraging under power lines

Organic Farms are an AWESOME place to help pull weeds!  I have access to many of them where I live.  It is wonderful knowing the soil is vibrant and free from pesticides and herbicides!

ASU Organic Farm

Ask permission from the people who own the land you wish to forage in.  I keep a 1/2 pint jar of Blackberry jam in my backpack as a thank you.

Be aware of your surroundings.  Wasp nests, poison ivy, snakes, ant hills… can make your forage into the wild more than your bargained for.  Be observant, use a walking stick.  Be prepared with the antidote should you have a problem:
Poison ivy: Jewelweed
Poison Oak: Mugwort
Stinging Nettle: Yellow Dock  “Nettle in..Dock Out”
Bee Sting: Plantain spit poultice
Snake bite: Echinacea tincture
Allergy attack: Osha Root tincture, ragweed leaf (like cures like)

Upon returning home with your free food, check your body to see if any unwanted hitch hikers have climbed onto your clothing or skin.  Ticks can be carriers of Lyme disease and that is not something you want to mess with.  They usually take awhile deciding where they want to settle down and bite so if they are crawling around you have not been bit.  Shake out your clothes as well.  Better to take precautions.  (in the years I have been romping through fields and forests foraging for food I have never been bitten, but I still check to be safe).

D. Budgeting your groceries
Be thoughtful about how much you harvest, save some for other ‘shoppers’ and lots to keep the harvest bountiful for years to come.
Never take more than you will use.
Take seeds to share at each shopping location to improve the variety as well.

E. Tips on shopping
Put different plants in separate shopping bags to save time from having to sort them out later
Put berries in plastic shells to protect them from being crushed
Only harvest plants that are in their healthiest state
Follow the energy: choose edible parts of plants when they are the most nutritious and medicinal  “God makes everything perfect in it’s season”  Ecclesiastes 3:11

There are seasons within seasons.
Riding Nature’s Wave: Identify and gather what is out ‘now’ and store up for the winter.

Winter: energy is stored in the roots and in tree sap or bark          

February Journal Entry: “Skipper and I had a rather lovely outing today.  The weather was balmy and low 50ish which after the snow drifts we’ve had seemed hot. I ‘saddled up’ with a few newly acquired treasures like new sharp clippers holstered in a leather pouch attached to an old belt. Thick leather gloves folded over the belt for when I needed them. Tall mud boots finished the look. No hat, for I was so jazzed about getting SUN on my face I wasn’t about to shade it. My mission was to create new paths among the wild growth on my mountain and to reopen narrowing ones from previous jaunts into the wild. Our first stop was the watering hole that deer frequent. Lots of hoof prints and signs of wild life. Nothing green popping up save for a bit of ground ivy and the cursed Blasphemy Vine (which I attacked with sworn vengeance), maroon Blackberry brambles stood out against the browns and beiges of the landscape (I snipped these carefully to allow clear passage this Summer)… Fiery red Sumac berry clusters towered high above me silhouetted against the blue sky and drifting clouds…. no signs yet of the spearmint, milkweed, burdock, valarian, meadowsweet or cattails that I had planted last Fall…

Early March Journal entry:  Today was the perfect day to propagate Elderberry canes. The buds had yet to break open, but they will soon. So we collected 10 or so 18-24 inch canes with 4 or 5 sets of opposite leaf buds (2 to go below the earth and the rest above). I planted these in root tone as well to give them a chance to root a bit before sticking them in the soil. The cottonwood buds that I risked my life to gather in the snow are happily soaking in olive oil. Oh and after DAYS of boiling sap I have 3 quarts of Maple Syrup to show for it! The ratio is 40 to one, or 10 gallons of sap to 1 quart of syrup.

Spring: energy transfers to young shoots

May 13th journal entry: “Filled my basket with lots of Burdock and Cow Parsnip and Dandelion roots (which I will dry to reconstitute throughout the year). Chickweed that was still lush and not yet gone to seed, Comfrey flowers and young leaves to eat tempora style!, Chamomile to dry for tea…

Summer: energy bursts forth into stem, buds, blooms, flowers

July 2nd Journal Entry: “I am on a milkweed frenzy…The most tasty dish at my last wild foods dinner was the milkweed bud casserole. Rave reviews! So after a full day I made my way to the milkweed patch to seize the day and harvest more buds. Most of them have burst into flower but I did get about 3 pounds worth! I want to have milkweed buds on the menu for every feast, in one venue or another! The smell was so pungent and sweet, almost made me feel giddy and high. I’ve been deprived of sugar for the past two weeks (and will be for the next 6 months) so just smelling the sweetness made me feel like I had swimming in a sea of ice cream. It was just about as sticky too! The milky latex was dripping all over my arms and hands and my clothes. The breeze was crisp and cheerful with late afternoon clouds building up overhead in the blue sky. Birds were singing with such gusto, it was as if they were intoxicated as well… and the butterflies and the bees…. oh my…. The milkweed stalks often towered over my head and I’d have to bend them gently to snip the prize buds. If only they would make a camera that captured scents as well as sights! I’ll be blanching and pickling and marinating and freezing first thing in the morning. Tonight I washed them well and bagged them in the frig.”

Fall: energy spent making seeds and fruits After first frost: the energy dies back into the roots to store up for Spring
Positively identify the plants you wish to gather: field guides are helpful, it is best to learn from a knowledgeable person, if uncertain still… watch the plant through the seasons to confirm your ID.  It’s much easier to ID a plant in flower than it is to ID just the leaves.

October Journal Entry:  “Just came back from foraging for nuts. Acorns are hard to find that have not sprouted but I got at least 15 pounds of Hickory nuts. Able to pluck them off of the low hanging branches right into my T Shirt bag. I put a strap around each shoulder and so I looked pregnant with nuts while I filled the bag a nut at a time.  I feel like I finally snookered the squirrels to the prize!”

A deBugging tip

Sometimes with spired plants that have an affinity for being houses for bugs I’ll place my Foraging basket contents on a white sheet in the sunshine for an hour or so till the critters leave for cooler climates.

F. Putting it all away

‘Garble your catch’, remove dead or bug bitten leaves, bugs
Strip away hard stems (rub up the stalk to remove tender leaves…)
Wash what needs washing. If it is clean to begin with this is not necessary.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Refrigerate till use
Water used in cooking plants can be recycled” this is called “pot liquor”. Save in jars to be used in making soups and stews or for boiling grains.

April 16 Journal Entry: “Finally home around 1:30ish and between that and 3 o’clock I washed all the roots, PLANTED the transplants, washed my wild greens for future use, made a whole dandelion plant vodka tincture in a quart (my key remedy)… I was flying and so was the dirt. Felt strangely wealthy when all was put up for future use…”

G. Storing up for the future

Blanch before freezing
Dry in small bundles upside down till crispy (use pillow case to wring into flour later)
Make syrups, jams, honeys, jellies with berries

Make oils, vinegars by infusing herbs over time
Make pestos with wild greens (freeze in ice cube trays, then bag in freezer for future use)
Dry for teas, dry for flour, dry to reconstitute for winter cooking, dehydrator is handy as well!
LABEL EVERYTHING CAREFULLY  or you will forget as your jars and bags begin to multiply!

H. Cooking Tips
Do your Due Diligence.  Many plants have toxic components and need to be prepared properly to boil off possible allergens.  The internet is full of wise advice from fellow foragers.  Some plants are edible in one season and not edible in another, or some parts of the same plant may be edible while another part inedible.  (example, tomatoes are nutritious but the leaves are toxic) A wild example:  Milkweed buds are highly nutritious but they need to be blanched to completely remove caustic latex.
The Mathematics of Wild cooking= Addition and Substitution. Make a recipe ‘wild’ by simple substitution or harmless addition.  The key is  to work with what you have available in your back yard grocery store or stocked from last season’s foraging adventures.  If the recipe calls for nuts I can simply use a wild nut (hickory…)  If it calls for spinach use a handy wild green…

Imagine how much money I saved and nutrition I added by cooking up a wild spaghetti sauce.  Sassafras leaves for thickening, Dandelion, Chickweed, Nettle, Cleavers, Red Clover, Bee Balm leaves, Burdock root, Dandelion root, wild Onion, Garlic and Tomatoes canned from last Summer.  Off the charts in deliciousness and nutrition and it’s FREE.

Plan ahead: The options I have are fairly extensive because I put up so much food from last Summer and Fall, you too can: dry, freeze, pickle or can wild gifts when they are in their height of energy as the seasons unfold with an eye to future provisions.

Get Linda Runyon’s book, she has tried and true recipes in the back of the book and gives cooking tips and hints when dealing with wild foods.  She ought to know having lived solely on God’s Grocery Store for 20 years!

Study to improve your Wild Skills
These are my favorite resources to help you forage ahead in this wild adventure

  • Of the Field.com is Linda Runyon’s website.  Her book is the Essential Wild Food Survival Guide and is a must for every serious student of the wild.  If you purchase her book from ofthefield.com you will receive the E book of her recipes and her monthly newsletters (featuring plants that are currently in season) for free.  Send an email to RAShepherd@ofthefield.com with ‘please send ebook” in the subject line.  I also LOVE her Wild Food playing cards which she created for the military, and her book Homestead Memories is a great read aloud for the family.
  • Eattheweeds.com is Green Deane’s website.  He has great info there and a youtube channel where he itemizes almost 200 wild plants and shows you not only how to Identify them properly, but also how to harvest and cook with them.
  • Herbmentor.com  This site has changed my life.  It was through this online course that I met Linda Runyon.  I began my wild adventure through my interest in health and healing with herbs. Herbmentor is a fantastic education for anyone interested in holistic health, nutrition and healing herbs.  Videos, interviews, training, an interactive forum where real time questions are posed and answered by caring kindred folk, study guides, plant walks…. this resource is inexhaustible.  Check it out!
  • Underground Wellness.com.  Sean Croxton drops nutrition and health ‘truth bombs’ in a simple very memorable way.  Much to learn here!  Check out his youtube videos beginning with http://www.youtube.com/user/UndergroundWellness#p/search/0/UV_1LtBPkpg

Just Do It!
Start somewhere, start today.  One plant at a time, before you know it you will be wildly hooked!



  1. I have been unsuccessful in finding burdock in my area. Where can I find good pics for positive ID?

    • If you have ever been attacked by Burdock burrs you have Burdock. The burrs are found on the second year plant. You’ll find the Burdock rosette (first year leaves) at the base of old seed skeletons. I’ll send you some seeds.

  2. I tried your debugging tip. What a great idea! By the way, I have been planting seeds like crazy. Among those planted are amaranth, milk weed and burdock. The burdock went into buckets for easier harvest when the time comes. I’m still trying to decide where the sumac will grow the best.
    Between you and my sister in Texas, I could start a wild foods plantation, if I had the room. Having so much fun! Hope you are, too.

    • Analita! How are you!? I am teaching every Tuesday ON LINE so you can join me!! Are you on FaceBook? If so, friend me and I’ll invite you to my private group “Wild Blessings w/ Holly Drake” Hope to reconnect after all these years!

  3. Hey Holly,

    Do you know of any use for skunk cabbage? Did I ask you this already? When things get growing
    a little more, can you come over and walk our land with me and help me firm up what I’ve learned and , as always with you, learn more.

    Know you will miss Justin when he moves on. Saw Jason in HT the other day and he said you’ll
    be going to see Norah (and fam) in May. Can’t wait to meet her.

    Enjoy spring’s bounty, Jane

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  1. […] Learning to shop in God’s free grocery store is a skill that is cultivated as nature’s wave rolls by. Just as we learn when a banana is most edible (green: too early, black: too late, yellow: just right) knowing when to eat God’s free gifts is a matter of experience and trial and error. Join me in this venture and we’ll learn together…one plant at a bite!  Learn more here: https://wildblessings.com/2011/10/23/hollys-wild-shopping-guide/ […]

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