Whether crops fail or sources are generally scarce, one can often depend on wild foods for sustenance. Foraged “weeds” and other wild greens are often more nutritious than their cultivated cousins and can be preserved by powdering them to be eaten all winter long.
Read on to learn how you can create a homemade Greens Plus type of powder from plants that are likely already growing in your own yard.
Survival Food Tips from Elder Relatives
The past few years have seen a huge resurgence in self-sufficiency from people all over the world. This has inspired countless people to pick up traditional skills that were at real risk of being lost over time.
I was lucky enough to learn a fair bit from some of my elderly relatives, especially in terms of food harvesting and preserving. These elders survived incredibly harsh conditions in Northern and Eastern Europe and put ancient skills to good use in times of scarcity.
One of my elders (we’ll call him “K”) grew up in rural Jutland, which is that band where southern Denmark meets Germany. The growing season there is short: usually just over five months.
As a result, before grocery stores and commercial greenhouses were a thing, people took full advantage of everything that grew around them.
He told me about how people would harvest baskets of wild greens several times a week. This started as soon as the leaves were as long as an adult index finger. By the time they’re this length, they’re actually worth picking and preserving.
The key was to make sure these wild greens were dried thoroughly so that they could be powdered. This was the best way to preserve them through the cold months. By doing so, people had a rich source of vital nutrients to help fend off illness during the long winter.
Wild Greens to Harvest for Powder
People harvested all manner of edible greens throughout the entire season. Of course, they knew better than to take too much at once, but we’ll get into that later.
The main issue is that they were able to supplement their diets significantly with these wild greens and powdered enough to keep them healthy from November through to May.
The wild plants listed below are just a few of the species they harvested.
- Dandelions (Taraxacum spp.)
- Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album)
- Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)
- Curly Dock (Rumex crispus)
- Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)
- Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia)
- Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) Interestingly, this stuff is called “súpugull” in Icelandic. This translates to “soup gold”, undoubtedly referring to its tastiness and nutrient worth in the soup pot.
Many of these greens grow around my home here in Quebec as well, but you may have very different species near you. Check out some local field guides or foraging groups if you aren’t already familiar with wild edibles.
You may discover that you have a few hundred tasty greens growing in and around your yard and neighborhood!
For example, in addition to some of the ones mentioned above, you may also find meadow onions (Allium canadense), violets (Viola spp.), chicory (Cichorium intybus), and many others.
Just a note: when foraging, remember to never take the first plant that you find, as it could be the last of its species in that area. Wait until you’ve found several, and then don’t gather more than 1/3 of them.
Leave enough that they’ll be able to mature and go to seed so they can self-propagate. Wild animals often depend on these species for food as well, so let’s make sure to share generously with one another.
How to Dry Wild Greens
Once you’ve harvested your plants, you can dry them a number of different ways.
Standard Hanging Bundles
With the hanging method, tie the plants into bunches a couple of inches above their stem ends. Use kitchen twine or sturdy cotton thread, and tie more tightly than you think you need to.
The stems will shrink as they dry out. Then, hang the bundles upside-down in a warm, dry area that gets a fair bit of air movement.
Hanging Drying Baskets
One of the easiest ways to dry wild greens for powdering is in hanging drying baskets or bags. These are multi-layered mesh bags that you can spread the herbs out into. If you go this route, be sure to get the bags that have zippered compartments. This will keep insects and mice out of your harvest.
Spread out your herbs and greens in the different compartments, then hang the bag somewhere to dry. It should be out of direct sunlight, but in a warm, dry place that gets decent ventilation. A warm room that gets a good cross-breeze is great, as is a covered gazebo.
It’ll take a full week or two for these to dry out completely. In fact, you may want to finish them off in a dehydrator or oven just to make absolutely sure they dry completely.
I love my dehydrator, and I use it as often as possible for as many different things as possible. If you’re aiming to dry your wild greens in your machine, I say go for it. This is a really effective way to dry them out completely while maintaining their nutrients as well as their vibrant hue.
To dry out wild greens, set your dehydrator to somewhere between 95°F and 125°F. Spread the plants out on the screens with enough space around them for air to circulate sufficiently. I have the best results with 115°F for about four hours, but you know your machine best.
If you’re dealing with very dense, leafy plants, cut them up a bit before dehydrating them. Otherwise, you’ll end up with mostly dried plants but a few wet bits here and there. Aim for thorough, even dryness through all the plant parts.
You’ll know that the greens are dehydrated sufficiently when they crumble easily in your hands when rubbed. If they still bend rather than breaking into powder, leave them in the dehydrator for another hour or two.
The standard oven technique is similar to a dehydrator. Instead of spreading out the herbs on the dehydrator racks, you’ll place them on clean baking sheets instead. You can put down parchment paper first if you like, or place them right on the sheets themselves.
Preheat the oven to about 160°F, and spread the oven racks out evenly. Once heated, pop those sheets into the oven for two hours.
After that time has elapsed, remove the sheets one at a time and turn the herbs over with a pair of tongs. Since they’re on flat, solid surfaces rather than mesh, they’ll need to be turned to dry evenly on all sides.
Depending on the plants, they should be dried after about four hours. Test them for crumbliness at this point. If they still seem bendy or damp in any way, leave them in another hour or two. It’s always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to preparing survival food.
Transform These into Powder
Have all your plants dried until they crunch satisfyingly between your fingers? Excellent. Now it’s time to pulverize them.
You can either do this quickly with a coffee grinder or slowly with a mortar and pestle. It really comes down to whether you’d like it done quickly, or if you’re keen on re-creating ancient techniques.
Personally, I think my ancestors would roll in their graves if they saw me crushing herbs with a mortar for hours when I could just use a grinder since they would have loved machines like that. But I digress…
However you choose to process yours, pulse them until they’re about 80% powdery. If there are still chunky bits here and there, that’s okay.
K told me that people of his generation (and those who came before) would store their powdered wild greens in unglazed pots.
These had a few layers of cloth stretched over them and tied into place, topped by a layer of cleaned skin. This helped to regulate humidity and kept the powder from clumping.
The pots were kept in cupboards so no water could get to them. As an added benefit, mice and other potential food thieves wouldn’t be able to get to these pots either.
I keep my powdered wild greens in Mason jars, which are also spectacular for keeping mice and other critters out. These jars are sterilized beforehand and kept warm in a heated oven before I fill them with plant powder.
Additionally, I’d recommend storing some jars in a few different places. This way, on the off chance that a shelf breaks, or there’s a weird flood or other home issue, you won’t lose all your stores.
Here at home, I keep some in the cold cellar, some in the kitchen pantry, and a few extras in the herbal medicine hutch too.
How to Use the Dried Greens
To use your powdered wild greens, add it to whatever liquid medium you’d like to ingest it in. It is quite dry, so give it a few minutes to rehydrate before you drink it.
If I’m adding them to a smoothie, I’ll use a scant half teaspoon per serving. This gets mixed with a little bit of warm water and then added to the blender along with bananas, spinach, almond milk… whatever else I’m throwing in there.
That said, I much prefer to use the powder in soups. In this case, I’ll add a full heaping tablespoon (or more) to the pot as it’s simmering. The greens add flavor and nutrients to anything you prepare and are a spectacular addition to the self-sufficient home pantry.