I'm new to this, I am sorry if there is already a post like this somewhere on the forums or if it is in the wrong area.
My question is if you can survive off foraging foods in California, especially the Northern Forsest area. I hear of mushrooms but what about other wild plants you can live and survive off of and get a decent amount of vitamins and nutrients?
Is it possible? Yes. For that matter it's "possible" to survive on foraging in Death Valley.
Is it likely? Not really. I wouldn't recommend trying it unless you are an experienced forager, even in a forage-rich area. And the language of your post is leading me to believe you're somewhat new at this.
Start small. Get some books, take some classes, learn from an experienced forager. Then, start by adding foraged foods to your existing menu, a little at a time. Get the hang of identifying, harvesting, and using them. Taste enough of them to know if something won't agree with you.
After a few years of this, take a realistic look at your skill levels and decide if you want your life to depend on them. Do short trials, living on foraged-only foods for a few days at a time. Then slowly extend those times. Eventually, you'll be able to tell whether or not you're up to doing it full-time.
The part of NW California I am in, between the Klamath and Smith Rivers, might have been one of the easiest places on Earth to subsist pre-colonization. Like much of the coastal Pacific NW, the diverse native cultures here like the Yurok and Dee-Ni (aka Tolowa), have been described as living in "subsistence opulence." Now, sorry to be a bummer, but...
In the last 200yrs, the greatest forests on earth were felled here. These were also in some ways the greatest food forests on earth as well if considering how the bottom of a Pacific NW old growth forest is a healthy salmon stream. With that came the collapse of the fisheries, which were not helped by over-fishing and damming of every river larger than the Smith. Add sudden-oak death and other tree diseases brought by globalization, and there went the acorns. Oh, and the elk population was nearly wiped out, and the crab fishing has been devastated by warming oceans and correlated red tides. These hits to every major protein source have collectively made the traditional native cultures nearly impossible to continue, though a number of admirable members of local tribes are doing their best to keep their languages and skills alive. Maybe if we all could agree to live by the traditional Yurok or Dee-ni rules and use their traditional technology, we could get back towards that subsistence opulence. The population here is significantly lower than it was pre-colonization, and the climate is still very conducive to life. I see permaculture as a bridge between those traditional ways and the abundance stewarded by them, and a better future for native and immigrant occupants of this beautiful area.
I am by nature a bit of a lone wolf, but people have always had to plan and work together to thrive even in this area of unparalleled abundance (we still have the highest biomass place on earth in the old-growth redwoods, which also hosts the highest soil biodiversity (Noss, 1998)). So wandering the woods looking for mushrooms and herbs is not really viable, and never was a great way to survive. It is, however, a fun day that can help provide a supplement to our diet and mental well being. We also have dozens of native edibles (in addition to edible weeds), in season almost year round, so vitamins and minerals can be had pretty easily. As mentioned above however, the challenge is in finding calories, and I would add protein, to sustain the highly active lifestyle needed to acquire one's food in nature. I hiked the pct in 2012, and while my background as an environmental educator and backcountry ranger gave me knowledge of a large number of delicious edible plants and ways I could make tasty, medicinal and mineral rich teas, I could not have covered 20mi a day while also finding all my own food. It took months of planning, cooking, dehydrating (along with my brother who hiked it with me) to make about 1/3 of the food I ate on the trip. The rest was store bought, and all of it had to be mailed to post offices up and down the west (thanks Mom and Dad!). Even with modern technology and transportation, having a family to work together made everything much easier. So I do encourage you learn about foraging, it will make your life better and you will be healthier for it (be safe!). However, "Into the Wild" is a true story about someone who did not appreciate that indigenous people living off the land had millennia of culturally accrued knowledge of their place, specialized technology and social structures built around that ecology, and worked year-round together to thrive. That is what I aspire to help re-create, and a first step is individuals reconnecting with our local ecology by learning how to eat from it, but that is just a first step.
This is all just my opinion based on a flawed memory
Unless you wish to loose a lot of weight, hunting/fishing and/or gathering shellfish/seafood will be of great importance, otherwise you'll be very deficient on calories. The body can live for quite some some time on herbs, roots, mushrooms (but think that you are depleting the reserves), and think also that you need to take into account all the burning of calories while digging for roots for instance, it is not always "efficient" in that sense (you'll burn more that what you get in return), but could give needed nutrients. Also, too much herbs and seeds etc can be unhealthy as there are oxalates and other anti-nutrients present in many plants and seeds, so finding the right balance is important, otherwise you might get digestion- kidney-, or liver issues.
Honey would get you a great boost, but probably not so easy to find/reach. Carbs might maybe be the thing you miss most, unless you already go paleo. Wild fruits have much less sugar than the varieties we are used to.
Many cultures around the world eat different types of grubs, caterpillars, grasshoppers, crickets etc, those can be extremely nutritious. The more you reach the tropics, the more bugs. The arctic is the only region where there has never been a indigenous grub eating culture. A lot of indian tribes ate them, and in Mexico, people still sell and eat grasshoppers etc.
Some scientists believe that our ancestors who went out "gathering" food, were actually motsly gathering grubs, shellfish, oysters etc... (you hardly go hunting/stalking for them but you pick them).
By the way, grasshoppers do not move when it is cold (that is, i before sunrise), and african children in some countries will go to the gardens in the early morning to pick the grasshoppers from the crops, (and the bugs will then then be fried).
A Clallam (NW Washington tribe) guide once told my class that if lost, we (5th grade environmental Ed students) would be better off finding shelter in a hollow nurse log, building a fire, and eating banana slugs than trying to hunt. They are full of fat and protein, but also eat a lot of scat and carcasses.
This is all just my opinion based on a flawed memory
Besides the redwood forests and the desert, most of wild California is like an all natural food forest.
Southern California is more so a food forest than northern cal, but Nor Cal is full of edibles too.
The Natives of southern Cal must have had such a different psyche than anyone alive today. To look around you and see that everything was edible for 100s of miles or at the very least was a resource must really elevate ones consciousness out of the pits of Hell, desperation, and neediness up into a higher plane of thinking, feeling, and living.
On any given day though, many things are not in season.
California is the world's largest nut producer, but the wildlands of California produce more acorns than Cal agriculture produces nuts. Walnuts also grow wild, pine nuts, pinion nuts are abundant in their season. Buckwheat bushes produce upto 300lbs of buckwheat per acre. Acorns can be as much as 2000lbs per acre and even more in a good year. This fall in Julian in the Mts of San Diego, the acorns were literally the size of small apples and the ground was covered in them. One tree easily produced 100 lbs of acorn nuts.
Pine trees produce about 250-300 lbs of nut per acre. Shelled obviously.
Nettle is edible. Thistle is edible. Wild lettuce and dock are very abundant. I could easily harvest pounds and pounds of edible salad greens from my yard and so can anyone else in California.
Wild chia is so abundant in so cal that the super food was a staple food for the natives. Sage and all of the countless salvia varieties such as chia, all produce edible seeds.
The variety of wild vetch that grows all over California and this time of the year covers EVERYTHING produces a bean that can be harvested dry to store or eaten green. It is 25% protien. The entire plant is edible.
Of course there is also dandelion and sorrel things like that everywhere also.
Grass hoppers are easy to catch. If you are ever in the need to forage for survival grass hoppers are everywhere and should be your first go-to food source because they have everything you need and they are everywhere. Once you start eating grasshoppers and wild lettuce start collecting your carbs from under an oak. Almost anytime of year you can gather enough acorns to survive. They need to be leached though.
There are also many wild fruits across the state. Nor Cal is super abundant with wild fruit, more so than Hawaii or anywhere I've been at least in the region where I live.
Here there are raspberries, goose berries, elderberries, apples, pears, plums and cherries, Oregon grape, (conventional) wild grapes, huckle berries and of course the ever famous blackberries which there are two varieties of. This is and the salmon is why California is famous for bears.
Southern Cal has alot of gooseberries and Holly leaf plums, elderberries and blackberries.
Yucca stalk and flowers can be eaten. The seeds and roots are antiinflamitories.
Prickly pear cactus and fruits are edible. The fruit is amazing and makes a good probiotic soda pop.
The young yucca stalk can be boiled in water, strained, and evaporated down to sugar.
We still have vast amounts of acorns on our property, granted I am in southern Oregon, but I would expect northern Northern California would be similar. Processing them can be time consuming though. As far as insect larva in them, I've heard people dealing with that in two ways. If you are going to be eating them immediately, you can eat the larva as well. If you want to store longer term, freezes them keeps the larva from eating all the acorn.
We also have camas on our property, thousands of them, the indigenous people ate the roots.
I encourage you to just take a weekend and see just how difficult it is to live off of foraging alone. I'm as other have said not saying it is impossible but very labor intensive. If by foraging, we are including hunting and fishing far easier.
Our inability to change everything should not stop us from changing what we can.
You can live quite fat off the land I. California just by foraging ng but you would have to be doing it as a system like the natives. You would need to harvest everything in season and store everything for use throughout the year.
After processing acorn this year I've decided to make that a thing I spend a weekend doing every year.
In one weekend enough acorns could be gathered to use as a staple through out the year. Processing them is really simple and they store well.
The hardest part is making yourself shall them. Leaching them is as easy as pouring out a bucket of water and filling it back up every day or two.
You can make nut butter spread and replace peanut butter etc. Pancake mix, they are also good in soup. In one weekend for each, a parent can pick enough acorns to replace all the peanutbutter that they buy, and enough blackberries for preserves to replace all the fruit spread they buy to give their kids PBJs.
I agree that the land is still quite abundant here, hence my living here. I just want people to realize they better know their shit and that native peoples here were extremely knowledgeable about the local ecology of their time (which has changed greatly), and had complex cultural adaptations to that ecology. It’s a much more forgiving and productive environment than almost anywhere, but even in slow pitch softball we can hurt ourselves pretty badly with the bat we are swinging.
This is all just my opinion based on a flawed memory
I just spent about an hour foraging. I filled up a 5 gallon bucket with wild plums. After it cools down this evening I will go fill up another bucket
The plan is to put the wild fruit in the wine press and then to can the juice in a pressure cooker to store for later use.
Black Berry's are ripening so I'll be pressing some of those too, along with making blackberry preserves.
Wild grapes are begining ng to form and apples are ripening.
Hoping to can several gallons of juices this year.
Looks like it is going to be an abundant year for acorns also.
In California, the difference between foraging in a survival situation vs. being able to take your time and harvesting when things are ripe throughout the year is the difference between desolation and Eden.
It's a little late now, but a person could actually fill up cases and cases of canning jars with cooked miners lettuce to eat like spinach with meals throughout the year. Nettle and thistle can be harvested en mass and canned like spinach.
Cat tail tubers are edible, like potatoes, and can be made into flour also. The green tops during spring can be cooked like asparagus.
I have friends in Hoopa that still use acorns and acorn flour as a staple.
In the spring in NorCal, miner’s lettuce is abundant. As are wild blackberries and plums in the summer.
Salmonids are in streams all the way to down Los Angeles. But not many these days. I bumped into the director of a fisheries restoration group while exploring the mountains above Santa Barbara and he said they are actively trying to restore enough habitat in the streams to save the steelhead trout. Problem is the prime habitat is snagged by farmers to grow avocado and whatever. They channelized and hardened the streambanks to grow orchards which reduced the habitat for the fish. The food chain has been disrupted. But there’s probably a surprising amount of free food dropping from trees around the towns and cities. I read black mission figs have naturalized. Is that correct?
I would like to clarify my negative sounding comments are simply intended to help avoid painful and possibly dangerous outcomes for someone out there that may be as idealistic as I once was, which was arguably to the point of stupidity. I was particularly naive about going out into nature and feeding myself off the land entirely by myself with just a knife and know how. I did not know how much I did not know, and never will!
I also did not appreciate how much the cultures of peoples living in particular places coevolved culturally with the local ecology. Human selection for useful species of plants and animals happened in one way or another in every culture, whether their practices fit the technical definition of agricultural or not. That was certainly true for what we now call Northern California, and I think it could be again. Redwood forests are also extremely under appreciated for their contribution to food security, watershed health and fire resistance. These redwood forests w 10x the biomass of tropical rainforests and almost complete fire resistance when intact over their former 2mil acre range were akin to glaciers farther north in how they fed streams with cool water through the summer. This provided extremely good fish habitat. It also fed 500gal per tree per day into the atmosphere to cool, humidify, and seed rain clouds downwind, thus reducing fire extremity both inland and coast ward. The landscape now with 2% of that left is unfathomably altered, and so we have to adapt while helping reestablish the hydrological priming pump of North America, thw pacific coast forests.
I believe I am in a place here in NW CA where I have particularly good leverage to make that start to happen while also getting a great deal of my subsistence off my land or nearby public lands where resources like wood or food can be collected legally and easily, but I know most aren’t going to be so fortunate. I mainly just wanted to emphasize how ecosystems that are abundant for humans are the result of coevolution of culture and ecology that required many people working together year round for generations to truly flourish. I hope everyone can begin and progress on that journey, but it is a journey. All summits are false ones unless we die before we climb another one, but it’s still worth the climb to me.
This is all just my opinion based on a flawed memory