Native Americans were “preppers’ ‘centuries before the phrase was ever first uttered. In the most austere of primitive conditions the tribes not only survived, but they thrived.
These indigenous people made it through hundreds of harsh winters without starving to death due to their abundance of their food cultivation and preservation techniques.
Approximately 60 percent of the food that is eaten around the world was either created or discovered by Native Americans. It was the Native American approach to survival food that first got me interested in growing a Three Sisters garden and Jerusalem artichokes.
Long before Native Americans were impacted by explorers from Europe, they grew, foraged, and hunted for all of their own food – and preserved excess for the hard cold months of winter.
Their food garnering and preservation skills along with long-range planning prevent starvation in times of cold weather, flooding, and drought.
Native Americans planned to grow, forage, and hunt for the exact types of food that would fill their bodies with strengthening nutrients that would keep their bodies fueled and healthy for their rugged lifestyle.
Not all Native Americans ate, grew, hunted, or foraged the exact same food items. Regional and even tribal differences existed, yet the same protein-rich focus formed the basis of the diet of all tribes.
The indigenous people also used every possible part of a wild edible, crop, or meat for their meals, herbal remedies, clothing, tools, supplies, and dyes.
Even though a minor portion of Native American tribes could be deemed solely a foraging and hunting or agricultural tribe, most used a combination of foraging, farming, hunting, and fishing to provide food for the tribe.
Everyone had a job to do, from the very young to the very old, when it came to stockpiling and preserving food for the winter months.
Regardless of regional location, all Native American tribes had a diet that involved the eating of nuts, seeds, wild game and oftentimes, corn.
The more agricultural tribes also widely grew squash, beans, peppers, and a wide array of herbs that were used for both eating and in natural remedies.
Both wild plants (wild greens) and foraged fruits were also a large part of the daily diet of Native American tribes. All of the food grown, hunted, or foraged by indigenous people could be dried in the sun or smoked over a fire to preserve it for long-term use.
Table of Contents
Three Sisters Garden
Beans, corn, and squash are the three components to a companion growing plan that has been dubbed the “Three Sisters” by Native American tribes.
These three crops were planted together to not only improve their growing potential but also to prevent weeds at ground level while providing support at the upper level.
Native Americans believed the Three Sisters crops to be a very sacred gift from the “Great Spirit” because of the amount of food and nutrients they offered. The Three Sisters gardening plan is also a perfect offer for prepping families, even if they have only a small amount of land upon which to grow their food.
The corn planted in a Three Sisters garden helps to remove nitrogen from the soil. The pole or bush style bean seeds planted in the same growing spot will replenish the nitrogen back into the soil to help it remain rich and fertile.
The squash plants with their wide leaves play a substantial role, as well. Their role as part of this type of companion garden grouping will greatly help prevent weeds from sprouting up in the growing plot and inhibiting growth.
The stalks of corn will offer support by way of a natural trellis for the bean throughout the growing process.
The stalks and the squash leaves will also provide enough sun protection to prevent scorching during times of intense heat and allow the ground to maintain more moisture – which will be vital during times of little rain or drought.
These flowering vine crops were crucial to not only the Three Sisters garden growing concept, but also to the Native American diet as a whole.
Squash of so many varieties, including pumpkins, were used in meals prepared by the tribe on a daily basis. Squash crops are a substantially versatile food crop and are thought to be the first cultivated crop in not just what was to become the United States but in North America.
Native American tribes in which growing squash was exceedingly important included Hopi, Yuman, Navajo, Apache, Pima, Papago, and Zuni.
Members of the tribe would prepare squash in a myriad of ways to use in the morning, noon, or evening meal. Native Americans would often bake a whole squash and bake it above fire coals before eating the entire thing from the softened outside to the internal portion of the vegetables.
A boiled squash was typically sliced and eaten by hand or even consumed raw straight from the ground.
Squash was preserved for consumption during the winter by drying on a rock in the sun to effectively dehydrate it.
The Native American tribes would then reconstitute (rehydrate) before they dried squash was eaten alone or used in a meal by soaking it in only enough water to cover it.
Properly dehydrated squash can last for approximately five months – easily taking the crop from harvest deep into the coldest weeks of winter.
Seeds are removed from a harvested squash before it is either preserved for later use or prepared as part of a meal. A sun-dried squash was often broken down into small pieces to use as a seasoning or spice with the aid of a primitive mortar and pestle.
Dried squash was also a basic part of what resembled a trail mix when combined with foraged wild fruit that has also been dried and nuts that were gathered.
The blossoms of squash were also extremely popular in the indigenous community. The infertile male blossoms were gathered up early in the morning before they opened to receive sun by the children and women in the tribe.
They were then used as an ingredient in stews, fried, eaten raw, or sun dried to preserve them for long-term use. The shells of a harvest squash plant were saved after the insides of the plant were carefully removed so they could dry anad be used to carry worry or for storage of wild edibles.
While butternut, summer, and winter squash were perhaps the most popular varieties of squash grown by Native American tribes, they also planted patty pans, yellow crooknecks, Boston marrows, cushaws, pink hubbard, blue hubbard, green and white striped sweet potato squash, and pumpkins.
Native American Three Sisters and Squash Recipes
- Acorn Squash Curry
- Spiced Roasted Squash Soup
- Three Sisters Squash Bowl
- Wild Rice and Pumpkin Seed Salad
- Three Sisters Stew
- Squash Bread
- Three Sisters Succotash
- Wild Rice Stuffed Squash
- Yellow Squash Stew
- Three Sisters Soup
- Squash Pie
- Three Sisters Salad
- Three Sisters Rice Casserole
- Fry Bread
- Squash Pudding
- Spicy Squash
- Roasted Pumpkin with Nuts and Corn
- Original Pumpkin “Pie”
- Three Sisters and Grouse Stew
Corn, or maize as many Native Americans tribes preferred to call it, first began being cultivated in 1,200 B.C. by the Pueblos.
It was grown as a primary part of the daily diet of tribe members. Seeds from corn grown by Native Americans first traveled back for cultivation in European gardens in 1494 by the Spanish.
It was around this same time that Native Americans began teaching European settlers how to grow corn. It took only another five decades for corn seeds grown from Native American crops to start being planted in the soil in both China and the Philippines.
Many tribes of Native Americans considered corn to be sacred. The word maize means “life” and noted how highly this nutrient rich crop was held by the indigenous people. In fact, many of the corn dishes typically prepared in kitchens around the world today can be tracked back to dishes created by Native American tribes.
Some of the most popular ways corn was prepared both then and now include corn on the cob, popcorn, cornbread, baked corn, and corn chowder.
The nutrients in corn include fiber, phytochemicals, and vitamins B.C. and K, as well as protein. Like squash, corn was a part of nearly every meal created by members of a Native American tribe.
Not only did the indigenous people use corn as a primary food source, they also burnt it to make fuel, in dye making, and to create beautiful rattling ceremonial sticks.
The heirloom varieties of corn that were most often planted by tribes of Native Americans include: White Flint Hominy corn, Cocopah corn, Black Aztec corn, Hopi Blue corn, Mandan Bride corn, Hopi Pink Flour corn, Bear Island Chippewa Flint corn, Seneca Red Stalker corn, Long Ear popcorn, Flint corn, Cherokee corn, and Anasazi Sweet corn.
Native American Corn Recipes
- Corn Soup
- Seminole Corn Dressing
- Cornmeal Cookies
- Corn Pone
- Choctaw Corn Pudding
- Corn Stew
- Choctaw Corn Chowder
- Sweet Cornmeal Pudding
- Corn Sticks (fritters)
- Corn Cakes
- Corn on the Cob
- Corn Salad
The final part of the Three Sisters garden is beans. This type of protein rich vegetable crop had an immense impact on the European explorers and pioneers that first traded with Native American tribes.
Beans were eaten daily as a rich source of protein by Native Americans, especially in stews and soups during the winter months to boost their protein level when wild game was harder to find.
Nearly if not all, Native American tribes grew beans to eat fresh, in stews and soups, mashed into cakes, ground into a flour, and to dry and preserve for winter.
Although the indigenous people may not have known the names of all the nutrients in beans that we do today, they did fully understand that eating beans provided their bodies with energy and helped to keep them healthy and strong.
Nutrients in beans include: protein, fiber, folic acid, potassium, and B vitamins. While any type of bean will boast a high content of important nutrients, but only those of the pole (or vine) and bush type were grown by Native Americans in a Three Sisters garden.
Varieties of beans most commonly grown in the Three Sisters gardens of indigenous people include: Hopi Black Pinto, Lazy Housewife, Hopi Purple String, Hidatsa Red Bush, Hopi Black, Arikara Yellow Bush, Romano Italian, Blue Lake, and Hidatsa Shield Figure Pole.
One of the very first food dishes that members of the Algonquin Native American taught the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock how to make was succotash. This same classic bean recipe was dubbed “misckquitash” by the Narragansett tribe.
Misckquitash means “boiled corn” in the language of the tribe. Corn and beans, two of the important crops in any Three Sisters garden, are often grouped together in recipes shared and passed down by indigenous tribes.
Native American Bean Recipes
- Anasazi Bean Soup
- Spiced String Beans
- Lima Bean and Tomato Soup
- Kidney Bean Masala Stew
- Mixed Bean Curry
- Cedar Braised Beans
- Green Bean Casserole
- Baked Beans of the Plains
- Pinto Beans
- Traditional Baked Beans
- Black Bean Mauq Choux
- Bean and Green Hominy
Indigenous tribes in North America varied between being somewhat agricultural and heavily into farming to grow a sizable portion of their own food.
Native Americans referred to this unique plant as sun roots. Jerusalem artichokes are also commonly referred to as sunchokes. This plant does not hail from Jerusalem nor is the food it produces an actual artichoke. Instead, tubers are grown on Jerusalem Artichoke plants – up to 200 pounds of them, in fact.
Sun root tubers look a lot like a mix between turmeric roots and potatoes. They taste like a sweetened potato when harvested after at least one hard frost. Jerusalem Artichoke potatoes can be used in any way that you would use a regular potato.
Native Americans would often plant sunchoke plants along the trail they would travel from their spring and summer camp to their winter one to ensure there would be ample food to eat during their journey.
As noted above, Jerusalem artichoke plants can be left in the ground until at least after the first hard frost. Some gardening fans of this ultra-producing plant swear by the added sweetness in taste when the tubers are allowed to be subjected to frozen ground at least once.
Jerusalem artichokes look a lot like a more dainty (yet still tall) version of sunflowers. The heads on a sun root plant are smaller than sunflowers and the stalks are less dense and a bit smaller in diameter.
When harvesting the tubers, you can chop down the stalks and use them as fodder for livestock or dry them and use as firestarters.
While Jerusalem artichoke tubers boast a high percentage of both carbohydrates and potassium, they do not contain any cholesterol or fat. In smaller percentages you will find fiber, magnesium, iron, calcium, and vitamin C in sunchoke tubers.
Native American Sun Root Recipes
- Jerusalem Artichoke Puree
- Sun Choke, Pumpkin Seed, and Sunflower Sprout Soup
- Roasted Sunchokes
- Sunroot Soup
- Jerusalem Artichoke Salad
Tribes of Native Americans in the southwest as well as the Aztec tribes grew amaranth for its edible nutrients and as a home remedy ingredient. Amaranth is a beautiful plant that produces a small grain that has a high percentage of lysine.
You can eat amaranth raw but it is often ground into a spice, cooked, roasted, baked, fried, and used as a flavoring and nutrient additive in soups, stews, trail mixes, and casserole style dishes.
Native American Amaranth Recipes
- Amaranth Porridge
- Amaranth “Cream of Wheat”
- Chia Pudding with Berries and Amaranth
- Amaranth Crackers
The Inca called quinoa the “mother grain” and featured it heavily in their diet. Quinoa contains a substantial amount of protein, iron, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B. calcium, fiber, phosphorus, and nine essential amino acids.
Quinoa is a grain-like seed plant that is a member of the amaranth family. Native Americans used quinoa in the same manner of food preparation as they did amaranth.
Some indigenous tribes grew sweet potatoes and also foraged for a tuber or potato like wild edible they called a “groundnut.” This type of foraged food was also referred to as hopniss, Indian potato, wild potato, sea vines, and Dakota peas.
Groundnuts are a rich source of protein, potassium, and carbohydrates. Not only did the Native Americans use the tubers as a food source, they also ate the blossoms produced during the growing season.
Groundnuts are a type of a Morning Glory plant that can be used for mashing, baking, or roasting. Traditional garden potatoes were eventually cultivated by some Native American tribes but they were not made available to them until after European settlers arrived on their lands.
Native American Potato Recipes
- Cherokee Sweet Potato Bread
- Native American Salt Potatoes
- Boiled and Mashed Groundnuts
- Chickasaw Sweet Potato Biscuits
- Glazed Hopniss
- Groundnut Stew
- Sweet Potato Flatbread
- Sweet Potato Pudding
- Wild Rice and Sweet Potatoes
- Native American Mashed Potatoes with Corn
A small portion of Native American tribes in North America also grew chili peppers. These peppers boast a high percentage of manganese as well as vitamins A,B, and C.
The indigenous people would sometimes eat the pepper raw but they were far more commonly ground up and used as a spice chopped into small pieces and used to flavor and increase the nutrients in stews, soups and casserole style dishes – particularly those that also contained wild rice.
One of the most often gathered wild edibles by Native American tribes were berries. These wild fruits offered a sweet treat when both fresh and preserved.
While the nutrients garnered vary by wild berry type, they basically offered a significant source of magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, phosphorus, and calcium for the body.
Wild Berries Commonly Foraged By Native American Tribes
- Blueberries – which they called star berries
In addition to just plucking a juicy fresh berry off the vine and popping it into their mouths, Native Americans also use the foraged wild fruit to make syrup, muffins, pudding, cakes, tea, and jam.
Wild berries were also used as a dye for garments and body paint for members of the tribe and their horses.
Members of the Ojibwa Native American tribe were prone to making deliciously sweet cakes using wild berries stirred into the maple sugar they also harvested from the forest.
The wild berry jelly was turned into a syrup after the fruit was picked and was often used as a sweetening agent in not only dessert style dishes but also in wild game and stew recipes, as well.
Making a wild fruit jam from the foraged berries was the primary way that indigenous people preserved the fresh fruit. Wild berries were also strung onto string and then hung indoors or near a small fire to dry them.
Cranberries were typically hung to preserve them for later use and less likely to be crafted into a jam.
Sun drying berries could easily be accomplished by snipping whole branches away from a wild berry bush and tying them up to hang dry on a tree branch or placing them on birch bark, reed mats, or woven baskets to dry in the sunlight.
Once the foraged wild fruit was completely dry, it could be stored whole or could be pummeled down to make a fine meal.
The Ojibwa people especially would store both wild rice and dried blueberries mixed together inside of a cedar bark woven basket so the preserved gathered food could easily be smoked or cooked together to make a meal months down the road.
Iroquois tribe members would rehydrate dried wild berries in only enough cold water to get the job done and then slowly heat up the mixture to make berry sauce, hominy, or corn bread butter.
Breaking down the wild berries into small pieces before they were dehydrated usually involved using a small smooth rock or a crude wooden mortar and pestle.
The pulverized wild fruit portions would then be spread onto a large leaf from a basswood tree in the sun to dry. The juice that would be left on the rock or mortar and pestle offered a quick sweet treat to the tribe member working on the drying process.
Members of the Ojibwa tribe were known to smash up freshly foraged wild berries, seeds included, and cook them into a sweet mash over a low heat fire. The end result is not exactly a jam, it is too liquid to be deemed a sandwich spread.
The mas is a semi-solid that was made into patties that were sun dried to harden and preserve them for later use. The wild berry patties were later broken apart to use in rice, pudding, and bread recipes or heated and allowed to cool and consumed much like we would a slushie.
Native American Wild Berry Recipes
- Blackberry Juice
- Strawberry Bread
- Wojapi – berry sauce/concentrated juice
- Star Berry Pie – blueberry pie
- Mixed Berry Compote
- Sioux Berry Pie
- Wild Berry Thinpsinla
- Blueberry Pudding
- Buffalo Berry Pudding
- Ojibwe Menwaagamig – Native American juice
- Wild Rice and Berries
- Blueberry Cake with Wojapi Sauce
- Maple Bison Blueberry Burgers
Most tribes of Native Americans relied on foraging and hunting and fishing to feed the other members of their community.
Foraging for nuts was a common activity, and one that added great nutritional value to their daily diet. Picked nuts have an exceedingly long shelf life without having to put any extra work into the process.
Pecans were a favorite of tribes in the southern region of what was to become the United States. They are still highly popularly consumed nuts in our modern world.
Pecan nuts garnered their name from the Algonguian tribe. Pecan means “nut requiring a stone to crack” in the language of this Native American tribe.
After spending generations only gathering wild pecans, some tribes decided to start cultivating their own pecan trees to increase their supply of this delicious nut – allowing them to have ample to trade with the European explorers and pioneers that entered their lands.
Nuts are a potent source of protein and remain low in both carbohydrates and fat. Nuts are also a significant source of magnesium, selenium, and vitamin E. Nuts foraged by Native American tribes varied according to their geographic location.
The most common nuts foraged by indigenous people often included: hickory nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, chestnuts, beech nuts, pine nuts, butternuts, pecans, peanuts, and acorns. Both acorns and chestnuts were chopped rather finely and used by Native American tribes to make a nut bread.
The inidenous people have also often been credited with creating the very first type of nut milk. The Native Americans would ferment nut powder to make a drink that was called “powcohiocora.”
It was members of the Apache tribe who perhaps found the most uses for walnuts. While they did crack them open and enjoy consuming the nut “meat” raw immediately, they also would grind down the nuts and store them in a pouch, gourd, or basket until they were needed for stew, soup, baked goods, and pemmican brea making.
Members of the Delaware (Lenape) Native American tribe often placed big handfuls of foraged nuts into a primitive mortar and pestle and rendered them down into fine pieces.
Next, the Delaware people would slowly add water into the mortar of finely chopped nuts to cause the nut meat to separate from the shells both quickly and easily. The lightweight shells float to the top and the nut meat remains at the bottom.
This manner of cracking and separating nuts is far more rapid than pounding the hard shell of each nut and then pulling out the meat individually. The water softens the shells to make them far easier to crack, especially when dealing with hickory nuts.
Water used during this type of nut and shell separation process was saved and turned into either a nut drink or a soup broth.
To make a nut oil, members of the Native American tribe would grind up and boil the nut meat and wait for the thick oil to separate and float to the top of the cook pot. The oil was skimmed off the top of the surface of the water and used immediately or stored for extended use.
Because hickory and butternuts created a fatty oil, indigenous people would feed it to babies, elderly tribe members, and the sick to help bolster their immune system and infuse more nutrients into their diet.
The Iroquois tribe in particular would often use hickory nuts and butternuts in wild game dishes to bolster its nutrient value and to add flavor. Both nuts were typically paired with venison and bear meat, especially.
Black walnuts were often ground down to make a fine meal that water was then added to in order to make a pulp that could be fed to infants in need of enhanced nutrients.
Native American tribes were also prone to mixing a nut mash with mashed squash to make what we would think of as a baby food.
Members of the Cherokee tribe would create a nut treat that came to be known as kanuchi. This truly delicious recipe is made by working ground up nuts into a ball.
The balls will keep for a few weeks to sometimes a few months. The kanuchi balls would be dissolved in hot or warm water and then brewed.
Next, the nut and water mixture would be strained to get rid of any large chunks of nut meat. Once the kanuchi mixture has cooled it will thicken and can be eaten alone or most often, used as a base in hominy and broth recipes.
The sweet taste of chestnuts were a favorite of Native American tribes in every region where the tree grew. Chestnuts were ground down to make a flour, used in nut breads, puddings, and eaten raw by the handful.
The indigenous people would also boil chestnuts and wild berries together to make a sweetener that became a flavorful ingredient in a plethora of dishes, especially in corn pudding.
Native American Nut Recipes
- Acorn Meal
- Nut Sweet Bars
- Cherokee Kanuchi Soup
- Cornmeal Porridge
- Wild Rabbit with Mushrooms and Pine Nuts
- Acorn Bread
- Feast Day Cookies
- Acorn Flour
- Baked Sweet Potatoes and Hickory Nut Sauce
- Pinon Nut Cakes
- Nut Brittle
- Native American Spiced Nuts
- Pemmican Jerky
- Catfish with Pine Nuts
- Hazelnut Soup
- Roasted Pumpkin and Nut Pudding
- Toasted Pecan Soup
- Hickory Nut Cake
- Acorn Porridge
Native American tribes foraged and cultivated sunflowers. The sunflowers of long ago do not resemble the ones from bucolic farm scenes we experience today.
The black seed sunflower plants cultivated by tribes were comprised of multiple flower heads, small seeds, and multiple branches. The sunflowers we all see today have just a single stalk, one head, and very large seeds.
As was typical, the indigenous people used as many parts of the plant in all feasible ways. The seeds from the flower head were pressed to make oil, eaten raw, ground into a spice, roasted, and used as an ingredient in recipes.
Native Americans also used the seeds to make a dye for baskets, body paint, clay works, and clothing.
The stalks would be used as a nutrient rich fodder for horses at the end of the growing season. The stalks could also be fed to hogs, cattle, goats, and chickens. The flowering heads were also used for herbal remedy making and adornments during tribal ceremonies.
Native Americans were most likely the first people to ever domesticate wild sunflowers and intentionally cultivate them.
Indigenous people in what would become New Mexico and Arizona started growing their own sunflowers in roughly 3,000 B.C. Sunflowers were likely a domesticated crop even before corn.
Through an intentional and diligent breeding process, Native Americans were able to cultivate sunflower plants for more advantageous characteristics, like seed size.
The seed size of the sunflower plants first domesticated by native Americans have increased roughly 1,000 percent when compared to those varieties commonly grown today.
Nutrients in sunflower seeds include vitamin E, copper, vitamin B1, protein, selenium, healthy fats, zinc, manganese, and iron.
The indigenous tribes would frequently use the sunflower seeds in the baking of bread and cakes, and in Three Sisters recipes as a spice.
A sort of butter was also made from the sunflower seeds, as well. They made a type of seed ball out of the crushed seeds and oil they contained to serve something that resembled a version of peanut butter.
The seed balls were somewhat hard until spread and would be tucked away in a pack and carried on the trail as a protein rich portable meal. The indigenous tribes also made a hot tea or coffee like drink using the hulls of the sunflower seeds.
The black sunflower seeds and flower heads created natural dyes with a purple and yellow hue.
The herbal remedies Native Americans created using parts of the sunflower plant included pastes, oils, ointments, teas, and salves they used to address wound healing issues, sunstroke, snake bites, chest pains, wart removal, and when there was a need to cauterize a wound.
When sunflower stalks were not used as livestock fodder they were dried and used as a structure building material by some tribes of Native Americans.
Native American Sunflower Recipes
- Fry Bread
- Apache Seed Mix
- Sunflower Seed Cakes
- Pumpkin and Sunflower Bread
- Sunflower Bread
- Broiled Bread
- Sunflower Seed Spread
- Breakfast Chackewe
The foraging of mushrooms was another way some gathering Native American tribes fulfilled their daily dietary needs. Some varieties of mushrooms were also used in the creation of home remedies.
Immature puffball mushrooms were harvested before they developed spores to be used in Native American remedies and as a wild edible. The chicken of the woods and morel mushrooms were also popular with indigenous tribes.
Although not a favorite food source by any stretch of the imagination, the Native American tribes also would forage for wolfsparia mushroom if other food sources were in short supply. This rather unappetizing variety of wild mushroom was typically used as a substitute for bread or fried up and sliced for eating by hand.
Although mushrooms are a fungi, you should think of them as a mushroom from a food preparation perspective.
You can basically prepare most varieties of edible mushrooms as you would nearly all types of veggies. Mushrooms can be eaten raw, tossed in salads, breaded, fried, sauteed, boiled, steamed, baked, and used as an ingredient in soups, stews, and casserole style dishes.
The nutrient compounds in mushrooms vary slightly by variety, but these wild edibles typically are a good source of magnesium, selenium, vitamin C, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium.
Many if not most varieties of edible mushrooms can have a poisonous look alike. In some cases, these poisonous mushrooms can cause not only hallucinations but can be deadly.
If you plan on using mushrooms as part of your survival food plan, take the time now to study all the varieties that grow in your region and learn how to identify any mushrooms that you plan on foraging.
Mushrooms Native Americans Foraged:
- Chicken of the Woods
- Lobster Mushroom
- Western Giant Puffball
Native American Mushroom Recipe
Wild Edibles Foraged By Native Americans
In addition to mushrooms, wild fruit, and wild rice (see below) there were a host of plants, herbs, and roots that Native Americans would also gather for their edible and potentially home remedy use.
The table below notes the most commonly gathered wild vegetation that indigenous tribes around what would become America, would harvest.
|Wild Carrots||Lamb’ Ears||Yaupon Holly|
|Garlic Mustard||Chickweed||Wild Leeks|
|Wild Onions||Broadleaf Plantain||Chicory|
|Wood Lily||Wood Sorrel||Spruce trees|
Rice was a near constant ingredient in the tribal meals for many Native American communities. The women and children would walk along the lakes, ditches, sloughs, and rivers near their home in search of wild rice. Different tribes called this nutrient rich wild edible by various names.
The Ojibwe referred to wild rice as “manoomin.” Wild rice was once as plentiful as the bison that roamed throughout the Plains region of the American West – but it is now extremely difficult to find in most regions.
Native American tribes would use the wild rice both in a host of recipes but also in their traditional ceremonies.
It was the Ojibwa tribe that is believed to have first introduced Europeans to wild rice as a food stuff when trading with French trappers.
During shared meals and trading in the portion of North America near the American and Canadian border, the tribe introduced wild rice to the tappers, who in turn took it and their newfound knowledge or preparation around their trapping region and ultimately back home with them, as well.
This wild edible contains a hearty percentage of magnesium, potassium, carbohydrates, and protein.
Native American Wild Rice Recipes
- Rice Stuffed Squash
- Wild Rice Salad
- Wild Rice and Sweet Potatoes
- Elk and Wild Rice Stew
- Nuts and Wild Rice Porridge
- Wild Rice with Mushrooms and Nuts
- Wild Rice and Bacon pieces
- Wild Rice and Berries
- Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup
- Baked Wild Rice and Carrots
- Wild rice Crackers
Plains tribes relied heavily on the hunting of buffalo, until European explorers and settlers prompted the emergence of buffalo hunters that thinned wild herds out to the point of near extinction.
The buffalo meat as well as items made from their hides and bones could no longer be substantially traded with other tribes to garner corn and a variety of crops to fulfill all of their dietary needs.
These traditionally less agricultural tribes had to adjust their wild game hunting traditions to prevent starvation.
While there are surely far more cattle ranches in the United States today, there are a growing number of buffalo (or bison) ranches in the country. Some folks may go into bison ranching for
Old West nostalgia reasons or to help continue the growth of their population after decades of struggles, but others are in it purely for the money or healthy meat option.
Buffalo meat is not only less fatty than cattle beef, it is also more rich in protein. Bison also may calve easier than beef cows and could be far more resistant to pests and disease.
Since 2017, the buffalo meat business has experienced greatly enhanced demand and sales. Buffalo meat can sell for as much as $4.80 per pound.
When considering adding buffalo to your survival livestock in the barnyard, remember that while there are many similarities to keeping cattle but some important differences exist as well. Each buffalo will need to have roughly two to three acres of space for pasture, just like cattle.
Buffalo are stronger, bigger, and sometimes more excitable than cattle. The strength of these animals that once roamed the plains region wildly has to be seriously taken into consideration when setting up fencing, corrals, chutes, and barn spaces.
Agriculture based tribes like the Southwestern Pueblo, did hunt and fish but were especially focused on growing and preserving crops. They foraged for wild greens, nuts, and wild fruit, hunted small wild game like squirrels and rabbits for meat but garnered the majority of their nutrients from cultivating garden crops.
Some Native American tribes ultimately started to domesticate wild turkeys and kept cattle, but for centuries most tribes did not really engage in any manner of traditional farming or ranching.
Meat that fed the members of the tribe came from hunting and fishing – even heavily agricultural tribes still hunted and fished for the major sources of their protein.
Native Americans would hunt and fish for:
Tribes of indigenous people hunted and fished for whatever was available near their encampment. Fishing for the basic protein sources of their diet was done most heavily in Native American tribes in coast regions of what would become America.
Fish that were most often available to the tribes included: salmon, bass, sturgeon, trout, and catfish. Coastal tribes also fished for clams, whales, and seals with spears and nets.
The fish or meat taken by Native Americans would be sun dried or smoked to preserve it for winter, making jerky was the primary way in which meat was preserved.
Native American Meat Recipes
- Venison Chili
- Deer, Elk, and Moose Steaks
- Braised Buffalo
- Pemmican Ground Meat Jerky
- Ground Bison Harvest Bowl
- Venison Stew
- Kiowa Venison Roast
- Cherokee Beef and Pepper Stew
- Wood Duck with Acorn Dumplings
- Elk and Wild Rice Stew
- Grilled Venison Backstrap
- Baked Salmon
Living not really off the land but with the land and wisely using what it provided was how Native Americans tribes in an extremely primitive manner for centuries.
Learning how to identify, find, cultivate, cook, and preserve all manner of wild game, fish, herbs, plants, roots, tubers, wild fruit, mushrooms, and garden crops began at a small age and was emphasized as exactly like the vital survival skill it was.
Even if you currently cannot tell wild carrots from amaranth or do not know how to use a bow, it is not too late to learn – and cross train your loved ones, all of them including the very young.
If you are a homeschooling prepper (and you really should be) these survival food lessons from Native Americans could be a part of the academic and vocational homeschool training.
Stockpiling food and gear is important, but all of that can be destroyed or taken from you in mere minutes. It is skills that no one can steal, no fire can scorch, and no flood can destroy.
To develop a truly sustainable survival food plan, focus just as much on food foraging, growing, hunting, fishing, and preserving skills as you do ordering long-term food storage buckets. Doing so just may save your life one day.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.
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