Lighthouses, sailboats, and rocky jetties stretching out into the sea… Welcome to the New England coastline. It may not be the most exotic place to forage for food, but it is certainly plentiful. In the past, native tribes have lived off edible morsels that wash up on the sliver of land, where the ocean meets the sand. While it’s unlikely that a shipwreck or any deviation from a hiking path will land you more than a day’s walk from a well-established New England fishing town, knowing how to find food on the shores of the northeast can at least make your long walks on the beach a little tastier. If nothing else, adding a dash of beachfront flavoring to the chowder can be a fun talking point at dinner parties.
If you do somehow find yourself washed up on a New England beach with nothing to eat, here are some options to help hold you over.
False Kelp (Petalonia Fascia)
False Kelp is a common brown seaweed. It grows on hard surfaces, such as rocks and jetties. While not known for its delicious flavor, it is high in sugars and starches that will keep you going in a survival situation. It can also be found in winter and eaten raw if need be. It is best to rinse it in fresh water before eating it, if possible.
White Pine Cambium (Pinus Strobus)
Hike a little inland from the coast and you may find some white pines. Cambium is the thin layer between the outer bark and inner hardwood. Simply use a knife or sharp stone to make a small shallow cut into the bark. It is not yummy by anyone’s standards. It is, however, full of starch and sugar, very easy to find, and just as easy to gather. If you think that you’ll be spending more than a day on your new beachfront home, the cambium can be dried, ground up, and added to/made into flour. If you are on the move (and can stand the taste) you can also eat it plain if necessary. This is truly a survival food. One would not want to make habit of stripping bark from white pines.
Snacks for the Trail
Here are some plants that are relatively common, tasty to eat, and easy to harvest. Of course, they can be added to your survival diet, but they also make for an easy snack when spotted while hiking.
From early summer to late fall, New England coastlines are often teeming with wild berries. In midsummer, tangles of raspberry bushes can be found lining many coastlines. Blackberries typically appear in late summer just after prime raspberry season. Both can be found growing together in open meadows, near the coast. Be careful not to confuse unripe blackberries (glossy berry that is deep red) with raspberries (Slightly “fuzzy” with no gloss). Both have prickly stems, so be careful when picking. As the blackberries begin to dwindle, high bush blueberries that grow in scrubby coastal woodland begin to ripen. Pop them in your mouth as you hike, save them for a pie later, or add them to your oatmeal while camping. You’ll have a hard time being satisfied with store-bought berries, once you’ve tasted the real thing!
Wild Rose Hips (Rosa Rugosa)
Wild roses grow up and down the Atlantic coast. The rose hip is the fruit of the rose plant. They are packed full of vitamin C, lycopene, and antioxidants. In the past, they were sometimes used to prevent sea scurvy during long ship voyages. They are fairly common and easy to spot. Most of the year wild roses have bright pink flowers, while the hips themselves are a bright red. Peel away the outer shell to eat the inner pulp. Rose hips have a slightly citrusy taste and are commonly used in jams, pies, teas and even in some types of mead.
Cooking With Wild Edibles
Not all wild edibles are simply hiking novelties. If you are lucky enough to live by a plentiful source, plenty of wild edibles can be used as unique additions to everyday cooking.
Dulse (Palmaria Palmata)
This versatile seaweed is common on rocky shorelines of the Atlantic Ocean. It is high in protein, iodine, and many other vitamins and minerals. Unlike many plants, dulse contains a full complex protein and is therefore sometimes sought out by vegetarians for everyday cooking. It can be eaten raw, fried into chips, boiled into soups, or dried and added to flour. Traditionally, it is rinsed with fresh water and then dried for later use. Dulse makes a fantastic addition to chowders, soups, and seafood in general. You can find plenty of interesting dulse recipes here.
Quahog or Hard-Shell Clam (Mercenaria mercenaria)
Quahogs (or hard-shell clams to non-Rhode Islanders), are easy to dig up on coastal sand bars. Simply throw them in the fire or onto a wire cooking rack, and wait for the shells to open. Serve, or slurp, with melted butter and hot sauce for a quick and tasty seafood treat.
If you live on the east coast and benefit from wild edibles, let us know in the comments below!