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During the early weeks of the lockdowns, we heard about shortages of toilet paper and cleaning supplies. As the time of isolation wore on, another shortage made quieter news. As people took up baking to calm their nerves and warm their stomachs, flour began disappearing from grocery store shelves. One flour company, King Arthur’s Flour, reported a March sales increase of more than 2,000 percent!
For many homesteaders, bread baking is not a new form of stress relief. It is a normal part of your lifestyle. However, if you limit your flour choices to white or wheat – or even if you’ve tried corn or barley – you, too, are in for a bread awakening of sorts. You can make flour from many wild plants, and it can offer more nutrition and flavor than most store-bought flour.
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Our ancestors routinely foraged wild plants to make bread. Even after wheat cultivation became widespread, they still ground wild plants to extend their flour supply. Since wild flour either does not contain gluten (or in the case of rye, is extremely low in gluten), it does not produce the kind of fluffy, smooth white bread you associate with wheat flour. Yeast and sugar can help, but you’ll discover that flour from wild plants produces more rustic bread and denser baked goods.
The basic premise behind all flour-making is to grind the uncooked grains, seeds, or roots into a fine powder. Whatever source you use, you need a lot of it to make flour. Keep in mind that you can combine the flour from different plants to create a blended mix for a multi-grain type of homemade bread. Here are nine ordinary plants you can turn into bread.
Abundant in supply and easy to harvest in the fall in many parts of the country, acorns make a rich-tasting flour. However, due to their tannin content, acorns taste bitter. That’s why you need to remove the tannin before grinding acorns into four. An easy way to perform this process is by soaking them in water after drying them and roasting them.
Here are the basic steps to make acorn flour:
- Collect at least one gallon of large acorns that have recently fallen
- Remove the caps, and crack the acorns.
- Dry the acorns
- Separate the acorn skin and shells from the nutmeats
- Leach the acorns to remove tannins.
- Mash and dry leached acorns.
- Grind into flour and soft as needed.
Sometimes called pigweed, amaranth is a large weed that produces stalks that are 4 to 8 inches high and filled with seeds. The grain was a staple food of the Ancient Aztecs. They used it to make atole (hot cereal), tamales, and tortillas.
You can harvest amaranth seeds in the fall, dry them in a sunny area, and grind them into flour. This article provides an in-depth look at amaranth flour, which has a mild, nutty taste. And here is a video that demonstrates making flatbread with amaranth.
Related Article: Amaranth – The Little-Known Survival Superfood
There is often confusion between rye (a cereal grain that grows wild and as a planted cover crop throughout the U.S.) and ryegrass (used for lawns, pasture, and livestock hay). We will be talking about rye the grain, which is closely related to barley and wheat.
Rye grows 3 to 4 feet tall and contains long, narrow seeds that you can harvest in the fall when the plant has browned. To collect the seeds, you usually can shake the plants over a basket. Sometimes you may have better luck by hitting the grass with a stick to loosen the seeds.
The traditional method of making rye flour involves tossing and crushing the seeds (also called berries) by hand and using the wind to separate the seed from the chaff. You then catch the heavier rye seeds in a mesh basket.
We’re talking wild rice here, and yes, it is out there – especially in the upper Midwest – and you can make it into a flour for flatbread. Wild rice is not really rice but is more accurately called the seed of aquatic grass. It is easy to make wild rice flour because it requires little to no prep work. All you need to do is grind it until it’s a fine powder and then sift it to remove any large bits.
You’ve probably seen cattails growing wild in marshy spaces or spots where water runs off. But did you know that every part of the prolific plant is edible? Many of the cattails still growing “wild” in the U.S were planted during World War II as an alternative flour source during a wheat shortage.
Be careful that your cattails are from a pesticide-free source. You make the flour from cattail rhizomes or the part that is underground all year long. You first soak these roots in water, then peel them and cut them into pieces before mashing them. After the mash is dry, you crush it to make flour.
Related Article: Cattails – The Little-Known Survival Food
South Florida is the only place in the U.S. that has coconut-producing palm trees since the trees require a tropical climate to produce fruit. Some other regions in the U.S. may have palm trees, but they do not produce coconuts.
You can make flour from coconut flesh that has been dried and ground into a fine white powder that has a pleasing, mild taste. The best part of the process is that you end up with the flour and coconut milk – two nutritional cooking items for the price (or time) of one.
7. Curly Dock
Curly dock is a perennial plant that grows in wet areas including ditches, along roads and trails, and in crop fields and orchards. Like the cattail, the curly dock’s roots, leaves, stems, and seeds are all edible. The plant’s green stalks, which turn red in the colder months, fill with seeds in the late summer and early fall.
For curly dock flour, you’ll need to harvest the seeds when the stalks are brown and dry. Cut the entire stem using clippers or a sharp knife. Then you can strip the seeds from the stem by hand into a large basket.
You’ll want to sift the seeds to remove any bugs and debris before grinding them. Some foragers take the time to separate the seeds from the chaff, but others say you can save time by grinding it all together as one.
This video goes through the whole process of harvesting curly dock, grinding the flour, and making bread.
So far, we’ve been focusing on flour from unlikely plant sources, but you can make dandelion flour from the plant’s bright yellow petals.
Be sure to gather your dandelions from areas that have not been sprayed with chemicals and collect the blooms when they’re fully open. Wash them thoroughly and allow them to dry. This video shows you the process of making dandelion bread, and here’s another recipe for tasty dandelion bread.
Related Article: 8 Things You Can Do With Dandelions
Although almond trees are not native to North America, the U.S. has become the world’s largest almond producer in the world. Almond trees prefer warm climates, and most varieties grow well from Zones 5 to 9.
Over time, farmers have been able to grow trees that produce mostly sweet seeds. That’s a good thing because almonds that grow in the wild in their native Middle East include several toxic chemicals, including cyanide.
Almond flour is an easy-to-make alternative to wheat flour. Here’s how to make almond flour, which you usually can swap in a 1:1 ratio in wheat flour recipes. This video gives you directions for making your own almond bread.
Making these alternative flours is not only a good way to become more self-sufficient, it comes with health benefits, too. One advantage is that the breads are either gluten-free or low in gluten. More and more people these days are experiencing gluten sensitivity.
Another benefit is that these breads are yeast-free or low in yeast. Consuming large quantities of yeast can throw off the balance between “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria in your digestive system.
Plus, there’s always that comfort factor of making your own bread. And these days, that might be all the reason you need.
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