Primitive Skills in a Modern World

On August 30, 2018, 27 students from Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy’s Outdoor Explorations classes walked from their school towards the Schultz Pass trailhead to study edible plants local to our area.


We examined sunflowers and learned to tell when the seeds would be ready for harvesting. We looked at lambs quarters and pigweed, both of which have edible summertime greens. Pigweed also has edible small black seeds related to amaranth. We tasted rose hips and learned they are definitely not delicious until boiled into syrup with sugar added. We talked about how to sustainably harvest pine bark if you needed to and how to boil pine needles into a vitamin C rich tea.


Just as important as what you can eat in the wilderness, is what to avoid. The Lupine flower of Northern Arizona woodlands is a gorgeous deep purple bloom that arrives mid summer and fruits in the late summer and early fall. Eager wildcrafters might mistake the leguminous pod this flower produces for an edible bean, but that would be a mistake. The beans, and indeed all parts of the plant are toxic to humans, producing a substance that blocks both macro and micro nutrients from being absorbed by the body. Eating this plant could effectively cause a person with endless available food to die of starvation. Bummer! Don’t eat that one! And never eat wild mushrooms unless you have a very clear positive ID from a mycology expert. Poisonous mushroom are not good for you!


After learning about these local edibles students grouped together to choose one plant to write as much information about as they could remember. They made careful scientific drawings, recorded distinguishing features, best times of year for harvesting, and ways the plants could be used. After returning to school they combined their information into posters for others to learn about local edible plants too. A few weeks later the students practiced harvesting and roasting sunflower seeds and collecting pigweed seeds. It was fun, but everyone agreed that it would be a hard life for people relying exclusively on wild harvested food for survival. We are all very grateful for Safeway!


The best way to learn is to do. We looked, touched, explored and even tasted when possible. This is what education looks like.